A Travellerspoint blog

And now for a proper adventure

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It's May 5th and supposedly late spring in the British Isles. It's totally miserable; freezing cold, blowing a gale and lashing rain, as it has done since I returned from Central American at the end of March. The sea conditions are such that sick bags are handed out on the Larne to Troon ferry. Then a difficult drive north in heavy rain; up through Glasgow, along the banks of Loch Lommond and then swinging west through even more famous Scottish landscapes, not an iota of which I am able to see. I get to Oban in the early evening and stay in a BnB, next morning getting another ferry to the Isle of Mull. Once on Mull I have another couple of hours drive on single track roads in my steamed up car (the rain still has not abated) before arriving in the utterly depressing village of Fhionnphort. For a bit of warmth and courage I bolt down a coffee from a vending machine in the village's only shop, before driving the last few miles to Fidden where I have been told to park my car and wait for a small boat, capacity three people, to come pick me up. I can see the channel of water, then another island with nothing on it but a row of cottages. It's Erraid. This is going to be my home for the next few months. I am officially cacking myself.

I've always had terribly romantic notions about the north of Scotland. I am unsure as to the origins of these romantic notions, given that haggis, Robbie Burns and Rab C. Nesbit are the linchpins of my knowledge about the place. So, I shall blame it entirely on the movie Local Hero, a gentle whimsical 1980s take on small town life, somewhere in Scotland. I'm sure it was something to do with the landscape or the light that seduced me then, it normally is. Or maybe it was the lure of potentially seeing the Aura Borealis. But I'm certain I've long harboured dreams about being Scotland in early summer, the type of dream you're not consciously aware of, the type of dream you sense can only ever remain a dream. Then last October I spent a week at FIndhorn, a spiritual community near Inverness, a place I had a real affinity with. It was there I learnt they had a community on a tiny island in the Inner Hebrides, a place called Errraid; an island where people tried, as far as possible, to live their life in harmony with nature. Hardly a day passed in Central America in which I did not think about Erraid.

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But first, some dry details to tickle your taste buds, or not. Erraid is an island, a tiny one mile square island. To be precise, a tidal island, linked to Mull ( the middle of nowhere in Mull) at low tide by a sandbar of light yellow sand. In the mid 1880's the island's destiny was altered by the famous Stevenson dynasty of engineers and lighthouse builders extraordinaire. They used the island to quarry granite for the building of nearby Dubh Artach lighthouse and well as building cottages, gardens and out buildings to house the families of the lighthouse keepers and act as a service station. It was these very same buildings in which I was going to live.

When Scottish lighthouses were mechanised in 1956 the island was abandoned, save for one croft. Seven members of the FIndhorn Community arrived a full twenty years later, having being asked to act as custodians of the island by its new Dutch owners. Erraid's biggest claim to fame is that the then unknown Robert Louis Stevenson, son of one of the aforementioned engineers, set his novella 'The Merry Men'' and chapters of 'Kidnapped' on Erraid, after being inspired on one of his visits.

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But back to the present. I was accompanied on the boat by an odd assortment of items; bags of carrots, lengths of guttering, a suitcase of laundered duvet covers, trays of spinach and chard plants, I could go on but I won't. We all managed to remain in/on the boat for the short but hairy crossing, after which everything had to be hauled up the slippery metal staircase and up onto the pier. I was embarrassed at my large bag; bulging at the seams with puffa jackets, fleeces, jumpers, rain coats, welly boots, thermal socks, hot water bottles. Early summer or not, my terrible fear of the cold meant I wasn't chancing anything. In my mind an 1850s cottage on a windswept island conjures up many images, none of them involve heat. When I got to 'the street' there was much excitement. One of the Jacobs sheep had just given birth to twins, beautiful black lambs with a little smudge of white on their forehead. The excitement was because no on had any idea the sheep was pregnant. At the time I was on the island none of the permanent residents came from a farming or horticultural background, so in relation to animals management and growing our food, it literally was the blind leading the blind, often with little help other than google searches.

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Much to my utter relief, my new home, cottage number three, was warm and toasty. I was sharing it with one other guest and Bill, previously an engineer and now a long term resident of the island. The Rayburn was central to life in cottage number 3; it kept the house warm and heated the water, so having a ready supply of wood outside and remembering to keep it topped up through the day was number one priority. Bill had a system for this. The running water for washing was bog water. Drinking water was UV treated rainwater and had to be fetched from the community's main kitchen. Bill ensured there was a system for this. Then our own little kitchen had to be kept topped up with basics; home made bread, baked en masse once a week and frozen, eggs from the chickens collected each morning, oat cakes, milk homemade jam, all organic of course. Bill had a system for this. If Bill and I were to share house for a full two months, I think there might be a murder to investigate, but for this first week it was a dream. The house was always warm, always clean, always supplied withy things to meet my needs, even my own bedroom, a place to retreat to after being out working in the cold and rain. And Bill was a gentleman too.

Guests who visit the island pay for the privilege (it's what pays for the food, electricity, wood, the boat etc), but they also are expected to contribute to life on the island four days a week. It is called ' love in action', both a simple and a complicated concept which I am loathe to try and explain competently. Guests choose the work on offer each day, ranging from working out in the gardens, splitting logs, household maintenance, bread making, cleaning, boat maintenance or whatever, it changed depending on what needed to be done. What was new to me was the love in action bit, an attempt to bring the attitude of love and respect to the task we are engaged in and the people we are engaged with. This was as it's easiest In the garden; being consciously aware of the power of nature, the soil, water, the seeds we were sowing, the weather, influenced my attitude to how I dug, weeded, planted, watered. It even extended to he care of the tools at the end of the day, care being the operative word. They were cleaned and oiled before put back in the tool shed, a far cry from my usual practice of neglect, my small garden being a graveyard for rusted and rotten tools left out to the elements. It was harder to draw on love and respect when cleaning the kitchen, but maybe that's a lifetime's work, for me anyway.

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Most of my time was spent in one of the three main gardens. Spring hadn't quite arrived in early May 2013, so it would have been foolish to put anything in the ground so early. Most of our time was spend digging; turning over previously used beds and digging ones that hadn't been cultivated for a while, removing grass roots and knotweed. I would always arrive dressed for arctic conditions,; looking like the Michelin man, my ensemble was topped off with a fake fur Russian hat which I also took to wearing indoors when the weather was particularly nasty.

The birds, on worm alert, were big admirers of our work. They were fearless, swooping for the worm a few millimetres from where I dug. A blackbird's nest in the tool shed became a source of excitement for us all, as did a mouse nest in the compost heap. One minute I was calmly shovelling a spade of compost into a wheelbarrow, the next I have three baby mice curled around each other on the shovel, eyes not yet open, fur not yet grown. I start to shriek when I see a nest with forty more babies, waiting for it to be time to wake up and begin life.

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It was a pleasure to do this work with other people, a pleasure to pause and look up, an utter joy to take in the light over the sound in that moment, the colour of the Ross of Mull, the light on Iona in the background. Very often my breath was taken away by what I saw. Even on working days their was plenty of free time. For those first few weeks the thrill of exploration lay in every walk from my front door. The beaches; the Narrows, the Caribbean and Ballfour Bay were phenomenal. Colours of blue and white I had never seen before. A quick climb and I am rewarded with views over Mull, Iona or the hundreds or uninhabited islands surrounding us. Everyday it looks different depending on the light. This view from the observatory quickly became and remained by favourite spot. If you can watch the video, I'm sure you will have some appreciation of why.

In those early weeks nature hadn't completely come to life yet, but low lying willow bushes were opening into bloom, ferns were unfurling in sheltered spots and baby lambs put on a display of madly beating tails each time they fed from their mums. Very quickly I became intoxicated by the actual physicality of the island, as well as what you might call 'nature'. I regularly return from walks completely out of it, stoned, high, whatever you'd like to call it. Yip, island life was working for me. With bells on.

Posted by noratheexplorer 22:22 Archived in Scotland Tagged inner_hebrides erraid findhorn Comments (0)

Costa Rica (costs a lot)

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And then I'm in Costa Rica, the last country in my Central American adventure. I have less than a week there and then I'm home and I am ready to go home. I board a bus to Liberia. It resembles a bus, albeit rundown, that I would know from home. It has tatty-ish upholstered seats, a first since Mexico. This means my sweaty body sticking to plastic seats is a thing of the past. I could weep. Honestly. When I get off the bus I am overjoyed to see pavements, even traffic lights. These things offer such reassurance to me. When you travel on your own you always carry a strong sense of your own vulnerability; while you might not be consciously aware of it, it's presence never leaves you. Coming to the end of a journey, no matter what length of time it may have been, I find that its presence become palpable. I often wonder if I I'll get home alive or untraumatised. Irrational thoughts speak to me, they say wouldn't it be a terrible tragedy to get murdered a few days before heading home. I suppose if you keep vulnerability and fear locked away, then once the safety of home is close at hand the flood gates open. Whilst I knew that beneath Costa Rica's clever marketing of itself as an Eco paradise, it too had serious difficulties with crime and violence, Liberia and it's pavements and traffic lights felt like the right place to be.

It was strange to be surrounded by prosperity. All of a sudden there were big gleaming flashy cars on the street, a particular model of Toyota jeep seemed to be the whole rage. The local youths all looked American, in trendy street gear that was of obvious good quality. There was even a bikini boutique for gods sake. The people were handsome, friendly and welcoming. Old men on street corners waved at me or asked if I needed directions. For some reason I hadn't been expecting this. It was like the opposite of arriving in Nicaragua; my high expectations of gorgeous people being challenged by stoney indifference. I expected indifference in Costa Rica and instead got warmth and hospitality.

The downside to being in a more affluent country was of course the prices. I couldn't find breakfast for under a fiver, dinner for under a tender or, horror of horrors, a beer for under two quid. This was a shock to the system. You do become obsessed with money and the price of things when you are on a long trip. Breakfast lunch and dinner all tended to be variations on the same theme; Cascados (meaning married), of rice, beans, fried plantain, cheese and a piece of meat or cheese. The portion size was enormous and I happily polished off every bite, three times a day.

High prices where also evident when I attempted to get out and about. On a trip to Parque Rincon de la Vieja, the local national park, I was horrified to be charged twenty dollars for transport to the park and then another twenty dollars to enter it. I got to see lots of volcanic mud pots and steam holes, but the highlight was a woodpecker whose markings made him look like he was wearing a bright red helmet. He moved up and down the trunk of the tree with ease, using his claws to keep hold and tap tap tapping away.

Over the past forty years Costa Rica has played a blinder in terms of it's environmental conversation. Due to aggressive land clearance for coffee production and cattle raising, forest cover had reduced to 24 percent of the land mass by the mid eighties. It was then that a creative government started to provide economic incentives to people and companies that conserved natural resources. To say the plan worked is an understatement. Today, tropical forest again covers fifty percent of the country and fuels an economy principally based on ecotourism. Costa Rica May only represent 0.03% of the landmass of the planet but it has 5% of the Biodiversity of the world

I was heading to one of the diamonds in Costa Rica's Eco crown, Santa Elena and the Monteverde National Park. Santa Elena was founded in the 1950’s by a few Quaker families, fleeing the U.S. and the army. Once settled they established dairy farms and began the process of formally protecting the cloud forest that surrounded them. Three other areas of protected forest now surround their original, so the area is something really special. The town of Santa Elena wasn't really my cup of tea. It's primary function seems to be to serve the hoards of tourists that come to the area, so it felt like one big money generating souvenir shop to me. Nonetheless it enabled me to enjoy loads of really interesting (and of course, really expensive) nature activities. One of the highlights was a torch lit night time nature walk. Much to my excitement I got to see two sloths, usually elusive, slowly munching away high in the treetops. I also saw some coatis, tarantula spiders, snakes and loads of parrots asleep and hanging upside down from the tree branch. I guess what make it so fantastic was the knowledge and enthusiasm of the guides, transforming the dry knowledge which you can pick up from any book into something really alive. Another day was spent hiking through trails in the cloud forest; walking across suspension bridges at the height of the tree tops, looking down onto the diversity of the forest.

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My most major extravagance was a zip line tour through another of the cloud forest parks. I think zip lines have been the rage for years, however I had no clue what they actually were before getting to Monte Verde. Put it very simply, a zip line is a strong metal cable between two places, one higher than the other . You don a hard hat, get hooked on the line, jump off a platform and whizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz down to the bottom. The statistics of my zip line experience are as follows. The highest platform was 100metres, the longest line was 750 metres and the fastest speed I got to was 46 miles an hour. You really are flying through the tree tops. I was initially petrified, then exhilarated and then completely worn out, my nerves can only take so much before shutting down.

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Despite all of the above excitement, I think my most special moments were sitting in a posh cafe looking at the beautifully coloured birds on the bird table. And then came the hummingbirds. Oh my god, what amazing creatures of creation; watching them, they seemed the most perfect balance of beauty and precision engineering.

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I spent my last day in Alueala, a big town/small city close to the airport. It gave me another brief snippet of life in Costa Rica; this snippet was big roads, with big expensive cars, drive through ATMs, McDonalds, Taco Bells, Pizza Huts and Wendy's, some terrible mirage of a soulless Americanised life of convenience and consumerism. In contrast, thirty minutes drive away was....., a conservation park. I think the beauty in the photographs speaks for itself.

And then it was bye bye Mexico and Central America. I had been so worried, even scared about travelling in this part of the world. It turned out to be a really lovely gentle trip; completely made by the beautiful, kind, warm and welcoming people (almost) everywhere. Whilst I remain more drawn by the landscape and culture of Asia and the Middle East, I have never felt so helped and held by a people as I did in on this trip. It is really easy travelling, the easiest I have done in twenty years. I didn't even see a rat, now that is saying something! If you are thinking about going, go for it.

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Posted by noratheexplorer 22:05 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Hospitality at its finest

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I walk into a empty restaurant and am greeted with stoney stares. I check if maybe they are closing; the reason for the iciness,but that doesnt seem to be it. The order is taken and delivered in silence, as is the removal of my plate when Im finished. However a smile is cracked by the battle axe restaurant owner on my departure. Wow, what hospitality. Perhaps the island of Ometepe wasn't quite the right place to try to give Nicaragua another chance.

If you look at a map of Nicaragua you will notice it is a big country; a big country with a big hole scooped out of the eastern, pacific side of it. That big hole is lake Nicaragua, which at 8264 square kilometres, is the largest lake in Central America and nineteenth biggest lake in the world, if you're interested that is. Oh the joys of useless and forgettable information from the Internet. Well in the middle of that lake lies the island of Ometepe, an island composed of two volcanos; the active and perfectly cone shaped Volcan Concepcion and then the swathed in cloud and dead as a dodo Volcan Maderas. There are very few settlements on the island; very much of anything really and I was very much looking forward to some nature and a bit of peace and quiet.

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I had read warnings that the crossing to Ometepe could be a rough one. So it was with trepidation that I boarded a squarish shaped vessel that looked like a collection of planks and boards pinned together with nails and a bit of superglue. Bags were placed on deck and bodies directed to the downstairs 'saloon', a raggletaggle collection of wooden benches and chairs. As we moved off the door to the saloon was closed; the room filled with the stench of diesel fumes, the temperature rose by about a hundred degrees and water started to come in through the hull. Within fifteen minutes lake water was half way up to my ankle, I was sweating profusely and doing what I always do at times of absolute crisis; saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers at a speed of knots. It would be a huge understatement to say that when I got off the 'boat' I was green at the gills. So, rather than be adventurous, catch a bus and find somewhere rural to hang out for a bit, I hit the first rooms I could find. A full twenty seconds walk from the pier. Much to my excitement I realised that what awaited me was a comfy mattress, clean white cotton sheets, a little chair outside my door and a lovely hammock across the landing. So for the next few days I did what any world weary traveller would do; very very little. Probably the greatest distance travelled was the thirty second walk to my breakfast stop where a delicious variation on the Central American breakfast was served up with a smile, sorry sorry, I meant to say a snarl. Well almost, a quarter off a full snarl.

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After all that doing nothing, guilt propelled me to do an island tour. Nearly every vista had a volcano in the background. It was really nice, but the people involved in my 'hospitality' didn't give a damn. Before I left I spent a day and a night in a renovated old Finca, right in the middle of the island. Everything was calm and quiet in the countryside; people going about their business of tending to their cattle or crops, pigs and horses casually roamed the roads and lanes. Rather bizarrely the island was endowed with a network of beautifully constructed wide roads; bizarre given their didn't appear to be many motorised vehicles on the island, except for the odd bus or moped. That suited me fine. I didn't want any traffic jams on my evacuation route.

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In the McEvoy household it is an important tradition to return home from abroad with a tan. Even if you have been to outer Siberia in the depth of winter, an assumption will be made that a golden glow lies beneath your layers of Arctic clothing. The master plan was therefore to barbecue myself for a few days before my return to the Emerald Isle. My venue of choice had initially been a beach in Costa Rica, but I had been put off the idea by quite a number of travellers who reported high prices and beaches overwhelmed by shed loads of Americans expecting ice machines in their hotel lobby. That meant the venue for the barbecue had to be Nicaragua. The only problem was that the entire beach scene seemed to revolve around Surfing and I would rather have stuck pins in my eyes than don a wetsuit and take to the waves. But as there were no other real options I found myself on a very long dusty bus journey travelling up the coast to Playa Santana. I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere, after which it was a forty minute walk along a dirt track to my place of residence for five days, Buena Onda Beach resort.

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Buena Onda was a relaxed sort of place, which was good. Everything was the price of mainland America, which was not so good. Finally, it was full of surfers which was, well, anxiety provoking to say the least. They were mainly youngsters and mainly male and I felt, mainly middle aged. I was here to sunbathe for gods sake, how do you say that to a twenty two year old American surf dude?

But I guess that says a lot about my own prejudices and hang ups. Given there was nowhere within a forty minute walk away, I had no option but to spend time with 'these' people. My best pal was Chris, a laid back Californian pensioner. Since retiring he spent his winters at Beuna Onda. Chris had worked in the same post office since he was eighteen and had never left the country before discovering the joys of surf life in Nicaragua. Rory from Schull, West Cork, a resident of Norway and recently traumatised at turning thirty was also a gem. Being trapped with nowhere to go definitely proved advantageous; I ended up with companions for dinner nearly every night, something completely unheard of during the rest of my trip. I also learnt that rather than being dope smoking, bleached haired layabouts, surfers were pretty motivated, determined individuals dedicated to the surf. They were up at the crack of dawn each morning, hours before me, roaming the beaches tracking down the best breaks ( listen to me, with my surf speak). Then after a midday snooze, they were back out again for a further three or four hours. Fair play to them.

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On the other hand, life for the idle sunbather was a tad trying. Playa Santana was long and broad with nothing on it, creating perfect conditions for the unrelenting wind to whip up and sustain blizzards of sand. I quickly learnt that to sit in the beach resulted being encrusted in a thick coat of sand and pain resembling that of being lashed by numerous whips. Furthermore because of some weather system the Pacific was freezing cold, even the surfers admitted that. I managed to get in as far as my knees one day, that was it. Now I'm not meaning to moan, but....... Time to get out of Nicaragua.

Posted by noratheexplorer 03:30 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged nicaragua ometepe playa_ santana Comments (0)

Nicaragua

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When I reflect back on things I realise that getting to Nicaragua had become a bit of an obsession. For the previous few weeks I had pushed through countries at a relentless speed, all to ensue I had enough time there; yet I had no real idea why I was so eager. Sure a few people had spoken about it favourably and my guidebook had enthused about how lovely the people were. I think that maybe that was it. I think I had become engaged in some sort of love fest with the people of Honduras and El Salvador; so, in my reckoning, if they were gorgeous then hells bells, it was going to be an all night love in with the Nicaraguans.

And so I boarded my first bus brimming over with hope and expectation, only to be promptly over charged for my ticket in a very bare faced manner. I was outraged, sure it happens every day when you travel in Asia, but not in my beloved Central America. I pulled the ticket collector on it and sure, he knew he had been caught out.He chose to brazen it out, so in return I engaged in some dramatic tutting and head shaking as a payment in kind.

My first port of call, Esteli, was underwhelming, to say the least. I was greeted by sullen faces in the bus station, in the taxi and even in my accommodation which was a room within a family home. I put it down to my exhaustion after the trials and tribulations of the previous few days. So, I took to my bed and slept for a couple of hours before heading out into the town, armed with my most dazzling smile. Much to my horror and annoyance I was met by a sea of blank faces. I felt like phoning the Nicaraguan tourist board to make a complaint. Esteli had been recommended to me by a number of decent individuals, citing it as being off the main tourist drag, but with plenty of things to do. Well it may be so, but the next morning I was at the bus station, determined to get out of town. That proved harder than I thought; I spent a good hour wandering around the bus station trying to find a bus which would take me to Leon, the country's second biggest city. My requests for help were greeted with the usual blank looks and head shakes, so I threw myself on the floor and had a hissy fit for a few minutes, after which calm descended. Eventually a Minibus turned up, a pretty swanky one in reality and within a few hours I was in Leon.

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Leon was a great spot; small, energetic, vibrant, feisty. Women in tight clothes, high heels, boob tubes and lots of make up. Men, minus their shirts, lounging on the run down streets, commenting on all who passed by. The energy felt a bit more edgy than anything I had felt before, but not in a threatening way. It reminded me of Cuba. The intense heat was something else, creating a sense of languor that I have come to both love and hate.

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Although all I wanted to do was to lie in a state of collapse on my bed, their was work to be done. Firstly clothes; I had worn the same smelly trousers and tea shirt for almost two weeks, they would need an industrial style clean. Next in urgency came the hairy legs, legs which hadn't been mowed since Mexico. And finally, my poor feet, which I will spare you the details of. Just let's say they were quite a frightening sight. And so ensued an afternoon of wandering around the streets, poking my head into various establishments and giving them a flash of the relevant body part. The leg waxing was done in an upmarket hairdresser whilst the pedicure took place in a lady's front room as she watched American soap operas, looking ever so bored with her life. The pedicure which lasted about 90 minutes, cost exactly the same price as the posh coffee I treated myself to when I was finished. What with my clean clothes, smooth legs and painted toes, I was a new woman. Leon was a lovely place to just wander round; parts of it were handsome and regal, but most of it was weathered and weary, but still carrying an air of what it had once been. I liked it. Even better was the close proximity of a sooperdooopermarket, stocking all sorts of western goodies; yoplait yoghurt, Gouda cheese and Ritz biscuits were the main stay of my diet for a few days. And boy oh boy did I enjoy them.

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Next stop was Granada, the colonial jewel in Nicaragua's tourist crown. Many of its old buildings had been restored beautifully and were now home to beautiful restaurants, boutiques and small posh hotels. The view from the roof of the Iglesias de Merced was really special, the lake lovely, the yellow church, beautifully yellow.There was certainly a cosmopolitan air of wealth and refinement to the place and have no doubt, I certainly made the most of that and all that comes with it. But I found the place hollow and a terrible tourist trap.

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Only a minute or so from the epicentre of tourist activity was the market area; raw, gutsy, smelly, alive, full of addictions and crawling with poverty. Through avoiding the big cities I had managed to avoid seeing a lot of the bad stuff. When you have been to places like India where hideous poverty and degradation look you straight in the eye, you hope to not see things like that again. During my trip through Mexico and Central America I only had glimpses of it, thank god, but it was all there to see in Granada. A young man with an obvious learning disability had found his pot of gold when he was going through the bins; a discarded pot of glue. Ten minutes later, foam around his mouth and high as a kite, his mum arrives. She is heavily made up but wearing hardly any clothes. Despite being a quarter of his size she tries to drag him away from the bin and then starts clattering him. A crowd circle around the two of them, laughing at the spectacle. An event like that is no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but there was something about it that really upset me.

In terms of personal safety, Nicaragua would be deemed the safest of all the countries I travelled through on the trip. It didn't feel like that to me; I was much more aware of danger, much more on alert. I puzzled over what that might be about, was it real or all in my perception? Of course I can't answer that, but what I do know is that the absence of people's willingness to connect with me in Nicaragua made me feel much more vulnerable. Whilst El Salvador and Honduras are pretty violent reputations, I held a sense that people were watching out for me all the time. Indeed that was the reality of my experience with people. But maybe I needed to give Nicaragua more of a chance.

Posted by noratheexplorer 16:11 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged granada nicaragua leon esteli Comments (0)

Honduras (again) !

And so it happened that the weary Nora, tinted red with dirt road dust, found herself on an afternoon bus to Tegucigalpa. Tegucigalpa, the violent capital of Honduras; a place to be avoided never mind arrive after dark without a room reservation. To be fair, it was only just dusk when the bus pulled in, although I was far from reassured when the taxi pulled up outside Hotel Boston, a slightly more expensive choice than I would normally have allowed myself to make. From the outside it looked like a place frequented by drug dealers and ladies of the night, but once inside a matronly receptionist showed me to a spotless room and within minutes, had booked me a taxi to the bus station and a seat on the 5am bus to the Nicaraguan border.

After seeking safety advice from the receptionist, I headed down the street for a quick bite to eat. She told me there was a Chinese restaurant no more than a minute away and as long as I was back before nine, I should be ok. Within about thirty seconds of passing through the front door I was lured in another direction, finding myself in Plaza Los Dolores. I sat on a low wall watching the Saturday evening's goings-on; a universal scene of children playing, grannys strolling and young women parading around in their finery. I was soon joined by a delightful woman, I cant' remember her name, a Tegucigalpa local recently returned home after twenty years in New York. We had a long and enjoyable conversation about life and love, a conversation regularly interrupted by a variety of Inebriated local men. All were keen to let me know they had lived in America, each of them proudly showing me their American ID cards, stamped in red with the words deported. Nearly all were concocting plans to return. I was quite charmed by the events of the evening, in fact being charmed was now a common place experience for me. Receiving hugs and kisses from almost total strangers was also the norm, my quota rising exponentially as each day passed. Honduras and El Salvador had proved to be really special places and it was an absolute tragedy that I had spent so little time there. I cursed myself for having wasted so much time in Mexico

It was getting late and I was starving. I headed back to the Chinese restaurant. It was filled with cigarette smoke, lots of drunk, dodgy looking men and a fair splattering of rather saucily dressed women. I would have walked straight out, had it not been my only option for sustenance. I sat myself down at a table near the door, incase a quick escape was needed. A youngish man asked to join me at the table. While he didn't look quite as dodgy as the others, I had no doubt he had a colourful history. Sure enough, like the men I had met in the plaza, he was keen to show me his memento's of living in the states. Thus I got to peruse his ID cards from both the alien detention centre and the state penitentiary! Oh Nora I thought, you do get yourself into some interesting situations. However my law breaking companion turned out to be a godsend. As I attempted to eat my fried rice (the only item on the menu, it was a classy joint), his presence protected me from the worst excesses of a never ending stream of drunk men, all wanting to say hello and shake my hand.

Things were getting increasingly hairy though, even by my standards. It was then that an extremely tall man lunged towards my table. He was gigantic and also extremely drunk. In hushed tones my companion explained that the lofty one was a policeman and that I needed to be careful. Jesus. The lofty one then began to try and shake my hand, pat me on the head, buy me a beer and finally, put the lips on me. I was both horrified and frightened. By this point the table was surrounded by a group of men who were trying to distract the giant and get him away from me. I could see their strategy was to avoid confrontation with him; I guess not only was he very drunk he also, through being a policeman, had a lot of power. But none of this was working and I was regularly getting clobbered across the head by his big spade like hands as he attempted to touch me. To hell with the non confrontational strategy I thought; I stood up, attempted to eye ball him, made dismissive gestures with my hands and raised my voice to him. Of course it was useless. And then my saviour arrived; the embattled female owner of the Chinese restaurant, mightily pissed off and armed with a base ball bat! First of all came some high pitched yelling in Mandarin, followed by a rapid waving of the bat in the air. Yer man's friends give him a big heave and he was gone. Just like that. I thanked the owner profusely, left her a big tip and fled. Two minutes later I was locked up safely in my room, laughing. When you travel on your own, life is never dull.

4.30am the next morning I was in a taxi, engaged in yet another wonderful conversation. The driver, a lovely man in his sixties, had learnt all his English through watching American soap operas. Despite his limited English and my limited Spanish, we had a cracker of a time and when I eventually boarded the bus, he was there to wave me off. The journey to the border was effortless. The border crossing was effortless. Ad then I was in Nicaragua. Woooo hoo.

Posted by noratheexplorer 11:50 Archived in Honduras Tagged nicaragua tegucigalpa Comments (0)

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