Wednesday, December 9, 2009


We had a wonderful time in Nicaragua and I can’t wait to go back. Next time we definitely want to check out Ometempe and stay on Little Corn Island

Leon was our favorite place. We really liked the city and colonial architecture. While we liked Granada we found it to be too polished and touristy while Leon as more raw and real.

San Juan Del Sur was ok - while we had a good time there and the beaches north and south of town were stunning I doubt I'd go back

Corn Island - was pretty boring as there wasn't much going on when we were there. I never saw many other tourists the entire time we were there. Next time we'll pass Big Corn and just stay on Little Corn

One of the best parts about traveling was meeting so many wonderful people: Tom and Cat from the UK, Walter and Rock from Zoom Bar, Bill from Seattle, Alex from the Pan American in Granada, Catherine from Wisconsin, Sundrop from Brooklyn, Mark and Jim from La Perla, Jamie from Leon, and everybody else we met on our travels.

Where we stayed:

Hotel Terrasol in Granada - great place with friendly owners - definitely worth the $40/night. Only draw backs were the tiny room, no hot water, and the a/c only seemed to really work at night

Hotel Colonial in San Juan Del Sur - A decent place to stay but nothing special. We met some other people who stayed at Gran Ocenano and it sounded like a better deal.

Olazul - I thought this place was nice and a good bargain - comfortable rooms, right on the beach, and a good restaurant. I'd stay there again.

La Perla - Incredible Hotel would definitely stay there again in a heartbeat

Things I learned:

In most places a 10% tip and $15% tax is added to the bill for meals. In Leon, Las Penitas, and Corn Island we were not charged tax and the tip wasn't included. Some places would have a tip jar on the counter and at others the waitresses seemed surprised when I gave them something extra. I'm guessing tipping in some places is not the norm.

Most of the food there is EXCELLENT!

The main roads are in excellent condition. There are not a lot of signs so it's good to know where you are going. The only palces we needed a vehicle with a high clearance were the roads to the beaches north on SJDS

Everybody is very friendly and while not many spoke any english as long as you know some basic Spanish you can get by.

Day 18 - going home

I slept ok during the night - in the morning I feeling a little better but still not 100%. Kat brought me some fruit and tea to the room. We didn't have to leave for the airport until 11 so I just hung out in the room until it was time to go. Once at the airport we were quickly checked in and went through security to the terminal. At the Managua airport almost all the restaurants are located before you go through security. once in the terminal there is one restaurant which is also the smoking lounge along with a bunch of overpriced gift shops and duty free stores. By this time I was pretty hungry so I got a crappy chicken salad sandwich that seemed to be mostly mayonnaise from the restaurant. Kat found us some yummy empanadas from a booth way at the end of the terminal. Our fight boadred on time and our trip home was pretty uneventful.

Arriving in San Francisco we had to endure the shock of 36 degree weather and rain - of course we didn't have any long pants or a jacket.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 17 - Managua

We woke up early since we had to be at the airport at 7am. We had arranged for a taxi to pick us at 7 but he showed up at 7:20. We checked our bags, got some orange juice at the snack bar, and were on our plane at 8:30. This time it was a much smaller plane and I sat right behind the co-pilot. We didn't stop in Bluefields and instead flew direct to Managua.

Flight from Corn Island to Managua

Video of landing at Managua
Once in Managua we were met by Manfred from La Pyramide Hotel. When we got closer to the Hotel he pointed out some nearby restaurants that we might like to go have lunch and how it was safe to walk around as the neighborhood pays for security guards to be stationed on almost every block. Once at the hotel we got our nice room and were brought some glasses of fruit juice. We walked over the main street and had some beers and Quesadillas at Hippo's which is a totally American style trendy restaurant - even the menu had everything in dollars instead of cordobas. Next we took a walk to the Metro Centro Mall which was pretty similar to any Mall in America except with armed guards at most store entrances. The mall was pretty packed as everybody had just received their x-mas bonus money and were out doing x-mas shopping.

We then walked to the Supermercado to get our favorite Chilero hot sauce, some Flor de Cana, and coffee to take back home. After we checked out of the supermarket $80 poorer but now loaded down with 10 pounds, or coffee, 2 liters of rum, and 12 bottles of hot sauce I realised that I only had a $20 bill on me and no taxi driver was going to have change for that! We started the long walk in the hot sun back to the hotel taking a wrong turn along the way. Fortunately we found our way and finally made it back. I was feeling pretty tired and my stomach was a little funky so I took a nap. When I woke up I was really feeling crappy (no pun intended) and took some imodium. Kat had dinner at the hotel and brought me back some soup and tea which I ate and then went back to sleep.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 16 - Corn Island

I took my morning walk north of the hotel cutting off the road to the beach. I came across a cemetery on the beach and then followed a path that eventually lead back to the road.

Graveyard on Corn Island

Sally Peaches, Corn Island

I made it to the north side of the island when it started to rain pretty hard. Fortunately a taxi came right along and took me back to the hotel. After it stopped raining we took a taxi back to Fisherman's Cave for breakfast. We watched a boat arrive that was packed full of people and supplies. Someone told me that a great number of Moskito Indians migrate to the island on these boats looking for food and jobs. They live in a shanty town by the airport with no water or sewage system and have generally destroyed that part of the island.

Next we went back to Picnic Center for our last beach day.

After going back to our hotel we wanted to eat dinner somewhere else. There was a restaurant down the road that had smelled pretty good when we walked past the night before. We went in and ordered some beers and food. After about 45 minutes we were getting hungry and asked the waitress how much longer it was going to be and she said "I don't know". Now we're used to the Nica style of taking along time but this was getting ridiculous. We didn't even smell any food or hear and noise coming from the kitchen. After 15 more minutes I told her that I just wanted to pay for the beers and leave. She looked at the other girl working there and shrugged her shoulders. I gave her 120 cordobas and walked out. Back at our hotel we ordered a bottle of rum and coke and ate a tasty steak dinner.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 15 - Corn Island

Then power was out again in the morning - we were running low on money so we took a taxi to the bank and got some cash. From there we walked to Fisherman's Cave for breakfast. From there was went to Picnic Center for another day of beach time.

After getting back tom our hotel Kat took a nap and I hiked behind their property to the top of Mt Pleasant where I was rewarded with a great view of the east side of the island.

It was "country western" night a a bar down the road - we walked down there at about 7pm but there were not too many people there yet. Someone said it dosent start happening until after 9 - we were too tired to hang out that long so ended up going back to the hotel, had some dinner and then went to bed

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 14 - Little Corn Island

As usual, I woke up early and took a walk along long bay. The Moon guide book had mentioned a pyramid (actually the corner of a cube buried in the earth) supposedly located on top of Quinn hill that is supposedly one of 8 spots in the world where the vertices of a cube intercepts the land surface of the earth. (see I decided to look for it and followed the road up the hill. There are no houses in the area and it's completely deserted. I couldn't find a way to get to the top but finally found what resembled a pathway and followed it up scrambling among rocks and mud and finally got to the top where there was a Nica family eating breakfast outside their farmhouse. The farmer seemed pretty surprised to see a white guy walking out of the jungle and came over to me. We couldn't understand each other but he pointed out a better way to get back to the road and I thanked him and make my way back to the hotel. I later spoke with someone and they told me that the guide book was wrong and the pyramid is actually located closer to the airport.

Since we needed to be at the dock by 9am to take the boat to Little Corn Island we skipped breakfast and caught a taxi to the docks. We still had some time to kill so went to Fisherman's Cave for some coffee. Then waitress asked us if we wanted breakfast and we said no, since we had to catch the 9am boat. She told us that the boat didn't leave until 10am(!) so we ended up having breakfast. Once it was getting closer to 10am we walked over to the dock having to pay a 3 cordoba ($0.15) dock tax. The boat people took down our names and passport information (I guess in case the boat sinks and we drown they can notify the embassy). We got on the boat and they collected 110 cordobas for the ride ($5.50), The boat was about half full but they wanted everybody to fill in the rearmost seats. In the front they had a barrel of gasoline loaded right in front of us. The fumes were pretty bad. The ride across was pretty rough with some waves and slamming down but overall wasn't too bad. As we neared the pier on Little Corn one of the boat operators yelled that there were Nicaraguan Coast Guard on the pier and for everybody to put on their life jackets. We docked at the pier without a problem, someone gave us a map of the island and we made our way towards the east side to check out places to stay for our next trip. Along the main sidewalk on the west side of the island we saw lots of boats that had been washed ashore during the hurricane a few weeks earlier.
Nicaragua 12_02_2009 Little Corn Island - 101

The pathway took us past the "Bottle House" which is a pizza restaurant made our of beer and Flor de Cana bottles!

Bottle house - Little Corn Island

We made our way to Casa Iguana and went to their lodge for some beers. No shoes are allowed so we left them at the door and had a few Victorias while admiring the view of the beach

view from the lodge at Casa Iguana

Next we took a walk north along the beach seeing lots of trees that had, presumably, fallen during the hurricane. We came across a few places with inexpensive, no frills cabanas (more like shacks) along the beach - Elisa's Place, Cool Spot, and Sunrise Paradise where the path seemed to end. We went back to Elisa's place and saw some people that were on the boat with us and had a few beers. Some kids came along selling coconut bread that was still warm from the oven. We bought a huge loaf for 25 cordobas ($1.25). We couldn't eat it all so we ended us giving about 1/2 of it to a friendly dog who seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

It was now about 12:30 pm and the boat back to Big Corn left at 2pm so we headed back to the other side of the island and had a few more beers at a sidewalk bar and walked around until it was time to go to the boat. Then ride back seemed to be a little more smooth, getting back to the pier at 2:30 or so.

We took a taxi back to our hotel, had some Gatorade to rehydrate and took a nap. Later we walked across the street to Casa Canada for dinner. When we arrived there were some staff members sitting on the stairs to the restaurant. As soon as we walked in they turned out the lights! It was only 6:30 so no way were they closed so early - we went back to our hotel and ordered a bottle of rum which we drank while playing cards and then had a good spaghetti dinner before going to bed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 13 - Corn Island

I woke up in the middle of the night to heavy rain. I was able to go back to sleep and then woke up again at 6:30. The power was out so i took a shower and went for a walk north along the road on the east side of the island. I saw some kids doing exercises on a sports field - I think they were part of a baseball team. After getting back to the hotel the power came back on at about 9am and we had some breakfast at the restaurant. After breakfast I took a walk south to Long Bay which was beautiful but it was windy and the waves were rougher then on the west side of the island. I stopped at the Island Style Bar for a beer - some locals were there playing dominoes.

Long Bay, Corn island
Long Bay, Corn Island

After walking back to the hotel we took a taxi to Picnic Center for some more time in the sun and water. There were only a handful of people there and got the feeling that there were hardly any tourists on the island. Later we were getting hungry and since the food the day before was a disappointment we took a taxi into town and got some good fried chicken at Fisherman's Cave - $2.50 for two pieces with a small salad and bread washed down with a few Victorias.

Took a taxi back to our hotel - Kat wasn't feeling well and went to go lay down. I walked to the store and got us some gatorade, chips, and cookies. Spent the rest of the night watching tv and went to sleep early

Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 12 - Corn Island

Woke up at 4am and we took the hotel shuttle across the street at were first in line at the La Costena terminal at 5am. We checked our luggage with was a few pounds overweight (30# limit per person), normally they charge if it's too heavy but they let us slide. Next we paid a $2/person airport tax and went through security into the terminal. There was a snack bar so I got us some cold Victorias (breakfast of champions). The terminal started filling up with people going to Puerto Cabesas, Bluefields, and Corn Island. Or flight was the last to board - it was a twin propeller plane that looked pretty old

Nicaragua 11_30_2009 Corn Island - 102

We took off about about 7am and had an uneventful flight, making a quick stop in Bluefields and then arriving on Corn Island at about 8:30am. We collected our baggage, gave the officials our passport information, and took a taxi (they are collectives and cost $1/person to anywhere on the island)to where we were staying at Sunrise Hotel. We got checked in and since we were the only guests at the hotel we were "upgraded" to an ocean view room. The room was nice with a/c, hot water, and cable tv. Outside there were hammocks and chairs on the balcony. The hotel has a restaurant so we had some breakfast before taking a taxi into the town on the other side of the island where we w looked for the islands only internet cafe. We couldn't find it and it was pretty hot so we stopped for some beers at Fisherman's Cave by the docks. We wanted to take a day trip to Little Corn so I went to the docks and found out the the boats to LCI leaves daily at 9am.

I had read about some beach side bars on Picnic Center Beach so we took a walk along the beach seeing lots of kids playing in the water. Finally we made it to Picnic Center which is drop dead gorgeous with white sands and turquoise clear water. We passed Arenas Hotel which was unfortunately close for remodeling - they had a sweet spot right on the beach with chairs and a "boat bar". The only other place was Picnic Center Hotel which had a beach side restaurant which was going to be our daily hangout for the next few days. We got a table that was about 20 feet from the water, ordered some beers, put on sunscreen and hit the water. No waves, clear warm water, you could still be standing about 150' off shore.

Kat at Southwest Bay, Corn Island

We got a little hungry so we ordered some "chili" cheese fries which consisted of french fries with unmerited american cheese draped on top and no chili!

We took at taxi back to our hotel to shower and then went to the restaurant where we met A few locals and Tony from Florida who lives on the island part time. We ordered a bottle of rum with a coke and some limes. Since I had been up since before dawn and hadn't eaten much I was getting pretty drunk and needed to eat. Tony recommended the fish - normally I don't like fish too much but had eaten it a few times in Costa Rica and was never disappointed since its caught the same day. I ordered the Yellowtail and it was delicious!

Yellowtail for dinner

After finishing dinenr we went back to our room and I passed out at 8pm

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 11 - Managua

Had breakfast at La Perla and checked out and loaded up the car. We drove over to Via Via to drop off some books for someone we had met the night before. We made it out of Leon and were headed down the highway when we came across a really bad accident. The police and medics were there working on some victims - a car looked like it had rolled over a few times and was about 10 meters off the road. After waiting a few minutes where they got traffic diverted we were once again on our way. This time we took the good highway to the north - nice and smooth with no potholes! Closer to Managua we say people selling iguanas alongside the road. I think they were being sold for food. Once in Managua we were in the wrong lane as the highway enters the city and got headed the wrong way but were able to eventually get turned back around and headed in the direction of the airport.

We got to the airport and checked into the Best Western Las Mercedes (we were told later to refer to it just as Las Mercedes since thats sounds better than saying you stayed at the Best Western). Next we returned the rental car to the Budget office at the airport. Initially I had trouble finding their office, I saw a guard shack and went inside and found a soldier with an AK-47 on his lap - he pointed me in the right direction and we returned the car and then walked over to the La Costeniaoffice to see about changing our flight to Corn Island from tomorrow afternoon to the morning flight. That wasn't a problem but we were told to be at the airport at 5am!

We then walked across the road to the hotel and had some BBQ chicken sandwiches and beers at the hotel restaurant. While we were eating a cat joined us so we gave him some chicken from our lunch. Next we went swimming in the hotel pool and had some more beers at the poolside bar and talked with some other people who were going back home the next morning. Since we had to get up super early we were back at our room and watched some tv before crashing out early

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 10 – Leon

oke up and had a good breakfast in the courtyard of the hotel – rancho style eggs with orange juice and coffee. We then walked to the ruins of San Sebastian church which was bombed into oblivion by Somoza’s army in 1979.

At the ruins of San Sebastian church

Across the street was the El Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas (Museum of Traditions and Legends) – it’s housed in a former jail and torture center used by Somoza’s National guard. Outside there is a statue of a FSLN fighter along with some nice mosaics depicting Nicaraguan folklore along with the FSLN struggle against Somoza.
FSLN fighter
Nicaragua 11_28_2009 Leon - 110

The gate to the museum was locked but after a while someone appeared and let us in. We wanted to take us on a tour but I explained that we only understood a little Spanish and went off on our own. We paid our $1 entry fee and he turned on what sounded like a haunted house soundtrack long with music from the movie Halloween – kind of weird. On the walls of the inside and outside of the building were drawings of torture methods and of daily life in the prison. Inside the various rooms were the large paper mache figures form Nicaraguan history (La Gigantona, etc).

Nicaragua 11_28_2009 Leon - 117

Nicaragua 11_28_2009 Leon - 120

Next we walked up to the central market on the north east corner of the city and looked around and then made our way to Via Via for a few beers and shared a big chicken burrito. We saw a sign that they were having cockfighting the next night along with all you could drink for $12.


Next we went to the Galeria de Heroes y Martires which is run by mothers of people who died in the FSLN revolution. There were pictures of hundreds of fallen fighters who gave their lives to free their country form Somoza’s dictatorship. Just down the street was the Casa de la Cultura which was small but had some nice art along with an interesting paining of Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

We went back to Via Via for a late lunch having chicken quesadillas and washed down with cold Victorias. We played cards for a while before heading back to the hotel to shower and, since we were walking around the city in flip flops, wash our disgusting feet. Later we went out look for a place to eat dinner, we saw a lot of restaurants but most of them were pretty empty. We ended up back at Via Via and got a table and ordered a bottle of rum and coke with some ice and limes (only $4.75). For dinner I had the Guatemalan tacos (they were more like taquitos) and Kat had chicken with rice.

Some kids came in the bar and did a La Gigantona performance which was pretty cool to watch close up.
La Gigantona

Sice we had to drive back to Managua the next morning we headed out and back to the hotel at about 10pm, watched soem TV and then went to sleep

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 9 – Leon

After a good breakfast of eggs, bacon, and coffee we checked out of the hotel and headed to Leon. Once in town we immediately got lost having to drive around for a bit until we saw a landmark and got our bearings. We quickly learned that the traffic on the streets running north and south had the right of way and east and west traffic had to stop at each intersection (even there are rarely signs). Almost the streets are one way and alternate on every block. We eventually found our way to our first choice hotel, La Posada Doctor but the gate was closed and nobody seemed to be there. Someone we met recommended Lazy Bones Hostel and even though hostels aren’t really our style we decided to check it out since they did have a pool. It seemed pretty mellow and the private room they showed me was large with a private bathroom for $28/night and they also has a garage where I could park the car. We decided to keep looking so we drove back to La Posada Doctor and someone was there to open the gate. The hotel looked nice but the room was tiny and since it was on the outskirts of the downtown area I didn’t think it was worth $50/night. We passed by La Perla which is probably the nicest hotel in the country. Kat wanted to check it out but I was certain that it was going to be way out of our budget. I went inside and asked and was surprised that the rooms were only $80/night! Even though it was over our budget we decided that we should treat ourselves for the next two nights. The hotel is incredible – it’s an old colonial mansion that has been completely renovated. The entire hotel is plush with an elegant air conditioned restaurant, pool, plasma TV in the bar, robes in the room, etc. It would easily cost $300/night in the US. They are building a casino across the street and Mark showed me the construction and told me I could park the rental car inside the garage.

Our Room at La Perla Hotel

The courtyard at La Perla Hotel

After getting settled into our room we dropped off some laundry we needed done at trhe front desk and then went to the hotel bar for some beers and met the owners, Mark and Jim, who were both very personable and gave us a lot of information on the history of the hotel and places to go in the city. We were hungry and expressed our disappointment of missing thanksgiving and they said that they had some turkey left over and had the cook make us some turkey club sandwiches. Before we decided to head out Jim told us that the entire downtown area was completely safe. They organized other hotel owners in Leon to contribute to a fund to pay for 10 tourist police officers.

First we went to the Centro del Arte museum which was really nice including a Picasso and a paintings by Diego Rivera (among many others) and was well worth the $2 entry fee. From there we walked around taking pictures of the many political murals along the streets.

Sandino Vive

Por la Liberiad

We then went to the Central Park and watched a “La Gigantona” performance.

People were also setting off fireworks and rockets in the middle of the street. One cop even stopped traffic so a guy could set off a rocket! The schools were having graduation ceremonies and there was a parade through the street complete with a marching band and the carrying of the Virgin Mary at the end – very cool!

We then got some more cash from an ATM inside the bank with really cold air conditioning and went to the supermarket to buy some rum and coke to drink in our room before going back out later.

When we got back to the hotel we found that all our laundry was done and nicely folded. After a few drinks in our room we headed out to do some more exploring and find a place to eat dinner – we ended up at the Via Via bar/restaurant which is attached to the hostel of the same name. The bar was pretty crowded with a good mixture of travelers and locals playing pool and drinking. We got some seats at the bar and stayed for a few drinks. I thought it was definitely the coolest bar I’ve been to so far in Central America. The bathrooms were also impeccably clean which gave me an even better impression of the place. After a while a band was setting up so we thought things might get too crazy for us to eat dinner there so we headed back out. We found a lady barbecuing meat behind the Cathedral. For $2 each we got tortillas with a big piece of meat and a salad. It was really good! Around us were a lot of really skinny dogs hoping for a hand out. We walked a few blocks to the supermarket and I bought a big bag of dog for $2 and went back and poured it out for the dogs to eat.
Next we went back to the hotel and took a dip in the pool to cool off and then back to our room, watched a movie on TV and then went to sleep.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Day 8 - Las Penitas

Day 8 – Las Penitas

Woke up and had a good Nica Typico breakfast consisting of eggs, gallo pinto, cheese, tortillas, and coffee. We wanted to check our email and the only internet cafe is by the estuary across from Barca del Oro. We waked along the road (about 30 minutes form Olazul) to the internet café. The computers are in a stifling hot room with no fans – I wonder how long those computers will last in that heat? The connection was painfully slow. Kat tried to use the bathroom but found it to be completely disgusting and instead went to Barca del Oro and had some lemonade and then a few Victorias.

Dog and fishing boat

We then walked back along the beach stopping to watch some dogs run back and forth along the rocks at Playa Roca chasing a bird. We got back to Olazul and changed into our swimsuits – another guest at the hotel told us that the beach was better for swimming closer to where there is a cross on top of the rocks further north. We walked north towards the cross but the waves still looked pretty fierce so we gave up and turned back around to swim in the hotel’s pool. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in hammocks reading one of the many books we had packed. It rained for a bit which was nice as it cooled down. After it stopped raining we took a walk along the road towards Poneloya. Where the road splits to Poneyloya or Leon we cut in towards the beach and found a crumbling house with FSLN graffiti on the outside. The house was a shambles but looked like it was once a nice place with a pool and great view of the beach. From the house we could see that we were now north of the cross that we tried to get to before and were at Poneyloya beach and saw lots of people swimming in much more gentle water.

Nicaragua 11_26_2009 Las Penitas - 125

We then walked back along the beach to the hotel and then drive to Playa Roca hoping that since it was an ex-pat handout we might find some resemblance of a turkey thanksgiving dinner. The owner told me that this was the first year he hadn’t had Thanksgiving so we settled for their happy hour where we drank more Flor de Cana and played cards and got some chicken wings as a snack. At about 7:30 we walked next door to Hotel Suyapa Beach which was recommended for dinner but we were told that the kitchen was closed for the night! Disappointed we drove back to our hotel and we both had a yummy chicken curry and split a killer sundae for dessert.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 7 – Drive to Las Penitas

I woke up early – the power was out so I took a walk to get some cash from an ATM. There are several in town but none of my cards seemed to work in any of them. Now I was getting seriously worried since we were low on cash. Finally I spotted an ATM at the Hotel Casa Blanca and fortunately I was able to get 4000 cordobas ($200) as a cash advance on my credit card.

We had breakfast and checked out of our hotel and were on the road by 8:30. We stopped at La Virgen to take some pictures of Ometepe – the wind was blowing pretty hard across the lake.


The drive to Managua was pretty uneventful – once on the outskirts of Managua we filled up the gas tank and turned onto the old highway towards Leon which was in pretty bad shape with lots of rough patches and potholes (we found out later that the new highway is just to the north and is much smoother). Every now and then there would be some kids in the road filling up the potholes with dirt in hopes that drivers would give them some coins for their work. I had a pocket full of change and each time I’d given them a few cordobas and they would be really appreciative. A Cordoba is worth about a nickel and I thought to myself that these kids were excited because “the rich Americans are handing out nickels!”

We arrived in Leon at about noon and got a little lost as we didn’t know where to make the turn into the city. After driving around for a bit we finally found some landmarks and were able to find the road to Las Penitas. The road to the beach is brand new and in excellent shape – only taking us about 20 minutes from Leon to the beach. Las Penitas only consists of one road that runls along the beach. The road is lined with beach homes for wealthy Nicaraguan  families. We checked out a few hotels that I had earmarked in the guide book – They were doing work on the end of the road by the lagoon so La Samaki and Barca del Oro weren’t really accessible. We also checked out Playa Roca but the only room was right next to the restaurant and didn’t have a/c. We decided on Olazul which was nice – right on the beach with nice rooms, a/c, pool, and breakfast included for $45 ($35 if you didn’t want a/c and they also have a dorm room for $10 – one person staying in the dorm said she had it all to herself the entire time she was there). After checking in we had some cold Victorias and some good nachos in the restaurant. We then decided to take a swim in the ocean but the waves were breaking right on shore. When trying to go in the water I would immediately get knocked down and then dragged out by the undertow. It was like getting beat up! We quickly gave up on swimming in the ocean and instead cooled off in the hotel’s swimming pool.

After showering and watching another amazing sunset it started to rain so we drove down to Playa Roca for their happy hour (2x1 drinks) we drank some strong cuba libres and watched an incredible lightning show over the ocean. Since it was raining we decided to stay and eat there having some decent chicken burgers and fries – paying about $20 for all our drinks and food. It had stropped raining so we took a walk to the estuary and then back to Playa Roca to get the car and go back to our hotel where we had a few more drinks at the bar with some of the other people staying at the hotel before hitting the sack.

Spanglish Spoken Aqui

Sunet at Las Penitas

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day 6 – San Juan Del Sur – Playa Coco

Today we wanted something a bit more substantial for breakfast so we went to El Gato Negro, I felt the need to eat something healthy so I had yogurt with fruit and granola and Kat had the breakfast sandwich – with orange juice and coffee it came to $12 and was well worth it.

We decided to head south and spend the day at Playa Coco. We made our way along the dirt road for about 20km when we arrived. There is a good restaurant on the beach where we had some beers before laying out on the beach. The sky was pretty overcast and the beach deserted. At the restaurant they had a sign warning of what to do if stung by a stingray which freaked me out a bit when I went in the water. The waves were pretty gentle and good for swimming. At about 3pm we decided to pack up and head back to SJDS.

Kat at Playa Coco

Arriving back in town we showered at the hotel and rested a bit before going out for dinner. We wanted to go to El Colibri but they were not open yet so we headed to Iguana for some rum and cokes and watch the sunset. We saw someone we had met the day before who was from Wyoming on a Yoga retreat – she bought us some cuba libres made with the 12 year Flor De Cana – delicious!

Sunset at San Juan Del Sur

After watching another gorgeous sunset we walked to El Colibri – we started with some bruschetta and I ordered beef and chicken kabobs and kat had the filet mignon with gorgonzola sauce – I washed mine down with two beers and Kat had two glasses of sangria – it was hands down the BEST meal we had on the trip - all for $43. Since we had a long drive ahead of us the next day we went back to the hotel and went to sleep early.

Bruschetta at El Colibri

Kabobs at El Colibri

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 5 – San Juan Del Sur – Playa Maderas

The power went out for a while in the middle of the night – no fan and no a/c = HOT and difficult to sleep. As soon as the sun rose the birds started making lots of noise so I got up and took a nice hot shower and took a walk around town. Wanting some coffee, I went to El Gato Negro – an American owned bookstore and café (they roast their own coffee) where I had some really good coffee and talked with some other travelers who told me about the beaches north of town. I then walked back to the hotel to wake up the wife. Breakfast was included at the hotel but it only consisted of coffee, juice, and toast.

I had heard about the Stones and Waves wildlife sanctuary and veterinary clinic that is located at the Piedras y Olas Hotel (I am a registered veterinary technician) so we took a walk up the hill and saw their rescue facility. They have about a dozen monkeys living in a partial enclosure. Since it is not entirely enclosed they needed to wear harnesses which were attached to chains on ropes so they couldn’t escape. We met with the director who explained that they are trying to raise funds to build a complete enclosure. They also occasionaly have veteriarians come and provide free spay and neutering for dogs and cats in the community.

We wanted to check out the beaches north of town so we grabbed some beers and bottles of water at the Pali supermarket and headed down the rough road towards Playa Marsella. After driving for a while I began to think we had missed the turn off to road that goes to the beaches. I turned the car around and saw some people on the side of the road who pointed us in the right direction. We got to Playa Marsella and it was gorgeous but completely deserted. There was a restaurant right on the beach but it was closed. We decided to head a bit further to Playa Maderas which was also gorgeous and with about a dozen other people on the beach along with a restaurant and surf board rental place.

Playa Maderas

We swam and laid out on the beach, met a nice kid selling hand made jewelry – nothing he had was my wife’s style but since it was really nice we bought a bracelet for $5. At about 2pm we started to see some black clouds threatening rain so we packed up and drove back to town. When we arrived at the hotel the maids were still making up our room so we walked across the street and checked our e-mail at the internet café ($1/hour with a fast connection). Kat wasn’t feeling well (too much sun) and decided to lay down for a while. I needed a snack so I walked around town and got some cheese croissants ($.20 each) at a bakery, took a walk on the beach, and had a drink at Iguana’s and watched the sky turn into purple fire as the sun set.

Sunset at San Juan Del Sur

By this time Kat was awake and feeling better (and hungry) so we went looking for a place to eat dinner. Someone had highly recommended El Colibri restaurant but it was closed so we settled on Pizza San Juan. We had the Diablo pizza ($8) which was pretty damn good. Feeling tired was went back to the hotel, watched some TV and were asleep by 9pm

Pizza Diablo at Pizza San Juan

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 4 - Volcan Masaya, Asshole cop, and San Juan Del Sur

After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and took a $1.50 taxi ride to the Budget car rental in Granada. The lady at Budget didn't speak any English so the rental process took a while. Since I had already made a reservation I brought the confirmation letter and that seemed to make things go smoothly except that they needed me to provide a Nicaraguan address in order to rent a vehicle. I just gave them the address of Hotel Terasol and that seemed to satisfy her. Our car was a new Daihatsu Terios 4x4 - I've driven them before in Costa Rica - it's a 3 cylinder, decent for two people but not a lot of power.

We drove to Volcan Masaya and paid the $4/person entry and drove straight to the top of the volcano. There is a visitor center there but since we had all of our luggage in the car we didn't want to leave it out of our sight. The top of the volcano is pretty cool - definitely worth a visit. An English speaking ranger gave us some information and took us on a tour pointing out parts of the volcano and some history. He was pretty nice so I gave him a $3 tip.

Nicaragua 11_22_2009 Volcan Masaya - 117

Nicaragua 11_22_2009 Volcan Masaya - 115

We headed back down the volcano and off towards San Juan Del Sur. Just as we were going through Catarina we got flagged over by two police. One of the cops came to the window and told me (in Spanish) that I had crossed the line when making the turn (I didn’t) and that the fine was $80, he would take my license, and I would have to go to the bank to pay it and then go to the police station to get my license back. He then showed me a bunch of American driver’s licenses that he had confiscated. He then said or I could pay the fine now for only $60. I knew that he was full of shit so I just played dumb and said a lot of “no entiendo” and “no tengo dinero” I showed him that I only had about $10 in cash and some credit cards in my pocket. After a while I must have worn him down and he settled for 100 cordobas ($5). It was a pretty stressful event and whenever we saw a police checkpoint on the road I had visions of getting stopped every time and having to pay them off – fortunately this wasn’t the case and we didn’t get stopped for the rest of the trip.

We made good time to San Juan Del Sur arriving at around 2pm. We Drove around for a bit looking for a place to stay finally settling on Hotel Colonial - $54/night with powerful a/c, HOT water, cable tv, secure parking and breakfast. Had some beers and Nachos (with canned cheese) at Big Wave Dave’s and then went to Iguana’s right on the beach for some Cuba libres while we watched the sunset over the harbor.

Sunset at San Juan Del Sur

After the sun went down we walked around looking for a place to eat dinner finally settling on the Italian restaurant at O Sole Mio which is located in the La Dolce Vida hotel – We had focaccia, salad, 4 glasses of wine, and I had chicken with a red sauce, Kat had a spaghetti all for $35 – delicious!

Dinner at O Sole Mio

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 3 - Granada

We woke up at about 9am to the sounds of a band playing outside. I looked out the balcony and there were two guys playing drums and another on the trumpet. It seemed like a weird place to be playing music on a quiet (well not so quiet now) side street at 9am on a Saturday.
Nicaragua 11_21_2009 Granada - 101

While Kat was in the shower I was watching news on TV saw lots of people on the streets on Managua supporting the FSLN or PLC. There are 4 television stations in Managua and two were showing FSLN and the other two showing PLC supporters. Later all four stations were only showing FSLN supporters. Hmmmmmm.

After breakfast we walked over to the central mercado which was packed solid with locals selling everything imaginable on the street. After two blocks we were feeling somewhat claustrophobic so we bailed out and headed back towards the central park and to the Convento San Francisco museum where we paid $2 each and wandered around the museum where they had some nice art and a really cool diorama of the entire city. There are also a lot of pre Colombian statuary, and some exhibits on the native peoples on display as well.

Diorama of Granada

Pre Columbian statuary

Next stop was the Cathedral. There were some firemen using their portable firefighting ladder to get way up high and clean the ceilings 20 meters up.

Cathedral de Granada

Nicaragua 11_21_2009 Granada - 128

Outside in the park there were buses and lots of FSLN supporters. We later learned that Ortega was busing in to Managua tens of thousands of supporters from all around the country to support his bid to change the constitution so he can run for another term. I forgot to mention that we saw FSLN signs on almost every electrical pole on the outskirts of the city.

Getting close to lunch time we stopped at the Roadhouse Bar which was nice and air conditioned. Had a few beers and some nachos. Lots of locals seemed to be hanging out there watching soccer on the big screen TV. Next we went to Zoom for some more beers and Cuba libres.

Flor de Cana

After a shower at the hotel we went to the Pan American for dinner (at the suggestion of Bill who we met the day before). It was nice to be off the off the touristified Calle Calzada. The food and drinks were excellent and we hung out with the owner who was a real interesting character entertaining us with war stories from Vietnam - ended up staying there until almost midnight and we couldn't drink any more. Stumbled back to the hotel and passed out

Nicaragua 11_21_2009 Granada - 148

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day 2 - Granada

Day 2 - Granada

The next morning we woke up and found that the shower had no hot water - only tepid which took a little getting used to first but since it was generally so hot outside it felt kind of refreshing.

We went downstairs for breakfast (fresh fruit, juice, coffee and a huge croissant with butter and jam) and found that when paying for or beers the night before "seis" was our room number and since the beers were only $1 each the guard left our change with the owners. This was a good first impression on the honesty of the hotel employees.

Victor, the hotel owner, gave us a map of the city and pointed out some places that he thought we would enjoy along with where we were located, a quiet side street just off Calle Xalteva and 3 blocks from the central plaza and cathedral. We then set out towards the cathedral but took a wrong turn on Calle Xalteva and ended up going the opposite way. We stopped at a park across from Iglesia Xalteva to get our bearings and some school girls posed for our first photo.

School girls in Parque Xalteva, Granada

We decided to keep walking and head to the Fortaleza La Polvora. According to the guide book it was built in 1748 to protect the city's gun power supply from Pirates. Later Somoza's National guard used it as a military post and jail. When we arrived the gate was locked but a man inside was doing some gardening and let us in. We walked around and climbed two of the guard towers for a great view of the city.

Kat at Fortaleza la Polvora, Granada
where they stored the gunpowder

View from the guard tower
view from the guard tower

We then made our way east towards the center of town, stopping to watch some kids play baseball in a park before going in the Inglesia de la Merced which was built in 1534. We walked around inside the church and then and paid $1 each to climb to the top of the bell tower for an even more incredible view of the city.

In the bell tower
Kat in the Bell Tower

Inglesia de la Merced

From there we walked to the central park where there were lots of people selling things and offering tours, horse carriage rides, etc. It was pretty hot but there was a nice breeze coming from the east over the lake - we definitely needed a beer so we made our way to the Zoom Bar that was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. We had a few Victorias (our favorite) and met a few of the local ex-pats including Bill who was originally from Seattle by way of New York and is now living on an island in the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua. After a few beers we walked down to the lake and then back into town and got some really good Italian meat combo sandwiches at the Garden Cafe which is a pretty sweet spot for lunch. In the central park we saw La Gigantona - a Nicaraguan tradition where a giant lady is paraded down the street and dances with a big headed dwarf called El Cabezon the accompaniment of drummers. La Gigantona is supposed to be a tall Spanish lady, and El Cabezon represents the native Nicaraguan, shorter, but much more clever.

la gigantona

Since it was so hot out we needed some more liquid refreshments and headed back to Zoom to sample the Flor de Cana. We then met Cat and Tom from England who had been traveling the world.

Tom, Cat, and Kat

After a few too many drinks we made our way back to the hotel for a short nap and shower before we headed out to find somewhere to eat dinner. The main street, Calle La Calzada, east of the park is blocked off to vehicles and restaurants set up tables in the street. We went to Nectar for a drink along with some chips and salsa. Nectar is a pretty sweet bar with some nice ambiamnce inside but we wanted to sit outside and enjoy some people watching. Lots of kids would walk by and try to sell us stuff - on past trips I would always tell them "yo ya tengo" which translates to "I already have one" and would then usually be left alone - some wouldn't take no for an answer. One kid made us a pretty neat grasshopper and a heart with an arrow going through it out of leaves - it was pretty cool so I gave him $1.

For dinner we ended up at El Zaguan, a steak house behind the cathedral, where we had some great fire grilled steaks, along with wine, bread, and salad for $40.
steak dinner at El Zaquan

It was still pretty early so we went back to Zoom bar for some more beers - on the streets there was a live band and some kids break dancing which was kind of weird to see them do without any hip hop to accompany their moves. At Zoom we met one of the bartenders who used to live in the states but was enjoying his night off - he hooked us up with free beers and we had a good time watching the show outside. We finally stumbled back to our hotel at 11pm and hit the sack

Sean, Kat and Rock at Zoom Bar