Leaving El Salvador we were up for our biggest day of border crossings to date. We had decided to just drive straight through Honduras in a day as we were on the Pacific coast and all things interesting in Honduras were on the Caribbean coast. Word had it that the Honduras borders are the worst ones on the PanAmerican Highway for people trying to scam you. We woke early to prepare for our long day ahead. Upon reaching the border of El Salvador we found at least a mile of backed up 18 wheeler trucks. We tried to drive around them to the border and then were directed by an officer to go around them on a dirt road. When the dirt road led us back to the border road we realized we had just been directed around the whole border! Back we went.
At the border we were approached by a slew of people all trying to “help” us and we were determined by what we had heard that we were not going to fall for any of it. We relentlessly repeated “No necesito ayudar” to all that approached. In particular there was one guy who had lived in the states and spoke perfect English that would not leave us alone.
However in our determination and while wandering around the scattered shacks that made up the border trying to figure out which one we needed to get our exit stamp from, we learned two things; 1. the El Salvador border had not had power since sometime the afternoon before 2. The mile long line of trucks we mentioned, were so backed up because the border workers had not been paid by the government in some time and were on strike. The border was only allowing tourists through until payment was made.
Without power we had no way of getting the copies requested for our exit unless we drove half an hour back to the last town. The english speaking Honduran man said he had connections and could get us copies on the other side in Honduras. We agreed to this, but only if Jed went with him and kept the documents in his hand at all times. So off they went in a tuc-tuc. Jed would illegally cross into Honduras again to get the papers we needed to legally leave El Salvador. I would stay and guard the car.
The two of them returned 20 minutes later, papers in hand, and all buddy-buddy. Jed’s new friend would continue to help us through the whole process out of El Salvador and into Honduras. I put up a fight for a bit that we didn’t need him, but backed down on the stance once I actually saw the chaos of the Honduras border. He actually was a big help and a nice guy and the time saved by his knowledge was well worth the tip we gave him. So, soo much for our steadfast no help policy. Sometimes it’s just worth it.
Three more hours of dodging car-eating potholes plus one more half hour of dodging crazy border mongers and we were out a there and safe in the arms of peaceful and friendly Nicaragua.
Nicaragua has become one of our favorite countries in Central America, granted we still have two to go, but this country and it’s people are wonderful and much of the coast line is still vastly undeveloped. Just the way we like it.
Our first venture in to Nicaragua took us out on to the northern peninsula in search of some waves and to climb a volcano with a sunken lake in the middle. We struck out on finding the waves the first day and went in search of climbing the volcano instead. The volcano was supposed to lie near the very tip of the peninsula which jutted out in to the bay shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua scattered with islands to which they all dispute ownership of.
This peninsula has a few small fishing villages and nothing more. We took what we thought was the most logical dirt road to where the volcano was located, but when the road ended half way around the peninsula we realized it was never going to go up towards our destination. Not all was lost though, the road in itself was a destination and while bumping along it we spotted another car with surfboards atop. This must be an odd a sight as we thought because they waved us down to talk. Turned out the passenger in the car was an ex-pat who owned a little resort across the peninsula. He invited us to come by later and camp there.
We couldn’t imagine what this place was going to be like because it seemed an odd place for a resort in the middle of nowhere. However, him and his wife have really found a little paradise there. It is a small place, though they own lots of land around it. There are about four or five cabins for rent, one little restaurant and private beaches.
We saw that they offered hikes up the volcano we were trying to climb and asked them for directions for the following morning. We have tried to hike a few other volcanoes on this trip but were always turned away by either having to pay too much money or go with a tour group, neither one of which we are in to. With this one being free as long as we found the trail and supposedly somewhat technical, we were determined to finally get to the top of one.
Good thing we got directions because there is no way in hell we would have found this road to the trail either; if you can even call it a road. We spent about two hours on this overgrown jungle pathway crawling along in four low running over small trees and dodging deep washed out ruts. In our determination to get there we even took the time to chop down a tree that was obstructing our road.Once we reached what we were told was the parking by a small cement structure the hike up took about 20 minutes. Hmmm, I guess the technical part was the driving.
It was a beautiful view though, down in to the lake and out to the ocean surrounding all sides. We bushwhacked our way around most of the rim, Jed finally feeling like a real Central American Man by getting to put his machety to use. We even spotted a flock of bright green wild parrots that nest inside the volcano.
After this extremely long and strenuous hike we decided we were deserving of some hotel time so we drove down the mountain and hit the next big town, Chinandega. Not expecting much but to shower and use the internet, we were really impressed with this busy little city. It had a huge market and tons of amazing food. We spent two days here basically walking around and eating.
We took off towards the coast after day two, which took us through the city of Leon. This was another great city if only even more picturesque with it’s old Spanish architecture and the central century old cathedral. We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the streets were alive. We ended up spending the whole afternoon there exploring and listening to a live band in the street.
Around 4ish we finally did find our way to the coast near Leon, but deterred by the lack of surfable waves and cheap places to stay we quickly decided to cut back inland and take the dirt road further south. Not long after turning around, Jed laughed,“Ha, look who it is!” Coming right towards us were the Australians on the dirt bikes, honking and waving us down. They were at the end of their day of Honduras border crossings and were heading to the coast. Knowing that their amazing level of travel cheapness may even surpass Jed’s and my own, we told them of the situation ahead and that we were heading south. We decided to travel as a pack.
Nightfall came before we came upon the coast again and so in finding an empty lot at the end of a dirt road next to the beach we decided to just set up camp. We popped open some beers and started making dinner, exchanging stories of El Salvador, when a man started shining his flashlight on us. Assuming he was the owner of the land we thought he might ask us to leave, but instead he welcomed us and told us we were free to camp there as long as we want. Just another scary Nicaraguan!
The next morning we woke and looked out to the sea and decided there must be some good waves nearby. Or rather, our newly found Australian surf coaches sensed good waves nearby and we readily agreed.
Being low tide we took our wheels to the beach and within half an hour had found an amazing wave with nobody on it. We went to park our car and bikes in the town above, looked up and saw that there was a surf camp there. Of course! Nevertheless we were the only ones out there for a while and afterwards decided we would find a place to stay nearby. Jed and Ewan took off on the dirt bikes to scout out some potential camp sites.
Ewan found an abandoned house on the beach and asked the neighbors if they knew who owned it. He went to talk to the guy about staying there. He was more than willing and we rented the house for $1.50 per person/per night. The place had electricity, fresh water and a compost toilet out back; all the luxuries we needed. We ended up spending four nights here, cooking by fire, playing in the ocean and lounging around in the hammocks.
There were about 8 or more Nicaraguans who were working a nearby construction project and had all rented the house next door. They became our buddies and would always offer us to try some of their delicious feasts they were cooking up every day. We got to practice a lot of Spanish with them as they were also trying to learn English. They told me some interesting things about Nicaragua. In particular I thought it was cool that they consider their country the “lung of the Americas” because of it’s location and all of the active volcanoes and lakes within. This is where the Americas breathe!
The waves at our newly found break never really lived up to what they were the first day so one morning we decided to take a day trip and try to check out some breaks further south. As the typical story goes for us, we didn’t find a good wave but we did see some beautiful coastline and got to drive through a lot of rivers.
Jed and I even got momentarily stuck for the first time on the trip, but we were out on first try and then we even used the river to give our truck it’s first psuedo bath of the trip.
We moved on from our beach house after four days and continued to travel further south together. We found free camping on the beach every night and with all the money we were saving camping we decided that a bottle of rum was in order. However, we shortly realized that one bottle wasn’t going to last us very long and so Caitlin and I sent the boys off to town on the motor bikes for more while we fixed ourselves another drink. While they were gone we decided it was a good idea to play a game to see who could run the furthest on the overhanging sand bank before it gave way and collapsed with you in to the river. The boys returned and decided we needed to have a big Maine style burn, after all we had 5 gallons of reserve gasoline that was going bad. All I can really tell you from there is the next day required a lot of hammock time!
Jed did manage to come out on top though and spent the afternoon fishing. He was trying to spear some bait fish in the river-mouth, which wasn’t going so well, when a local guy came by and offered to run and get his net for him. When he returned and they had gathered some bait, he showed Jed the sweet spot. There were huge fish and Jed had his 40 pound line snapped twice, but he eventually outsmarted a fish he got on his line and had Ewan hold the pole while he swam out and speared it on first shot. We feasted that afternoon on the 10lb fish!
The next day the four us split ways. Ewan & Caitlin went off to meet up with her father who was flying in and Jed I ventured off in search of a refilling station for our propane tank. It was a lot of fun spending the week together and hopefully we will continue to bump in to each other along our journeys!