Nothing makes me feel like writing like a hostel balcony overlooking the beautiful Nicaraguan coast, the air a blessed cool, post rain temperature with a sea breeze and Jack Johnson playing in the background. We are coming to the end of our time in Nicaragua as Playa Marsella in San Juan del Sur will be our last stop before Costa Rica and I’m sad to say goodbye. Nicaragua has been one of my favorite countries to visit during these past 6 1/2 months; its land is constantly stunning with green covered hills rolling down to its surf famous beaches. Nicaragua has it all, volcanoes to hike, lava pits to glimpse the middle of the earth, waves to surf, jungle to explore, and good food to eat (side note here, the food is the same basic idea as all of Central America i.e. beans, rice, and meat, but I prefer the Nicaraguan flavors to most others in the area).
Our trip in Nicaragua started in Leon, a colonial city similar to, but grittier and more Nicaraguan feeling than Granada. I appreciated the lack of tourists and thus lack of tourist prices in Leon. Leon was our first stop so we mostly just lived, enjoyed the town, and hiked one volcano, Volcan Telica. We almost didn’t go up Telica as Guatemala had burnt us out on volcanoes, there really are so many there, but it was worth it. Telica is an entirely different volcano than the Guatemalan volcanoes; it is a gigantic crater at the top of a mountain, a much younger version of the sharp, tree covered peaks of Guatemala. The one thing I regret doing was a beach trip with Bigfoot Hostel to see the coast near Leon. We should have known that the shuttle to the beach/beach party was going to be a little ridiculous, but we were optimistic. Unfortunately, Bigfoot lived up to its reputation as a chain party hostel and the people who were there lived up to their reputations as binge drinking, loud tourists out to get laid in every corner of the world. Luckily, we found another couple who had the same idea as us, to use the party shuttle to get to the beach then ditch the party, so at least we got to make some new friends when we found out there wasn’t much beach to speak of or anyway to ditch the binge drinking debacle.
From Leon the logical move was to Granada, where we ran into our couple friends, Aline and Mike, in a nice stroke of luck. We shared a bottle, or two, of Flor de Cana rum and passed the night at the one local oriented bar we could find in Granada. That being said Granada is a city of contrasts. The main drag is built for tourists, with tourist prices, menus in English and Spanish, and manicured sidewalks. However, once you leave the tourist area the streets become dirt, the houses become shacks, and you realize that with large wealth comes dire poverty. The poor area of Granada, the local area, was poorer than any other city I’ve seen in Nicaragua which shocked me as I had hoped that at least some of the substantial tourist money would make it back to the people. Considering the prices of Granada we couldn’t afford to do a tour of Volcan Masaya, one of the only volcanos in the world where you can look down into the center to see waves of lava, so we opted for the do it yourself approach and got a cab with friends. We ended up saving almost $20 USD and made it to the top just after dark, the perfect time to peer into the center of the earth. Watching the lava river was something that words cannot do justice, you need to see it to understand. The mesmerizing waves rolled and crashed into the sides of the crater, painting them with glowing, liquid rock. It was something I’ve never seen before and probably will never see again.
Next on the list was Ometepe Island in the center of Lake Nicaragua. We were to be there for my birthday so we got a nice, air conditioned room in town and assumed we would be able to explore the island from there. We were wrong. Ometepe turned out to be huge and taxis were crazy expensive so we ended up spending all of our time in some form of transport, bike first, scooter second, horses third. I had found a horseback riding tour I wanted to do for my birthday, but it happened to be in Merida, on the other side of the island. I had originally thought I could rent a bike and ride the 18 miles there, but after our first exploration on bikes we quickly realized that due to hills and heat this would be at best horribly uncomfortable and at worst suicidal. We did get a nice 20 mile ride in though. The next day we tried scooters, the main form of transport on the island. The catch was that neither of us had ever ridden a scooter or motorcycle before. Kane picked it up rather quickly, me not so much. The first time I got on I was nervous and so wobbly the rental people seemed reluctant to rent to us if I was going to be driving. I assured them Kane would do most of the driving and off we went. The island is beautiful, covered in lush green forest and filled with cows, horses, pigs, and street dogs. All the horses seemed to have given birth at the same time and the island was crawling with little foals, something I pointed out every single time we saw one in my “ermergherd it’s sooooo cute voice”. We spent the day dodging cattle, trying not to crash while turning, and enjoying the scenery. I even practiced enough that I could ride it decently fast as it’s actually easier faster due to less slow speed wobbling.
The next day and form of transport was horseback riding. I went alone, since Kane is not comfortable on horses and I wanted to do the full day ride around the volcano as a birthday present to myself. It turned out to be a bat shit crazy, scream into the rain while galloping around a volcano type of ride. This was probably due to the fact that my guide, Hari, was a flip flop wearing, chain smoking mildly insane German hippie. He kept the horses well, they were the healthiest I’ve seen in Nicaragua and properly shod, so I hopped on, tried to ignore all my old trainers in my ear asking why the hell I was on a horse without a helmet and proceeded to fly around the island. We went where tourists never go due to bad roads, saw petroglyphs from 2000 BC, trotted past the wealthy Nicaraguans’ private helicopter pads that exist on Somosa’s old mansion’s grounds, and raced through the rain back to the barn. I paid for my hell raising ride with the nastiest saddle sores I’ve ever had all over my legs (REI your hiking pants are great for hiking, but not for riding) but it was worth it. I never feel more alive than when I’m on horseback, the wind whipping my rain soaked hair behind me, the long dormant muscles in my legs burning, and the sound of my horses hooves roaring down the road.
As for Playa Marsella the beach seems nice, but we just got here today. I can see the beautiful white sand from my balcony perch, but we haven’t explored too far, just far enough to find some cheap-ish food and buy rum off the back of a truck. I’m excited to continue the exploration.