Cyprus to Panama
Anita’s Diary – No. 5
….Introduction by Margaret Sheard – Anita Green and Malcolm Barber left North Cyprus to settle in Panama but they are also exploring many other South American countries. Maybe they will fall in love with another location and settle there but what a wonderful adventure to be free and able to do this. We hope to receive many more reviews and accounts of Anita and Mal’s experiences in the future and learn about where they eventually decide to make their home.
By Anita Green….
I have found it difficult to put into words, or even pictures, the life that is lived in Panama and now I am trying to sum up Nicaragua after just 2 weeks there.
What I will say is that it seems no matter where I decide to go, people tell me I shouldn’t. When we moved to the TRNC everyone in the UK were horrified and informed us of various factors that should stop us: We would be shot by the army, we would lose our property to Greek Cypriots, we would lose our property to banks, we would be scammed and so forth and so forth. Obviously, we were not shot by the army, we have not lost our property to Greek Cypriots or anyone else, but it is proving difficult to sell it and we were certainly taken to the cleaners by builders. But nothing life threatening and a learning curve.
When we were moving to Panama, again the doom-sayers told us of drugs, gangs, violence and that was just the beginning. Yes there are all these things, but then they are also in many countries in the world, including the UK. On the whole, Panamanians are too busy partying to bother with any of that.
And so to our trip to Nicaragua. We were told yet again, we shouldn’t bother going. It’s poorer than Panama, it has more crime, the roads are bad, etc, etc. Yet again, we ignored all this, we know from experience an awful lot of things said are ignorance or hype.
So we arrived at Managua airport and I was ready for a really third world experience. There was a free shuttle from the airport to our first hotel (not something you expect in the third world I think). On the short journey, a number of things leaped out at me. Firstly, instead of the American road system in Panama, it has a much more European feel to it. There are proper roundabouts and you really could pretty much be driving in France, or Spain etc. Next was that the roads seemed to be in very good repair (OK so Managua is the capital, but then so is Lefkosa in TRNC and the roads aren’t necessarily great). It was a short journey of probably only about 10 minutes, but you knew that although it sort of felt like Europe it wasn’t. There were numerous beggars weaving among traffic at lights and also people selling things. Nicaragua is a country of contrasts.
Our first hotel in Managua was very nice, much like a dated Premier Inn, but with a really nice pool. The staff were wonderful and would do absolutely anything for us. The difference perhaps is that nothing was obviously open, like the bar, so we had to ask, but that was all we had to do. They also mostly spoke some English and really wanted to learn more.
The following morning, we had a shuttle from Managua to San Juan Del Sur, booked by our American friends that we were going to stay with. It was booked for 10 am. We decided that we would check out at 9am and sit in the lobby to wait. No sooner had we checked out and sat down, than our driver arrived almost an hour early! The trip to San Juan Del Sur took about 1½ hours and was a chance to see the countryside en route. Again the roads were in excellent condition. The countryside was mainly cattle farms and ranches. Horses and cows were tethered at the side of the road (the roads tend to be raised a few feet, which give a wide gulley for the animals and I suppose stop flooding in the rainy season). The volcano was a wonderful sight as we drove along and we also went along Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. Another thing that stood out was the transport. There were yellow school bus type buses and Panamanian style Red Devils (painted buses), also tuk tuks, (Chinese style), masses of bicycles, horse drawn carts and even carts pulled by oxen.
Eventually we reached San Juan Del Sur and the Villas di Palermo. At the security gate Walter and Cindy were waiting to greet us. It was wonderful to see them again after about 3 years. Our accommodation, that they had originally booked for us to join them in, had let them down, but after a couple of other unacceptable places, they had been moved to Villas di Palermo, which was wonderful. It was a small gated community with a terrific pool and a restaurant. It sat on a hillside and our villa, 2 bed, 2 bath, with large living area, kitchen and dining, was about half way up. It was a very steep walk up and own each time, but at least it kept us fit. The terrace had a sea view and lovely breeze to cool us down. We spent a week with Walter and Cindy, mainly we walked to town each day to shop and have lunch and then back to cool off in the pool. We talked, laughed and they taught us to play Sequence and Cindy and I beat the boys in virtually every game. Also Walter loves to cook and concoct dishes for us, so we had some interesting meals at the villa.
San Juan del Sur is a beautiful spot. It is a laid back surfer type town, but with more amenities than the surfer locations in Panama. It is a very quaint little town on the beach and has some really good restaurants. The week flew past and it was soon time to move on to Granada. So with great sadness to be leaving Walter and Cindy, but great anticipation for Granada we took our shuttle.
The hotel we had booked for Granada, had great reviews on Trip Adviser and looked lovely in the photos, but was actually a disappointment as it was actually pretty much a hostel. The rooms opened onto an open walkway between reception and the garden and only had slat windows and flimsy curtains to cut us off from the people and noise. However, Granada itself is something to behold. A city of Colonial houses with tranquil inner courtyard gardens. Magnificent cathedral and churches and even an enormous and elaborate and beautiful cemetery, where apparently 9 presidents are buried, although we only found one. It also has some great restaurants.
It is very much a city that you walk around and in the evening the main tourist roads are closed to traffic. Again there is quite a contrast in that there are children begging in all the restaurants and bars, along with people trying to sell everything from cashews to sunglasses. Unlike a lot of countries though a polite ‘no gracias’ and they would move on.
We took one organised trip, whilst we were there, to Las Isletas. We were picked up at our hotel and driven to Lake Nicaragua. Then a boat took us on a tour of the small islands. Our guide was very knowledgeable and filled us in on the history of Nicaragua and also put the people’s point of view about the impending canal being built. He informed us that this beautiful part of the lake would have to be drained and that people would be out of work, due to fishing and lake tours being a prime means of earning a living. The islands are quite breathtaking and the majority are owned by the super wealthy. One island even has a helicopter pad for their owners to fly from Managua. Another beautiful house on an island is owned by rich Italians, who have never even stayed there!! only the caretaker gets to appreciate it.
The cathedral and churches were stunning, but spoilt by the tourists (mainly American/Canadian), who showed no respect for where they were. They would be inappropriately dressed, talk loudly, and even eat and drink in them. The worst though was the young American couple who had her posing like a supermodel in aisle up to the altar! People really should learn to respect other cultures.
After 4 nights in Granada, we got another shuttle (again early), to drive to Managua again for our final 2 nights. Just before leaving Granada we received a message from the guy who had sorted our transport to and from Panama airport to say that we would not be picked up on the day we got back, because it was in the middle of the 4 day carnival. Rapidly, we did a rethink and I booked us into the Riande Aeropuerto hotel for 2 nights.
In Managua, we stayed at the Barcelo hotel. Usual chain style, conference hotel but with a gorgeous pool. Unfortunately our time at the pool on the first afternoon was cut short, as they were setting up for a Valentine’s dinner in the evening. On our one full day, we decided to walk to Lake Managua, which could be seen in the distance from the hotel. We asked reception how long it would take and if they had a map. Their reaction was comical, they nearly had heart failure at the very idea. No, no, they said you need to take a taxi, it would take 2 hours to walk there, unthinkable. As usual, we ignored this, took the map and walked. I find that walking around, especially when people say you shouldn’t, gives you a better idea of the realities. So we walked from our nice district of Managua and kept on going. We knew from the map, that if we kept going vaguely straight we would get to the Lake somewhere and then we would be able to find signs for the cathedral etc, or so we hoped. It was in fact a long hike, it took about 1½ hours to get to the cathedral, but en route, we found the main shopping mall, various interesting looking restaurants and bars and towards the end, right by the Lake, we ended up in the poorer district. We got some strange looks walking through this area, I guess no foreigners ever went there, they would all get dropped by taxi at the tourist attraction. Once out the other side of this area, we were at the cathedral, it is old and damaged and derelict, but they are in the process of restoring it. The square outside is also a park and has Olympic style flames, for the presidents, also the national theatre and the palace. Being Sunday, it is a day for families and relaxing for the Nicaraguans, who, unlike Panamanians, seem to work very hard all week and then relax on Sunday, whereas in Panama, it is hard to see where one holiday and fiesta begin or end. So we sat for a while with some water in the square, watching the people and listening to the music, before heading back to the main road to catch a taxi back to the hotel and to cool off in the pool, and relax in the hammocks with a nice cold pina colada.
The following day, we were taken by shuttle back to the airport. Managua airport is sort of like Ercan (or as it was before being done up recently). The main difference is that Managua airport is in the middle of the city and Ercan is out in the countryside. So we took the short flight back to Panama and the free shuttle to the Riande to stay our final 2 nights, so that we could be picked up to go home. Where else in the world do you have to book a hotel for 2 nights, because you can’t get home because people are partying?!
So we are back in Gorgona. The carnival ended but, as this is Panama, we are starting another fiesta this weekend, so in essence the party never ended, a bit like a DFS furniture sale, they say it’s coming to an end, but another one starts just as it finishes.