Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dawdling through Nicaragua: (15th March - 4th April '11)

Nicaragua: land of smoking volcanoes and smiling people. We experienced both in our first few days -people waved from the roadside as we rode in the shadow of the active and smoking Volcan San Cristobel. The road we were on circled underneath it and we were suitably impressed as a smoking volcano is certainly not an everyday sight in Australia! Little did we know we would spend much of our time in Nicaragua getting up close and personal with volcanoes: cycling alongside them, climbing into the crater of one and spending ten days on an island towered over by twin peaks.
Our southward push really slowed down in Nicaragua and we even headed north again to the small fishing village of Jiquilillo. Here we spent a number of days relaxing at the Rancho Esperanza, which was a perfect break from cycling. We only prised ourselves out of our hammocks (and away from Nate's fantastic collection of books) to cook our meals on the beach, have beer o'clock at sunset and to go surfing in the fun little waves.. well “surfing” could be a loosely applied term as I am not sure we really impressed anyone with our performance.. but we sure gave the whitewash a good old workout.
We also hit the waves (but only to bodysurf) a little further south at the beautiful Playa Matilda, which was a very relaxed camping spot right on the beach... Amongst all this relaxing on the beach we did manage to do some cycling and we checked out the cities of Nicaragua: Leon, charming and chilled, Granada, colourful but touristy and Managua, unappealing and frankly kind of odd.
After Granada we caught the ferry out to the Island of Ometepe. The island was fantastic, twin volcanoes rising out of a huge lake. We stayed at El Zopilote for ten days, a lovely laid-back ecological farm where we volunteered in the garden. We spent our days there gardening, building a cob bench, eating yummy home-made bread, studying Spanish, swimming in the lake and one enthusiastic day of hiking up the side of the Volcan Madero, through the jungles, past the monkeys and up into the crater and lake. We then spent the next week moaning as our legs ached – cycling fit is not the same as volcano-climbing fit!
We had some Spanish lessons at the farm but my lessons quickly just became an excuse for me and my teacher to have a good old chat. My teacher was also a biologist (well studying to be one) so I learnt a lot about the fauna and flora of the area, and the environmental regulations of Nicaragua... but I am not sure that my newly acquired Spanish language knowledge of the contamination problems of Lago de Nicaragua is going to prove very useful on our travels! My teacher and I also discussed the turbulent history of Nicaragua, the Revolution and current politics (it's an election year). Interesting topics to discuss in Spanish.. yet somehow I still can't understand when people ask me where I am from and I crumble under pressure when small children ask me my name.
As we travelled through Nicaragua we met quite a few other cycle-tourists. Pete from Belgium , the lovely Michelle and Dave who we met a few times, plus a whole boatload on the way to the Isla de Ometepe! On the boat was Karin and Chris, Yannick and Shirley, who are doing a very fun”transcontinental triathlon” and Allan from France who we first met on our way out of Denali National Park almost nine months ago. With our cycling gang we camped out at the boat launch when we arrived at the island and spent the evening chatting about cycling adventures.

We also had another overlander convention at a campsite on a southern beach where a bunch of vehicle-ing overlanders all coincidentally turned up on the same day. They were also doing the Alaska to Argentina trip, in a variety of 4wds/combi vans and we had a ball sitting up late and chatting with them.

We loved Nicaragua and thorougly enjoyed pottering our way through, taking it pretty slowly, in fact we found it hard to leave and put off heading south a number of times.. but finally we had to spend up our Cordobas, wave goodbye to the volcanoes and head towards the green of Costa Rica.

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