Tag Archives: Nicaragua

My year of travel – a summary

Well, the year of travel is over.   And it was absolutely awesome!  So much so, that I’m avoiding “real life” for another year and heading off again!   So more to come…

Here is where I ended up going over the past year:

The Places

Many people have asked me what has been my highlight from the year, which is always a tough one to answer.  

As far as places go, most would expect me to say Antarctica.  And, while Antarctica was truly incredible, what has stayed most keenly in heart is the 10-day Huayhuash Trek I did in Peru back in September (yes, I know the blog post only just came out – too many pictures to process!).   I traveled with incredible people on both of these journeys, but I think the reason Huayhuash pips Antarctica is that I had to work for it.   10 days hiking above 4,200m, with a pass over 4,800m every day – that takes some doing, and delivers a significant sense of achievement at the end.  

The other thing that Huayhuash had going for it, is that the only time my brain completely turns off is while I’m hiking.   And trust me  – that that point in my trip, I really needed to switch my brain off for a while!  10 days of not thinking about anything except my immediate surroundings was absolute bliss!    And the scenery was amazing!

As far as the biggest positive surprise goes – El Salvador takes that one out hands down.   I loved it there, as did all the people I traveled with.   The El Salvadorean people know that their country has a reputation for being unsafe, and go out of their way to help you and ensure you have a great time.   And oh the pupusas…..

As far as the biggest negative surprise – unfortunately, Cuba.   The way everyone raves about it I probably went in with too high expectations – but most of the time I just felt like I was a walking money-bag.   A couple of caveats with this – I suspect most people go on an organised trip and only stay in the “tourist triangle” – La Havana, Viñales, Trinidad, Varadero.    This would give you a very different experience to the one I had during my first couple of weeks in particular – travelling independently in the eastern part of the island.  

I can only speculate, but I have met several other people who where there either at the same time as me (and who I traveled with) or around the same time, who also ended up with the same opinion.

The People

Apart from where you go and what you see/do, the other key aspect of traveling are the people that you meet.  I strongly suspect that this is even more keenly felt by long-term travelers and, although I shared my journey with many, many wonderful people, the following have left a particularly strong mark:

Nicaragua:   Pedro Torres, Keith Manyin, Caite Handschuh, Tom Rendulich, Sven and Caroline Hansen, Sekar Bala

El Salvador:  Andre (did I ever know your last name Andre?), Susan Jung

Guatemala:  Susan Jung, Julia Koch

Cuba:  Wendy Moors, Rebekka Wessels

Ecuador:  Jenny Waack

Peru: Max Abé, Niccoló Quattropani, Jenny Waack, Rebekka Wessels

Bolivia: Jenny Waack, Kimberley Carter

Chile:  My old ESO buddies, Jenny Waack

Antarctica:  Tyson Brooks, Carl Enfohrs, Remco Verstappen

And a very special thank you has to go to Eliza Hernandez – the most awesome spanish teacher ever!   I am infinitely grateful to have had Eliza as my grammar teacher over the total of 3 months I spent at La Mariposa Spanish School both this trip and on my previous visit.  It is largely thanks to her that my Spanish is almost fluent!

What did I discover?

The other thing that people often ask about when they find out I’ve been travelling for a year is “what did you learn by doing it” and/or “how has it changed you”?   Well, it’s not like I specifically set out to learn anything (apart from improving my Spanish), though I did have a few periods of pretty intense reflection of what I wanted out of life.  

So here’s some non-exhaustive dot point musings about travel from the last year: 

  • it makes you live more in the moment.  I was not really worried about the future and what I needed to do/should do next.  Well, right up until the point where I had to decide whether I would return to my job or not…
  • it allows you to relax and encourages you to take time to do nothing.  Though somehow the days are incredibly full and I have no idea how I managed to fit a full-time job in previously!
  • it gives you the opportunity to meet lots of new and (sometimes) interesting people, and have different conversations to what you would normally have
  • it highlights how little you actually know about the world, and that you should ask more questions, always!
  • it really cuts through the rubbish and highlights how similar we all are, no matter where we come from
  • it teaches you patience and resilience.  Fortunatley I already had a good amount of both, having lived in Latin America previously
  • it forces you to live simply.   You cannot fit very much in a 60L bag, and I’m here to tell you that you really don’t need many material possessions to have an incredible life
  • it doesn’t change the fact that Australia is home and always will be (no matter how much I love Latin America).  If anything, I become more patriotic (but hopefully not in an obnoxious way) when I travel.   It also showed me just how little I knew about certain aspects of my own country (e.g. politics)
  • it makes you really appreciate the luxuries we enjoy in our everyday, first-world lives.   Clean drinking water, hot showers with plenty of water pressure,  the huge variety of fresh and cooked food in Australia, being able to buy a truly cold coke on a hot day from the service station or supermarket…

And what do I want out of life?   Well, I’m still not quite sure I know.  But I’ve always wanted to go back and live in Latin America again for a while, and that now factors into my plan for this coming year 🙂  Living in Ecuador (Chile is too expensive 🙁 ), doing freelance work for organisations back in Australia – it’s kind of one of the ideas Tim Ferriss puts forth in “The 4-hour Work Week”, though I’d had the idea before I read the book.   If it all works out like I hope – it could make for a great life for a while!  

Stay tuned…

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Icecream in Central America

You don’t have to know me for too long before you come to realise how much I love icecream!  I admit it – I’m an addict.   So how does the icecream here in Central America stack up?

Icecream in Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, there are essentially two key ice-creameries.   Eskimo – which are absolutely everywhere, and Dos Pinos – which have slightly better icecream but are harder to find.  My recommendation is to go for the Neopolitan or any of the icecreams with peanuts in them (assuming you aren’t allergic of course) from either of the two icecreameries.  Most of the other flavours (on both sides) were a bit meh in my opinion.

The stand-out icecreamery in Nicaragua, however, is Kiss Me.   They are only found in León and Matagalpa and well worth seeking out, with flavours such as “Matagalpa Mud” and “Fruit Punch in the Face” showing the slightly quirky take they have on icecream.

Kiss Me icecream - Nicaragua

Given how hot it was in Nicaragua while I was there, my favourite turned out to the the passionfruit icecream – nice and refreshing if you could eat it fast enough before it melted!

Icecream in El Salvador

I started off in El Salvador eating icecream cones from La Nevería, but then never went back once I discovered Sarita icecream.  Then I discovered the Sarita Coco icypole and never had another icecream cone!   These coconut icypoles are the absolute best – even better than lemonade water icypoles in Australia!

sarita coco icecream

I only had one icecream at a more “upmarket” icecreamery, but it wasn’t anything to write home about (and in fact I can’t remember the name of the icecream place) – stick with the Sarita Cocos!

Icecream in Guatemala

Both La Nevería and Sarita are also found in Guatemala and I continue to buy the Coco icypoles for a quick treat (they are less than 50 cents after all).    But then Susan told me about the Sarita Frozen Yogurts and I just had to try!   Oh how I shouldn’t have 🙁

sarita frozen yoghurt - guatemala

These are very similar to the YogenFruz frozen yogurts I was addicted to when I lived in Chile – favourite flavour: coconut, pineapple and papaya.   Fortunately finding a Sarita shop that makes these is much more difficult than finding a Sarita Coco and they are 5 times the price  –  so not indulging in too many of them.

I also tried one of the not-quite-so-much-of-a-chain-shop icecreams – FruitiHelados.  This is a Mora and Yogurt (Blackberry and Yogurt) one and yes, it has been hand made in a plastic cup with an icypole stick stuck in it.  Actually quite good to be honest!

Fruitifrozen - Guatemala - icecream

And then I discovered Helados Exóticos in Antigua.  This is the Kiss Me of Guatemala but (dare I say it) even better!   It is a hole-in-the wall related to the Sobremesa Restaurant and offers up the most intriguing and bizarre flavours –  Wasabi Fig (not bad actually – you get the wasabi hints but it is not overpowering), Apple Chipotle, Chocolate Bacon, Strawberry Parmesan anyone?

helados exoticos antigua - icecream

I’m slowly working my way through the different flavours (you know I have to) but to date my favourite is the Piña Cobanero.  This icecream has sweet pineapple chunks offset with a mild (but noticable) burn and smokiness from conabero chiles.  I look forward to my homework each day at this intriguing icecreamery 🙂

 

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Water baggies – slightly better than a bottle?

In much of Latin America, the water out of the tap is not drinkable.  In fact, the latest edition of Revue (Guatemala’s English-language magazine), features a story on a company that is trying to assist poorer families to have access to clean drinking water and to reduce the number of people who end up in hospital with parasites.

Fortunately, most eating establishments (no matter how small) do used filtered water (sometimes purified water), so I rarely have any stomach problems when I travel (touch wood!). And most of the hostels I’ve stayed in on this trip have provided drinking water refills for their guests from large containers.  This means that I’ve rarely had to buy water or use my trusty Travel Tap microfilter bottle that, according to the brochure, is supplied to Peacekeeping forces, Special forces, and USA Dept Homeland Security!   I have to admit, I was a little nervous to use it the first few times, but it is a total winner!

There have therefore only been a couple of occasions where I’ve really needed to buy water. But rather than buying yet another bottle that I don’t need or want, here in Central America they also sell 500ml water baggies.

water

8 cents for this one in El Salvador – about half the price of a bottle of water.  All you have to do is bite off a corner and squeeze!

Its really common for street vendors and bus vendors to sell these baggies rather than bottles (they save room for bottles of Coke and other sugary drinks that the majority of people are thoroughly addicted to), and it does seem to be slightly less wasteful.

The plastic is, in theory, recyclable (see logo on the baggie), but given that recycling is a relatively new phenomenon here, and certainly not adopted by all places, if only the plastic were biodegradable…

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Final thoughts – public transport in Nicaragua

As I leave Nicaragua for El Salvador, some final Nicaraguan public transport observations.

Micros

I actually promised a blog post about this ages ago and am now finally getting around to it.

On certain routes in Nicaragua (most notably around the Pueblos Blancos where La Mariposa Spanish School and Eco-Hotel is located) there are not so many chicken buses, but rather “micros” or microbuses. These are essentially minivans that ply the routes between the towns, and in my opinion, they are actually much worse than chicken buses!

The main reason being that although they are designed to seat ~14 people, they more often than not have upward of 20, my record being 35 people jammed into one of these things.  Yes – there are actually 3 people hanging out of the door as the micro takes off in the image below!

nicaraguan public transport micros

This next image is what it looks like with about 20 people inside – so you can imagine with 35! Add in that there are a lot of obese people here in Nicaragua and you will start to get some idea of how incredibly packed these things are.

nicaraguan public transport micros

The person with the worst of it though (I have to admit) is the guy who is in charge of calling out the route to passengers waiting on the side of the road (usually 3 times in quick succession e.g. La UCA, La UCA, La UCA), opening and closing the sliding door, and collecting the money from passengers.   This is his standard position.

nicaraguan public transport micros

But he’s also one of the ones hanging on the outside if he manages to entice 35 people into the micro.  It’s hot and very uncomfortable work!

Chicken Buses

Nicaraguan bus

Thoughts from my last chicken bus trip in Nicaragua from Chinandega to Potosí:

  • It really pains me to see people throw rubbish out the windows of the buses – especially since most of the bus companies have provided rubbish bins just above their heads. I know this was common in Australia 30 years ago as well, and hope it doesn’t take that long to change in Nicaragua.
  • Many women travel with a cloth about the size of a face washer. Discovered that this is a very smart idea if the bus traverses dirt roads, because every time the bus stops to pick someone up or drop someone off (and this is quite often!) the bus fills with dust.
  • You’ll never go hungry on a Nicaraguan bus – provided you are happy to eat fried or processed food. At every major stop, the bus is swarmed by food sellers who enter the front of the bus and move down the aisle shouting (quite literally, some of them have VERY loud and piercing voices) their wares.  Sometimes they depart by the back door.  Sometimes they have to push past each other to return to the front of the bus to depart.    In addition, the bus will pick up other food sellers along the way.  There may be only one, but they follow the same pattern.  It’s incredible to see how many of the passengers actually buy something to eat each time!
  • The majority of these sellers are women, and almost without fail they are very, very large women who often take up the entire aisle with their bulk as they move down it.
  • In fact, a great percentage of Nicaraguan women are very large – I don’t know how they can stand the heat, nor the discomfort of squeezing into bus seats that are designed to fit 2 children (remember, all the buses are ex-US-school-buses) rather than 2 large adults.  Or squeezing into the micros for that matter (see above).  I wonder whether this phenomenon of obesity is relatively recent?  It’s very easy to buy processed food, food with lots of sugar, and food with lots of carbohydrates in Nicaragua.  Much less easy to find something healthy to eat.
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Jiquilillo and Volcan Cosigüina

After another week in León (how I love that place!) I started heading towards El Salvador.   Although I’m not a beach person, I decided to spend a couple of nights at Rancho Esperanza in Jiquilillo.   It is basically a surf spot and a gateway to the Padre Ramos Reserve – one of the most important mangrove estuaries in Central America.

jiquilillo

Surfing Jiquilillo

I actually didn’t do anything while there (most guests come to surf) except read my book, hang out with some awesome people and watch the sunset. Yet again, the Rancho Esperanza fostered that community spirit that I love so much.

jiquilillo

Horses at sunset – Jiquilillo

Then it was on to Potosí, which would have to be the dirtiest town I’ve been to in Nicaragua.  There is rubbish strewn absolutely everywhere!   And it is seriously hot!  I had hoped that by staying at the Hotel “Brisas del Mar” (Seabreeze) it would live up to its name, but no.  Well, not unless you count the hot breeze you get if you sit directly under one of the many fans in the restaurant!  I really don’t know how people live here.  And realistically, I had to stay at “Brisas del Mar”.  There are only 2 places to stay in town, both right next to each other and owned by the same family.

The reason I was here was twofold.  I decided to tackle my third volcano ascent in Nicaragua – Volcán Cosigüina before catching the boat across to El Salvador – I figured all my other border crossings will be by bus or plane, so take the opportunity to do something different.  Cosigüina used to be the tallest volcano in Nicaragua at more than 3,000 metres, but in 1835 it exploded in what is considered to be one of the 3 biggest recorded eruptions (ash travelled as far as Mexico and Columbia, the sky was obscured for 3 months and one of the rocks ejected is big enough to form its own island in the Gulf!), and is now only 872 metres above sea level.  It also has a really pretty crater lake 🙂

Headed off with my guide, Bismark, at 5am to beat the worst of the heat, which meant we got to see a beautiful sunrise over the Golfo de Fonseca (Gulf of Fonseca).  This is the Gulf that is borders Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador and from Volcán Cosigüina you can see all three countries.

Volcán Cosigüina

Despite sweating like there is no tomorrow because of the humidity and heat, it’s actually a pretty easy hike, infinitely easier than hiking up Volcán Maderas on Ometepe!  It’s really only the last 10 minutes that feels like a bigger effort.  We hiked up directly from Potosí (9km from the crater), which meant a 3-hour ascent and 2-hour descent.  There is another trail though where you can drive the majority of the way with a 4WD (or ride a horse) and only walk the last half hour.

The other advantage of leaving before dawn was that there were plenty of birds around and Bismark was great at spotting and identifying them.  Turns out the vegetation on the volcano is pretty open so great for birdwatching. In addition to my old friends, the Mot-mots, the Chocoyos (parakeets) and the Woodpeckers, we saw: Common Pauraque (nocturnal bird), Violaceous Trogon, Elegant Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Streak-backed Oriole, Thicket Tinamou and the Plain Chachalaca.  It was brilliant!

The volcano was also used during the civil war in the 70s/80s to keep an eye on boats coming from Honduras.  This lookout was on our way up and apparently there are 2 more like it at other points of the volcano.

Volcán Cosigüina

The view from the top of Volcán Cosigüina is fantastic and the crater lake is beautiful.  The crater is 2km across and there is a path around it but it takes 5 hours to complete – you’d have to camp at the campground just below the summit to do that one (or be crazy)!

Volcán Cosigüina

And although it was very hazy (definitely going to have to come back to Nicaragua in Nov – Feb for the water in the Río San Juan and the good expansive views), it was possible to make out El Salvador, Honduras and the prawn farms, the Pacific coast and Volcán San Cristobal in Nicaragua.

Volcán Cosigüina

El Salvador (top left), Honduras (top right) and Volcán San Cristobal and the prawn farms of Nicaragua (bottom)

Hung out up the top for about an hour and then started the descent accompanied by the constant scurrying of lizards in the undergrowth.  It was incredibly hot and I was very grateful that I was not one of the two tourists + guide we passed heading up the volcano in the heat (they still had 2 hours to go to the top)!   Bismark spotted a Mexican Porcupine (bit of a blob in the tree), squirrels and a family of 3 Coatis (really great view – unfortunately I didn’t have my long lens with me) as well.

Glad I took the time out in Potosí to do the hike, despite the heat and humidity!

 

Time required:   From Potosí, it is a 3 hour hike up and 2 hours to come back down Volcán Cosigüina.  Leave at 5am!

Cost:  Bismark is part of a local cooperative of guides in Potosí and cost US$25.

Volcán Cosigüina

Mi amigo, Bismark

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Street hazards – step carefully in Nicaragua

One of the things you quickly realise when walking around a town in Nicaragua is that you really do have to pay attention!   Unlike in Australia where we have wide footpaths that are largely obstacle-free, this is most definitely not the case here.  Here are a few of the street hazards I’ve encountered.

Many shops often spill out onto the footpath and take up the entire width with their wares.

nicaragua street hazards

Alternatively, individual sellers will set up on the footpath, often to sell some kind of snack.

nicaragua street hazards

The water meters are actually embedded in the footpath and more often than not, their coverings are missing.

nicaragua street hazards

The footpaths go up and down faster than a yo-yo as the houses are all at different levels and the footpaths follow the entrances to the houses.

nicaragua street hazards

Ramps for cars (though most likely it is motorbikes) to enter are built right over the top of the footpath.

nicaragua street hazards

More often than not it is much easier to walk on the road itself, provided it’s not too busy (unfortunately very rare).  After all, you end up having to leave the footpath every now and then for at one or the other of the above hazards anyway.

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6 Top Eats in León, Nicaragua

Having hung out in León for more than 2 weeks, I feel like I can weigh into the “where to eat” dilemma with my 6 top eats in León. These are unashamedly influenced by my love of a good curry and wanting something different to normal Nicaraguan cuisine (rice, beans and corn) after 3 or so months here.  I ended up visited each of these several times.

El DesayunazoTHE best place for breakfast in León.  Extensive menu with everything from the traditional Nica breakfast through to granola + yoghurt through to English breakfast through to the best pancakes I’ve had for ages.   Have to admit, I’ve never gotten past the pancakes…  It’s also cheap and most of the times I’ve been, there have been more locals than tourists.  And they don’t play music so you relax and read in peace. If only it were open all day!

el desayunazo leon

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Imbir – Sri Lankan / Polish Restaurant run by an expat Sri Lankan and Pole.  Can’t vouch for the Polish portion of the menu, but the Sri Lankan chicken curry and entree fish balls are absolutely wonderful.  The little courtyard where you eat is also gorgeous.

imbir restaurant top eats in leon

CocinArte – Vegetarian Restaurant set in one of León’s old buildings.  Great place if you are after a vegetable fix, with 3 different curries on the menu (2 Indian, 1 Indonesian), a vegetarian spin on the very traditional Nicaraguan Indio Viejo, as well as a whole host of other options (the menu is very extensive).  They also sell artesanía.

cocinarte leon
Fritanga – OK, so this is more typically Nicaraguan, but the fritangas behind the Cathedral are tasty and great value.  Beef, pork or chicken on the BBQ plus gallo pinto (of course) and a whole host of other bits and pieces you take your pick from.  Vegetarian options also available, but they are all deep fried.

Nicaragua fritanga leon - meat, meat, and more meat

Pan y Paz – French Bakery.  Every traveler ends up here at least once, and it is totally worth it.  Pedro tells me they do an awesome espresso and I can vouch for the chocolate-filled bread and the cheese platter (trust me, even the small cheese platter is more than enough for 2 people).

Kiss Me – Best Ice-cream in Nicaragua.  More expensive than Eskimo and Dos Pinos, but absolutely worth it. With flavours like “Lodo de Matagalpa” (Matagalpan Mud) it’s high quality icecream with a twist.

Kiss me Icecream leon

 

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Museum of Legends and Traditions León

One of the great things about travelling is randomly coming across little performances and events in the local community.   In the past week in León, I have come across 3 such events, but the biggest by far was the Noches de Mitos y Leyendas in the Central Park in front of the León Cathedral on Saturday night.

Like most of the open-air Latin American public performances I’ve seen, this one beat to the rhythm of its own drum.  And although I could understand everything that was being said, I was perplexed by the long pauses (“dead time”) and false starts to the music that so are often part of these things.   But the fireworks to open the show were very cool, it was a really big crowd, and the MC was selling the current government for all he was worth (it is an election year in Nicaragua).

leon fireworks

There were a couple of reenactments of some of the legends, and there was a procession of the most famous mythical figures, who danced randomly around the stage like crazies.

nicaraguan myths and legends

But my favourite was the dance of the Giantesses – Gigantona’s Dance.

 

All of this inspired me to visit the Museum of Legends and Traditions while I was in León this time – something I’d been a bit ambivalent about.  So glad I went!

The museum is housed in an old gaol – The 21 – named after the year it commenced operation (1921).  It was used by Somoza to detain and torture prisoners during the long dictatorship, and you can still see some of the cells, the torture wells (for water torture) and the old walls.

museum legends and traditions

There are also simple black murals depicting events that took place in the gaol, including illustrations of several of the tortures that were enacted there.  A rather graphic description of these tortures (in English and Spanish) is also available if you are inclined to read, but you can get the idea from the illustrations.

museum legends and traditions

In amongst all this, in a very surreal juxtaposition, are the mannequins (many made from papier mâché) and other artifacts that illustrate some of the most famous myths and legends of Nicaragua, and León in particular.   I thought they were brilliantly done, and each of them had a short description of the myth or legend in both Spanish and English.

museum legends and traditions

La Gigantona, El Pepe Montado, Pancho Ñato, and one of the figures from Los Mantudos.

My absolute favourite installation was the Nahua Oxcart – one of the most popular legends of León – which recalls the abuse of the Indians by the Spanish and which announces death.  The work that went into this was amazing!

museum legends and traditions

Another favourite was “The Black Woman Camila” who came to León from the Atlantic coast and who always wore black and carried an iguana on her chest as her good luck charm.

nicaraguan myths and legends

Outside in the courtyard there were also murals depicting several of the legends, like this one of the Golden Crab and the Indian Chief Adiac.

museum legends and traditions

All in all, it was well worth the 50 Córdobas for the visit to the Museum of Legends and Traditions – really interesting place!

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León Cathedral

When visiting León, you really can’t miss the world heritage listed Basílica Catedral de la Asunción, better known as the León Cathedral.   It is enormous (it is the largest cathedral in Central America) and located right in the middle of everything with the central plaza facing it.

León Cathedral exterior

The story goes that this cathedral was originally meant to be built in Lima, Peru, but through a mixup in blueprints it ended up being built in León, and Peru ended up with a significantly smaller structure.

The interior of the church is beautiful and much plainer than many of the cathedrals I have poked my head into in latin america.  It contains the resting place of Rubén Darío, Nicaragua’s premier poet and León’s favourite son, as well as other less-well-known figures and the ubiquitous religious art.   Surprisingly though, the interior is not all that cool – I was expecting it to be a bit of a haven from the Leónese heat, but it didn’t turn out that way.

León Cathedral interior

12 lions surround the cathedral guarding each of the entrances – the two out the front are my favourites.

León Cathedral lions

I’m very glad we paid the US$2 to access the roof of the cathedral.   It is blindly white (thank goodness for sunnies) with lots of amazing views over the cathedral itself and León in general – including out to several of the volcanoes near the city that make up part of the ring of fire.   We only had 1/2 hour up there before they closed the roof (it closes at 4:30pm each day) but I could have easily spent more time to take it all in.

León Cathedral view from roof

The best place to hang out in León from about 4:00pm is the Central Park in front of the cathedral.  It is about this time each day that the temperature takes a nosedive and the park fills up with school students and families just hanging out.   I can recommend the raspados, and if you stick around from 4:30pm – 5pm, you can listen to the chorus of bells from the León Cathedral.

 

I had hoped to learn a lot more about the cathedral by taking a city walking tour, but one of the downsides of travelling alone is that many tours only operate with a minimum of 2 (or 4) people.  Even though I put my name down at several places, apparently nobody else was interested in knowing anything about the city in the 7 days I was in there.    Next time!

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Mangrove Tour – Poneloya, Las Peñitas

There are basically two reasons why travelers come to León – volcano boarding Cerro Negro and the beach at Las Peñitas, about 20km away.  And although I’m not a beach person, Pedro is, so we made a day trip out there while we were in León.

The bus left from the Subtiava market (we ended up walking the 20 minutes from central León) and the trip out took about half an hour, stopping first at the fishing village of Poneloya and then back tracking to Las Peñitas.   There are a bunch of places to stay/eat at Las Peñitas and (at least the day we were there) a relatively deserted beach, but I have to admit it wasn’t the most inspiring beach I’ve ever been to.

We adopted another solo traveler – Steffi – and camped out under the small patch of shade under one of these palm umbrellas.

Las Peñitas León nicaragua

Our little patch of shade

Pedro went swimming happily and Steffi and I went wading for about 5 minutes.  OK – so I admit that my skin is unbelievably white – but the sun is so strong and hot here that within that 5 minutes, I actually got sunburned to the point where it was red and I could feel it in the shower for the next day!

After about an hour of roasting on the beach, our little patch of shade was getting smaller and smaller so we headed back up the road towards Poneloya for lunch before meeting our guide to the Mangroves – Juan.   It was unbelievably hot, and the bus was nowhere in sight, but we ended having a bit of luck by running into a guy with a bicycle taxi (kinda like a tuk tuk) and negotiated with him to take us to El Chepe – the restaurant where we would meet Juan.  I can highly recommend the fried fish and the view at El Chepe!

poneloya León nicaragua El Chepe

El Chepe in Poneloya – awesome fried fish and cold drinks

Juan arrived and the 4 of us set out for a tour of the mangroves.  Most travelers end up doing a mangrove tour of the Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve, but Juan took us to a different part of the estuary system where the only other people we ran into were locals.

poneloya León nicaragua mangrove

In amongst the mangroves

Juan talked to us about the two types of mangroves that grew there (red and black) as well as the how the ecosystem worked.   In particular, the fertilised mangrove seeds don’t drop immediately from their parent tree.  The new seedling actually grows in place for quite a long time before breaking off from the fruit and falling in the water (if its high tide) or mud where it will take root.

poneloya León nicaragua mangrove

Juan explaining how mangrove seeds work

We picked several of these red mangrove seedlings off the trees and it was strangely satisfying popping the tops off to separate the seedlings from the fruit.

poneloya León nicaragua mangrove seeds

Separating the mangrove seedling from the fruit

We then boated around to to a place where we could do our own bit for the promulgation of mangroves, and Pedro, Steffi and I planted our seedlings in abstract shapes representative of Portugal, Germany and Australia (our home countries respectively).

poneloya León nicaragua mangrove

Planting mangroves

Our journey then continued through the waterways learning about how the different plants deal with the salt water, finding crabs, generally experiencing how the local communities utilise the estuary system.   It was a fabulous tour!

poneloya León nicaragua mangrove

Steffi wasn’t too keen on the salt bush…

One final swim for Pedro looking back over Poneloya and the volcanos making up the Ring of Fire in this part of Nicaragua before heading back to León.

poneloya León nicaragua

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