Kayaking Ometepe
Kayaking Ometepe

She came to me in Roatan one or two days after my arrival. She is no longer with me. Another guy took her from me while in Nicaragua, He gave me no warning and like me he believed in possession being 9 tenths of the law. There was no real warning, I got complacent I guess and took her for granted. I now have to wake up without her screaming at me, and she illuminated my way as we were left in the dark during the first stages of the trip. That poor bastard, he will not be able to use her as I could, but never mind I have a better one in England. I miss you Sony Ericsson.

Editors Note: Sadly John Ur featured in this article passed away to Cancer. The author kept up somewhat whilst John had the strength to write he could. One day the news stopped coming. RIP John. You were an immense guy. The original website johnur.com is gone but I found the images were still here https://johnur.typepad.com/

Nicaragua in one week.

I was in need of a visa run and found myself on the ferry to the mainland in Honduras for a gruelling day of travel to the Nicaraguan border. It is less convenient to do a visa run in this direction however I was interested in visiting Nicaragua for a few reasons. I had a week plus the week ends surrounding it. So I was under a bit of pressure to get down there fast and start relaxing.
I got on a bus with a company called El Rey (the king) for 79 lempiras one way to San Pedro Sula from La Ceiba. There was an annoying Spanish guy with dreadlocks who got on the bus half way through the 3 hour trip with his friend complete with machete. There were no more seats. He insisted on resting on the edge of my chair. How is it I attract these people? Normally I have no problems with people being in close but this guy was just annoying and I’m sure he was working hard. Humming silly little tunes and rustling his newspaper in close proximity. The machete made things easier to bear and I decided not to escalate things past their current standing. Thank goodness the guy in the seat in front of me (of all the 52 seats) got off and he then had THE chair he insisted was going to come as far back as possible. But he was out of my face.
Once off the bus I got in line at the el Rey office to see if there was a fast connection with them after having called another luxury bus company (Headman Alas) earlier while on the first bus to see what time buses were. I was sure I was getting on one if the luxury buses as I had been given a time which was ok. I doubted they get that Spanish riff raff travelling on them.
The luxury bus was a half hour quicker and left a half hour earlier so I left and jumped in a cab to get to the luxury bus companies station. You must understand in CA there are rarely central bus stations housing all the buses you need to walk past bad blocks or take a cab between them. Upon arrival I was told that the bus I was after was full and did I want to take the next bus two hours later! Pushed it to the back of the mind and back in a cab back to el Rey after the useless expense of two cabs and 25 minutes, and guess what by now it was full, but not when I had questioned the girl the first time around and  she gladly reminded me of this nugget of info.
There was however a woman who pushed in the cue and got the last ticket (bear in mind I have been pushing stuff to the back of my mind). She took the last bus ticket which I was waiting in line for, lines are grey areas and she somehow got this ticket. I saw her looking at me from the corner of her eye and I was by this time getting to the end of my patience. I complained desperately in vain. It transpired that at the moment I stepped up to the counter there was a cancellation and the woman said well I could take that ticket. Of course you could but it was or should have been my turn to take it. In a stroke of luck there was still room on the bus so we were all happy-sort of.
It transpired that she was to feel so guilty that she offered me a place in a spare room in her apartment in Tegucigalpa and a lift to the bus station and a look at real Honduran middle class life. I think I was looking pretty tired and stressed in the Bus station in Tegucigalpa and she first offered me a lift in her car to where I wanted to go. After grappling with my broken Spanish I had learned her name was Marlen and she worked in the University. She was travelling with her friend also on the bus called Alma. She offered to put me up in her spare room; it was a stroke of luck as two places I called were full. Her English came out eventually during the course of the evening which was good as she must have spotted my brain steaming from the intense work. We had a good old chat and I was shown her family photos and learned a lot of her life and family and vice versa. The next morning I got away in the Tica bus after Marlen dropped me off as promised on her way to work. The Tica bus is an international bus line and I had my ticket for 20 dollars from Tegucigalpa to Managua. Tegucigalpa had been a nice climatic change being a bit cooler. The trip was so far interesting even if I hadn’t seen Tegus I had seen a slice of real Honduran life at Marlens.

I was refreshed and relaxed on the bus with about an hour to go to the border. I started to look at my passport and noticed the stamp was not for the 15th but for the 13th which was yesterday! I was a day over. How had I let that happen I had put the dates into the computer. Upon closer inspection I saw another stamp of the 15th that same month, two years ago, coincidentally I had made an entry into Honduras two days later so I had thought I had until the 15th but alas my three months had been up on the 13th. So what would happen at the border? Bloody whittle whittle whittle until it was over. They took all our passports in the bus and I was hoping in the pile it might get overlooked and they might do as I had done and look at the 15th date stamp. No such luck! “61 dollars please” I tried to explain to no avail, the guys face was hard as nails, he repeated the same. I said I couldn’t pay that much. He told me to go back to Tegus to sort it out. Of course if the worst cam to the worst I was going to pay the 61, and why 61 not 62? Or  60. Anyway I said please a better price, I was sorry and explained the reason and my error. He said 30 dollars, a pause I put my face into action, wounded and dying I could have been and it fell to 20 dollars, how much in lempiras (I knew exactly how much that was) I was buying time. I had already changed most of my limps into Cordoba’s and had a sum of lempiras left in my wallet, my Cordoba’s had been stuffed into my money belt. He told me 20 dollars was 380 lempiras, would you take a cool round 300? Done! I opened up my wallet and took out everything, there was 243 or something like he accepted this final sum to my surprise. My passport was handed across and got the paper and I thanked him and left, half angry at myself and half happy I had negotiated a better rate, if he had been as hard as his face suggested I would have paid the 61.
So there we were moving into Nicaragua at Los Manos.
While playing volleyball during Santa Semana in Roatan I had met a half German half Nicaraguan guy and he had given me his mobile number. I was now going to meet him again and he was meeting me in Managua, which is nice as Managua is a poor place in many ways and one takes taxis from the Bus station or one gets robbed. It happens a lot apparently, and I have heard of guys getting robbed there that I know of too. But Gunter was there as promised and I had hardly hit the ground and we were chatting away catching up as he drove. We drank some beer and ate some food but I was to go to Granada, no time to hang round on a quiet Monday in Managua. Gunter told me there was no power, no power I said , yes no power nationwide. It will be dark he told me. I got on a shuttle bus to Granada an old colonial town not dissimilar to Antigua. It was dark.

Volcan Conception

volcan concepcion 

I stayed in a hostel called hospedaje central, a big place full of travelling people from all over the world. It has been too long since I stayed somewhere like this and it was good. I got a room for $5 to myself which is cheap. There was no electricity nor water, my mobile phone came into its own as a torch. Outside the hostel had tables and there was food and beer readily available to which I took advantage of. It was here I bumped into a couple (Uliska and Bruno) I had first me on my return to Roatan on that famous ferry after returning from Sun Jam 2006-a rave on a small water caye.
This was a lovely surprise and we stayed out drinking a bit and chatting about where we had been among other things. The beer in Nicaragua is Tona, Victoria or Premium. They also do those all in 1 litre bottles. We discussed what we had seen and done to that point. There was this Argentinean guy who was also around as were many travellers interspersed with the street urchins one finds or that find you in Nicaragua, the staff shoo them away before they annoy people too much and its all slightly nauseous. This was one thing Honduras didn’t have so much of and forms a part of the current culture in Nicaragua. We ended up going out briefly to a spot called Café Nuit where there was live music and a dj. Neither was particularly good and we didn’t stay long. That was pretty much that day done. But what was more fun (at this point) was the lack of electricity, it was novel. Darkness clouded various corners others had light those places with generators, with a backdrop of colonial architecture and 100 years of neglect. I found it all very appealing.
Bruno and Uliska did a canopy tour that morning and I visited the city which is all very achievable in half a day. I wasn’t sure if I would stay and so kept my backpack packed and left the room to which I later retook. The lack of water made me smell I’m sure, my hair got past that greasy look and was well on the way to being rock star sexy. But we were all in that same boat. Tomorrow I would have to wash using purified water if necessary. I had also met up with Alex an Austrian who was on my Tica bus, and who had been in Utila and a girl also called Alex from England and a Nicaraguan girl called Fernanda. The day passed nicely Bruno and Uliska left for Omotepe, which was the next step on the “route” backpackers generally took. We went out as me Alex,other Alex and Fernanda that night to a different bar as Café Nuit was closed. Then ended up in a regaton type club which was too full and too local. The locals are fine but in a club and drunk there is no respect and the music is dodgy. The dj deserved a mention as his choice of music was fine for the locals however his mixing skills were non existent and he kept trying to do these tricks like dropping and ramping the volume and stupid stuff like that. I found it entertaining as regaton is shit anyway. The pushing and shoving pissed me off so I left, Austrian Alex also we got a cheap cab back to the hostal. I was happy that I had sampled a typical Granada night, and that I was missing nada. As it happened both I and Alex were headed for Omotepe so we travelled a bit together. The route was a bus to Rivas and then a connecting collectivo to the port of San Jorge where a ferry would take us onwards to the unique island in the massive lake Nicaragua.

Ometepe Nicaragua Map

Lake Nicaragua is fresh water and has rivers connecting it to the Caribbean miles away where bull sharks came from and live in the lake. Bull sharks are the only shark that can swim in both fresh and saltwater. They are also aggressive and cause far more attacks than any great whites or other type of shark. Now what is Omotepe? Omotepe is formed as two volcanoes next to each other fused together in an isthmus between them. There is a unique ecosystem here and dare I say it two very beautiful looking mounds indeed! I was hoping to climb one or the other I didn’t have time to do both. On the ferry we met up with a gang whom we ended up sharing a mini bus with.


We were myself and Alex, John Um ,an American, two English girls Elle and Felicity (twins) from my neck of the woods and Todd an Australian guy. We all stayed at the same place Hotel Finca Playa Venecia a nice spot on the lake almost between the two volcanoes.
There were a few other guests but we were the only young ones. In the true style of not messing around with time I decided to take a horse ride which turned out to be fun, beautiful, scary and painful and very wet. As in San Cristobal De Las Casas many years ago I was on a sulky brute who loved to run under low lying trees trying to throw me at times. It rained hard mid way through and all the time one of the stirrup straps was digging into my leg and they were of unequal length, I didn’t expect a perfect setup and this is the charm of Nicaragua. After my return I showered as we had water here and dried and was ready for a beer. That evening we all played cards drank and listened to Todd’s ipod station and were a  rowdy crowd. What fun and stimulating conversation. John has his own website www.johnur.com it really is his name. No more major bus rides until the trip home. Alex and I had planned to go up volcano Concepcion all 1610 m (the other volcano, Maderas is smaller at 1394) but the weather was simply disgusting and curtailed any climbing whatsoever. What to do in the rain? There was a break in the weather that morning and I went for a small hike through the Charco Verde reserve which had the promise of howler monkeys and special birds which I don’t know the name of; a white and blue kind. It was very nice indeed, no monkeys but I spotted the birds. The rest of the gang had done this yesterday while I was horse riding and had seen the monkeys quite close and a snake too! I guess the rain had sent everyone for cover. In fact the rain cleared and on my return to the hotel Alex and John (the others all left that rainy morning) were on their way to rent kayaks. I joined them and we went out on the initially calm waters of Laguna de Nicaragua to explore a tiny island around the corner (the peninsular) I was really getting exercise in that day. The isle de Quiste would be a hard swim away from the shore but possible, we were bobbing and dipping along as we got across to it in our three kayaks.

John Ur 

john ur 

It was full of bird life and had a beach on the calm side. I really wondered how many bull sharks were in the lake ? John had a quick cool off I saved mine until we returned a couple of hours later in the calm waters by the shore of the hotel. I had time still to catch the last boat off the island and we sat down at the restaurant to get some food. Earlier it had seemed easier for the others to book a cab, so I relaxed and shouldn’t have. Firstly I was going to the boat alone and thus would have to bear the brunt of the taxi fare of 10 dollars. I discovered that the bus was really not so regular and useless unless you left on the one before the nearest bus and that was due in 10 mins as I waited for my food. It was with seeming delight to the waiter that my problem began to unfold, I wonder if they have so many problems themselves and maybe due to money can’t solve them and imagine we never have problems I don’t know. I wanted to not just pay for a cab as that was a cop out and I felt like it would have been cheating.  There is always another way no? The hotel was a 10 minute hike from the hotel, I quickly packed while I waited for my food. Returning to my table the food was ready and I wolfed it down, I had decided to give myself a chance to hitch a lift on the main road and get back to order a taxi if possible, a chance! Even though I KNEW I would be taking that taxi I had to keep sodds law honest.  My pack was light and the sun had decided for the first time that day to shine down on me. I was in my reef flip flops which had been worthy footwear lasting six months in Central America, not to mention they opened bottles! But having walked the streets (if they can be called streets) of CA I didn’t use them for that. I made it to the road and a deathly silence filled the land separated but the two hulking volcanoes. One truck passed by and would have run me down had I not moved to a more side line position, obviously not stopping for me. I waited as long as I dare then started back to book my taxi and bite the 10$ bullet. With 200 meters to go the right flop gave out, what a spectacular and poignant moment to die. If they had wanted to tell me “hey buddy you know I’m getting tired of supporting all of your weight and plus on’t other side you torture me with jagged rocks- give me a break and I will give you advance warning of my death.” They may have done in my world- Instead one died. I made it back with the right flop skidding in a sideways position as I remember it. I asked of the proprietor NOT the smug waiter if I could get a cab. A sinking feeling which had begun to set in since nearly getting run over earlier had another strong wave over me as some other guy at a table machine gunned Spanish to me as the bullets “no taxi-in Spanish” ripped a hole through my stomach. I had resigned myself to staying another night. It transpired that there was a motorbike which was for emergencies only (not that this really constitutes that) apparently. But it was going to save me a day and I had not to stay another night. The twisted flip flop was still skewed crossways across my foot as we took off ! Along the way I chatted to the owner of the place and discovered he spoke Russian as he had lived there a good few years on some kind of visa back in the days when Russia took a great interest in Nicaragua, maybe there was some credence to regans crusade against the unnatural spread of communism ?

I had made the boat, and I was grateful and was rewarded with some views of both volcanoes Conception and Maderas
At the dock we were all greeted by the usual haranguing taxi drivers and I needed to get to San Juan Del Sur. I knew it wasn’t far (so far) so was ok with the idea of getting a taxi and getting there. It seemed no one else was going there so I was negotiating with this one guy alone. We had gotten to a price I was ok with and arrived at the car. I threw in my small black bag and then saw that someone else was going that way after all, maybe I can save 50 % of the cost. So I tried to help another Nicarguan (the actual driver but not as I knew) get this guy to go with us in a taxi. At this point the guy I was negotiating with and whom I thought was the driver decided to take my mobile phone from out of the front pocket of my small bag. It was too late by the time I had discovered to do anything about it, and really my back was turned momentarily and fatigue clouded my usual paranoid and sharp mind. The first loss in 6 months, at least it wasn’t my money or passport. I guess these people are poor, I tell myself and I do really feel lucky.

San Juan Del Sur is the spot for surfing in Nicaragua. However a quick inspection of the bay filled with boats and no waves indicated to me that there was no “in town” surfing, which I had been led to believe somehow. It was a30 minute ride away but everyone would be based here in actual fact.
I stayed at the Casa Oro hostal and shared a room the first night with the same guys who I shared the cab with if only they were not interested in shaving $.25c off the price I would not have lost my phone. I have to say from now on the next week was to be clouded by the phone incident; mostly anger at me for dropping my guard on the pretence that I assumed the culprit was the driver and would dare not steal anything from my bag. Back to the story.
San Juan Del Sur is a nice size and I had fun staying in a hostal dorm room again (the second night), I don’t know why. I also met Ravive an Israeli friend who had done his divemaster in Roatan at our shop. It was strange that I didn’t think anything of it when I first saw him in reception, and the delay was there then WOW Ravive ! We went out caught up with each other over food (oh yes ! since rejoining the mainland electricity was again being cut) we ate in semi darkness and chatted about Roatan now and what he had done like his working at Cayos Cochinos diving. It was no comfort to me that I discovered he had been relieved of his wallet somewhere recent and was getting by until he got some money from home, you see due to Israel and Lebanon fighting the war his credit card was not being accepted!
That first night there was a turtle egg laying tour just departing, I was too tired to go straight out, and hoped I could do it the following evening (no such luck no tour-that night they had spotted them early and come hone at 11.oo pm). So I was going to do what I had decided to go there for and just that, SURF! It has been a while and I hadn’t forgot too much, didn’t trip over my leash and remembered how annoying it was trying to get out back of a sand break which usually has a lot of white water breaking irregularly in front of you until you get that bit deeper and then it smoothes out in the back. I spent a good 6 hours at a break called Madera. I had gotten to that point with a new found friend Simon from Bournmouth who had a jeep and was “trying to crack it” until moving on. He was not too bad a surfer at all in fact, I managed to get ON at least 5 waves which I was happy with. It was to be my only day since running out of time so I didn’t worry that my stomach was getting “rashed up” although it made the last session an uncomfortable one.
There was little that occurred of interest that night as we were all pretty bushed and the prospect of loosing electricity dampens one’s enthusiasm. I had achieved a couple of good “takeoff’s” an amazing natural feeling that day surfing and was damn contented after the disappointment of not getting on a volcano a day ago. The return to Roatan sin mobile loomed (couldn’t call my friend in Managua nor Marlen in Tegus) and I prepared for a couple of long days on the buses. I managed San Juan Del Sur the next morning to Tegucigalpa that night, after a border crossing with two interesting things to note. One was that they didn’t seem to want to give me an entry stamp (due to a new paper which covers 4 countries Guatemala, el Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) as I already had a good visa! Which I got at cost on the way out…The other that during this discourse of visa etc I was privy to the “leisure” room TV of the immigration guards and their hard core porn they were currently watching. One guy towards the end realised that the door was open and slowly went back into the room and angled the TV away. I got to practise my neutral face against similar odds that general custor himself must have faced.

Tegucigalpa was different this time around as I stayed in a hotel called Granada 2 which charged 15 dollars per night and I could get an alarm call via telephone (which I didn’t need due to my internal alarm waking me) as now I was mobile less which had been serving as my alarm. I went out and saw the main square and a couple of things from the guide book, felt a certain Saturday night vibe which I allowed myself a small piece of as I needed to catch a bus early (4.00 am) if I was to make the afternoon ferry back to Roatan.

The bus trips back were ok. I was shocked to discover that my early start may have been in vain at San Pedro Sula as seemingly my bus from Tegus had been an hour late. It looked like I had missed the bus to La Ceiba but as my watch hadn’t been changed since the border crossing in Nicaragua it was me who was wrong with the time and in fact I didn’t miss the bus. But how on earth did I catch my Bus on time in Tegucigalpa which left at 5.00am ??? I had gotten up very early to get the last ferry in la Ceiba but had to still wait there over 2 hours, for me quite some time. The ferry seemed to take an eternity and I found it hard to find a cab, eventually I got back to discover my fridge at some point had defrosted and all the food decaying and a mouldy inside.

Bloody electric companies and phone thieves.

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