Chapter 8. Nicaragua II
(Bert) A Pauraque calls at 5:20 AM as I work on my computer and then get ready for our departure. I should have come out a few minutes earlier because Yellow-naped Parrots again flew overhead. I have missed these now at least four times, all instances being brief as the birds have not stopped in flight. We leave early for the border and after exiting the 5 mi. entrance road, about a half-hour drive, we turn west on the Trans America Highway. I see a Crested Bobwhite again, just like the last time we exited Santa Rosa. Then flying high over a grassy field I see a Yellow-naped Parrot, identified by its much larger size and corresponding slow and floppy flight.
Border crossing has become more routine now, the routine being sit and wait while Shari and Arlene work with the paid border helpers. My biggest problem is finding parking for the RV’s among the hundreds of semis jammed at the border. Trucks are everywhere, crisscrossed in all directions, facing whichever direction they happened to be facing when they found a slot to fill. Left and right sides of the road have no meaning here and we regularly encounter trucks coming right at us and each needs to find enough room to get past each other. It takes at least a half-hour to park on the Nicaraguan side and shortly thereafter it is time to move to the Costa Rican side. Fortunately there we are directed to a large parking lot where they collect $1 per person for the privilege. More wait time, during which a few bird. I’m surprised when Joanie says she saw a Brown Pelican at the border until I realize we are very close to Lake Nicaragua. Another surprise is the troop of Mantled Howlers that occupy a small wooded oasis between the truck lined border access roads.
We are surprised at the steep descent we make to the Pacific Ocean, not having realized we climbed so much to the volcanoes around Grenada. The road is rough and we are happy to have finally reached our destination. The beauty of Montelimar Beach is overwhelming and the resort is unequivocally the best of our Central America trip. Although we will only camp in the parking lot tonight, tomorrow we will be staying within the resort and have rooms and full use of the facilities. Today I spend some time exploring the wooded grounds, much like a park, and find Turquoise-browed Motmots and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans. Our evening meal is wonderful too, but I’m sure Shari will write about it as she never misses a chance to talk about eating.
(Shari) After an early morning travel meeting we depart the campground and hit the highway in rig order. Today is a border day. Our border procedure says to park the group before the border and bring them in one at a time to park them. Bert and I have differing opinions on that and he wants to have them come all at once. The road is a zoo with people, bikes, trucks, buses and cars trying to move. Somehow there is an unwritten law that a vehicle can travel the oncoming lane if there is no oncoming and then try to squeeze back into the correct lane. Also, buses and trucks are parked on the shoulder facing in both directions and in reality there is only one lane open for moving traffic regardless of the direction. We inch our way forward until we are stopped by an official and told to park. We tell him we have eleven more behind us. He waves us forward and tells us to park. We wonder where. We inch forward some more and another official stops us. Again we tell him of our other eleven and he waves us forward some more. Again we are stopped by an official and he does not care how many we have behind us. We cannot cross into Nicaragua until we leave Costa Rica with the proper stamps on our paperwork. We must park now. We find a place for three or four of us and luckily the rest are held up at the gate. We now find a place for them one at a time as the border procedure indicated. I find the place and stand in it to save the spot while Bert walks forward and tries to direct the rigs to where I am standing. Painfully slow, we get everyone parked.
Meanwhile our border guide arrives and collects our passports, Costa Rica insurance papers and Nicaragua insurance papers. She fills out the exit forms while we do the parking. No sooner is the last one parked when we are told to move to fumigation. Here an official stops us, writes our license plate number on a slip of paper and gives it to the driver. I tell the driver to fill out the first four lines and hand it back to me. We then take that paper to the aduana to pay for the fumigation. One by one the rigs pass through the hollowed-out barn to get sprayed. Somehow we picked up a little boy named Tyler. He speaks good English and seems to be a runner for our guide. He leads Bert and the rest of the group on his bike to the parking place on the Nicaragua side. I see him ride back and forth many times and assume our guide has him doing some function. I later learn that we are paying bribes and must fork out $40 on the Costa Rica side for officials and $60 on the Nicaragua side for the “facilitation” of our paperwork. This is in addition to the guide fee and the fumigation fee and the entrance fee and the exit fee and the …… Oh well, the process is moving along quickly and we are “allowed” to skip the inspection step of the procedure. If you think about it, smugglers with a little palm grease could get through with their contraband just as easily.
The most time consuming part is the rewrite of our insurance. We have insurance from our previous time through Nicaragua but it has to get rewritten on “clean” paper. Why? This takes forever. Our guide says we are ready for signatures but from experience I check the correctness of the paperwork. Arlene reads VIN numbers and license plate numbers while I compare it to the border form. I groan when the first one has a wrong VIN number. Here we go again. Luckily that is the only mistake and by the time we check the accuracy of the other papers, the first one is redone. I radio to Bert to gather the drivers for their signatures. In rig order they sign the papers which we return to the office for some stamps. We are held up a bit when an official notices that the dates on four insurance papers have expired. They were all made out at the same time so our guide has to find the boss and get it straightened out. Finally after 4-1/2 hr. we are ready to roll. Once again we are stopped at the gate, our papers are inspected and we are told to pay $1 per person for parking. I pay for the group, call Arlene to hold the tickets and give to the official as we pass through the gates. We have made it through another border crossing and it is only noon.
Now we are hungry and we must find a place big enough for the whole group to park for lunch. By 12:30 we find a huge parking area at a restaurant where we split into two groups upon departure. One more stop is when Clay notices a propane vendor. Most of us have passed it so must negotiated a U-turn. Tom and I find out that the place only takes removable tanks. That is good enough for Gilford but not the rest of us. The rest of us have to make another U-turn. I stop traffic while each rig turns into a driveway, backs out and turns around.
On the road again, but slowly. The last 20 mi. are down a very narrow step bumpy road littered with potholes. It is one of the worst roads of the trip but the views are spectacular. It is like driving on the spine of a tall mountain. I had not known that we had even climbed but our GPS reads 2900 ft. and we can see the Pacific Ocean and a canyon on either side of us. We plunge down for over 10 mi. and are deposited into a congested little town. After the town, we pass gorgeous beachside homes - one is for sale - before we pull into our resort. This is a Club Med type resort and the grounds are spectacular. Down from the casino I pass a tennis court, beach chairs and hammocks, a lagoon, bar, discothèque and small swimming pool, restaurant, another bar, two more bigger than Olympic size pools, horse barn, miniature golf, cabanas, Jacuzzi and gym, and finally the 4-story hotel. I am amazed at the lack of English-speaking help in such a fancy place. We are having dinner here tonight and three meals and a room tomorrow that entitles us to use all the wonderful facilities. Returning to the RV’s, it must be at least ½ mile up 101 steps. Luckily the day is not overly hot, just hot. Bert has a chair for me within the group circle and I relay all my information. The train is to pick us up at 6:45 for our dinner at the beach side fancy restaurant at 7. We have tables reserved on the outside with free local cocktail, beer and wine. The food is served buffet style and I am not about to tell you all that is available. Suffice it to say the main buffet travels for a hundred feet with several shorter ones spurring from it. Joyce goes back three times for the dessert buffet alone. I don’t know where she puts it since she is so slim. I relax a bit before filling my plate just taking in the entire ambience and when I return with my plate Bert is gone, refilling his. Others are already on dessert. But as Joyce says, I will not have to eat alone, since Clay will still be eating. Some take the train back and others walk. We are among the walking group. Before returning to our rigs, we stop in to see the show. It is a little amateurish, and tries to get audience participation. I leave when men must dance to retrieve their T-shirts. Bert is already asleep and I soon follow. It is two hours past our regular bedtime.
(Bert) Although we look forward to a day of relaxing around the resort, the birders are out early, exploring the beautiful park and beach. I spend the first few hours photographing and recording birds and return to R-Pup-Tent. Clay and Joyce knock on the door and tell me they’ve seen a family of Collared Plovers. In a flash I grab my camera and binoculars and follow Joyce from one end of the resort to the other – no small trek – past the last buildings to the beach where a thin creek runs from the mountains. In no time Joyce sees the plovers again and I agree with her ID. The adults are such small plovers that their tiny bodies make their legs seem unusually long. Three chicks scurry between the adults, so small they must only be a couple of days since hatching.
For perhaps the first time in 59 days, most of the day is diverted from birding even from the most serious birders. The swimming pool must be one to two acres in size, a circular lake with an island bar and restaurant. A few French visitors are starting up a game of water volleyball with too few players to keep the ball in motion. I ask if we can join them and soon we have Mark, Joanie, Clay, Lee, Shari and me in the competition. Both teams score points, rotate the server and change sides, but no one remembers the score or who won. After the games I head to the beach. The Pacific is warm water, probably in the high 80s, and the surf is high. I don’t venture too far because the curling waves must be twice my height farther out and instead I ride them in after they have lost some of their force.
After swimming again in the pool I walk back to our bungalow, stopping to see what Chris is watching through his binoculars. Without my binos they look like White-collared Seedeaters to me, but darker males. In fact, they are a flock of Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters.
Lunch was an enormous buffet and dinner is an even larger one. With all of this food and beer, it isn’t hard to fall asleep tonight.
(Shari) Remember Montelimar! This is going to be my mantra all the way back home. It is a wonder how a little pampering can make me forget about the bad things. I can’t tell you how many times I have been thanked for stopping at this place. It is an oasis in an already good trip.
After an overabundance of food from the buffet line, Bert and I check into our lovely cabana. We have a private deck with two rocking chairs and a hammock to use for resting. We have two chairs in front of a TV to use if we have time to watch TV and we have two queen beds in an air-conditioned room. As soon as we get settled we walk to the pool and spend the rest of the afternoon in the water or on a lounge chair. We have a few games of pool volleyball where six of us play with six French Canadians. It is rather noncompetitive since the teams allow me to throw the ball over the net when they realize I do not have enough strength to serve it and allow short Joanie to do the same since the water level reaches almost to her neck. We have a good time kidding each other and saying “good shot” when our team makes a point or when the other team loses one. When Clay misses a shot he announces he is saving his power for when it is really needed. We all try to keep the ball away from Bert, who played intramural volleyball in graduate school and Mark who is really good too. The teams seem evenly matched because no one really knows who wins. To end the fun, balloons are filled with water and teams must try to get rid of them like a hot potato. The team with the least balloons at the end wins the game. After our refreshing game, we retire to the lawn chairs to read, sleep, enjoy drinks or talk. I have a drink called a cheekacabo made with rum, triple sec, grenadine, orange juice and pineapple juice. It is a little sweet and probably packs a wallop of a punch. However I sip it slowly and change to water. Some indulge in the free snacks of pizza, hot dogs, popcorn, tacos and/or fruit. Bert and I save up for dinner. After a shower, we walk to the bar to enjoy a beer at the pool before dinner at the restaurant. Again dinner is superb but I am exhausted and walk back to the room choosing not to join a group at the casino and show. I fall asleep by 9 PM.
(Shari) No one can find Shari; it is time to leave and she is nowhere around. In fact the whole group is hiding; no one wants to leave this resort. It has just been sooooo wonderful! Alas, after breakfast and checkout we have to depart to meet the guides who are to lead us through crowded Managua. I was told the Shell station, our designated meeting place, is big enough for the whole group to park and many of us intend to gas up before continuing. Our guide meets us before the gas station and the gas station is a zoo. Luckily we do not have big rigs and we finally get gas, move out of each other’s way, park and then travel in convoy through the town of 1.3 million people. We follow a lead car. Guide Cindy drives with us with five rigs following. Another woman rides with John and five rigs follow them. We progress through the town like a slow moving parade and people just look and wonder what in the world is going on. Finally we reach the city outskirts, park on the side of the road, pay the guide fee and move on. The group is really good: no questions, no chatter and the CB channel is left open for directions only. Later Nelda mentions that I did not know just how many questions she wanted to ask.
We are all desperate for propane. Lee and Pat’s tank has been reading empty for days. The plan is to park the caravan at a big gas station on the right while Bert and I check out a Tropigas place on our log. We have to move to Plan B when we see no large propane station. The group has to park wherever there is a place on the road while I negotiate the business at hand. Bert parks at another gas station and I walk to the Tropigas gate. I talk to a little boy and ask him how to open the gate. He does not know. I ask him how he got in. He shows me that he just walked between the gate and the fence post. Well the opening looks okay so I try it. Ah, oh! I do not fit through the gap. I walk up the hill and a man inside the gate motions that I need to walk all the way around. Down the hill, turn right, down the street, turn right again, down the street and turn right. When I get there, the men are laughing and tell me I need a car. Very funny! I find out that they are able to fill motor home tanks and will take U.S. dollars. However, they have no meter on their pumps and have to guesstimate the amount of propane we are taking. Dumb me forgot the radio so I have to walk back out the gate, turn left, down the street, turn left and motion to Bert to come ahead. Finally we have a full tank and Bert radios the others a few at a time to come on in. They are to use one of two gates depending upon which side of their motor home is the fill nozzle. Meanwhile he waits at the first gate to show the group the location of the entrance. People are asking directions on the CB and the personal radios. Bert is telling me to direct those coming in and the man wants me to move R-Pup-Tent. I back up according to his directions and find I cannot move. He has me back right into a curb. So I get out every few feet looking behind the rig as I back up the uneven slope to park. Bert is still hollering for me to do something. I finally loose my cool and holler back on the radio, “As soon as I get this d____ thing parked.” I guess everyone heard that exchange. Bert realizes I am stretched and walks up the hill to park the rig for me. Meanwhile I pay the bill and direct others to leave in small groups as they are ready. Boy this has been a production and it is late by the time we get into camp. I cancel the margaritas but we have an impromptu BYO social before retiring.
(Bert) At dawn I again walk the resort grounds, covering it from one end to the other in two hours, again finding the Collared Plovers and this time getting closer photos. I find Shari at the breakfast buffet and join her and the others for yet another large meal. I don’t think I will need to eat again today. The bird discussion is about the Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters the birders want to see. I miss them this morning, but see the roosting Common Nightjar that Judy found while waiting for the tractor-train that will take her and luggage across the resort to our parked RV’s.
We leave in late morning, taking an easier road toward Managua. The road is made of closely set hexagonal bricks and extends for at least 20 mi., the longest such hand-built road I’ve driven. As we enter the outskirts of Managua a sign states the population as 1.3 million. Previous caravans have had a tough time finding a good route through the congested city, so this time we’ve hired escorts – a taxi cab in the lead, Cindy riding in our RV and another woman riding in the sixth RV (John’s) in the caravan. We stick close together, communicating by CB’s between rigs and by cell phone between the cab driver and the two ladies. Shari is carefully logging the route with mileage, GPS and directions for future caravans. We drive at snail’s pace and are happy that the city route is uneventful, if lengthy.
We stop for propane, but getting into the locked gate becomes a problem. A small boy shows the way between two posts, a gap small enough for him but not Shari. She walks around the block while I wait in R-Pup-Tent and 10 min. later I see her reappear and motion me down the bumpy side street and around to another entrance. Through some confusing Spanish we recognize the station does not have a meter on their delivery system and I am unsure the capacity of my tank, so some quick calculations give an estimate of how many liters of propane will move the gauge from ¼ to ¾ on a tank that is probably 25-gal. when prices are in Nicaraguan cordobas, but we must pay in U.S. dollars since we have used up our local currency. That settled, I use the CB and handheld radio to contact the others a few at a time and they can refill also. The whole experience must take us nearly two hours. Such is the way where simple things we take for granted can become a big ordeal.
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