We finally get through border (a snip at only an hr & a half) and find a massive queue of trucks, so we follow the buses onto the wrong side of the road, only to discover the queue is actually 2 lanes wide. On investigation we discover a protest (shades of Bolivia) – a group of ladies have closed the road with branches & bikes. They are waving sticks & yelling. We haven’t a clue what it is about, but we wait for 3 hours. Thank goodness we have air con in the cab as it is hot, hot, hot. Finally the police resolve the problem, but then there is the congestion problem. Traffic is banked up right across the road in both directions. Welcome to Nicaragua!
After sitting in the heat for so long, we decide to head straight to the beach. We turn off the main road & head to San Juan de Sur- a quaint town with brightly coloured buildings & a lovely curve of beach with lots of restaurants & boats. After finding an ATM we head along the dirt road to find “our beach”. We end up at Playa Madera, a surfies paradise, & camp under the trees. The water is magic A campsite for $5 including Wifi, restaurant & best of all for John- people to chat to in English.
It is nearly midday before we head off to Rivas & then the port town of San Jorge. We are hoping to catch the ferry to the volcanic island of Ometepe on the huge Lago Nicaragua. There is a queue but we can’t get on -it is full & we don’t have a reservation, so instead we chat to a German couple, travelling in their huge motorhome, (who also couldn’t get on) for the next few hours, swapping notes etc etc. They head off to our beach & we head towards Granada. We finally stop for the night at Finca Miravale, where they do zip line tours. Free parking, with 2 guards at night. Just up the road at the Nat Pk they wanted to charge us $12.
The next day is spent exploring gorgeous Granada. We drive right to the centre with no problems as there are very few cars. There are more bikes, horses & pedestrians. We explore the frantically busy Mercado area & the stunning old cathedrals before heading to the lake front. Here we get a “lancha”/boat to have a nosy around a few of the 365 islands on the edge of the lake. Most are home to the rich & famous. We round out our visit to Granada with a meal of Virgoron – the local specialty of mashed yucca/tangy cabbage & crunchy pork rinds & a drink, all for $2 each.
Then we are off to Laguna de Apoyo to camp for the night. It is a stunning blue tepid lake in a volcanic crater. The steep caldera sides don’t make finding a flat spot easy, but we find a lovely campground right on the water’s edge. A warm swim morning & night, & we take the opportunity to wash our sheets & hang them out to dry. Oh the bliss of clean sheets! Reluctantly we pack up & leave to visit the very active Volcan Masaya. Apparently you can drive right to the top (sure beats walking!) – But sadly it is closed indefinitely – there are too many noxious gases. So we continue our exploration of the area following the scenic route to Managua. It is the capital city, but feels like a big country town. They have closed off the main road for a parade & it is tempting to stay, but as we know it can be difficult finding a spot to camp in the dark, so we head on to Laguna de Xiloa (another crater lake, although it doesn’t look so clean for swimming) & camp in a secure spot right beside the water. We even get to enjoy a glorious sunset. Almost forgot – we got nicked by the police today- the grumpy police officer wanted our paperwork & muttered about an infraction – he wouldn’t give back our temp vehicle licence, so we simply drove away (He didn’t appear to notice it was a copy!)
The next day is like driving through volcano alley. Here’s one, oh & there’s one. Past Momotomo & Momotombito. – They do make good photos. Yet another crabby cop stops us & wants our papers. Again we give him a copy, which he wants to keep for no reason, except maybe a bribe. John pulls it back off him & we leave. Anyway, on to the city of Leon. It is Sunday & we visit a few of the many churches during the morning service. It is a very hot walk around town stopping to look through the old prison. An awful lot of nastiness happened in this town. Then on past yet more smoking volcanoes & up into the cooler hills. It had been in the high 30’s in Leon so it will be nice to have a cool night. We are now in the hilly coffee growing area of Jinotega & it is once again hard to find somewhere to camp. In the end we simply pull off on the side of the road beside a small shop. It is a quiet night with very little passing traffic.
The next day brings some gorgeous driving through mountains. The road is great- not at the terrible rutted road that our guide book said. But eventually we wind back down to the tobacco lands of Esteli. We manage to get onto a cigar factory tour, which is great fun at only $5 each. We couldn’t believe how much work was involved in making just 1 cigar, Fernando would be impressed.
Then we head out of town to the Somoto Canyon, where we plan to camp for the night. Yay! The gates are open & we drive in & head right across the river to what we think is a great spot. It would have been our “buggiest” night ever. Millions of the blasted little things slipped through our fly screen & it is way too hot to close any windows. The next morning sees us heading up river to explore the canyon. A young “guide” catches up to us & offers to ferry us in his “lancha” to where you use tubes. The water is low, but we still manage to paddle through the gorgeous canyon & float, albeit slowly, back down.
Time to head to the border. It only takes 30 minutes to exit Nicaragua.