Articles tagged with "city"
And that, to all intents and purposes, was the end of our journey. We didn’t do much else of interest, spending our final day in Iceland wandering around Reykjavík. We got the cheapest souvenirs we could find (a pack of cards), bought a newspaper at horrific expense, took a trip up the spire of the Hallgrímskirkja, and went to see the Volcano Show. This is a two-hour film containing footage of all the eruptions in Iceland since 1947, and it was very impressive. We had seen all the volcanoes in the film, so we felt that we had done well in our four weeks here.
The final morning was a sad occasion. I didn’t want to leave and I was consumed by premature nostalgia as we left the youth hostel on an overcast, grey morning, and took a bus to the BSÍ terminal. From there we went to the Blue Lagoon, a pool of effluent from a geothermal power station which you can swim in, and relaxed for three hours. This was a fine way to end our time in Iceland, and we certainly felt that we deserved a rest. It had been a long, at times arduous, but extremely rewarding trip, and we felt very proud that we had seen all that we set out to see.
A quick, but expensive, taxi ride took us to Keflavík International Airport, where we bought some duty-free Brennivín, the Icelandic national drink, and then got on the plane home. On arrival at Heathrow, we bought ourselves a pint of bitter and a cigar each, and then we went our separate ways, into a dark but warm London evening.
Munich to Paris
Rainy day on Montmartre
It wasn’t raining but the streets were wet when we arrived in the historic town of Granada. Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Córdoba, the Spanish conquistador of Nicaragua, it is the oldest city in Nicaragua. The city of León, in the north of the country, was founded in the same year. Granada was wealthy and conservative; León, the capital, was poor and liberal. There was intense rivalry between them, which erupted into civil war many times. This eventually led to the founding of Managua, half way between the two, as a compromise capital in 1857.
The city didn’t look like it had changed much in the last hundred years. The buildings were all colonial (though after the economic hardships of the last twenty years, many looked somewhat the worse for wear), and horses and carts formed the majority of the traffic. We spent a lot of time while we were there walking around the streets of this characterful town.
But the main thing we wanted to do while we were here was visit Volcán Masaya. This active volcano is just up the road from Granada, and it is an easy climb (apparently) to the top from the town of Masaya. The volcano began erupting most recently in December last year, and lava flows can often be seen deep in the crater. We got up early on our first morning in Granada to go to Masaya, but we found it was raining heavily. We had not seen any newspapers at all on Ometepe Island, but they were plentiful here, and we discovered now what had been causing all the rain – Hurricane Keith was sitting off the east coast and lashing the whole country with rain.
So we waited in the hotel for the rain to stop, which it did at about 2pm. It was too late in the day to go to Masaya, so we explored Granada instead. We walked down to the shores of Lago Nicaragua, which must look quite appealing when it is sunny, but with the brooding skies and wet beach it looked distinctly uninviting. We saw more relics of the revolution on our walk around town – a statue of Hernández de Córdoba had a metal plaque on it mentioning Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and his name had been chiselled off. We also saw some intensive campaigning for the impending mayoral elections, with campaign trucks driving around blaring out slogans, and banners and poster up everywhere proclaiming the various candidates. At one point as we walked down a deserted street, a Sandinista campaing truck slowly drove by, playing ‘We Are The Champions’. I thought it was quite poignant.
Through the volcanoes
We decided then to abandon all hope of climbing up Volcán Masaya and move on instead. Our next destination was Nicaragua’s other old city, León, and to get there we needed to get a bus to Managua, make our way across Managua, and get another bus across the outside. We had heard horror stories about Managua from many different people, and were not too keen to see what it had to offer. I was guarding my pack with extreme paranoia as we got off the bus at Managua’s central market. As we expected, there were plenty of taxis about, so we got a taxi across the city. It was a sunny and hot day, and the city didn’t actually look that horrible. It seemed a bit concrete and soulless, but then vast swathes of it were levelled by a huge earthquake in 1972.
We made it to the Mercado Bóer bus stop without being robbed or assaulted, and, still guarding our belongings fiercely, we boarded the bus to León. We had a great run up there as the sun set behind the chain of volcanoes which form a spine along Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, arriving just after the sun set.
In the morning we headed for León Viejo (Old León). León was originally founded on the shores of Lago Managua, in the shadow of Volcán Momotombo, and for the next 86 years was the capital of the colonial district of Nicaragua (part of what was then called the Captaincy General of Guatemala). In 1610, however, it was destroyed by an eruption of Momotombo, and the city was moved to its present location. The ruins of the original city can still be seen, and it was to here that we headed.
After a typical Nicaraguan bus journey involving crowds of people selling goods ranging from soft drinks and snacks to disposable razors and hair clips, and a bone-shaking run down some very badly maintained roads, we arrived at the village of Puerto Momotombo. It was quite a surreal place, with just a few houses, and no roads to speak of, just dusty tracks. There were very few locals about, and it felt like we were the first outsiders to visit the place in years. We walked down to the shores of Lago de Managua to have a look around.
It was a strange place down there. The black sand beach was covered in straggly plants, and there were a few stumps of long-dead trees on the shore and in the lake. Across the water, the towering red cone of Momotombo was steaming gently, and in the distance we could see a village woman washing clothes in the lake water. The only noise was the buzzing of the insects. We sat for a while, appreciating the tranquillity and solitude, before heading back up the track to the village, and looking for the ruins.
Where there are no roads, no signs and no people, it is quite hard to find what you want to see. We searched for some time for León Viejo, before finding someone, asking the way, and discovering that we were right outside the gate. For the entry fee of about 75p, we got a guided tour of the site, which was great. I’d only been learning Spanish for a few weeks but I felt like I understood a decent amount of what we were being told. The ruins were not really much to look at – just the foundations of a few large buildings, the rest completely obliterated. But the history was fascinating, and it was incredible to imagine that this was one of the earliest settlements in the New World.
What made the place really impressive was the views. From a small hill in the middle of the unfortunate city, there was a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. This north western corner of Nicaragua is dominated by the Cordillera de los Maribios, a range of volcanoes which frequently erupt (there had been at least six eruptions in the five years before we were there), and from the hill, we could see six volcanoes, three of which were steaming. This formed the stunning backdrop to the forested plains and Lago de Managua.
We signed a guest book on the way out. The entry above ours was from almost a month before.
The next day it was time to brave our second border crossing. While we were in Granada, the news had been that a bridge on the road to the border at Guasaule had been washed away. This was indeed the case, and the bridge was still down, but by now the flood waters had subsided, and the bus was able to ford the river. It was a very slow journey, road conditions being pretty bad after the rains, but we made it to the border in reasonable time.
Here we did not have a fun time. We were only going to be in Honduras for a short time, and we knew what border banks were like, so we decided to brave the money-changers. Unfortunately, they had a habit of quoting a good rate, then counting out money at a bad rate. You can then argue all you like, but they’ll deny ever having said ’14 Lempiras per dollar’, and we had to settle for 13, which was at least still better than the bank rate.
Then we got a lift across the border in some bicycle/rickshaw type of things. As we got in, I asked how much it would be, and the driver said a dollar. However, by the time we reached the other side, this had gone up to ten dollars. This was clearly ridiculous, but unfortunately, the driver had a large group of friends on his side. In the face of this there was little we could do but hand over some money and get on the way.
I had a pretty low opinion of Hondurans at this point, but things soon got better as we got on a bus to Choluteca. It was fast and large, and infinitely more comfortable than Nicaraguan buses, which are exclusively old yellow American schoolbuses. The bus from Choluteca to the capital, Tegucigalpa, was equally luxurious, and though we once again arrived in a big city after dark, we got a taxi to hotel and again avoided mishap.
When the Spanish conquered Guatemala, they founded their first capital in 1527 at a site known today as Ciudad Vieja (Old City). Situated on the fertile flanks of the huge but extinct Volcán Agua, it seemed like an ideal place for a city. It lasted for just 14 years, though, before disaster struck. After weeks of heavy rains, the lake at the summit of the mountain breached the crater walls. A huge torrent of water and rock swept down the mountainside and ploughed through the city, completely obliterating it. A new capital was founded two years later, further from the volcano, and (so it was hoped) out of danger.
This city, known in full as La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemala, thrived as the capital for 230 years, before disaster again struck. A huge earthquake struck the region, and the city was all but flattened. The present capital was established at Guatemala City, and the old capital, now known as La Antigua Guatemala (The Old Guatemala), no longer an important place, was very slowly repopulated.
Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes. Volcán Agua towers above the city to the south, while Volcán Acatenango and Volcán Fuego stand slightly further off to the west. Volcán Fuego is one of Central America’s most active volcanoes, and had been erupting every few weeks for many years, while slightly further away from Antigua, Volcán Pacaya is another very active volcano, which made the news here in January after a particularly large eruption.
We wanted to climb Pacaya and one of the three big volcanoes, but on our first day it was overcast and much colder here in the highlands than it had been at sea level. The clouds hung low, and we could only see the stumps of the three volcanoes, so we spent the first day just exploring the town. It was a beautiful town, with its colonial architecture and lively markets.
The next day was also grey, but we wanted to do something, so we decided to climb Cerro de la Cruz. This is a hill to the north of the town which was once notorious for armed robberies. Very few people ever went there, because if you did you were almost without fail relieved of all your belongings. However, these days, the Antigua police accompany anyone who wants to go up the hill. They are well armed, and it costs nothing, so we took advantage of this service and went up the hill. Despite the clouds it was a good view of the city nestled between the volcanoes, and we took many photographs.
The end of everything
The day I got back we had nothing in particular planned. Mike and Aasta, with whom we had climbed Volcán San Pedro, were in town, and me, Moh, Mike and Mark, a Canadian who we’d met, decided to go for a bike ride. Having hired bikes, we set off down dusty roads, through small villages, past fields and towards the volcanoes. It was mostly downhill, and we cycled for miles before stopping for a drink in a spot with a fabulous view. The clouds had lifted, and we could see the tops of all three volcanoes, with Fuego steaming copiously. Just as we began the uphill run from here back to Antigua, though, my chain snapped. I had no option but to get the bus back to town with my bike going on the roof. The others got back sweating and exhausted some hours later.
We had met a local called Gustavo while we were in Antigua. He was an anthropologist, and knew many remote Mayan sites well. He had offered to take us to Mixco Viejo, some ruins a couple of hours drive from Antigua, to which he said we would most likely be the first British visitors. That was probably an exaggeration but they were definitely not well known. But I got struck down with a nasty illness the next day, and I could not go to Mixco Viejo. I was forced to spend my penultimate day in Guatemala in bed recovering.
I was pretty much recovered by the next day, our last in Guatemala. We spent the day buying some final souvenirs – coffee, an evil saint effigy, and a Che Guevara T-shirt for me – and getting everything in order for our trip home. In the evening we met up with Mike and Aasta, and also Will and Chad, also veterans of the San Pedro climb, and had a night out on the town to celebrate the end of our journey. We couldn’t have a very large one, though, because we had to get up at 4.30am to catch our flight. We went back to our hostel at midnight and packed, and though our backpacks were insanely huge and heavy, we didn’t mind too much – we were nearly home.
In the morning we made our way to the airport and had a safe and uneventful flight home. I was sad to be leaving, as we’d had an incredible time. In an unexpected development, my Mum, Dad, auntie, brother and sister came to meet me at Gatwick. It was a wonderful end to a fantastic trip.
From the big city to the bush
The story of this trip really begins on August 11th 1999. There was a total solar eclipse of the sun happening, and the track was to cross the United Kingdom. I’d been looking forward to this for years, and on the morning of the eclipse I was in position to see it. The weather was clear and sunny, and anticipation was high. Sadly, though, as the morning progressed, the cloud thickened, and the sun slowly disappeared from view. When totality began the much-hyped wonders of the Bailie’s Beads, diamond ring and corona came and went unseen.
Later that evening, as the world began to wobble a bit through the bottom of my whiskey glass, I said to those around me ‘Well, I’m just going to have to go to Africa for the next one’. At least, I tried to say that. I may not have succeeded.
But the fact remained that the next chance I would have to see a total solar eclipse would be in southern Africa on June 21st, 2001. Some research revealed that west was best, with a longer eclipse and better weather, but west meant war as well, as the eclipse touched Africa first in conflict-ridden Angola. But next in line was much safer Zambia. A look at the map revealed a town called Zambezi right in the middle of the eclipse path. I decided that this sounded adventurous enough, and the plans were laid. And thus I found myself, on June 14th 2001, flying towards Lusaka.
At this stage of the trip I was still not at all sure it was possible to reach Zambezi. I’d heard vague word of the legendary ‘Time Bus’ between Solwezi and Zambezi, but whether I’d get there with days to spare, or find myself sat on my rucksack in the bush watching a partial eclipse, I wasn’t sure. I was travelling with my friend John for the first two weeks, and we’d arranged to stay at a backpacker’s place in Lusaka. Wade, the owner, picked us up at the airport, and as we drove into Lusaka, we told him of our plans. Half-expecting him to say “Are you insane? Do you have any idea where you are?”, we were extremely relieved when he told us they sounded good.
When we arrived at the Chachacha backpackers, we found it disturbingly full of neo-hippies, who were flooding into Zambia for a festival. They were all looking forward to 10 days of banging trance, and most had no intention of seeing anything of Zambia other than the festival site. I found them all a bit depressing, and we were keen to get out into the real Zambia, so we made plans to leave early the next morning for Solwezi, on the way to Zambezi.
The bus was supposed to be leaving at 9.30am, and by 8.30am we had bought our tickets and were on board. At 9am the engine started and we were ready to go. At 9.20am the engine stalled and my heart sank. It turned out we needed more petrol, and after getting the bus to a petrol station and filling up, we got on the way at 11am. Quite quickly we were out of Lusaka and into the endless Zambian bush. After a brief stop in the copper-mining town of Kabwe, we were out of the eclipse path and into risky territory. If we got stuck somewhere now, there was a big chance of missing the eclipse altogether.
The bush rolled by, mesmerically, and I slept for a lot of the journey. Zambia is a huge country, three times the size of the UK, and yet has a population smaller than London’s. For mile upon eye-popping mile, the countryside was absolutely flat, with featureless scrubby forest growing in red sandy soil.
Mid-afternoon, I was woken very suddenly when the bus encountered a bridge with a ramp leading onto it, at some speed. The bus leapt into the air, action movie style, crashing down a couple of seconds later, shedding bits of bodywork as we careered to a halt a few hundred metres down the road. Some police happened to have been around and gave the bus driver a fine. The guys from the bus spent a few minutes collecting the bits of bodywork from the road and the bush, and we drove on. About 20 minutes later a window fell out, and we thought the bus might crumble and collapse before we got to Solwezi, but nothing else broke. A few somewhat breezy hours later we arrived in Solwezi, just after sunset. With a Norwegian guy called Rune who we’d met on the bus, we found our way to a hotel.