Monday, May 3, 2010

Nicaragua

April 5th and 6th

We leave the flat agricultural plains under their leaden skies and begin to climb the last 20 miles or so to the border crossing into Nicaragua.

As we do so, the intensive factory farming diminishes and we move back to a more natural setting as the land rises and folds upon itself. Exclusive Fincas set back from the main road behind imposing gate and fence are now replaced by smallholdings hidden amongst banana and coconut....


As we pass the patient ranks of haulage trucks queued at the roadside, the grey skies begin to spit at us once more and we run the gauntlet of hyperactive money changers to the frontier. We had hoped to extend our rapidly expiring visas here, but officials explain that is not possible. We must now get to the immigration office in the capital Managua; or we could simply leave Nicaragua for Costa Rica - we have 4 days left.

Two other cyclists are embroiled in the border crossing formalities and we join up to enter our eighth country of the tour with German cyclists Nils and Caroline riding from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego....


Having climbed to yet another invisible line drawn in the sand to demarcate nation states, we fall down the mountainside into Nicaragua. Nicaragua has a sad reputation for being, by some distance, the poorest country in the region. First impressions, however are of well kept, cheerful little mountain towns; their plazas heavily planted and brimming with colourful blooms. The road condition improves markedly leaving Honduras and we see road signs with place names marked at road junctions. If that is unusual in Central America what is almost unique are the well maintained Armco barriers and warning signs on the tighter bends. Even the weather begins to improves as heavy skies lift to reveal blue behind the grey....


No idea what this little fellow is hitching a ride on my shirt, but a close up of his tiny fingernail size body reveals a world of colour - and the fact that he is taking a leak on said shirt....


Toilet break over, we cruise the 20 odd kilometers, all downhill to our first overnight stop at Ocotal where our good first impressions continue. Booking into Hotel San Martin, the owner just could not be happier we are staying with him and the fact that I share a name with the hotel just pushes him into a contented delight. Given that we eat at a local BBQ cafe and have a room for two for less than $11 US, we are pretty happy too.

After the initial drop to Ocotal, the land flattens off once more and again, industrial farming begins to dominate the landscape. This time the crop in question is tobacco and massive swathes of land are given over to the raw material for Nicaragua's high quality cigar business....


Where the earth is not carpeted in these most valuable of green leaves, it sprouts huge clapboard sheds - the drying rooms where the harvest is brought for those leaves to fade and take on their more familiar colour....


Set against the backdrop of immense wealth generated from cash crops, Nicaragua is also a country of intense poverty and it is hard to forget that as we travel past some very obvious signs....


Where people have a scrap of land, they too grow tobacco rather than vegetables for food. There is a well defined hierarchy of growers, buyers and processors set up to turn leaf into finished product and we are passed by trucks creaking under the weight of impossible loads....


We continue to get a very positive feel for the place though when we pause to take a water break and an old rusting hulk of a pick up truck stops and reverses back to our spot so the driver can enquire if we are OK. I am busy digging a stone out of my tyre and he asks if he can help. I refuse, so he wonders if he can give us a ride to the next town for repairs and I again refuse as there is no need. Casting about blindly now for something he can do to assist us, his eyes settle on a 10 Cordoba note wedged into a gap in the otherwise empty expanse of his dashboard. He has no radio, no central console of switches, he doesn't even have clocks for speed and distance, but he does have 10 Cordobas (about half a dollar) and insists I take it. It is nothing to me and probably a great deal more to him so again I refuse, but he forces it on me 'for luck'. I take it and put it away to keep - I will not be spending that one and keep it as a symbol of his generosity.

The land is lower lying now and sweltering. Nicaragua is a mostly uncharted jungle wilderness for two thirds of it's landmass to the north, all the way to the Mosquito Coast on the Caribbean Sea. The population of around seven million is squeezed into the southern third of the country and then further squeezed in between two mountain ranges rising towards Honduras in the West and up to Costa Rica in the East. This leaves a narrow strip of land looking like the profile of a bath tub - flat in the middle and steeply rising at either end dotted with towns and cities that share space with volcanoes and lakes. The whole lot sits just above sea level and at this latitude, temperatures hover in the 90's and above all year round.

The natives take a bath and cool off....


On reaching Esteli - the first city of any size we are reminded that the rainy season is not too far away now as the skies suddenly turn slate grey and ominous above a street murals caught in the last rays of evening sun....


Our original plan was to leave our bikes in Esteli and get a bus into the capital; 'Managua' to extend our visas before returning to collect them and ride on. Now we are at the point of decision, this just seems wrong and we cannot bring ourselves to leave our trusty steeds behind even if it would save us time. Now we reason that it would be better to ride to Managua just in case there is a problem and we cannot obtain an extension, where we would then be with the bikes and we could make a mad dash for the Costa Rican border. We decide to ride the 100 miles or so to Managua the next day and it turns out to be a portentous decision....

8 comments:

Andres Esparza said...

Hi!
My name is Andy and I´m on a bike tour in Central America right now! At the moment I am in Somotillo, Nic. on the Nic./Hon. border.

I have yet to meet another cyclist on the road. I was just hoping to get an idea of your whereabouts or see if you know of any other tourers out here right now.

Your blog is amazing, keep it up.

My email is alive.in.dreams@gmail.com

Email me if you can and you can follow my blog on facebook. Just do a search using my email address.

cheers and ride on!
andy.

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