Thursday, November 27, 2008




The following day I booked another volcano safari with hikes to three volcanoes -- I hoped I could *see* something this time. We landed in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, and I met my tour group at 6:30 AM for another all-day drive. Rebecca and her parents again took a much shorter driving tour that hit the highlights of the locale. The harbor itself could not accommodate large cruise ships, and so we had to be ferried in groups on tenders to get to the main dock, where a Nicaraguan national band was there to greet us (standing on a forklift, for some reason). Fishing boats were setting out, their decks loaded with crab or lobster pots, each of which sported a tall pole with a flag.

As soon as we got on the bus and set off into the city, the differences between Costa Rica and Nicaragua were striking. Nicaragua is a much poorer country, still recovering from many years of political corruption and internal conflict. (There's been relative peace since the mid-1980s, but the scars are still there.) The port city was much more rundown and definitely looked like a Third World country. The tourguide was very proud of his country, though, and insisted that tourism is picking up and helping the economy to recover.

The long drive went through jungled hills, past sugarcane fields and cornfields, up into the volcanic hills. The bus passed through several towns and cities on the way, with colorful buildings, interesting colonial architecture; in one spot, the tourguide showed us lines of bullet holes on the walls from the revolution in the 1980s. We arrived at a spectacular viewpoint of the volcano and the large caldera lake nearby, then we drove up the mountain itself. This time the sky was clear, and we could see the wide crater spewing gray fumes. I hiked up to a tall cross shrine at the edge of the crater (the sulfur smell in the air was so bad I could barely breathe, and it burned my eyes, nose, and throat); the whole group walked around the crater and then off to a smaller, dormant crater nearby.

After hiking around the area, we boarded the bus again and made our way to a large hacienda restaurant (along with several other tourist buses) for our buffet lunch -- more chicken, more fried fish, more beef; I had really hoped for some local dishes, rather than tourist-ized fare. On the way back, we passed through the cities of Granada and Rivas, saw the immense Lake Nicaragua (which was the primary alternative for the Panama Canal in the 1800s). On the way back through the port town, we stopped for a sad funeral procession, a man so poor that his casket was carried in the back of an old pickup truck rather than a hearse, and the mourners had picked a few handfuls of local flowers to strew them in the truck bed.

Rebecca and her parents had a much more interesting bus tour than their Costa Rica experience, including a long stop at Lake Nicaragua at a resort restaurant owned by famed baseball player Dennis Martinez, who came out to meet the visitors. (I don't follow baseball, but my father-in-law was very impressed to have met him.) Their group arrived back at the ship well before my bus returned, and Rebecca was napping when I came into the cabin. I went for a quick swim as the ship pulled away from the harbor.

Nicaragua is a lovely country trying very hard to overcome the scars of its past. The tourguides were very earnest in their dedication to the country and in wanting tourists to come back.

Before dinner I jotted down notes for new storylines in the second "Terra Incognita" book -- I had a lot of time to mull over the stories in the past two days of bus rides. I'm nearly finished with the "skeleton" outline already, since I've had plenty of opportunities to think and plot, and Rebecca and I have also brainstormed a great deal over breakfast and in our downtime.

We had dinner again with Rebecca's parents, then went back to the room to watch the movie "Vantage Point" on TV. The evening movie in the ship theater was "The Dark Knight" -- which I really wanted to see again, but we were just too tired to stay up for the late showing. I took a bath instead and finished proofreading the galleys for ENEMIES & ALLIES. Another sigh of relief. One of these days I might even be able to start relaxing.

-- KJA


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