The border crossing into Nicaragua was the most frustrating one so far. Firstly, we got to the border and we saw this huge line up of commercial trucks.
We had to actually squeeze through to get to immigration. We finally made it there and surprise: we met with two other riders from Vancouver,Kurt and Cory, that we had initially met in Mexico, in San Felipe, right after my accident. After a long chat and catch up on how their trip was so far and how ours was, we finally went to immigration.
Apparently there is a C-4 agreement that says that Canadian tourists who travel through Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua can travel freely through all these countries for 90 days without having to do any immigration formalities anymore. So basically you only have to do them once you enter any of the four countries, and when you exit, but in between we should be able to travel in any of these countries for 90 days. Well, that’s in theory. In practice, they do not apply it. In every single one of these countries they made us go through immigration, and even though they do not put any stamp in your passport, since you have the C-4 stamp, they make you pay all kinds of entry and exit fees, and you cannot do anything about it, it’s like arguing with the walls.
So at entering in Nicaragua, they asked us to pay $10 USD each as entry fee (besides other kind of fees like administrative, municipal etc). As we only had local currency (we had just exchanged it before exiting Honduras), I asked them how much would that be in cordobas. I did not ask them because I couldn’t convert myself but I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page, and I don’t just give them what I think it’s right. And they told me 8-900 cordobas!! Thank God I used to be pretty good in math in my young days, so I realized that was a big scam. $20 USD should have been 480 cordobas. So when I told them, they said “Well then you pay in USD” “Why do I have to pay in USD if I am in Nicaragua, I should be able to pay in local currency, just give me the correct amount” “No, you are a foreigner, you have to pay in USD, it’s the law” “Well, could you please show me the law that states I have to pay in USD? I do not have USD on me, I can pay in Cordobas” “If you don’t like it, then turn around and go back to Honduras” and he threw the passports at me. So we had to exchange money into USD at the exchange guys that are there, at the border, at whatever rate they wanted. This was very frustrating. The guy who talked to us like that wasn’t even sitting at the desk, he was just standing around there, and he looked like the janitor. When I asked him who he was, he said he was an official. I asked him for his identification number (since he did not look like an official at all) and he refused to show it to me. In these countries it’s so funny cause at the border you get stopped by all kinds of people and they ask for your passport, and they walk away with it, and you have no idea whom you just gave your passport to.
Anyway, long story short, this was the most time-consuming and frustrating border crossing. So far we did not have any major problems, but this one was very frustrating. I can deal with poverty, with misery, with lack of comfort, with anything, but what kills me is when I feel powerless like in these situations. There is nothing you can do. You either do what they want, and pay what they ask, even though you know that it is a total rip-off, and you should not pay anything, or you don’t enter the country. To be honest, when he told me to turn around to Honduras, I was very tempted to do it. Now I understand why there are not too many tourists in these countries.
The incident at the border put a negative spinoff on my first day in Nicaragua (well, what was left of it, since we got out of there after noon).
We rode to Esteli that day where we stopped for the night.
The next day we drove to Granada, by Nicaragua lake. Granada is a nice old town, that has a lot of history behind it (about 500 years old). It was the first European city in mainland America.
In Nicaragua we started seeing carriages pulled by horses.
Lots of really old cathedrals and churches.
La Merced Cathedral
View of Mombacho Volcano from the cathedral’s tower
Cathedral de Guadalupe
Blind man making hammocks
In the evening we went for dinner to a nice restaurant. It seems like Canadians are everywhere. The owner was a Canadian from Quebec, married to a Nicaraguan women.
As we were walking back, I felt something falling on my head. Initially I freaked out as I didn’t know what it was, but it was just a tiny scared geico lizard who fell on my head from some building. As Vasile was trying to take it off my hair, it started running around on Vasile’s T-shirt. That was so cute.
The next day we went to see the famous Granada islets. And this is how we got to the boat.
The wheels were so crooked that we were almost going in zig-zag.
The islets were beautiful. We saw lots of colorful birds, and the Spider Monkey. Most of them are private islets, with nice big houses, owned by the rich people in Nicaragua.
I saw an Ara Macaw on the fence. This is a bird that I’ve been wanting to see since I was little.
The Spider Monkey
The white head capuchin monkey
Montezuma Oropendola birds and nests
The next day we left Granada planning to go to Omopete Island, on Nicaragua lake. We went to the ferry around noon, we bought the ticket, and then we waited until 2 PM for the ferry.
But after a two and a half hours wait, when they loaded the ferry, turned out they had no room for us. They load the trucks first, then the cars, and bikes at the end. So we watched very frustrated as the ferry left without us. “But don’t worry, there’s another one that leaves at 4 pm” “So then can we put the bikes on now, to make sure we have room?”, “No, bakes are last”. So we realized that even if we waited until 4 pm, chances were we still wouldn’t have had room on the ferry, and it would have been too late in the day to do anything else after that, so we gave up and we left. Of course we made sure they gave us back the money we paid for the ticket.
This is La Conception volcano on the island that we were planning to hike the next day. Well, too bad, there will be other volcanoes. I have to admit, this would have been a hell of a hike in this scorching heat.
So we left the ferry terminal and we rode to San Juan del Sur, a little surfing village on the Pacific.
Here we met a guy who took the same boat that we are supposed to take to cross from Panama to Cartagena, Independence, about a year ago. He told us some horror stories about his experience with this boat, so he made us thinking. I’ve heard from everyone that the seas are very rough in that area, but apparently they had 10 m waves!
The next day Vasile changed his rear tire.
Then we celebrated my birthday by going to a surfer’s beach, having a good swim and then a good dinner and some beers.
And as I promised, I made progress. This is the spider I found in our room, and I, MYSELF, killed with cold blood:) I could keep my cool while I took the picture, but once I tried to kill it, and I didn’t aim properly, it started running around and that’s when I freaked out. But I still managed to kill it eventually. This was the bigger spider I have seen in my life. But I guess I should wait and see how big they are in Costa Rica.
One thing that we could not help not noticing in Nicaragua was the garbage dumped everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE! In the city, outside the city, on the road, on the side of the road, on the beach, in the water, EVERYWHERE! And many drunk people before 4 PM:) I guess they have a good life. Other than that, Nicaragua is a beautiful country, worth visiting.
Tomorrow we will be off to Costa Rica. Details in the next post.