The Honduran adventure continues.

The ferry arrived back in La Ceiba at around 8.00am. We made our way to the city centre, where we headed straight for the tourist information office. Somebody had given us a good lead, Omega Tours. So after a quick phone call and chat with the very cordial Udu, originally from Germany, we found ourselves in a taxi, taking a 20 minute ride out to his and Silvia’s eco-lodge, where we would go on a rafting trip as soon as we arrived. Actually, they were waiting for us, as a group was just about to head off! No rest for the wicked! The days that ensued were yet again, action packed and full of fun and good food!

Omega Tours Jungle lodge is only 9 kilometres from La Ceiba, up a dirt road alongside the Cangrejal (crab) river. As we were driven up, we were presented with a spectacular view of a river cascading over rocks ranging in size from pebbles to boulders, and with a spectacular mountain range in the background. We arrived, dumped our stuff into a room, met Udu, and were immediately introduced to our rafting guides, Jeff and Ben. Bathers on, and we were off! After a short jeep ride to our destination, and a brief explanation of what not as well as to do, we were off…………rafting! Action packed is really the best word to describe our afternoon. This took me back to the Zambesi River in Zimbabwe, way back in 1995, which was the last time I went rafting. Absolutely no less fun though! My favourite part was the 2 metre drop, and we didn’

When we came back, we settled into our room, and properly met Udu and Silvia, who have an absolutely marvellous and self sustainable little operation happening up there in the hills, away from ¨the city¨which is, in reality, so close by. The guest houses are clean and comfortable, and there are a couple of very special cabins, and certainly worth the splurge. Check out their website, www.omegatours.hn The property also has a small orange orchard and various other fruit trees, not to mention excellent food. When I say excellent I should explain: Good quality, good portions and good variety! Bless beans and rice, but I must say I am a little over them! In Central America vegetable options are marginal and boring! It´s a meat lover´s world out here!

The next day was spent kayaking, also organised through Omega Tours. I know, some of us really do have it tough! Our guide was a guy called Alex, and he took us to the Cacao Lagoon, about an hour away. Exploring the lagoon and its mangroves was relaxing, especially as we were able to view birds and wildlife, such as monkeys. I tried to ignore the fact that I was much less than an expert kayaker, often going around in circles and that the mozzies were having a meatfest on my back and legs! Oh, my legs…….be afraid, be very afraid. They are currently looking pretty tragic, with mozzie and no-see-um (these tiny, minute little evil critters that leave bites that itch like hell!) bites all over. I could be a walking advertisement for a join-the-dots colouring book!

Alex and his wife Karen, are in the throes of opening a beautiful bed and breakfast right next door to Omega Tours Jungle Lodge – designed by Karen, and built by Alex. Alex (my Alex) did a contra deal – he would take photos of their superb property, and we would get a night in the B´n´B with breakfast thrown in! I think both parties were happy with the end result. By the way Karen, that was one seriously good (and varied!) breakfast – fruit, yoghurt, home made brown bread (with no sugar, which is the way they seem to like it here), veggie omelet, peanut butter, jam and superb coffee. I never knew that I could find utopia in a breakfast! Please keep your eyes open for their upcoming website, www.casacangrejal.com It should be up by March of this year, and you will be able to see some of the photos Alex took too.

The last week or so had been so full on that we decided that we truly needed a rest. By a rest I mean, no diving, no kayaking, no rafting, just some quiet time. A week earlier, on the bus going from Tegucigalpa to La Ceiba, we had met a lovely lady called Nelly, who had a guest house just outside of Tela, also on the Caribbean coast. She had told us that it was very peaceful and tranquil, yet right next to the beach. That gut feeling thing! We decided to go! The chicken bus ride, as always was enjoyable; mothers feeding their kids local food, men hauling sacks of onions through the back doors, groups of locals chatting about what they had done the night before, and…everyone looking happy! Smiles on their faces!

A word on consumerism: Many of the chicken buses to be found in Central America are old school buses from the USA (photo to the right). They are mostly all yellow, and they have swinging doors that open up at the back as well as the front, and………..THEY ALL WORK!!!!! My point being: this form of transportation has comfortably taken us from point A to B on a multitude of occasions in the past months, so why where they discarded in the first place? Well, here is your answer: We live in a world where (supposedly!) bigger is better, newer is nicer and keeping up with the latest trend is not only imperative, but necessary! Food for thought!

We arrived in Tela at dusk, and not wanting to navigate the bus system after dark we decided to take a taxi to Noni’s Plantation. As soon as we arrived we were greeted with a big hug from Nelly, and we soon settled into a small but comfortable room.

Noni’s Plantation is beautifully situated inbetween San Juan and Tornabe, on a peninsula very close to Tela. As soon as we were free of our backpacks, Nelly took us for a walk. No gravel, no bitumen, just dirt roads lined with very simple houses, yet right on the coast with breathtaking views. This area, amongst other areas along the Caribbean coast, is inhabited by the Garifuna people, who are the descendants of Caribbean Islanders and shipwrecked African slaves. Their language, Garifuna, is also reflective of their ancestry, with the language sounding like an African/ Indies fusion.

I felt like I had entered another country! People with a totally different look and language cooked coconut bread rolls in the streets, fished in simple canoes, and rode their bikes like we would drive our cars. I had to keep doing a mental reality check! By the way, that coconut bread was fantastic!

Apart from lazing on the beaches, and eating good food in simple places, we also walked the 6 kilometres to another place called Miami. Miami is a beautiful but basic Garifuna village on a narrow sandbar between the Caribbean Sea and the Micos Lagoon. I found Miami to be a little more primitive than the other Garifuna vilages I had seen, with the houses all being made out of traditional materials. It was a great experience, and a clear reminder that mod-con and flash is not the way in which we all live!

On the walk back we befriended Michael, a local boy of 13. He gave us some good tips on where it was and was not safe to walk. We all walked back the majority of the way, eventually jumping in the back of a pick-up, with the locals. Back in Tornabe, we sat down in the street and waited for the coconut bread to come out of the “oven”, whilst we interacted and chatted with the locals. It is the best way to get a feel for the people and their culture!

Although we only spent a few days in this area, we had a most refreshing time. Nelly and her husband Carlos, made us feel like we were at home. Nelly would often give us a taste of some of the local goodies she had bought, as well as coffee in the morning. Yet another unforgettable experience! When I hugged Nelly goodbye, we both had tears in our eyes, as she had now become another member of my “family”. As we jumped on the bus and waved goodbye, I wondered when we would see each other again.

Ombi

NOTE: Sorry, I am about to jump on the political bandwagon again! Plans have now been approved, but the contender not verified: They are going to build a resort of Cancun style, magnitude and proportions on the beautiful strip of land that I have just been describing, near Miami Beach. The Garifuna are being “bought out”, and their dirt roads and basic houses will make way for “beautifully” paved roads and a palace that will stand out like a tumour! Why? Why can’t we be happy with natural beauty in a natural setting? Why do we want a holiday that consists of “our current life in a different country”? But mostly, WHY are we hellbent on ruining somebody else’s back yard at the expense of our own “comfort”? More food for thought!

Next: The fascinating world of the Mayan Empire – the ruins of Copan.

(Photos: 1.- Let the rafting begin! The Cangrejal River; the place where our rafting trip begun, near La Ceiba on the Honduran Caribbean Coast. 2.-Yes, what a ride! We made the 2 metre drop! 3.-Looking for monkeys on the Cacao Lagoon, near La Ceiba. 4.- ” Contemplation”, man taking a rest on the beach, near the Cacao Lagoon. 5.- Casa Cangrejal B’n’B. 6.- Chicken bus (old school bus from the USA), crossing the narrow sandbar, Tornabe, Caribbean Coast, Honduras. 7.- Garifuna children on a truck selling second hand clothes, also from the USA, Tornabe. 8.-Alex (”El Gordo”) participating in his favourite hobby…….eating fresh fish in Tornabe. 9.- Fresh coconut bread rolls, straight from the oven to you! Tornabe. 10.- Kids playing on the beach in Tornabe.)

Diving Down Under, but Up Over!

Alex and I have wanted to do a diving course for years, but something always seemed to crop up. Besides having a reputation for being pristine and spectacularly beautiful, Honduras’ Bay Islands, on the Caribbean coast, are also reknowned for having the cheapest world recognised diving courses. So, this was going to be as good a time as any to indulge! I should add that the reefs here, which are a continuation of the Belize reefs, are the second largest barrier reef in the world , after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It is said that that both the snorkelling and diving here is spectacular. We soon found this out for ourselves.

The three main Bay Islands are Roatan, Utila and Guanaja. We chose to go to Utila. The ferry ride over was a little over an hour, and I quickly acquainted myself with the front, and open part of the boat. It was tearing through the water, which may I say was not exactly still. Air and water splashing in my face, I soon forgot that my stomach was in turmoil, and we seemed to arrive in no time at all. Being distracted by the phenomenal views was particularly helpful too.

As we neared the dock, I half-looked and half-prayed that we would not be confronted with what we had seen when we arrived in Bocas del Toro in Panama, which was trash, trash and more trash. I sighed with relief, as we came into the turquoise waters of the dock……without rubbish!

There are quite a number of diving schools on the island, some good and some not so good, and upon arrival, there are a throng of people with options on both where you can dive and where you can sleep. It’s hard to gauge sometimes, but in my humble opinion, it’s about gut feeling. We took several pamphlets and brochures, but our amble started with Laura, a young and friendly Canadian from the Bay Islands College of Diving. First things first, a place to sleep. She handed us over to Topher, who showed us some sleeping options. I want to add here, that everyone at this diving school was super friendly and helpful, and nothing seemed too hard or a bother. Topher walked around with me for ages (whilst Alex sat at the dock with all the backpacks), and I finally decided on a comfy little room, with bathroom and small kitchen. Country Side Apartments was run by the cordial Woodie, and his daughter Rachel. There too, nothing seemed too hard or difficult, and our hosts were both friendly and helpful.

Hot and sweaty, but finally settled into a room, our quest was to find a diving school. As Topher and Laura had been so helpful and friendly, and not pushy (a sure way to make me run a mile in the other direction!), we decided to check out the diving school where they worked, and we were extremely impressed with what we saw (please check out their web site, http://www.dive-utila.com/ ). Besides having a good reputation to begin with, we liked the vibe of the place, and Michel, the manager, was also helpful and professional. All these factors thrown in together made us feel like this was the place we wanted to do our PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open water diving course. Remember that name, The Bay Islands College of Diving!

That very afternoon, we began, with Laura as our instructor! This little powerhouse of a woman, was a diving marvel! Looking much younger than her already young 26 years, she had more than 600 dives already under her belt. So, we were off!

We had a comfortable group of four. The other two being Lesley and Kristin, from the USA, who were also lots of fun. The course comprised of various components, which were undertaken in a variety of locations; the classroom, the pool and the ocean. Despite the fact that I was literally raised in the water, and have been a like a fish all my life, there was something about breathing all that way under water that felt a little freaky. The first time we practiced in the pool, my breathing felt so loud that I felt likeI was doing a Darth Vader impersonation! Having said that, I cannot evin begin to explain the surge of emotions I felt on my first ocean dive, and on a coral reef too! Wow, it was a burst of colour, and I felt like I had entered another world! I had entered another world! And all I could think of was, “Why has it taken me so long to do this?”. Over the next few days, there were several more dives, and many more feelings of euphoria. We saw coral, a plethora of fish ( which would take up a blog in itself if I described them all) and a small wreck, just to name a few. It was breathtaking. But more so than visual, it was a sensory explosion! The water really is the Earth’s balance!

Beleive it or not, diving is really tiring, and at the end of each day, we were totally fatigued. We did manage to walk around, interact with the locals, and do a bit of sightseeing however. The island’s food speciality, were the super cheap and yummy “baleadas” – a tortilla spread with refried bean paste, some tasty local cheese and some onions. There were a few different people on various street corners selling them, but we decided that Carolina’s were the best! And she made enchiladas too!

I should explain that Utila is really a tiny island, measuring 13 kilometres long by 5 kilometres wide, and that the “main drag” is really only a section of paved road that runs along the shoreline for about 5 kilometres. There are then two arteries that run off that, and that is it! Those “roads” are shared by very few cars, a few more simple motor cycles, a greater number of golf cars and mostly by people! A few times, the things with wheels came rather close to those of us with feet! I wondered how much longer this could last. My guess, as the island’s population increases, is not long! The population is still relatively small and varied. Depending on who you speak to, the estimates are anywhere between 2000 and 7000, and the majority live in the settlement around the dock area. Most of the houses are wooden, and on stilts (it is in a hurricane zone!), and painted in pastel colours, so they have a real Caribbean feel.

I feel that the most interesting facet of the Bay Islands is how diverse the people are, and the fact that English is the prominent language , and not Spanish! Besides “Island English” of course, which is, to the untrained ear, a fusion of English, Spanish, and I am not sure what else. Speaking English does not mean that you will be able to decipher it either. There are whites, there are blacks, and there are all their mixes! Some people are of Caribbean extraction, and some are of English descent. I must say, I was a little taken aback to meet a white, blue eyed “Honduran”, called Glenda Bodden! And then there was Woodie, owner of our guest house, whose first language was English. His accent seemed British with a Caribbean lilt.

Before we knew it, a week had flown by! I should add here that on the day that we arrived, the internet and most telecommunications on the island went down. That meant no contact with the outside world. Normally that would not be a problem, except that my last e-mail to my Dad stated that I was leaving Nicaragua and only passing through Honduras to go to El Salvador! I knew that Dad would be sick with worry, especially thinking that we were actually in El Salvador! Sorry Dad! We do not realise just HOW many things we take for granted sometimes!

We had a 7.15am ferry to catch back to the mainland….and I once again familiarised myself with the front and open end of the boat! It is amazing what a breath of fresh air and amazing scenery can actually do!

Ombi

“There are two ways to have enough. One is to aquire more and more, and the other is to desire less.” – G.K. Chesterton

(Photos: 1.- Utila, West End, Honduras. 2.- Alex with Laura , our instructor, on the boat, after coming up from “down under”. 3.- All the girls – Ombi, Laura, Kristin & Lesley. 4.- Lagoon on Utila. 5.- Life support down under. 6.- Utila Beach.)

Did I say El Salvador? Change of plans!

Another day, another border! The border crossing at Guasaule was easy and effortless, but then we are becoming old hands at this now! As usual, there is always a little distance between the final bus stop, and the actual border…..a way for the locals to make some money, which I have no problem with. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we were mobbed by several men, offering to take us to the border, on what looked like a three -wheeled bicycle with a canopy. We had some fun haggling, and got them down to 10 lempiras each (USD$1.00 is about 19 lempiras). As usual, you cannot make everyone happy, so to give a couple of people our custom, I took one bike and Alex the other. They were rather funny guys, and kept us entertained the entire(but short!) way. We thanked them and ended up giving them 20 lempiras each! Then, they jovially, but quite honestly, asked us for some money to buy a drink! We rolled our eyes, laughed and waved goodbye as we prepared to leave Nicaragua, and enter Honduras.

I know that there is no barbed wire, or fence, and that the border really is only an imaginary line, but every time I cross a border, I find myself marvelling at the fact that I am in yet another country! And so effortlessly too! We don’t have borders like this in Australia.

The idea was to catch a bus, and take the short ride to Chuloteca, where we hoped to stay the night, before continuing on the next day to El Salvador. Well, we got to Chuloteca, and………….decided that we would head straight up north, to the Bay Islands, in Honduras’ Caribbean, and do a diving course instead! We had planned on going there anyway, just changed our routing! Hey, we have the flexibility to do things like that.

We only spent the night in Chuloteca before catching a very early bus to Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, where we would have to in turn catch another bus to La Ceiba, the farthest point north, from where we would eventually have to catch a ferry to the Bay Islands. Needless to say, it ended up being an extremely long day!

Honduras has a completely different vibe to Nicaragua. Amazing what a real (as opposed to imaginary) difference a border can make. We noticed how many men seemed to be wearing cowboy hats……a phenomenon we have continued to see throughout the country. I will remember Chuloteca for its big outdoor fruit and veggie markets, and for its ridiculously cheap rockmelons (around USD 27 cents each). We were later told that a lot of fruit is exported from this area. This would answer a later question as to why it’s sometimes hard to find good fruit and vegetables in Central America. They certainly have the best, but the majority goes off to the overseas market.

What can I say about Tegucigapla? Apart from its hardly known and difficult to pronounce name (te-guchi-gulpa), not a lot! Did you know that it is the capital of Honduras? For some unknown reason, most people don’t. I only found out once I began researching our Central American trip. Once we arrived, we had to catch a taxi to the other side of town, in order to catch the bus that would then take us to La Ceiba. This bus ride, was not on a chicken bus, but on a more comfortable, direct one. Alex and I actually like and prefer chicken buses, as you really get to see how the locals live, but we wanted to reach our destnation before nightfall.

As it was, we arrived at dusk, and by the time we took the short (but long enough to walk in the dark with a backpack!) taxi ride to the city centre, it was already dark. We do not like to look for places to sleep in the dark, but tonight we had no choice. Obviously, no hotel out here had the aim of impressing a weary traveller, as most left us totally unimpressed. You can usually find a decent one, but here they all seemed run down, old and dirty! Yes, the dreaded “D” word! Not happy Jan! We settled on a place called The Colonial, which was a series of small hot boxes set in concrete going several stories skyward. Usually quite happy with a fan, this was going to be a no-go-Joe in this building. Luck was on our side, and we took an air conditioned room for marginally more than the price of a room with a fan. Usually, air-con rooms are double the price of the other rooms, as electricity in most parts of Central America is expensive.

There is always that”aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” feeling when you finally find a place to stay. Comfort and relief! Until the next move, of course! Finding a bite to eat was mission impossible. We had no map of the town, and no idea of where it was and was not safe to go. I settled on a Nescafe cappuccino from a petrol station, and then we found a shop which made fruit juices and smoothies. You would be surprised at how easily they can fill you up! I had the cocoa, granola, banana and milk one, and Alex the papaya, oats and milk ………..both without sugar! It’s a Central American thing – they love to put a cup (yes, a cup!) of sugar in each blender full of juice. It kind of defeats the purpose!

That night, we felt blissfully happy to have taken the decision to indulge in the air-con, otherwise we may have well woken up roasted little campers, instead of happy ones!

Tomorrow, we would get up early, and take the 9.30am ferry to the island of Utila, in the Bay Islands.

Ombi

(Photos: 1.- Border crossing, from Nicaragua to Honduras 2.- Fruit Stall, Chuloteca, Honduras. 3.- Snack vendor,Chuloteca. 4.- View of La Ceiba, on the ferry going to Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras 5.-Sunset over one of Utila’sl lagoons.)

What you have said about our journey and our blogs.

To all of you that have taken the time to share our journey & passions, we would like to thank you.
Alex has thoroughly enjoyed and continues to enjoy taking photos. You may call me biased, but I think he has taken some brilliant ones, and they are getting better!

As for me, I revel in being able to write openly and honestly, and being able to share with you all, how we feel about what we do and see.

This is what some of you had to say:

“I hope your new year brings you closer to your dreams and no doubt by the looksof things you might very well be on your way. I admire you for taking the courage to take this journey of wonderous adventure. It is great how you and Alex are allowing us all to share in your adventure and letting us see what theother side of the planet is like and sharing your experiences both good and bad. I feel almost there and thank you for allowing us that insight. It is great tosee how other people live the real people that is.” – Miriana Zanic

“Hi Ombi and Alex,
Hope you are both well? Just finished updating myself on your travels. It’s sooooooo fr……….. frustrating that people don’t have what’s needed for basic survival whilst many people (me included) have more than enough. And what’s needed isn’t charity but justice, we need radical change on all levels: spiritually, personally, politically. I feel so sad, what do we do
??? You are both my travelling social conscience, keep ’em comming. Am marching with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters on Friday: “Invasion Day” rally, I know you will be there in spirit.Love, peace and strength to you.” – Anita De Blasio

“Dear Ombi and Alex,
Much love to both of you. Thank you for sharing these experiences with us in such an open an honest way, you have such a gift Ombi with your story telling and Alex’s photos are truly revealing and insightful. I really feel like I am with you on your journey. Whilst I am reading your blog, the emotions wash over me, the picture you both paint so vivid. Have a wonderful 2007 and keep each other safe and well on your travels.” – Kelly Jones

“I just scanned through your blog and I have to say I almost cried. Thank you for bringing me back to reality. Yes, you’re right, we all travel to find our home in another country. That’s why I’ve had so many crappy trips. I got goose bumps reading your blog and almost cried at how real and simple life can be. I love your photos and I’m planning on going to the Phillipines this year so I’m going to do an “Ombi/Alex journey” where I do something out ofmy comfort zone and really experience the country I visit. I’ll tell you all about it. In the meantime, I’ll travel the world through your eyes andexperience.” – Laurice Asmar

“Hey intrepid travellers!! Happy New Year to you both!! Am loving your blog and have to say your words and pictures are both wonderful and inspiring. You both look radiant. Hope 2007 brings you more exciting adventures, mind expanding challenges and magic moments. Take care of yourselves and keep those itchy feet moving….” – Di, Jess & Rita Wollaston

“Hey guys, hope you are having a blast…what am I talking aobut???… of course you are having a blast because you guys know how to love life! Your travel blog is fantastic!!! Your writing, Ombi, is really colourful, engrossing and easy to read lots of it. And Alex, your photos are superb!! I’m loving it.” – Jaqui Davis

“God you’re making me green with envy…. You’ve both made such a great life for yourselves. I’d like to say that you both inspire me, to make the most of my own time. If 2007 can better your 2006 then bring it on! Happy New Year’s to you both and all the best for 2007 from all of the Scotts’’ – Victoria Scott

“hi ombi and alex
Today dad and i are going camping on the murray untl Sunday.i liked the t-shirt that u gave me.i’ve been looking at your blog i like how u set it up it’s cool. it tells everybody what u have beendoing and places u have been. when i come back on Monday i will write to u more tell me about your holiday wat is it like were are u now.
LOVE Ben xooxxooxoxoxoxoxoxoxoooxoxoxooxoxoxoxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxo

P.S. missing u so much Ben Leveridge
( my 11 year old godson, who I am secretly in love with).


And finally, something that only a bragging parent could write:

“I just had a look at your latest blog , it is amazing all the places you have had the fortune to see and live. I don’t want to hear people say , I have been to Bali…..or I have been to Italy…..I like to brag and say…….my daughter has been to places you can only dream about …….and that is the truth, how many can say they have been to places like you have ……very few!” – Dino Zanetti (Thanks Doobs, I love you a billion!)

PS Remember, subscribing to our blog is easy, and it’s FREE! All you need to do is enter the blog, and type in your e-mail address where it says to subscribe. Do not forget to CONFIRM your subscription, which will be sent to your inbox. Also, to see more of Alex’s photos, all you need to do is click onto the link, on the right hand side of the blog, which says Travel Photography

With light and love

Ombi & Alex

(Photos: 1.Ombi on Charco Verde beach at sunset, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. 2. Relaxing on the beach near Tornabe, Caribbean coast, Honduras (we must admit that this idea was “stolen” from the blog of our Dutch friends’ , Job and Denise). 3. Ombi taking a photo of the photographer! Copan Ruins, Honduras. 4. Sunset on the Caribbean island of Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras.)

How the other half….. lived…..and live!

Some say that we need to “wake up and smell the roses”! Some people actually do not have roses to wake up to! Some people never had roses to wake up to, and some people will never have those roses to wake up to! For those of us that do actually have those roses to wake up to and smell…..we are the lucky and priveliged ones!

Alex and I would like to share some of our thoughts and feelings on how other people live and what they have actually lived! The following takes place in Leon, Nicaragua.

On entering the “Galeria de Heroes y Martires” (the Heroes and Martyrs Gallery), the visual impact of hundreds of photos of faces stuck up on several boards was overwhelming! Most photos did not have a frame, some were old, many faded, but they all bore the person’s name, and date of birth as well as the date they died. Most were young, and fresh faced. I noticed that there was no “cause of death” beneath any of the photos! I would soon learn why!

Dona Concepcion Toruna is one of the mothers of the “Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional” (a pro-Sandinista group) veterans and fallen heroes. She is slight set with short neat hair, and is the woman who will give us the tour. Tour? The gallery has photos of over 300 local revolutionaries who died fighting the Somoza dictatorship. Dona Toruna took us around, and simply stated who many of the people were and how they died. They all died for the same reason. Simply……they had had an opinion, they had defied their brutal dictator and dictatorship……and the penalty for having an opinion was death!

As we went from photo to photo, with Dona Toruna explaining as much as she knew and could remember (as she had lived that era) I felt numbed. I looked at each of those photos, read the names beneath……..and tried to fathom what those individuals had been like; did they like reading, did they have siblings, a lover, a passion of some sort. Had they left behind children? What jobs had they held? What food did they like? What was their favourite colour? So many young and wasted lives. As Dona Toruna talked, I was wafting between my own little world, and the world that these people had perhaps lived in. It felt surreal!

I was suddenly vortexed back into my reality, when Dona Toruna pointed to yet another photo, and I heard the words “my son”! My son! Here was a woman pointing to one of the fallen and explaining how he died! I wafted away again! I did not catch how he had died! But here was a woman pointing to her dead son! Life is not supposed to be like this, children are supposed to outlive their parents! Tears welled up in my eyes, and a lump formed in my throat, and yes I did cry! I cried for her son, and all the fallen victims, and for all the innocent people who continue to die today because of ignorant people and their ignorant ideals! I am vehemently anti-war! It’s usually always about somebody’s power struggle with absolutely no regard to anything or anybody else. I was away somewhere in la-la land, when I heard the words, “my daughter”, it was Dona Toruna pointing to yet another photo! This woman had lost two children to a dictatorship that simply wished to anhialate the “enemy”, yet she stood infront of us to tell the tale. The tears were streaming down my face. She came up to comfort me, and to give me a drink of water!

This woman was an inspiration! She told us that she did not feel bitter about the deaths of her two children, because they had died for a cause they felt so strongly about! What a woman! She is a greater one than I will ever be!

That same day, we decided to walk to El Fortin, the National Guard’s last holdout in Leon. It was used by Somoza and his crew to jail and torture people. It was supposedly under 3 kilometres from the town. “Follow this dirt road 2.5km until you reach the abandoned hilltop fort, which affords a panoramic view of Leon”, said our guide book. We walked a fair portion of it, when we were asked by a couple of men in a ute, if we wanted a lift. Doing so is commonplace in Central America, and we obliged. There were a few others, both adults and kids, in there too.

What we were about to see, almost made our eyes pop out of our heads! Within a few minutes, we were driving through a tip, but with views I had never experienced in my life! One of the girls in the ute told us, with absolute sincerity, that we should be careful here as there were robbers around and that tourists had been mugged here before, including recently! The tenacity in her voice and the tone and way in which she advised us, belied her young age. We looked around, and felt like we were in the middle of a scene from Mad Max! Burning trash, leaving such an acrid and pungent smell, that we both felt sick, and people, mostly children, scavenging through the rubbish and finding “treasures” like they had just won Wheel of Fortune! The kids had tattered clothes, stringy hair, and dirt smeared faces! They looked up at us in the ute, like we were royalty, and to them, we probably appeared as if we were!

We saw one child, with some 8 packets of chinese noodles, and another collecting aluminium cans. We were also told that people often picked up and subsequently ate the meat from old and rotting carcasses, some even having died from this…..one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! I looked around, and saw a sea of doe-eyed children. Children who would never have either a hope nor a future. Children whose biggest struggle each day was trying to stay alive!

It was time to get out and go and visit the fort close by. The enegy was heavy! We have NEVER felt so unsafe, and besides we could not see two metres infront of us due to the smoke. Alex and I eyed each other off in a “There’s no way in hell, I am going up there alone” kind of way, and as spokesperson, I told the guys we did not want to go and check it out after all, and that we would go back down with them. They obviously sensed our fear, and drove an extra 100 metres up to show us themselves.

They were good guys, in the real sense of the word, and they showed us the fort. Yes, it did have an amazing view of Leon, but I was so totally freaked out, that I was not taking any of it in. Some of the waifs, hung around, but as I looked through their huge eyes, all I could see was desolation and a bottomless pit of nothing! I felt claustrophobic! I had to get out! And after the quickest tour ever, we were back on the ute once again, passing all those people and smoke and scenes from Mad Max! My mind was everywhere! The guys dropped us off somewhere close to town, and feeling safe but very unsettled, we both simply had to sit down and regroup. My mind was reeling! My heart was thumping!

I do beleive that it was our destiny to see this. This was not hearing about it, seeing pictures about it, or even viewing a documentary on it…………..this was live! A real, and pictographic insight as to how the other half live. These are the people who sadly do not even know that roses exist!

All these experiences and insights have been incredulous, and we are both so grateful to have been able to feel and breathe them. Just when you think you know it all…there is yet another corner to turn, and yet another lesson to learn!

“I have travelled far but my journey has just begun” – Andy Howse.

Ombi

(Photos: 1.- Cathedral bell, Leon. 2.- Sandinista grafitti. 3.- View from El Fortin. 4.- Kids getting away after work. 5.- Young kids looking surprised to see us; with their reddened eyes from all the toxins from the burning rubbish. 6.- Rubbish truck dropping off the goods for “classification”; kids & adults looking for their next meal. 7. Rubbish is classified and then transported to recycling companies in Managua.)

Celebrating 2007 in Leon, Nicaragua.

First of all……sorry about the delay in updating the blog, but we went through a 10 day patch of no internet accesswhatsover, and then another 4 days of very limited access! Story to follow later. How did we ever cope without internet?!

Leon is only a short (chicken bus…..well, kind of) ride away from Granada. Although it took us around three hours, this involved getting to the outskirts of Managua first, and then changing for Leon. Now remember, it was the day before New Year and all forms of transport were crammed full. We took a mini van both times, but it may as well have been a chicken bus as there was not a spare centimetre anywhere to be seen, or more to the point, to be felt! Trust us, cosy is an understatement! We had bags behind us, beneath us and on top of us, literally! And, as Alex would say, ¨Estoy sudando la gota gorda¨(I am sweating fat drops…of sweat). Once we arrived in Managua, we had to wait in a line for an hour or so, as several mini vans took off with the many people infront of us, who were waiting in ¨line¨. Ah, the concept of a line here is somewhat more blurred than back at home, and we both had to remind several individuals that the line was behind us and not infront of us! Hey, it was the day before New Year for ALL of us and we ALL had a place to get to!

We arrived at the central bus station in Leon, which was several blocks out of town, and right in the middle of a bustling market place. We were offered food, accommodation, chickens, drinks and more. The mind seems to go into shut off mode as one becomes focused on the job at hand, looking for a place of slumber! As we walked to the city centre, my first visual impact was how much rubish there was on the streets, actually, much more than I had seen anywhere thus far. As we walked I saw a number of people throw their remnants on the floor, and not in the, very few, bins around. Such a beautiful place, yet so much trash. Leon grew on us both, almost immediately, however, and so the rubbish soon became only a memory. My desire to change both people and habits overnight is strong at times, I guess.

Leon is hot, very hot actually, and as it is not set near any mountains or volcanoes, like Masaya, it is hot at night too. The residual overflow of this, is that one seems to constantly feel tired and lethargic. It took us a while, but we ended up staying at a place called ¨El Colibri¨(the Hummingbird), owned by an Italian/ Nicaraguan couple. At USD $15.00 a couple a night, it was a real bargain, taking into consideration that it included free internet and a fully equipped kitchen (and I mean fully equipped), not to mention that it is categorically the cleanest place we have stayed in since leaving Australia. Thank you Dona Consuelo for keeping the place so immaculate! And what a wonerful and warm woman Dona Consuelo was! We have had some amazing food and drinks here, including fresh shakes and smoothies, with fruit bought from the market, veggie stir fries, salads, and I even made pasta one night!

Leon and Granada have been ¨rival towns¨for a long time now, and it is not hard to understand why! Whilst Granada has a colourful, colonial and very right-wing vibe, its juxtaposition is the fleshy, outwardly leftist ¨taste¨that Leon provides you with! There is no lack of pro- Che and anything Sandinista here in this little town! In a nutshell, the Sandinistas were communist, and Somoza (the president at the time) and his ¨contras¨committed atrocities such as killing and torturing anybody that ¨wasn´t on board¨. We found out that the ¨contras¨ (the army that did all the killings) were on the USA payroll! Hmmmm!!!!!

New Year was much more sedate here than I expected. We spent it with Paco (Robert from Alaska), and Joyce and Jules from England. We were hanging around the central plaza when “midnight struck”, but we felt that it was not on time and a little early. As we had met some other tourists and Aussies, we took it upon ourselves to do the ten second countdown……Aussie style! Now, we´re talking, this is the REAL New Year! With the formalities now all worked out, we made ur way to ¨Don Senor¨, supposedly the place to go boogie! There we danced for a couple of hours, and then went back home. I am able to proudly say, here, that I still have it in me to dance several hours without stopping.

New Year´s Day was spent totally relaxing in the hotel’s outdoor hammocks.. More to the point, my body hit the wall, and I felt like I had been hit by a bus! No hangover here. As you know, I neither drink nor smoke, but it was my body´s way of saying, ¨Take it easy girlfriend!¨. We have been on the road for almost five months now, and I think I simply needed some R’n’R (rest and relaxation).

In the days after New Year, we walked around town, checked out some museums and went to Las Penitas beach, about 45 minutes away. For those who love literature, and know something about Central American literature ( I didn´t until I arrived here), we went to the Ruben Dario Museum. It is said that he is still Central America´s most famous poet and writer, although he died in the early 19oo´s.

After spending almost a week in Leon, which is longer than we usually spend in a place, it was, yet again, time to move on. We decided that our next destination would be El Salvador. The guide book says that it is the most ¨off-the beaten track¨ country in Central America…..but you will be surprised to find out, not the most dangerous! I will tell you later which one is!

And so, after packing and saying goodbye to our new found “family”, we were off once again!

“It’s not who we are that holds us back, it’s who we think we’re not” – Michael Nolan.

Ombi

NOTE: A recommended link for Nicaragua is www.vianica.com Here you will be able to explore the entire country .

(Photos: 1.- Leon Cathedral, 500 years old. 2.- Market 3.- Recoleccion Church,Leon. 4.- Night market on New Year’s Eve. 5.- Dancers in the plaza.)

Nicaragua – you are now leaving your comfort zone!

On the morning of the 26th, we made our way to the dock, where we would catch a ferry back to the mainland. Our next stop, heading north, would be Granada. Granada is known for being one of Central America´s most beautiful and well kept colonial cities, which indeed it is, especially with its colourful architecture. What we didn´t like as much was how touristy it was (say the rtourists!), and what we found was a downtown area full of foreigners and foreign investment. As usual, Alex and I find beauty in getting out amongst it all, and chatting to the locals. We met an older gentleman, Enrique, who invited us to sit on his porch, and chat. He imparted with us some amazing things about the culture and history of Nicargua.

Travelling, in my opinion, is about learning, and getting out of your comfort zone, about meeting the locals and going to the markets to see how the people live and try the food that they eat, it´s about learning the language and trying to converse. It´s about experiencing new cultures. There is a lot to be learnt from ¨integration¨. All too often, we see travellers who make no attempt to learn the language, stick around the central few blocks or so, eat at places that have ¨recognisable ¨food (ie. what they eat at home, in an establishment that looks like something they´d find at home as well) and who basically want to find their home in a different country! Our challenge to them is to get out their and not only experience, but embrace the new culture! What does one travel for if she or he simply wants to find their own country somewhere else on earth? Take the Ombi and Alex challenge: leave your comfort zone, you will be amazed at what you will discover!

Whilst in Granada, we visited Las Isletas, a group of about 365 diminutive islands, scattered off the coast of Asese. They were formed some 10,000 years ago by an erupting Volcan Mombacho. Although the pictures looked impressive, our one hour boat ride revealed no such thing! Of course we only saw a small portion of the many islands, and we were horrified by the amount of construction going on, and by the many already established mansions on many of them. I felt like I was being taken on a tour of Beverley Hill´s rich and famous! The straw that broke the camel´s back, was the monstrous house with several big blow up dolls of Santa, snow and other Christmas objects. We later found out that it belonged to a Nicaraguan living in Miami. Alex and I want to know where we have gone wrong in society, and why so many people aspire to what has now become a commercial norm. When is this all going to stop!

A few days in Granada was enough for us, as we wanted a more traditional option. We thus made our way to Masaya, which although only 20 minutes away from Granada, is far less commercial, and much more authentic. Although Masaya is known for its ¨artesanias¨ (handicrafts), I must say that it does not compare to places like Guatemala, Mexico or Ecuador. All the same, it was a great place to hang out in and submerge oneself in the local culture.

One of our first stops was the local market. Selling everything from fresh produce to cooked meals to clothes to shoes, we always find that markets are the epicentre of a community, and it is here that you can see how the locals interact and live. We stopped and had ourselves a meal of the local food: ¨gallo pinto¨(beans mixed with rice), ¨maduro¨ (deep fried plantain, which is a cooking banana), ¨tostones¨(squashed and deep fried plantain) and salad. Oh, and Alex had something meaty thrown in there as well. We both just love markets, and when there is one available we always try and eat there. Furthermore, the food is always cheap and almost always better than its more expensive counterparts, with measly portions (which have become the bastions for foreign travellers). As I said, get out amongst it, there is a whole other ¨real¨world to be explored out there!

The day after we arrived in Masaya, we visited a place called the Volcan Masaya National Park, which has the most easily acessible active volcanoes in the country. Only a short ride from Masaya, we suddenly found ourselves on the edge of the Santiago crater. Although we could not see the bubbling lava, which we were told existed, the volcano was certainly billowing smoke, and occasionaly we got a whiff of sulphur. On the pamphlet given to us upon entering the park, it stipulates that you should try and spend no more than 20 minutes up at the top, and that if rocks are emitted by the volcano, that you should hide under a car! I could not help but think that it was all a numbers game really! What are the odds that I…………………….or someone………or several people could be here when this actually happens? We beleive that when your time is up!

We then walked around the rim of an extinct volcano close by, and once again, were afforded breathtaking views: the lush vegetation within the crater, birds akin to the vulture family flying overhead, the imposing Lake Masaya in the immediate distance. I felt like I was alive and on the top of the world.

Whilst in Masaya, we also visited a centurty old fortress called Coyatepe. A decent one kilometre hike up a hill, the views of the surrounding area were, yet again, both spectacular and rewarding. As we walked back into town, we stopped by the roadside to buy a hunormous fresh papaya, for USD 50 cents, and also took the opportunity to chat to the guy who sold it to us. In the same area, were a couple of ladies weaving the hammocks for which the area is famous for.

On the 30th we made our way to Leon, the place we would spend New Year in.

¨From the early ages, there has always been someone before us, someone we have displaced, someone who has marginalised us, someone against whom we eventually mixed¨- Victor Hugo Acuna.

Happy reading, until the next installment.

Ombi

(Photos: 1. On the way back to the mainland, Ometepe Island. 2. Sunset hike. 3. Folklore on Nicaragua Lake, Granada. 4. The colourful houses of Granada. 5. ¨Vigoron¨, one of national dishes of Nicaragua (cassava, pork and coleslaw, on banana leaves) 6. On the rim of the Santiago crater , Masaya National Park. 7. Traditional market, Masaya. 8. Getting into the guts of one good papaya! 9. View of the sky, as seen from Masaya National Park.)

Christmas………Nicaraguan style!

A 3.00am start it was! After being told that all the inter-country buses were full, and that we would have to do it in ¨sections¨on the local buses, we figured that we should catch the first bus out. The bus we needed to catch was the 4.30ish bus ( I say ish, as everything is ïsh¨in these parts…things just happen…when they happen!), which would take us to the Pan-Americana Highway, from where we needed to catch a bus to the border. A bit of trivia: the Pan Americana is the main road which runs all the way from southern South America, all the way to the top of Central America. It is basically the heart beat of the Americas.

Luckily, the bakery was open, so just before boarding the first bus, we grabbed some bread! We took off in the dark, and some two hours later, we reached the highway! As it turned out, we befriended a Nicaraguan man, with whom we shared ¨breakfast¨with at the bus stop, waiting for the next bus! He too was off to Nicaragua, to spend time with his family. Pedro was so sweet, and really looked after us. When we finally boarded the Nicaragua-bound bus, at around 8.00am, it was packed to the rafters, but at least we got on. We had heard horrendous stories of the border taking hours to get through, especially being the festive season, but it was not too bad! And then we had Pedro, the local, showing us the ropes………..it was flawless, really, we crossed the Costa Rican border, to then have to enter and cross the Nicaraguan one. Heads tucked down, smiles on our faces, and following Pedro, we did it effortlessly! Welcome to Nicaragua!

This place has a totally different vibe to Costa Rica; more hustle and bustle, more animated people, and in my (humble) opinion, much more -like I would expect of Central America! Yes, what we had been waiting for! We thanked Pedro profusely, as we waved goodbye and hopped on a ¨chicken bus¨for Rivas. What is a chicken bus? Humans, animals (large and small!), bags of food (also large and small) and whatever else can be shoved on! Yes, it´s a labour of love, where it´s all about sharing…everything…including personal space! If you are not into up close and personal, Nicaragua isn´t for you! As I sat there…..with humans, and food and animals poking their heads out of bags, I felt a sense of euphoria! YES, bring it on, I am ready for the ride!

We immediately sensed how genuinely helpful and friendly Nicaraguans are. Whilst on the bus, another guy told us where we needed to hop off, in order to get a a short taxi ride to the dock, where we would then catch a ferry to Ometepe Island. He even bargained with the taxi driver to make sure that we did not get riped off! Alex and I usually do this, but it sure is nice to have someone else do it for you!

Ometepe is an imposing island, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua (which happens to be the 21st largest lake in the world, at 8264 km2, a litle bit less than Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and the third largest in Latin America), which was actually formed by two large volcanoes;Volcan Concepcion, which rises 1610m above the lake in the perfect cone for which volcanoes have become famous for, and Volcan Maderas, at 1394m. The former is an active volcano, whose mouth is always shrouded in ¨mist¨. This island can actually be seen as you cross the border into Nicaragua, and it is truly a very sobering and majestic view. Despite religious beliefs or the way in which you beleive the world was formed, one cannot but stop and wonder about this amazing feat of nature!

The 45 minute ferry ride across to Moyogalpa, the island´s capital, was fine, apart from me suffering the usual minor symptoms of nausea (for those of you that don´t know, I suffer motion sickness: type of transport irrelevant!). One of the first things we noticed about Nicaragua was how hot it was! As opposed to Costa Rica´s lush and green landscape, Nicaragua is much drier and hotter, with nowhere near as much rain (it actually has not rained the entire time we have been in Nicaragua). On touching terra firma, we both realised how exhausted we were, but the usual ¨hunt for a home¨ was our obligatory first. Sometimes travelling can be hard yakka! Neither of us could be bothered to look, but it had to be done. We settled on a place called Hospedaje Central, which as the name suggests was central.

The guide books all say to make sure that you have enough money when you come here , as there are no ATM´s on the island. I should add here, that although the country´s official currency is the Cordoba (at almost 18 to the American dollar), American dollars are also widely accepted and used. Well, we saw history in the making..the day after we arrived, the very first ATM opened, and we were two of its first customers! I wonder how this will change things? For the better or for the worse? Time will tell! Our first few days on the island were spent chilling out. We felt that our bodies were starting to slow down. We walked through the side streets, chatted to people, played with the local children, and caught up with e-mails. It´s hard to move ¨fast¨on an island whose pace is ¨slow¨anyway!

After a few days, we caught a bus 20 minutes away to a place called Charco Verde, where we stayed at a place called Hotel Finca Playa Venecia. This beautiful lush and untouched area was pristinely isolated. A truly unspoilt place, where we afforded spectacular views of ¨nature untouched¨, as it should be! A walk through close by Charco Verde Reserve, gave us rewarding views of both volcanoes, from a vantage point that could only be described as spectacular. Then of course there were the birds, parrots and monkeys.

This is where we spent Christmas. As most people want action for the festive season, there were only four others here, besides Alex and I. Joyce and Jules, from England, were two of these other people. On Christmas Eve, Alex and I sat outside, and made ourselves dinner, whilst looking at the serene lake infront of us…….and we felt very, very, very lucky! We both realised that tonight we would have much more to eat than many people in the world! To be perfectly honest (as my close friends would say, am I ever any other way!), we were both glad to be able to escape the Christmas commercialism and hype, as it has truly become an exercise in over indulgence and expenditure, and focusing on the not so important things in life. Our gifts are surely our lives and the capacity to be able to live fully!

That night, the owners took us out with them, and we went for a bit of a boogie in the big smoke, Moyogalpa. We had fun, we chatted to the locals, and we danced…and I danced a lot! How did I have that much energy, a few people asked? I am glad that I still have it in me.

On Christmas Day, we hired some bicycles, and rode to a local watering hole. Local….well…….although the ride was only slightly uphill, it was hard work, in the searing heat of mid afternoon, and it still took an hour and a half or so. We stopped to grab a drink, as we were parched and dying of thirst, and although I am not a soft-drink fan, you have never seen me down a bottle like I did that afternoon! Whilst we were there, we met a boy who was on an errand to buy some cooking oil for his mum. I asked him if he wanted a soft drink, and his eyes lit up. Ah, the simple pleasures of life! If only we could see the merit in giving as well as receiving. It is the circle of life, the ¨balancer¨as I call it.


After a wonderful stay on Ometepe Island, it was time to move on.

Ombi

(Photos, 1. Border crossing, Costa Rica to Nicaragua. 2. Ometepe Island, Concepcion volcano. 3. ¨Chicken Bus¨4. Sunset on Moyagalpa, Ometepe Island 5.The local children of Moyagalpa. 6. Daily life of a farmer, herding cattle & taking them to drink water. 7. Sunrise over Charco Verde. (That´s my shot folks!, Ombi!!!)
8. ¨Shy¨monkey near our room in Charco Verde. 9. Ombi on Charco Verde beach, just after sunset.)