3.2.2005 Marina Puesta
del Sol, Nicaragua 12 °36 N 87°22 W
The 600 mile sail from Huatulco, Mexico, to Nicaragua was
easy except the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Previously we wrote to go
along the shoreline, but of course we didn't follow that advice
ourselves. We headed straight across, being 60 miles from the shore. The
forecasted 25 knots of north wind was 30-35 in reality, gusting 40-50
knots. We had a beam reach and autopilot was keeping the course. The
gale lasted for 12 hours, over night. Waves were about 3 metres (9 ft)
and crazy. They poured over the boat, and water came inside from dorate
ventils which can usually be kept open. Cocpit was soaking and watch had
to hold with two hands when the biggest waves hit. First time small
items on the open lockers by the navigation table flew around. Some
waves were like giant hands slamming Kristiina. Especially if the boat
was already leaning from the previous wave, the slam hit somewhere
between the bottom and side, and then items inside got speed like from a
gun mouth. And bang was loud. It was very hot inside because all the
hatches and ventilators had to be closed. Good experience, we haven't
had rough weather since the Aleuts. A nice reminder what sailing really
is! In the morning the wind started to decrease and the waves died as
soon as they had rosen.
The most unpleasant wasn't the sea, however, but a lonely, big fishing
vessel in the middle of the bay. Auli saw the lights on her watch about
3 am. The radar showed that the boat was not moving. Our course was ok,
it took us by the vessel on north side. About three miles before passing
I saw a vague blink in sea. It was a buyo. Then I saw another. Longline!
Hannu came up to deck to discuss what to do. The fishing vessel had a
longline out and it was hanging on the other end of the line (or
probably a metal wire) three miles south. So we had to go around, even
it meant a long sideway. Once we almost run on buoys, which were dark
kanisters without lights. Fortunately we had moonlight. We also had to
thank Miss Sophie, who had crossed Tehuantepec eralier. Harald and
Verena warned us about the fishing boats and longlines. They got a line
in the propeller and Harald had to go into the water to cut it. Now it
was so bad weather that all the small boats were ashore and only this
one big vessel was fishing. Probably the crew was sleeping, not aware of
The rest of the passage was variable, mostly sea and land breeze. Time
to time we had to motor. We got a yellowfin tuna, a small dorado and a
couple of read meat tunas. We also catch an enourmous sailfish or
swordfish, but a few gigantic jumps and it was gone with the lure. We
saw a lot of turtles, these sandy beaches seem to be their nestling
grounds. Sometimes a seagull was sitting on
turtle. For a while we got a gannet as a passanger.
After the huge Mexico, it felt funny to pass three countries on so short
distance. We sailed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. On Tuesday,
the second of Februry, we motored in to Marina Puesta del Sol close to
Chinandega. It is the only marina on the Nicaragua. We
leave the boat here and make a trip to inland starting tomorrow.
10.2.2005 Marina Puesta
del Sol, Nicaragua
Five days were too short time for our trip. We had time only for two
cities, Estelí and Granada,
as well as hurry trough León. Along the road we saw
Nicaraguan life, but sitting on the soft seat in an airconditioned four
wheel was same than browsing a magazine on your own sofa.
The roads were partly in bad shape, full of huge holes which made cars
wind from side to side and slow the speed. There was remarkably less
cars than in Mexico, and more bicycles, horse riders, horse and ox
carts. The horse and ox traffic didn't limit to countryside roads, there
were animals also on the paved streets of cities. A couple of ox carts
had wooden wheels. There are a lot of buses, and most of them similar
to American school buses, aluminium with long noses. On the roof travels
sacks, baskets, bundles - sometimes passangers. Leaving the sea, land is
low, fields or treeless plains. Coming closer to Estelí the terrain
rose, we climbed over hills. Estelí is located on 800 m, which makes
the climate a bit cooler than on the sea level. No, during the dry
season, the scenery was brownish yellow, spotted occasionally by green
fields or riverside trees.
Ox tarffic on the road.
In Estelí we met Jukka
Pakkala (Auli's and Jukka's mothers are colleagues) and visited
two Finnish development projects, tourist centre Casa Esteli
and sciencepark Estelimar. Jukka has been working in Nicaragua for 20
years for the Finnish developmet foundation Kansainvälisen
Estelí (pop. 80.000) has a negative imagage being a bit dangerous
place, and that of course doesn't draw tourisists to town. The aim is to
change the image and get especially local travellers into area. It takes
two hours (on a good road) to drive from Managua, and the cooler climate
is also attractive. Estelí was a fiercy battelfield during the
revolution as well as during the contra war.
The yellow building of Casa Esteli was easy to find. After four hours
travel, we left the busy city centre traffic and parked under the eyes
of a guard. Casa Estelí houses a small café, public internet, a
classroom with 20 new computers, and arts and crafts store. We saw how
pictures were made of small pieces of coloured maiz leaves. Original and
Casa Estelí is located by the Pan American
Just round the corner of
Casa Esteli is the science and education centre Estelimar.
The foundation bought seven hectares land in 1988. During the war,
vegetables were grown to feed kids in daycare. Vegetables are still
grown, but presently the main purpose is to demonstrate different
watering systems, increase the productivity of small farms, and rise the
living standard of rural families. On other words, they try to get food
on the plates of poor families, because there are villages where people
are not eating every day. Rather a shocking news for a Finn struggling
with overweight. In some villages the harvest has been five times bigger
after people have learned about the watering. That figure tells maybe
more about the modest starting level than super farming, but also that
with education you can make essential changes.
Jukka told about the challenges in development work, how sometimes
people are resisting improvements. It's almost impossible to improve the
conditions if people themselves are not ready for changes. Partly the
reason is magical conception of world. Catholic religion and all kind of
beliefs have still a firm grip. People think that poverty is a destiny,
which cannot be changed by themselves. People live like they have lived
100 years, because they are afraid of changing anything. They live from
hand to mouth, just trying to survive and bear it.
Carrots growing in Estelimar. The
is build of used plastic bottles.
Very usual well type. We saw plenty of
these on our trip.
An other problem Jukka
mentioned is the modest level of education. That's why the science
centre illustrates - with prehistoric animals - the basics of technology
and physics, how a well pump, a jack, and a lever arm are working, how a
solar panel is producing power. There is a wide collection of education
videos, I glimpse through the labels and see one on the history of
painting, another on sexual education. Also here is a computer class and
The area is nice. There are two long white buildings with red brick
roofs, surrounded by lush bushes, trees and flowers. They are
accommodation quarters. The view is beautiful. There is also a swimming
pool, bar, restaurant, billiard and meeting rooms. In the dinner we are
joined by 14 teenage Danish girls - didn't ask why they were in
Next day we made a trip to small coffee plantation. First we were
shaking and rattling a bumpy road by car up to mountains, then we walked
down to a lush valley along a dusty trail. Visiting a coffee farm was
interesting as such, you never think from where your morning drink
comes. But meeting the farmer, Alberto, was definetely the
best experience. To avoid alcohol, Alberto has put his energy to stone
carvings. The steep hillside cliff was full of figures along tens of
metres. Every picture was a story, either made up by Alberto himself or
taken from the Nicaraguan history. He has made the stories for 15 years,
so the wall was really impressive. The artist was eagerly telling the
stories and showing his work.
Later Alberto demonstrated
how the coffee beans are pealed with a small hand mill. After that beans
are spread into sun to dry. We got some beans with us.
Coffee beans are handpicked from the
Then they are pealed by a mill, which is often
located by a river, because the process needs water.
Pealed beans are spread into sun to dry.
From Estelí we drove four
hours to Granada, to another world. Granada is the oldest
colonial city of Nicaragua, established by the Spaniard Fransisco
Ferdández de Córdoba in 1524. It's by the Nicaragua Lake, from where
there is a connection to Atlantic along River San Juan. That made
Granada an important merchandise town.
The beautiful city temptates tourists. Paved streets in the centre are
not dusty, colourful and well kept houses are tidy, there are plenty of
hotels and restaurants. The same year, 1524, Spanish had established
also the town of León, but it's more shabby and therefore
not so favoured by tourists than Granada. León was the capital from
1524 until 1857, when Managua - located between Granada and León -
became the capital. This was a compromise, because the liberal León and
conservative Granada were against each other. Even on such level, that
in 1855 the people of León asked the help of American William Walker.
Walker ruled Granada for a couple of years and set the town in flames
The story of
William Walker is unbelievable. In 1853, he marched to Mexico with his small
group and declared himself as the president of Baja California. When
Walker got the task from leonese, he didn't leave it just to Granada,
but he got himself elected as the president of Nicaragua. He instituted
slavery and declared English as the official language. Walker's next aim
was to conquest the whole Central America. It didn't take long when we
was running away. He was ingredible persistent: twice he surrended to US
Navy to avoid enemy, and twice he continued his efforts. Third time
Walker was captured by the British who gave him over to Honduras. He was
executed in 1860.
Top left: the town square is
dominated by the cathedral. On the background is the Mombacho
volcano (1345 m), where we made a trip. The vegetation zone in one
kilometre hight is called cloudforest. Not quite like rainforest, but
Bottom left: the houses in Granada looked like this before William
Walker burned the town. Reconstructed house, La Gran Francia, is
a classy hotel and restaurant.
San Juan de Sur, Nicaragua
The whole Nicaraguan coast is weatherwise similar than Tehuantepec. Wind
called Papagallo is connceted to Caribbean weather systems and wind
strengthens when blowing over the low land. However, the Papagallo area
is much wider than Tehuantec, about 200-300 miles from El Salvador to
northern Costa Rica. When there is a cold front on the Atlantic side,
papagallo winds are blowing strong. Advice is same than in Tehuantepec:
it's wise to keep close (about 5 miles) to shore.
We were ready to leave marina Puesta del Sol, but weather fax showed a
cold front coming, so we waited.
Marina Puesta del Sol was opened a year
and it's the only marina in Nicaragua.
Service is friendly and the place luxorious.
Marina employs about 100 people.
We had a pleasant evening with,
Roberto and Maria Laura, the owners of marina.
On Saturday, 12.2., the weather had
passed and we were leaving. Although we were heading to another Nicaraguan port,
all the three officials came to boat. They made a pile of papers and we paid 15
dollars to get a national zarpe - a cruising license. It was valid only 24 hours
and only for one destination, San Juan de Sur. (Clearing in to Nicaragua costed
29 dollars, 15 for the boat and 7 each person. That had to be paid in dollars,
country's own currency cordobas didn't do.)
On Friday we made a trip to El Viejo and...
...Chinandega, near towns.
First the wind was perfect,
10-15 knots, but a nasty swell coming towards told that there was
something else to expect. Soon the northeasterly started to gain force.
Again we did against the advice: didn't keep close to the shore, but
sailed with locked rudder so high up into the wind we could. That course
kept us 10-15 miles out of the land. Wind increased, and the sailing
started to be as wet as in Tehuantepec, but fortunately not quite as
bumpy. Enough, though, Auli was seasick. The speed was good and by the
sunrise at six o'clock, we had sailed 100 miles in 18 hours (5.6 knots
average). We had only 30 miles to go. But that 30 miles took 10 hours!!
San Juan de Sur was exactly there where it was blowing 30-40 knots. We
tacked and tacked... If we would have had an international zarpe, we
would have sailed to Costa Rica or even Panama. But San Juan de Sur was
where we were suppose to go, so there we sailed. Covered with salt, wet,
and muscles aching from balancing in the bouncing boat.
The wind didn't give up in the harbour, it was still blowing 25, gusting
35 knots. Horseshoe bay was full of boats, mainly local fishing vessels,
but also one sailyacht (US), one trimaran (UK) and one motoryacht
(Panama). We put 40 metres (130 feet) chain out and watched closely if
the anchor held. The bottom was good, no dragging, but it was unpleasant
to be in that wind among so many boats. We were tired and after a
chicken dinner ready for bed at 7 pm. Sleep wasn't very sound when
Kristiina was leaning and wind was howling. Auli was constantly worrying
if we are dragging or if the big motorboat in front of is coming on us.
Next day the officials came to boat to make their paperwork and then we
were ready to visit the town. San Juan de Sur (pop. 6000)
is favoured by locals as a holiday spot, as well as by tourists,
especially backpackers. On Monday two cruising ship visited, they were
smaller size however. The town is tidy and wealthy looking. Long sandy
beach is borded by restaurants and cafes. The village is full of
internet places, craft shops and hostels.
The next cold front is coming, so we cannot stay long. When we sail
around Cabo Elena (10º 50' N 86º W) in Costa Rica, the weather should
be lighter and proceeding is not so dependent on forecast. The next
nasty place is Cabo Mala (7º 30'N 80º W) in Panama.