Several weeks in advance of our arrival to Nicaragua built up excitement for us. Many people we met on the road indicated that the people are very friendly and that there are countless things to see and do as well. It is also a very safe country and everything is much less expensive than the resort countries such as Costa Rica. Armed with this information, we planned several great activities right off the bat.
Our first order of business was a tour of Somoto Canyon less than five miles after our border crossing. While in El Salvador, our friends, Andy and Laura from Sumo Goes South, told us about this tour which involved hiking, floating, cliff jumping and boating our way through the canyon. Without hesitation, we agreed to meet them for the tour.
We set out at eight in the morning by loading up in the back of a truck and heading towards the Honduras border. Slightly before the border, the truck turned down a dirt road and we all jumped out on our arrival. As we began the short hike, our guides showed us many of the plants in the area, many of which were very thorny and one that can be made into a poisonous tea. The most interesting plant was very small with the common name “no touch me.” As we brushed our finger through the leaves, the plant would pull the leaves closer to the main stem exposing its protective thorns. It was similar to a Venus fly trap, but we were told it was a defense mechanism as opposed to a predatory reaction.
The “no touch me:”
The heat really began to pick up as we ventured deeper into the canyon and, as promised, we reached the first deep pool of water and jumped in. From here our guides floated us down the river and the narrow slit between the rocks of the canyon. They explained the history of the area, the history of the property and the background of the development of the tour. Nearly every hour or so, we arrived at places where we could jump off the cliffs into the water which was very deep. As we approached the end of tour, we all piled into a boat that looked like it had been built in one day by a very unskilled metal worker. We all had a good chuckle over it. Lunch was waiting at the tour headquarters at our arrival at three in the afternoon. To cap our day of adventure, we shared beers and stories with Andy and Laura and turned in to bed with clear skies and cool temperatures.
We left Somoto fairly early in the morning with a few necessary errands to be done in the town of Esteli. Several times in El Salvador, we looked for a lavandaria to wash our clothes but could not find one. Our previous laundry day was in Belize nearly six weeks earlier! Fortunately, we found a lavandaria in Esteli and were surprised when we were told the laundry would be ready for pickup at five that evening. With four hours to wait, we ran many other errands in preparation for our hike the following day.
Continuing our “adventure week,” we left Esteli with our clean laundry and headed towards Miraflor which is a (relatively) high altitude agriculture region where hiking tours are given daily. We slowly bounced along the road as the trusty Blanco Caballo eased up the mountain and arrived just before dark. We slept great in our clean sheets and cool overnight temperatures.
The Miraflor area is considered a cloud forest where dense clouds meet the earth during the majority of the rainy season. Fortunately, our visit was about a month before the rainy season so our hike was mostly dry and our views were unobstructed.
Our guide arrived on horseback and we set out immediately skirting around fields of potatoes and cabbage. As we slowly meandered through the rolling hills, our guide explained the bloody history of Nicaragua from it’s civil war that began nearly 40 years ago and how the war has shaped Nicaragua and the Miraflor area to what it is today. Following the war, the revolutionaries were awarded land in the Miraflor area where it was divided up into small fincas (farms) and cooperatives were established to help in trade negotiations. Today, the fincas grow a wide variety of crops including potatoes, sugar cane, coffee, cabbage, etc. and also a few cattle, pigs, chickens, etc. In the aftermath of the war, most Nicaraguans changed their outlook on life opting for peace vs. war. Continually during our visit, Nicaraguans described the current state of their country and people as tranquil, a description we agree with.
In the forest, we saw an ant pile created by leaf cutter ants that was about the size of a VW bus. The paths they followed were clearly defined along the ground of the forest. In the same area, our guide showed us parasitic trees that begin life in the canopy of host trees, sending roots down to the ground. Eventually, the “choker tree” surrounds the host and chokes it to death. Hundreds of years later, the host tree rots away leaving a hollow core where it once was. In a different area of the forest, we walked through a patch of oak trees that were covered with a long hanging moss which they call “old man beard.” Although we laughed at the name, our guide indicated they use it for a loofa in the shower.
Here is a well established choker tree:
And here is a full grown choker tree… kind of spooky looking:
Nearly six hours after we began the hike, we returned to our starting point exhausted. Although it was cloudy, the 80 degree heat and humidity wore us out quickly.
After resting a while, we took advantage of the cool temperatures to address a few issues with the camper. Two of our hydraulic rams that lift the roof had recently been leaking and needed the O-rings replaced. Although not impossible, it is still a decent chore which requires us to support the roof, unbolt the ram from the roof and the wall and remove our oven. Our friends, Peter and Mary Kay, showed us a modification where we can punch a small hole in the ceiling to provide enough room to remove the ram, but we have not yet done this. Peter offered to give us a handful of new O-rings which we passed on thinking we had plenty, but we realized there is only one left after this day’s repair… crap. Also, while working on the rams, we removed one of the camper guides which has not been working since we bought the camper last year. We will look for a metal shop that can help us bend it back to place and keep the bugs out!
Descending from Miraflor, we drove off the mountain and headed towards Las Penitas on the coast. We knew it was going to be hot and humid as it is close to Leon which is dubbed the hottest area in Nicaragua. The landscape looked like how we would picture Africa – shady green trees with parched, light tan grass. Many of the areas looked as though they would be incredibly beautiful during the rainy season.
Our three days in Las Penitas were relaxing. We spent our time swimming in the ocean, reading our books and plowing through a new podcast that really grabbed our attention. The days were incredibly hot as was our camper and we didn’t dare turn on the stove in the camper cooking the majority of our meals outside on the grill. Chorizo jalapeño poppers were our favorite bite concocted in Las Penitas.
Since our planning for Nicaragua began, we knew that volcano boarding was something we had to do. Rising early, we left Las Penitas for a short morning drive to Leon where our volcano boarding tour left at 8:00am. Everyone from the group piled into the back of a truck and we bounced our way toward Cerro Negro for nearly an hour. Cerro Negro is the newest volcano in Central America beginning its young life in 1850. It erupts every 15-20 years with the last eruption in 1999. It was hot by the time we began to put on our protective denim suits and everyone was eager for their turn. As we peeked over the edge, everyone was surprised by how steep the decent really was. One by one we took our turn and arrived at the bottom or the volcano that took us an hour to climb in less than a minute! The volcanic ash and small chucks of rock mixed with the sweat we accumulated from the climb to form a nice mud all over our faces, necks, legs and pretty much everywhere else. Although short, volcano boarding was certainly an experience we all will remember from our visit to Nicaragua!
From Leon we headed to the southern part of the country in search of more adventure and cooler weather. Check back for our next post soon!