Nicaragua, Land of Lakes and Volcanos

My week long adventure to Nicaragua was a much needed vacation after moving to Colombia. It was a trip planned prior to my move so a quick work trip back to Panama was great to settle some additional personal stuff before checking out some of the beautiful gems found in lesser known Nicaragua.

My trip allowed me to see my Nica friend Ivonne even if just for the day. She picked me up from the airport to start the perfect combo of a day. We explored local food, a volcano, an old city, and a fort all within the general area of Managua (capital)! As an added benefit to traveling with a local, I learned about city and country history! You think maybe we could have done better or seen more in 1 day? 😉

The trip did start off rough though with a few driving violations (first was at the airport) but in true Latin fashion it was quickly resolved…ja

The next day involved more volcanos this time to inactive Mombacho Volcano which is now rainforest and over looks the old city of Granda and Lake Nicaragua. Staying in Granada (solo now) I took the local bus to the entrance then a moto taxi to the gate. At the gate there are 2 option 15$ 4×4 ride up on the paved but steep 5km road or walk for $5. You know what I did. It was really steep…some parts I walked up backwards and it took about 2 hrs but I enjoyed it. At the top I walked the rim enjoying views and fauna all around. The rim plus view points was about 30 min walk along a tree trunk cut path (very cool design) going back down I decided to run because I didn’t want to walk forever. I stopped halfway down at a coffee plantation, got a drink and local coffee while admiring the antique plantation home before continuing down the steep road this time past the gate and to the main road. Much quicker this way, 30 min in total (from the gate to road it was a more gentle run) but of course my legs were feeling it for days after with the lactic acid hatred!

I didn´t stop with the volcano…After reaching town of course I toured Granada on foot, well, until I just didn’t want to walk anymore. Ha ha I literally just wanted a ride back to town from the lake but saw a carriage and said why not do a tour. In the end, I felt bad for doing this because the horses were so mistreated. My last words to the driver was give this horse a carrot, he looks very hungry. 😦 Even still I negotiated a normally $20 ride down to $13 and the carriage wasn´t even a pretty one (it had ads for a local cellphone provider instead of the pretty colored ones). In general, the horses in Nicaragua look very similar (over worked) and carriages use main roads as if they are cars, even in Managua they transit with the cars – poor horses. :/ I guess about 10 years ago Bogota had the same problem on their streets…

Finally I got some food and then off to the town of Masaya to meet again with Ivonne and her friends for the folkloric or traditional Halloween parade Aguizotes. It started at 9pm and is full of local masks or face painted dead or demon characters. There is no typical Halloween costumes and there are 1000s of people who spray fire, walk all the streets and sing songs with bands. It all ends at the main Central Park (or plaza mayor) with a huge party. We walked the route, drank beer, took blurry fotos, and took it all in. A good cultural experience and very different.

In the morning I awoke undecided. I wanted to go to the Island of Ometepe but a flyer I had said a ferry left at 9:30 and not again til 4 pm. A whole wasted day if I didn’t get there. I was planning to take a bus for the 1.5/2 hour ride but realized I wouldn’t make it so I gave up momentarily until the taxi idea came to me. This would work. So I walked to get money and find a taxi, I was told it’s max 35$ and luckily the first taxi said $15 – I was like wow I don’t even need to negotiate. Away we went flying to the Port of Jorge and made it in 1 hour and 6 min. Missing the supposed ferry…but upon arrival they told us 10:30 next ferry…nooo and yes (because I was hungry). Turns out  there are many Ferries all day and I could have taken my time…and the bus. When we arrived the taxi driver said $50 – I was like what? You said $15 there is a huge difference in the words for 15 and 50 so there is no way I heard it wrong – though that’s what he claimed. Quince and cincuenta…he complained so I paid 30 instead, my max. Ivonne later told me that this is typical there that you should ask several times the price because it almost always changes…I think you should record it! Jaja well anyway, finally on my way to Ometepe.

Ometepe is an island of 2 volcanos in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. 1 active volcano and one not so much, the popular thing to do is hike them. A nice 5 km incline that is between 8-12 hours. I debated doing it because a guide I met said I should wait if my legs ache. I waited an extra day and meanwhile debated which to climb. Upon arrival (there are 2 ports) I took a bus from Moyogalpa to Santa Cruz – 1 hour – I got off early at the intersection to the turnoff and waited for a ride. A truck full of people came, we paid a few $ and arrived to town. I was told there are 2 popular hostals, the party one on the lake and the hippie one on the hill. I got off at the party 1, but the only beds available were above the bar, hell no! So I went to the hippie place down the street and up the hill. It was very nice. Sore legs hated me for the hill but it was cool. I got a cabin above some hammocks for $12 and ate all healthy for a few days. In the end all I paid for three nights, food and snacks was less than $50. It was a permaculture farm…Herbs and greens. I tried a salad, it was yumm and full of greens I’ve never tried before. Though the best restaurant was actually on the way up to the hostel or the pizza nights at this hostel (tue and sat). My first night happened to be pizza night i was somehow named volunteer, but cool because my pizza was free and also my beers 🙂 and all I did was cut and serve pizza for a few hours. Great start huh? :). Btw the sunset was amazing and there were horses on the beach.

The second day on the island I rented a bike, $5, though don’t expect much with these bikes, they are too cheap. Either way I rented unknowingly a ****** bike to go around the inactive volcano, some 35km. It was all great till the first hill. The ****** bike didn’t even get me halfway. I had to walk. The second hill I changed gears, much better, not, as halfway it jumped off the low gear into high.. 62% up the hill. I walked. Third hill now with plan of attack, switch to low gear and hold it, a pain in the butt, but it worked. Now I understand why on the whole island you see people on bikes walking the damn hills. No one knows that low gear works. I probably passed many people on the hills who were amazed I didn’t walk…minus the first 2 hills where I was a wimp or normal. It was a gorgeous day, I jumped in the lake a few times and the volcanos were both cloudless finally! The ride took 5 hours with all my stops at the lake, fotos with the volcanos and colorful butterflies :D…so it could have been 4 hours or 6 if either I went nonstop or never learned how to attack the hills. Starving upon return I got food in town and headed to the other hostel for a sunset swim in the lake. Beer in Hand, relaxed, amazingly warm water – yes – get in the murky lake it’s worth it!!! Though there are tales of sharks brought from the Chinese or something crazy like that, it didn’t stop me. Probably the best most relaxing sunset ever…middle of the lake with both volcanos in view, gorgeous. I even went to the lookout to finish the viewing…excellent!

Next up was a volcano hike. I was undecided on that bike ride but having cycled for hours and looking at the volcanos all day I picked the active volcano, because why not. I’ve never hiked an active one, it was more symmetrical, higher, and sounded good….Volcan Concepción it was! My guide Alexis and I no más went up through farms, jungle, volcanic rock fields, shorter large plants and flowers, just rocks and clouds and then the end…the crater.

From the top we didn’t see much but we did have some spots through the clouds to see the lake, island, and into the crater. The volcano is usually cloud covered. The crater was interesting you could hear the contraction and expansion of pressure, kind of trippy considering it could erupt, shake or cave in at anytime and there was no quick way down. I asked Alexis what he’d do if it erupted, he’d stay because he’d probably be killed by a rock avalanche farther down. True and interesting but I guess it’s the best response and at least it’s somewhere he loves so it wouldn’t be so horrible. Either way we sat up there for quite some time watching clouds and having his traditional and local Flor de Caña shot. 🙂

I liked the hike a lot, I didn’t think it was overly hard just a steeper but normal hike in the Northwest. My favorite part being the rock hits bottom test…it went for quite a way and you could tell it hit lots of rocks along the way down.

After hiking I ate and showered quickly as the plan was to go to el ojo de agua with Alexis on his moto. Ojo is a crystal clear cold water tourist stop. It’s pretty, best around 12-3 when it’s hot out, friendly tourists like to meet others here, and if you want a pool it’s about 100m long! I however arrived at 4 pm without goggles…cold but still nice, no swimming, but met some friendly tourists. It closes at 5 pm so we headed to Altagracia, the next town over, for gas (although we lost the gas key on the way and had to put the gas in water bottles), oops. We also stopped at the Central Park, it was awesome. I had seen it that morning and wanted photos of the lamps…which have indian sculptures, what I did not see was how cool the park was…it had volcano sculptures and boat benches. We had lots of silly fun :D!!

My last full day I grabbed a taxi to the ferry with some other hostel guests who were headed the same direction. We were on our way to San Juan del Sur, about 30 min from the port in taxi. I tried to get to a beach off the beaten path but the taxi dropped me off at the turnoff instead of in town. Now starving and tired of waiting for the damn bus for 1 hour I taxied to town. Ate upon arriving at the market…fish!!! In the end I decided to stay in town so I went to look for a hostel. Of course I picked one up the hill with only 1 person there. From there I went to town to rent a bike which was a complete failure. The only place was near the market and they only rented until 5 pm aka before sunset (the whole idea behind the ride). Besides that there were shuttles that take you but now I’d missed all the last ones, fail, no Maderas Beach for me.:( So instead I walked around the tiny town, changed to jump in the waves and had and ice cream at sunset. Turns out it´s one of the best beaches to jump in the waves! They were big waves but harmless…no tumble and crush. So I had lots of fun playing alone among the waves…well one local kid was also having a blast next to me. At sunset I took photos instead of running but was then jealous of those on their sunset run. I spent my last night in Nicaragua chilling in a hammock at the beach until I was bored and darkness fell upon the beach and treating myself to some seafood at the fanciest restaurant in town.

In the morning I walked to catch the 1st bus to Managua…3 hours later I arrived at a busy market and waited for Ivonne to find me :). My flight was at 3, so I had a few hours. To finish my trip as a true Nica I hungout with Ivonne chatting over a local breakfast, and then some local coffee, bought some gifts and a book by a local author, El Pais Bajo Mi Piel, which so far has been excellent!

*Additional Central American blogs on Belize and Panama.

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