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The big one, Nicaragua

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So here it goes...It has been a while. So last thing I must have written in the blog must have been Costa Rica. Seeing as this was around 3 weeks ago, forgive me if my memory is a bit hazy...

So after the thoroughly disappointing Costa Rica, we were all hoping to find some cheap and good places in Nicaragua. It turns out I have found some of the best places of this trip so far in this country. Although it is a small country it is filled with many desirable qualities; namely, beaches, volcanoes, and lots of culture.

 

The first port of call in Nicaragua was the tourism centre of San Juan Del Sur.  From reading the guidebooks it sounded like an overcrowded surfer town but in fact I found it very laid back and peaceful in my 5 or 6 days there.  The rest of the guys left to go stay on Playa Madera, a beach just to the north, so I had a good few days there just relaxing. I stayed in a hammock in a great hostel called hostel Esperanza, run by a crazy young Canadian guy. While drinking in the hostel he let us in on some amazing stories from getting shot at then  having a police escort all through colon in panama to his huge motorcycle crash in Canada. He also told me how he killed 4 coral snakes in the backyard of the hostel, which was definitely not nice to think about while sleeping in the hammock in that same backyard. Within a day or 2 at the hostel I had a good friend in Bruno, an argentine guy. Bruno, me, and Scott, another Canadian guy, went on a day trip to playa Madera and then had a great few nights out in San Juan. Memorably the night with a 6 dollar cover, then open bar till 1. Needless to say, we drank a lot… In the end Bruno hooking up with the gorgeous American hippie chick staying at our hostel, Ruby.

 

On another trip up to Playa Madera; luckily on the bus this time and avoiding the killer walk, I spent some time out on the waves. Playa Madera was definitely a surfer’s paradise, but that was the problem, so many surfers! Gnarly sets, and sketch pipes etc, it was hard to deal with all the ridiculous lingo. I was just content to surf for a few hours, in the end not catching anything for more than a second or two.  So back in San Juan Del Sur and a final night out at the crab shack and iguanas, I headed up to Masaya in search of my first Nicaraguan volcano.

 

Arriving in Masaya and booking into the hotel seemed the weirdest thing; the whole place was just deserted. There was no one to hang out with, no one to hear which places were best in town, so I ended up just having a bad takeaway dinner and watching TV all evening. In the morning, still yet to see my first white person in Masaya, I took a buys just out of town and visited the volcano Masaya national park. It this park it turns out there are two volcanoes, volcano Masaya then volcano Nindiri. Nindiri is slightly smaller, but has a very active crater. After an easy walk up a paved road I got to the crater and saw the sulphorous gases pouring out. From the lookout point when the wind changed direction it was too much to bear and I was coughing with all the sulphur. And it smelled very bad trying to eat lunch there so I gave up that idea. I then went around the extinct crater of Vulcan Masaya. This had steep sides into a grown over, vegetated and grassy crater floor. Looking back out towards Masaya I could see the damage of the last lava flows, in 1772 notably. While I was wondering around I also stumbled on some volcanologist doing some studies on the volcano. The older guy had actually done his masters at UCL which I thought was funny. Apparently he works normally in a university in Vancouver but he gets students on exchanges and they come down to Nicaragua to monitor the volcanoes.  So just the walk back remained and luckily, after pitying me and my lack of money for even a guide or a lift, a managed to hitch a ride with a ranger back down the hill. Although I swear perching on the back of his motorbike was more uncomfortable than walking, I was glad to get out of the brutal sun.

 

Back in Masaya, I briefly checked out the market which was raved about in the guide book. It turned out to be the biggest tourist trap so I quickly packed my things and headed off to Leon. Unfortunately for me I took the annoying chicken buses and so was dropped off at totally the wrong side of Managua so I had to walk around, then take a bus, then walk a bit more to some random street while I waited for another chicken bus to Leon.  After standing around in this sketchy neighborhood, I was so glad to see the bus to Leon I just hopped on it not waiting for an express one. This was a mistake.  It must have taken around 3 hours to get to Leon, having stopped almost every 100 metres, and taking some of the worst roads. So arriving in Leon I just wanted in the mood to haggle then be ripped off by a taxi so I walked all the way into the centre, around a 25 minute walk it turned out.

 

At my hostel in Leon that evening I finally met properly the guy that was a spitting image of Will James. I had seen him briefly in Bocas del Toro and san Juan Del Sur. Joey it turned out was a nice guy from America and we ended up going out for a bit with him and some finish girls later that evening. Earlier in the day I also met another America, Maggie, at Bigfoot hostel. She and 2 of her friends were planning to do a walk that they had been told about by a guide at another hostel. So in the morning we set out at 530 in the morning up to a small town and started our 2 day walk. The plan was to walk Las Pilas and El Hoyo volcanoes on the first day, then camp on el Hoyo and the next day go to the Asososca lagoon the next day then back to Leon.  So me, Maggie, Usha and Dominique, headed out across the fields then around the side of Cerro Negro. Luckily for us there was a rangers station so we could rest for a bit, have some breakfast, (mine considering of a raw carrot), and most importantly fill our water bottles up again. We then headed up Las Pilas volcano, around 1000 metres high. For the most part this one was an easy walk although the last little incline was very steep so rather tiring. But the view from the top was good and also in the trees near the summit were lots of little monkeys. Whenever I came and faced the tree they would start howling and be very defensive. After a little while at the top we headed down then continued on the walk around the side to the next volcano of the day, el Hoyo. This one had an active vent which was pouring out smoke, then 2 other extinct craters. Although this wasn’t a difficult walk we had to go along way around to the other side of the volcano to the camp site, luckily it being shown by a group from quetzal trekkers, so we knew we were in the right place. After dumping the bags we headed up to the summit to watch the sunset; turning out to be one of the best ive ever seen. To see the smoking crater on San Cristobal on the horizon then the views of the other volcanoes, and out to the lake, was just amazing. The effort of the days walking was forgotten as the sun sunk over the horizon. Check out the pictures to see what I’m talking about, although of course they don’t do it justice.  After a few marshmallows and a brief time around the fire, we went back to our sleeping area. Without a roll mat it was just like sleeping on concrete and the wind really picked up which made it freezing cold all of a sudden. All in all I barely mustered a few hours of sleep as I constantly woke up shivering. The next day, immediately pouring sweat again we headed down to Asososca lagoon. Although it was so refreshing to swim here, there were hundreds of sand flies around which went everywhere and made eating lunch very annoying. Not that the town day old pasta in a plastic bag I had was much of a lunch. Back in Leon we had some drinks to celebrate returning to civilization when I happened to stumble upon Rosie, Sherwin and Danny.

 

I Rosie and Sherwin spent the next few days in Leon checking the touristy stops. These included a Sandinista revolution museum, the cathedral, and an art gallery set in a grand old colonial home. The art gallery had an eclectic range of south and Central American art from early religious paintings, to contempory sculptors. Some of the stuff was good, a lot was bad, but it was definitely worth the trip, even just to see the home it was set in. it must had had around 5 courtyards in the house which was split on town sides of a road. The museum of the revolution consisted on one room with many photos and newspaper clippings. We got shown around the museum by a man who had fought during the revolution in the FSLN in Leon, when he was 15 years old. He showed us the type of weapons that they used, and explained a lot of the stories up on the wall. At the end of the tour he showed us up to the roof of the building and to a great view of the cathedral and central Leon.  

 

After a relaxing time in Bigfoot hostel, and their happy hour mojitos, Rosie and I headed up to the far northern corner of Nicaragua to climb up the Consiguina volcano. Again, without a guide, and this turned out to be a mistake. Setting out from the very small rural town of Potosi, we headed up the mountain armed with little apart from a compass and my newly acquired 10 dollar tent.  After maybe 2 hours of walking we were suddenly encountered by a dead end so had to retrace our steps for about 45 minutes and take a different path up the mountain. The main issue was that there was no main path or signs that we could see. Also we couldn’t even see the volcano, the forest was so think that every possible viewpoint was covered in treed and scrub so we could never really get our bearings. After around 5 hours of uphill walking we eventually found our way to the crater. The Consiguina volcano used to be the biggest in Nicaragua, rising to 3,000 metres. Although around 300 years ago it erupted so violently that the height was reduced to its current 850 metres. The result left a huge crater lake which was eerily steep sided. We headed round to the summit but had to return around 10m metres from the top as the sun was setting and we needed to get round to our campsite for the site. By the time we made it back we had been walking for around 7 hours and were knackered.  Although fitting two of us in the tent wasn’t really an option so we ended up half in, half out of the tent and so we were both ravaged by mosquitoes. The walk down the next morning seemed to be the easy part as we had already found the route up, but with minimal water, less than a litre each), it turned out to be very dangerous. Having been walking for around an hour downhill we realized we were hopelessly lost. I suggested hacking through the forest in the correct direction according to the compass but this proved to be a fruitless endeavor, only serving to get us more lost. Eventually we had to head basically all the way back up the volcano to near where we started just to go all the way down a different route. After around 5 hours walking in the heat we had around 300mls of water left each we were so relieved to stumble upon some people. A school group had gone up the volcano and we found their truck with drivers waiting to take them home. After getting back to civilization we had a 3 litre bottle of Pepsi in around 5 minutes we were so dehydrated. Next time, we will definitely do it with a guide!

 

Back in Leon Wrighty and Danny both turned up from the beach and so we were back to our full size group, with the addition of Evan, a Canadian Sherwin met a few w days earlier. On the Saturday we had signed up for volcano boarding 0on Cerro Negro.  With our guides we headed out in the back of their pick up to the 800 metre active volcano which is covered in black volcanic ash. After a 30 minute walk up the side, then putting on our fetching orange jumpsuits we set off sledging down the volcano. On the first run I lent too far forward so the bottom of my board got broken very quickly meaning i couldn’t go very fast at all. But Sherwin and Wrighty streaked down the hill very quickley. Then after a second climb, we set off for the second ride. Wrighty and Sherwin were going for a repeat of the first race so I set off around 20 seconds after them, although they both struggles to get any real lace. Meanwhile I didn’t break once, going full speed, eventually overtaking Wrighty and Sherwin before making it to the bottom. Wrighty, reduced to  a walking pace as I had been on my first run, decided to pick up his board and run down rather than come last in the race. So from the bottom the scene was rather amusing to see Wrighty run from behind and overtake Sherwin, finally collapsing at the bottom smoking with ash. Again, check out the photos to see what I’m talking about. So after a really tasty tortilla lunch we headed back into Leon and lounged around in the tiny pool at the hostel.

 

Later that night we all thought we would check out the cock fight that was happening on the outskirts of Leon. Not that we were in to chicken fighting but we thought we would do it just for the experience. In the end it turned out to be quite a lot of fun. Although the roosters were fighting for around 10 minutes their blades were very short so they didn’t end of killing each other. Not quit4e anyway. The main bad thing was that they didn’t stop the fight when the roosters couldn’t even stand, not too enjoyable to watch.

After a few days rest it was back to the mountains with another trek organized by Quetzal trekkers. Me Rosie and Wrighty, then around 8 Canadian guys set out to climb Telica volcano. The walk was relatively easy although the sun was unbearable at some points, especially when trying to carry up a huge lump of wood up the steepest part of the volcano for the fire that evening. After seeing the big smoking crater of Telica we headed down and set up camp. Compared to El Hoyo this was much more enjoyable area to camp in, with grass and completely sheltered from the wind.  After a great sunset then a really tasty spaghetti dinner, we headed up to crater once again to see if we could lava in the dark of night. My first peek overt the edge of the volcano revealed a large ring of reddish glowing lava, 150 metres below. Although obscured by the gases coming out it was clear to see and an amazing sight. Just due to that moment it was my favorite volcano so far on this trip. To watch that lava and hear the almost jet engine like sound of the gasses and lava down below was unforgettable. Later round the fire we played a game the Canadians knew called sexual fantasies, a very funny but slightly messed up game, but not in the way you might think. That night, after roasting some marshmallows round the fire, I got one of the best night’s sleep in days. The temperature was just perfect, such a difference than the stuffy rooms at Bigfoot hostel. The next day’s walk down to San Jacinto was relatively short, although the very antisocial Belgian guides got half of the group lost. While we waited nick, our lead guide, had to go around looking for the other group. The walk finished we checked out the mud holes briefly at San Jacinto then stumbled in, covered in dust, to a restaurant for lunch.

 

Back in Leon again we headed straight to the bus station and headed north to the town of Estelí. The town had been an area of strong FSLN resistance during the revolution. The town was nice enough and we found a good hostel for only 2 dollars 50 each. That night we had some drinks with some local girls and ended up walking one of them home but then found myself in the middle of nowhere at around 2 in the morning by myself. Luckily I found my way onto the main road and so got back to the hostel, as the next day was going to be busy. IN the morning we went out to this cigar factory, which Sherwin had visited the previous day. The tour consisted of seeing the tobacco in its raw state, then seeing them selecting the best leaves for certain parts of the cigars. Then the rolling room was the last place. While in the store room we lit up around 3 cigars so were passing those round, then I ended up walking around the rest of the factory with one of the cigars, not exactly a perfect hangover cure. In the factory shop, were any cigar cost a dollar, we all made a purchase or town then headed back into town.

 

That afternoon we headed out to a waterfall which sounded great in the guidebook. After initially not finding the right one we found our way to the top of the waterfall and it was big. At around 40 metres I definitely felt a bit of vertigo looking right over the edge at the fall. After walking round we swam to the waterfall although the water was pretty chilly so we didn’t stay in for too long. That night I personally was so tired from all the days activities I crashed out very early, around 9 or 10 o clock, after briefly seeing Maggie again and hanging out at her hostel. In the morning we headed out to Somoto to visit the famous Somoto Canyon. Having hired a guide we walked around the water’s edge for a while hopping over rocks until the water got a bit deeper, then we swam along the stream at the bottom of sheer rock faces.  Towards the end of the route there was a jump that they suggested doing which we all did, apart from Wrighty. He thought it would be a good idea to climb further up, so around 10 metres higher he jumped off into the deep water below.  Not wanting to be outdone me Rosie and Sherwin then decided we could also do the jump from that higher point. Wrighty went fist and was fine. Then it was my turn… I stayed through a few countdowns from others then just ending up shouting out my countdown, “one..two…three…fuck!!!!”. From the moment I hit the water I was winded as the impact of the water hit my chest and throat. Having swum to the side I then watched Rosie and Sherwin jump in, although Rosie had a bit of a problem. Not in a great position once she hit the water, we could immediately tell she was in a lot of pain. After waiting a while in the water we helped her along the river to a place where she could get out easily then sent the guide to fetch us a rubber ring to help her to the end of the route. After a lot of pain and wincing me and Wrighty helped her back to the ranger’s station. It turned out later, that she has actually fractured one of the vertebras in her back. So not good news for her, or for us. Luckily I just read two books on mountaineering so am sufficiently inspired by Sherpa’s stories of lifting huge weights. As now one of us always carries ours and Rosie’s bags while she recovers. We are now all in Granada at the bearded monkey hostel. Sao far we have just gone out at night, and eaten really; sheriwn having found a great El Salvadorian restaurant.

 

So that is the story so far of Nicaragua, it is coming up to Semana Santa soon which should a lot of fun here. It will be a shame to leave Nicaragua as I have had some great times here so far. But more travels await, keep posted for the next blog update!



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