Entering Nicaragua

The relaxation of Utila had come to an abrupt end. We arrived into San Pedro after a four hour drive in the dark, rain pouring all around us. We now needed to leave Honduras and were faced with the irritating paperwork for Nicaragua. You have to fill in a ‘pre check’ to enter the country, which is generally recommended that you do a week in advance, although the government publishes no specific time frame. We had filled this in, but it had still not been authorised. We didn’t want to pay for our PCR tests without authorization as we didn’t know what would happen if it wasn’t approved and the PCR is only valid for three days. We also needed to wait 24 hours for our PCR test results, which then had to be emailed to the government 24 hours before we entered. In the end, with all these time constraints we had little choice. We decided to risk the form not being approved and turned up with the PCR test in date. It seemed that sometimes it was only approved once the results were sent through anyway.

We chose to stop in the only place marked in San Pedro to get a PCR test the next morning. I wasn’t sure we would be allowed in, we had arrived late and the gates were shut. The security guard phoned the owner who instructed him to let us in. At least we had a spot for the night, I was pretty tired after that unpleasant drive.

As luck would have it, the only spot to stay in San Pedro also has a microbrewery.  So, we were not too disappointed when we were told we needed to stop an additional night due to the fact that we could only get digital tests results the same day and the border required the original paperwork, which wouldn’t be available until the next morning.

That day we met Jason, the owner. He had moved to Nicaragua from the states sometime in the ’80s and owned a VW bus himself. He was pretty excited to see us and we promised we would be in the bar for some beers later by way of paying for the spot, not that he asked. Later that afternoon, we headed into Jungla.

We had planned to stop for one or two and then go and cook in the van but the beers were so good we stayed all night. We ordered some really nice proper Mexican tacos and chatted to Jason for a while. Next to us at the bar, we got talking to two commercial air pilots as well. He brought us some tostanes to try; these are fried plantain discs, with breaded fried cheese on top, accompanied with salsa. They are certainly not healthy, but the perfect bar snack as we worked our way through his beer menu.

It was a shame really, this place was a lot better than the D&D brewery which we had spent several of our precious nights at. Granted, it’s in a big city not near a beautiful lake and jungle, but the beers and company were much better. He also didn’t charge for camping, a definite bonus.

After having thoroughly shown our appreciation for his business the night before, we collected our tests results and began the drive south. It would be another long drive and by chance we had managed to pick out the same spot as Hanno and Kikki for that night. After a long drive, an unhelpful gas station guard and wrong directions from google, we arrived at the park just before dark. It was a nice peaceful spot, up in the mountains behind the capital. We hadn’t seen Hanno and Kikki since Guatemala so we were all set for a catch up until the rain sent us back inside for the night.

In the morning, we drove on towards the border, while they returned back to the capital to get their PCR tests results. With our pre-check still unapproved and an out of date health certificate for the cats, we arrived a the border. At least most other things in order, and we hoped for the best.

The Nicaraguan border has a reputation for being a lengthy process. People have reported spending over 6 hours to cross. We weren’t off to a strong start when, after some confusion, we finally joined the right queue and stood in it for 45 minutes. Finally, we were at the front and were stamped out in a few minutes. The system does not have a separate window for entering or exiting Honduras, it’s just general immigration and we seemed to have arrived with a busload of people trying to enter. As we waited in the queue, Hanno and Kikki arrived. Unfortunately for them, it was a lot longer by that point and we had stamped out the camper and driven across to the gate while they stayed in the queue.

At the barrier, a guy took our passports and covid tests. He then said he wanted to phone the lab to check they were real, we waited. Half an hour later, he waved us in. We did some more paperwork before being directed to the x-ray machine. It is seemingly luck of the draw if you have to do this or not. Hanno and Kikki didn’t need to, but they had to unpack some of their van instead. We debated what to do with the cats as we didn’t quite have the proper paperwork, we figured one x-ray wouldn’t do them any harm.

Once through, we drove back around and waited for the results. This was getting harder as the parking lot filled with lorries blocking all the road. We didn’t have to wait too long before the police came over with their printout. It had several highlighted areas they wanted to check, one being the cat outline sitting bolt upright on the front seat. They were quite amused by this, but the one sticking point was the bullet shells on the wall inside. I hadn’t really thought about this souvenir as I tried to explain to the officer that I don’t actually have an AR15 stashed in the van and eventually he moved on.

Now we were allowed to proceed with immigration and the TIP. I got rather angry when they wouldn’t accept Córdobas (the official Nicaraguan currency) and only dollars. Then they didn’t have change. Eventually, we sorted our entry, we had a grand total of 8 days left on our visa, but were told we could extend it in the capital. Lastly, it was the TIP. We waited a while for the lady in the office to acknowledge us, where she promptly processed the paperwork of the guy behind us in the queue before leaving halfway through completing ours. When a new official came and took over, eventually, we were done. We searched for an exit amongst the numerous lorries and eventually squeezed our way out. The final barrier was lifted and we drove off into Nicaragua.

The crossing had taken us four hours, a quick one by all accounts. Now, we just had a quick hour drive to Somoto Canyon. It looked like a nice peaceful stop for our first night, a free spot by the river in the middle of nowhere. Bruno joined us shortly after and this time we managed to spend an evening outside under the stairs without the rain.

Our first day in Nicaragua was spent exploring Somoto Canyon. It’s possible to take boat tours and to hike/swim up the canyon, but for us the river was a muddy brown and didn’t look appealing to swim in. Instead, we left the cars and walked down to the river a short way away, after crossing through it we picked up a trail on the other side which heads up to the viewpoints above the canyon.

It wasn’t a difficult hike, but anything uphill in the heat is a bit tiring. We rested in the shade of the first viewpoint, glad we had actually been organised enough to bring water.

We continued on to the second viewpoint and then to the property at the end of trail to see if it was possible to get into the canyon. There wasn’t really any access from this side however, I’m not sure if I was disappointed or not. How much did we really want to swim in the liquid mud? Definitely one of the downside of travelling in rainy season, the water is often not that picturesque blue at all.

Having completed our hike, we decided to move on. There isn’t too much to do in this part of the country, so we opted for a big drive south towards Cerro Negro. We only had just enough light in the day to make it to the town of Telica where we stopped in the parking lot for a waterpark. Once again, the heavens opened and we were stuck indoors.

The good thing about our long drive meant that we were nice and close to the days’ activities. Hanno and Kikki went off to stock up at a supermarket and while we would have liked to have followed, Aimee did her disappearing trick. She had gone into one of the warehouses for the building supply store which shared the car park. We waited a while and then asked the store to open their warehouse, various employees also helped us on the hunt for our errant cat. Finally, I spotted her on the wall and we managed to grab her, being attacked by a spiky tree in the process. She was bundled unceremoniously into the van and we finally left. Her little game meant that we now didn’t have much time, so we went straight to where we were due to meet Hanno and Kikki, Flor de Cana distillery. Ever since the disappointment of Casa del Ron, this had been on the itinerary.

We were a little early and apparently couldn’t get our tickets because the guy was on lunch. We decided it was wise to grab a bite to eat before midday drinking and so went just down the road for something easy. While I wrestled the cats trying to tie themselves in knots around the restaurant chairs, Lee ordered a pizza. Said pizza took around 45 minutes to arrive and so when it finally showed, not only did it make us late, but it wasn’t even cooked. Perhaps we had discovered the reason why we were the only diners. I shovelled it into some foil for later and we wolfed down a couple of slices en route. We bought hasty tickets and made our way into the tour. The parking attendant didn’t seem worried that the tour was about to start, he was far more interested in parking us ‘correctly’. The only other car in the car park was Bruno but yet he was adamant we needed to reverse into our space. After a little more needless faffing, we popped the roof for the cats and quickly made our way inside.

The tour started behind the gates, the first thing they did was fill us a generous shot glass of rum, then they offered out the seltzers. As we worked our way through our second drink, we were collected by a shuttle bus which drove us around to take some pictures in front of this train, before heading on.

We headed to one of the warehouses and for the first time witnessed the machine that they use to seal kegs. I had never realised before that they moved the metal bands on the side to compress the wood together and make a good seal, though it kind of makes sense.

Then we headed to the warehouse where the rum is stored. I had never realised that you could get drunk on air before, but the vast quantities of barrels in there, all evaporating away the ‘angel’s share’ made the air distinctly alcoholic. Our guide explained that time in the there had to be controlled due to this and I left a bit merrier than I entered. The next point was a short film about the company, who it turns out do a lot to help the local community. They have a company school and hospital for all employees, as well as being certified fairtrade and carbon neutral, which is pretty cool. Next, we were swept to taste some more rum.

Finally, we ended at the museum/shop. Here more samples were on offer and we bought a couple of bottles, it being significantly cheaper here than in a regular supermarket. After a lot of rum, we headed off mid-afternoon to our spot for the night, Cerro Negro.

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