Leaving San Salvador afforded me the earliest rise I think i’ve probably ever had. Bamba quite nicely organised a 3.30am departure from Salvador, meaning I got up and 2.45 and promptly fell asleep again at 3.31. An uneventful trip led us back through Honduras (still no stamp) and into Nicaragua (no stamp here either).
Having heard lots of bad things about Managua, I left straight away and headed north to the nice little town of Leon. There are two little colonial towns in Nicaragua, Leon and Granada, both founded in 1524 and both vying with other ever since: the capital passed between them before moving to Managua, and apparently there was always a split along political ideals as well.
However, the first and most obvious thing to notice about Nicaragua is that it is HOT. Forget all the countries I’ve been to so far, this has been by far and away the most scorchio. Even by 9am it’s approaching too hot to go outside, and by 11 it’s too hot even in the shade.
Leon was a nice place, though there wasn´t really much to do there. It is however home to the biggest cathedral in Central America, which I have to admit I thought was an accolade held by that of Mexico City, so I’m none the wiser as to which is actually. I met a lot of English people in the hostel, which was an absolute shock as there’s been a complete absence of them along the way. Up til then I must have met about 6 English people, and there were 6 in this one place. One of whom was from Tunny Wells, but he was a bit funny. Went to Skinners I think.
The hostel I was staying at is however the home of (apparently world-famous) volcano boarding, which pretty much involves climbing a live volcano and sledding off it before it erupts; so what with it being world-famous and all I felt I had to give it a go. We went out in the afternoon (so after the midday heat, but it didn’t really make much difference) and after a nice 45 minute journey in the back of a pick-up (surely one of the best ways to travel), we had a nice 45 minute walk up Volcan Cerro Negro.
I must point out now that the sleds were no more than a plank of wood with another plank across it to sit on, and a rope to hold on to. All steering was to be done with your feet, unless you wanted to cut your hands up on the volcanic rock, and if you fell off then try to roll to lessen the friction. There was a guy at the bottom with a speed gun (the record is over 80kph if memory serves) to add a competetive element to it. I managed a measly 35kph but believe me that was more than enough! Good fun was had by all.
The next day was quite exciting too: yo y los ingleses went to a gallera, or cock fight. I went in not really knowing what to expect, seeing as they’re banned seemingly everywhere globally, but left wondering why as it was BRILLIANT! Surely never before has so much fun been had watching two chickens attack each other with a baying crowd watching their every move. Admittedly it became a little gory when the owners started sucking the blood out of their necks, and when they were put back down to fight and just collapsed on the floor to be pecked at by the other one, but for the 15 minutes of preceding cock-on-cock action (phwoarrrrr) it was most definitely worth it. I took a video which I’ll probably whack on facebook when i get back. And the ring was also plastered with the Pepsi logo, although I would be surprised if they actually knew they were endorsing Nicaraguan cock fights.
From Leon I headed south to Granada, the other colonial heavyweight of the area. Here I met one of the English guys from Leon (George) and we went on a canopy tour, as it was cheaper here than in Costa Rica. It was in Nicaragua that we met lots of people coming up from CR foreboding how expensive it is there, and telling tales of passing through in 2 days and that being enough – we thought that if it was true, you can do all the stuff you can do there here anyway, just at half the price. So I made the decision (aided by a general wish to get to Colombia as soon as possible as well) to stay here for a bit and do all I wanted to do in CR here, before rushing through towards Panama afterwards. The only thing I felt that perhaps I might be missing out on was scenery, but then I’ve had plenty of stunning scenery along the way, and the people, but then can Ticos really be that different to people from the rest of the area? I’ll never know.
The canopy tour was disappointing. But then ziplinings a bit old hat – there’s only so much you can do when you’re tied to a rope zooming through a jungle, and I’ve done it before so it wasn’t really that exciting. Maybe it would have been better in Costa Rica. LOL.
George managed to find a hostel with a pool, which in this weather was an absolute godsend. There’s nothing better when you’re sitting around trying to avoid the heat but sweating ridiculously anyway than jumping in a pool to cool yourself down straight away. I think that after two and a half weeks here I’ve acclimatised to the heat now – that is, I don’t feel like it’s too hot. I can however tell how hot it is firstly by how much sweat there is running down my face blearing the view through my sunglasses, and by how burnt the back of my neck is when I go to bed at night.
From Granada we took a boat to the island of Ometepe in Lago de Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in the world (presumably, along with one in Mexico too). It’s a fabulous little island with two massive volcanoes on it, separated only by a thin isthmus, and it really is old school. After spending the night after we got off the late ferry in the small town of Altagracia, we went to a little finca on the slopes of Volcan Maderas and spent the best part of a week there. It has to be said there wasn’t really very much to do there – it was cheap, it was sunny, and it had a fantastic beach 15 minutes walk away – but it was very relaxing, and a really good place to get away from everything. Not that I really needed to get away from anything in the first place, but hey.
A lot of chess and reading took place, and on adventurous days we made the 10 minute walk to the nearest shop. On really adventurous days (and when we were really bored) we made the 45 minute walk to the nearest internet point. And on one very adventurous day, we decided to climb the volcano.
We were climbing Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanoes – Concepcion, the other, erupted when we were in Leon and they were still stopping people from climbing it – but it was still a big ask. Leaving at 7 in the morning (I have more early mornings here than I ever did back in England!), it took us just under 4 hours to reach the summit 1394m above us.
I have to admit I’ve seen better summits. I think maybe even the motte of Tonbridge Castle has a better view than we had from the top of Maderas. On the way up we had absolutely breathtaking views of Concepcion and the lake, and we’d been promised similar views at the top. It didn’t help that we didn’t even know we’d reached the top until we started a descent towards the crater lake. There had been rumours of a flag or something to mark the summit, but nope the only indication we got was that we started going down again. The potential was fantastic – that high up we should have been able to see for miles – but sadly we couldn’t see past the trees. The top of the volcano is a cloud forest (which I guess means it’s a forest in the clouds) and actually got pretty nippy, but meant we could see bugger all. The crater lake wasn’t much better either – there was a nice gloomy mist, reminiscent of Dartmoor walks, rendering visibility to about 20m. Still, after 4 hours’ walking it was nice to wolf down a dry bit of dry bread that passed as a healthy nutritious lunch and enjoy the views before the 3 hour descent.
I won’t lie – going up was punishing. I do minimal (if any) exercise and I was more than prepared to pack it in after 20 minutes and go back to bed. Towards the top especially it turned to almost sheer rock face, so despite the let down at the top it was still quite an achievement to make it there at all. Going down, however, was absolutely blissful! The knowledge that every step was a step towards a shower, a hammock and a rest!
I’ve now returned to Granada, where I’m staying til Saturday. Because of Easter, everything’s shut down today (Thursady) and Friday, cos the whole country’s gone to the beach for a big party. I’m braving Managua on Saturday night before going to San Jose in Costa Rica on Sunday, before heading straight off into Panama.