Overland miles: 4325 tacocount: 68 Days without sodas: 6
After the luxury of free wi-fi everywhere we’ve stayed so far, finding ourselves in the far south east of El Salvador, with no Internet access left us feeling liberated yet also frustrated. How were we supposed to check how many thousands of readers had been logging on for their latest feed of PFB? What musings had people been posting on Facebook?? Who was making the headlines on the Daily Mail Online’s sidebar of shame??? Without the endless distractions of the online world we had to go old school and do some real life social networking to plan the next stage of our trip – getting a boat to Nicaragua.
Now getting a boat to Nicaragua is something the Lonely Planet definitely does not recommend. If you followed its advice you would find yourself on an epic voyage involving many, many chicken buses, an exponentially greater number of shrieking food vendors – and travelling via Honduras. The boat goes straight there in just over two hours so for us it was a simple choice. The hitch is that the only ‘daily’ service involves finding a local boat owner willing to make the trip in his lancha. And you need to get special permission from the port authorities in La Union, a town described by the achingly laissez-faire LP as “a place even Popeye would look over his shoulder in”.
So in our strange, internet-free world, we asked around our hostel to see if anyone had any advice for us. An American couple we were friendly with actually owned their own boat and were sailing to Nicaragua too, but weren’t planning on leaving El Salvador for two weeks so grabbing a ride with them was out of the question. However, further enquiries revealed that the owner of La Tortuga Verde had a contact who could help us make the journey, and show us where to get our paperwork arranged. (For any travellers reading this that want to make the same trip, contact Tom at La Tortuga Verde, 72-88-62-88)
At 7.15 the next day we found ourselves in another pick-up truck, this time with the luxury of seats in the cab, being bounced along a dirt track on our way to La Union. Our first stop was the immigration office, where we were introduced to Mario, our fixer. After filling out a relatively simple form, our passports were duly stamped and we were given copies of our paperwork. This was stage one. Stage two involved waiting for the ‘zarpe‘ to be processed – this is the document that gives permission for the boat to leave the country. In a rare display of Latin American efficiency, this was ready in less than an hour, giving us just enough time to grab some breakfast in an air-conditioned cafe before Mario silently appeared once more to direct us to our boat.
After trudging through slimy knee-deep water, slick with engine oil, we hoisted ourselves onto our lancha, and surveyed our fellow passengers. Two women, one heavily pregnant woman and one in her 60s, four large bags of rapidly melting ice and ten sacks of fertiliser, going to the island of Meanguera, the furthest island in the Gulf of Foncesca.
Our journey commenced relatively without hitch until we entered Nigerian waters. We’d attracted the attention of the local naval police and their vessel, containing five very scary looking, M16 toting policeman pulled up alongside us. After a nervously observed conversation in Spanish with the rozzers, our captain precariously handed his documentation, our passports and paperwork over the gap between the two boats. The sun-shaded officers then studied these vital documents closely while we patiently waited, trying our best to look like innocent travellers. We were in luck. Our documents were deemed sufficient; none of the bribes we had heard tales of were needed. We gleefully zoomed off towards the northern Nicaraguan coast.
Soon after, we arrived at the port of Potosi. Compared to La Union, Potosi was strictly a one boat town and that boat was ours. After some unusually rigorous checks by immigration, customs and the local police, who were presumably glad to have something to do for a change, we entered Nicaraguan territory.
The next stage and final stage of our off-grid experiment involved getting to the fishing village of Jiquilillo, and Rancho Esperanza, other recommendations we’d received as a result of our real-time social networking. According to the locals lolling around Potosi’s dusty main square, the turn off for the village was an hour’s bus journey away so we hopped on the next chicken bus.
After a dusty, bumpy journey, along what we could only presume were some of Nicaragua’s least well-paved roads, punctuated with intermittent rainstorms (a reminder that we were still in the rainy season), we were deposited at the turn off to Jiquilillo. It was at this point we realised that we were still some way off the village centre itself and that the next bus in that direction wasn’t due for some time. Luckily we spotted a pick up truck coming down the road and flagged it down. The driver and his friend were on their way to the next village and happy to give us a lift. As it turned out, the reason they were in good spirits was that they were working their way through a cool box of Tona, the local beer. They magnanimously waved at the box, whilst talking very fast in a Latin American accent unbelievably strange to our untuned ears, to indicate that we should help ourselves whilst helping them to another for the road.
Thankfully, that road was so bad the truck couldn’t go much faster than 5mph, and shortly we were deposited at the entrance of our hostel to continue our spell outside The Matrix. Complete with compost toilets and a menu of vegetarian food, this place was as eco as it gets. But the staff were friendly, their library was well stocked and the hammocks plentiful. It turned out that life without the Internet wasn’t that bad after all.