|Heading to Nicaragua we had no idea what to expect. Having heard very mixed reviews about the place we took our open minded selves to the bus station in San Pedro Sula at 4am on a very rainy Friday morning and headed for Leon onboard the Tika bus. A very slow and frustrating journey (including waiting in the rain at the border for an hour) we got to Leon in the dark (and in the rain) to fully booked hostels. So we dared what not many a traveller have done and closed our ´´Rough Guide to Central America´´ and stayed at one of the newer places in this town. El Nancite guesthouse was just what the doctor ordered...hot water, amazing healthy homemade breakfasts and ESPN...in our room...over the British Open Weekend at St Andrews. Weebs, despite having what we think was a dive induced ear infection, could not have been in a happier place over the 2 days we stayed here while he swallowed back antibiotics and cheered on Louis Oosthuizen to win, oblivious to the fact that he was actually in a B&B and not in his own lounge in London! I got to go to a supermarket and a few clothing shops as well as find a super fast internet cafe which were all contributing factors to my happy place! Due to the time difference between Nicaragua and Scotland, we did get to walk around Leon under our umbrellas and were pleasantly surprised by what the little town had to offer (I will admit here that our first impression was not a great one but that definitely had to do with lack of sleep, rain and the fact that our backpacks smelt like raw meat when we got off the bus!) Our two highlights in terms of city sights was the town cathedral, an enormous cathedral dating back to 1747. We could not believe how massive and well kept the place was. Unfortunately we didn't get to manage the 5pm daily service which would have been quite an experience. The second highlight was the garden of a posh hotel called Hotel El Convento, the first and most antique convent in Leon which dates back to 1639. We should have sat in the beautiful restaurant and had a piece of chocolate cake at $2.50 a piece but decided we will keep that kind of thing to another trip and another budget.
After Leon we headed for Isla Ometepe. Having encountered some transport issues we ended up having to stay in Grenada. Another town with similar attractions to Leon in that it had some really amazing old buildings which were beautifully maintained. But our real interest lay in doing different activities. This led us to book a night volcano trip for the next day. Excitement was high again, however when we arrived to start the tour we were told it had been cancelled as the rain causes the volcano to be too dangerous for tourists. We were not sure whether to believe this story as it was the rainy season and afternoon storms were pretty common, also it was a public holiday that day so we are convinced that our guide had decided to spend the day drinking rather than up a volcano. At this point we were fed up and ready to leave Nicaragua to never return when we decided to give it one last chance.
Thank the good Lord for San Juan del Sur. This amazing little beach town was exactly what we needed. As soon as we saw the Pacific Ocean our spirits soared. We checked into a basic hotel on the beach and were lucky enough to get a room with a balcony overlooking the beach and the bay. After our 1st swims in the Pacific we settled into a few rum and sprites on our balcony and watched the sun dip below the horizon. We felt as though we were on holiday again. The following day was picture perfect. We rented bikes(instead of the more conventional car ride) and went exploring for the famous beaches north of the town. Getting there was an experience within itself due to the fact that the road was super muddy as a result of the previous few days rain. It was however all worth it when we arrived át our own private beach. We found a bay which was completely deserted and offered us a great afternoon of swimming and relaxing. The waves were excellent, it was like having our own Robberg beach!!! On the way back with our bums already bruised from the bike seats, one of the tyres blew and we were forced to push our bikes home. This first caused a few grumpy faces but we got over it and laughed at our ridiculous situation all the way back (in the mud!). On our last full day in San Juan we went to another beach, this time in a car. We all commented on how much potential this area actually has as a tourist destination. The area is beautiful, however there always seems to be a bit of pollution around. Still we had a great day in the waves of the Pacific. Our highlight on this day was a sunset walk up to the Jesus statue which overlooks the main bay. This is the second biggest Jesus statue in the world. We will see the biggest statue in Rio in 3 months time. What a treat to have had such a great view, especailly during sunset.
Nicaragua really does suffer from some extreme poverty and this was shown on many of the places we saw. We really feel they could learn a few things from Guatemala operates. Onward to the less 3rd world Costa Rica.
Quote from our Nicaraguan experience:
Weebs to T on a packed chicken bus: "T do you think I am the only one on the bus wearing authentic Ted Baker?"
Let the good times roll!