We knew the boat would leave on time so we made sure to be at the port early in the morning. The boat ride back to San Carlos was once more a trip full of birds and beautiful views of the river. We saw again how this boat functions as a bus in the water, picking up and dropping off people along the road. When we arrived at San Carlos three hours later, we had plenty of time before the boat to Solentiname would leave. This meant we could check our e-mail, wander around in San Carlos, and prepare for the Solentiname visit.
When we discussed our planned visit to the island archipelago with someone from San Carlos, she highly recommended bringing shorts and t-shirts, because the temperature would be even higher than in San Carlos. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring shorts so I had to find some shorts in San Carlos. A tiny store nearby offered in addition to office supplies and food also some clothes for sale. Thanks to this great product diversification I was able to find large, bright yellow shorts that I could even try on in a tiny dressing room filled with boxes and supplies. We left for Solentiname not much later.
The Solentiname archipelago consists of 36 islands, located 15 kilometers from San Carlos. Several of these islands can be seen from the mainland. As we came closer, we could see more and more of the natural beauty of the area. All of the islands are covered with trees and some of them house large bird colonies. We got off at the largest island of the archipelago, called Mancarrón, where we would stay for the next couple of days. This is one of the few inhabited islands, and it is famous for its primitive handicrafts. In fact, this is a specialty of the whole archipelago, introduced in the 1960’s by Ernesto Cardenal.
After we settled in the spacious and comfortable Mancarrun Hotel, we visited a neighboring village to see the artisans at work. Most of the people in this village – called El Refugio – are dedicated to the creation of handicrafts using a special type of very light wood. This wood is cut, carpeted, polished, and painted by the same artisan or artisan family, operating from their home. We observed the people at work on their patio while they explained how the process of creating handicrafts works. During a conversation with one of the artisans, I did not notice that their pet monkey that was tied up to a tree had sufficient freedom to reach the place where I stood, and it was quite a surprise when the White Face Monkey suddenly jumped on my arm and climbed to my head. After the people who saw this happen (including Róger) had a good laugh, the monkey was removed from my head and we continued our village tour.
At one of the houses, handicrafts from many different artisans in the village are brought together and offered for sale. Another option to buy handicrafts is to visit the artisans and buy from them directly. While we wandered through the tranquil village we spoke to several inhabitants, and we found out there were a couple hiking possibilities on the island, and when we returned to the hotel we discussed the possibilities and arranged a guide for the next day.
Mancarrón Island – as well as the other inhabited islands of the Solentiname Archipelago – is relatively undeveloped, still lacking electricity, telephone lines, and even paved roads. There are no cars on any of the islands, and most people move around either by foot or by boat (for larger distances or to visit other islands). The Mancarrun Hotel is one of the few places on the island with electricity, provided by solar panels during the day and a generator in the evening, which is obviously very convenient. However, when the generator is turned off at night and there is no more light in the area, the darkness creates another magnificent natural setting. Frogs in all sizes as well as noisy crickets and other insects filled the air with sound while we observed thousands and thousands of stars in the dark sky. And without any Chayules. Not bad.