Hola amigos! Apologies if you’ve been frantically hitting the refresh button in work to find out the latest from Central America but I’m probably going to stick with just the one update per country as we enter the final stretch of the trip. However I do have a chunky sized edition for you to chew on today. l'll let you decide if that's a good or a bad thing...
Our journey from Costa Rica into Nicaragua was a long day involving four buses, two taxis and a border control with three separate check-in stations. We had the pleasure of standing for almost three hours on one bus as there were no seats available. We also had our first taste of Central America's 'chicken buses'. These are converted American & Canadian school buses from the 1980s which the locals use religiously. They're so cheap they're almost free of charge but you wouldn't want to be in a hurry as they'll happily stop for every person on the street who sticks their thumb up. And just when you think the bus couldn't get anymore full.. well you get the idea. There's no concept of personal space over here. It's all part of the experience though so we're loving it of course (insert happy face emoticon)! When we reached the border we were screened for Ebola, three times. A medical officer asked us which countries we had visited in the past two weeks. Let me see… Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, North America and Costa Rica. As you can imagine they were frantically trying to work out whether we were considered a high risk or not. After lots of questions, hand waving and explanations we eventually made it through. Crossing a land border… honestly I’ll never complain about flying again (that includes Ryanair).
Of all the countries we're visiting, Nicaragua is the one we knew the least amount about. We’re not alone because even though it’s the largest nation in Central America it’s also the least visited. I can tell you it’s a beautiful country, and home to many a volcano. In fact there’s a volcanic symbol right in the centre of their national flag. And within minutes of crossing the border we could spot a volcano straight away. And plenty of wind generators (kudos to the Nicaraguans). Nicaragua is part of the ‘ring of fire’, an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have occurred in the basin of the Pacific Ocean.
Our first stop was Granada, a city that was once considered a ‘jewel’ in Central America and one of the richest areas you could visit. Unfortunately due to war most of the city was burnt to the ground. Thankfully the government have been restoring many of the old colonial buildings making it a very pleasant town to explore. At its centre you can find Parque Central and with it many locals and their stalls. Next to the park you can find an 18th century cathedral which stands proudly over the square.
I didn’t mention this in my previous update but San José and Monteverde surprised me in that they lacked a kind of Mexican vibe I was looking forward to seeing in Central America. It’s not a complaint but I guess I was a little disappointed. Granada goes some way towards filling that void. You can see many a colourful colonial building as you wander through the streets and it’s really interesting from an architectural point of view.
We spent three nights in Granada, and on our second day we booked a tour to visit Mombacho, an extinct volcano and home to a cloud forest. The tour offers a nice hiking trail and some of the best views of Lake Nicaragua and the city of Granada.
Alberto also snapped an up close and personal shot of a green caterpillar. He's becoming a good oul photographer.
On Thursday we travelled back a little south in order to take a boat over to Lake Nicaragua and stay on Ometepe Island. After much research, we felt this would be an ideal spot to spend some time. It’s one of the largest freshwater lakes in the Americas. Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes and as you’d expect it’s visually a stunning place to visit. Below you can see the view from the boat of one of the volcanoes.
They say the world is small, and I was reminded of this fact when I very randomly ran into an old friend of mine from Ireland! My friend Kevin has been living in the Cayman Islands for the past three years and was here on a two week holiday with his partner David. We were on different boats heading to the island but agreed to meet up at a later date. We arrived late Thursday evening so all we only had enough time to have dinner and book ourselves on a hike up Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanoes. At 1,394 metres it ain’t too small though. It’s a four hour steep climb to the top, followed by another three hours down. Unfortunately due to the rain the previous night, we were advised by our guide not to walk any further once we had reached the halfway point (about two hours in). The trail had become increasingly more difficult to climb due to the mud. Rather than risk injury, we accepted defeat. Walking back down was more difficult in some respects as it’s very easy to fall on your ass. An American walking in front gave us a live demonstration of this (ouch). Climbing a volcano therefore remains on our bucket list for another time. In the shot below you can see volcanic rock from Maderas' last eruption which was thousands of years ago.
Our legs were pretty sore and our shoes were completely covered in muck so we decided to reward ourselves with a day at the beach on the island on Saturday. It looks and feels the same as any other beach but you're actually swimming in freshwater so it’s a really cool experience. I'm not a fan of saltwater so I really enjoyed swimming here. It’s been windier than Craggy Island during our stay so it’s easy to sunbathe in the heat but even easier to get sunburnt. My stomach is as red as a lobster.
Kevin and David moved over to our hotel for their final night and that evening we went for dinner in one of the three local restaurants available within walking distance (it’s party central here), followed by a late night at the unofficial ‘residence bar’ back at our hotel. This involved two smuggled in bottles of white rum (rude not to in Central America), mixers and as much ice as the hotel could supply us with. We had a great night catching up and generally talking s*ite, as one does.
We got up late on Sunday and spent the afternoon travelling north to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua which is located just above Grenada. When you take a bus you'll always be greeted by randomers who will jump on to sell you whatever they have in their pocket. It's generally a fried yellow snack (which is usually unidentifiable). On this particular trip we had a man give a ten minute sales pitch for, wait for it... kidney tablets. I couldn't help but take a sneaky photo on my phone to give you a visual. The phrase 'absolutely not' couldn't have crossed my mind any quicker. Mind you, after all that rum the previous night...
We stopped off at Managua just for one night. It gets a lot of bad press from the guide books and with little to interest tourists its only real purpose is to serve as a transport hub. Thank you Nicaragua, you've been great! Next stop, Honduras.