All we have heard along the gringo trail is people banging on about how amazing Nicaragua is. I had not planned any time in Nicaragua as it seemed more important to make a beeline for Costa Rica where there was apparently a lot more to see and do. Turns out there is a surprising amount in Nicaragua, and because it was so cheap it made sense to hold out a while longer and shave some time off expensive Costa Rica. We started out in Leon which is weirdly another one of those reported Mecca hubs for travellers, and I really can’t understand why. Its an ok city but its filled with party hostels and lots of nightlife so that is probably the main attraction. Everyone probably meets like minded party people, has a great time drinking, gets sucked into the ‘staying in the hostel all day’ lifestyle and develops a biased opinion.
We arrived late on the first evening and were the only guests at a tiny hospedaje with our newly aquired Portuguese companion. It was one of the most bizarre places we stayed. There were treturous spiral staircases that the disabled owner couldn’t climb so she shouted continuously from her wheelchair downstairs whilst we tried to find a room that didn’t have animal poo on the bed. There were roaming animals everywhere, cats, dogs and squirrels in a cage!
We ended up at Big Foot Hostel, probably the most notorious party place but a better recommendation would be Oasis, a much nicer smaller set up with a pool in the courtyard. Big Foot had some pretty good rooms though with beds in nooks tucked into high ceilings, we however ended up in a room with two young obnoxious German girls who seemed to have never stayed in a dorm before. I woke up one morning and the first thing I did was narrowly avoid stepping on a tortoise! We met our friend Sam from our surfing family in El Salvador, this time he had two lovely Swedes accompanying him so the family grew. Leon’s biggest asset was by far its food, the bbq set up in the market behind the church in the main plaza was fantastic. They grilled local fresh salty cheese until it was crispy around the edges which when accompanied with the ‘hot as ****’ sauce – a newly coined term, was on a par with halloumi and chilli jam. Needless to say I was eating by the plateful like a fat kid let off a diet. We took a day trip to Turtle Lodge, a fairly hard to reach beach outside of Leon with good surf, it was really peaceful but in the middle of nowhere.
We then moved on fairly quickly from Leon via Managua on to Grenada, my new favourite Central American colonial city. Its so underrated compared to Leon, it has so much to offer and is really pretty both by day and night. We arrived right in the middle of the December festival so every night felt a bit like dodging hand grenades in a civil war whilst kids through fireworks in the street. They are the kind of fireworks that are just pure noise, no colours or displays just continuous loud bangs that set off every alarm in the vicinity. We had a great hostel with loads of potential but with idiots for owners, its redeeming features were its sun trap pool and roaming pets of turtles, friendly rabbits and a talking parrot.
We spent the first night at a baseball match, the Grenada team was destroying the visitors, but the biggest entertainment was a huge guy that did a truffle shuffle style dance to the music each time a home run occured. The food was great and drinks were brought up to your seats at your request, this is the kind of spectator sport I could get used to. We spent one afternoon on a boat trip hopping around the tiny islands in lake Nicaragua that was more like a sea, home to the nation’s most rich and famous. One island was inhabited solely by monkeys that were adept to jumping onto boats to try their luck for food, but my favourite was by far the 1960s caravan turned into a house all alone on a tiny plot. We invented a new game that day, known only as extreme hammocking. It involves a large hammock, at least two people laying side by side and a third person to swing it hard enough in attempt to either spin 360° or spill someone overboard. Its amazing how adventurous and creative you can become in the rain.
The time came to reluctantly head to San Juan del Sur, a town whose reputation preceeded it thanks to the swarms of people we had encountered along the way in Sunday Funday t-shirts. We had arrived on a Friday night so most places were booked up with visiting Managuans and people ready for the infamous pub crawl. Needless to say we were left with the only unoccupied accommodation, and spent the next few nights playing such delightful games as ‘detect the animal from the poo found in your bed’ and ‘did you get those bed bug bites somewhere else, or do we have a problem on our hands here?’
We escaped the Funday adventures after visiting the source of the crawl, it looked like a ‘Shagaluf’ esque set up where you could get pregnant just by swimming in the pool. Instead we befriended a couple that run a surf shack and headed to Playa Hermosa to surf for the day. We spent the evening before with them, drinking beers on the roof and playing with their tiny kittens before heading out to play overly competitive pool and learning to salsa. That got Seb hooked on surfing again so I took the opportunity to go horse riding into the hills in the surrounding Pacific bays. The horses were the most responsive I’ve ever ridden, one slight move of the hand and they would immediately turn, which would have made for an easy ride if mine wasn’t so frisky. We spotted all of the new housing developments commissioned by wealthy Americans setting up luxurious holiday homes, and taking advantage of cheap land with breath taking views. San Juan itself is nothing to write home about but the surrounding areas are really worth visiting. We spent our final day walking up to the statue of Christ that looms over the bay and watched the tenders bring day trippers in from the huge cruise ships. Turns out that my aunty and uncle once took the same route and ended up in town. We spent the rest of the bus journeys on to Rivas assisting cruisers with Spanish and currency conversion. We made it on to a rickety old lancha with a drunken expat shouting revolutionary remarks until he fell and badly knocked his head. Once on the island of Omoteppe we had to travel to the other side by school bus. This one was so packed that there was barely any breathing space let alone standing, and I witnessed some encounters in exchange for a bus fare that no respectable traveler ever wants to experience. We found lovely bungalow to stay in and watched the sun set between the two volcanoes. The following day we rented bikes and pedalled our legs off up and down the hills to get to the natural springs. The pool felt anything but natural as it was all set in manmade boundaries, but the fresh water was cold and refreshing and I could do 100m uninterrupted lengths to cool off from cycling. Quite possibly one of the best pools I’ve evef swam in, and Seb and I managed to touch up our newly acquired balancing act. The cycle home through swarms of insects and stampeding horses was an interesting one, but got the heart racing faster nonetheless. That was our last night in Nicaragua, as the following day was spent on 7 forms of transport to make it across the border to Costa Rica. I really enjoyed this country and I’m really glad we took the time to see it instead of simply passing through.