Dub-step played from one of the official’s iPhones at Nicaragua’s border, the landscape was immediately dryer and more baron that Costa Rica’s lush green hills. It was clear that this Central American country was less used to backpackers with local markets only full of local faces. Nicaragua has a slightly edgy feel to it – I wouldn’t go so far to say it doesn’t feel safe but it has a kind of dirty underground vibe.
The ferry ride to Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua was sweaty and packed. With no seats left I lay in the middle of the top deck on my backpack on the floor in the blistering sun with a scarf covering my entire body in an attempt to protect myself from the rays. I was heading to stay with a local family as part of a Planeterra project to help the local community help themselves.
Ometepe is a tiny island, home to Volcano Concepcion, an active volcano in the middle of Nicaragua’s largest lake. I was looking forward to staying in a local home for 2 nights and envisaged friendly banter, music and great food. In reality my lack of Spanish meant communication was near impossible except via a third party. Homestays can be wonderful, this was tough. The family clearly long over having backpackers for sleepovers, served our meals politely but appeared bored by the whole situation. Granted language was a barrier and maybe I should have done more but with America’s Top Model captivating the room’s attention the atmosphere wasn’t conducive to effort. The power cut was a highlight as we were nearly plunged into darkness. I say nearly as everything went out apart from the solar powered TV you can see where the priorities lie in this house.
Next stop, the colourful colonial streets of Granada. I loved Granada and wished I had more time here. Littered with little arts cafes, guys wandering round with guitars and plenty of flowers everywhere – what’s not to like! The once majestic colonial buildings have mostly fallen into a state of decay, which in my eyes just makes them more spectacular. There’s also a fantastic hammock factory and shop which is pretty cool because A. the hammocks are vibrant and beautiful, but B. the guys that make the hammocks are there as part of a charitable project to get young people struggling with life and disabilities working and on their feet. So if you’re in the market for a hammock – get it from these dudes, Tio Antonio’s. Just on the outskirts of Granada there are a myriad of little islands, where the rich folk live, oh and a whole load of Howler monkeys – pinging your way round these islands by boat is a tranquil way to spend the morning. In the evening a group of us headed to a nearby volcano and took in the views from the top and then ventured into the lava tunnels (obviously not full of lava!). It was pretty eerie with bats swarming out of the entrance but kind of cool to follow these caves where the lava once flowed.
My final destination in Nicaragua was The Surfing Turtle backpackers near Poneloya. You have to get here by boat, so it’s pretty remote and is the kind of place that sucks backpackers in and makes them stay for months rather than days. I had hoped to surf but after witnessing a near death experience and feeling the full force of the rip I realised my surfing abilities were nowhere near good enough. Even standing in these crazy waters was impossible. Night time here involves bonfires, rum and the roaring sounds of the ocean. I stayed here when the moon was full and it’s powers were almighty, causing a night of drama.
On a final note, Nicaragua does not rhyme with Jaguar, well not if you have an English accent anyway! In fact you get laughed at if you try and say it with a ‘u r’ at the end, try a ‘wah’ instead.