From the volcanoes in the north of Nicaragua we headed south and west to the surfing capital of the country on the Pacific coast, San Juan del Sur. The whole area had experienced heavy rainfall, mudslides and floods as Hurricane Nate had made landfall on 7 October. Although we arrived some four weeks later, evidence of the destruction caused by the storm was evident, despite the massive clean up that had clearly been underway. Watching the locals trying to dig out one of the many boats stuck in the sand was impressive and it was difficult to comprehend the amount of rain or water that Nate, and bad weather subsequently, had brought, but the secondary roads were as slippy as ice with the pure amount of water and mud that remained and electricity was only just returning to help bring some normality back to life.
From there we headed to Omotepe, an island on Lake Nicaragua with two volcanoes, one still active. We took the ferry across, arriving in the pouring rain, but the place was beautiful and we soon settled into a few days camping at Ojo de Agua with its natural volcanic pools and walks though the countryside. Here we saw further evidence of damage caused by Nate. My initial thoughts that the banana plantations had just been heavily pruned turned out to be the devastation of the island's crop. We were told some 95% had been lost, hard to imagine given this is quite a sizeable place.
We had orignally hoped that we could get a boat from Omotepe to San Carlos on the south western shore of Lake Nicaragua, close to the Costa Rica border. Having visited the harbour on the other side of the island, it soon became clear that the service, although still printed on up-to-date maps, ceased some two years previously with the harbour now housing only a few fishing boats, two of which were for sale! So with no other choice, we returned to the mainland the same way we'd come and drove up and around Lake Nicaragua, down its eastern side to San Carlos, where we jumped on a boat down the Rio San Juan to El Castillo.
El Castillo really is in the middle of no-where and came into being with the construction of the Fortaleza de la Limpia Pura e Immaculada Concepcion in the late 1600s, to help repel pirates (mainly British). Sir Francis Drake had caused a few problems along the San Juan in the 1500's and much later, a very young Horatio Nelson took the fort. All were intent on crossing from the Atlantic into Lake NIcaragua and sacking Granada.
The area downstream of El Castillo is now the very important Indio Maiz Biological Reserve and we took some time out to visit this. We were not disappointed. Our very knowledgeable guide introduced us to many birds, animals and plants; capuchin monkies, blue herons, green ibis, kingfishers and a toucan, among many others but the highlights had to be the bright green basilisk lizard hiding by the water bank, the giant iguana keeping watch up a tree and the two very tiny, colourful and very poisonous frogs, no bigger than your fingernail and a difficult to spot chameleon. The indigenous locals still use the frogs for poisonous darts. Declan, always keen to take a dip to cool off, happily jumped in the river for a swim, that was before we found the caiman sitting on the bank, patiently watching us.
A walk around El Castillo indicates some form of military regime remains as it is a town delineated into sectors. There is no traffic in the place as it is not connected by roads and the only thoroughfare is the single track concrete path that runs through and around town, with all goods being delivered on hand drawn carts. We had a great time and would highly recommend this to anyone coming to Nicaragua, despite its remoteness, this really was a treat.