12.16.08 and 12.17.08 Esteli to Volcano Masaya

Masaya Travel Blog

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12.16.08 and 12.17.08  Esteli to Volcano Masaya


Yesterday we spent all day at Camp Camestra enjoying Lee, Gene, and Chandra from Canada.  They’ve been traveling Central America for a year, are returning from Panama now, and have another 9 months to play before Chandra starts school.  They were a wealth of information!  I learned so much from them and got many good tips, camping places, and tried to return the favor on a much smaller scale for point north of here.  We had a wonderful, relaxing day.


I spent a long time into the night researching our multiple sources of notes, finding on my computer the “99 Days to Panama” Updates of 50 pages in a Word document that I had not yet printed out (and could have used, trust me!) for camping locations.  There is so much information on camping in Central America, but I could name the folks who have kindly provided it.  It is a small group and I hope to share what I know because their data is SO helpful!


Gene and Lee are just fearless and so resourceful.  When I mentioned to Lee our need to empty the tanks, she suggested we ask the vigilante (who we tipped both nights), and he took us out to the field beside the Club, lifted a cement square off a concrete sewer dump!  Taa-daa!  I tipped him again.  I need to become more resourceful.  They are an inspiration and we so enjoyed them!


We’re so excited about getting Ned tomorrow!  We are camped about 30 minutes up nice, country roads from the Managua Airport.  I’m delighted that the airport is about 12 km east of Managua and so we shouldn’t have to enter (on this direction of our trip) as it is considered extremely convoluted, confusing, and non-tourist friendly.  In fact, if you must drive in Managua, it’s recommended that you stop before entering the city and pay a taxi to escort you through it!


Instead, tomorrow we plan to head on the road we followed today to the airport, and then take Ned to Masaya, an arts and crafts center for Nicaragua for his birthday present!  Then we’ll enjoy a few nights at the beautiful, colonial city of Grenada before enjoying a week with him in western Costa Rica.  We are devising ways to take him hostage then on the rest of our trip!


Let me tell you about today:


We drove slowly on great roads (I cannot get over how terrific the roads in Nicaragua have been!  Perfect!) in order to enjoy the small towns along the way and the magnificent scenery.  CA1 is a main highway, but it is only busy in the small towns.  It feels like we are on a quiet, country 2-lane road! 


We stopped at a wonderful outdoor food market in San Isidro.  What a hoot!  The people acted like they were SO happy to see us and one guy made a royal, humorous pain of himself.  He was kissing the window on Jazy’s side when we left.  Fortunately, we’ve all chilled out and handled the overwhelming attention with a sense of humor. 


We tried to buy from different vendors and paid whatever they wanted, which generally was 20 Cordoba (or about $1) for a pound of potatoes, tomatoes, or carrots.  A nice head of broccoli was 15 C and a fresh pineapple was 10 C (Gene told us how to cut one!).  We managed to spend nearly all of our 100 C note, which everyone knew we had because we had to cash it on the first purchase while about 20 people observed.  We were happy to purchase directly from the suppliers. 


In addition to Mr. Pester Us (who I had to tell “no tocar!” to a few times), several kids were yelling out, “I love you” and  Jazy said she has no desire to ever be a celebrity!  We left there laughing.  Most of all, we were proud of ourselves for being stronger in managing those experiences without getting wigged out.


Next, we stopped in a small town so Jazy and I could go to an ATM- we still need Cordobas.  We missed the ATM’s glass door because 3 heavily armed guards at the bank door (absolutely every place has a heavily armed guard, including for the Coke truck and the road surveyor!) were holding it open for us.  One asked in Spanish about a camera and I acted confused (since I did have a little one in my purse, but he wasn’t getting it).  Instead, I asked about the bank automatica or whatever it said on the sign out front and we were directed to the back of the bank.  There were tellers back there in the bank.  Three tellers were working very hard, but it still seemed to take a tremendous amount of time to process each person.  We were going to see if my Visa debit card would work there.  While waiting for them to process the same 3 people, we finally learned from a guy in line that the ATM was located out front.  Jazy went to check and with the help of the front guards, found it.  So we returned to the sidewalk, went into the correct door, and got our Cordobas!  They even had an option for English on the ATM (that’s a first).  Success!! 


Thankfully, I could pay with American Express at a Texaco this morning.  There are many American franchises in Nicaragua, which means much of the money is going into American pockets. 


Finally, we used GPS coordinates to find the fabulous Masaya Volcano National Park.  We are camping here overnight- there’s also a tenter staying here beside the Visitor’s Center.  Our exact location is N12’ 0.183 / W 86’ 8.914.


This National Park is amazing!  It is an easy drive here, you turn into the gated park where the kind guard spoke admirable English.  We paid 225 C for the 4 of us (about $11 total) and then drove the 1 km to the Visitor’s Center, where we had the place essentially to ourselves.


The Visitor’s Center is really pretty with multiple rooms covering the origin and eruption history of the 5 volcanoes of the park (Lago Masaya is formed from ground sinking after an eruption), the geology, animals, plants, and other National Parks in Nicaragua.  It’s all really well done with dual Spanish/English signage.  As a nice touch, a Park Guide came by to welcome us and share some information in English. 


Then we drove Ciao the 4 KM up the nice park road to a large parking lot at the top of the volcano.  We had laughed when the Guide told us we could park our vehicle at the top, pointing toward the exit, but he was not kidding!  Each parking spot says to do so in both Spanish and English!  And everyone does so we can make a quick getaway if the volcano erupts.  Two years ago, it apparently erupted enough to cause an internal (and now visible) rock slide and to cover the no-longer-visible molten lava!


We looked over the stone wall into the enormous crater, which was belching huge swirls of hot gases!  It was so far down and so much steam coming from the enormous caldera that we could not see the bottom!


We also took a staircase to the top of a nearby dormant volcano where that a Franciscan Friar placed a cross to scare away the evil volcano deity hundreds of years before.  The views were stunning and the weather a perfect, balmy temperature.


We made dinner in the rig there at the top, as a local told us that about 4:30 pm, the amazing little green parrots that lives in the toxic fumes of the volcano, come back to roost.  They live there because their predators can’t and they have become acclimated to the inhospitable (toxic) conditions.  But later another visitor told me that they only can be seen at that time in January and February, and we didn’t see any.  Theyoffer here at the Park a $10 per person night tour to see the wildlife in this park, and you might be able to see the green parrots then.  That sounds like great fun for Ned and me on a later trip.


So Ciao crawled down the steep hill in first gear with much braking (full water and gas).  Then we parked for the night in a nice spot beside the Visitor’s Center. 


There was a wee bit of confusion on the camping fee, as when we parked tonight, a park officer collected our 30 C per person (120 Cordoba= $6 US) and our name, saying our camping fee receipt would be forthcoming by the night officer.  Then ten minutes later our vigilante (with the gun slung over his shoulder as part of the uniform) came over to collect our camping fee.  I tipped him, but he thought that we thought that the park admission fee was our camping fee, even though I’d told him we’d already paid for both admission and camping, and that it was a propina (tip) for him. 


I was considering just paying the camping fee again to fix the problem, when he trundled off to talk to an officer and returned apologetically.  I felt bad for him - obviously it’s his job to collect the camping fee, but an intervening officer confused things.  The vigilante then thanked me for his tip.  A few minutes after he left, the night officer brought our receipt. All is well.  Every park worker today has been very nice and helpful.


Lesson learned:  Get the name of the person who takes my money (a picture might help too) if we don’t get an immediate receipt.  It would have saved a lot of effort, but then we enjoyed practicing our Spanish. 


That is part of the joy of RVing.  It forces us, in spite of being uncomfortable at times, to interact in real ways with local people:  grocery shopping, banking, getting gas, camping.  It is like a daily field trip for us just waking up and getting moving!


Everyone we’ve met so far in Nicaragua has been extremely nice.  We have also been pleasantly surprised by their many attempts to speak English.  They obviously have studied English much more than we found in Honduras or Guatemala.   The people also seem to have tremendous spirit and heart, with a softer smile and less aggressiveness than places like Mexico. 


Nicaragua, while the most poor country in Central America, is really naturally beautiful with volcanoes rising over the rice patties and corn fields.  The perfect roads winding through lush mountains with pine trees in the high northwest, with drier but still green fincas (farms) in the volcanic central region.  It is difficult and sad to imagine that these kind people have been through such bloody political struggles in past decades.


On the downside, we have heard two recent reports of people who had their license taken by Nicaraguan police officers, who insisted on a bribe before their licenses were returned. 


The first people had done nothing wrong when they were stopped by the police.  They gave the officer only a b&w copy of their license and would only show the original to him thru the window.  When he demanded a bribe, they just laughed and drove off, leaving him holding the copy.  I guess they weren’t too worried that he’d follow and arrest them! 


The second family were stopped for a seatbelt infraction, but knew not to hand over their license (earlier in the trip they’d learned that from a 40-minute ordeal!).  This traveler refused to let go of his license, which he showed the officer through his clear wallet window.  However, the officer got really angry and started yelling at them and whipped out his handcuffs which he waved in the air.  They were a bit scared by the experience and smartly pretended to not know Spanish.  Finally, after a long time (45 min?) they were allowed to leave after paying a $60 U.S. on-the-spot fine (the bribe demand had started at $150, if I remember correctly). 


Both of these experiences happened around Masaya, near where we are now.  Our golden notes also say that police at a certain T-intersection watch for drivers running over the yellow line when turning left.  We were at the “T” in the road today during lunch time and saw the officers were to the left of the turn, sitting on their booth near the road, swinging their legs.  We happily turned right to go to Masaya Volcano, but they fortunately didn’t look too intimidating. 


I hope that when we pass them twice tomorrow - going to and from the airport- all will go well.  I admit to losing sleep over this police concern last night. 



So this morning, I made sure the color replica of my license (front and back) looks very real because I plan to hand it over when required.  As the only driver (usually) with kids, I just cannot afford to be in a compromising position.  Since nothing is altered on it, I consider it my safest bet. 


Fellow travelers, who see my laminated license copy, think the police will never know the difference between the two. 


However, one friend had a Mexican officer recognize her license as a copy because he had previously lived in her U.S. state!  He threatened her with a criminal offense, made her cut up the copy license, and eventually let her go (I don’t think she paid any morbida).  Her offense was not taking her RV on a lateral, which is a side road that parallels the highway - trucks are often required to drive the laterals in a busy city, to clear the main road.  She reminds me to always follow the trucks and drive where they drive!


So there are risks both ways with the license and I struggle with my decision.  But since Rosie, the owner of our very first RV park in Ciudad Victoria, told me to use a copy and “Never give your real license to ANYONE,” I will heed her advice – but I’ll use my real one for immigration at border crossings.  Wish me luck!  Did I get bail bond insurance…?


It is just hard to reconcile these stories and resulting fears with the nice people we meet on a daily basis.  Tioga George (love his blog!) says that fear is a state of mind and he refuses to let it ruin his joy in his fulltiming life in Mexico (where he’s had no problems for years).  We can be prepared, be smart, and hope that all works out. 


We are grateful that the police checkpoints are not nearly as prevalent here as they were in both Mexico and Honduras- and that we have no inter-state military or police checks in the United States!  And to think that the California agriculture checks made me nervous!


Culturally:  On another note, we need to buy longer pants or skirts. Women in the interior just don’t wear shorts, but it is too hot to wear jeans.  Capris would be perfect.


Jazy and I also have decided not to wave to men.  They are already quite forward with the beeping, sounding sirens on their scooters, and whistling, which is well-known local Machismo.  One book instructs us to not even make eye contact, which is hard for egalitarians.  We’ve decided to not wave, but it’s okay to smile if they are not being obnoxious, so that we’re more culturally aligned.


Travel Speed:  We have been running too fast to get here.  We’re really looking forward to taking our time now and enjoying the journey more.  Having to get through Belize and the northern sections of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in 2 weeks was much too fast.  It is hard to enjoy the beauty and the people, not to mention take a breath, in that timeframe.  But that was the best we could do with Ned’s flight and our crystal ball.  But certainly, we’re looking forward to a looser schedule from now on! 


Travel Options:  I really envied Gene and Lee, fulltimers until next August, who really know how to enjoy every ounce of travel.  They rented an apartment for 3.5 months on Baja.  During that time, Lee flew home for a few weeks, friends and relatives came to visit, and their daughter enjoyed preschool there- what a great time!  Also, in the terrific book, “One Year Off,” the family spent 6 months at the end of their travel year in an Australian apartment.  They even enrolled their 3 kids in a local school! 


Travel Goals:  Travelers really have to determine what their goals are and what is right for their family.  We’ve know we have an aggressive schedule with many sights to see, but we also recognize this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel with the kids during their formative years.  We want them to see the world, broaden their horizons, learn about others, and we know that such experiences will change their lives.  It’s certainly been a learning adventure for us all so far!


Lia said tonight, as she ate chocolate from her advent calendar, that she was surprised Christmas is in a week.  She said that kids around here seem to have other things to focus on at Christmas than presents, like we used to.  I asked her what things they focus on and she said, “Food, clothes, a house, their work like carrying things on their head and at the topes, and helping their Mom work.”  It’s definitely been a humbling, learning experience.  We’re looking forward to celebrating the joy of Christmas simply.




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photo by: keef_mon