Nica, Nica, Nicaragua.
My favorite sign hanging over one of the hostels that we parked at read ‘Party like a Nica and tip like a Gringo!’ Needless to say, we took their advice. It is hard not to fall in love with Nicaragua. It’s a beautiful country with easy people, quick with a smile. Warm and inviting, we could have stayed months here.
Getting into Nicaragua proved to be a bit more difficult with Alex than the previous countries, but luckily we hired a young kid for $1USD to work his magic and help get us across the boarder. Now you can judge us for hiring children or you can see that we support young entrepreneurs and probably pay better than any other local jobs. These boys are efficient and navigate you through the crazy bureaucracy that happens on some of the boarders. Our little man at this boarder, Livingston, told us he was our man. And he sure was! He got us through all of the different stops, including the headache of getting a dog through the boarder. After about three hours we finally made it into Nicaragua.
Our first stop in Nicaragua was the colonial town of Leon. AJ and I, and Dan and Heather all decided since there are no camping spots near Leon, that we would boondock in front of the hostel that we were doing the boarding with. The four of us had heard about volcano boarding and wanted to try it. It’s basically where you hike up a volcano carrying a sled, get to the top, dress up in a prison jumpsuit with goggles, and then point down the volcano and go shooting by a guy timing you. It’s a ton of fun! We even brought Alex, he was the first canine volcano boarder, sans board. I held onto Alex while AJ went first and let him fly about the time AJ was halfway down, and sure enough Alex caught up and finished with AJ! I was fastest girl, coming in at a whopping 55kmh! I really wanted to win because I thought there was a tee shirt to in it for me, what I didn’t realize was that my prize was the lava shot challenge and then I got a free tee shirt. Not one to turn down a challenge, I went up the the bar and took a shot of hot pepper rum with the seeds still in, every five seconds three times. It was so hot I thought I might have burnt my insides! But part of the challenge is to keep it down, for a little while at least! Don’t worry, I still won my tee shirt! And before we knew it, there was a mustache party going on and it turned into a really fun night in Leon. One night in Leon and we did it right!!
After our fun time in Leon, we decided to head to the Pacific side of Nicaragua. I had to head back the US to visit family and Dan and Heather graciously agreed to hang out with AJ and Alex while I was gone. I was a little nervous to leave our little unit, but my worries melted away when we got to the hostel on the beach in paradise. We stayed at sister hostel of the one we had boondocked outside of Leon. But this time they had space for us inside the gates and it was perfect! AJ and Dan ended up taking surf lessons and Heather went to Spanish school. I came back ‘home’ to Las Penitas Nicaragua and we ended up staying a couple extra days.
Lake Apoyo was the next stop. This is another crater lake surrounded by volcanoes, a little bit lower in elevation and much smaller, but it reminded us of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. We stayed at a very fancy hostel and parked at the top of the property with buildings sprawling down to the lake. The lake was beautiful to swim in and the hostel offered free kayaks to use. We suited Alex up in his life vest and explored Apoyo! We got word from AJs mom that she was coming to visit us in Ecuador with AJs little brother Sean! They are landing in Quito on March 21st so we knew that we were going to have to pick up our pace again!
We said bye to our friends Heather and Dan at Lake Apoyo and headed to the really big lake, Lake Nicaragua! It was sad to say bye to our friends as we had been traveling for over a month together, seen a lot, and had so much fun! But we needed to move on, and who knows, somewhere down the line we might see them again.
We spent a day trying to secure a spot for Ramona (Our truck, yes we’ve named her Ramona!) on one of the tiny ancient ferries that take vehicles and people across the lake to the volcanic island called Ometepe. We tried on two different boats but were turned away twice. We ended up spending the night on the street outside a hotel and decided to try again in the morning. We ended up getting the last place on a very small ferry. There were three trucks behind us and a huge delivery truck parked next to us. It was so tight that there was no way that we could leave our truck, in fact, AJ had to keep his foot on the brake to keep us from rolling into anything. We made it to Ometepe early. The island is formed by two volcanos and all of the towns and communities skirt the bottom of these two giants. We drove down the west side to the smaller of the two and hiked up to a huge jungle waterfall. To get to the hike you had to go through the owners plantation of limes, tangerines, and avocados; past all of his huge, beautiful cows and horses; and then finally through the jungle past howler monkeys screeching down at us to the huge waterfall. Once we got there we just stood under it to cool down. On our way down we met the owner, Eduardo, who offered his gated land on the lake for us to sleep for free. It was perfect! Cool with the breeze from the lake and the waves crashing right next to the camper. We drove around the island when we woke up and went to camp at the plantation for another night. Eduardo helped us hire a guide to hike the smaller of the two volcanos the next day.
Planning on turning in early for the 6am wake up, we started making dinner early. It was a bit windy so we were inside the camper blasting music and hanging out, but AJ was certain that he had heard a horn. I thought he was crazy. We went outside and guess who it was? Dan and Heather! We had been emailing and sent some cryptic message about where we were, not thinking that they would be coming that day or needing directions much less! So good to see our friends again, and sure enough they were up for one more hike with us! We got up early and went down the island to a really nice hostel right next to the trailhead where we met our guide Simeon, apparently for this hike we needed two guides for four people so he called his little assistant Orbin to join us. It was a bitch. Eight hours total and the top half was such thick jungle, in the clouds, with mud up to the ankles. It was like the fire swamp, but luckily no rodents of unusual size and the volcano was not shooting any fire balls at us. After the haul up there the clouds were so thick that we couldn’t even see the crater lake! But it was a fun adventure, our guide Simeon started doing the howler monkey call (which sounds eerily like jurassic park) and they started howling back at him! It was creepy. We finally made it down, dirty and tired, but yet another volcano down and with our friends.
Our new place, Merida, was perfect after a long trek. Ramona and the Hulk (Dan and Heather’s rig) parked next to each other, on the lake, on a nice flat parking lot. We chucked off our shoes, peeled off socks, and cracked some beers. The hostel was having a dinner buffet that turned out to be delicious. Pork, mashers, gravy, salad, veggies, cheese, bread, rice, beans, and almond cake. The best spread after the hike we just did! It was a perfect last night with our friends, and to finish it off we played an awesome round of cards against humanity. The next day we rolled out at 6am to go catch our ferry and continue on the road. This was a definite goodbye to our friends, at least for the time being.
The owner of Merida, Al, who was so cool, told us of a turtle reserve that is a nice little spot on the way to the border. Al was building a bilingual grade school for the local children that was built from two liter bottles filled with trash. It was truly amazing and we wish him the best! So anyway, we headed to the turtle reserve on Al’s recommendation. We made it to La Flor turtle reserve and were not disappointed. They let us know that at sunset we would be able to release over 50 baby Olive Ridley turtles into the ocean. It was so beautiful to let these tiny creatures loose onto the sand and watch them crawl their way to the ocean and then fight the waves. So brave! It was a magnificent way to end our trip in Nicaragua, a beautiful country.