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Crocodiles, Cigars and Volcanoes

We’d had the somewhat brilliant plan of traveling through Central America during the rainy season. On the plus side- it feels marginally cooler that it ought to and our heavy motorbike clothing makes us sweat only 3 litres as opposed to 5. However, the major downside is that the road often becomes unusable, with deep potholes disguised by the constant flow of water across the surface. This was the condition which greeted us on entry to Costa Rica. As soon as we crossed the border and paid our extortionate “insurance” each (minimum 3 month’s per bike, goodbye food budget for the week) we saw fat, angry clouds waiting just beyond the customs’ gate. Sure enough, within ten minutes of riding, we were absolutely drenched, water even seeped through my waterproof suit and trickled into my boots.

Costa Rica is eye-wateringly expensive and having found Panama expensive, we were yearning for a place where our budget would extend beyond a tent, a few tomatoes and value pasta. After a damp night in the cheapest cabin on the site (hornets were just beginning to build a commune above the sleeping area) we rode off for a damp ride towards Nicaragua. On route, we crossed Crocodile Bridge and having looked upstream, we wondered where they were then we caught sight of a man with a bag of pork chops heading straight for the other side so we followed and a shore full of crocs was revealed! They were all lying deceptively motionless, sunning themselves, when the sudden rain of pork chops raised a flurry of activity and suddenly the shore was full of snapping jaws and switching tails. We decided against a dip…


Crocodile bridge, Costa rica: post pork snack

We crossed into Nicaragua and after the worst/most confusing border crossing of the entire journey, we were looking forward to getting as far away from the border as possible. Riding until we reached San Jorge, we wondered what one does in such a town when a ferry port came into view on the sat-nav and better yet, an island! We took the ferry to Ometepe, a volcanic island on Lago Nicaragua, our bikes nestled next to lorries carrying food and materials. The still air inside the ferry was approximately the temperature of the sun and the “in-board movie” of choice was the latest Jurassic Park adventure played at speaker-testing volume so we headed to the deck to enjoy the view.


Ferry to Ometepe! Crew played Tetris with the vehicles (spot the third travel biker!)


Conception Volcano, Ometepe Island

The island is a curiously tranquil place with hardly any cars. The road is paved, literally- little concrete slabs puzzled together- and winds itself through and around the two volcanoes on the island before stopping altogether at the valley of the second volcano. Transport of choice on the island are little scooters and bicycles and we often saw whole families packed onto one bike. Cows, horses and donkeys also outnumber usual traffic and Alex almost ran into a horse which suddenly decided the grass was greener on the the other side and bolted across the road.

The island was so peaceful, friendly and beautiful we decided to stay for a few days. We trekked for what seemed an eternity to get to the San Ramon falls which were pretty magical and incredibly refreshing after the walk. Definitely worth the lack of signs and the climb to get there! We stayed in Santa Cruz which is the best side of the Island and came complete with a gorgeous sweep of beach patrolled by horses and friendly dogs.


The Cataratas San Ramon


Poet’s beach at dusk, transport of choice on the beach (view of Conception)

After a day in the volcanic spring baths, we enjoyed another night of rain. This storm was so hard that the rain actually came through the ceiling of the dorm we slept in. We left the next morning and we surprised to see that the storm had not only taken down the electricity lines supplying Santa Cruz, it had also meant rivers of mud and rocks had swept across the road in the night, leaving a trail of small boulders and sticky mud where the neat slabs used to be. Men were already at work, shoveling the mud and pushing off the bigger rocks. We caught the ferry back to San Jorge and made our way to Granada.


Bikes parked on Ometepe runway! The planes fly out onto the lake itself


Passenger on the ferry back to San Jorge (another hot day)

In Granada we stayed in a hostel tucked away at the other end of a  busy street market. We had to ride our bikes through the hustle and bustle of endless vegetable sellers, hawkers and a sea of customers, eventually making our way to the hostel garage.


Down-town Granada


Granada has many points of interest to see but we headed straight for the Mombacho cigar factory and took a tour to see how a hand made cigar is born. After various stages of checking the tobacco leaves individually and sorting them for colour, consistency and size, it is left to ferment, to dry or thrown out, depending on its final use and QA/QC. Once the leaves are actually ready and perfectly selected and sorted, the rolling can begin- the filler, binder and wrapper are all 100% tobacco and the only extra ingredient is yam starch used sparingly as a glue agent. The filler and binder are compressed and then wrapped delicately before being QC’d again and stored for 6 months in a humidity controlled room.


Granada: being shown how to roll a cigar… (binder being rolled onto filler)


…and how to finish wrapping it

Alex has decided on a career change: she can now be found in the rows of workers at the factory with her lesser-seen concentration face, trying to master rolling and wrapping.


Alex has a go at making a cigar!

After two cigars, she decided it wasn’t for her… Near Granada, there is the Masaya Volcano which is uniquely amazing for having a lava lake in its crater. In fact, the lava sits in the throat but at night, the colour and the heat are so dazzling that one can observe it from the edge of the crater. It was astoundingly exquisite watching the gold and red raging leaps of molten lava pulsating in the volcano. Even the crush of pushy tourists trying to get selfies with the lava couldn’t detract from the awesome beauty although it did help encourage us when the time came to leave.


Who shall we sacrifice first…


Masaya : truly awesome




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