I am cycling to raise money for the fantastic UK based chaity Macmillan Cancer Support. Big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far! Justgiving is a quick, easy and secure way to donate online. See my other fundraising page, specific to the Macmillan organized part of the trip

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Buena Suerte....

Buena suerte, good luck... feel like for my last weekend in Managua and the couple of days since leaving that I've been surrounded by buena suerte and happy energy, I seem to have met so many people in the last few days who have been incredibly friendly and helpful even in brief passing, like the man I bought bannanas from heading out of Managua who told me about another cycle tourer up ahead and gave me a free mandarina, or the lovely lady whose daughter wants to practice English who gave me directions and a kiss goodbye, and the crinkly broad-smilely man at the petrol station that oiled my chain and pedals gratis, to Martha who allowed me to set up camp in the front of her snack bar/home on the turnoff to El Viejo , or the little boy on the coast at los Pelitos who gave me a beautiful shell 'just because'...

Feels like a rolling stone of goodwill that perhaps started way before I even left London with all the help from friends, family and work in even getting here, but have been even more aware of it since Liz gave me a little model of Ganesh to join Julia's crocheted monkey on my handlebars... now Monkey's got someone to banter with! And the local church near Liz's house turned out to be Iglesia Fatima, so I went to pay my respects as Tamara gave me a Fatima postcard before I came out, for protection, which is now mounted like a numberplate on my rear pannier rack. As I was mounting it on Sunday Ernestina brought me a gift of a rosary with, which is now tied round my handlebars along with the dreamcatcher from Aan at El Chocoyero, and the monkey truth bracelt my Mum gave me after I'd completed the Macmillan cycle in Mexico last year. Ans Fransisco came running to give me a framed picture of the Sacred Heart as I was about to take off on Monday, will need to find a way to mount that too. So many gestures of protection, peace and love that thinking about it as I cycled out of Managua with a huge smile I honestly had goosepimples ... and bearing in mind it's so burning hot out here that I'm constantly soaked in sweat, goosepimples mean some serious energy and emotion flowing!
My last weekend in Managua was incredibly relaxing. Had a lovely morning with Liz and Ryan at their local pool, which is in the grounds of a children´s home for boys, where Ryan was able to bike around and the poolguard wouldn´t let me pay on promise that I go back when I return to Managua in July. Back at Liz´s house rocked away the afternoon (love how all the houses here have rocking chairs on their verandas) and was impressed again by Ryan´s precision in colouring, and his attention to detail with his book of fish. It was a beautiful full moon that night and the scent of the mangoes was thick in the air... though less romantically they come crashing down all through the night (thankfully Liz had warned me about the noise on my first visit!), but they did make for a delicious breakfast ... especially with builder´s tea - a bit of a treat here for as big a caffeine fiend as me!

Sadly, that was also the day of the Chile earthquake. As we were watching the CNN news in the evening, and the explanation of the difference in severity of impact of this earthquake and the Haiti earthquake in January, Liz made a very pertinent point, that poverty is the World´s biggest natural disaster, forcing people to live in areas of high risk and instability.

Back with Ernestina´s family on Sunday I was treated to an afternoon of sightseeing in Managua, I felt like I was given my own personal tour! First stop was the Museo Huellas de Acahualinca where a couple of areas of animal and human footprits preserved in volcanic ash were on display, apparently dating back to 3000 BC. There were also old photos of Catedral Vieja (or Catedral Santiago de los Caballeros) which we went on to see in the Plaza de la Revolution, the old central square. The catedral was damaged by an earthquake during construction in 1931 then destroyed by a scecond quake in 72. It was very beautiful in a gothic crumbling was, though it is a huge space to be left unused.

The Casa Presidencial next to it houses the administration of current president, Daniel Ortega, and though its named La Casa de los Pueblos (House of the villages) is off limits to the public. Opposite was a beautiful white builñding, the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura. Once the intimidating and notorious seat of government during Somoza rule, it is now a gellery and Museum, where we saw some really intricate contemporary ceramics and drawings.

The best part of the afternoon was the wander down to the beach of Lake Managua. Sadly the water is so poluuted with sewage and chemical waste that you can´tt swim there, and when the wind blows spray up onto the pier everyone runs away squealing. I got my first go on a quad bike racing Arlén, then relived the days of Gullane games rides on the ricketty colourful but peeling rides which were set up in what felt more like a building site than a fairground! Little Ernesto was really chuffed, and I couldn´t help laughing a bit at the thought of restrictive British health and safety!Monday morning we got up at 5am to go to an FSLN welcoming ceremony for Cuban Nicaraguan medics. A handful of the first grade kids came to sing the FSLN and Cuban anthems. The funniest moment came when one of the little boys weed in the bush in front of them, after the filming and photographing had stopped I think and happily his teachers seemed to find it endearing and amusing rather than telling him off. Back at the school Arlén made sure I had a proper goodbye and a picture taken with each class, before getting all the kids out into the playground to wave me off... I was really touched!

After the tip of from the fruit vendor about the cycle tourer in front of me heading out of Managua I was intreiged. As it happened, I never caught him up, but within an hour or so I had met Valeska and Philipp Schaudy from Austria(, coming in the oppopsite direction. They´ve been on the road for 3 and a half years, travelling the world. They´d met the other guy ahead of me a bit earlier, and amazingly, within the next hour I met another cycle tourer, Horatio from the US whose parent´s are from Central America and whose reason for cycle touring was the world´s there, why not explore it... wicked phiolosophy. As they say, things come in threes, and the next morning I met Kakeru from Japan, who was really interesed in my bike, taking lots of pictures of all the different parts, and who almost didn´t hear me call for listening to his i-pod (so you see Steve, you were right about the no-ipod-is-better method!)
When I left Managua I knew I was headed for León, but with no real idea how long it{d take me to get there. The wind was pushing me along, though I hadn´t actually realised that was the reason I was having an easy morning until Valeska and Philip complained of the headwind, then said I could make it León easily in the day. So when I came upon the turn off to the ruins of León Viejo, the original site of the city, I found I had to make a concious effort to stop and over-ride my urge to hurry on, turn back and take the time to visit the site. Odd how even after these few weeks of relaxation the London rush-hurry-not-enough-time brainwash is still a bit in place... it seems its a difficult thing to shake.

I was glad to change my mind, because on the way to the ruins I stopped for a gaseosa (fizzy drink) at what turned out to be my ´campsite´for the night. I´d checked directions with Martha, the owner of the drinks shack, and within minutes of chatting and explaining my journey she offered the bar floor for my tent. So I was able to wander leisurely round the ruins with my guide Mario, where I was less impressed by the remains of the original stonework from when the coity was founded in 1524, and more disgusted by the way that conquistador Francisco Fernández de Córdoba and the Spanish treated the local indigenous Nicaraguans. I know its no suprisé, the name conqistador gives it away, but I find it appaling that invading forces felt they had the right to try to convert the indigenous people from their worship of the moon, sun and stars to Catholicism and generally treat them cruelly and enslave them.

There were some interesting ceramics in the museum opposite that showed Peruvian influences, that were a result of the Indians paddling all the way down in small wooden canoes, hugging the Pacific coast, and back again. Impressive... and I though cycling just the length of Central America was a feat!) They also had pictures of a ritual that looked something like the Maypole ceremony, for good cacao harvest, as cacao beans were their currency until the Spanish arrived in their quest for gold. Another picture showed a peculiar 360 degree adult version of the seesaw!
I passed briefly through León yesterday, and straight out to the beach at las Peñitas, where I had the most huge plate of crispy fried fish, straight from the sea, rice, plantain and salad. After four pannier meals of bread bananas and the odd mandarin it was totally delicious and filled me up enough to hammock-doze-away a good chunk of the afternoon. Again, after only mentioning my journey, the folk in the retraunt offered me their floor to camp on, so I woke up this morning to the sounds of fishermen returning from their overnight trawls in their lanches.

The most peculiar and brilliant part of the day was learning to catch crabs. After swimming in the sea was heading off for a wander when a really enthusiastic man came running up to me, saying was I the cyclist. He´d heard Id turned up on the bike and was really excited, waving me over to a table and ordering beer to share with him and his two slightly dodgy mates, telling me he was a sports cyclist too (most bikes out here are mountain bikes not road bikes) and had won a lot of trophies! So Manuél insisted on taking me out after dusk when the tide had gone out to give me a lesson in crab catching ... you need a strong torch, a deep bucket and preferably I´d say bare feet and no rucksack (think those two things and perhaps being a bit scared by the crabs hindered me a bit) . Also need to have a good speedy lunge to trap the crab under your hand on the sand, and nippy reactions to chase it if it runs away. I don´t know how many disappeared down holes in the sand or just got away in general, but after a good couple of hours we had a heavier bucket, enough for Manuél to make soup from. Mine were all pretty tiny, Manuél was responsible for all the bigger ones, some he even got by digging down into their holes. Mental good, I could never have predicted I´d be beachcombing for crabs on the Pacific coast when I set out...wicked!A beautiful sky and a relaxed start to the day this morning, some of the family that run the restraunt joined me while I was eatig breakfast to ask about my journey. We shared some fruit and chatted for a while. It is interesting that everyone is so incredibly friendly but at the same time so concerned for my safety from bandideros (muggers, bandits robbers). I am often asked am I scared, and always reply that travel ´con cuidado´with care or caution, but that to have the opportunity to travel in this way, see the views and meet the people I am really lucky. With Alfonso and the others this morning I felt so completely welcome and looked out for, I just hope that the buene suerte continues an I keep on meeting these kinds of people.

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