12.03.2011 - 18.03.2011 35 °C
We left Utila early in the morning by ferry and were picked up by a taxi on the other end, heading towards the Omega Tours jungle lodge along the Congrejal River. The company was recommended by travelers, friends and the Lonely Planet as one stop that should not be missed while in the La Ceiba area. The drive took about half-an-hour out of the city into the jungle along the river, just outside of the protected park reserve. During the rainy season the Congrejal River rages with so much water that it moves boulders the size of houses, altering the direction and flow of water constantly. It can be a very dangerous river, having claimed lives in its forceful current and rapids; however, with just the right amount of water it becomes a playground for white water rafting and swimming.
We came to the Omega Tours Lodge, which has a hostel, restaurant, and a pool fed from river water. The company organizes tours through the protected park and to distant waterfalls, but is mostly known for white water rafting and kayaking trips. We dropped our bags off and immediately joined in the morning rafting trip. If you do one of the tours, your lodging and lunch are free, making the tour well worth its cost. After gearing up in our life jackets and helmets, hiking down to the river and listening to safety instructions, we started a journey up the river, only to splash our way back down. The water rushes at such an incredible force that we had to aim our bodies diagonally up the river and swim hard to make it across to the opposite bank. We hurled ourselves off different rocks, played in currents that held and spun us, as well as floated on our backs to have the water push us back downstream. Andrew was in his element, leaping from dizzying heights into the white waters below. Finally, we reached our rafts and began the rafting part of the tour. We learned the commands for when and how to paddle, and then set off for an incredibly fun adventure. Often having to throw ourselves into the boat and lean from side to side to avoid hazards, we zipped through rapids and small drops with shrieks of delight, feeling proud that we never flipped our raft. At the end of the river tour, when the water became shallower, a truck awaited to take us back up to the lodge for lunch. Andrew and I went back down to the river’s edge after lunch and basked in the sun and watching the local children throwing themselves off of boulders that seemed impossibly high.
The next morning we woke up early, packed our bags and left them in the office, before heading down to the river one more time for Andrew to try some of the daring jumps the locals did. After a couple hours enjoying the morning sunshine, we grabbed our gear to attempt hailing a local bus that runs down the dirt roads back to La Ceiba. When we realized we missed it, we walked down the road and were soon picked up by some friendly locals in the back of a pick-up truck and got all the way back into the City for free.
The traveling day between La Ceiba, and our desired destination of Nicaragua took the better part of two days. From La Ceiba we took a bus into San Pedro Sula, an overcrowded, dirty and extremely dangerous city. This city is one where you do not want to spend any time in, let alone look for accommodations in, but arriving at sundown left us little choice. Our taxi driver took us directly to a cheap hotel that had barred doors and all-night security and we were warned to not walk the streets at night. We ordered a pizza and dozed for a few hours before the same taxi driver picked us up at 4am to make it back to the bus station in time for our connecting bus that left at 5am. The journey from San Pedro Sula to Léon, Nicaragua, took twelve long hours.
León was once the capital of Nicaragua and the center for the arts, for politics, as well as the ecclesiastical center. Boasting numerous grand churches, León is a great place to do a walking tour, though, the main draw to this city are the numerous nearby volcanoes ready for exploration. This region of Nicaragua has the most volcanoes in Central America and with many being active there is a large draw for tourists looking to hike up these giant mountains. We found a quiet guesthouse and spent the following day walking around the city and taking photographs. We inquired about the volcanic tours but after learning that most of the hikes were two day trips carrying heavy packs in 35 degree weather, we decided to pass on this and rather head to the beach, only 20km west of León.
Two beaches are found near León along the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, separated by a rocky point. The southern end, called Las Peñitas, is a long stretch of beach that is best for swimming and draws in the backpackers. The fine golden sands stretch endlessly with small homes and hostels along the beach edge. On weekends the beach fills up with tourists and locals but midweek there was only the sand and crashing waves with a few people trying to surf. The waves along the coast are powerful and the undertow strong, but the brave and determined few still paddle out hoping to catch the perfect wave. We spent two days perfecting our suntans, walking the beach and admiring the nightly show of a perfect sunset. The only problem we found was the lack of food options; for fish eaters this beach is a mecca as the locals are mainly fishermen and restaurants sell little else. We ended up eating breakfast for most meals before deciding we had to move on simply to find other food options.
We hitched a ride in the back of a large truck into Léon, from where we had to get a taxi to the bus terminal, a shuttle to Managua and yet another shuttle bus so Granada. Travel days are always long and tiresome, but the experience of cramming 25 people into a minivan with half standing between the legs of those who are sitting, always proves to be entertaining even whilst uncomfortable. We reached Granada mid-day and plan on spending five days in the beautiful colonial city and will update about it in the next blog.
Sending love to friends and family,
Ana and Andrew