The Rio Sabalos (Tarpon River) is a tributary of Rio San Juan.  A tarpon is a large air-breathing fish and in appearance has a rather bad-tempered countenance.   I have yet to meet one, however, I met some Texans who were on a tarpon-fishing-mission which suggests that they do actually exist.

dugout canoe



The River splits Sabalos in two and Sabalos Lodge where I am staying is away from the main part of the village.

If the hotel isn’t prepared to ferry you (which they are) you need to get a dugout canoe for two cordobas.

Last time I was in a dugout canoe I fell out.



What with the bus journey and the beasties of yesterday I decide to have a nothing day.  Nothing I do worse than nothing.


I can’t really remember the last time I had a proper meal but I stick to the principle that a huge breakfast and a very early dinner is the way to go. I won’t say the Nicaraguan food is revolting but … there is a limit as to how charitable I can be about beans, rice and fried bananas.   I haven’t been terribly impressed by the river fish either.  Flabby, grey and slightly bitter.



I spend the first half of the day squirming around in the hammock and wishing it was as comfortable as it looks.  Some of the hazards of hammocks are as follows: fear of falling out, motion sickness, claustrophobia, leg/arm/foot hyperextension.

Trying to look like this

Actually look more like this

This activity is complimented by watching the three fat Germans.  They are wallowing in the river on rubber tyres attached to ropes.  I wonder if they will encounter an alligator.  I am told they find Europeans tasty.  Last year I brought home a parasite embedded in my arm which caused the Hospital for Tropical Diseases a lot of interest until they lost my notes and the parasite disappeared.  The German ladies avoid me.

fat ladies

I organize my day for tomorrow and plan my evening with military precision.  The bugs drive me out of the cabin at dusk and the bats drive me out of the reception area about 8 p.m.  I go to bed in total darkness and in the safety of my mosquito net read on my kindle which has a back light. The bugs know they have met their match and don’t come near me.  “Lucky we have bats to eat the bugs” says Ismael.  Definitely a glass half full sort of guy.


Glorious Night!  Delicious pancakes for breakfast and off I go at 7.30 a.m. to learn about cacao.  Julio is my guide and Brian (of all names) is the boat driver.  Julio is a first-rate guide.  He tells you things and then he tests you.  Sometimes he tests you and then corrects you or congratulates you.

Julio with Montezuma oropendula nest

We meander down the river spotting sloth, alligator, various birds and all the beautiful lush vegetation on the rio Sabalo.  Arrive at the cacao finca which is owned by a German.  Walking round Is extremely bitey and very muddy but on the basis I know nothing about cacao it is pretty interesting.  The jefe (not the German) who shows us round is monosyllabic. I am stressing about giving him a tip as I still haven’t worked out the value of the Cordoba so he doesn’t get one.

Cacao Plant

Then, back in the boat to the village of Sabalos where we go to the factory where the cacao is treated.  Not really a factory.  A dear girl, who is very nervous and earnest explains all the processes and at the end we get to eat the chocolate (horrible) and drink it (quite nice).  I give her a day’s wages as a tip I worked out later.  Good! She deserves it!

Julio and I then go to the hotel Sabalo which is much cheaper than here and has proper rooms but none of the magic.  This is better.  However, some advantages of being in the town.  Nice girl at the bar and we have a good chat.  My Spanish is awful but I have my moments.


I give Norma an English lesson.  She works in the kitchen and is the wife of the guy at reception - Ismael.  Spent an hour and a half saying things like:

Managua is the capital of Nicaragua

London is the capital of England

And she inevitably says:

Enjand is capital of Lungdun


Very sweet girl, with a nervous tick and inability to pronounce the word “would”.  I think the American accent might be easier for her.


I speak with some nice Dutch people who have been in Costa Rica.  They also came by bus and there was a truck broken down on the road which meant they had to get off the bus, walk round the truck and wait for another bus to collect them.  Their journey was worse than mine.  Taxis refused to take them as the road was so awful so I made the right decision.  Just been picked up by a Danish man who asked me to join him at dinner!  Ha! Ha! The benefits of travelling solo!


I decided to pay Norma’s “university” fees for a month ($45) Perhaps a better teacher than I can get her to pronounce “would” correctly.  We all go to Sabalos together for me to get the boat to El Castillo and Norma to go to hospital to get her tick attended to.  I love these people. I’m deeply happy.

2 Responses to “2018 Nicaragua 2: The River Less Travelled”


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