Thoroughly covered from head to toe in volcanic ash and soaked in sweat, we left Leon behind us and headed south. Initially we intended on staying at Old Leon about an hour away, but we ran into a Canadian man named John who said we could park at his new resort for the night on the coast. It sounded much better than the dusty parking spot we had originally planned on so we followed him and the resort manager to the coast arriving at Playa Tesoro.
John has been building the resort for a little over a year having built several casitas, two pools and a restaurant. When we arrived, they had just planted fifty or so palm trees along the coast and were installing irrigation the next day. We all had a great dinner and shared a couple beers, then jumped in the pool to cool off. It was fascinating to be able to see a resort in the process of being built and being able to pick the brain of the owner at the same time. We will be following the resort on Facebook and look forward to watching the progress over the next couple of years!
Managua is the largest city in Nicaragua and didn’t have great reviews, but with several maintenance issues needing to be addressed, we were left with little choice and started heading that way.
It was time for a new fuel filter an oil change and our door locks were still in bad repair following our break-in in Honduras. As we mentioned, the “bad guys” broke into the truck by pushing a straight screwdriver through the key hole. The one functioning lock was barely hanging on so we decided that getting the locks fixed was a high priority. We intended on working with a well known auto company in Managua, but they were slow on getting back to us so we pulled into the city and sought out our own places for repair. The oil change and fuel filter was no problem to have replaced and paying somebody $20 to do the work in 100 degree temperatures and high humidity was money well spent.
To have the doors locks fixed, we found a mechanic shop on iOverlander with good reviews and headed there next. A locksmith was unable to come by that night, so we ended up camping in the secure lot with Wifi, toilets and the best shower we have had in months. The security guard was very interested in our camper, mosquito repellants, camp chairs and pretty much everything else we had. His dogs, Consuela and Doggie, were friendly and gave us a good dog fix for the time being. That evening, the thermometer indicated the high temperature was 103 and was 92 in the camper at bedtime, the hottest marks we have had to date. Although not glamorous, we got all our maintenance up to date and were back on the road only a day behind schedule.
Many different sources indicated that one must see attraction in Nicaragua is the Masaya Volcano between Managua and Granada. This particular volcano is very active and from the top it is possible to see the lava below. We decided that we would camp by the lake next to the volcano, then visit it first thing the next day. Shortly after dark, we walked down to the lake and looked to the horizon where we could see the red glow from the volcano reflecting off the clouds directly above it. The next morning, we drove ten minutes to the entry gate and began the ascent up the very steep road to the top. As we jumped out of the truck and looked over the edge, we were overcome by the enormity of the volcano that stretched nearly a mile across and equally as deep. A steady, deep rumble echoed off the walls as the red hot lava at the bottom was slowly churned as we watched. The smell of the gasses being released from the volcano was not strong but after only a few minutes, I felt like I would vomit! On top of the hill next to the volcano is a cross that has remained for centuries as many people believe that this volcano was the literal gate to hell, a description that couldn’t have been more on point.
Our next stop as we headed south was Granada, right on the shores of Lago de Nicaragua. Granada is a quaint city with incredible architecture, restaurants galore and a vibrant energy among its residents and visitors. At the same time of our visit, there was a music and arts festival in the town square where traditional and modern musicians and drama groups from many Central American countries were rehearsing for that evening’s performance. As you might imagine, the people watching was incredible!
While in Granada, we stopped into Dona Elba Cigars where they roll cigars and discuss the process for tourists. The tobacco leaves for the cigars are from the Esteli region in Northern Nicaragua where we had passed through the week before. After a brief description of the types of tobacco leaves used in the cigars, they stacked the leaves and with a swift back and forth motion, the leaves were rolled into the shape of a cigar. Next, the cigar is trimmed to the appropriate size then placed into a press that makes the cigar hold its shape. Finally, the cigar is removed and one final piece of tobacco is trimmed and wrapped around the cigar to finish. It was a fascinating, yet simple process to watch and we even received a complimentary cigar to smoke while watching the tour and sweating profusely!
Can you spot our truck?
Leaving Granada, it was determined that the best route around Lago de Nicaragua was along its southwest side where we would visit San Juan del Sur. San Juan del Sur is small surf town right near the Costa Rica border and was another must see location according to many sources. We parked the truck and took a short stroll along the malecon but knew we wouldn’t last long in the heat so we went back to the truck and began driving to see the Jesus statue overlooking the bay. Think Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janiero only on a smaller scale. The view from on top was incredible! We stayed at a hotel/restaurant/bar with a pool owned by an ex-pat from Alabama where we spent the majority of the time in the pool keeping cool. In the evenings, the howler monkeys settled in the trees directly over the camper and howled for hours.
As we were planning our route, we were advised time and time again by everyone that we needed to find a place to settle for Semana Saint (Holy Week) as nearly everybody in Latin America receives the entire week off. Additionally, we were told that crossing the border into Costa Rica would be very hectic and that we would probably encounter a shakedown at the police checkpoints that are set up during the week. Our friends in San Juan indicated that the location was the biggest party location in Nicaragua and, although fun, petty crime runs rampant through the town each year during this week. Alas, we decided to take the advise we received and decided to head back north even though we were within an hour of the Costa Rican border. With few options for camping away from the beach, we drove back to Granada to regroup.
We spent a few days in Granada just waiting for the time to pass by reading, eating, swimming and exploring a bit more. Since we had spent time in Granada during the prior week, we quickly realized there wasn’t much more to see. Fortunately, our Instagram friends, Matt and Amy from The Traveling Together Journal, contacted us and let us know about a meet up an hour away from Granada at Villa Vista.
Villa Vista is an informal camp site managed by Joop and Nel from The Netherlands. Over the last few years, they have built several casitas and just recently opened their property to overlanders. Over the course of our five days at Vista Villas, we enjoyed the company of Matt and Amy, Andy and Laura, Karl our shipping partner to Colombia, as well as our hosts, Joop and Nel. Most of our time was spent reading and binging on Wifi, but it was a nice vacation for a few days during the chaos of the real world.
Being so close to the city of Masatepe, we took advantage of some local culture during Semana Santa. In Masatepe, there is a tradition where locals “punish” Judas for betraying Jesus on Good Friday and hundreds of people dress with masks, leggings, skirts and strange hats while dragging chains as they run through the streets. Instantly we both felt that it was similar to a KKK rally as the crowds began running towards us with their masks and chains while dragging “Judas” but later realized it was much more innocent.
Oh, we also had our first raspado with the typical pineapple and cherry syrup…
With Semana Santa finished and life back to normal in Nicaragua, we headed back to the south to visit the Island of Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua formed by two volcanoes. We will have a post on that adventure soon!