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  • Day466

    I wanted to write about the 3 months we've just spent living and working in Leon as it's been so different from the rest of our trip. It's been an incredible experience and there have been highs (both literally & figuratively) and lows during which I've learnt so much about myself, which surprised me at my ripe old age!

    I have to say to start with I struggled, both with the hiking & the social side of being thrown in with a bunch of teenagers and early 20somethings. Much more so than Phil who reveled in both the physical challenge and the chance to act like a 20 year old again :) On my first hike I was with 2 guides Max & Job who were teaching me the ropes when I discovered to my horror (& probably theirs) that I was older than both of their combined ages... On my first Telica hike the guide training me, Soren, had just turned 19 and we had two 20 year old clients who liked to run marathons so unsurprisingly I was by far the slowest & was practically in tears during the steep section. On another memorable early hike a client was really struggling, so much so I took her bag but she suddenly fainted right in front of me she was unconscious for about a minute, which was one of the longest minutes of my life. I felt so alone & out of my depth and the responsibility of what we were doing really hit home. (It all ended ok, we got her down the volcano and into hospital where it turned out she had a kidney infection - I took her on another hike a couple of weeks later & she did brilliantly.) All in all I really wondered if I would be able to stick out the 3 months we had committed to do.

    However I persevered, became fitter and stopped worrying about speed or holding back groups. In fact I naturally preferred being the guide at the back of the group who had to help the clients who were struggling, it was so rewarding to get someone to push themselves and discover they could do so much more than they had imagined. I had one client who cried at the beginning because she didn't think she could do it but by the end was crying with joy as she was so proud of herself. I also had the pleasure of guiding my sister on our hikes, showing her the beautiful landscapes & amazing views we've been living with.

    As for the other guides they are some of the nicest most genuine people I've had the privilege to meet. They were initially a bit skeptical when they heard an 'older couple' were going to be guides but I have to say they got over our age differences much more quickly than I did. They were much better at rolling with the issues and annoyances which invariably came up which initially frustrated me but I grew to appreciate the attitude that we'd sort out anything that arose one way or another. "At Quetzaltrekkers we are very good problem solvers!" Miguel Canto guide 2017. I discovered some new bands (Glass Animals) and music genres (Reggaton) and we spent way too much time discussing possible GoT plot twists over way too many beers at Via Via. At our various parties I became the chief Mojito maker & learnt that syrup works amazingly well if you've run out of sugar (this twist on the classic cocktail was named the 'MojiJo').

    It has been a great confidence boost to find out that I could succeed in a totally different, physical work environment, learn to need less control & roll with whatever came my way whilst making so many new friends. Overall I'm really proud with myself, I did 12 overnight hikes & have climbed Cerro Negro countless times for volcano boarding. I found out that on the hikes I did in July I made over $3500 in profit going directly to underprivileged kids in and around Leon. Now it's time to move on, it's been emotional & I'm sad to say goodbye but satisfied in a job well done.
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  • Day453

    Guest Find Penguins Post – featuring Ali (Jo's sister)!

    As Jo and Phil have been busy working in Leon for the past two and a half months and I’ve been out to visit, I thought I ought to write a guest spot for their travel blog. My three weeks in Nicaragua have been characterised by volcanoes (which is the norm here!) and Caribbean Islands.

     The volcanoes began with a two day hike to El Hoyo with Quetzaltrekkers and Jo and Phil as the tour guides. And I have to tell you all here just how incredibly impressed I was with how fantastic they are in their volunteering role; I was particularly proud of my sister! Not only did she amaze me with her fitness and strength (everyone carries 8 litres of water each up the volcanoes as well as tents and food etc etc and Jo just skipped up. Even with my much lighter pack (still the 8 litres of water but not much else) I was having to stop every few minutes or so for a rest) but also her total professionalism, problem solving and ability to just take everything in her stride. When three of the clients discovered their tent didn’t have a fly sheet, Jo just instantly sorted things by putting the three girls in a big tent with me and she and Phil sleeping fly-less. She may have lay awake half the night waiting to be rained on but the clients would never have known she was anything but totally calm! Sadly, I didn’t get to sample their campfire cooking skills as I was recovering from a bit of ‘Nica-belly’ but I heard good things!

    I got to do a second hike with Jo and Phil guiding again a couple of days later, fortunately feeling totally well this time. Telica was amazing – you actually stand right at the edge of a crater and camp just a few 100 metres away! The sulphur and smoke even cleared for just long enough for us to see lava at the bottom while we waited for sunrise. To follow that with a breakfast of s’mores (the torrential rain the night before had meant no campfire so we cooked ‘em up in the morning instead) and a lovely hike back down the mountain was perfect.

    Happily for me, as volunteers, Jo and Phil get to take holiday so they knocked off for 10 days and we headed out to the Corn Islands. Proper tropical island paradise! For my last month at work, as inspiration to keep us all going until the end of term, we had a picture up on our wall of a hammock strung between two palm trees. On the Corn Islands, I spent a lot of time in, pretty much, exactly that picture! I’m looking forward to adding a photograph to the wall next to it to make my colleagues jealous. Phil’s written about what we did so I won’t say more than I loved the sea, the sand, the food, the people and the general laid-back lifestyle we enjoyed for 9 days. Bliss.

    I’m off home in a couple of days’ time and Jo and Phil have another week of hiking volcanoes before getting back in Elvis and continuing their epic journey. I feel really lucky to have been able to join them for this little bit of their adventure and really glad I got to see them thriving in their volunteer roles as Nicaraguan tour guides. Thank you so much for your hospitality and for entertaining me, Jo and Phil. Ali xx
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  • Day165

    As I write this I am sitting on a wind-chilled boat across Lake Nicaragua - but that's for the next blog post.

    So having crossed a fair few land borders now, I was naively underprepared for the shitstorm that they call the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border.

    After taking a public bus to Penas Blancas (border town in Costa Rica) I got to the border and had to pay $8 for the privilege of leaving the country, waiting two hours in a queue just to get my passport stamped to leave 🙄, a 1km walk over the border in the midday heat, another $12 to enter Nicaragua and then the swarm of taxi drivers and most likely being completely ripped off. Anyways, I made it to San Juan in the end and I couldn't of been happier.

    The hostel I was staying in (Surfing Donkey) was really social and I met some really cool people. That night we played beer pong and cards but it was relatively chilled because of the next day - Sunday fun day.

    Like Filthy Fridays, Sunday fun day is a bar crawl/ pool party and it was a big one. Very hungover the next day which was just a big slob day of eating too much and watching Netflix.

    The day after, my final day in San Juan, I went surfing with these two really lovely Dutch gals I met. I've never been surfing before and it was hard but SO much fun.

    The waves were quite brutal but with some practice I improved over the 2-hour surf lesson. I managed to stand up a fair few times for more than a couple of seconds, so I was pretty proud of myself (although I did accidentally kick the instructor in the head which was sort of hilarious but FML at the same time) definitely do it again in Central America.

    After we got some lunch and headed back to the town to catch a chicken bus (the first of many, I'm sure) to Rivas to get the ferry to Ometepe.
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  • Day168

    So here I am, on a wind-swept boat heading across Lake Nicaragua towards two volcanoes. Bienvenidos a Isla de Ometepe.

    Even though we left at around 3pm, it took us until probably around 9.30pm to reach our hostel - only a short distance away from San Juan del Sur. First lesson for Nicaraguan travel is that nothing moves fast here. Nada se mueve rápido aquí.

    Sofie and I had some dinner and headed to Little Morgan's - a party hostel on the island. We fell asleep in the taxi and really weren't feeling it when we arrived but lots of familiar faces from Surfing Donkey were there to greet us. We had some drinks but weren't sleep for ages because our room was right above the bar and the music was very loud.

    The next day after a bit of a lie-in (badly needed) we moved hostels to the Lazy Crab which is a lot more of a chilled out vibe.

    In the day we rented a scooter and drove around the island. This was so cool! We went to a natural springs pool which was really relaxing, then went for lunch and got some food from the supermarket.

    When we left the supermarket it started torrentially raining and we waited for ages for it to stop. When we thought it had stopped we got on the scooter to head back only for it to start raining again even harder which was an adventure. We were lucky enough though to see the top of Concepción (one of the two volcanoes) whilst driving past.

    In the evening we played pool (we were both terrible but this made it funny) and made dinner. I didn't sleep very well because I kept getting bitten and also roosters woke me up really early. I had to get to León the next day but there had been a power cut and so my phone had no charge.

    In the morning I got up early to catch a shuttle, boat, chicken bus, collectivo, and then tuk tuk to León. It took 7 hours but only cost £6.80 for the whole journey 😱 es muy muy muy barato.

    I'm now heading on a 16-hour shuttle to Antigua in Guatemala so I can get to Flores in time for me mates to come out. I've yet to decide whether I'm going to come back to Nicaragua yet but I'll keep you posted 😉 🇳🇮 hasta la próxima!
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  • Day168

    The briefest stop in León ft. Cuban style salsa lessons, unlimited rum and a wait for my shuttle to Guatemala at 1.30am😴

    On my road trip to Guatemala I got to see some of the most 'dangerous' countries in the world.

    In Honduras, apart from the potholes which were pretty, I got to see: school girls laughing; people selling Coca Cola on the side of the roads; people going about their daily lives, heading to work in 4x4s; the most beautiful green rolling hills which stretch for miles and are absolutely untouched.

    What's all the fuss about? This place is beautiful.

    El Salvador was a little rougher around the edges but it is comparable to any Asian town. Hey, they even had a burger king here. I definitely want to come back here if I have time.

    My road trip to Guatemala was like being a child at Christmas. I didn't want to sleep because I was way too excited and afraid I might miss out on seeing amazing stuff.

    That being said, I've decided what ruins Central America for me a bit is the American influences everywhere. I definitely prefer South America on the whole because it has its own unique culture, especially Bolivia and Peru.

    Anyways 18 hours late and a good nights sleep meant I was in Antigua, Guat.
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  • Day452

    After 2.5 months of hard graft (relatively speaking) we decided we needed a wee break. Ali, Jo's sister, has been with us for just over a week so it's been full on with the 2 main 2-day hikes, plus a lot of volcano boarding as it's definitely high season, and we are feeling it a bit. More likely we are feeling the after affects of Cormac's (one of the directors who has been here a year) party, complete with a sacrificial pig and more than a drop or two of rum!

    We've actually timed it pretty well as we left the day after the party and have 10 days of chillaxing before we get back in time for the next party, which strangely enough is also our leaving party as we only have another week and a half of hiking and there is a bit of a mass exidos with Sam, Max & Alivia all leaving within a week of each other. I do feel sorry for Job, Marielle & Wilfred, as they are the last guides standing as Miguel has also moved on and Dará & Rachel (our house mates) leave only a week or so after us. Fortunately the season will drop off with the school holidays finishing, but the remaining guides will still have their work cut out for them.

    Ali's presence was the perfect excuse to get out to the Corn Islands, 2 small dots of land perched far out from the eastern coast of Nicaragua. This place definitely has a very Caribbean feel, with lilted English being the predominant language, albeit interspersed with a smattering of Spanish.

    We took a small 16 seater plane out here, a day spent a couple of days exploring Large Corn before jumping in a little lancha and skipping across the waves to Little Corn. A week of bliss followed, with not much going on other than a lot to lazying around on idyllic beaches, scoffing copious amounts of seafood (lobster season has started :), and drinking a way too much cerveza & rom - but then again we are on holiday!

    We did a dive, but we have been spoilt by diving in some of the best spots around the world so even an inquisitive nurse shark didn't do it for us. The next day we did a snorkel trip and it blew the dive out of the water (sorry, bad pun). We woke a bunch of dozing sharks grabbing 40 winks on the sandy bottom and saw half a dozen magnificent eagle rays, along with amazing coral and some beautiful fish.

    As it lobster season I almost ate my own weight in seafood, but the culinary highlight was a 4 course extravaganza on the other side of the island (a 10 minute walk!). It was so good we visited twice in a row, and on our last night we sampled Rondon, a local delicacy made from coconut milk, lobster, conch, prawns and a whole fish - delicious.

    They are such sleepy and friendly little islands, and it was a perfect place to recharge the batteries before the final week of hiking and getting back on the road again. It was bliss to get away from the oppressive heat of León, the hottest city in Nicaragua, possibly Central America, and the gorgeous cooling ocean breezes. Hopefully it won't be long before we are back on the coast again.
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  • Day464

    About 6 weeks ago we woke Elvis from his hibernation, and he started up regular as clockwork. Unfortunately as soon as I lifted my foot from the accelerator to go into idle he spluttered to a stop. Really strange as I'd driven him only a few weeks before and he was fine.

    So after asking around with the drivers at work I found a mechanic who rocked up, listen to me describe the problem and immediately said the problem was with the fuel pump. So the next day we took the 2 hour bus to Managua, the capital, and spend the day hunting for a replacement. After several hours and many, many autopart shops we eventually find one, but they wanted $400 and 30 days for something I can buy off Amazon for under a 100 bucks.

    We then traipse back to the other side of town and the customs officials refuse to extend our 30 day temporary import licence :( After much pleading (in very disjointed Spanish) they finally understood we can't drive to the Costa Rican border and we eventually spoke to the man in charge. He was very nice to us (as tourists he explains) and says he will grant it but only after it's fixed and we can prove we are not blagging it. Not quite what we were hoping for but potentially we can use this to our advantage and avoid a fine we were expecting for overstaying.

    I ordered the part to my friends at work in the US and they ship it down, along with some old laptops they are kindly donating to some of our sponsorship kids (the humidity just kills laptops here). It arrives right before we head out to the Corn Islands on holiday, so when we get back we only have 10 days left before we are due to leave on our visas.

    I wasn't very comfortable with the first mechanic who took hours to do very little, so I went with a recommendation from my landlord. He installed the new fuel pump in super quick time, but then the engine didn't start and he very quickly ran out of ideas, before jumping on his bike and disappearing without even asking for any money!

    Luckily a nice dutch guy wanders over who has the same van, and he knows a good mechanic who worked on it. The next day he arrives and finds a blockage in the fuel line, but after getting it sorted the van still stalls - back to square one!! Fortunately he was a decent mechanic and soon found the actual problem and the next day Elvis Lives again!

    So we may have wasted a lot of time and a few hundred bucks on the new pump, but you have to look at it on the positive side and now we should avoid a problem with the fuel pump that had done 110,000 miles.

    A couple of days later we have finished at Quetzaltrekkers and packed the van up again. Next stop was back to customs in the capital Managua. I wasn't expecting this to go well but we rocked up and although we ended up paying another $30 we got our import extension and will avoid a nasty fine at the border.
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  • Day468

    After spending the night at a lovely place in Managua we picked up our paperwork without any bother, and then headed south to near Masaya, where we'd been 3 months previously. After negotiating a fairly hairy road we found another fantastic place to stop, complete with swimming pool overlooking a crater lake and the glow of a volcano in the background.

    When we'd filled up with petrol after leaving León the guy had brimmed it, resulting in petrol spilling all over the forecourt. We decided we'd best get this looked at before we headed into pricey Costa Rica, and I spent 2 hours under the van with several mechanics trying to get to fuel pump cap to sit tightly. It amazing how such a simple things can take hours, but we got it sorted although our fuel gauge is still stuck at full, but I wasn't going to ask them to take it off again!

    We drove a couple of hours on down to the coast, arriving just as a stunning sunset was bathing a glorious long white sand bay, and pulled up just by the side of the beach for the night. No facilities here so nothing else for it but to wash the grease off with an evening dip, followed by a mucho tasty fish tacos at the little shack down the road.

    It was amazing to wake up to the sound of waves (no air raid sirens here!) and have breakfast on the beach. I definitely feel super happy about about being back on the road again. We moved to a little official camp site and had a lazy day exploring the beach, including bathing in a lovely rock pool which occasionally got topped up by a big wave. In the evening we wandered over to the nice hotel on the outcrop between the bays and watched the big fight.

    The next day we walked a couple of miles down to the beach to meet Josh, Chantel & Maya's friend MK. We haven't seen them since Mexico where we spent a couple of weeks with them and it was really nice to catch up over a lazy lunch, before we had to head off to beat high tide when the rising estuary would cut us off.

    This section of the coast is unbelievable - probably the nicest since the Baja California which blew our minds at times. As much as we loved volunteering, it's so nice to be away from the humidity of León, back to a tranquilo lifestyle and chilling on the beach. Unfortunately our visa expires tomorrow so we can't hang around for as long as we would have liked.
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  • Day86

    We had an early morning departure time of 6am. I got to see the Macaw birds in the trees at one of our coffee stops. We travelled to the boarder crossing into Nicaragua!! It took a little bit of time but we made it through. After another bus we made it to the boat terminal and had a few beers waiting for the boat. We travelled to Ometepe island which is two volcanos in the middle of a lake. We had a few drinks while we watched the sunset on the island. We met the family who were were staying with for the homestay, Walter and his wife, who made us a yummy chicken, rice and beans for dinner. It was quite awkward as they couldn't speak English and Reena and my Spanish was very limited. The room we slept in had a mosquito net over the bed and only cold showers but I had a great night sleep as my ears blocked out any noise as they were still infected.Read more

  • Day87

    Breakfast with the family was of scrambled eggs, rice, beans and grilled banana with good strong coffee. I then had a full body massage from one of the ladies in town. Was better than I thought! I'd signed up to the half day tour which went to the beach at the lake. Wasn't too great, we had lunch there and a beer on the beach. After we went to a nearby springs which looked like a big pool. I had a coco loco (rum in a fresh coconut) and we watched the howler monkeys screaming and jumping from tree to tree. It started raining but was no problem as we were already in the water. Dinner tonight was at the community centre with chicken, rice, beans with a guava juice.Read more

You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Nicaragua, Nikaragua, ኒካራጓ, 니카라과, ニカラグア, ନିକାରାଗୁଆ, นิการากัว, นิคารากัว, ນິຄາລາກົວ, នីការ៉ាហ្គ័រ, ประเทศนิการากัว, สาธารณรัฐนิการากัว, i-Nicaragua, Nekaraguwa, Nicanahuac, Nicaragoa, Ni-ca-ra-goa, Ni-ca-ra-goa (Nicaragua), Nicaragua, Nicarágua, Nicaraguadukɔ, Nicaragwa, Nicearagua, Nikalakua, Nikaraagua, Nikaraaguwa, Nikaragoà, Nikāraguvā, Nikaraguvän, Nikaraguwa, Nikaraguwaa, Nikaragva, Níkaragva, Nikaragvo, Nikaragwa, Nikaraqua, Orílẹ́ède NIkaragua, República de Nicaragua, نیکاراگوآ, نیکاراگوا, نکاراگووا, نیکاراگوئه, نکاراګوا, نيكاراجوا, نيكاراغوا, ניקאראגואה, ניקרגואה, Νικαράγουα, Никарагва, Никарагуа, Никараква, Нікарагуа, Нікараґуа, ནི་ཀ་ར་གུ་ཨ།, Նիկարագուա, ნიკარაგუა, निकारगुवा, निकारागुआ, निकारागुवा, निकाराग्वे, નિકારાગુઆ, నికరాగువా, ನಿಕಾರಾಗುವಾ, நிகாரகுவா, നിക്കാരഗ്വ, নিকারাগুয়া, নিকারাগোয়া, နီကာရာဂွာ, නිකරගුවාව, ニカラグア共和国, 尼加拉瓜

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