Chocolate/Coffee Country, The Hottest Place on Earth, and Las Playas

Published: July 31st 2012
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Grinding Cacao BeansGrinding Cacao BeansGrinding Cacao Beans

Thankfully I don't have to make my chocolate like this!
Matagalpa, Nicaragua

We survived the Revolution in San Juan del Sur, but unfortunately there were fireworks and blaring techno music that lasted all night, through the morning, literally until 5 am. It was a rough night with little sleep, but we boarded a microbus at 6 am and headed back through Rivas and ended up in Managua. We tried everything in our power to avoid Managua and get off the bus prior to entering the Capital, we hadn't heard anything good about Managua, plus we wanted to avoid the 1 million people that flooded the city to celebrate the Revolution. At one point the bus stopped in Masaya, we got off with our packs, the driver asked a few locals about a bus to Matagalpa and couldn't get any info, so we got back on the bus, and off to Managua we went! Once we hit Managua, we hopped in a taxi, negotiated the fare and were driven across town to another bus station.

We bought tickets for an express bus, El Gomez, and thought we were going to have a sweet trip north to coffee country. Once we boarded we discovered we were late to buy our tickets and had no seats! We were two of 15 lucky folks that got to stand in the aisle for the 2 1/2 hour trip. We were blessed by being entertained by a blind accordian player who belted out all of the classic accordian hits as we rolled out of the Capital. Even though the guy had a great voice and nimble fingers thankfully his show only lasted fifteen minutes!

Upon arriving in Matagalpa we got a cab to a recommended hostel that was full. We tried another spot with no success and finally ended up in a great hotel situated on a steep hill with sweet views of the town and surrounding mountains. We spent the day wandering around the city and not really seeing any other tourists, which was a welcome change. The next day we headed to the Castillo de Cacao, our primary reason for heading to this part of Nicaragua. It was a nice tour of a chocalate factory that was in an old castle. Unfortunately the tour was entirely in Spanish, but we had a pretty good understanding of the process, thanks to some visual aids. We got to sample some liquid chocolate and then

Sky makes friends everywhere
I (Becky) bought about 2 kilos worth of factory direct 75%!c(MISSING)acao chocolate. Pretty sure this was the happiest I've been since we left the States. I told Sky it will be a three month stash, but he's betting on about two weeks! The following day we tried our damnest to go on a coffee farm tour in a small surrounding village. We took a cab there, walked around this small village for a while looking for info about a coffee finca but ultimately ended up getting back on a microbus just before it started pouring buckets. We got back to Matagalpa and had to get of the bus in the pouring rain and run for the nearest cover. It was amazing to watch the streets flood with massive amounts of water running downhill with tons of trash in the dark brown water. We took a taxi back to the hotel and spent our last evening in Matagalpa drinking rum and brushing up on our language skills by watching really good American movies subtitled in Spanish.

Leon, Nicaragua

We woke up at 5am to catch a taxi to the bus station in order to catch 6am bus to Leon. Thought we were dialed in for a good ride when we purchased tickets that were actually seated tickets. We got on the bus and realized that the tickets were for the side of the bus that seats 3 people in a seat designed to fit only two. I was by the window, poor Sky took the bitch seat, and an older gentleman with one ass cheek hanging off the seat took the aisle! All-in-all the ride wasn't too bad, but our backs were a little worse for wear though. We arrived in Leon by 9am and neither of us could believe how hot it already was! While waiting for our room to open up we cruised Leon in the un-godly heat, and we immediately noticed that Leon is a much nicer city than Granada. Much prettier architecture, as well as a general good vibe. Perhaps this is a result of Leon being the educational hub of Nicaragua. We spent our afternoon booking our volcano boarding, our trip up to El Salvador as well as seeing as many churches as we could before dark!

We woke up early the next morning to go volcano boarding which takes place on Cerro Negro volcano, the youngest volcano in Central America, and one of eight volcanos in a chain of volcanoes near Leon. Cerro Negro is a beautiful active volcano, it's 728m high, its last eruption was in 1999. It has unusual eruption characteristics, spewing only ash out the top, while the magma flows freely from cracks in the base of the volcano. It took an hour to get to the volcano from Leon, and after a quick pit stop at the ranger station we drove to the base of the volcano. We were given our boards (some type of wood with formica nailed to the bottom), mine looked like a mini-toboggan, and Sky's had two spots to place his feet so thin nylon straps could wrap around his feet and ankles and attach his feet to the board. We were also given backpacks that contained our jumpsuits, goggles, gloves, knee and elbow pads. We then started the 45 minute climb up the volcano! We scrambled over loose volcanic rock, scree and ash in winds that were gusting quite hard, our boards were tucked under our arms and at times acted like a sail working for or against us! It was quite a challenge. We were very happy to have finally made it to the top of a volcano, we figured we were running out of time to do so! The view from the top was a little hazy, but beautiful nonetheless. From the top we were able to look down into the crater of the volcano, we couldn't see any magma, just a lot of bubbling mud pits with belches of smelly sulfur.

The incline of Cerro Negro is 40 degrees, I was a little intimidated at first thinking of sliding down this hill made up of sharp volcanic rick on a thin piece of wood with only my heels to slow me down, but Sky couldn't wait to get the show on the road. A couple of years ago a Frenchman went down Cerro Negro on a bike, they clocked him at 172kph before he crashed broke several bones. A girl the day before was clocked going 90kph on a sled! Volcano sledding was acutally quite fun once I got started, in hindsight I definitely wish I would have gone faster. The two guys who went before me wiped out a couple of times going down, the girl behind me several times. I really don't think I've ever gotten dirtier in my life. Tons of volcanic ash in my mouth, in my hair and on any part of exposed skin, and some not-so-exposed skin. I knew I'd be plucking dirt out of places for a few days! It was a lot of fun watching the carnage of the other sledders wiping out at the bottom, some people came in a little too hot! One girl from Germany somersaulted five or six times then skidded at least 30 feet beyond where her sled stopped at the base. I wish I knew how to say, "I'm sorry" in German as I was laughing the whole time I was checking to see if she was ok. Sky wouldn't go standing up if he had the chance to do it over again. He said it was quite difficult as there were no bindings, no edge to the board, and when did try to dig in the shifting of his weight would cause a bunch of the rock and ash to come over the top of the board bogging it down. He made it down in one piece, and didn't swallow as many rocks as I did, but had a great time "snowboarding" a volcano!

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

With Leon being so hot, and not being able to leave for El Salvador until the weekend, after volcano boarding we hopped on a chicken bus and took a short trip out to Las Peñitas. A nice sleepy beach town about 30 minutes from Leon. Las Peñitas was amazing, however the town is a little short of good accomodations. We ended up at a place that had the best location on the beach, with a great breeze, amazing shore breaks and surf watching, but unfortunately the place was a shit hole. The room and bathroom were awful, and the owner was about as friendly as a rabid badger, but I guess the view and the kickin' AC in our room is what convinced us to stay for three nights. We had a great few days there. Spending time on the beach, swimming in the waves, drinking, playing cribbage, and along with kayaking and fishing it really wasn't a bad way to burn a few days. We met some great people while staying there too. Derek, Nina and Jason gave us the opportunity to talk with/hang out with someone (anyone?) other than each other! Jason is from Durango, he and Sky had quite a bit in common and went fishing a couple of nights at the mouth of the river.

Leon Deuce

From Las Peñitas we headed back to Leon in order to catch a private shuttle up to El Salvador. The second we stepped off the bus in Leon we were reminded of the reason we left there in the first place! It's so freaking hot there! We didn't let the heat deter us as we had a list of things we had to do, the first one being laundry! We were convinced the clothes in our backpacks smelled worse than rotting mangoes so we loaded up our stuff and hoofed it to the local laundromat. I know I've never loved doing laundry as much as I did that day! We went back to our hotel to clean up (and put on clean clothes!) so that we could finally get to the cathedral and climb the bell tower and see the city below. On our way to the cathedral we took a small detour into the thrift store to look at t-shirts. This ended up being an hour-long shopping trip as we were in hysterics over some of the shirts we found. From t-shirts with, "Vagina is for Lovers", to "I'm Gonna Come at You Like a Spider Monkey" and "May the Schwartz be with You", we both wanted to walk out of there with an entire new wardrobe! We did pick up $19 worth of quality new/used shirts. Since our tshirt shopping took longer than anticipated unfortunately access to the bell tower was closed, however, we were able to walk around the catheral looking at the beautiful stone sculptures, murals on the walls as well as the tomb of Ruben Dario, the famed national poet of Nicaragua. We spent our last night in Leon having a great dinner, listening to live music and running into some of the people we met at Las Peñitas. The bar had the best raffle I've ever particpated in, the prizes included liters of beer, packs of cigarettes, tshirts and bottles of rum! I was the proud winner of a bottle of Flor de Caña rum and a tshirt. The raffle cost 10 cordobas (45¢) for three tickets, let's just say that's the best rate of return on any investment I've seen in awhile!

El Tunco, El Salvador

We made the decision to take a private shuttle instead of a TicaBus to get us from Leon to El Tunco, El Salvador. We figured 4 border crossings might be a little more manageable with 6 people on a shuttle instead of 60 people on a bus. This trip was a grueling 10-hour trip out of Nicaragua, through Honduras and into El Salvador. The border crossings were quite easy since our driver is the one who dealt with immigration for us. We could definitely tell that Honduras is a very poor country and El Salvador a realitively wealthy country based on the roads we were traveling over. In Honduras, children no more than 10-years-old were the ones in the middle of the road filling the potholes with dirt as semi trucks screamed by them going 60 mph; in El Salvador the roads were the best we've seen in Central America! We only made two pit stops in 10 hours, a 10-minute stop for breakfast, then a 30-minute break for lunch. We were both stir crazy and our asses were beyond numb by the time we arrived

I haven't sinned that much on this trip
in El Tunco. We didn't know that El Tunco and the surrounding beaches are the weekend playground for San Salvadorians, so the place was crawling with people! We are pretty sure we got the last room available, luckily it's in a great location with AC and a pool. The beaches in El Tunco are quite different than what we have had up to this point, quite crowded and very rocky, not very tranquil. We spent the first night here recovering from our 10-hour ride, spent the next day reading, blog/journal writing and drinking too much Flor de Caña/Coke and Pilsener, and spent today recovering from yesterday! Perhaps if we enjoyed surfing more than we do, El Tunco would be the perfect spot, but as it is I think we're both excited to head up to Guatemala on the last day of July!

As usual, thanks for checking in on us and our travels! We miss many things back home, but thankfully we've found many things we'll miss about Central America when we do end up back home! Enjoy the rest of summer, and the next time you hear from us we'll be in Guatemala! Remember there will be more photos at the bottom of the page.

XOXO Becky and Sky!

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31st July 2012

Love hearing about your travels. It makes me tired just reading them - you guys have done so much!! Keep sending the updates and have a wonderful time!
31st July 2012

Thanks for the blog. I haven 't laughed out loud for a long time. The two of you are beautiful people, physically and emotionally. I wish I could be a little fly on the wall. We are in Las Cruces now and can't wait for my appointment. Love to you both. Talk to you soon. You know what Becky? I actually can hear you laughing during these adventures of yours.
31st July 2012

Even dirtier than the Warrior Dash?!
Hee hee. Love the pics and the update! So glad y'all are having such an adventure...which it does sound like every day is. :) Miss ya!
1st August 2012

They let u in churches with bare shoulders? In Spain and Italy it was not allowed. Just curious. Miss you. Keep the pics and blog coming!
1st August 2012

If I could have gone in there naked I would have it was so damn hot. Bare shoulders and bare heads are the norm, it must be a temperature things. I think that 2nd generation Catholocism must be a little more relaxed.

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