Costa Rica / Nicaragua: Weeks 6-9

Between working, visiting with my parents, and sightseeing, I neglected keeping up the blog. So, here's a recap of our final 4 weeks.

My parents had an adventure just getting here. Their flight was delayed which made them miss their connection, resulting in a day 10-hour layover in Panama. By the time they arrived at 1:30am, they had been traveling more than 24 hours.
We welcomed my dad with a Corona and a donut - two of  his favorites.
Birthday cake for mom
We took my parents to Playa Hermosa (what we referred to as Survivor Beach), but the wind that day was horrible. We lasted just a few hours of getting sandblasted, before calling it quits and taking a drive to sightsee.  We ended up in Rivas, which is a town about 30 minutes away, and stumbled on a crazy maze of streets filled to the brim of outdoors markets. Kudos to Brett for driving through it! It was the kind of scene you picture in India - loads of people, cars, animals, everything, and not much room to maneuver.  We loved it!  (And ended up going back two more times before the end of our trip.)

Dad reading at Playa Hermosa
Brett sleeping at Playa Hermosa

The first weekend they were here, we did an overnight trip to Granada. We took a boat tour of the isletas in Lake Nicaragua, which are 365 small islands formed by a volcanic eruption. Lake Nicaragua is massive, covering 3,191 sq miles (for our CA friends, that's almost 17 times larger than Lake Tahoe). The islands are small, most with just enough land for a single building, however they do have their own community - 8 islands house restaurants, there's an island with a school (the children take small rowboats to school), one with a church, one is even a cemetery, etc. Two of the islands are inhabited by monkeys - one with spider monkeys and one with white-faced monkeys, both of which apparently like cookies. Our guide brought cookies and we could hold them out off the bow of the boat and the monkeys would come take them.

Mom feeding the monkeys

After touring the isletas, we boarded a horse-drawn carriage for a 3-hour tour of downtown Granada, where we stopped and visited sites, including a number of churches, the chocolate museum, and the San Francisco museum.

The doors in this church were massive

We then loaded up and went to our hotel, which we thought was going to be just a few blocks from downtown - or at least that's what the tour operator told us when we booked. We drove about 10 minutes out of town, turned on a bumpy dirt road, passed a few houses with armed security, and arrived at our "fortress". I wish I had taken a picture from outside. It had a concrete wall surrounding it with pictures of castle/fortress type pictures on the concrete. Once inside, our room was more of what you'd find in a private room hostel, but it was all we needed. Since we were far from anything, after checking in, we asked our driver to take us back into town so we could get dinner. We found a place where the road is closed for traffic and there are multiple restaurants with outdoor seating in the street, a vendor marketplace, and all types of entertainment. Fun vibe!
Hotel room in Granada
The next day, we went to White Town, where the local artisans set up shop outside their homes and sell their wares. We met with a potter and he gave us a tour of how the pottery is made. He let me sit with him and "assist" in making a piece. I'll sum up that experience by saying I am no artist! Poor guy, I messed up his piece twice!  So, then we were going to just take it off and call it quits. He handed me some fishing line to hold under the piece as he spun the wheel and I'd pull the line through the bottom so that it would come off the wheel. I couldn't even do that right! I couldn't hold the line tight with my slippery muddy hands, resulting in a tangled mess of fishing line and potters clay.

Pottery oven
We then proceeded to the Catalina viewpoint where we got a magnificent view of the Apoyo Lagoon. We took a Tuk Tuk ride around Catalina and Brett and I also took a horseback ride for a different view of the Lagoon. Afterwards, we headed to Laguna Beach Club for lunch.  After lunch we went to the Masaya Crafts Market. Our guide said we were the fastest shoppers he's ever had. We did a quick walk through, but shopping really isn't our thing. To end the day, we headed to the Masaya Volcano. Because it's an active volcano, we wanted to see it at night so that we could see the glow. What we didn't expect was that we could actually hear the lava as well.  Eery.

Brett with the Tuk Tuk
Peering into the volcano

Later that next week, we took a day trip to Rivas as we wanted to experience it again, this type up close and personal. We hired a couple of bicyclists to take us on a tour. Near the end, my dad asked his driver to switch places with him and he rode the bicycle while the guide got the tour!  We then drove north a couple of hours and checked out the local scenery.  We stumbled upon a quiet beach that had more pigs than people.

Dad giving the tour guide a break and doing the peddling.
Local grocery in Rivas

One of several HUGE pigs wandering the beach

The following weekend, we went to Ometepe Island (also in Lake Nicaragua). Ometepe is formed by two volcanoes, Concepcion (active) and Maderas (dormant) connected by a low isthmus. There, we visited a museum that showcased a private collection of artifacts found on the island, hiked through a coffee plantation to petroglyphs that are thought to be 1500 years old, saw howler monkeys, swam (or at least I did) in Ojo de Agua, which is a natural spring pool filled from an underground river from the Maderas volcano, toured a butterfly garden, heard the tales of Chico Largo, and just enjoyed the varied scenery.

Another ferry coming in while we were heading out.  Thankful it wasn't ours. We were wondering about all the buckets. it looks like one per passenger just in case!?

View of Ometepe from the ferry

Howler monkeys

We met a group staying at the hotel next door and joined them for bonfire on the beach - complete with marshmallows and s'mores.
Sunset from the hotel on Ometepe

Our room had the world smallest sink and tallest mirror - it was way over my head!
Other random photos -
That sums it up pretty well!

Buying fresh tortillas (she's making them over an open fire inside)
Mom couldn't find dad.  Found him in the top bunk reading.  Too funny!
Want to get a tattoo?  This is the tattoo shop for you!
Brett in a Tuk Tuk

Brett found a vendor on the street selling meringue cookies

Brett petting a friendly cow on the street while walking into town

Our water taxi "captain" - he gave us a ride into San Juan just about every evening

Operation "Escape Winter" is now over, but we have tons of wonderful memories!