After the last blog we only stayed a couple more days in Honduras and it was mainly driving. We were still anxious about Francieís paperwork and wanted to just get the border crossing out of the way before Jimmyís 40th birthday. We had also decided to spend his birthday in Granada, Nicaragua which we heard was a lively town. After all our worrying, the border crossing went fine. It was $3 each to leave Honduras and $7 each to enter Nicaragua and the vehicle permit was free. There were young lads everywhere hounding us to help us with the whole process in exchange for a tip. We were fine on our own and didnít need any help. Then one lad said we needed to go to the quarantine station on the Honduran side to stamp Francie out of the country. He was heading to the office to alert the officials when we caught up with him and politely told him to shut his bloody mouth about the dog. None of the officials had mentioned the dog so far. So we got in the van and drove pass the station as quickly as possible over to the Nicaraguan side and not a word was said. Here, we decided we would go to the quarantine station to see what the story was for the dog as we didnít want the same worry again in Nicaragua. The official was really nice and printed us up a one month permit for Francie on his ancient typewriter and off we went.
We drove straight for Granada that day and headed for the tourist district by the Lake Nicaragua. It was basically a one mile strip of restaurants and bars but there was no official parking. We found one restaurant that had plenty of room to park beside and the owner didnít mind at all. It was a Friday night and they had a salsa band playing until 2am every night over the weekend. It was great. We sat in the van drinking our own booze and had free entertainment. The lads in the band were really nice and came over for a chat when they saw Jimmy and myself sitting in the van trying to play along with them on the accordion and bodhran. They had never heard Irish music before so asked me to play a few tunes some night over the weekend. We spent all day Saturday in the town of Granada just wandering around the market place. It is a really beautiful town situated on the lake and at the foot of a volcano, a bit touristy but not overdone. I managed to get away for a few hours on my own to try and get Jimmy a birthday present. Apart from socks and boxers there was very little else to choose from. I ended up buying him a dagger with a really nicely ornamented handmade handle and cover to slide it into. Itís kind of hard to describe it but it was the best I could do and he actually really liked it eventually! The following day was his birthday so we went into the town for the afternoon for a few cocktails. When we arrived back at the restaurant the French family had arrived. We had texted them to let them know where to park. There was also another truck with a caravan. The owners were a Canadian man and his South African wife who were on their way to Costa Rica to live. We ended up having a great night with all of them. The band sang Happy Birthday for Jimmy and then invited us up on the stage to play. The place was packed and I played a few tunes. It was a bit of a ďBack to the FutureĒ moment when we finished. They all looked a bit bewildered by the music so I suppose they are just not ready for Irish music. Stefan and Lydie, the French couple, taught us how to salsa dance and we danced the rest of the night away. The next day the country was celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception. We headed into town and watched the parade. They had a statue of Our Lady mounted on a platform decorated in flowers and were carrying it on their shoulders. The whole town followed while a band played and fireworks went off constantly. They had all the streets decorated with blue and white buntings and flowers. It was a pretty cool sight to see and topped off the great weekend we had.
We stayed at the restaurant for a few more days and used it as a base to see some of the other sights in the area. Lake Nicaragua which is supposed to be one of the biggest highlights of the country was a bit of a disappointment. The beach was filthy and the water too. We drove to another Lake Apoyo and did a short hike around it. It was a lot nicer and is actually sitting in the crater of a volcano that exploded years ago. A long, black snake crossed my path as we were walking and frightened the crap out of me. We met a guy a few minutes later and asked him if they were poisonous and he said some of them were. We walked back to the van as fast as we could with Francie leading the way! We also spent a day in a town nearby called Masaya which is the folkloric and crafts center of the country. The handicraft market was brilliant so we bought some more artwork and souvenirs.
Nicaragua is the largest of all the Central American countries but most of the country is undrivable so we were kind of limited to where we could go. We avoided Managua, the capital city, as we had heard there were some political riots going on. We were only about 70km from the Costa Rican border but were not ready to leave Nicaragua just yet. The people here were really friendly and we just generally got a good vibe from the country. So we decided to drive to the coastal town of San Juan del Sur for a few days. When we arrived in the town we drove right into a FSLN rally (the Sandinistas political party). There were hundreds of people on the streets wearing the FSLN t-shirts and waving black and red flags. Bus loads of people were still arriving with people even crammed onto the roof of the bus. John Lennonís song ďGive Peace a Chanceí was blaring all over the town. Apparently President Ortega of Nicaragua was in the town to give a speech. The whole reason for the recent riots in Managua was because of some kind of recent elections that the people felt Ortega had rigged. Apparently he had paid young people to vote for him and given false IDís to younger kids so that they could vote. So we both got a little bit freaked out that we were driving into something crazy. It was too late to drive somewhere else so we headed down to the marina and luckily they let us park up between a few boats behind their armed gates. Curiosity got the better of us though and we walked down the town to hear the presidentís speech. It actually wasnít as disorganized as it appeared when we first arrived. There were police everywhere controlling the crowd and it all went off with no problems. It was hard to get a good picture of the president though because they had so many bright lights shining back into the crowd. We couldnít understand a word he was saying either but it was a great experience to be there.
We were parked up between a couple of boats and assumed that they were vacant. When we arrived back from the rally we realized we had neighbors. An American couple Scottie and Katie and their daughter Sarah were living on the boat and had been for five and a half years! They spent three years in Oregon and the rest of the time sailing south. They just pull into different ports along the way and stay if they like it. They already spent eleven months in Mexico and eight months in El Salvador. They planned to stay at this port for a year. The labor and material is really cheap here so they are going to spend time remodeling the boat. They arenít affluent by any means. Scottie does some carpentry work for the local people and Katie makes bagels to sell to the hotels and markets and this is what they live on. They are planning to keep sailing south and basically live on the boat for as long as possible. They were really interesting people to talk to and we even got a tour of the boat. The next day Sarah brought us to a vet to see if we could get Francie shaved. His hair is getting too long and the weather is very hot for him so we decided he needed to get rid of it. The vet was out sick so we went for a walk around the town. Jimmy went into a barberís shop for the laugh just to see the barberís face when he asked if he could shave Francie. To his surprise the barber said no problem. That evening we returned and he brought Francie down the alley way beside the shop. God love him, he had no idea what he was letting himself in for. After an hour he was sweating and kept shaking his head. Myself and Jimmy had a pair of scissors each and were helping him by cutting as much hair off as possible so he could get the razor through. At one stage we were doing all the work and he was just standing looking at us drinking a beer. Eventually he gave up and pretended his razor had died. For $10 it wasnít a bad deal and we had got most of the hair off. It took us another two hours back at the van to finish it up. Francie is a lot happier now though with that big fur coat gone. The French family arrived that evening and the youngest boy Julian didnít even recognize Francie. He couldnít believe it was the same dog!
While we were waiting for Francieís hair appointment we went to drop off laundry and go to the bank. We were walking up the street when a red haired guy approached us and asked us if we were from Ireland. He had noticed the Irish stickers on the van. His name was John Crilly from Derry and had just moved here with his wife and six month old baby. They drove all the way from New York in a truck and caravan! It turned out he knew a really good friend of ours Tim Fleming that I played in a band with back in Chicago. He had worked for Timís brother in a bar in New York for nine years. It is such a small world. He invited us to stay at their house and we were delighted. It was an unexpected treat for us to stay in a house and have a proper shower. We stayed with him and his wife Julie for two nights. They brought us to a beach that we wouldnít have been able to get to in the van and then a couple of really nice resorts with swimming pools and the works. Their baby Aine is absolutely gorgeous too and a little dote. We met their neighbor Mark, an American guy building a house down here, who cooked a deadly surf and turf dinner for all of us. Thatís one thing that we love about doing this trip. We wake up in the morning and we have no idea what the day will bring, who we will meet and where we will end up that night. Luckily we have been meeting great people like John and Julie along the way that make it all the more worthwhile.
It was a short but really enjoyable time in Nicaragua. Itís a great country and is one we would visit again. Unfortunately we have a long way to go and have to keep moving. We are in Costa Rica at the moment but youíll have to wait until the next blog for that update.