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Country of volcanoes

NICARAGUA | Monday, 3 February 2014 | Views [254]

From Costa Rica, the wealthiest and most stable country in Central America we have gone to Nicaragua, poorest country and one which is probably still best known for the Sandistina revolution which happened more than 30 years ago. Gone are the comfortable, fast but very silent buses of Costa Rica; we´re back on overcrowded (but ridiculously cheap) chicken buses, complete with two bus assistents, shouting the bus destination at potential passengers anywhere along the route, ¡Masaya Masaya Masaya Masayaaaaaaa! And as the bus slows down slightly as they pass a bunch of people, they half hang out the door, pointing at each of the potential passengers in turn, shouting  ¿Masaya? ¿Masaya? ¿Masaya Masaya? It´s their job to get as many people as possible on the bus and they take it seriously too.

You might wonder if tourists actually go to Nicaragua and the answer is a firm yes. If there´s a Lonely Planet on a country, there is an established tourist trail. And Isla Ometepe is definitely on it, as is Granada, the beautifully restored, old Spanish colonial city.  We´re going to both of these places. First destination is Isla Ometepe, a volcanic island in the gigantic Lake Nicaragua. It only takes two chicken buses, a taxi, a boat, and another chicken bus to get there from Liberia, Costa Rica where incidentally we soaked in a hot water spring near another volcano.

It´s easy to see the difference between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We rented a bike one day to go for a little ride around the island, past little villages. Most houses on Isla Ometepe are simple wooden huts, with dirt floors. Dogs, chickens, pigs and horses roam freely through the streets, and I saw a dog chase an inquisitive pig out of a little shop/house. We rode past a little creek where women and little girls were up to their thighs in water, washing clothes on a brick bench made into the riverbank. There are banana plantations everywhere and men were hard at work, cutting, loading, and transporting bananas. People get around on horse and cart, sturdy old mountain bikes or motorbikes. It´s completely normal to see a whole family loaded onto a motorbike, though I did read in the newspaper that they are trying to stop people from doing this (only the driver normally wears a helmet, if at all).

Granada is a bit different; it´s a biggish city with a beautifully restored centre which is a big tourist drawcard. Our hotel is at the end of a tourist strip, also beautifully done up but a total target for all sorts of sales techniques. At night small marachi bands, people spruiking hammocks or handmade artefacts, and young boys playing drums line up to go through the strip, over and over. It´s quite a sight and can get a bit crazy and uncomfortable at times. We keep a bit of change on us but the general advise is not to just give money to begging children.  Some volunteer work in Leon next week seems like a better way to make a small difference in this poor country.

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