San Carlos, Nicaragua, 12-13 April 2019.

We waved goodbye to Renato and Orejas – his delightful dog, and caught the 6am bus from Cano Negro to Los Chiles. The air was heavy with moisture.

Above: morning landscape leaving Cano Negro.

Then a taxi to the border town Las Tablillas, a distance of six kilometres, arriving around 7.30am.

Note to anyone who plans to do this crossing:

The Lonely Planet guide (Costa Rica 13th edition October 2018) states:

1. immigration is open 8-4pm.

2. you can only pay by credit card.

The above information is incorrect.

Immigration is open at 7am and we saw no evidence of credit card machines – however they may have been out of sight. We paid C5,000 per person to exit Costa Rica.

All quite straight forward really, when you know what is going on.

We walked over to the Nicaraguan immigration and paid US$12 per person to enter the country. Already we witnessed a lack of infrastructure in Nicaragua compared to Costa Rica – the two immigration officials shared one carbon copy receipt book!

Once clear, there was a short walk to a waiting mini van. It departed for San Carlos when the van was full – US$5 for two people.

Above: red line indicates our journey from Cano Negro, Costa Rica, to San Carlos, Nicaragua. Yellow line is the border.

For what ever reason, I always seem to become a little ‘unsettled’ when moving to a new destination. Once there and settled in, I am fine. However we had spoken with other travellers about Nicaragua, and in particular an expat (ex-Zimbabwe and the UK) now residing in Costa Rica. He told us he hated Nicaragua – far too dangerous and starving animals everywhere. Of course, this was his experience going back five or six years ago. Add that to the general warnings in the Lonely Planet…and the social unrest in 2018. Sometimes I can make a few shadows seem larger than life.

Our mini van arrived at the San Carlos bus terminal – a dusty square surrounded by shops. It was hot….’Chicken buses’, vans, and people were everywhere. Being located right next to the market, and about 9.30am, it was extremely busy. I had glimpsed open air butcher shops with meat hanging on hooks – a world away from Costa Rica. A bit of a shock…I immediately drew parallels with India: the chaos, but without the overlays of caste, the smell of sewerage, the beggars, and religious people. Street hawkers draped numerous belts over their shoulders and wore other articles for sale around their waists. Other vendors carried boards of sun glasses for sale. My emotions were on ‘high alert’ as The Lonely Planet warns you to be extra vigilant around bus stations. No hassles…

Above: butcher shop.

Above: street hawkers.

We walked to our hotel – Hotel Grand Lago – I had make a booking through one of those online booking agencies. However, there was not much choice…When we arrived I managed to say in my best Spanish that we had a booking – she seemed a little surprised and I noted no computer at the front entrance cum reception – just a desk with a few books etc. We were shown a very nice room and I was a little surprised that the price was half that quoted by the online agency. I was pleased though – US$40 for the first night, and US$35 for the second night as no breakfast would be supplied on the Sunday – fine by us. The air conditioning was an absolute delight. (I later discovered I had booked a Hotel Grand Lago somewhere else in Nicaragua – thank heavens there was no upfront credit card payment!) As it turns out, when I paid the owner he charged us even less – US$35 and US$30….

There were two pressing issues. First, and very importantly, we needed some local currency – cordobas. Second, we required a sim card. Using Guru maps we located an ATM in front of a bank a couple of streets away from our hotel. It did not accept Mastercard. The security guard scanned everyone entering the bank. There were three tellers – one assisted people perhaps conducting ‘small’ transactions. The other two tellers were assisting people requiring ‘larger’ amounts of cash. It was like in the movies – people were putting blocks of notes into brown paper bags or their backpacks. I was astounded. What is going on in this country? Finally, my turn. No, they had no provision for Mastercard withdrawals and we were told to go to a Banpro ATM. Found the ATM – not working and had a canoe stored inside it! We were feeling rather despondent. We were rescued by a delightful young man speaking English who worked in a hostel opposite the closed ATM – his young sister had seen we were ‘stressed’ and told him to help us. How wonderful! He gave us directions to the Banpro bank and ATM, (5a Avenida Este, past the dock and market) and we withdrew as much cash as possible. (The following morning there was no cash in the ATM).

The Claro sim card process was much easier, albeit it took a fair while as we had to wait three quarters of an hour for the cashier to arrive. Together, the young sales assistant, and John and myself used a combination of limited English, limited Spanish and good old Google translate to achieve and activate the purchase.

From the balcony outside our upstairs room at Hotel Grand Lago we looked onto tall trees and the marshy shore fringing Lake Nicaragua, also known as Lake Cocibolca or Lake Granada. Small boats were moored in front of the hotel. Numerous bird species frequented the close by tall trees and swampy shore. It is a freshwater lake covering 8,264 square kilometres, and is the largest in Central America. It is the 19th largest in the world. With the high humidity the aluminium coloured skies often merged with the lake horizon; afternoon vistas were beautiful.

Above: early morning aluminium sky and horizon.

Above: Hotel Grand Lago foreshore – late afternoon sky.

Above: Purple Gallinule near Hotel Grand Lago.

We quickly discovered that the chaos only existed near the bus terminal and market – streets were mostly almost deserted. This was a very pleasant difference to the often constant traffic and noisy motor bikes in Costa Rica. Humble houses are built slap bang next to one another – their doors and windows facing directly onto the footpath, if the footpath exists at all. Wrought iron security grills are obvious, but we noted no razor wire – the latter frequently seen in Costa Rica. As you walk past you look directly into their interiors – rocking chairs are popular here. The sense of privacy is very different compared to our 2.4 brick wall built by our neighbours in Northcote.

Above: busy street

Above: another busy street.

Above: hand cart.

We dined at Restaurant Kaoma a few times – an open upstairs restaurant catching the breeze and good views of the lake. Great food. Undoubtedly the most expensive restaurant in town, but we wanted a break from ‘soda’ type eateries. On the Saturday evening we ate ‘late’, departing around 7.30 – late for us. The plaza in front of the restaurant was in full swing with music and people and children line dancing. As we exited the restaurant a ute drove past with at least six men in the open back section. It pulled up abruptly ahead of us. The men jumped out quickly – they were wearing black uniforms and balaclavas, and carrying automatic rifles. Possibly ‘political police’? They seemed to be on a mission and quickly walked to the edge of the lake. I felt a cold shudder go through my body. We have been told to leave the country quickly should an unrest break out.

There has been political unrest recently in Nicaragua. Wikipedia states:

The 2018–2019 Nicaraguan protests began on 18 April 2018 when demonstrators in several cities of Nicaragua began protests against the social security reforms decreed by President Daniel Ortega that increased taxes and decreased benefits. The total number of deaths are 309.

Above: lake foreshore near plaza and Restaurant Kaoma.

Our next destination is El Castillo.

2 thoughts on “San Carlos, Nicaragua, 12-13 April 2019.

  1. Hi Vicki, I share your paranoia… But, I am sure you will both be ok being as careful as you are. Great photos and yiub really catch the sense of the occasion! Karl


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