Monday, 29 September 2014

0108 Masaya volcano to San Jorge

Woke up at about 7 am, but as the Visitor Centre (and the toilets !) didn’t open till 9 am, and there was a boom across the road preventing us from going up to the Volcano, we had a leisurely breakfast and pack up. By the time the Rangers rolled up at about 10 past 9, followed by a number of school buses packed with school kids on a Saturday excursion, we were glad we had woken up early otherwise our awakenings and breakfast would have been shared with hundreds of locals !!  As we already had our tickets, we went off up the mountain before the hoards had a chance. Evidently the weather was OK, and the volcano had settled down after its eruptive activity the night before. As a side note, once again this visitor’s centre was obviously really nice when it was first built 20 or 30 years ago, but it has since been allowed to fall apart a bit, with the display inside all looking a bit sad, and outside wooden fences rotting, garbage bins full and over flowing, and the picnic area over grown and almost inaccessible.  It is still nice, but with just a little bit of maintenance and TLC, it could be first class.  I liked the pillars which (used to) support the (now rotted) wooden fencing – All built out of rough lava flow rocks.

Masaya is probably one of the few very volcanos in the world where you can drive your car right up to the rim itself, and look down into Hades. We would our way up the hill through the lava fields, and arrived in the car park – Where the whistles of the rangers got our attention and made us park over on the side of the car park, and not the section along the edge of the crater – It seems the volcano was not being very quiet after all ! (If a volcano erupts, surely 30 feet is not going to make that much difference to being blown to kingdom come ?) Anyway, in a nice touch, we were allowed to walk along this section, even though we couldn’t park our car there.   Hmmmm !

The Volcano is made up of several individuals vents – The two main ones, and the ones that have caused all the trouble over the years, are Masaya (the main one), and Nindiri, and these sit side by side on the mountain.  Masaya is currently dormant, with trees growing inside it, but Nindiri now has 3 separate craters within its original main crater – Santiago, Nindiri in the middle, and then San Pedro over on the right.  It seems to be Nindiri that is doing all the erupting at
the moment, but it is hard to tell because there is so much sulphurous steam billowing out thatat times you can see nothing.  It really does look like Hades down there, especially with the every present vultures circling in the sky above, or perched on the edge of the craters waiting for ??? to appear so they can tear it apart !  After looking into the haze for a while, we walked up the hill to the Masaya crater, probably 1-2 kms away, but that was rather disappointing in comparison, with green trees and vegetation now growing inside the once destructive crater.  But the views back to the Nindiri crater were more impressive from higher up, with the clouds of steam billowing out in front of us, and the view changing every 15 seconds as  the winds swirled the clouds this way and that.  By the time we got back down to the Nindiri crater there seemed to be a lot less steam for a while, and you could clearly see down into the bowels of the crater, and see the lip of the newer internal crater inside. As always, photos do not adequately give the impression of the sheer (virtually 90 degree) sides of the crater, nor the eeriness of the inner craters where they disappear from view in the clouds of sulphurous steam almost directly below you.  It is said that in periods of (not so distant) political turbulence in Nicaragua, leaders had political opponents thrown over the edge into the volcano !!

Soon the buses with all the school kids started arriving, but by then we had seen enough, and the increasingly dense clouds of steam were starting to obscure the craters again, so we got into Troopie and headed off the mountain.  A great experience, and a very enjoyable hike up the mountain to the other volcano, but it was time to move on and we set off to Granada, just 50 kms or so away.

In Nicaragua’s past, Leon and Granada were both past capital cities, and apparently both have an elegant charm about them.  Managua is currently the capital, and apparently is not a pleasant city to visit, and has no colonial buildings or other interesting sights – Just lots of traffic.  So we decided to avoid it and head straight to Granada.  The area is of course rich in violent history, with British (and other) pirates like Henry Morgan having a big role to play in sacking and burning Granada on various occasions, and an American “adventurer” (for  want of a better word) from Tennessee called William Walker even becoming Nicaragua’s president for a while. When he was finally ousted he apparently razed Granada to the ground, determined that if he couldn’t have it, then no one else could either !  Despite the many fine buildings that now make up the city, there is still much evidence of the fires and destruction of the past, with blackened walls of some of the older churches from the fires, and a fair bit of damage still evident.  But a charming city – Maybe not quite on a par with Antigua Guatemala, but very enjoyable to visit nevertheless.  After finding a good parking spot for Troopie right off the main square, we wandered around for a while and went up the very narrow staircase of the bell tower of the Iglesia Merced, which offers a great view over the tiled rooftops of the city.  This church was sacked and burnt by Henry Morgan, and even today is still being renovated and brought back to its former glory (as evidenced by the modern Leonardo da Vincis perched high on a scaffolding (with no railings or safety harnesses !) using rollers to paint the vaulted ceiling !)

On the way back to the main square Janet spotted a hammock factory and dragged me in unwillingly – Only to find an amazing set up within.  Tio Antonio who we were fortunate enough to meet briefly)  has set up a workshop to make hammocks, and a coffee shop alongside, where he employs only people with sight, hearing, or vocal problems.  And the deal is that they have to go to school to be able to work there, so  they are gaining an education as well as skills.  Two of the hammock weavers were totally blind, and one of them made a hammock for the current Pope Francis, and the letter back thanking them for the gift (and their story) is proudly displayed on the wall. After we had watched them making hammocks for a while, and been on a brief tour (which included a photo with the largest hammock in Nicaragua), we went through to the coffee shop, where the walls are totalled covered in pictures of all the sign language needed to enable you to order your food and coffee, and to say “Thank you” etc correctly, as al the staff there are deaf mutes.  After we had got our coffee and a yummy burrito, we enjoyed the cool and calm of the shop – Outside it was a humid 30+ degrees, but inside this courtyard it was beautifully cool. 

As we left, we jumped into a horse drawn carriage which is the local form of taxi around the middle of the town (no tuk tuks round here, for a change !), as Janet wanted to go down to the waterfront area, where the town fronts onto the enormous Lake Antigua. As we rode (were driven ?) down through the main streets, our driver Angel pointed out the various old churches, convents and missions along the way (many with blackened walls from the fires of the 1800’s).  But as we got down to the waterfront, the expected café’s and hotels and restaurants were not there – Much to our surprise, the area is totally empty and somewhat run down.  It seems that they did not want the city to front oto the lake – Maybe that made them too vulnerable to marauding pirates ?  There is a large building there which was apparently once a fort, and  large derelict hotel building, and a statue of Francisco Hernandez Cordoba, one of the Cinquistadores who played an important role in this area in the 1600’s,  but apart from that, nothing ! So Angel took us back up into the central plaza, (with his his horses called Mercedes and Benz – Ha ha !!), and after wandering amongst all the people for a while (Saturday – Lots of activity in the main plaza !), we found a little café to have a rest, a cup of coffee, and some ice cream and warm bananas (not my idea, but they were rather nice !).  Then we jumped into Troopie and headed south towards the Costa Rican border.

We knew of a possible camping place near Rivas, in a little lakeside town called San Jorge, so we headed there through the very pleasant countryside. Once we got back on the main Highway 1, the PanAmerican Highway that runs from New York right through Central and South America, the traffic got quite busy with all the trucks and buses, but we found Rivas, and turned off towards San Jorge no problem.  As the roads narrowed down in the little town, we started to wonder about our destination (as usual), but suddenly there it was - “Hotel California”. We saw the motorhome of our French friends Greg and Estelle (they had gone out to an island Omotepe for a day or so), so we were about to camp in the little compound when we discovered that the camping had no banos or showers.  As it has been a couple of days since we saw a shower (no comments please – This is Central America after all !) we decided to take a hotel room instead, which with shower and all the required conveniences, and air conditioning, set us back a whole $30 – So we took it !

We then drove down through the little town to see what there was to see – And not 200 yards down the road it ended in an enormous port, and a beach !  The port was for the vehicle ferries that take people out to the Omotepe Island (complete with two of its own volcanos, one of 5285 m and the other 4413 m !!), and the beach was for driving on – So we did.  While driving up the beach there were restaurants and bars all the way along, and one waiter seemed to be waving at us extremely enthusiastically, so we went over for a beer – And stayed for dinner !!  While we were waiting for our meal, a group of people we having an impromptu dance on the sand to the music from the bar, and then started looking at all the signs on our car.  So we went over for a chat, and it ended up that they offered to get us some local souvenirs for our car ! Erick was one of the guys, and he is a local Notary Public, and Solanller Lopez, I think it was, but it was very kind of them all to be so friendly to us, and to offer gifts to us.   We waited for them to return, but finally decided that maybe they would not come back for a while, so we returned to the hotel.  Then 5 minutes later, while we were unpacking, in they drove with their gifts – How very kind of them.  I keep saying this, the people down here are so kind and friendly, and always go out of their way to make us feel welcome.  Thank you, Erick and Solanller and your friends and family – It is people like you that make life, and trips like ours, so pleasant and so much fun.  Muchas Gracias.

After that, we enjoyed our showers (cold of course, but that is now the acceptable norm !!), and after a bit of time on the blog, we turned in.  Hopefully I can get the blog and photos up in the morning – The wifi seems to work really well out in the car park, but doesn’t reach the rooms, and I had no intention of sitting out in the car park in my pyjamas for half the night !!

It is now Sunday morning, and once we are packed up we are setting off to the Costa Rican border to continue our journey south.  We now have a confirmed booking to ship Troopie from Panama to Columbia on about 9th October, so we need to be in Panama in about a week from now.  So that leaves us enough time to explore a bit of both Costa Rica and Panama before we head down to South America.

Pics here :-

1 comment:

  1. I noted how clean this place is and how few people were around.
    Loved the Horses..................x