21.03.2011 - 09.04.2011 32 °C
The first stop in Nicaragua was a little beach town called San Juan del Sur, only 45 minutes from the Costa Rican border. The place was full of backpackers but very relaxed and the tour bus crowd was pleasantly absent.
Surfing is the name of the game in San Juan and while there are no waves at the beach in town, there are a number of other beaches north and south which are easily accessible. The beaches are pretty wild and untouched (one of them was the set for Survivor Nicaragua) although most (including the Survivor Beach) have a few little shacks which sell the necessities – cold beers and great food and we can highly recommend the chicken nachos at Playa Maderas.
As Jess, our Polish friends and I were all complete beginners, we signed up for a short surfing lesson in an attempt to nail the basics. Our instructor was excellent and had all of us standing up, surfing massive walls of white water on our first or second try. After a few hours he cast us adrift, leaving as with the old adage “practice makes perfect”. We spent the next few days practising, which involved waking each morning with an assortment of strange bruises, going to one of the beaches, receiving an absolute pummelling from mother nature and heading home to collapse. Jess and I absolutely loved it and ended up staying for four nights and would have stayed even longer if we could have extended our accommodation.
Our next stop was Isla de Ometepe, an island in the middle of nearby Lake Nicaragua formed by two conical volcanos – Volcan Maderas and Concepcion. The island is inhabited and is part plantations, part national park. It's all very fertile, picturesque and tranquil and some people just love the serenity.
Perhaps because it is so peaceful there isn't a lot to do on the island other than feeling the vibe in a variety of different environments. We were staying in a hacienda run by a collective of coffee growers set on the side of Volcan Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanos. There was a jungle trail from our hacienda up to the crater and we began our assault early on the first morning, hoping for some great views of the lake and the other volcano Concepcion.
Alas, after battling for 4 hours we discovered that the particular trail we had chosen to walk up Madieras has no real outlooks of the other volcano at all and we would have to trek back down the way we had come, through some seriously muddy and slippery jungle without having seen a thing. That night, completely buggered and somewhat disillusioned from the walk, we kicked back on the verandah of the hacienda and contemplated what to do next.
Our general view was that the sites in Central America while nice, were not on the same scale as what we had seen in South America and we felt that we would enjoy Central more by simply relaxing at the beach, rather than flogging ourselves on a merciless timetable to see all the potential items of interest listed in the guidebooks. After much soul searching, Jess and I decided to head back to San Juan del Sur rather than seek a new tropical paradise in the Corn Islands. While we had heard the Corn Islands were a slice of paradise, we had really been enjoying he surfing and were unlikely to get the chance to surf again on this trip.
The only other event of note that night, was a Swiss, Belgian and two French Canadians trying to throw an impromptu psi-trance party on the verandah of the hacienda. Picture yourself, its about 9pm, you are sitting on a wide verandah, gazing out over a lush tropical garden and sucking back a cold beer after a hard day. Suddenly, from nowhere the stereo is turned up 1000%, and the music changes from the local Mariachi band to pounding psi-trance and the four guys mentioned above have stripped off their shirts and are dancing like it is their last night in Ibiza.
Back in San Juan del Sur we tried to get straight back into the old routine, surfing and eating. Unfortunately, after the first day Michael developed a nasty eye infection, perhaps related to his contact lenses, was given an eye patch (again!!!) for three days and ordered to steer clear, of sand, sun and surf. With those activities excluded, SJDS lost some of its appeal and we decided to head to Granada immediately and possibly return again for more surfing when the eye had healed.
Granada is a small, restored colonial city on the edge of Lake Nicaragua. Exploring the city itself doesn't take more than an afternoon and we hired a car and did all the major sites around the city the next day in one fell swoop – Volcan Masaya, Laguna de Apoyo, and some nearby villages and markets. The volcano in particular was good as it is quite active and you could look directly down into the steaming crater. Still the four of us would probably have preferred to be at the beach.
On the third day Kuba and Marzena left us for Honduras while Jess and I decided to head back to San Juan del Sur to attempt to surf again! Although Michael was still under strict orders to avoid contacts for another couple of weeks, at least the eye patch was gone.
Although Michael didn't find blind surfing that enjoyable and spent significantly more time on the beach, Jess was able to further her professional career and after another six days we felt ready to leave Nicaragua for the Bay Islands in Honduras. Mode of transport, a 3 day, 4 bus, 1 boat marathon. The Bay Islands better be worth it!
Also credit to Kuba for some of the photos I have posted - it ended up being a bit of a collaborative effort at the beach.