Around 10 pm we finally arrived in Leon, Nicaragua and found a hostel. Unfortunately they didn’t have any double rooms, but we were too wrecked to care, so after a couple of beers, we passed out in a couple of dorm bunks. The next day we scored a beautiful private room in a hostel across the road and went out for some exploring.
Leon is a very pretty little town, with lots of multi-coloured colonial-style buildings. The next day we signed up for a surf trip and headed out to the beach so Jas could rediscover surfing. It was a fun day, and back at the hostel an English guy, Steve, set up a little game of “human bowling” – basically 10 pins were set up and the floor in front was mopped with soapy water to make it slippy, then the contenders threw themselves down the make-shift bowling ally! It was absolutely hilarious. Especially because as the night went on, the guys playing got drunker and drunker! After all that we headed out on mass to another bar, where we watched a pretty decent band.
Our next excitement in Leon was the whole reason for going there – volcano boarding down Cerro Negro. About 20 of us headed out there on a truck and when we got to the base, we were each given a drawstring bag containing our bright orange suits (like work overalls) and a pair of goggles, and a volcano board – which is basically a bit of ply wood with grooves for your feet and ass and a bit of rope to hang on to. The climb up to the top was pretty tough – not because the climb was particularly hard or steep – but because it was mostly scrambling, which is quite difficult while carrying a bag and a volcano board! The scariest part was coming around the ridge and attempting to not get blown over the edge and into the steaming, sulphurous rocks of the crater! Eventually we got there though, and after some wandering about and taking photos, everyone climbed into their bright orange suits and assembled nervously with their volcano boards. Our guide, a Canadian called Hugh (who also ran the surf trips) announced that the girls were going first. So we headed down 2 at a time (making it into races). It was awesome! When I first climbed onto my board (you sit on it, like a toboggan), I was fairly convinced I was going to die – but I didn’t! And I made it all the way down without falling at a respectable speed of 37 km/h (the bus driver stood at the bottom of the slope and clocked everyone with a speed gun.) Jas came down a few runs after I did. He fell of a couple of times, but got up to 45 km/h. The fastest of the day was 66 km/h, by an American guy. He was also the worst injured, and shredded his left shin. So while we were back at the hostel drinking cocktails – he limped off to find a doctor to bandage him! Hugh told us a story about their fastest ever board run – an Israeli girl who clocked 87 km/h! She also had a spectacular fall at the bottom and cracked her head open, ouch!!
Next we headed to Granada, which is quite similar to Leon, but bigger, and a little pricier – but still dirt cheap. We didn’t do a huge amount here. Spent one day at Volcan Masaya, which is definately our favorite volcano so far. Mostly because you can climb up to the top and actually look into the crater, which was amazing! You can only hang around at the top for about 15 minutes because the sulphur fumes are so strong, but it was still cool. You can actually hear the volcano – it sounds like wind blowing a gale, or maybe a big waterfall. After that we wandered around some other dormant craters and watched the sunset. As it was getting dark we walked down and collected some hard hats and flashlights. We walked down to the entrance of a cave where we crouched down and waited for all the bats to fly out (apparently they leave the cave at the same time every night). Heaps of the creepy little things came flying out all around us while we were crouched there – we could feel them sweep past, but they never touched us, thank gawd! After that we walked through an old lava tunnel which was cool because you can’t do it many place in the world – and it’s ridiculously dangerous! Half way through Jas stopped and asked “isn’t it dangerous to do this in active volcano? What would happen if it erupted right now?”. The volcano had last erupted in 2008, when the area was full of tourists. We watched some you tube clips of it that night back at the hostel. Would have been very scary/exciting!
One of the main reasons we hung around in Granada for so long (10 days) was that we found an awesome hotel around the corner from our hostel that let’s you use their pool for 5 bucks a day. Score! Such a great spot for some relaxing after a few weeks of non-stop travel.
After Granada we headed to Isla de Ometepe, a giant island made up of 2 volcanos in lake Nicaragua. It was a pretty impressive sight heading over on the ferry. We spent 2 days over there not doing much at all. The island used to be a good spot of kayaking and swimming on the lake beaches, but about 18 months ago there was a huge flood and the lake level was raised about 3 foot, and this has never gone back down. So all the beaches are gone, and the water doesn’t exactly look inviting! So we spent one night in the main town where the ferry docks, and the next night in a cute little hostel in the middle of nowhere on the otherside of the island. The roads are crazy on the island, there is only one paved road, which runs between the 2 towns, and the rest of the island is dirt tracks. Heading back for the ferry on our last day was the craziest chicken bus ride we’ve had so far – 2 1/2 hours of standing with around 100 other people while bumping along dirt tracks. It was around then the chicken bus novelty wore off!!
After Isla de Ometepe, we headed to San Juan del Sur, a beach town on the south pacific coast. We had heard some bad stuff about SJDS, like that it was mega touristy and overcrowed – which was all rubbish! It was a great little town, and although it’s definitely the most touristy spot in Nicaragua, it’s still by no means touristy! There were a few more hostels than usual, and a bunch of white people walking around with surf boards – no sun loungers on the beach, resorts or high-rises – so we liked it! We spent a couple of days here and then caught a shuttle up the coast to a place called Playa Maderas. This ended up being our favourite spot in Nicaragua and we spent about 5 days here. The beach was in a little cove and there was nothing there apart from a big wooden shack of a hostel, a taco stand and a cafe. There was no electricity and the hostel had only one bathroom for everyone that stayed there, so it was very rustic and a brilliant place to spend a few days. So we chilled, read books, sunbathed and played in the sea (Jas hired a surf board for a bit too). We also saw some amazing sunsets. After sunset every night the owner of the hostel stuck on a generator for 3 hours (so until 9pm), so we could sit and drink beers and play cards in the evenings. All except for the last night, when the owner got too pissed to remember to turn the generator on, so we drank our beers in the dark! It was definitely a place for early nights and early mornings! The guys who ran the place were a great bunch, and we met heaps of other really nice travellers there. After Playa Maderas, we headed back to SJDS for a few more days before heading into Costa Rica.