The Nifty Nation to the North, Nicaragua
Yes, I realize “North” is relative, but after increasing latitude for more than 9 hours straight you start to feel sure you´re gonna meet Santa Claus by the time you finally step off that bus (and the notoriously relentless A/C of “TicaBus” only helps to encourage that sensation). Julian and I got a glimpse of the beautiful country of Nicaragua for a few days this past weekend, and from the moment of arrival she offered us even more adventure than we could have anticipated. You see, upon reaching our hotel in Granada at the dark and sketchy hour of 9 pm on Friday night, we quickly and unfortunately realized that our somehow-confirmed reservation was made for a recently abandoned hotel. Oh. Fortunately we found another hostel a little bit down the road where the price was right (a mere $5/night), the mattresses were thick, and the oscillating fans were fully functional. On top of that, the family running the place couldn´t have been nicer and they even offered 3 meals a day at only $2 a palatable pop.
From the horse carriages almost out-numbering cars to the colonial-style houses with balconies and towering doors to boot, our stroll through the town the next morning made us feel like we had stepped back in time. On our way to the famous Lake of Nicaragua it was hard not to see beauty wherever you looked. Sure, the architecture of the churches is likely unparalleled, but stopping to watch some genuine Nicaraguan little leaguers duking it out on the diamond is what really gave me goosebumps. Later, we ended up renting a couple of rickety bikes that let us see some of the surrounding neighbohoods, enjoy a nice park and dodge traffic through a crowded market scene. After a lazy lunch shooting the breeze and being hackled by what must have been every knick-knack souvenir vendor in that town, we headed off to Volcán Masaya in the evening. If hiking around 5 enormous craters at sunset wasn´t enough to blow you away, the night time adventure through the bat cave was sure to do it. I even met some people from St. Stephen´s school in Austin, TX on the tour… who´da thunk? Returning to the hostel later, Julian and I enjoyed some “puros” and good conversation in some rocking chairs on the balcony before hitting the hay worn out from a full day and ready for the next one.
Due to some initiative taken on Saturday, we lined up a tour for Sunday to go sandboarding on a volcano called Cerro Negro, located near a city further north called León. It required about 3 hours of public transport to get there, but we got to see some beautiful landscape along the way and, due to our early start, we had a lot of extra time when we arrived. So much so that we were able to wander around Parque San Juan for over half an hour before realizing it wasn´t the Parque Central that we were looking for, nor did the “Leo Tour´s” company even exist in León like we were told, nor did the correct building we eventually found – by the grace of God and the durability of our young legs – have any kind of sign pointing to it´s existence or purpose. Still with about an hour or so before we left for the volcano, we had time to eat something and check out the cathedral of La Virgen del Trono, which apparently is the largest in Central America. Unfortunately it was closed when we got there, but browsing through the market and learning a Nicaraguan card game kept us busy until we finally headed out to the only place in the world where you can sled down a volcano. Apparently our guide, who also has close ties to Austin, has been featured in a National Geographic documentary for developing this ingenious idea, and I can see why it is such a lucrative business; it was a blast! Getting up to the top took a while, but the thrill of zooming down on the black sand/ash made it all worth it. Plus we got to wear some outfits that boasted both protection and style for the fan base that had emerged from the fellow volcano-hikers jealously looking on during the spectacle. After devouring the delicious white pineapple waiting for us at the bottom, they dropped us off at the León bus terminal just early enough to catch the last sequence of buses heading back to Granada.
A chill evening of playing cards with the hostel kids and a pleasantly uneventful morning catching our freezing bus back to San Jose brought me safely back in Heredia with only one weekend left here before returning to the States. Something is happening this week before I leave though… what was it now? Hmmm… I seem to have forgotten… oh yeah, my parents are coming on Wednesday! As if I could have forgotten! We´ve got a hefty helping of beaches, snorkeling, forest hiking and zip lining ahead of us, which is sure to put an exclamation point on what has been nothing short of a fantastic semester!