It's the diversity throughout Nicaragua that slows your progress. Fortunately so since Nicaragua is a country to take slowly. We entered from Honduras at Las Manos, paying our $12 entry visa at the dusty border crossing jammed packed with waiting cargo trucks. After acquiring Cordobas from the persistent but polite money changers, we were directed to a departing chicken bus headed to the highland city of Esteli about two hours away. Cool and comfortable, Esteli is a busy agricultural town that we found to have really tasty hamburgers in its Central Park. For about a buck and half, you could have a burger bigger and better than a Big Mac. Two trucks in the fashion of taco trucks competed for business. Having our fill of beans, rice and platanos, we tried them both. The best being the owner who spent six years in America apparently acquiring his burger skills. Although Esteli offers various sites to visit, including cigar factories and natural reserves, we chose it more for practical purposes. We found a dentist offering $20 one hour teeth cleaning sessions so I jumped in his old fashion chair, the type you crank up and down. The doctor took his time, had
me spit as for there was no suction and ultimately scraped away my coffee stains. After three days in Esteli, I was able to smile my way out of town.
Next on our itinerary was the much talked about, highly rated town of Granada. Granada has history, its where the much hated American William Walker declared himself President of Nicaragua around the 1850s. Him battling his way around Granada caused the deaths of many citizens and is used as a symbol of American imperialism in Central America to this day. It's easy to see why Walker had grand designs on Granada. It has a colorful colonial buildings, sits on the shores of the massive Lake Nicaragua and is strategically located to make one a fortune on taxing cargo moving across the isthmus. His designs failed, burned the city to the ground and was eventually caught and executed. Fortunately the city has been restored and is attractive to the visitor. Today there is a lively restaurant bar area, plenty of wifi wired coffee and smoothie shops, and tour companies offering visits to volcanoes, islands and lake tours. We took a $16 three hour tour of small islands just off shore.
The islets are inhabited by fisherman, the wealthy and plenty of birds with one full of monkeys. The tour was decent, nothing to write home about but sometimes you just have to try what's offered. As for Granada's citizens, they had us a bit paranoid. Strolling our way around town, we were told repeatedly not to walk down the waterfront at night, being we might get mugged. Others told us not to wander down streets after eight, or go hear or there to avoid robbery. A tourist told she had her bag stolen in broad daylight. We were feeling a little worried, now becoming excessively protective of our gear and departed after three days. Next stop the volcanic island of Ometepe.
Ometepe Island is just what we needed. A safe, secluded island where all the islands folks greet you with smiles and hellos. Here you could wander night or day and the only worry is getting caught in a downpour. Adding to our delight was the Soma Hospedaje, run by a Berliner fool of jokes, good food and clean, cheap accommodations. Our large room with private bath ran $22 a night including a full breakfast. This being the slow
season we were also given the third night free. The perfect stay. $25 got a scooter for the day to tour the scenic island, anchored by two volcanoes on each end. The island has one road that circles the island, passing sleeping villages and small towns enveloped in tropical green and good fish restaurants. Our meal of the day, two large talipias, beans, rice, platanos and two smoothies for $12. We topped off the day with a refreshing swim at Ojo de Agua, the islands large crystal clear spring pool. After five days, we hesitated leaving for our stay was pure relaxation and enjoyment. But the road beckons, we have a world waiting in front of us so we have to make some headway.
Well, we didn't get far. Maybe about 35 kilometers south to the developing surf town of San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Ocean. This is where the backpacker, surfer dude and retirees arrive for cheap beer, great surf, and sun. Maybe sex too but it's so damn hot hear lets not talk about that. Really the town is inviting, with a beautiful bay, good restaurants, bakeries and all the infrastructure including many locals speaking
English to make a road weary gringo right at home. We found a Chicagoan at the bakery Pan de Vida, using a wood fired oven producing delicious mango bread. We went back for more, buying a loaf of carrot bread. There are a multitude of hostels, apartments for rent, and hotels to satisfy all wallets. Our hostel Buena Onda, $20 a night with private bath has a million dollar view over looking the bay. San Juan is a good hangout place, but since we've been in Nicaraguan for two weeks, we need to look beyond the surf and head farther south to Costa Rica and beyond.
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