Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Nicaragua PT.2 - San Juan Del Sur and Ometepe Island

After 3 weeks of fun with the parents, it was just the two of us again.
We headed to a nearby hostel in Leon to catch a shuttle to go back to the south of Nicaragua. There were a still a few places that we wanted to visit before continuing further up the continent.
The journey was a lot longer than we expected. There was many pick ups at various hostels in Leon and then we ended up revisiting Granada; for hostel drop offs and then pick ups. In our repeat tour of the city, we came across characters again- our horse and cart man with the confusing English, the 'diamond geezer,' so he called himself that organised our Masaya tour and transfer to Leon and various street performing kids...

When the second load came onto the minibus we found ourselves sandwiched between some Jehovah's Witnesses...uhoo. There seems to be a big following in Nicaragua; mainly Americans of a certain age that have set up churches. Apparently there was some conference happening in San Juan Del Sur (where we were headed). When the rather obese sized man in front of us, who was one of the speakers, turned round to ask us if we knew anything about Jehovah, Kyle said 'Well...you knock on our doors a lot...'

After about 6 hours of politely chatting to these messengers of god we arrived in San Juan Del Sur (it wasn't all bad we spoke to a fellow traveller for a while getting tips for where to go diving).
We hastily found a hostel, dumped our bags, got changed and headed for the sea. San Juan Del Sur, on the Pacific side, is a popular beach town in a very pretty bay. There are great beaches both north and south of the town which are popular for surfing. It reminded us of Taganga in Colombia, only nicer.

That night we had a delicious dinner in TripAdvisor's number 1 restaurant in San Juan; Cha Cha Cha. 
Kyle approached the two brother owners at the end of the evening, asking if they would like photographs of their food for promotion and social media. Success! We were to have the next 2 night's drinks and dinner (that's starter, main course, pudding!) covered by them :-) This was to be the start of Kyle's food photography trade whilst travelling.

Over the next few days we hired a motorbike for the afternoons, me clinging onto Kyle as we speed off to explore. We drove up the very steep hill, and walked the last ridiculously steep bit, to the statue of Christ. From up here we got a great view of the perfect half moon bay of San Juan and could see right the way down the coast to Costa Rica.

It was so windy up there; I was doing a Marilyn.

'La Virgen' wasn't given quite so pride of place...

The beaches we visited were lovely. 

Of course we spent ages playing in the awesome waves. Some of them really were awesome! Dodging surfers here and there.

We enjoyed our other nights a great deal at Cha Cha Cha, working through the menu.

On our last night we met a lovely lady called Kimberly and her 8 year old daughter, Mirabai. American, but now living in Costa Rica, they were over in San Juan for the day doing a visa run. We spent the whole evening chatting away at the bar. Kimberly is a Yoga teacher and Mirabai a budding dancer and Yogi. We had great conversation with Mirabai, reminding us of Kyle's lovely niece and nephew; Rohan and Elodie who we miss lots. It was sad to say goodbye to them at the end of the night.

Our next destination was Ometepe Island; The stunning twin volcanic peak island set in the massive Lake Nicaragua (similar size to Lake Titicaca).

We arrived at the ferry dock around 10am and were met with the sound of the Deep South. A big group of larger than life Americans, many wearing garishly bright T.shirts that read something like 'sharing the love around the world'- ahhh... A bible bashing group!...boarded the ferry with us...wonderful. They followed us up onto the top deck and as we set off, produced an enormous speaker system. They all jumped to their feet (the ones that could still jump) and started crazy dancing to songs like the Macarena and Gangnem Style!! You had to laugh!! They provided us with great entertainment for our hour long trip.

When we made it to Ometepe we hastily went in search of lunch with what seemed like the only 2 other backpackers from the ferry.

After dumping our bags at the hostel, we took a trip down to a sand bar that juts out into the lake. We were the only 2 there. 

We went for a swim- the water was like a bath; a very murky bath. We spent the afternoon chilling there and when it was time to go we walked to the main road in the hope of catching a bus. 

After waiting a while with no luck, we started to talk about hitch hiking. At this moment a car spotted us and the guy gestured for us to get in. Problem solved! His name was Fernando, an older guy from the US, who had done a lot of travelling and settled here. He bought a house 3 years ago and is doing it up. Would we like to see it?!...'it's the funkiest house on the island'. Why not?! We were driven back to his house and had the grand tour. A really interesting place. The highlight was his HUGE watchtower- the height of a 4 story building. 

Before we knew it we were climbing the vertical metal ladder, wearing special gloves to stop us from slipping! About half way up I started to feel the fear. Three quarters of the way: serious adrenaline! What were we doing?! The last few steps I was shaking! Kyle felt the same watching me climb higher and higher, getting smaller and smaller. Alas, the view was amazing and perfectly timed with sunset too. 

Volcano Conception was behind us, the sunset was over the lake in front. Fernando switched on the fairy lights up there, it was lovely!! 

Fernando a long way down!

Now time for the descent... Even more terrifying. I had not felt like this since the canopy walking in Peru. Very very careful steps and we made it back onto solid ground. We were the first ‘tourists’ he had up there which was pretty kind of him, usually just for locals and friends.

As we were leaving we spotted on the floor what we think was a rat baby foetus! Seriously tiny like it should still be in the womb, eyes still sealed! So random and really quite gross!

The following 4 days were spent exploring this beautiful island on a hire motorbike. It was certainly the way to do it! Totally on our time, we loved the independence it gave us. The days were very hot and sunny but whizzing along with the wind in our hair was the perfect temperature. We began talking about buying a bike to continue our travels on! Huge backpacks however, are a bit of an issue!

We gained such a flavour of the island. A whole new meaning to the term 'free range animals'- horses, pigs, chickens, cattle just roaming around on the road! 

Even kids and toddlers just strolling around.
Ometepe is absolutely full of school kids. We passed loads of schools; the students always seemed to be milling around outside no matter what the time was rather than inside in lessons.

There was such a friendly happy vibe, we waved to most passing cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Nearly spun round to ride with the big kids!

The scenery was spectacular. The first day we circled around Conception Volcano (1610m) on the north part. It was cool to view it from different angles. It really is the most stereotypical looking volcano - the perfect triangle with a flat top.

Our first stop was Altagracia, the second largest town on the island.

We wandered around and took in the sights.

We visited El Ojo de Agua; a beautiful shady natural spring. The water was crystal clear.

We chilled on Playa Santa Domingo; a long stretch of sandy beach. You could easily forget you were in the middle of a lake and think you were by the sea. You wade out for miles in the lake, it stays shallow for ages.

 We weren't the only ones playing on the beach...

Charco Verde was a late afternoon stop; an ecological park with a lagoon. We spotted lots of monkeys up in the trees, getting a bit spooked when one started to stalk us!

Crossing the new island runway, good spot for a pic!

The following few days were spent in the south part of the island by Maderas Volcano (1394m). 

We left our large backpacks in the main town with Elmer who hired out the bike to us for another 4 days (for just $60) so we could avoid the various long bumpy bus rides and lack of transport at the other end. We felt properly independent which was a first on the trip so far. 

After an hour and half’s drive on and off road we arrived at a lovely hostel set right on the lake. It had a big dock which we went swimming off and watched a few dramatic sunsets from.

As you can see, Kyle's new sunglasses were a hit for reflection pics ;) 

As it got dark you could see lots of tiny blinking red lights on the mainland in the distance; huge wind turbines.

One evening we both enjoyed great back massages, one after the other, in the privacy of our own room - how very luxurious!

Motorbiking around Maderas Volcano was a tad more bumpy to say the least. The road was terrible. It degenerated to dirt track littered with loads of large volcanic rocks. Luckily Kyle seemed to like this obstacle course challenge, taking him back to his trail motor biking days.

We drove through tiny isolated plantain farming communities and agricultural villages, stopping off in one to say hello to the kids that were playing outside. 

We bought them something sweet and took their picture. The children have such lovely natures and are so incredibly cute.

We rode as far as we could and then hiked for an hour up to the San Ramon Waterfall. It was hot work...

We arrived around noon, just as the sun started to hit it. We timed it perfectly too and had the 40m high falls to ourselves. 

We went swimming in the cold water which was such a reward after the sweaty climb. 

Kyle was still taunted by the beautiful big blue butterfly (from Punta Uva – Costa Rica) that was just too fast for his camera and eye. Unfortunately I found a dead one which he reluctantly photographed as it was considered cheating!

On our last day I thought it would be a good idea to take a kayak out to 'Monkey Island.' It was windy, really windy... Kyle wasn't feeling great (two days of hardcore handlebar action had knackered his arms) so I had said I would do most of the paddling. Time to build on that upper body strength... 

The way out was quite a work out even though we were going with the wind. 10/15 minutes or so and we had reached this little island where they have released some monkeys back into the wild. 

We circled the island, spotting them but being careful not to get too close (they will jump on your boat for food), then headed back. Attempted to anyway. The wind really picked up. With us both paddling as best we could we were barely moving forward. Head down, face grimacing, “head for the protected shoreline ” Kyle said, it was a longer distance but safer trip back. Never again!

Pretty spent, we headed for a nice hotel that we had found the night before for dinner. It is set higher up on the hill and has fantastic views of the lake and Conception volcano. We chilled out there by the infinity pool, recovering from that morning's escapades.

After 5 days on this special island we left, getting a much quieter morning ferry back! 

A few big travel days were ahead of us. That day we took a ferry then a taxi to Granada (again!), strolled through the town to find a bus to Managua, a minibus back to Leon and a finally a taxi to the hostel. After all this we had returned to Leon to then catch a 14 hour shuttle, leaving at 8AM the next morning. Covering nearly the whole length of Honduras to reach the Carribean coast town of La Ceiba where we get the boat to Utila from.

We enjoyed our last evening in Nicaragua in a party hostel- Big Foot Hostel, playing 'beer pong' and 'flip cup' and went out to experience the nightlife of Leon. Leaving this great country with a bang.

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