After our border adventure I have one more day with Mike and Lyndsay before we need to head to our Christmas destinations. The city on the way is Leon. One of the nice colonial cities of Nicaragua. The roads from the border to Leon are amazing. Wide, perfect tarmac, no potholes but many large roundabouts. The road drives through big fields along beautiful volcanoes. For a while we are followed by a biplane crop duster flying over the fields. I already like Nicaragua. In Leon we find a safe parking lot and a nice hostel with a three person room in the middle of town. Right next to our hostel is an awesome ice cream place with awesome flavors like dark chocolate, salty toffee, whiskey (that is one flavor not three). Obviously we need to stop there. After reading loads of stories about dodgy cops in Nicaragua we decide to organize some laminated copies of our drivers licenses/car registration, so we can give those to the cops and if they want to keep them, well, be mu guest. Luckily Leon is filled with copy shops so it’s not too hard of a job. The central square is full of people and Christmas decorations. Lyndsay had found a good restaurant for our last dinner together: an Italian place with an actual wood pizza oven. Delicious. At night the street markets are very busy. Filled with toys and other last minute Christmas gifts. And of course we grab another ice cream on the way back (passion fruit vodka).
The next day, the 24th, is the end of our little travel caravan. Mike and Lyndsay will head to the coast and I will head to Managua to pick up my parents and Jasper. On the way I stop at a big Walmart for Christmas shopping. It looks like half of Managua is here and the store is crazy busy, so Christmas dinner will be an improvisation with anything I could grab. Luckily the rest of Managua is empty and the road towards the airport is easy. My parents booked a hotel for the first night across the road from the airport since they only arrive at 22:00. I get there in the afternoon to abuse the WiFi and shower. At 11 my parents and Jasper arrive and we have a beer to celebrate the beginning of our trip together.
For Christmas my mom booked and AirBnB place in the countryside with a kitchen and everything so we can celebrate Christmas there. The place happens to be owned by a Dutch retired couple who have a big piece of land. They build their own house and some guest houses that they rent out. It’s a bit in the middle of nowhere so we meet in Masatepe and follow the owner to the house. The road is unpaved and very steep at times. I notice the extra weight of three passengers plus luggage and barely make it up some of the hills. It is really time to unpack those spare parts and work on the van. The house is beautifully located in a big garden with many orange trees. It has many great views of the Masaya volcano and lake. There are also palm trees, limes, coffee plants and many more fruit trees. We can eat whatever we want. We spend the evening on the deck with a great view and my parents brought some Christmas presents for me to unwrap! (Retteketetter, een chocolade letter!) The kitchen is well equipped and even has an oven. (AN OVEN!!!) So we make a big festive meal. At some point one of the guys who works at the place comes by to take us to his parents’ house right next to ours. From there you can see the Masaya volcano’s orange glow reflect against the clouds. Really cool.
Another day at the great house starts with breakfast with fresh orange juice from freshly picked oranges from our own garden. After that it’s mechanic time. My parents brought a lot of stuff to fix the car so it’s time to work. Or is it… Problem 1: the new throttle cable is about half a meter shorter than the old one. Problem number two the new radiator fan is about 4 cm thicker than the old one. Those were the most important parts. But luckily I’m getting pretty good at improvising: the throttle cable can be routed differently so it exactly fits. (I’ll keep the old/broken one, just in case). By switching the two fans the new thicker one now is in a spot with some more space and everything fits again. I also made my switch to switch the radiator fans on and off more permanent. So in the end we get all the improvements done. It just took a bit longer. We’ll see tomorrow if it is going to be any good. Time for beers! We walk down through the country side roads to a little restaurant with a view over lake Masaya. On the way there are loads of cows, horses and tiny little houses. A nice walk. Back at our house we go for another nice big meal.
Will the car be any better or not? The answer is yes. Funny how a VW van can feel like a racing car. The difference is huge. Instead of having to floor the pedal the whole time I never get further than half way. This causes some interesting driving the first bit. Let’s wait for the first mountains to see if the fans did any good. First stop is Masatepe where we want to visit a crafts market, turns out they only sell furniture… Not very useful as a souvenir. One of the things we really want to do in Nicaragua is visit Ometepe Island. It’s an island of two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We drive to the ferry harbor but the water looks very rough. The guy tells us there is no way to get our car on the ferry for the next two weeks (it being Christmas holidays and all), we can leave the van here and go without. We’re not sure what we want to do so for today we head on to San Juan del Sur a coastal town on the Pacific. When we’re almost at the coast the road decides to go up to 400m. Heating test passed! When we get there it turns out that it really is holiday season and all hostels are full (or charging double rates). So we end up renting an “apartment”. It’s just a big room with 4 beds and something that once used to be a kitchen. It’s all a bit worn down, but it’s clean and we only need to sleep there. So we go watch the sunset at the beach with a beer. After that we visit a craft beer brewery/bar. When all you normally get is watery beer, tasty beers are the best.
Isla Ometepe attempt number 2. We drive back to the harbor and leave the van in the secure parking lot. The boat we happen to get is a lancha and not the ferry. This is a small wobbly wooden boat. The waves are smaller than yesterday but still pretty big (more than a meter). We get seated at the front of the lower deck. The open sides are closed with tarps to keep the waves from flying into the boat. However this means you can’t see outside and there is no fresh air at all. Fun! Well I think this was officially the worst boat ride of my life. I manage to peel the tarp aside a bit so I can stick my nose outside for some fresh air. Because of the waves the 1 hour ride ends up taking 2 hours. Too bad we will have to go back the same way… Our hostel is at the more remote side of the island and buses only go once a day and we had already missed it, so we need to take an overpriced taxi. The hostel is really cool camp at the foot of the volcano with a nice outdoor space. Which would be great if it wasn’t raining. The rain stops just in time for a beautiful sunset.
Second day on the island is for hiking. From our hostel you can hike along the island coast and then up to the San Ramon waterfalls on the side of the volcano. The walk along the island is nice with small shops and loads of animals (the dog/horse/pig kind of animals). The actual hike up is in the forest and soon enough we spot some howler monkeys with kids. While we are taking pictures, one of the howler monkeys climbs up the tree right above my dad and starts peeing, missing my dad by only a few centimeters. The last bit of the hike you actually have to hike through a river/waterfalls. At the top the actual waterfalls are huge, but sadly enough it starts raining a lot. But since wet is wet, I decide to at least walk knee deep into the waterfall pool and surprisingly the pool is actually warmer than the rain. Today is clearly not a good day for my dad and animals. When we walk down through a farm a random goose starts hissing and attacks my dads ankles. Luckily the pigs/dogs/horses animals on the way back are being nice today.
Before we leave the island there is one more thing we want to do: kayaking. Our planning wasn’t very good so we don’t have time for a big tour but a 1 hour guided kayak to monkey island fitted exactly. Monkey island, as you would expect, has some monkeys on it. This time they’re spider monkeys. The rest of the kayak trip we see loads of birds. We did not run into any sharks (this is not a joke, there are actually bull sharks in lake Nicaragua and they get pretty big). On the way off the island we are lucky, this time our timing gets us on a ferry. Which means loads of space, fresh air and less waviness.