After an overnight boat ride from Ometepe, we arrived in San Carlos, where winds ceased. It felt so good to be warm again. Pictured here, the San Carlos waterfront.
While waiting for a boat to El Castillo in the terminal, we watched a "special edition" of a TV program, broadcasting "president Daniel's" (Ortega's) grand speech about 110 new public buses in Managua. Yeah, the country needs new, safer buses, but a 2h speech about that?
The terminal, like many places across Nicaragua, also tries to bring you up to speed on revolutionary history. Since Sandinistas (FSLN), who fought in the revolution, are in power now, this is as much an (important) history lesson as political propaganda.
Finally made it onto the overcrowded boat to El Castillo! Our next 3 hours would be spent here, as we admired the views and my backpack was getting soaked in the "luggage area" in the back.
The adorable recipient of our chicken from the Ometepe boat meal came out to say goodbye to us!
We passed a boat just like ours, getting into San Carlos.
Construction of a bridge over Rio San Juan, which will provide an easier connection to Costa Rica. Should be good for cross-border commerce and tourism (now San Carlos can be reached from CR only by boat).
Riverside dwellings along Rio San Juan.
This is one of the many pangas that approached our boat...
... to pick up passengers and cargo. Not sure I'd have the guts to make this "transfer" while still in motion.
Local kids seemed remarkably well-behaved on this long, crowded journey.
Soon we started seeing some rich flora...
... and fauna.
Boat stop! Luckily, the large cow (?) to the right was only walking his humans to the boat; he didn't get on. However, all the people pictured did, and you'd think the boat was full at departure from San Carlos.
Another boat line.
As we would see in El Castillo, which has no road access or internet (except 1 computer for the entire village), the red satellite dishes of Claro penetrated even fairly remote areas of the country.
Boat stop in Boca de Sábalos, where the boat emptied a bit.
As we approached El Castillo, we started to see animals grazing on rolling green hills.
Here it is, El Castillo! Out base for the next couple of days.
Kids would play soccer right by the water and happily jump in after the ball as needed.
View from our cheapo hotel, right above the rapids... The rapids were so loud that we didn't hear our alarm clocks in the morning and I woke up multiple times every night, fearing that we're about to fall in the water. A unique and memorable setting for sure :-)
A kid playing with her puppy (under the chair). We quickly noticed that animals in this part of the country had a much better life: better fed and treated more like pets in general.
The main street of El Castillo. Complete lack of cars made for a very tranquil walking experience.
El Castillo, on the way between Lake Nicaragua and the Atlantic coast, has a somewhat Caribbean feel to it.
At a local restaurant.
Food was surprisingly expensive, especially vegetables, not many of which are grown in the area. This was the most veggies I've seen on my plate while in Nicaragua, where "vegetables" usually means some potatoes and carrots.
The fortress, the main landmark in the village, was built in late 1600s by the Spanish to protect Granada (which can be reached from here by Rio San Juan and Lake Nicaragua) from foreign invaders.
Roofs of El Castillo.
Walking up to the fortress, one cannot help but wonder how critical this sleepy village once was in the history of Central America.
Teenagers playing soccer by the river would also happily jump into the water to retrieve the ball every couple of minutes. All the local kids constantly chasing balls into the water looked like they had not a worry in the world.
... the place to be in El Castillo.
Before El Castillo, we hadn't seen many cats in Nicaragua.
Most shops are operated from regular houses' rooms.
A family pet.
Claro satellite dishes adorn almost all roofs in the village. Interesting contrast with other aspects of life here, e.g. no cars or motorcycles.
Glad I took this picture, because Chief is in it! Chief is the name we gave to a local dog, sleeping here on the right side of the photo, who seemed to own the place. He always hung out at the dock, going into the water whenever he got hot, and then lying down to dry again. He also had a mighty bark. We think he was the chief dog of El Castillo.
We stopped by one of the storefronts to get some rice & beans and were taken into the family's living room, serving as a dining area. Grandma was frying chicken a few feet away and the family's daughter was watching TV right next to us. <3 small businesses :-)
Next day we woke up early for a trek in the Indio Maiz Reserve, a huge rainforest in southeastern Nicaragua.
Traveling by small boat down Rio San Juan, amidst the fog suspended over the water, felt magical.
Soon the sun rose and the fog dissipated.
Going into the reserve, visitors register at the MARENA (Ministry of Environment) station, by rio Bartola. The place has a friendly monkey on the premises. She grew up in a cage in a hotel across the river, but was released in the forest after a couple of years in captivity. By then, harm had been done and she wasn't able to survive on her own. She found her way back after 3 days, hungry and injured. Thankfully, soldiers at MARENA took her in and helped her recover.
We continued to Aguas Frescas, where we would start the trail.
We saw iguanas! They're really hard to spot, but local guides are extremely skilled in this regard.
A Tucan! Looked like a stuffed animal perched high on a tree, but since we saw it fly away, must have been real :-)
Right across the river from this spectacular ecosystem, Costa Rica is building a road... This area will change forever once cars and trucks come speeding along the river. Nicaragua is suing for the project to be stopped and the road has lead to a serious conflict between both countries (I'm definitely Team Nica on this one).
During our 3h trek in Indio Maiz, we saw a wealth of plants and trees. This one forms roots where needed to be able to maintain a good balance and resist wind.
Indio Maiz is extremely muddy (some places we were almost up to our knees in mud), so everyone rents out thick rainboots in El Castillo.
More mud. It was difficult at times to pull your feet up, but the process was quite funny at the same time.
A plant, NOT a drawing!
Our knowledgeable guide. Trips into Indio Maiz are easy to arrange in El Castillo and cheap if you have a couple of people to share the cost with.
We kept bumping into massive spider webs, suspended where you least expect them.
Water in the brooks should not be ingested due to high concentrations of various bacteria. The guide later showed us a tree whose branches accumulate pure water inside, which can be safely consumed if a branch is cut off.
Strawberry poison-dart frog (or blue jeans frog)
After the trek, we stopped by the remains of an abandoned, over 200-year-old steamboat. The river used to be part of Cornelius Vanderbilt's inter-oceanic steamship route during the California gold rush, but many ships didn't make it.
Mud, mud, everywhere.
Another iguana on our way back to El Castillo.
On our way back, we stopped at Rio Bartola for a quick swim.
Thankfully, not near this little guy.
Back in El Castillo, wishing we could have explored more of the gigantic reserve that is Indio Maiz.
Fishing for shrimp on the rapids of El Castillo. Locally caught shrimp can be ordered from a couple of restaurants.
Rob chilling with a Tona over the rapids, at our little hotel's balcony.
Rob tried pork for his last meal in El Castillo.
Frog guarding our door at the hotel.
The next day, we took a 5am boat back to San Carlos. The boat stopped for a while in Boca Sabalos, where people could buy drinks and food.
We had to make our way through some vegetation to reach one of the boat stops.
A cute dog welcomed the boat on one of the last stops before San Carlos...
... but the boat was so overcrowded by then that the motor just refused to cooperate. Here, the boat is seen hitting an outdoor toilet. Someone actually hopped off the boat to use it. We arrived in San Carlos 1h late, missed our bus to Managua, and embarked on a daylong trip full of chicken bus transfers and confusion, to finally make it to Leon, our next destination, after 8pm.