Burnin' Up in Nicaragua
|Written by Jared on April 23, 2012|
Start: April 6, San Miguel, El Salvador
This week's adventure consisted of a double border crossing day, two beautiful colonial cities and extremely hot temperatures. From El Salvador we drove through Honduras and arrived in the city of León, Nicaragua in time to have a few mojitos, sweat profusely in front of a fan, and pass out.
We saw a bit of the Semana Santa festivities in León, where we stayed for Easter weekend. In Grenada we spent a day working online, and a couple more enjoying the city. Horse-drawn carriages, a dirty lake beach, cigar rolling, the largest hammock in the country and more churches than you could shake a stick at.
Our drive through Honduras was one of the days we've dreaded most since researching this trip oh so many months ago. Honduras has been noted as the country where overlanders experience the most problems. Crime rates are the highest in Central America, the police are very corrupt, and infrastructure is lacking across the board.
This shot above is of the immigration building we passed through when we left Honduras for Nicaragua. I swear that bombs went off days before our arrival. Without a doubt the sketchiest border crossing we have ever experienced.
We crossed on Good Friday, which was probably a good thing. But you never know, borders are always a crap shoot. One thing is for certain, it was empty, and that usually speeds up the process.
We saw some weird shit while we drove through Honduras; kids dressed up like ghosts banging on our car, and these guys riding horses dressed as Roman soldiers, wooden swords and all. Don't ask me what the significance is, but it's a good bet that they're heading off to pretend to kill Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, the two border crossings were uneventful. We did pass through a dozen police checkpoints in Honduras, but we were only stopped three times. Not once was a bribe asked for or even remotely suggested. Twice we had to answer a few questions, where we're from and where we're going. More of a five minute chat with a curious cop than a corrupt shakedown.
Only once did the guy actually wanted to look around. He made sure we had the typical bribe-inducing gear: two warning triangles, a fire extinguisher, jack and a spare tire. I was glad we got to bust out the triangles; we bought two specifically for this situation and this was the first time they came out of the bag. I'd have felt cheated if someone hadn't ask.
The worst part about this week? The heat. Straight up oppressive. We got to León, the hottest city in Nicaragua, during the hottest part of the year at the hottest time of the day. Jessica had enough energy for a couple mojitos and then it was nappy-fanny time.
León, like Grenada, is known for its churches. All shapes, styles, origins and levels of reconstruction/deconstruction can be found within a couple square miles. This cathedral sits in León's central square, it is the largest cathedral in Central America.
León is a fairly decent walkin'-around town, but the streets were completely empty and most stores were shut down because it was Semana Santa weekend, the biggest holiday in Latin American countries. People went to church, the lake, or beach, or just hung out at home with family.
After two days in León we had had enough of the heat. We saw a few small processions related to Semana Santa, but missed out on most of the show because we assumed the festivities were on Easter Sunday, in fact they were the day before. Whoops.
From León we took a short drive to Granada, a smaller colonial city on Lake Nicaragua a short distance from the capital city of Managua. Once again we were greeted with a multitude of churches and colorfully painted streets.
In the words of Homer Jay Simpson, "They look like skittles."
Jessica had her first iced mocha in six months. If you know anything about Jessica you will understand what a huge deal this moment was.
After cooling off with some delicious iced beverages, under the world's greatest ceiling fans, we went for a stroll down the road to check out Lake Nicaragua. This lake is the second largest in Central and South America, and is home to 700 pound bull sharks. If that's not enough to deter you from swimming, the open sewer drain should do the trick.
Back in the city we found a cafe run by deaf Nicaraguans specializing in weaving hammocks and selling coffee grown by local producers. We had a big breakfast, an excellent cup of coffee and walked around a bit to check out the handicrafts. For once we were comfortable ordering on a menu by pointing at the picture; the language barrier isn't a problem when your waiter has a harder time speaking Spanish than you do.
Café de las Sonrisas (Smiles Coffee) is also home to the largest hammock in Nicaragua. Unfortunately it's a bit too big to fit on our roof rack.
After breakfast we walked into the central square and decided to take a horse-drawn carriage tour through the city. Our guide Jorge was very helpful, spoke excellent English and told us all about the various old buildings scattered throughout the city. The house above is one of the oldest in the city, built over 500 years ago.
Unfortunately, Jorge is also a jackass. We ran into him later that night and gave him $15 to take us on a boat tour on the lake the next morning. He seemed super friendly, told us his life story, even bought us a round of drinks.
The next day he failed to show up. We went back to the square where we met him and started asking around, turns out we weren't his first victims. Lesson learned: never pay for tours ahead of time, no matter how nice the guy seems.
The highlight of our carriage ride was this panoramic view of the city from atop a church's bell tower. Click the image for the full-sized panorama. You can make out Volcan Masaya and Lake Nicaragua in the background.
Another highlight, my first Guinness in at least seven months. We've been to a couple "Irish" pubs in other Central American countries but they have been consistently out of Guinness. At $4.50 (the same as a gigantic plate of food) a glass of the black stuff was well worth it.
Next up on the list: a trip to a renowned cigar shop in Granada, Doña Elba. When we arrived there were two people rolling cigars, producing roughly 850 per day. They gave us the tour and chatted for an hour, it didn't cost a dime. Kobus and I happily sprung for a box. It's been a long time since we've had a good cigar. And these are good cigars.
We left Granada with the hope of finding a slightly less stiflingly-hot place to camp for a night or two. Jessica found this place online, promising a refreshing dip in the river, with waterfalls and cooler temperatures.
They pulled through on the refreshing dip part, but the heat was still unbearable during the middle of the day. We setup camp in the dry tropical forest, sweated a lot, had a few cold beers, went for a swim, and then settled down for the night. There were plenty of freakishly large insects to keep us occupied, as well as our first scorpion sighting since Death Valley. The lack of functioning showers meant we were definitely only staying one night.
Up next: Five days camping on Ometepe Island, the world's largest volcanic island situated in a lake. We meet up with a few fellow roadtripping friends and drink more than a couple bottles of cheap rum. From there it's off to the beach before heading into Costa Rica.