Welcome to El Castillo……you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave

Firstly I’ve got to say it’s very peaceful right now, it’s 8 am and I’m sitting on a deck at the Hotel Victoria looking right over the Río San Juan with a splendid view of the fort of El Castillo on the hill that overlooks the town. I’ve gotten a decent shower for the first time in four days and slept in air conditioning, breakfast is included in our room price so things are looking pretty good.

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My view from the deck at Hotel Victoria, the Fort of El Castillo top left

The Rìo San Juan was one of the original locations looked at for a route between the Pacific and Carribean and was used for awhile as a major trade route. When the Panama Canal opened all major shipping operations moved there and the towns along the river went into decline. El Castillo has started to promote tourism however of the people still make their living fishing and doing other agricultural work.

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An old map from the museum display at the fort

Our boat ride here took just over three hours due to the boat stopping at whatever dock along the river that someone needed to get off at. These boats are like the buses of the river so to speak. When we arrived we were told that all the rooms in the town were full. All of them. It turns out we were in this very small town the same weekend as a binational festival between Nicaraugua and Costa Rica was taking place. To celebrate and endangered green parrot. Apparently 200 additional people flood the town until Sunday. We decided to try our luck and ask anyway and luckily found a place that had a room open……for one night. For $70. While still only under $20 pp it hurts the pocketbook knowing that the places could be had for less if the occupancy rate wasn’t at, oh, 100%! The two ladies who run the Hotel Victoria are very cool, very friendly and the place is clean, nice and has AC.

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A view of El Castilo from the river

So now our real dilemma begins, the ferry back to Ometepe leaves on Tuesday from San Carlos not on Monday like we thought which would get us to the island at midnight on Tuesday with only Wednesday to check things out before having to to roll directly to Managua the next morning. Our next option is to catch a flight from San Carlos to Managua and then from there perhaps head to León. There are however no available flights. On any of the days we need. So now it looks like we need to catch the 5 am boat from El Castillo to San Carlos and then catch a 6 hour chicken bus ride to Managua and then from there the plan is on to León for the last few days of the trip. It’s going to be another long day of travel ahead of us.

Luckily for us the ladies at our hotel talked to the place right next door and got us rooms for the night somehow, $16 a night for a private room with its own bathroom. Beats sleeping in a hammock like we had planned.

We spent the early park of the day walking around town and then went to the main landmark, the fort of El Castillo. The fort was constructed in 1675 to resist the pirate incursions that we’re taking place at the time. El Castillo was attacked several times while pirates were on the way to loot Granada. Both Sir Francis Drake and Captain Henry Morgan were said to have tried taking the town.

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La Fortaleza de El Castillo

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Harmony walking up the path to the fort

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Harms and I on the fort – El Castillo in the back

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El Río San Juan. – flowing from Lake Nicaragua to the Carribean

The fort itself is at the top of the hill overlooking the town and the river, unlike other forts we’ve seen on other trips not too much reconstructive work has been done here. It costs $2 entrance fee and $1 if you want to take pictures. I didn’t see any staff the entire time we were there, nor any other tourists. You can get a 360° view from the top of the town and river stretching in both directions.

We found a pepper bush growing at the top of the fort and being a pirate myself, liberated a pepper to share among the few of us who love the spice. This turned out to be kind of a bad idea and our lips were burning for about 15 minutes after biting into it.

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The mighty pepper bush

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What we are about to do, let no man repeat

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