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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

Week 18 – Mainland Nicaragua

NICARAGUA | Wednesday, 27 July 2011 | Views [1313]

And they pull me over because passing on a solid yellow line isn't safe...wtf.

And they pull me over because passing on a solid yellow line isn't safe...wtf.

I last left you at the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. To say that a lot has happened between now and then is a massive understatement. I had one of the most exciting weeks of riding on my trip, punctuated with meeting heaps of fun and interesting people, and finishing up with a change of plans here on Little Corn Island in the Caribbean (see next blog post, Weeks 19 & 20). It’s been a helluva ride here in Nicaragua.

Northern Nicaragua was a lovely place to ride. Smooth, open paved roads, punctuated with short, muddy detours where workers were installing culverts beneath the road. Volcanoes lined up on the horizon to escort me into the town of Leon. Nothing special happened there, except that I could never seem to orient myself in that town. I think I spent the majority of my time there wondering where in the hell I was.
I continued south to Lago Nicaragua and Isla de Ometepe. Just south of Leon, the road turned to shit. I swear, there were more potholes than there was pavement for the vast majority of that ride. Semis rumbled towards me on any part of the road that made their ride smoother, pushing me off to the margins. As my friend Tom wrote on his blog, as a motorcyclist I’m expected to create space for other vehicles on the road. It is my job, and I do it willingly for the most part, considering the consequences.
It was perhaps five minutes after finishing this slow and rough road that I nearly killed myself [sorry mom]. I was following a bus rather closely looking for a chance to pass. The buses down here are old school buses from the US, repainted in garish colors and covered with decals to look way radder than what I went to school in. But they don’t go fast at all, and, having spent the past decade in a country with no emissions standards, they belch out the most unbelievable clouds of black, acrid exhaust that I’ve ever seen in my life. So passing them is a matter of health. During a passing opportunity, I pulled out from behind the bus and saw an oncoming car in the distance. Thwarted, I swerved gently back behind the bus, right as the bus drove over a massive [cantaloupe-sized and jagged] rock in the road, which passed harmlessly between the bus’s wheels and suddenly emerged twenty feet ahead of me, directly in my path.
I drove straight over it at 50 mph.
There was no other option, and as it went under the front tire, I clearly remember thinking,“This crash is going to be serious and awful.” But I didn’t crash. I drove straight over the rock, front and back wheels, which caused the bike to swerve mightily, carrying me left and right in a massive wobble four, five, six times…and then I stabilized it, got the bike back under control, and promptly pulled to the side of the road. My heart was pounding like I’d just faced the Nevis bungee jump again, and in the side mirror I saw that my eyes were wild. But I was fine. The bike was fine. I was swearing a blue streak: why the hell was a rock like that left in the middle of the road?!? F%#&ing Central America. I swear, sometimes… Granted, this is a section of the world where it’s necessary to post signs on the road explicitly saying, “DON’T LEAVE ROCKS ON THE PAVEMENT.” Seriously. I’ll post a picture sometime.
In my mirror, I saw two Nicaraguan guys who had watched me nearly crash move the rock out of the road. I waved a thank you at them, checked the wheels again, and drove off, swearing to forever follow other vehicles behind their wheels only, never between, even for three seconds. As I cruised along on high alert, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been able to keep the bike upright in a similar situation a few months ago, when I first began riding. Is it possible that I’m getting better at this, or am I just extremely lucky?
Not half an hour later I hit more trouble. For the second time in two days of riding, I was pulled over by the cops for straight-up blatantly breaking the law. The first time had been in Honduras. I blew straight through a police checkpoint without a backwards glance, even though they were gesturing for me to stop. It must have been the twentieth time on the trip I’d done that…but this time, for the first time, they chased me down. The second time was on my way to the Lago. I passed a slow moving truck on a solid yellow line (very safely, and no, that's not an oxymoron), only to pop out in front and be confronted by two bored policemen. Whoopsadaisy. But here’s the miraculous thing: with a combination of stubbornness and friendliness, I managed to get out of both situations without paying a single centavo.
Days like that one, where I nearly crashed (but didn't) and had a run-in with cops (without paying), can either make me more cautious, or, if I'm not careful, more cocky. I’m aiming for the former.
Later that afternoon, I loaded up my bike onto the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. The lake water was brown and turbid, with waves crashing on the beach like in the ocean. Off in the distance, the twin volcanoes of the Isla rose darkly out of the water. I wasn’t convinced that this place was going to be as pretty as I’d been told. Fortunately, as the boat approached the verdant shores of the island, I found myself confronted with a green and tropical paradise in the middle of an endless lake. Driving around to my hotel, Little Morgan’s, was immensely enjoyable. There were more bicycles than motorized vehicles on the road. Everything was green and healthy looking, growing out of obsidian-black volcanic soil. The two volcanoes towered above me whenever I looked up, and the larger of the two often had a white cap of cloud and smoke around its summit. It looked for all the world like it had been picked up, dipped in cloud frosting, then put back down on the island.
Little Morgan’s was an awesome spot at the end of a rough section of road. I was able to hang my hammock in a treehouse for three dollars a night, with beach access and a delicious restaurant/bar onsite. Heaven. I stayed three nights there, spending the evening hours swapping tales with other travelers, and the days exploring the cold springs and butterfly gardens of the island. Isla de Ometepe is exactly as magical as people make it out to be.
When I left the island, I enjoyed a quick and straightforward drive north to the colonial town of Granada. I found lodging at the Oasis Hostel, which had an interior parking lot for the bike. In the market outside, I bought a new liter of oil, and set about working on the bike a bit. I changed the oil, cleaned and lubed the chain, and replaced the spark plug (I’ve been having starter and acceleration problems that could be attributed to an old spark plug, but unfortunately the new spark plug did not fix these problems).
A few hours later, hot and sweaty and ready for a break, I went back to the dorm room and met a new friend, Greg. We spent the afternoon wandering around Granada, making mischief with the local vendors, and drinking Cadillac margaritas at a local bar. It was quite an entertaining evening. Sadly, I could not stay and enjoy the town longer, even though it seemed worthy of exploration. I had a boat to catch.
And that’s where my story will pick up in the next installment. Thanks for reading!
Until next time,

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