A week in Nicaragua

Chaotic, but not dangerous.

Chaotic, but not dangerous.

STUNNING: The volcano on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. The country is on the brink of civil war but the intrepid Rosa ignored all warnings, and found the people kind and welcoming. All pictures by Rosa Briant
TROUBLED: Political street art in Leon, the second largest city in Nicaragua after Managua.
Rosa found a quad bike the ideal method of transportation for getting around Utilia Island in the Honduras.
UNDERWATER: Rosa found Utila Island in the Honduras is the place to go for cheap diving courses.
HOLD-UP: Roadblocks were familiar sights as Rosa made her way around Nicaragua.
UP HIGH: Rosa had the company of fellow traveller Julie, from Austria, on her climb up Ometepe, an island formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua. It is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua.

Rosa Briant continues her travels in Central America. She realises her 90-day visa is soon to expire and with only three weeks left, sets off to explore El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The first thing you should know if you are travelling in Central America is that while Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama allow an automatic visa of 90 days per country, the remaining four countries do not. This is where I messed up.

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have a freedom of movement agreement and the 90-day visa is for all four countries. After nine weeks studying and travelling in Guatemala I found out I only had three weeks left for the remaining three countries! I am not one to rush my travels but when your visa is almost up you really have no choice.

There is not much to say about El Salvador. Lots of people skip it because it has a reputation for danger but I did enjoy a week on the coast in El Tunco; a surfing town with black sand beaches, huge rocks and crazy swells. I wanted to surf but it was so far beyond my ability that I spent all week in the hostel pool drinking beersies and making new friends.

Then I wandered over to the other side of the continent, to a Honduran island in the Caribbean called Utila, possibly one of the most beautiful islands in Central America with its crystal clear water, soft white sand and absolutely magnificent weather. It is also the cheapest place in the world to do your diving courses! So, if that is something you are keen on then Utila is the place for you. Almost all hostels are also diving schools and you get to stay for free if you are taking part in the courses. Great opportunity, awesome fun! Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America so to go straight to the islands means you get to experience the culture, food and local people while still keeping yourself safe.

There is also a crazy Creole language spoken there which sounds like a mix of Spanish, English and indigenous languages spoken in a strong Northern Irish accent! Honestly one of the strangest, most intriguing things I have ever heard.

So, with only one week left on my visa I had to make my way through Nicaragua. Despite the threatening civil war, the international warnings to stay away and the worry from my family and friends back home I had my mind set on seeing that beautiful country. I have never been one to listen when I am told I can’t do something. In fact it just makes me want to do it more. So from Honduras to Nicaragua I went.

I have to admit, although I knew I would be OK, I was nervous. Everyone I met in Honduras had decided to fly over the country to avoid the chaos. But I knew that businesses were shutting down, the Nicaraguan people were losing their jobs and things were getting really tough for them. I wanted to stay in their hostels, buy their food and support them any way I could. So off I went. I knew that the anger was directed at the government; at greed, corruption and abuse of power. It was not directed at the travellers.

I booked a ride with one of the biggest, busiest shuttle companies in Central America and I was the only person on board. For 15 hours the driver and I sped across Honduras and, just before the border to Nicaragua, in the pouring rain, we saw a ute next to us with 12 soldiers riding on the back. My driver wound down his window, and commenced a conversation with the ute driver, whilst going full speed down the highway. Before I knew it both vehicles were and commenced a conversation with the driver, all the while going full speed down the highway. Before I knew it both vehicles were pulling over, the shuttle door was opening and the 12 soldiers (each equipped with automatic rifles) were piling in all around me. We were giving them a ride out of the rain. So there was me, the gringo, surrounded in by soldiers with big guns and bulletproof jackets!

When I looked to my right I realised the soldier beside me had placed his gun on the ground between his legs and the barrel was pointed directly at my head, only a few inches from my chin.

Very calmly I pointed it out to him and politely asked him to move it. He looked me in the eye and without so much as a smile he removed his hat and placed it on the barrel of the gun . . . like that would have prevented my brains being blown out had we hit one of the thousand potholes too hard! My biggest life regret to this day is that I didn’t ask for a selfie with them. That would have been the greatest photo op. of my life . . . but I was way too nervous!

For the next few days I made my way from one end of the country to the other, staying in hostels which, only a few months ago, would have required a reservation in advance. However at that time they were completely empty, and now I would guess they too are closed indefinitely.

Drives which should have taken four hours instead took us ten thanks to the roadblocks and rebels in balaclavas with homemade guns and bombs. At some of the roadblocks we paid bribes and could pass instantly with no drama. At others there were lines of trucks and cars backed up miles long, forcing us to find other routes using dirt roads. I saw vehicles burning and people pulled out of their cars for voicing support of the government. It was chaos but I never once felt in danger. The people were kind to me and many were simply grateful for my presence and support. At one point I actually left my debit card in an ATM only to be chased down by the local woman who went in after me. She handed me back my card with a big smile and wished me luck on my travels. My jaw almost hit the ground. I think even in New Zealand I would have been lucky to ever see that card again!

Finally in San Juan Del Sur I was so close to the Costa Rican border I felt like I was basically there already. Until word started spreading that they were closing the border indefinitely.

I started to prepare for the possibility that I’d be stuck there for a while. Fuel and food were already running out fast and a civil war was starting around me. I was grateful for what I had experienced through Nicaragua but I was definitely ready to cross that border and move on. Not to mention I was on day 90 of my visa and facing fines if I couldn’t do a border run quick smart.

Luckily the border eventually re-opened! I jumped on a bus, said goodbye and good luck to Nicaragua and made my way smoothly into the beautiful land of Costa Rica with one goal in mind: to find a sloth!

Rosa Briant continues her travels in Central America. She realises her 90-day visa is soon to expire and with only three weeks left, sets off to explore El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The first thing you should know if you are travelling in Central America is that while Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama allow an automatic visa of 90 days per country, the remaining four countries do not. This is where I messed up.

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have a freedom of movement agreement and the 90-day visa is for all four countries. After nine weeks studying and travelling in Guatemala I found out I only had three weeks left for the remaining three countries! I am not one to rush my travels but when your visa is almost up you really have no choice.

There is not much to say about El Salvador. Lots of people skip it because it has a reputation for danger but I did enjoy a week on the coast in El Tunco; a surfing town with black sand beaches, huge rocks and crazy swells. I wanted to surf but it was so far beyond my ability that I spent all week in the hostel pool drinking beersies and making new friends.

Then I wandered over to the other side of the continent, to a Honduran island in the Caribbean called Utila, possibly one of the most beautiful islands in Central America with its crystal clear water, soft white sand and absolutely magnificent weather. It is also the cheapest place in the world to do your diving courses! So, if that is something you are keen on then Utila is the place for you. Almost all hostels are also diving schools and you get to stay for free if you are taking part in the courses. Great opportunity, awesome fun! Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America so to go straight to the islands means you get to experience the culture, food and local people while still keeping yourself safe.

There is also a crazy Creole language spoken there which sounds like a mix of Spanish, English and indigenous languages spoken in a strong Northern Irish accent! Honestly one of the strangest, most intriguing things I have ever heard.

So, with only one week left on my visa I had to make my way through Nicaragua. Despite the threatening civil war, the international warnings to stay away and the worry from my family and friends back home I had my mind set on seeing that beautiful country. I have never been one to listen when I am told I can’t do something. In fact it just makes me want to do it more. So from Honduras to Nicaragua I went.

I have to admit, although I knew I would be OK, I was nervous. Everyone I met in Honduras had decided to fly over the country to avoid the chaos. But I knew that businesses were shutting down, the Nicaraguan people were losing their jobs and things were getting really tough for them. I wanted to stay in their hostels, buy their food and support them any way I could. So off I went. I knew that the anger was directed at the government; at greed, corruption and abuse of power. It was not directed at the travellers.

I booked a ride with one of the biggest, busiest shuttle companies in Central America and I was the only person on board. For 15 hours the driver and I sped across Honduras and, just before the border to Nicaragua, in the pouring rain, we saw a ute next to us with 12 soldiers riding on the back. My driver wound down his window, and commenced a conversation with the ute driver, whilst going full speed down the highway. Before I knew it both vehicles were and commenced a conversation with the driver, all the while going full speed down the highway. Before I knew it both vehicles were pulling over, the shuttle door was opening and the 12 soldiers (each equipped with automatic rifles) were piling in all around me. We were giving them a ride out of the rain. So there was me, the gringo, surrounded in by soldiers with big guns and bulletproof jackets!

When I looked to my right I realised the soldier beside me had placed his gun on the ground between his legs and the barrel was pointed directly at my head, only a few inches from my chin.

Very calmly I pointed it out to him and politely asked him to move it. He looked me in the eye and without so much as a smile he removed his hat and placed it on the barrel of the gun . . . like that would have prevented my brains being blown out had we hit one of the thousand potholes too hard! My biggest life regret to this day is that I didn’t ask for a selfie with them. That would have been the greatest photo op. of my life . . . but I was way too nervous!

For the next few days I made my way from one end of the country to the other, staying in hostels which, only a few months ago, would have required a reservation in advance. However at that time they were completely empty, and now I would guess they too are closed indefinitely.

Drives which should have taken four hours instead took us ten thanks to the roadblocks and rebels in balaclavas with homemade guns and bombs. At some of the roadblocks we paid bribes and could pass instantly with no drama. At others there were lines of trucks and cars backed up miles long, forcing us to find other routes using dirt roads. I saw vehicles burning and people pulled out of their cars for voicing support of the government. It was chaos but I never once felt in danger. The people were kind to me and many were simply grateful for my presence and support. At one point I actually left my debit card in an ATM only to be chased down by the local woman who went in after me. She handed me back my card with a big smile and wished me luck on my travels. My jaw almost hit the ground. I think even in New Zealand I would have been lucky to ever see that card again!

Finally in San Juan Del Sur I was so close to the Costa Rican border I felt like I was basically there already. Until word started spreading that they were closing the border indefinitely.

I started to prepare for the possibility that I’d be stuck there for a while. Fuel and food were already running out fast and a civil war was starting around me. I was grateful for what I had experienced through Nicaragua but I was definitely ready to cross that border and move on. Not to mention I was on day 90 of my visa and facing fines if I couldn’t do a border run quick smart.

Luckily the border eventually re-opened! I jumped on a bus, said goodbye and good luck to Nicaragua and made my way smoothly into the beautiful land of Costa Rica with one goal in mind: to find a sloth!

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