An overlander's account of South and Central America by motorbike - the trusty Suzuki DR650. Within are great travel tips and hints (2011).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nicaragua (27-29 May 2011)

27 May 2011 (274 km) – Merida, Isla de Ometepe (Camp)
So after grabbing the new currency (changing Costa Rica colones for Nicaragua cordobas) and some petrol in Rivas, I headed down the road towards San Jorge and the ferry port to Isla de Ometepe.  Isla de Ometepe is a fairytale kind of island, formed when two volcanoes rose out of the centre of a lake and eventually were joined by an isthmus between them.  On the way to the port I bumped into Eduardo, Colin and Derrick again which was a pleasant surprise as I'd been trying to catch em up!  They'd just come from the isla and I was going so I was still a day or 2 behind!  The ferry cost 140 C ($6 AUD) and while waiting I grabbed the good ol special of refried beans (frijoles) and rice, sharing half of it with the friendly swarm of insects which outnumbered oxygen molecules in the air. 

Upon arriving at Moyogalpa port in Isla de Ometepe half an hour later, I got my bearings and headed off towards the second volcano.  I stopped in at Punta Jesus Maria for a moment to check out the beautiful beach, of which one side of the point is always glassy smooth.  Eventually I headed off to the second part of the Isle in search of camp.  I grabbed a meal at a cosy little beachside shack and as the mother cooked, her children mounted the bike investigating everything.  Mischief was at work, until finally their mother told them to hop off it.  I found camp at Merida on the black sands of the lakeside beach, TWO towering volcanoes above and a crimson sunset bringing the day to an end.  I watched on whilst showering in the lake, as something crept up on me.  I heard scuffling around my tent and looked over to find my new best mate...a skinny old bitch, wagging her tail excitedly!  The sad thing was at some stage in the afternoon I had to run to the bushes to lay some fertilizer for the plants, and soon after I saw her eating something in that direction...and I had no food to offer.  She loyally stayed by my side all night and camped outside my tent awaiting her orders in the morning...

Windmills as I entered Nicaragua from the south.

A money changer (official and identified) in Rivas with wads of Nicaraguan Cordobas

There are thousands of tiny insects flying in the air here...Where's Wally!

The view from my lakeside campsite

Isla de Ometepe from the ferry

Punta Jesus Maria

Punta Jesus Maria


Dinner at the lakeside restaurant
My campsite and the guard camped outside

Cocky buggers...

On the second island the roads deteriorate a little, this was still good!

A turtle race track on the model of the Isle.

28 May 2011 (90 km) – Granada (Hostel)
I left my amigo and caught the ferry back to San Jorge (144 C, $6 AUD) and headed on to the main square in Granada.  I pulled up next to 4 touring motorbikers from Brazil and had a yarn.  I warned 2 of the possibility of corrupt police on "the gauntlet", the 100 or so kilometre stretch of road through Honduras between Nicaragua and El Salvador.  The other 2 decided to search for a hostel (with inside parking) with me which we found on the same street as 'The Bearded Monkey' hostel.  We shared stories and went for a nice meal in the colonial city.  Thanks for the meal Renato & Edson!  It was a beautiful place to visit and would recommend to anyone looking for a nice colonial city to relax in for a day or two.

A cemetery in Granada

Colonial much?

29 May 2011 (552 km) – Lago Yojoa (Camp) BORDER CROSSING (Nica > Hond @ Las Manos)
My plan for the day was to stay in Esteli and check out the cigar farms and shops there.  Unfortunately it was Sunday and I ended up deciding to join the Brazilian fellas and make a break for the Honduran border at 'Las Manos' and avoiding 'the gauntlet' highway in the south of Honduras.  The border was nice and quiet and only a few helpers bothered us, saying you HAVE to have a helper, its the rules.  We didn't get one but they did end up volunteering.  The trick is they will try do your photocopying for you and charge you a few times the normal price, just find the photocopier and do it yourself!  It's piss easy, you never need a helper.  Fees included a $1 municipal fee, $3 Honduran entry fee, $2 Nicaragua exit and $34 motorbike entry!  This is the most expensive fee for crossing in Central America I think (minus Mexico).  The border took about 3 hours and photocopies were needed of your license, passport, passport stamp, moto rego and 6 copies at the end of the final motorbike import paper.  The notice outside mentioned it was $34 to enter the motorbike, but the lady said $35.50...the three of us rallied and told em we weren't payin anymore than what the notice said!  The same notice also described the $34 fee breakdown, which included a fee for "fingering of the paper" and $1.50 for inspecting the bikes!  Crikey mick these guys are unreal!  Another currency changed took place at the border this time (Nicaraguan Cordobas to Honduran Lempiras).  A few hours and a lot of sweat later we were off.  Hasta luego Nicaragua, bienvenidos Honduras!

Renato and Edson, my Brazilian amigos

Old American school buses are massively popular down here.  After they are expelled from the US after 10 years or not meeting standards anymore they are bought up here and painted beautifully, unfortunately there were even better ones than these that I missed a photo with.

Renato and Edson taking a timeout

Close to Honduras!

The notice outside detailing what the $34 motorbike entry was it, hilarious!

Outside the Honduran Aduana (customs)

Renato and Edson doing their best with the Aduana lady and "volunteer" helper.  He was pretty good actually and friendly.
 Next...Honduras baby!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Costa Rica (24-27 May 2011)

The river on the way to Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

My time was slowly running out as I pushed for my deadline to meet family in Greece in July.  Unfortunately I only spent a few days in the tropical wilderness of Costa Rica.  However, for me it was still too clean and touristy to my liking, I was craving the wilds of countries like Nicaragua and Honduras.  Costa Rica was still a beautiful place to be nonetheless and a country one could easy fall in love with and move to, as many Americans have already realised...

25 May 2011 (14 km) – Tortuguero (Hostel)
After leaving my new friends place in Roxana, I headed towards Cariari to find a place to leave my bike, and catch the bus and boat down to the coast to Tortuguero and the National park there.  I didn't feel safe leaving my bike at the hotel in town, so I asked a local guy with a massive fence around his mansion if he wouldn't mind.  He was very nice and allowed me to park my bike there and even drove me back into town to catch the bus.  I caught the bus along the rickety dirt road, through small villages, jungle and banana farms.  Every now and then the bus would stop to allow bananas move across the road on the farm rail system!  As we arrived at the river we spooked two tanning Caiman and they shot into the water near where a family of boys was swimming.  In Australia this is alarming, but these cousins to our big salties (crocs) are only small fellas and not much of a worry!  We eventually made our way down the river in a powered canoe through what is known as the mini-Amazon, and certainly deserves it!  The lush tropical jungle creeps right up to the banks of the river, with tropical birds feeding on the banks, howler monkeys conducting a court and iguanas perched on branches above the water.  It was a beautiful river trip, well worth going to Tortuguero just for this!

Tortuguero is the small, coastal rasta village a walk away from the National park of the same name which is a key nesting site for several species of endangered sea turtle.  At certain times of the year hundreds of females can be seen laying eggs along the coast.  Unfortunately we arrived about a month early, however the surrounding jungle was still host to a myriad of cryptic animals waiting to surprise you at every turn!

When I arrived a grabbed a bite in a local restaurant as several people started running maniacally outside! A young boy came in gripping his arm and ear...I handed him a piece of ice and a warm smile swept across his face!  Someone had stirred up the local wasp nest and they wanted revenge!  I eventually ditched my bag in a room and went to check out the trails in the National Park.  I arrived a few minutes before 1600 and the guy inside saw me so I waited a moment as he seemed busy.  He comes outside and says the park's closed and I can't go in, even though the park itself closes at 1800.  I duck around the back and find a trail anyway and go for a walk.  I meet a young guide who shows me 4 beautiful 'Eyelash Vipers', satisfying my serpent finding needs for the day!  I thought it was a little suspicious he knew where they all were, but he seemed to be legitimate as they were still there at 2100 that evening.  I decided to walk to the end of the track parallel to the beach, relax and watch the sun go down, and walk the trail back in the dark with my headlamp.  This is one of the best ways to spot animals.  Using a light as close to your own eyes as possible (headlamps are great) you can pick up eyeshine from bunches of different animals, especially spiders and frogs!  I found tonnes on my walk back in the pitch black!  Amazing! 

At 2200 I joined a group to go turtle searching but to no avail.  It was a lovely night though and the best time of the year to see them is after June apparently!  Bugger! 

For years I've worked on banana farms back in I ducked into this Costa Rican farm to check out the operatings, but it was only pawpaws today!

Banana and pawpaw troughs

The rasta coastal villaga Cahuita...

Heading north on the Caribbean coast.

Wildlife on the canoe trip to Tortuguero

The village of Tortuguero.  No vehicles.  Hundreds of rastas.  An amazing place to chill out!

There were bizarre insects a plenty!

Eyelash vipers...

Leaf cutter ants!  They take these leaves back to the nest where they cultivate a fungi on them which the colony feeds on.  When they colonise a new area they will carry some of this fungi with them to start the farm again.

Eyelash viper

Waiting for the sun to go down at Tortuguero

Beautiful sunsets and a great place to melt into your thoughts

The walk back at night showed how lively the jungle was!

26 May 2011 (226 km) – Laguna de Arenal (Camp @ Lake - free)
The next morning I caught the early boat back to town.  I took the guy back some souvenirs for his daughters, packed the bike up and headed out of town towards Laguna de Arenal.  The road from Limon towards San Jose is mega busy due to the port.  What a pain in the arse.  It was nice finally getting off it and heading towards La Fortuna and Laguna de Arenal.  I passed through the touristy hub village of La Fortuna, nested under a smouldering volcano. 

Finally reaching the Laguna de Arenal I began searching for camp.  I began seeing german bakery signs for 10km before the bakery, and by the time I arrived it was drilled into me that I should stop here.  It had wifi as well and I needed to check my mails.  As I pulled up I found 2 travellers bikes out the front!  Fantastic!  I exchanged details with the 2, riding south, and grabbed a juice.  Turns out the worker here also knew Roly from Fritz the Cat!  Seems I was meant to stop at this bakery.  They also pointed me down the road to the free camping area on the Lagoon!  I slipped off to the lagoon, had a lovely swim despite the croc warning signs and tucked in to a fine sandwich dinner (my Coleman stove still needs a replacement part!).  I was lucky enough to be nestled underneath a tin roof with my bike and tent, as moments after setting up, the pitter-patter of soothing, heavenly rain had set in.

The boats used to connect Tortuguero to civilisation

In the bus waiting for the...bananas to cross the road?

La Fortuna

The German Bakery!  A must visit!

Camped up and dry at Laguna de Arenal

27 May 2011 (274 km) – Merida, Isla de Ometepe (Camp)
The next day I shot off to make the border crossing to Nicaragua at Penas Blancas.  My carburetor seems to be a little filthy and playing up here and there, only liking to be most effective when the talk is more than half full.  I was well into reserve as I approached the border, passing the massive lines of trucks, with their drivers passed out in hammocks tied underneath the trailers.  I had about 4 km to go to the servo to fill up when the bike stalled right in front of a police checkpoint.  I yarned with em for a bit while coaxing Nessie to get up n go.  They asked if I needed fuel, but I knew Nessie had it in her to keep going.  Finally she roared alive and I burst down the road to the servo. 

The border at Penas Blancas was straightforward again.  First go and sign yourself out at the CR migration.  Then turn around and head back into CR and on the right will be a big truck park and the aduana for vehicle immigration.  Make a couple of photocopies here and check your bike out of the country.  Head back towards Nicaragua, pay $3 to get the bike fumigated, $1 municipal fee and $12 tourist entry at the migration office where you do your passport.  Get your Aduana certificate for baggage and fruits etc signed by 2 different police (just ask pointing at the form) and then head to Aduana to check the bike in.  Helpers will insist you need really don't, ANYWHERE in Central America.  Sign your bike into Nicaragua, they will also ask you to buy compulsory insurance, but I bluffed my way with my fake and skipped the $15 insurance.  And then BAM...bienvenidos a Nicaragua!  An amazing country with beautiful people and great culture.  I was overwhelmed with happiness to be back in a cultural country again!  I roared off down the road in search of new currency and Isla de Ometepe. 

The bike being "thoroughly" fumigated at the CR/Nicaraguan border (Penas Blancas)

Next, Nicaragua and a lake with 2 volcanoes born from the middle!