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Curious what backpackers do in Nicaragua? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Day22

    Und ab zum nächsten Land :-)
    Bin gut in Managua und bei Lisa angekommen- von oben sah die Stadt bei Nacht toll aus da die Frau des Präsidenten ein Prestige- Projekt vor mehr als einem Jahr ins leben gerufen hat und auf der größten Straße Strassenlaternen in unterschiedlichen Farben in Baumformat hat aufstellen lassen. Lisa meinte ich soll keinem das sagen da die einzelne Laterne schon eine Masse an Geld kostet die man locker sinnvoller einsetzen kann. Hier angekommen heißt es relaxen- sich der Regenzeit anpassen, gutes wifi im vergleich zu cuba nutzen um die weitere zeit zu planen. Ansonsten stellt man sich den herausforderungen des Alltags hier also ab und zu Stromausfall oder das verstopfte Klo reparieren - was würde man hier ohne den guten alten Pömpel tun 😂
    Bin schon auf die Schule morgen gespannt- es ist eine Privatschule und sogar die enkelnkinder des Präsidenten gehen dort hin also überall sind wachen etc. die Schüler sind aber wohl faul da es hier nicht um Leistung und gute Noten geht sondern um Geld und beziehungen.. Lassen wir uns überraschen ;-) vlt korrigiere ich nachher mir Lisa ihren Test über die deutschen Bundesländer 😉😎

    PS: erste Eindrücke der begonnenen Regenzeit sind spannend - die unbefestigten strassen verwandeln sich in Bäche!
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  • Day24

    Esteli hat ungefähr so viele Einwohner wie Koblenz aber ist viel weitläufiger. Meine Recherche hat auch ergeben dass wesentlich weniger Einwohner in Nicaragua sind im Vergleich zum flächenmäßig Kleineren Kuba. Ich war nur kurz in der City wo sich Geschäft an Geschäft stapelt und zwischendurch ein Obsthändler steht. Mittelpunkt ist ein Platz mit einer tollen Kirchen nebenan. Durch Esteli fließt ein Fluss den ich mir unbedingt mal anschauen wollte aber es ist eher eine verwuchertes Flussbett mit irgend einer Brühe drin. Nebenan ist der große Friedhof über den ich geschlendert bin und philosophiert habe was mit den Verstorbenen passiert ist die nur 28 oder 35 Jahre alt geworden sind. Ein ganz einfaches Holzkreuz zeigte sogar nur knapp ein Jahr auf...
    Auf dem Rückweg besorgte ich Tomaten, Paprika und Avocado für "nen Appel und ein Ei" und bereitete mir das erste selbst gemacht Essen meines Trips zu - endlich nochmal selber kochen! Die Küche hier ist ganz gut ausgestattet und es geht einfach nichts über einen Gasherd :-)
    Morgen muss ich wieder um halb 7 stramm stehen für den nächsten Bus, dieses Mal zur Sprachschule also geht es alsbald in die waagerechte!
    Ich habe mich jetzt nicht um Internet bzw eine Nica- Handykarte und Datenvolumen etc gekümmert sondern möchte meinen Fokus in den Bergen erstmal aufs Lernen und leben in der Community legen. Wundert euch also nicht wenn erstmal nicht viel kommt!
    Plan für nach der Sprachschule ist auf jeden Fall hier in esteli nochmal einen Stopp einzulegen da in der Nähe ein toller Canyon namens Somoto ist den man umwandern kann und in den man sich abseilen bzw sogar entlang triften kann - wird ja Zeit dass mein Aktionpegel mal angehoben wird oder?!

    PS: wer errät was in der rosa Tüte ist? ;-)
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  • Day355

    We cruised a couple of hours down from Somoto to the large town of Estelí. We spent a hour or two exploring the town and getting a feel for Nicaragua. There wasn't much to do in the town and I didn't feel like another 3 hours drive down to León, so we decided to head into the eco community areas this region is famous for.

    The road started well enough but the final km to the café finca (coffee farm) was probably the worst road we've traveled on, with large water channels cutting wheel sized ruts into the muddy, steep and winding road.

    Despite that it was a nice chilled stop and in the morning we did a short but glorious walk up to the Tisey Mirador (viewpoint). Unsurprisingly they did a pretty mean cup of Joe (coffee for the non-yanks) as well!
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  • Day142

    Churches, churches and air conditioning!!!!

    Léon was far from the top of my list of places to visit in Nicaragua. However, there was an abundance of goodword and a fairly strong vote from the team, so we booked in two nights at the hostel Tortuga Booluda. Another fleeting visit sandwiched between more of Nicaragua's delightful buses. This included our second breakdown within a week and we barely batted an eyelid - our complaints nipped at the bud for the one and only reason that we're paying less for these buses than the pocket money I used to earn for mowing 18 hectares of lawn.

    Léon has historical significance to Nicaraguans for it's role in the civil war but for tourists it's the churches, culture and colonial architecture which are the main attractions. It's a little disappointing that the town doesn't place more emphasis on it's history. Only a short read (thanks Lonely Planet) into the tumultuous and frankly disturbing last century left me baffled with what these people have faced. Selfish dictatorship, wreckless external military interference, corrupt politics and ethnically diverse colonialism have left Nicaragua pretty close to rock bottom. They faced famine, strangulation by trade embargos, war, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, mass murder, serial assassinations, government sanctioned torture - oh, and I almost forgot - bombings by their own government! All of those in no mean number: 50,000 were killed in the revolution (many innocent bombing casualties) and 6,000 in the 1972 earthquake. That's a pretty decent chunk of the six million people that call this country home.

    So now when I tell you their GDP isn't too far off that of your average upper class American, you'll probably believe me. As a matter of fact, I'm impressed they even have one; until late in the 20th century 50% of the population were illiterate and unemployment was around 20%. It goes without saying the people are poor - $1US = 30 Cordoba and that will get you a beer in a bar. THIS is a country where your money goes a long way and you're more than happy to spend it. Or give it away. Depending on how fresh these facts are in your literate brain.

    It's understandable that religion (catholicism) has engrained itself in Nicaraguan culture, and it is impossible to overlook the enormity of this in the centre of Léon. Churches exist in numbers so great it is difficult to walk a block without seeing one. Many are immaculately restored, boldly and beautifully framed in a deep blue sky, others less so but more practical in nature, and if you wander the right way, you'll see those that lay in ruin - obliterated by shellings and left in that state as a visual reminder of their gruesome history. The Catedral de Leon is the biggest in central america, blindingly bright and white in the centre of town. It's impressive. And for $3US you can access the roof, get close up with the domes and bell towers and take in Léon from a height, backdropped by numerous (some still active) volcanoes. Which is just what we did.

    We spent many hours wandering the streets in the 35° heat, taking this all in and as a result spent many hours retiring at the hostel in recovery. For the first time since the US, our room had air conditioning and it was glorious! We had that thing pumping to the max all day everyday - probably contributing to local powercuts - but keeping our room tolerably cool for once! I tell you, I wouldn't need to think twice about replacing my luggage with an AC unit, if practicality would have it so.

    We declined on tours in Léon partly due to expense and partly because we had already done or were about to do similar activities. Well, that and did I mention we had AC to capitalise on!

    One afternoon Cat and I ventured to the museum of legends and traditions. I can honestly tell you this was the most ridiculous experience on this trip. We were offered a free english speaking guide upon entry and snapped him up, for opportunities like that are rare in this place! Without hesistation, he began a well rehearsed monologue, his voice a mildy comprehensible dull combination of Siri, a robot and a rambling spaniard. He made my speech seem positively normal and drained the mental concentration of both Cat and I within minutes. That was before we discovered what we had signed up for.

    The tour was in an ex-prison, still fitted with iron gates and tatty barbed wire. Inside the cells were life-sized figures, representing historical leaders, skeleton horses, crazy witches and disproportionately large headed Nicaraguans, complete with streamers as hair. All of which were created in that awkwardly creepy zone between real life and cartoon. To add to our brewing condition, old mate had a crazy eye and his wife was sifting behind us, thin as a rake and oddly remissive of the 'legends' about which he spoke. At one point it got so creepy I was confident we were about to get locked in a cell. Only having seen two other people on the premises made my confidence in this fate more concrete. But I'm writing this now so you know we're both safe, phew!

    We learnt of tales that, on the tale spectrum, lie between outrageous and utterly insane. Perhaps the most notable was of a hideous woman who had no success in finding a man to wed. She did, however, have fantastic breasts and used these to lure in men - all the while keeping her face hidden. Once the men were preoccupied with her breast (s?) she either (a) strangled them to death or (b) poisoned them with her breast milk - we were unable to decipher which it was. The moral? One can only guess that men should stop being so shallow. I won't put you through anymore, but I'll have you know the lady who curated the museum deserved to be an exhibition herself. Oh, that and I felt an unusually large sense of relief to walk out the front gates...

    We ate on the street that night in Léon. Delicious hamburgers the size of your face. Every western meal we eat is appreciated, briefly before kicking yourself for what your paid and how your going to feel about it later. What's hot right now? Plaintain crisps are on point - they're less sweet than a banana and come sliced long ways, like filling crisps. Passionfruit juice is everywhere and cheap as chips - odd because the price of a passion fruit doesn't correlate. The local drop Toña is going down a treat in this temperature and a a shade over a dollar a pop they're pretty hard to resist. Don't mention the vegetables mum, there's plenty of avacado on the menu!

    We took a rain check on the volcano boarding that is offered by every vendor in Léon. A combination of expense, bus rides and climbing another volcano in this heat was enough to put us off. I'm sure we'll find better use for the money!

    That's all for Léon. A very relaxing stop indeed. Onwards to Granada now and that means more buses - woohoo!
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  • Day148

    You guessed it! Another Volcano.

    Maderas is the shorter of the two volcanoes that make up Ometepe, the surprisingly big island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. It hasn't been active as far as records go and this is evident with the thick green cloak it wears; tropical rainforest from (almost) lake to summit. We chose Maderas over the taller and more dramatic Conception (the other volcano) for two reasons; proximity to the hostel and because the scenery was very different to the last leg killer - Acatenango.

    Alas we made the decision just before bed the night before, teed up a guide, ordered some food and hurried off to sleep - the 5.30am rise was a little unexpected.

    The morning proved a bit of a faff as our guide waited for us to eat breakfast. Then we waited for our lunch to be prepared. Then we went to find water. Then we waited for a late comer. It wasn't until 7.30 when we actually started making progress toward the summit. Nonetheless I was thankful that we had not yet - and would not today - see the inside of a bus, van or other cramped and sticky form of transport. Win.

    I love the efficiency in which central americans climb mountains. Again, the trail pointed at the summit essentially from bottom to top, no switchbacks or gradual climbs - these guys mean business! This time however we climbed from essentially sea level (our hostel - although technically a lake, it is still only 33m above the sea) to 1390m. A fair old nudge. As we neared halfway, the going got tough. A couple of french compatriots were hurting and threatened to pull out. We wouldn't have it, and despite still resenting them for the Rainbow Warrior we dragged their sorry arses to the top - literally at a snails pace. Our guide Simon, patient with the pace, was quick to amuse - wracking up the howler monkeys with impressive vocals and at one point even appearing to be in conversation with them. He was a great guide, humorous and self admittedly crazy with two front teeth made of gold to suit the personality.

    We really found rainforest. Thick, wet, hot, muddy and infinitely green rainforest. The track got so steep and bush so thick that for much of the latter half of the walk, we were literally climbing up, over, under, along and around trees, tree roots and the like - all the while in the cloud with no buena vista in sight. The earth got sodden and the mud thickened but we pressed on - slowly but kind of surely. At a few places the track was nerve-wrackingly vertical making it quite a unique climb. We found the summit in thick cloud and sat down for some well earnt grub, the disappointment of whiteout evident on everyone's face. Except for Simon. He was yabbering at the cloud gods at the top of his lungs and waving his arms like a teacher erasing a whiteboard. What more would you expect from a man who's been climbing that same mountain four times a week for the last 20 years?!

    Twenty minutes or so later, Simon got even more excited. We perked up, stuck our heads over the crater and got a partial - then full - view of the crater lake, brown and scummy as it was. Moments later the isthmus and Conception came into sight, gently but deliberately announcing their presence. It was a spectacular view which belatedly rewarded all of our efforts. It had nothing on Acatenango but what will? Perhaps we ought to lower the bar!

    I can't say the descent was any easier. Lowering ourselves through gaps in tree roots and slipping through mud and rock. It took almost as long as the ascent and was just - if not more - fatiguing. The sun came out and we found glimpses of view on the way down but this came with the heat we had been lucky to avoid all morning.

    When we reached the bottom, hunger, heat and fatigue had taken their toll and there were a few broken souls. They made a swift recovery with Coke, chips, bananas and beer, topped off with a swim and hammock. Cheers Maderas!

    I won't go without reiterating how mental our guide was. He's 61 and doesn't look a day over 40. He's also fit as a fiddle, not just walking but running too. Last Friday was the annual Ometepe ultramarathon. He competed with 38 or so others from all over the continent in a 100km course that makes our wee climb look like a walk in the park. Not only do they circumnavigate the island (and some - it's bigger than it looks), but for good measure they throw in the ascent of Maderas AND Conception (8 and 12 hour hikes respectively) - oh and a 200 yard swim across the crater lake, just 'cause. Wanna know the best part? It's almost all done in the dark, kicking off at 6pm and the leader not coming through until 6am earliest. I'm personally struggling to think of anything more difficult. Also pretty chuffed that Cat and I picked all that up in Spanish! (Admittedly it took a few tries and a large amount of disuading our disbelief). I guess I'll sleep like the baby I am tonight while the real men summit mountains like champs!
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  • Day60

    There are 2 volcanoes on Isla de Ometepe. The higher one is Concepción. Maderas is a bit smaller but completely covered with forest and has a lake inside the crater. As I had done the high volcano with Acatenango I decided to go for Maderas. Also "swimming in a crater lake" would be a new thing to add to my list of things to do on a volcano (after sliding down on a wooden board and driving up on the back of a pick up truck).
    When I got to my hostel I met a group of people who wanted to climb up the next day and were happy to let me join them. Malin and Sofia from Sweden and Jon and Stuart from England. We weren't sure if it was necessary to take a guide as everybody said something different. But when I went for dinner I ran into 3 french canadian friends I had met at Laguna de Apoyo and the told me they did it by themselves and it was totally fine. So the next morning we left early around 7:30 and after getting some more snacks along the road started our hike up the volcano. At the entrance we figured that we at least needed a guide on paper and choose Jon to be our guide from now on.

    I quite liked the hike up the volcano. We were walking in the woods most of the way and the vegetation would change from dry forest to rain forest to cloud forest the higher we got. Also the climate changed (obviously). It was pretty dry and hot when we started and got more and more humid. It went uphill almost all the way and sometimes we had to climb over roots of fallen trees but there was always something to hold onto and it made the walk more versatile.
    The other 4 were a little slower climbing so I walked by myself most of the time but it was fine as you can't really talk much walking uphill all the time anyway and it only gave me longer breaks every now and then when I waited for them to catch up. It also led to me being the only one seeing a snake on the way up.
    Besides that we saw monkeys and lots of frogs.

    Halfway up there was a look out point from where you had a nice view over to Concepción. We took a longer break here fueling up on bananas and Cheetos (my new favorite super artificial snack).

    It was really easy to find the right way up and whenever there was a fork our guide Jon would say "If there is a fallen tree, make a left!". I thought it was just a joke and always took the one looking more used. Usually the to paths would join together at some point anyway. But almost all the way up there was really a fallen tree where the path would split. I learned someone had told Jon about this being the only point where you could go wrong - the path coming from the right was another path joining from another entrance. So if you take that one you gonna go down again ;)
    We used this point for another break and the others took out their food: pizza from the night before. What a great idea. Luckily they gave me a slice to share.

    Just after this we met a guy who said it was just about 40 more minutes to go. The others fell back again but I decided to just keep ob going and make my way to the top. In the end you had to climb quite a lot and it got a bit muddy but still fine to achieve.
    When I stepped out of the forest onto the open stone surface of the final lookout point I was first a little disappointed. I didn't know we would not be able to look over the lake and the other volcano. The look out point was within the crater and you couldn't get any higher from here (and as the rim was covered with woods I didn't realize I had climbed over it and couldn't look far because of the trees). But after I had realized that I was amazed by the view of the inside of the crater covered with forest and the lake in the middle.

    We had some more pizza and bananas up here before climbing down towards the lake. Lots of people coming up here only do one of the two. The lookout or the lake. Why? After you have climbed all the way up there? I mean you are not coming back the next day to do the other one, right? But it's also due to the guides spreading the rumor it's really steep to climb down to the lake straight from the lookout point. I guess they are just too lazy to do both as they probably climb up there every other day. We went straight down and it was fine. It was actually less steep then the way we took climbing back up later that led back to the path to go down.

    The lake was different than expected :)
    The water was supposed to be freezing cold (I think another myth probably spread by guides that don't wanna go down there). So we walked towards the lake carefully to figure the water wasn't that cold. But after a few steps I was suddenly half a meter shorter - I stuck kneedeep in mud! We started laughing but laughing the loudest was a guide who was there with another group. After that she told us it's easier to go in from another point. We tried there but it was still pretty muddy. So as soon as the water was waistdeep we started swimming to escape the mud. But we never did! Even in the middle of the lake you couldn't swim free letting your feet go down. You would always touch a soft and muddy surface. We were quite disgusted by it but also couldn't stop laughing about this weird experience.

    After the swim we chilled in the sun for a while and started our walk back when we realized we could get close to sunset if we don't go now.
    The way down was of course faster but not much easier as you really had to watch where to place your feet. But it was nothing compared to Acatenango.
    Going down Jon kept up with me which was nice as going down makes talking a lot easier. After the halfway Lookout point we told the others we wouldn't be waiting at the entrance but at the first shop that sold beer :)
    And that's what we did. Nothing is as refreshing and rewarding as a ice cold beer after a hike like this.
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  • Day57

    Playa Gigante was again one of these places with one daily bus and I couldn't really believe my luck when I came to the bus station in Rivas and saw that bus turning into the station when I had just gotten there.
    Gigante Bay is a really laid back place right at the beach and I went here after Katherine, who I had met at Surfing Turtle Lodge, had recommended it to me as they take volunteers and I was still looking for a place where I could spend some time working and savin some money in Nica.
    When I got there I met some guys from Hamburg and we talked a bit about home. Later we wanted to find a spot for a sunset beer and as the rock separating our beach from the next was supposed to be the best spot we started climbing up. I guess I would have turned around at some point as it didn't look like it was possible to get up there but after a little climbing up the rocks we actually managed to get all the way up. The view was amazing and a perfect spot for some nice pictures (I figured I got lazy on taking pictures and only post pictures of sunsets a I try to do better).
    The next morning started with an early yoga session which is mandatory for volunteers. I went there and talked to Jon (the owner) about volunteering here later - he told me to just come back after my surfcamp and talk then.
    I spend the rest of the day by the beach reading and finally catching up on my footsteps on the blogg ;)
    For dinner I went to the Monkey House. A hostel on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Some of the guys from my hostel had moved here because our hostel didn't have a kitchen and the wanted to do a fish bbq. They invited me and a few others for a delicious meal - I was quite impressed what they managed in the small kitchen. After dinner we stayed around sitting at the bonfire till after 2. I was happy I didn't have to walk home alone along the beach. It was a really special night. The next morning I left early to catch the only bus going back from here towards Ometepe Island.
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  • Day141

    Chicos in a Canyon.

    Somoto Canyon Tours is a small operation based just outside of Somoto at the base of the canyon which constrains El Rio Coman a tributary to El Coco the longest river in Central America. Fortunately for us, they're just a short ride to the western Nicaraguan border, making yesterday's travels possible.

    Henry and his family (read: countless family members) have been navigating the canyons for decades, the last of which they has been in the company of a well travelled and now retired Englishman named Brian. With the help of Brian's english and business savvy, Henry has turned a dodgy family owned canyon tour operation into a certified tour company, hostel and restaurant. Their complex has more than trebled in size and luxuries (flush toilets and power!) and their operation demonstrates professionalism we haven't seen since the states. They also use their profits to support community projects such as providing running water to houses. That and funding Henry's shiny new Hilux!

    We had two nights here, isolated in the countryside with a few other tourists, one of which we had previously met at our spanish school in Guatemala - small world! We signed up for a six hour canyon tour for a whopping $30 US pp. Ouch!

    Whilst fitting our shoes and life jackets on the morning of our tour, our bus showed up and we literally bolted off the porch and down the hill to meet it - mid fitting. Luckily we didn't forget anything but it was a very rushed start to what would be a chilled out day.

    We arrived at the upper end of the canyon and walked in on farm tracks, through rivers and scrambling along rocks. It was a slow start and the low water levels meant that the whole tour would be relaxed, even so much as we had to get out and walk sections. It was good fun scrambling over the slippery rocks and jumping from pool to pool. There were plenty of opportunities for adrenaline - numerous six - eight metre jumps littered the course peaking with a whopping 20m jump in the lower section. Fair to say we chickened out on that, but got a good rush from the 15m which left one bloke in a bit of pain. Our guides were awesome, carrying all our gears and snacks in dry bags and pointing out all the local flora and fauna. The water was pretty fresh and with no sun for the best part of the morning there were some chully bodies. At the bottom of the canyon we lay on the hot rocks like seals and warmed up before taking tiny steel dinghies out the base of the river and walking back up the hill to Henry's house for lunch.

    That afternoon was lazy until we decided to go for a hike. There was a look out above the canyon which had come recommended. Unfortunately nobody had mentioned the severity of the grade, so when Mike and I decided to run it we got awfully close to another MERC blowout! But not close enough. We caught the others just as they arrived at the top and admired the view soaked in a setting sun.

    Dinner and beers at Henry's that night were well earned and tasted that way too!

    Early the next morning we piled back into Henry's ute (all 13 of us plus bags!) and drove back into Somoto for the bus to Leon. That's where I am now, my right foot covered in raw chicken juice and my back sweat headed towards the rainy season! Mmmm!
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  • Day59

    A couple of gross ferry rides, volcanoes, motorbiking on a horrifically shoddy road and the most free range animals I've seen in a while.

    The team travelled from Granada via chicken bus, ridden in true local style this time - standing most of the way for the hour or so trip. It's not ideal being packed in the aisle when people are getting on and off, nor when vendors are pushing their way through trying to sell food and drinks, but it did have the perk of not sticking to the seat in the heat. We had such a quick changeover between buses - the staff on our first bus knew we were heading to Rivas so as soon as a bus came up behind us that was heading that way, they stopped the bus and chucked us and our bags off before we could blink. For the first time our bags were thrown on to the top of the bus before we could have a say in the matter. We were already moving again and then we were told we had to pay extra for our bags to be on the roof, bit of a stich-up but there was nothing we could do at that stage. The bus took us directly to San Jorge port where we quickly realised we were in for a rough boat trip to Ometepe. It was the most swell I've ever seen on a lake, at least a metre or so. Somewhat reluctantly we piled onto the lancha (a two storey wooden boat) but gratefully took the life jackets handed to us as we boarded. We were all very relieved to be on land again an hour and a half later, that's for sure. Albeit with wet feet from the leaky boat.

    Isla Ometepe is an island in the same Lago de Nicaragua which Granada is perched on the edge of. It's essentially made up of two volcanoes, with a couple of little towns and settlements around the outskirts of each. Volcán Concepción is active, stands at 1600m and is almost a perfect cone shape with traces of magma still visible. The slightly smaller Maderas is now dormant and covered in bush. It's a beautiful sight, like no island I have seen before!

    Ometepe was the point at which we parted ways with our two trusty companions Rich and Cat, who we have been travelling with since Cancún - roughly six weeks. Mike and I were having a shorter time at Ometepe due to a tight schedule in order to meet other pals in Costa Rica and therefore we ended up staying in different areas of the island. Cheers team for an awesome few weeks of adventures :)

    Mike and I stayed on the Concepción side of the island near the ferry port, at Life is Good Hostel. Life was good there actually, it was a pretty relaxed place to stay and the staff were super friendly and helpful. Not to mention the food served there was awesome, all locally sourced and organic too. And they had the cutest wee dog called Macho, who of course was the complete opposite of what his name would suggest.

    Not long after we arrived, we asked the hostel about hiring a scooter for the following day. Our time on Ometepe was limited to one afternoon and one full day so we figured this was the best way to see as much as possible, instead of tackling either of the volcano summits - both of which were strenuous, full day affairs. If we had more time, it would have been on the cards but also the Volcán Acatenango hike is going to be tough to beat. Roads on Isla Ometepe are minimal, there's essentially just one that goes the around each volcano with a join in the middle, but the quality of said roads is variable. We were talked into hiring a dirt-bike as opposed to a scooter for ease of travel and more access to the rough roads, and before we knew it Mike was out on the road having a quick lesson on how to drive a manual bike. After passing the test, (which was really just driving 100m down the road and back) and with time to spare, we hired the bike for the night as well so we could get to Punto Jesus Maria for sunset.

    Punto Jesus Maria is essentially a sandbar that at some points of the year, juts out up to 1km from the mainland. Only 7km down the road from our hostel, it was definitely worth the short trip to this popular spot. It was a calm and relaxing place to watch the sun disappear for another evening, and if you walked out far enough and looked back to the island, it gave a stunning view of both volcanoes.

    We were a bit slow getting going the following morning, a couple of weeks of crap sleeps in the heat and many hours of travelling are definitely taking their toll. Once we got going though, we managed to cover a lot of ground. We circumnavigated almost the entire island, which amounted to a good few hours of driving, partly due to a large proportion of the roads being unpaved on the Maderas side. Even though we had a dirt-bike, the suspension on our particular bike was somewhat non-existent so it was rough on the old backside and on Mike's wrists and hands.

    We made a few stops along the way, the first of which was to Ojo de Agua. This is a natural spring filled by an underground river that flows from Volcán Maderas. It's been supplemented with concrete walls, presumably to try and preserve it from collapsing. It's a good spot for a refreshingly cold swim and a bit of people watching, particularly in the form of a Tarzan swing and some interesting dismounts!

    We continued around the island and there's barely any buildings or anyone around. Aside from loads of free range animals that is. We saw many horses, pigs, cattle and chickens, all either just walking on the road or closeby. Every now and then we'd reach a small settlement of houses, or even just singular houses on their own. There did seem to be an abundance of schools on the island, given the lack of civilisation otherwise, so who knows where all these children come from! Otherwise it was just nature; trees, flowers and many, many banana plantations. The heat and the rich soil from the volcano must provide some great growing conditions.

    We stopped at local comedor just on the side of the road for lunch with no menu, no English speaking but it was surprisingly some of the best food we've had in Nicaragua. We had the "plato del dia" which is the plate/meal of the day, which is generally just a meat with rice, beans, salad and sometimes plantain. We both had chicken which literally tasted like it had come from KFC but without the dripping oils. Yum!

    We continued round the Maderas volcano, back to the join in the land between the two volcanoes. There's a nice stretch of beach here which was perfect for a fruit juice stop and a bit of respite for our backsides. We popped in for another refreshing dip at Ojo de Agua on our way back to the Concepción side and ran a few errands in the Moyogalpa town before we had to return our bike at nightfall.

    It was fun having a bit of freedom for the day with the bike, reminiscent of our time in Asia where we had one in most places we visited. We enjoyed being amongst nature and animals and although we still did a bit of travelling in a sense, it was still relaxing - well for me it was! Mike perhaps not so much, as he had to concentrate a lot on which part of the road was best to drive on as opposed to being able to look around and see the scenery.

    With this we bid farewell to our short time in Nicaragua. I enjoyed this country but much like El Salvador, I struggled to find a true sense of identity in its culture. Maybe if we had more time we could have visited more rogue places and perhaps this would have made a difference, who knows.

    Hasta la proxima, Nicaragua. Hasta pronto Costa Rica and our new travel companions, Em and Shorty!
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  • Day149

    Of mountains and mud.

    Ometepe is the not so tiny island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. It comprises two volcanoes; Concepcion and Maderas, which are joined by a not so narrow isthmus. They're an ever present backdrop making for stunning scenery at every turn.

    We arrived to Moyogalpa via a rickety old ferry, that took to the wind and short chop like a penguin to flight. It heaved and rolled and water came through every side. At one point a look of concern appeared on many passengers faces, as a thick film of water sloshed around the lower deck. The fact that the engine required manual cooling (with a bucket of lake water) gave me no reassurance and I spent much of the second half of the hour long journey estimating my swimming capabilites and researching my travel insurance policy. Needless to say we made it, chuffed with our lives and the meagre US$1.15 it cost us.

    Unfortunately, Moyogalpa was our last stop with Mike and Char. They're off to Costa Rica ahead of us to meet up with some old friends. They've been some solid travel buds and we'll be sorry to see them go! The return of MERC is no doubt already an occasion in the making. You never know, perhaps we'll bump into them in Panama in a few weeks time...

    Did you really think the journey would end there? With only two buses for the day? In the heat of the afternoon we entered another crammed sweatbox and endured the final two and a half hour bus to our hostel 'Chocoyo' in a wee country town called Merida. Boy were we glad for a dip in the lake and a cold Toña. Toña has become a great friend in Nicaragua, always a cold and refreshing drop to perk us up after a hot day. On this occasion, yet another dreamy sunset filled the sky and glimmered on the water. The woes of the days travels forgotten in a moment.

    Chocoyo is definitely one of the most simple hostels we've had yet, but it sits right on the lake and has a view to die for. It has a restaurant, which is really just a kitchen because it has no menu and every now again a lovely Ometepan lady wanders past and asks you what you would like to eat. It's not like you have a choice - the nearest restaurant is about a 30 minute walk and lucky to be open. Fortunately for us, her food is well priced (we actually never saw prices) and thoroughly enjoyable! She and the other (I assume) family members are very kind and helpful, they even teed us up a shared guide for our Maderas hike the next day (see next footprint). My only qualm with the restaurant/common area was the dirt floor which they insisted on keeping damp - muddy feet were impossible to avoid.

    Day two on Ometepe was a toss up between a bicycle, a kayak, a motorbike or a waterfall hike. Given our exertion the day before, I was strongly advocating a motorbike, for which Cat took little convincing. The only problem was that I'd never ridden a motorbike before and the roads for many kilometers either side of the rental shop were pretty rugged! A quick google (thank goodness for good internet!) and some nominal convincing of the hiree that I had a license saw us in good stead. Although the look on his face when I stalled as we were pulling out was definitely one to remember. We spent the day exploring the island by bike and we only got caught out once by an ignition fault (quickly overcome by a friendly passer by) and multiple awkwardly timed stalls - the funniest of which would have to be at the boom gate, stalling right underneath it while old mate was holding it up. Priceless.

    Despite the size of the island, it has a reasonable amount to offer if you can find it and find a way to get to it. Word of mouth is by far the best way to plan your days. We spent an afternoon at the - I'm going to take some poetic license here and make a new word - touristised 'natural' springs of Ojo de Agua. It was refreshing and delightfully clear compared to the lake water, yet natural is far from an accurate adjective. It was essentially a man made outdoor pool, complete with waterside bar and restaurant and many gimmicky souvenir stalls. However we managed to pass the afternoon swimming and reading before being washed away by torrential downpour! I hadn't seen rain since Cuba (you beauty!) so I almost enjoyed it, even more so by knowing we didn't have to endure this on the previous day's hike. Well played sir. With rain came more mud, which by this stage had undoubtedly become impossible to avoid.

    Our mornings began without fail with roosters crowing and dogs barking, if not for some other godforsaken farm based racket. This made for early nights and an early day routine I have grown to enjoy. Especially on this quiet and outstandingly dramatic island. Definitely a stop worth making if you're the adventurous type.

    We left Ometepe the same way we came in, looking back to smiles and waves from our hosts. It rained again while we were waiting for the bus which more than anything, served as a reminder as to how lucky we've been with the weather so far. We're feeling for all you folk back home! Next stop is Popoyo on the Pacific coast, can't wait!
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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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