Monday, October 13, 2008

TR Nicaragua - Part 2

10/02 – 10/10/08
Part 2

Now where did we leave off? Oh yes – I was getting ready to leave Matagalpa and drive to Southwestern Nicaragua. I knew the way back to Managua but was concerned about driving through the capital city of 1.5 Million people with no street signs and no road/directional signs.

When I arrived back to the NE suburbs of Managua the fun began – no signs and no directions. I managed to find my way downtown and then had to stop twice for directions. It surprised me that nobody spoke English including the bell hop at the Hilton hotel but they did give me directions (in Spanish) to the main road leading south out of the city to Granada and I arrived in Granada in time for lunch. I parked the car near the main city park, Parque Colon, and walked. Since Granada and the Pacific Coast are the main tourist areas of Nicaragua I was expecting to find a better tourist infrastructure and people who spoke English? I was disappointed! There was neither. The only person in Granada who spoke English was the desk clerk at the hotel – a small, luxury boutique hotel for $45/night a few blocks from Parque Colon. Granada didn’t seem to have the same charm and atmosphere that I remembered from 20 years ago when we toured the city in a horse carriage? Nevertheless I toured the city on foot and took some photos for my readers. And I did find one craft/souvenir shop where I was able to buy some postcards. After a hot and humid afternoon of walking I was ready for a cool beer and a good dinner. I found a very nice restaurant that served a local freshwater bass from Lake Nicaragua. It was delicious and cost $20 including a bottle of wine!

The next morning I ran down Calle La Calzeda to the Centro Turistico along Lake Nicaragua for a pleasant 10Km run without any traffic. After breakfast I headed off to the Pacific Coast. I initially got lost trying to leave the city but soon found the Pan American Hwy heading to Costa Rica. As I drove through Rivas – the gateway to the South – I considered a detour to the ferry terminal at San Jorge to take a ferry over to Isla de Ometepe – the largest island in the world in a freshwater lake (Nicaragua). Its name is derived from the Nahuati words ‘ome’ meaning one and ‘tepeti’ meaning hill or mountain – the place of two mountains. There are two volcanoes – Volcan Cocepcion (1610m), still active and Volcan Maderas (1395m) that can be hiked but the weather was overcast/rain and I couldn’t see either volcano so I drove on to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast.

San Juan del Sur is a small seaside village located on San Juan Bay with the San Juan River flowing through the town. There are several luxury condos and communities built around/near San Juan for gringos! San Juan Bay has several small but excellent seafood restaurants located right on the beach. I liked the town immediately and booked a beautiful luxury hotel overlooking the Bay. I decided to stay for 2 nights and use San Juan as a base. If I wanted to visit Isla de Ometepe I could do it from there.
It didn’t take long to explore the entire town on foot and discover much to my surprise that nobody spoke English? There were a few craft/souvenir shops and I managed to buy most of the things I needed - and then I was bored already! I checked out the restaurants along the Bay and later enjoyed a delicious sea bass and a bottle of wine for less than $20!
The next morning I decided to run an easy 10Km. However the road along the Bay was only 1Km and after running every street in town I still hadn’t run 3Km? I was forced to run on the only road leading into/out of town. The locals (Nicas) looked at me like I was crazy? I noticed during my run that there was a huge discrepancy between the typical Nica hacienda and the typical Gringo hacienda? (See photos). I have to believe there is a huge problem with security/crime?

After my run and breakfast I was bored again? I didn’t want to drive anywhere because I wasn’t all that comfortable driving in Nicaragua so I forced myself to rest and relax on the beach (tough work for a Maddog) until it was ‘Miller’ time. Then I visited the restaurants for another great seafood dinner and wine. On my last morning I skipped the roads in town for running and just headed straight out the hwy for 5Km and returned to the funny looks of the Nicas?

Then it was time to drive back towards Managua. As I drove towards Rivas I luckily got a glimpse of the volcanoes on Isla de Ometepe and stopped for some photos.I figured it might be easier to stay in Masaya – the “Cradle of Nicaraguan Culture’ that is the regional capital of the Meseta Central and home to the national ‘artesania (handicraft) market - rather than trying to stay in Managua. I arrived in Masaya in time for lunch and parked near the artesania market. As I was shopping for the few final souvenirs I needed I lucked in and met a retired expat from Florida who was living in Masaya (the only person I met who spoke English?). We had a long conversation. He gave me directions to the ‘best’ hotel in town and told me that I was either very brave –or foolish – to drive in Nicaragua. He sold his car one year after moving there because it was too dangerous to drive! However he did inform me that it was possible to use back roads to bypass Managua and get directly to the airport. He gave me excellent directions. Since there were no street signs directions were based on landmarks i.e. turn right at ABC restaurant and continue to XYZ factory and turn left, etc.

I parked the car at the ‘best’ hotel – at least was clean, had A/C and TV and most importantly 24 hr security - and spent the afternoon doing a walking tour of the city. It is not a pretty city! There are few hotels and few restaurants! But there was a special festival being held that evening at the artesania market and I enjoyed watching traditional dancers from Panama and Nicaragua performing. The hotel had warned me not to walk around after 9pm but it was only 3 blocks back to the hotel so I risked it and walked fast. I had no problems! When I arrived back at the hotel the staff advised me to move the car into the hotel lot –“it was not safe on the streets”. I let the staff move it and I wisely never left the hotel again until I was ready to drive to the airport!

My expat friend had provided excellent directions and I drove directly to the airport using back roads and bypassing Managua without getting lost! I was happy to turn the car back in and ready to go home!

So to summarize some comments:

Q50 Ultra
The race was very well organized. The race director and staff were friendly and supportive and gladly accommodated my request to add a marathon to the race. The course was well marked and the race was well supported.

I am not in any rush to go back! The Nicas are friendly but there is lots of poverty and filth throughout the country. Real estate, hotels, meals, etc. are cheap but there is no tourist or even normal infrastructure. You need to be adventurous and flexible to visit or live there. Do not drive!

I am happy to be back home although the heat and humidity in FL right now are as bad as Nicaragua.
I have to start preparing for my next race where the geographical and environmental conditions will be completely opposite to this trip - my next marathon/adventure in three weeks is in the Sahara Desert!

Stay tuned!


Thomas said...

jason guest said...

Nice summary! I am a first time reader and responder to your site and just stumbled across your blog via 'google alerts' for Nicaragua, for I am evaluating an agribusiness venture there. Keep up the good work; just read about you recently in Outside Magazine. Hit it and hit it hard.

Jason Guest
Austin, Texas