Posted on by Erica Duncan in Nicaragua | Comments Off on Nicaragua

Unfortunately due to our extended stint in Tunco, we had limited time to spend exploring Nicaragua. In the beginning of our great adventure, and without knowing how long we would want to stay in each country, we scheduled some plans that at the time seemed extremely far off but are now quickly creeping up on us. Although we have incredible arrangements to look forward to (Lauren and Doug’s visit, hiking Machu Picchu with the Slapjacks, volunteering at the children’s hospital, etc.) we are all a bit frustrated with the inevitable quickened pace we are now dealing with. We had to cut out two of our four intended stops in Nicaragua—Somoto Canyon and Ometepe—both of which we were really excited about. Regardless, we made the most of our time in Leon and San Juan del Sur!

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 1.25.45 PMWe took a microbus from Tunco to Leon—10 hours total, which sounds like an eternity but now seems like a typical travel day (easy, in fact, because we were able to stay on only one shuttle the whole time.) We pulled up in front of Big Foot Hostel which was evidently the party spot— we heard loud music and shouting from the street. We checked in and were immediately recruited to rowdy flip cup teams.

Leon is known for volcano boarding—a unique activity that has recently become quite popular among thrill-seeking travelers. The idea is that you hike to the top of Cerro Negro, a local volcano and also the most active in Central America, and then slide down the side at high speed… There was no way we were going to skip such an adventure! In the morning we grabbed a cup of coffee and signed up for the afternoon escapade.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 1.30.21 PMWe had already heard several horror stories about people getting injured while volcano boarding—broken bones, dislocated shoulders, etc.—but signed the waiver without hesitation. When 1PM rolled around, we exited the hostel with our group and literally piled into a gigantic truck with an open back and two long benches. We were packed in tightly and not everyone could sit down so I, and a few other people, had to stand up for the drive there. Within the first five minutes we turned off the street and gunned it down the bounciest back roads I could ever imagine. Everyone was laughing as we clutched whatever metal railing we could hold onto. It was definitely a work out— when we finally arrived my arms felt like spaghetti!

Each person received a kit that included a “board” (basically a 2×4 with a short rope attached,) a pair of scuffed up thin green goggles, and an orange jumpsuit before we began the hike up. Climbing a volcano is interesting for several reasons. One, it’s extremely hot as there is no shade (or any vegetation for that matter) and the black rock underfoot has been roasting in the sun all day. Two, the crunchy sensation of walking on porous volcanic rock feels similar to how your teeth crunch merengue. Three, as you get up that high, the wind picks up tenfold and it takes all your strength and balance to hold onto your board and walk in a straight line.

The view from the top is pretty astonishing, not because you can see so much of the countryside, but because you can see a defined border between where the lava has blackened the earth and the normal green landscape. We took some time for photos at the top and even made a group video in the theme of a recent Facebook fad (see: Harlem Shake Video.) We donned our full-body suits, received instructions on how to avoid getting hurt, and lined up. It seemed easy enough as we deliberated do’s and don’ts while watching everyone in front of us slide down. Finally it was my turn and I decided that the best thing to do was nothing—no brakes, no steering. I leaned back and flew down! I actually started strong, kept in a straight line and picked up some speed. About half way down, the decline slopes to 45 degrees and a few seconds into that section I flew off my board and got a mouthful of rocks. It actually didn’t hurt at all and I got right back on, but by then I’d lost momentum so when they measured my speed with a radar gun I only clocked in at 41 kph. Meghan and Kyle must have gotten some second-rate boards because for some reason neither of them could stay straight nor gain any speed. As they leisurely came down the mountain they both looked a bit disappointed.

Nobody in our group was injured although a couple people took pretty big spills. The best part of the day was the ride back to Big Foot—our tour guide had a secret cooler full of beers for everyone and, now bonded from our adventure, we drank and laughed and fell on top of each other as the driver took off again on the same rough dirt paths.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 1.26.30 PMThe next day we set out to check out the Surfing Turtle Lodge. Meghan originally discovered the hostel online while doing research about different places to visit in Nicaragua and we made a note to go there, if possible. The first day we arrived in El Salvador we met a guy, Pedro, who turned out to be the owner of the place! It’s on a tiny island off Poneloya Beach near Leon, and as we were getting ready to head that way, who did we run into on the street? Pedro! He was taking a crew out to repair the solar panels and told us to hop in the back of their pick up truck.

The Surfing Turtle is an eco-friendly hostel that doubles as a turtle hatchery. In Nicaragua many locals eat turtle eggs, so people will find them on the beach and sell them to restaurants. As a result, many turtles aren’t being born and the species is suffering because of it. A few years ago, Pedro found out about this and wanted to help protect the babies, so now the Surfing Turtle staff buy the eggs from poachers at market value (about $1.50 for 10 eggs if I remember correctly) and take care of them until they are big enough to try their luck in the ocean. Luckily for us, 5 babies hatched the morning of the day we arrived, so we got to participate in their release.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 1.26.41 PMThe newborn turtles were Olive Ridleys—tiny black babies that fit in the palm of your hand. At sunset when the tide was coming up, we set them down about 20 feet from the water and watched as they crawled toward the big blue. I named mine Polka Dot and felt like a proud parent as I watched her march confidently in a straight line while the others crawled in circles or stood still. After about 45 minutes (and much goading,) all the turtles successfully made it to the ocean. Their chance of survival is slim, but I’m sure Polka Dot is alive and well today!

The Surfing Turtle is really laid back, but after a couple days of playing with the pigs and newborn kittens, shooting hoops and playing the only two card games we know, we were ready for a little more action (plus we had to get a move on anyway.) We bussed it down to San Juan del Sur, a surfer town in the south of Nicaragua. We arrived at night and couldn’t see much of the area, but we went for dinner at Barrio Café and were blown away by the food. It was a bit pricey for our meager standards but we dined on black spaghetti with fish, Gorgonzola salad and a chicken sandwich, which were all delicious! We ended up going back to eat there two more times during our stay in San Juan.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 1.24.59 PMBy day the town is bright and energetic with numerous surf shops and small local eateries. Kyle discovered a French fries shop with a varied range of sauce selections that he quickly became addicted to. There is a coffee shop and bookstore, El Gato Negro, where we went every morning to start our days. We took a lot of relaxing walks around the bay and hiked up to the gigantic statue of Jesus at the top of a mountain nearby.

We arrived on a Friday and found out that the next day there was a Quicksilver surf competition and outdoor concert (Pitaya Festival) at Hermosa Beach. Harold wasn’t feeling too frisky so Megs and I left him at home and set out on a girls adventure. We waited on the beach shuttle for over an hour and it never came. As we were standing around chatting we made friends with a few people and decided to each pay $3 to jump in a truck for a ride instead of spending the whole afternoon in line. We rode to the beach in the back of the pick up and watched as monkeys flew from tree to tree overhead.

The surfing was a bit anticlimactic since the waves were terrible and closing out almost instantly. We watched the 16s, 18s and Pros, but were only impressed by the last couple surfers. The music festival, on the other hand, was much livelier! The place was packed and the bands were eclectic, ranging from reggae to disco soul, electronic DJs to bluegrass. We met and danced with a lot of interesting people from all over the world (one guy I met even went to the same high school as I did in San Francisco!)

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 1.25.13 PMThe only downside of the event was that our backpack was stolen on the beach. Luckily everything was replaceable but we learned a valuable lesson about being careful with our stuff and what to leave at home (iPhone, debit card, etc.) The main problem was that, after the theft, none of us had debit cards or any access to money! Our banks would not allow us to wire money to ourselves and we couldn’t make the necessary changes without going to a branch in person. We had to have my parents Western Union transfer money to us, which we couldn’t even get for a couple days (we had to go to five different locations!)

We felt like we were being held hostage in the town. We wanted to leave but couldn’t pay our hostel bill or even buy bus tickets. It was challenging to really enjoy our last couple days in San Juan del Sur because we couldn’t afford to go anywhere or do anything. Several times the water and electricity went out at our hostel and there was nothing to do but laugh about our predicament. When we finally received the money we bought the first tickets out of there and packed up for Costa Rica. Despite our minor setback, we loved the area and had a blast in San Juan del Sur!.