Published: March 13th 2012February 20th 2012
Our first taste of Nicaragua was sitting on a corner in the middle of nowhere waiting for the next chicken bus to Leon. Our Tica bus was headed to Managua and this drop off point would help save us some time. We tossed around hitchhiking but before we got a chance to stick our thumbs out the bus came around the corner, off we went to Leon. We arrived just as it was getting dark, something we try to avoid and had to catch a cab to get ourselves into the center. Especially so soon after our little mishap, we weren’t about to stand around in the dark and try to find the bus to take us to the center. The cab was a few dollars well spent!
Luckily, the place we were hoping to crash at had a few dorm beds available. Our hostel, Bigfoot, had a nice balance of social time and quiet time for people who wanted to get some rest…well, before 2 am! They have a bar and a little café which serves up some really good home-made pizza on “pizza nights”. Not to mention, the mojitos here aren’t half bad either. So, everyone is pretty
much chillin’ in the bar and having a few drinks until about 10 o’clock when the bar actually closes. By 11, it’s completely lights out. For those who still wanted to party some more, the bartender took a big group out to another spot. To tell you the truth, we were shocked by the rules of this place. Of course we weren’t complaining at all ‘cause we definitely needed some rest after a long travel day. One thing you learn while being gone for a long time is that getting shit-faced at night isn’t the only way to fall asleep fast. Not to mention, the older you get the longer the hangovers last!
Leon is actually a nice little place to stop at for a few days. You can spend a day checking out some of the old churches in the area, going for a long walk through the town, or even spend some time in the 2nd
hand shops to see if you can find some cheap travel clothes. Believe it or not, we both scored something else to add to our packing cubes. Jessie found a really cute dress and Nate found a practically brand new Singha
beer tank from Thailand for only $2! You can really find some crazy deals at places like this if you look hard enough and spend enough time…half an afternoon later and a good handful of 2nd
hand shops scoured and we both had a smile on our faces. We even saw a frickin’ Juicy Couture dress on the rack for like $5! If only they knew that in California that dress would go for 20 times that! We were kind of hoping that since we were back in a fairly cheap country that we’d be able to find Nate a new watch to replace the one that had gotten taken, but we were definitely mistaken. The guys in the main market area actually wanted almost $20 for the most basic Casio watch that all of the backpackers wear. Now we know this isn’t a very fair comparison, but in Asia we wouldn’t pay more than about $4 for that…and we actually found one in Guatemala for about that price as well. Yeah we know, we’re tight asses…but that’s exactly how we can afford to stay gone for such a long time (not like u haven’t heard that before).
really aren’t a whole lot of cheap food options in Leon, but you CAN find some decently priced meals. Somehow we managed to find a place close to the park where lots of locals even eat at on their lunch break as soon as the “warning” siren sounds throughout the entire town to let everyone know it’s lunch time. We couldn’t help but be reminded of the old Flintstones cartoons when the dinosaur sounded off at the end of the day for Fred to go home and ravish Wilma after work, ok maybe just a hug and a kiss. Especially if you hit it at the right time, you can get some really good food and even a free drink on top of it.
Back at the hostel we started talking with some of the other people staying there. Jessie had met a girl earlier who had her bag with her passport stolen while she was drunk on the beach and was now stuck in Nicaragua until she could get another one from the UK. Then we started getting into the scarier stories. Obviously we have our own now unfortunately, but we were told one that was a lot
worse. There was a small group of people on a hike in Honduras who were ambushed by men with pistols while in the jungle. The men had everyone get on their knees while they took absolutely everything of value they could find. The girl we were talking to was telling us she literally thought they were all going to die as they were lined up execution style, but obviously they made it out ok. There was also a guy who had just had quite an ordeal but this time in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. Apparently he had gotten drunk the night before and decided his safest option would be to take the taxi back to where he was staying. Too bad for him he somehow woke up in the middle of nowhere bruised and battered with no shoes on having to walk quite a distance back to town. We have no idea how he doesn’t remember what happened in between, but we can only guess he was probably pretty shit-faced at that point. Nevertheless, there was a group of about 6 of us all with stories of getting robbed or having something stolen in the past 3 weeks.
Our bubble of feeling safe all the time definitely has some holes in it now but it hasn’t burst yet. We may second guess the intentions of the person walking behind us now and again, or make sure to be back at the hostel before dark if we aren’t in the best area but we are still pushing on and feeling better by the day.
The biggest thing on our to-do list was a trip volcano boarding, but Nate managed to contract some sort of bug that laid him up in bed for a couple days, not even able to make it to the grocery store without losing his stomach. Of course the last thing you want is to be flying down a volcano while hurling and then taking a nose dive into the rocks! So instead, we wound up going a couple days later that we had anticipated, which also meant we were going to spend more time in Leon than we thought. If it wasn’t for Nate getting sick, we probably could’ve done most of Leon in less time but really enjoyed our time there at the same time. At least we still got to do what
we wanted to do eventually, and we really couldn’t WAIT to do it! We all climbed up the beast of a 4x4 we were taking to get to the volcano and started to make our way to our newest adventure. As you can imagine, there was plenty of talk about who was going to go as fast as they could all the way down the volcano and try to break the speed record (which also guaranteed you 5 free mojitos and a night of getting absolutely sloshed at the bar). Many people had high aspirations, but that quickly changed when we got a little closer to the volcano. The consensus? “Holy shit, that’s a lot higher than I thought it was. Are we really going down THAT one? It looks really steep. Maybe I’ll be using the breaks a little more than I thought I would.” Of course our guide was getting us pumped up for the ride, but the voice of reason was telling us to chill a little bit on the speed part.
When we finally arrived at the bottom of the volcano, we all hopped out and paid our entrance fee before checking out a small
iguana holding area where iguanas were being breed in order to replenish the population. It was more iguanas that we had ever seen in our lives, but obviously that wasn’t the reason we were here. After our little stop off, we were back on the truck for a few more minutes before reaching our starting point. Everyone was handed their board which was basically a piece of plywood with a couple wedge shaped pieces of wood for your feet and your butt and a rope to hang onto. Yeah, we could see how this could get ugly in a hurry right away! The hike up to the top actually wasn’t nearly as hard as we thought it would be, and once we got there the view was truly beautiful. We could literally see the chain of about 8 different volcanoes. It was worth the climb just for the view but you’d better be a little careful, because it gets windy as hell up at the top. Our guide made sure to show us that the volcano was still active by scraping his feet into the rock and releasing steam from the volcano rock underneath the top layer. Yeah, it was
active alright! Before we knew it the moment of truth was coming up and it was time to get on our boards, but just like a true gentlemen our guide told us ladies first.
One by one the girls went down, some daring to go down fast while others (like Jessie) made sure to play it safe to avoid any injuries. Nate was the very last to go and was set on flying all the way down the hill, just to see if he could do it. Too bad his balance is terrible and he couldn’t even keep his board straight for more than 5 seconds let alone rip it down to the bottom. Actually, everyone in the group thought he was going down for sure when he got closer to the bottom as he slid sideways down the hill for a little bit. He looked about as awkward as blind dog trying to figure out how to hump the nearest leg. Needless to say, he didn’t exactly break any speed records. In fact, our guide actually ran down the volcano faster than Nate went down on his board! He’d like to think it’s just because our guide was
incredibly athletic and had super-human speed, but obviously that wasn’t the case. We had checked yet another thing off the list of things we wanted to do on this trip, making sure we keep the adventures rolling as much as we can. It didn’t hurt that we got 2 free mojitos when we got back after having a beer on the truck while returning to the hostel. It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re gettin’ a little drink on. We still think the funniest part of the day was when we passed a truck full of local men who had just finished up their day of work. Why you might ask? Well, because we had about 20 young foreign girls, many with blond hair all on the same truck. Needless to say, it was most likely the highlight of their day…and possibly their week!
The last thing we wanted to check out in Leon was the beach at Las Penitas, which was a pretty short bus ride from Leon. The beach seemed nice enough, but it was incredibly windy that day and made lying on the sand pretty much impossible unless you’re a damn camel. Imagine someone dumping
bags of sand in front of an industrial fan and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how it was. We didn’t end up staying nearly as long as we thought we would soak up some sun, but it was still worth checking out. With volcano boarding officially accomplished, it was time to head out and make our way to Granada, which we had heard mixed reviews about as usual. One thing we were really happy about travel days was being able to take public buses and feeling comfortable on them, they are our preferred method…not to mention a hell of a lot cheaper. The one thing we didn’t miss was the 15 touts yelling in our faces and pulling at Jessie to get her on the bus. Good thing Nate has taken up the hard ass look with his long hair, unshaved face, and dark glasses. A few, “Tranquilos (calm down) and No toca ella (don’t touch her),” and we were left alone to find the next bus to Granada. As soon as we rolled up in Granada, we were almost in a state of déjà vu as we looked around the central square that was eerily similar to
Antigua. First things first, find a room for the night, and that we did. Somehow we managed to arrive in Granada on a weekend where there was some poetry festival going on the whole time we were there. Obviously this made finding a room a bit more difficult. We finally decided on one after hearing some rumors about bed bugs pertaining to another option we were considering. This however, would backfire on us a bit. We knew the place we were at had a bar and were well aware that we wouldn’t be going to sleep any too early. What we DIDN’T know was that we wouldn’t be sleeping until about 5 am, when the traffic started outside of our wall. Yes, it was time to move. Not only did we not sleep that night, but Nate was given a sweet parting gift as wall…a little case of bed bugs. Damnit, it was THIS place that had them and not the other. Yay!
As you can imagine, we went off to find another room in a hurry after not getting more than 2 hours of sleep the night before. We managed to find a little family owned and run
place where we had our own room, cable TV (even in English!), wifi, and free coffee all day long for not much more than what we were paying for 2 dorm beds and a sleepless night. How could we possibly complain with that? Once we got settled in our new abode, we set out to see what was up with this whole poetic weekend everyone was talking about. For us, it really wasn’t a huge deal to tell you the truth. We enjoyed more of just sitting in the central park area and checking out some of the little arts and crafts people were selling, instead of being with the audience as numerous poets and speakers took to the stage. Granted, part of this could be due to the fact that neither one of us are fluent all though Jessie can understand just about everything even if she can’t reply. But really, that just isn’t our thing. We actually enjoyed watching some of the kids in the park playing and messing with each other, especially when you see a little boy putting on one of the hand-made masks his mom is selling and running up to the little girls to
scare the PISS out of them! It was almost as funny as watching a reality TV show where people get scared from set up set up gags. Feeling like we had the attention span of a 3 year old, we took off for another walk down a road we hadn’t been down before. If there was ever a single road in a town that catered to tourists, THIS was it! The bars, restaurants, and cafes were packed with tourists, mostly older people on vacation. However it WAS pretty entertaining to watch some of the street performers in their over-sized mask costumes trying to make a buck off the gringos.
We had heard about a market in Masaya, not a far bus ride away and cheap enough to get to so we said, “Why the hell not?” There are 2 different markets in Masaya; one for the locals where you feel like you’re tromping through pig shit mixed with blood and vegetables, and the other geared more towards tourists. It’s no surprise at this point that Jessie found some more earrings to buy. She might have one of the worldliest collections in her jewelry box by the time we are
done. That also means that Nate will have spent countless hours answering, “What do you think of these? These are really cute aren’t they? What do you think we should pay for these?” Yes we know there will come a time when we’ll miss every second of that, so we’re not complaining.
There really wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to do in Granada. We had explored a pretty big chunk of the town, taken a walk down to the water, and checked out whatever little shops we were interested in. I think if you’re here and partying it up at some of the local bars you’re going to like it, but if not…not so much. Although we have to say, the highlight of being in this town was walking up the stairs in an old church by the center of town to get a bird’s eye view of our surrounding. This truly was a great sight to enjoy for a while and gave us the opportunity to get the same shots you’d see on many of the postcards here. Besides, we got a little bit of a self esteem boost from a family we met while at
the top. We exchanged taking pictures of each other and wound up talking about how long we’ve been gone. What was their response? “Oh, so you’re doing some traveling after finishing school then.” Awww, how nice of you! Little did they know Nate is about to turn the big 30 pretty soon. We had a pretty good laugh at that one later. After checking out the view of the town, it wasn’t taking very long for us to want to move on, but where to? Do we hit Ometepe first of San Juan del Sur? Well, already missing the beach we opted for SJDS. Hopefully the beaches would be what we were looking for.
For this blog, we’re going to leave you with a little segment we’ll call, “The crazy shit white people say when learning Spanish.” (This is beyond the painstakingly horrible pronunciation you hear on a daily basis)
1) Instead of saying “Tengo miedo”, which means I’m scared, one of the girls are our school in Guatemala kept saying “Tengo mierda”, translated into English as I have shit.
2) Jessie looking at a ring in the market- Instead of saying “Es plato?”, or it’s silver?...
“Es platano?” It’s made of plantains? Yeah, Nate and the man selling the ring had fun with that one for a while.
3) Nate asking for a pack of gum and trying to explain which one he wanted- “Que tipo quiere?” (What kind do you want?) Nate’s response… “Arroz.” Umm, rice? Yeah, should’ve been “AZUL” for blue. We’ll get there eventually…we hope.
Getting there- Leon: We booked a ticket when we were in El Tunco, El Salvador for a bus that would leave from San Salvador and head straight into Nicaragua, making the border a piece of cake. We opted to take the coaster from El Tunco to San Salvador for $1.50 each. The tickets for the trip into Nicaragua on Tica Bus were $30 each. The quickest thing to do is get dropped off on the corner where the road splits to Leon and grab a public bus from there, 35 Cordoba each and then a taxi for 40 Cordoba. We also had to pay $3 to go through Honduras at the border and $15 to leave Nicaragua on Tica Bus.
Granada: We took a public bus from Leon to
Managua for 20C and then 40C to get to Granada.
Staying- Leon: We HIGHLY recommend staying a Bigfoot, super cool vibe, nice staff, clean and comfortable with security at night. A dorm will run you 135C each.
Granada- Dorms at La Libertad are 135C and you may get bed bugs as a parting gift. Los Amigos is close to Oasis and we had our own room with cable TV for 370C with free breakfast and coffee included. Nice place! But very quiet, not a good place to meet lots of other travelers.
Eating- Leon: Probably the best deal in town is close to the main square where you can get a full meal with rice, beans and chicken at Mijunas Bar Café for 50C per plate with a free drink thrown in.
Granada: You can find some decently priced places here, including a place right next to Amigos where the average meal is about 50C each. In the main square you can find pretty cheap food as well.
Transportation- Leon: You’ll probably be taking a taxi to and from the bus station unless you take the local bus which fills up
incredibly fast and makes it really tough with packs on. It’ll run you 40C for the ride. A bus to Las Penitas and back is 20C roundtrip per person.
Granada: No need for transportation here other than taking a bus to Masaya to check out the market. You’ll pay about 17C per person roundtrip.
There are more photos below