Week two with my parents and Jasper in Nicaragua. We just got to mainland after a very welcome calm ferry tour from Isla Ometepe. Because we went kayaking in the morning everything was a bit later than planned. So when we finally arrived in the volcanic crater of Apoyo it was already dark. In the crater at the lake of Apoyo we had reserved a room for 3 at the hostel hoping they would let me camp in the van. They never had people camp but if I wanted to sleep in my van, no problem. Well actually one problem, their only parking was on a 10 degree slope. Now I’m used to not having the van 100% level but this was a bit extreme. But hey, I hadn’t slept in my van for more than a week so I had to sleep in my van, even if that meant that I’d be sleeping standing. The hostel had a really nice deck where we had a beer while the howler monkeys were making their noises at only a few meters away from us. Pretty cool.
When I wake up I notice monkey footprints on my windshield. I already thought I heard something last night. After breakfast we explore some of the nice beaches of this volcanic lake before we head of to our New Year’s Eve destination: Granada. Granada is a biggish colonial city with loads of restaurants and bars so we thought it would be a great spot to celebrate the new year. We had booked a hotel a while ago because everything was getting pretty fully booked. Well, that hotel wasn’t such a good choice. The whole building smelled like fish and the rooms were really hot. To make things better the AC was broken. The only plus from that is that they gave us a 50% discount. So we spend as little time as possible at the hotel and walked with a detour via lake Nicaragua to the city center with its beautiful churches. We found a bar that served craft beers, always good. The main street with all the bars and restaurants was filling up with people and music so we had us some steak there for dinner. But now we had a problem. It had been a long day and we were tired (I actually hadn’t been awake after 23:00 for a very long time). So ideally we could hang out at the hotel before heading back to town for midnight, sadly our hotel was still smelly and hot. We went back anyway and tried to ignore this. We walked into town for midnight. There was a lot of dancing, live music and fireworks flying around everywhere. We didn’t know exactly when it was midnight so we just joined when loads of people started yelling.
The second day in Granada we explore the city some more.A lot of places are closed because of the holidays but we still find some nice art galleries. We walk all the way across town to visit a cemetery (with nice mausoleums. I convince my family to have some real street food lunch at the kiosk at the main plaza which turned out to be one of the more interesting foods, something cabbage, something, fried pig fat. Jummy.
One last thing for Granada. Friends of my parents have a charity that supports after school activities for children of the poor areas of the cities. One of the ladies of the organisation was willing to drive us around through these areas to see their schools and activity buildings. Even though the kids weren’t there because of the holidays it was interesting to see all these schools that help hundreds of children. After we leave Granada we head to the Masaya volcano. This is the volcano we could see from our house over Christmas. The cool thing about this volcano is that you can actually see the lava down inside the crater. And to make things easier you can actually drive all the way to the top. Well easier if you don’t drive a 25 year old VW van with four people and luggage in it. It’s a hard slope for the van but he makes it while just staying within temperature. The volcano crater is really cool and the lava at the bottom is absurd (you do have to wait for the fumes to be blown away before you can see the lava). You have to park your car with the nose facing the exit in case you have to evacuate and you can only stay at the crater for 5 minutes before the guards send you away. And probably for a good reason. Weirdly enough where you normally cough from fumes, here everyone was sneezing. Not sure how that works. After our dose of nature for today we headed to colonial city number two: Leon. The hostel we had booked was great with a nice garden with hammocks, so much better than Granada. Also I could park right outside and the night guard would look after the van. Perfect. That evening we went for a nice evening walk through town.
Time to explore Leon. Loads of churches and markets. We also visit a contemporary art museum that has a Dali/Picasso exposition, but the local artists’ works were more interesting. For lunch we almost get caught in a tourist trap but when they don’t have anything we try to order and are really expensive we head to to cool Italian place I was last week. Freshly made spinach/Parmesan ravioli are the best! And of course we have to get another ice cream from the awesomest ice cream place of Central America. I forgot the flavor I had but it surely was something extravagant. That evening we had to go through some very Central American process. We saw that you can walk on the roof of the cathedral. We wanted to do that around sunset for some great photos. So we walk up to the entrance of the staircase. The guy tells us we have to buy tickets around the corner. Around the corner of the church is a huge queue. The queue doesn’t move at all and we’re getting closer and closer to closing time. Then all of a sudden after about half an hour it starts moving. They’re selling tickets for tomorrow afternoon, or maybe tomorrow morning, but we can go now too if we hurry. Not sure what happened but we made it up in time. The views over the city and the volcanoes in the distance were beautiful. Great picture time. We only went down when they closed the place.
For the last few days we planned some relaxing time. We headed to a surf camp in Jiquilillo relatively close to the border with Honduras. The last 8km of the drive are unpaved but doable. The camp looks very relaxed. Some bamboo huts for my parents and Jasper to sleep in and I can camp in my van again. The camp is right at the beach so we go for a swim while the pelicans fly over. When we make dinner that night the campsite dog comes over to pick up the bits of food we dropped. What he didn’t know was that the van was surrounded by fire ants. Now the dog has fire ants up his nose and is trying to scratch them out. I feel bad for the dog, but when he tries it again a few minutes later I decide it’s just hilarious.
After almost two weeks of running around through Nicaragua we finally take a rest day. We spend most of the day sitting/in a hammock reading. Great lazy times. In the afternoon we walk along the beach to the next town and from there we cross over to the mangrove river delta. We do not see any manatees or turtles. The sunset on the way back is another good one.
Because the surf camp is too far away from the airport, we head to the coast a bit further south for our last day. We end up in Las Penitas. We walk through the wetlands where there is an odd combination of vultures, seagulls, pelicans and herons. Our final sunset beers are at the roof of the local reggae bar (the Spotify reggae playlist is pretty good).
And now for a very long driving day. We start in Las Penitas and my dad drives us two hours to Managua Airport where I say goodbye to my parents and Jasper, our next meetup will probably be in July next year when I’ll be back in Europe for a bit again. After that I drive another two hours to San Juan del Sur. I plan to cross into Costa Rica tomorrow to pick up Maarten who is going to travel with me for two weeks. SJDS is the town closed to the border. When I get there I remember that you can’t really camp in SJDS and I get a message from Mike and Lyndsay saying they’re at a great campsite in Popoyo and will cross the border tomorrow too. So I decide to head there for a good camp and a joint border crossing. Popoyo is only 15km down the coast, but 70km via the road and because of some unpaved sections it takes me more than 1.5h. Luckily Mike and Lyndsay counted on me being very tired and ordered dinner for the three of us at the hostel across the street which also has craft beer. And that, my friends is how Nicargua ended.
A big thanks to my parents and Jasper for joining me on the trip for two weeks and making Christmas and New Years feel like home. Thanks for bringing the spare parts and helping fix the van.