Corrinto – Jiquilillo

My dodgy Guatemalan drugs must have done something overnight as my knee was feeling much better come morning. I left my pack at the hostel and had a wander around town.


Corinto goes down in history’s pages as the place where ex US President Ronald Reagan got busted big time for beyond dodgy interference in another country’s governance. Evidently the CIA (under Reagan’s directive) decided to mine Corinto’s harbour in 1984 as part of a scheme to aid US supported Contra rebels. The International Court of Justice called bullshit on the whole episode and ordered the US government to pay retribution to the Nicaraguan government for its interference. In true Reaganista arrogance, the court’s findings were rejected and no payments were ever made. Congress, however, decided enough was enough and refused to pass further military aid to the Contras. Not to be outdone, the Reagan administration then decided to illegally sell weapons to Iran and surreptitiously use the profits to aid the Contras. Thus started the CIA’s sweet little dalliance which became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. Needless to say, the good folk of the USA were far from pleased when details leaked and the whole operation was exposed.


The Plaza Central was fairly buzzing last night with a shabby funfair down a couple of adjoining streets and vendors taking up most of the space in the plaza itself. Come morning, I saw why. The ship I had seen in port the previous evening was a cruise ship and passengers had just been let off for the day. Hawkers and pedicab drivers badgered anyone who obviously wasn’t a local which certainly took the edge off what seemed to be a pretty relaxed town to date. I also noticed extra security in the form of National Police on the streets; presumably to protect the punters. I had to cash up, so after a quick wander around, collected my pack from the hostel and caught a pedicab to the bus terminal.


I had to return to Chinendega and then catch a collectivo to the mercadito from where the bus to Jiquilillo left from. Once there, I found I had to wait two hours for the next bus so found a small cafe in which to have something to eat and wait it out. This was one of those bain marie offerings where you chose what you would like and paid accordingly. I sat at a table on the sidewalk and watched the hustle and bustle take place around me. With about half an hour to go, I decided to wait on the sidewalk opposite where I was told the bus would arrive. A senor selling bags of tomatoes took interest in my sitting on the side of the road and made inquiries. Not satisfied with just finding out where I was going or even where I was from, he wanted to know if I was married and how old I was. Had a considered a Nicaraguan husband? Some things are better just politely laughed off.


My bus eventually pulled up and people starting piling out. I decided to wait until it died down a bit before finding somewhere to put my pack and find a seat. My tomato Romeo came along to flog his wares to the punters and asked why I hadn’t found a seat yet. As I patiently waited, I began to see the error of this strategy as the bus continued to fill until there was no room for me to move even if I wanted to. As I was moved down the aisle with the rest of the standing senors and senoras, an hombre took pity and helped me put my pack up on the rack. I then had to stand sardine style for the better part of an hour before being able to secure a seat. Well, I learned that lesson well!


After about an hour, the bus turned down a rough dirt road and had to slow down considerably due to the many ruts and potholes. By now I had secured a sweet spot behind the driver so had a great view out the front window. We passed tiny pueblos, stopping regularly to pick up and drop off passengers and their goods. Eventually, we came to Jiquilillo which is basically one of three tiny beachside communities alongside a remote stretch of beach. I was watching out for the sign for the hostel I had chosen out of the guidebook, but the driver asked me where I was staying and pointed it out to me. Rancho Tranquil certainly lived up to its name as a quiet little property on its own private stretch of beach.


I was just in time to grab a cerveza and wander down to where they were releasing baby turtles at sunset. This turtle rescue organisation did things very different to Surfing Turtle Lodge and I was dismayed to see the organiser encouraging other travelers to actually pick the turtles up and have photos taken with them! They then let the turtles waddle on the sand for a couple of metres, collected them back up and released them directly into the surf. I later googled correct protocol for release of these endangered creatures and this is certainly not how one does it to ensure greatest rate of survival. Still, I wasn’t about to interfere.


I watched the sun set, then went back to the hostel for dinner. I hadn’t realised that this hostel was vegetarian only, but it was nice eating communal style with the other travelers staying there for the night. It appeared that I was the first Australian to stay at the hostel, so proudly stuck my pin in the map. Most travelers seem to come from the US or Europe as was the case on this occasion. It was lovely lying in bed in the dorm listening to the rumbling of the waves only a couple of hundred metres away. A very soothing way to enter one’s slumber.


Isla Los Brasiles – Corrinto

Packed up and said my farewells. Surfing Turtle Lodge proved to be a most enjoyable and memorable spot to spend Xmas. It’s very easy to see how some travelers come to spend a few weeks ‘volunteering’ and end up staying on. There is certainly a lot to ‘stay on’ for.


I walked back to catch a lancha over the channel to the mainland. I saw the lancha come in but no one was there when I got to it. I waited for a while looking around and then heard the snap of a twig. The lancha driver had decided to take a moment in the mangroves whilst waiting for passengers. I gave him his privacy and waited. As we were taking off, a large party from the lodge who were catching the shuttle to Leon came around the corner of the mangroves accompanied by a horse driven cart carrying their packs. The cart drove straight through the low water to the lancha while the others waded. It ended up being a very full boat after all and the hombres amongst them were called upon for lancha leverage duty until we were in deeper water for the motor to take over.


Back on dry land I decided I wasn’t in any hurry and stopped for a cerveza at one of the little restaurants dotting the beach. Thus fortified for the hill climb, I returned to where I had left the bus a couple of days ago. I didn’t have to wait long before a bus came lumbering along and after a quick detour of the more touristy Las Penitas, I was on my way back to Leon.


I caught another bus from the mercadito which the beach buses use as transits, to the main mercado to catch a bus heading north. A busker hopped on en route and proceeded to entertain the commuters with guitar and harmonica. As the bus tore through the city streets without heed to anyone’s comfort levels, let alone ones ability to play the guitar whilst standing, I was impressed that he still had a full set of teeth after such antics. Thus I handed over a few Córdoba to assist with what I can only assume will be future dental work needed.


As I came away on this trip carrying a knee injury which is still to rectify itself, I have been struggling with swelling and pain. I did bring the remainder of my post surgery anti inflammatory meds with me, but had exhausted that supply. I had the box they came in so asked at one of the many pharmacies at the mercado if they had anything similar. To my astonishment, the señorita came back with a packet of meds made in Guatemala which appeared to have the exact same dosage of the drug I had been prescribed in Australia. This drug company is no Bayer so I may yet grow a third ear but am finding myself running out of other options.


Armed with my dodgy Guatemalan drugs, I found a bus to Chinandega from where I planned to take another bus to Jiquilillo. A quick check of times to get to both places decided me on changing my mind and heading straight to Corrinto where this particular bus terminated. We drove through the pretty little town of Chichigalpa which is the home of Nicaragua’s famous rum distillery, Flor de Cana. A short stop in Chinendaga and we were heading down to the port city of Corrinto.


The bus terminated and I could see a ship in port in the not too far distance so figured I was probably not far from the centre of town. I got directions for the Central Plaza and found it was only a few blocks away. I asked directions to a hostel I had picked out of the guidebook but got directed to Hostel Garcia which did the job as far as I was concerned. Cheap, basic with an odd little bathroom tucked into one corner. A thick, though shabby monogrammed towel was at my disposal. Ritz!!


The guidebook recommended eating at one of the waterfront restaurants which are known for good seafood so I went in search of one. They all looked quite pricey but I found one a little shabbier than the others which had reasonably priced cerviche. I took the first of my dodgy Guatemalan meds after googling any info I could find on the company that made them. Oh well, another ear could come in handy…

Leon – Isla Los Brasiles

Time to leave Leon and head to the beach for a couple of days over Xmas. I’ve found it’s best to ensconce oneself somewhere pleasant for the couple of days the whole place shuts down and had opted for an Eco resort out of the guidebook I liked the sound of.Over breakfast I had another look in the guidebook for directions to take the local transport to Poneloya on the coast. Fortunately, I picked up what I had overlooked previously – that the buses didn’t leave from the terminal I used the previous day, but rather another one in a part of town I would need to catch a collectivo to. Thus informed, I kitted up and walked the few blocks to Parque Central from where I could start my journey.


The clapped out bus hurtled to the corner, came to a screeching halt half way around blocking the entire intersection and with Latino efficiency swapped out several of its occupants (myself included) in record time. As I hadn’t had time to put away my pack harness and it was a bit of an OSH issue (if such a thing exists here!!), I alternated between holding fast as Speedy Gonzales opted to see if he could get the bus airborne over the street’s lumpy surface and trying to secure my pack rigging before someone did themselves a disservice on it.


I found the bus I needed to continue on to Poneloya and fortunately was able to secure myself a seat at the front of the bus to best take in the views. After hot, bustling Leon, I was looking forward to spending a couple of days at the beach. The bus ride down provided glimpses of everyday Nicaraguan life; tiny thatched roofed casas shaded by age old trees, vistas of majestic volcanoes dominating the landscape from afar, broad fields upon which cattle and horses were grazing, and a dozen locals trying to pull an upturned car out of a ditch.


The bus pulled up in the centre of ‘town’ if that was what the few ramshackle buildings represented. A short stroll up and back down a small hill led to where the lanchas left to take people across the narrow channel to Isla Los Brasiles where my digs for the next two nights lay. A short walk on the other side along a sandy track deposited me at Surfing Turtle Lodge. This Eco-lodge is solar powered and nestled on the edge of the beach. Palm trees and gardens add to its lush tropical appeal. I had booked a dorm bed in the large upstairs screened dorm, which had a large deck jutting out and amazing views out over the Pacific Ocean. With a great bar and communal area below, I had picked well for my Xmas break!


The lodge has a turtle hatchery attached and has released many thousands of turtles since it began operating. They have a local turtle specialist who oversees the whole operation, from monitoring the local beach for females laying eggs to purchasing eggs from local poachers who otherwise would sell them to restaurants for human consumption. Three species of these endangered sea turtles nest on Isla Los Brasiles – Olive Ridley, Leatherback and Green Turtle. The eggs are carefully gathered and buried in plots in a fenced off area on the beach to prevent loss from predators. When the baby turtles hatch, they are taken closer to the water were they waddle down to enable any females among them to ‘imprint’ the location so they can return to the same spot years later to lay their own eggs as adults.


After sitting in the surf with a cerveza, I returned to the bar to make new friends. The lodge organises daily sunset beach volleyball games and after most people had eaten dinner, Christmas themed group games were spun out with raucous results. My team won and we were rewarded with shots of rum. It was then time to go down to the beach for the nightly bonfire and shenanigans around the beach bar.


I noticed a shifty looking hombre on a pushbike by the bar and wondered what was going on. It turned out he was one of the local poachers who had ‘stolen’ a cache of sea turtle eggs from their mother and was looking for a quick profit. I found out later, that the poachers generally come to the lodge first to sell their eggs as they tend to pay slightly higher than the restaurants. I went with the staff and one of the owners to bury the eggs in a plot in the turtle hatchery. The date and number of eggs are recorded on a plastic sign so they know how many baby turtles to expect and when. A quick check of other plots that have been hatching recently revealed two more baby turtles. These were put in a container with beach sand and taken down to the beach to be released. As the tiny turtles made their way to the water, they were caught up in a small wave and finally made their way out to sea. Bon Voyage little Christmas turtles!