Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



So taking off where I last left this story, I had just crossed into Nicaragua.

After crossing the border I boarded a bus which skirted along the shores of lake Nicaragua, dominated in the centre by the island of Omatepe (Two Mountains) which is made of two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas linked together by an isthmus. After a short while I was in Rivas where I got a cab to San Jorge where the ferries go to the island. I had several hours to wait until the ferry would come so I read my Nicaragua handbook getting some background to the country and trying to work out where about I would visit. One of the points made by the book was that the people in Nicaragua are very friendly, hospitable and it is a nation of poets, When I finally boarded the ferry and climbed to the higher deck for the lovely views of the island in front and a spectacular sunset over San Jorge behind I was joined by Achilles and Daniel who are islanders who run the local government there. They told me about the island and its history, the fact that no one can remember the last crime that happened there and that it is generally regarded as an oasis of peace having kept itself uninvolved during the countries revolutions and civil war. This was as they bought me beer, and then as though Achilles had read my guide book and decided that as I had been in the country for several hours it was about time someone fulfilled the predetermined stereotype of a Nicaraguan when he decided to recite a poem by Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Naruda called “La Palabra” (The Word) which I tried my best to understand, but as my Spanish is not as fluent as I would like and poetry is a particularly difficult thing to translate I told Achilles that I thought it was an excellent poem that perfectly captured the moment as he had told me it would and that Naruda was undoubtedly one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. I have actually visited his house in Valparaiso Chile which is now a museum, which helped convince Achilles that I was indeed a great fan.

Upon arrival Achilles and Daniel told me they would allow me to have my own time to savour my arrival on the island as the ferry docked so I feigned interest in my arrival to what may have been the promised land, given there feelings towards it, as I watched local kids using the ferry as a giant diving platform, leaping into the lake.

I had arranged somewhere to stay whilst in San Jorge and there was transport there to meet me and take me to San Jose del Sur halfway round the island. Apparently Omatepe is the largest island in a freshwater lake and Concepcion is the second most perfect volcanic cone in the world. This seems like the sort of jockeying for kudos that takes place the world over with local sights declared the eighth wonder of the world, the tallest pygmy, the largest mountain discovered by a guy called John on a Thursday in September. At the end of the day there is always some ranking that people can try and find, quite why they do is another question. It isn’t as though people are only going to visit these places if they aren’t classified. Perhaps the local tourist authority imagines conversations along the lines of:
“Looks like a lovely island Steve, quite large as well, and what with the sun setting behind that near perfect cone with just a wisp of cloud that almost appears to be coming from the crater, lets go there it must be great”.
“Right I can see what your saying Trevor, but I’ve checked the guide book and apparently there’s an island in a lake near Chernobyl that is a little bit larger with an even more conical volcano, basically this ones not even got a ranking for islands in the shape of a figure eight”.
“I see your point Steve, and I thank you for pointing out the inferiority of the place and now that you mention it, it probably isn’t very nice anyway, lets pick up some radiation suits and go to Russia instead”.
It seems quite farfetched but there are obviously paranoid tourist officials worldwide who believe that these things will happen so therefore try to make things statistically appealing as well as aesthetically so. Maybe the same thing could be applied to religions to when advertising for new recruits “Catholicism killed more people than the plague, or any other religion in history” or “Buddhism because the majority of Hollywood action movie stars believe it’s the one true path”.

Anyway I have digressed quite a bit, back to Omatepe. I spent a few days there and had a nice relaxed time mostly taking it easy and chatting with a Canadian couple staying at the same place I was. The owner of the place was a gregarious fellow and simply getting hold of a soft drink would often involve a forty-five minute conversation, part way through which the drink would appear. On the day I decided to leave we were involved in one of these chats when he asked me what I did for a living back home, deciding it was easiest to tell him I’m a truck driver rather than go through a lengthy explanation in Spanish about my different sources of income. He then appeared quite startled as it was obviously not the answer he wanted. He asked me whether I was a father, or at least that’s what I thought he was asking (in Spanish - Padre) but what he actually was asking was whether I was a priest, which he told me he thought I had the manner and look of. I found this rather amusing and told him I wasn’t which he still didn’t seem convinced by, so I mentioned I was Jewish, hoping to clear any confusion. He thought I was joking which I then told him I wasn’t which he couldn’t understand as he told “Jews are really bad”, I told him it wasn’t that bad and he realised I was serious and then gave me a fixed accusatory look and pointed at me whilst telling me I killed Jesus. Then I had to explain in Spanish that Jesus was Jewish, that I didn’t kill him and neither did the Jews, but it was the Romans. After a little while largely unconvinced I made a retreat and found it interesting to see how there attitude towards me changed so drastically with this little bit of information. After that time when I asked for something they immediately got it there was no pleasantry and friendly banter just straight business, in Iran I never got a negative reaction to my religion when people asked me what it was, I had to go to an island in a lake in Nicaragua to find real ingrained prejudice, not a bad time to leave then. The boat back to San Jorge did not have any one reciting poetry to me, but did have a couple of Mormons and a guy from a church in Seattle who was very proud of the orphanage he regularly visited in Granada where he gave them five hundred dollars each time he went, sounded like a scam to me as apparently one guy from the same church brought one hundred and twenty people from his church at five hundred bucks a pop. That is sixty thousand dollars to look after ninety Nicaraguan street kids, which is allegedly not enough to keep them in rice and beans for a year. Sixty thousand dollars should be enough to keep half of Managua in rice and beans for a year, anyway he seemed happy enough and one of the kids from the orphanage gave me a lecture on letting Jesus in as I was incomplete without him, I thought it best not to mention my religious persuasion and just smiled inanely and thanked him for his concern.

I had forgotten to go to San Juan del Sur on the way up to Rivas and the island so backtracked south about forty five minutes. San Juan del Sur is a beach town just up the road from Playa La Flor a very important nesting site for Olive Ridley turtles and it being nesting season I thought it an opportunity to good to miss. The night I was supposed to go off to see them the heavens opened and the rain meant that the road to La Flor would be impassable so I was forced to stay in town where I thought I would find some liquid refreshment and some good conversation.

I went to a bar here run by Eric, a German ex-patriot. There were several other ex-pats and travellers there and in no time the conversation was in full flow, particularly when a good humoured couple (Darren and Natasha) from Worcester arrived. I was curious about whether people from such a structured society as is found in the west could truly settle somewhere like Nicaragua where the people generally have no concept of time or structure. I discussed with Eric whether or not he could leave his Germanic nature behind, he said he could but not in his home. He insisted he was as relaxed as the locals about pretty much everything. A little later in the evening when we were talking about a place I forgot the name of in this town he pulled out a map he had produced at home on his computer with all the names of shops, hotels, restaurants, bars etc. labelled on it so he could work out the name of the place we were talking about. This convinced me that he had left all his Teutonic behaviour back in Germany.

As I was chatting with Darren and Natasha a girl from Miami was chatting to another American at the bar. It was difficult not to notice this girl not because she was an attractive slim olive skinned thing who I originally thought to be a local, but because she decided to constantly rub her arse and crotch over my knee as I was chatting with the Worcester folk. This was obviously a bit of a distraction for me, as I wasn’t sure if she was using my knee the way a dog uses an armchair scratch a particularly irritating bit they can’t reach or because she felt like giving me a bit of a lap-dance whilst chatting to the yank with the big moustache. I didn’t get a chance to find out as not once in the half an hour or more that this lasted did she turn round or pause too much in the conversation she was having with moustache man. When she was done chatting with him she simply left, leaving me with the very British discomfort of having a lithe young thing rub herself all over my leg without having had the opportunity for some introductions. It did provide an amusing conversation piece though.

After another day relaxing, the Turtle tour was cancelled again, but only at the last minute which meant I did not have time to make alternative arrangements. It was also time enough spent in San Juan del Sur so next day I got a bus to Granada.

Granada has a pleasant, although compact, colonial centre and the place where I was staying was particularly social which meant that several of us ended up going out for quite a big night and the partying in the towns main square did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm.

From Granada I then got on a plane to the Corn Islands, a couple of small islands in the Caribbean. The entire Caribbean side of Nicaragua was for a time under British and more lately British and US control, before being given to Nicaragua in the treaty of Spain. As a result many of the people on the islands and along that coast speak an English Creole, often in addition to Spanish. Many of the inhabitants came from the West Indies as labourers on banana plantations and the like. This makes the area very Caribbean, not only by location but also language and character.

When I arrived in Big Corn I immediately took a dislike to the look of the place and got on a boat to The Little Island. Bouncing over seven kilometres of stormy seas in a little boat with not enough ballast, finally arrived just before dusk, checked into a place to stay and met a nice couple also from England. The owners of the place I stayed in also owned the dive shop and Woz and Ellie who run the dive shop joined us for dinner when we discussed diving options. Then I had admired the view from my Cabana of a beautiful moonlit night over the reef before having an early night. I woke up for a beautiful sunrise and appreciated why they say that this is how the Caribbean used to be. The Little Island is only slightly developed for tourism, the only transport on the island except boats are a few push bikes and the general pace of life is very relaxed and the people friendly.

The diving I did over the next few days was very good and I got to see quite a range of fish including a number of eagle rays, many nurse sharks (about ten on one dive), barracuda, hogfish, cowfish, brittle stars, different crabs, lobster, and much, much more. On the night dive it was just Woz and I and the things there were very nice and mostly different to what was on show during the day. The phosphorescence was particularly stunning, when Woz and I turned off our torches the phosphorescence just hung in the water, some of it just spots of white light other bits in clusters. It felt like being in space, I have dived with phosphorescence before but it has always required agitation before it glowed, this stuff just shone. As it was at the end of the dive we swam back to the boat with lights off merely swimming by the light of the algae, quite a surreal experience that had the feeling of swimming through the milky way, all in all a great dive.

After five days of diving and relaxing on The Little Island I got the boat back to Big Corn, a horrendously incompetent captain, a crap boat and running out of fuel in the middle of the sea, did not make for a pleasant experience and also meant we were delayed a bit. I got back just in time to get on the plane back to Managua from where I got a bus straight up to Leon.

Leon is another pleasant colonial city with the largest cathedral in Central America. It is also where the countries leading intellectuals, scholars and poets have come from including Ruben Dario, described by Naruda as “The greatest poet in the Spanish language”. I visited the Ruben Dario museum which wasn’t particularly interesting and had a look around the colonial churches and buildings.

Now I’m still in Leon but am planning on getting a bus to the border with Honduras imminently.



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