So, to pick up where we left off. We boarded a bus in Monteverde headed for San José early in the morning and jumped off at a petrol station. The next bus we needed was sat on the roadside so we grabbed our backpacks and hauled them along the dusty road, throwing them into the luggage storage. We made our way to the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border and chaos ensued. The border crossing was a mess of vehicles waiting, touts and offices here there and everywhere. We had found a few other travellers to walk with including a Frenchman named Marin to help with the crossing which made life a little easier. After walking to the immigration office we were pointed back the way we came with no explanation, a lady casually milling around advised that we needed to pay a fee. We weren't sure if this was a swizz or not as I had read some interesting tales on blogs and Lonely Planet about Central American border scams. We were led to an office which didn't exactly look official but found that yes we did indeed have to pay a Costa Rica exit fee of $8 which was an extra dollar as we hadn't organised it in advance. We got stamped out of Costa Rica and after a sweaty walk of about 1km we officially arrived in Nicaragua where we were ordered to pay $10 for a tourist card plus $2 processing fee and a municipal fee of $1, how I miss the easy and free border crossings in South America!
Craig, Marin and I left the immigration office and were swarmed by touts and taxi drivers all hoping to get us in their cab for an inflated price, we had heard that there was a bus going to Rivas for the equivalent of less than a dollar but each tout in turn told us 'no bus today' or 'bus is too expensive, taxi better value'. Agitated and with a face like thunder I started to ignore all the touts and insisted that we walk on to see if there was a bus around, low and behold a bus was just leaving and although it was heaving we were practically pushed on and charged $3 each which I learned was still more than locals had been charged but by this point I was just happy that it was a relatively nominal fee. After arriving at Rivas we quickly jumped in a taxi with Marin and were driven to the huge Lake Nicaragua where our end destination awaited, Isle de Ometepe. Famous for its huge twin volcanoes the island attracted me due to its place in the Lonely Planet's 'top places to see in Central America'. We sat on the top deck of the ferry under a bright blue sky watching as the imposing volcanic island got closer and closer. Once we reached the island we set about finding a place to stay, the port town of Moyogalpa was small but its streets lined with a variety of cafes, restaurants and hostels. We found a colourful shabby chic (minus the chic) hostel and had a look around, the dorm room was separated from the main area of the hostel by a bamboo screen and the bunk beds were tiny rickety wooden things that looked like something I could have made in woodwork class. A lacklustre little fan blew a bit of air around and I was too tired to go elsewhere so with a bit of a grumpy tone I said it was fine for a couple of nights. Feeling tired and hungry the three of us went out for some food, we found a cute and friendly place serving fajitas and tucked in to a huge portion each.
Thank goodness for earplugs. I learned that a holy bamboo screen does nothing to stop the racket of noisy drunk backpackers and one small desk fan in a dorm room does little to keep the heat at bay too. Craig and I visited a small empty cafe on a corner and sat at a table by the window. I ordered a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast which consisted of rice and black beans, fried egg, plantain and cheese. It was delicious and such a huge portion that I couldn't finish it all. We met with Marin and the three of us decided to hire bikes and cycle to Reserva Charco Verde which was a few kilometres along the road. The road was long but thankfully flat and as the hours passed the temperature rose making peddling a struggle. We reached the reserve and paid a small entry fee. Just inside was a lovely butterfly enclosure with more butterflies in one place than I'd ever seen before, as well as tropical plants and nectar rich flowers. Classical music played quietly in the background and as we were the only visitors it felt like a peaceful and magical place.
We left the butterflies behind and followed a trail where we saw some pretty little birds flutter by and heard what sounded like an alpha monkey asserting his dominance, the screech would have been deafening had it been closer. Inside the reserve was a shimmering lake and as we were already on an island in a huge lake, it was technically a lake within a lake. We stopped to sit on a bench surrounded by trees with a view to the smaller lake and the huge lake beyond, breeze gently whipped at our faces which was welcome relief as the temperature was becoming unbearable. We continued our walk and found the large lake's shore which did resemble a beach and I found a huge twisted tree branch which made a perfect natural bench to sit on and admire the volcano in the distance. As we took the trail back to the entrance we spotted families of black monkeys high in the trees snoozing.
We returned to our bikes and cycled back the way we came turning left to detour to a lakeside viewpoint to watch the sunset. Just after we turned the corner two girls on one moped did the same and miscalculating the sharp corner and gritted road skidded to a crashing halt. One girl was particularly bloody after scraping her foot across the road. Craig and Marin quickly rushed to help as did other passers by and after a few minutes they were back on the moped and on their way to a local hospital to be patched up. We jumped back on our bikes and cycled down the sandy track to the lake where a couple of informal bars were set up inside wooden shacks. We bought ourselves some drinks and sat and watched as the sun dipped lower and lower creating an intensely orange glow across the landscape until it was gone. With night falling and knowing full well that our bikes didn't possess lights we quickly got on our way. It was dark after a few minutes of cycling and I wasn't feeling safe. We still had quite a way to go to get back and although the road wasn't particularly busy cars with blindingly bright headlights still flew past. Thankfully we made it back in one piece and Craig and I went out for well deserved pizza while Coldplay songs played in the background.
The next day we left the island for Granada. We took the ferry back across the vast lake and tried to get a taxi to take us to Rivas the nearest transport hub. Every time we asked to go to Rivas we were met with; 'no, I can take you directly to Granada'. 'No' we tried to explain, being taken that far would be too expensive for us and we knew of a bus leaving Rivas for Granada. 'No bus going to Granada today, taxi only'. *insert exasperated emoji* Each driver in turn said the same or the driver would simply drive off! Eventually we found a taxi that would take us to Rivas, on leaving the car a couple of backpacking girls asked if we'd like to share a minibus taxi with them to split the cost as they were going to Granada and had been told there were no buses. I explained that we were looking to take a bus and I'd heard of this 'no bus' talk as a common scam so before committing to a driver we should take a look. Again, low and behold a bus heading to Granada sat waiting to depart. Feeling smug that I'd saved us all an expensive taxi fare we were on our way. On arrival in Granada we walked and found a lovely hostel with huge clean metal bunk beds and lots of ceiling fans, hooray! We took ourselves out for lunch and climbed the bell tower to see views of the characterful and historic old city from up high. We then walked to the lake front which was pretty but deserted so we walked back via the city square which was playing host to some musicians and dancers.
The next day we took a hostel organised shuttle to Reserva Natural Laguna Apoyo where we sat in a sun lounger on the lake shore and whiled away the hours as if it were a beach day. The crater lake was surrounded by trees of all sorts and the water busy with kayakers and swimmers.
We left Granada after our customary two nights and made our way to León by shuttle bus which stopped briefly in Managua. León seemed a lot poorer than the parts of the country that we had already seen, it had a distinctly Asian feel about it with litter piled up and bustling overflowing markets. We walked to a hostel that we had pre-booked and as we walked closer to the centre the streets began to feel cleaner and the surroundings safer. We dropped off our bags and went out for lunch and a wander, we found a lovely local art gallery which was well worth the cheap entry price. In the evening we made our own dinner in the shared kitchen and researched our next move. The next country to pass through was Honduras, former murder capital of the world. I was keen to visit as the Lonely Planet guidebook recommended a few places that sounded really interesting and I particularly wanted to visit the Mayan ruins of Copán. Craig was not so sure. After much reading we couldn't find a safe route to take us all the way through the capital of Tegucigalpa to Gracias so we had to begrudgingly book a shuttle that would take us straight to Copán on the far west side of the country, skipping several sights I was keen to see. Due to the roads and Central American geography our journey would take us on a crazy route; from Nicaragua into Honduras, then a crossing into El Salvador where we would drive through the whole country before entering Guatemala to then re-enter Honduras and finally arrive at our destination of Copán. Easy. Oh, and our shuttle would be picking us up at 2am. With that journey to look forward to we got as early a night as we could. knowing that what awaited was hours and hours in a minibus and the most complex route we'd ever encountered.
🎥 Central America video:
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