Possibly my favorite trip of all time came to be because of a bar chat at the original Cheers in Boston on St Patrick’s day. I was drinking green beer with a coworker when this man sat next to me and we started chatting. He and his business partner, who were in Boston for a seafood convention, invited us to join their table. It doesn’t take much to get me to hop on a plane, but by the end of the evening they had convinced me I needed to visit their country of Nicaragua. They told tales of the largest freshwater lake in the world with volcano islands in the middle, hiking live volcanoes, amazing surf, and good food. They even insisted on giving me an 18 year aged bottle of Flor de Caña rum before we went to our separate hotels. My opinion of Nicaraguan people was up there, & I was pumped about the possibilities. So contrary to the norm, I started researching this trip a few months in advance. I had zero problem finding things to do and people who wanted to go. After deciding 5 was a solid #, we set the date, and all flew a Spirit redeye out of IAH because it was a brand new route and had plenty of seats open.
Day 1- León.
– I had been in touch with a few hostels and BnBs in Leon and decided on La Paz de Luna. They arranged transport from the airport at 1 am for us, set up the volcano boarding at Cerro Negro, fed us a great breakfast, arranged transport to San Juan Del Sur (4 hrs), annnnnd upgraded us to the only suite since we booked everything through them. We loved the little BnB. It was bare minimum but had working A/C, an ensuite bathroom (rare in Leon), & they served individualized breakfast and coffee each morning. The staff were all very accommodating (Shout out to Emily for being awesome), and I’d highly recommend anyone to stay there. Everything mentioned, I repeat EVERYTHING mentioned, was $520. Total. Did I mention I love this country?!
So we woke up and enjoyed breakfast before heading out to Cerro Negro. We had noooooo idea what we were in for. First off, you hike up the bad boy. The hike starts by climbing up volcanic rock… the Volcano erupted twice in the late 90s. Those rocks are not set in place, and it was a very tedious task to get about halfway up when it turned to mostly ash and small rocks.
At that point you walk along a ridge to the top. To your right is a live crater and places where you see ‘smoke’ coming from the giant hill you’re walking on, and to the left is basically a straight down fall…. you can’t see all the way to the bottom. So, we keep on keeping on against probably 20-30 mph wind gusts all while holding these wooden boards, still having no idea what we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Once you reach the top there are absolutely stunning views of other volcanos in the distance and you can see the giant crater where the last eruption was.
Our guide also proved that we were on an active volcano by just pushing back the top layer of ash and showing the smoke from the hot ash being exposed. As if we didn’t get it when the bottom of our feet started burning if you stood still long enough. It was active & could erupt again any minute, got it! I opted not to walk to the edge and look at where we would be sliding down before it was time to put our gear on and go. Tricky part, at this point we were being swarmed by bees. Actually swarmed is putting it mildly. We noticed clouds of them before in other areas on the way up, but at the start spot we were in the middle of one of those clouds of bees. Apparently bees and butterflies like the minerals coming from the volcano. Cool. So, we throw our jumpsuits, goggles, gloves, and bandanas on and walk to where we would be sliding down the side of a volcano. And realize…
YOU CAN’T SEE TO THE BOTTOM.
Like, they want you to sit on a wooden board and take off speeding (the record is 54 mph) down nearly 2000 ft of volcanic ash (the volcano is 2,400 ft high) without seeing where you’re going to be going. Being a Leo and a little crazy, I went first. Honestly, I just wanted to do it before I thought about how many bad things could happen, and I definitely wanted away from the bees that were covering us. It was a blast! I didn’t go very fast lol, my board kept turning sideways & I didn’t want to die being the first one up (you sit on the board, hold a rope, and steer with your feet.) It took me probably a minute to make it to the bottom & I got to watch my friends all come down after.
We celebrated with a cold cerveza & lunch after, spent a while showering black ash off ourselves, and then proceeded to play drinking games to kill the time. Picture a 6th grade sleepover with booze and that about sums up the start to our 1st night. It happened to be salsa night at the local spot, and we attempted to blend in. I say attempted because 1. Ashley and I are really white but were trying. 2. Christine had her drink knocked out of her hand and it shattered 3. Shenna was dancing circles around everyone and 4. We had to drag a sweat drenched Kate off the dance floor where she was the tallest person. By 10:30 we grabbed food and called it an early night.
|spot Kate?! bahaha|
The next day we walked to Cathedral de Leon (Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Leon), the largest cathedral in Central America! It was built between 1747- 1814. For $6 you can walk on the beautiful white roof which supplies an amazing view of the city and nearby volcanoes.
Day 2- Leon to San Juan del Sur
After exploring Leon and lunch, we packed into a van and headed out. I mean PACKED into a van. 5 girls, a ton of black crew luggage (that did not even come close to all fitting in the back), and the driver and his girlfriend upfront. So, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when halfway through the 4 hour drive we blew out a tire. In the middle of the countryside, in Nicaragua. We all got out and sat on a dirt driveway off the main road while car after car stopped to offer help. That’s when we remembered we had a bottle of rum and a coke packed away. Soooo, we passed the time passing the bottle. Sitting in the dirt, on the side of the road in Nicaragua. Think that’s all to the tire story? Negative… we start driving again only to stop at what we thought was a fruit stand. It was a fruit stand, lots and lots of fruit, but it was also the local tire shop booth. Literally a booth. We bought some mangos, and sat around for a while. Being women on a road trip, of course we had to use the bathroom. The local people were nice enough to show us to the restroom. Let me try and set this up properly…. I didn’t realize it was a neighborhood/village/community behind us, but a sweet little girl walked us up a dirt path where some small tin rooms I realized were houses were at. We pass them, walk down a path to another tin building, and enter to find a raised cement hole. Tada the baño. However, the open window view from the ‘toilet’ of a valley below was beautiful…. Obviously it was a first hand experience of the poverty level in the country as well.
After arriving at our airbnb house 1.5 hrs late, we had a dance party in the kitchen because the place was ginormous and there was so much room for activities… that, and we had finished the bottle of rum on the way. Dinner on the beach was next, and then a pretty intense calorie burning dance session at the club next door. Some burned more than others lol. SJDS is known as a party town with lots of young people, and it lived up to expectations. It was a great time, but we were reminded of our age when we woke up the next morning. We were struggling, but manged to book a sunset boat cruise and eat one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.
Day 3 & 4- SJDS
The boat cruise was fun, we rode to a private cove only accessible by boat and jumped in for a swim and walk around the white sand beaches. Shenna and I picked out a few hermit crabs and swam them back to the boat where we had hermit crab races. (We are all 10 year olds trapped in adult bodies). We drank some Toña and our favorite Flor de Caña rum and just enjoyed being out on a boat. The captain, Sergio, caught a mackerel on the way back, filleted it, and dropped us at a restaurant where they cooked it up for us. Then we took our old selves to bed.
I’m pretty sure the captain enjoyed our company, because he offered to take us back out the next day for double the length of time, arrange our transportation to MGA airport that night (we had a redeye home), & make sure we were picked up from our condo when we needed to check out. Basically, he was awesome and we got the hook up. If you find yourself in the area -Extreme Nicaraguan Adventures, Sergio’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This day was a little more boozing than fishing, but we managed to catch 4 rooster fish and 1 snapper. A catch for each of us just as Sergio had promised. I really need to mention that Nicaragua is beautiful! There are lush green hills that lead straight to the ocean, cliff lined beaches, little hidden white sand coves, & small surf towns scattered along the coast. I very much enjoyed just riding on the front of the boat and taking it all in.
Our dinner that night was our fish we caught, which obviously tastes better!
We had to hustle and eat, and then only had time to each rinse our bodies before our van picked us up for our ride back to Managua. So, remember…. boat all day, catching fish, and just a little prostitute rinse.
DAY 4 (& accidental 5)
The end of day 4 brought us to MGA airport. After some technical difficulties with immigration because we had checked in for 2 different airlines we finally make it to the United gate only to have it be completely full. Fail. Spirit was up next. It was wide open 3 weeks ago, like 50+ seats still. So, when it turned out to be full we started getting nervous. Sure enough it was filled to the brim, and we were able to send Kate (who had n ear infection) home on the jumpseat. The other 3 ladies and myself set off to find a safe place to snuggle up in a corner and try to sleep.
We found a little hallway with office doors that was maybe 5 feet wide by 10 long. We moved a long banner in front to hide ourselves and our luggage. I snuggled up to my carry on, still in my uniform, and maybe slept a couple hrs. At 5am we had to roll off the tile floor and start trying flights again. Still in our uniforms, still with fish/ocean hair, still with yesterday’s make up on, still basically sleep walking to the ticket counter as everyone comes in at 6 am looking ready for the day. Didn’t make the flight. Misery sets in. So, we snuggled up in a new corner (with carpet… whooo) and hug our luggage again for a nap. 16 hrs after we arrived again the airport we finally made it out on United for twice the price our roundtrip flight on Spirit was. The shower I took when I got home was the best I’ve taken to date…
For 3 nights (4 counting the airport) I think we experienced about as much of Nicaragua as we possibly could have. A lot of articles that I’ve read about inexpensive places you should travel to include Nicaragua, and with good reason. The country is beautiful, the people are soo friendly, and there is SO much to do! I want to go back and explore the lakes, Granada, and other volcanos next time. We almost stayed in a house on a lake thats actually a naturally filled crater! Then there is Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in the world, that has the island of Ometepe which is made of 2 volcanos! This place is just brimming with places to be explored, and most people don’t even know where Nicaragua is! Costa Rica is on the tourism map now, Nicaragua isn’t far behind! The places we went to, the adventures we experienced, and the people we met made it such an amazingly great time.
|(our balcony view of SJDS)|
BUT, the people I went with made it one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever been on. I understand some people enjoy solo travel, but I can’t imagine having as good of a time as I did without our games, dance parties, laughing fits, and everyone’s willingness to see and do it all!
Nicaragua you were definitely one for the books, and I’ve never been more thankful for good friends/coworkers that are game for adventure!