Nicaragua – Forgotten Already

That seems a bit unfair but we only left a few days ago and it seems like a distant memory. Although when we talk about it I always comment that I quite enjoyed it and would have liked to explore more and Karen always comments that she was a bit disappointed. Given it’s the poorest country in Central America and has currently got a bit of political strife going on the expectations weren’t that high to begin with. So what did Nicaragua serve up that has given such mixed feelings.

It didn’t serve up good first impressions. After a long hot climb through the final 60km of Honduras we arrive at Immigration. Every border crossing up to this point has been a five minute affair…but not Nicaragua. Our first mistake was to be honest about our occupations. That set off a long winded half assed interview, a demand for our work id’s (which we don’t have), a very half assed search of our bikes by a Police Office who clearly thought Immigration were wasting their time (although he didn’t find our undeclared mace which was in clear view). Two hours later they decide we are not a risk to national security, stamp our passports and advise us to lie about our occupations. By this stage the thunder storm has arrived and we head down the road getting a little wet.

Luckily we only had 10km to roll down the hill to Somoto Canyon, our first Nicaraguan must see attraction. And it was also time for a day off the bikes so there was no rush exploring the area. Still after finding a great camp and catching up on some sleep we were itching to go. There are any number of tour operators willing to take you through the canyon but that’s not our way so we head off up the road in search of the mystery track that will drop us into the river at the head of the canyon. After a couple of wrong turns and some bush bashing through very prickly desert plants we hit the river and head downstream. Soon the river is getting narrower and deeper and before you know it the only way is to swim, which is great given it’s 30+ deg at 11am. A couple of hours later and we popped out the end of the canyon. We were both buzzing. It was just a surreal atmosphere to be immersed in. And to top it off the afternoon was spent lounging in a hammock enjoying a cold beer. Yes Nicaragua was delivering.

The truely stunning Somoto Canyon.

It went downhill a bit after that though. We’d heard Esteli was quite a nice place so bombed down the highway to get there. It was good going at first but got busier with no shoulder as we moved south. One noticeable thing was the increase in ox carts on the roads. It was a clear sign that the economy still has a ways to go to catch up to its neighbours.

It’s like stepping back in time.

Anyway I digress, we were happy to arrive in Esteli but after a bit of exploring were disappointed with what it had to offer. Essentially it’s a highway town that’s been talked up into something it’s not so we’re happy to leave the following day and head for some dirt roads. The loose plan, that kept changing, was to get to Laguna de Apoyo, Granada and Ometepe Island.

Dirt roads and a town to far makes for some great sunset riding.

So two days later we arrive at Laguna de Apoyo. We weren’t going to get there that day but the Volcano that we wanted to ride up to see the lava lake had some rule that no bikes were allowed. So you could drive your car up and park on the crater rim amongst the sulphur gas cloud but doing it on a bike was way too dangerous. But again I digress. Laguna de Apoyo is another volcanic crater. The water is clear(ish) and cool(ish) with an infusion of natural minerals. Just what our weary hot bodies needed.

Laguna de Apoyo. By far our best camp spot in Nicaragua.

But our bodies weren’t all that well. Earlier in the day we’d had a roadside buffet that was delicious and an absolute bargain. Clearly the bargain comes with an associated risk and before the nights done Karen’s guts is feeling decidedly delicate. In the morning she’s not much better and there might have been a tear or two as we tackle the 2km climb out of the crater up a 20% grade. To top things off we’ve decided to skip Granada, surely it’s just another city, and head straight to Ometepe. That doesn’t sound to bad, after all it’s only 65km to the ferry, but there’s a stinking head wind, the road is super narrow and super busy, especially with mad chicken bus drivers. Unfortunately my guts follows suit later that day and by the time we get to the ferry we’ve well had enough and just want to get to the Island, find a bed and crash. But first there’s the ferry crossing. It’s rough and it nearly puts Karen over the edge. But she manages to hang onto her lunch, luckily because the only outside area was facing the wind so she, and all the other people standing around her would have copped it. Not sure that would have made her to popular.

One of the Ometepe volcanoes.

And to moor the ferry the crewman jumps over the side to tie off the mooring line.

So we find a hostel and park up. The following day is slept away and the stomachs finally settle down after a few antibiotics. We’re both a bit lighter, like we had weight to loose, but just completely flogged out. It’s not a crash diet I’d recommend.

So we got to explore Ometepe Island. The island is made up of a couple of volcanos rising out of the massive Lake Nicaragua. It’s been some time since they were active but the steep ash and scoria cones are scarred with washouts. It reminded us of a bigger version of Rarotonga, just not as pristine.

We managed to score ourselves a camp at a fresh water spring. Had the place to ourselves once the day users are kicked out.

The main road on Ometepe crosses the main runway. Not to much in the way of traffic control through.

Easter Friday and all the locals are flocking to the lake for a swim. We were warned not to go to the coast. Apparently it’s just mad.

Turns out it was easy riding and we got around the Island in a day and were ready to say goodby to Nicaragua and make a run for the border the following day. Luckily this time they let us out without any hassles. Probably pleased to see the back of us.

So where have we been.

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Two solemates sharing bikepacking adventures that are off the beaten track.

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