Intrepid Adventures in Nicaragua
I recently returned from a trip to Nicaragua with several other students from the IFSA-Butler group. While many returned home right after the end of the semester, several stayed to go traveling. It was wonderful to have one last trip with them.
The trip as a whole did not go according to plan, but then again, few things do in Latin America. And looking back on the trip now, I would not want to change it. I ended up staying in Nicaragua for 13 days (November 30 to December 12) and was able to see a large portion of the country.
The first part of the trip was spent in Granada. We took a bus from San Jose, Costa Rica at 5 a.m. (November 30) all the way to Granada—roughly nine hours long. Granada sits right next to Lake Nicaragua and is a popular tourist destination due to all of the colonial architecture. After getting everything settled in our hostel, we wandered around a little bit, just absorbing all the colors and details of the city. Costa Rica was not influenced much by the Spanish colonial period and therefore lacks a lot of old architecture. Nicaragua, on the other hand, was settled very early and many structures have been well preserved. We spent the next day relaxing by the side of Laguna de Apoyo, a beautiful spring fed lagoon near Granada. The following day we toured Granada again, guide books in hand, determined to find as many of the old buildings as possible. I think all of us came close to filling the memory sticks in our cameras; however, I would imagine that there are more pictures of us and our craziness than of the abundant architecture.
From Granada we went to Leon (December 2). The sole purpose of going to Leon was to go volcano boarding or volcano surfing, but we were also able to wander about the city a little bit and hang out with the backpackers at the hostel.
We had all agreed to scrimp and save during the rest of the trip so that we could go volcano boarding and it was definitely worth it. It was a six hour guided tour, most of which was spent hiking up Cerro Negro, the volcano that we were going to board down. It is a huge cone of black pumice and rock with a large crater that is situated more on the slope of the volcano than centered at the top. Once we reached the top of the volcano, we suited up in what appeared to be orange prison uniforms and goggles that I would swear were raided from a chemistry lab. The boards that we carried up with us were made of the finest quality plywood, metal sheeting, a glued on piece of plastic, and a handle attached via a rope to the front of the board. Believe it or not these contraptions of speed can accelerate the rider to above 80 km/hr. I only managed to attain 45 km/hr (via a speed gun during the last 50 meters of the run) and will be the first to admit that I toppled three times on the way down. Long story short, my board kept veering to the left despite my efforts to steer, would catch on the pumice, and then flip, sending me rolling down the hill. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable activities I did in Nicaragua, despite the fact that I was pulling bits of pumice out of my hair for two days afterward.
The rest of our time in Leon was spent seeing a few of the sites in Leon and just relaxing. The last evening there, one of the girls in our group borrowed the guitar of one of the backpackers so that she could play and sing a little bit. It didn’t take long for a group of backpackers and other travelers to gather around and listen or play and sing. That evening was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip to Nicaragua. There were people from Holland, Ireland, Britain, Israel, Germany, the US, and other places. I was genuinely struck by how we were all pulled together by just a guitar and a couple of songs.
Our original group ended up splitting—two others and I went up north and the rest headed south. It was a long trip up to the northern pacific corner of Nicaragua (December 5); in reality we weren’t that far from Honduras. We stayed in a little hostel that sits right on the beach in the middle of a little fishing village. It was a very beautiful and isolated place. We swam in the surf, relaxed in the hammocks, wandered up the beach to the estuary, and chatted with the others there at the hostel.
From the north coast we went back to Granada (December 7) (via a chicken bus, a taxi, a bus, a taxi, and another bus—gotta love traveling in Latin America!). The next day we went on a tour to visit the artisan market in Masaya, go to the Masaya Volcano, and see the towns San Juan el Oriente, Catarina, and another little town nearby. This excursion was actually a random tour hosted by the owner—a rather quirky Frenchman—of the hostel we were staying at in Granada. Not unlike our guide, the tour was a bit quirky, but quite enjoyable at the same time.
The final part of the trip before I headed for home (Costa Rica) was on the Island Ometepe. To get there, we took a four-hour ferry from Granada to Altagracia on the Island (December 9). It was a beautiful ride, although a little rough at times, with a beautiful sunset and the stars peaking out just as we arrived in Altagracia. In Ometepe we stayed in a little family-run hostel that sits amongst the homes of several other families. I really liked being able to live in what could be called a neighborhood instead of a touristy section of the town.
The first day in Ometepe was spent at Ojo de Agua, a stream that is dammed up into a manmade pool. It was a very relaxed afternoon, which was fine by me since the next day I got up at 4:40 a.m. to hike the Volcano Concepción. I have done a lot of hiking before, but this was very different from anything that I had ever done. It would not be accurate to say that it was a hike, nor was it hand-over-hand rock climbing; it was a lot of scrambling over boulders and volcanic rock. Near the top our guide insisted that we all get down on our stomachs and carefully commando crawl forward a little bit in order to see the crater. Apparently the ground is really loose, thus the reason for his insistence that we all get down and not get too close to the edge of the crater. We stayed there lying on our stomachs for several minutes, absolutely enraptured, and then finally shuffled our way back down the slope a little ways, ate lunch, and then trooped back down the volcano.
Unfortunately, the time had come for me to leave off adventuring for a while and head back to Costa Rica. We traveled to Moyogalpa (December 11) and I hopped the Ferry the next morning to San Jorge then took a taxi to Rivas so I could hop my bus back to San Jose.
Hopefully many more adventures are to come in the upcoming month!