Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Things I Learned in Nicaragua

1. Never assume anything is just ketchup

2. Speaking Spanish is definitely useful, Whether you're fluent, or just know the basics, it will come in handy

3. The human body can produce an unholy amount of sweat

4. Fewer things are more exciting than standing up on your surfboard and riding a wave for the first time

5. Machismo culture needs to die, like, yesterday. I was close to throttling the next person who made suggestive hissing sounds at me while seductively wiggling his eyebrows (sidenote: does this ever work?)

6. The thunder and lightning storms look like CGI effects

7. The sun rises and sets early, making it hard to break out of an awkward, up-at-dawn, in-bed-by-eight routine

8. The worst stories I heard about Central America prior to coming were told to me by people who had never been to Central America

9. Mordor references are always appropriate when looking into a volcano and seeing lava

10. Taxi drivers proposing? Yes

11. Learning about the history (both ancient and fairly recent) of a country is important, and I would even say mandatory, in order to understand how and why a place is like it is today. You may even spot some similarities to your own seemingly different country!

12. The bus system is often more reliable than the one at home in Vancouver

13. Rock that sexy flip-flop tan with pride, friend!

14. When you are hiking an extremely steep hill in one thousand percent humidity, it is okay to admit to yourself that you've maybe made a mistake

15. Befriending the beach dogs is necessary

16. The same six songs seem to be incredibly popular all over the country, as I couldn't escape them anywhere. I don't particularly like any of these songs, but will still be downloading all of them when I'm back. For memory's sake

17. If you have the opportunity to do laundry...do it!

18. There is nothing like watching a sunset on a mostly empty beach, with a beach dog-friend by your side

19. You will leave your heart in Nicaragua. You will. It just happens.

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I'd love to hear them all!

Surfing in San Juan del Sur (or, What I Actually Came Here to Do)

It's always so bittersweet to me, writing the final blog of a trip. On one hand, it means acknowledging that the trip is almost over, and before I know it, I'll be heading back to reality: work, scheduled days, fast-approaching winter, and virtually no gallo pinto. On the other hand, it means I get to reflect back on the last month, and re-live all of the incredible things I've been so, so lucky to do and see. Like I said, mixed feelings all around.

But first! The pinnacle part of my trip! The surfing! The very reason I first thought to myself, "Hm, I should go to Central America!" After my inaugueral surfing experience in South Africa, I moved back to landlocked Calgary, where surfing just...isn't a thing. But ever since the first, exhilirating time I stood on a surfboard, I knew I would be back. Hence why I saved the last full week of my trip to spend in San Juan del Sur, mastering the waves.

San Juan del Sur is a small beach town south of Granada. It's definitely a tourist town, as most of the people I saw there were foreign, and even most of the locals I met were involved in the tourism industry. There isn't much to do in the town itself, besides shopping and visiting the different restaurants and bars through the centre of town, and on the beachfront. I definitely explored the "downtown" in the evenings, and met tons of awesome, fun fellow travellers. During the days, however, I was there to surf.

I stated at Hostal Casa Oro, which had been recommended to me prior to arriving. It didn't disappoint. They offered shuttle service to the beaches, surfboard rentals, FREE BREAKFAST, and was the perfect balance between being social without feeling like a nightmarish, never-ending frat party.

The first beach I went to (the day after I arrived) was Playa Hermosa. It was a stunning, long beach, with rocks way out in the distance, completely living up to its name (hermosa means beautiful).  The waves were high enough to stand up on my board, but not so threatening that I felt like I was going to be pulled out into the middle of the ocean. I had success standing up right away. I also rented the best board here. It was a good start, and I feel like I really improved just in a day here.

The next several days, I went to Playa Maderas. It was cheaper and quicker to get to from the hostel, and I had heard that this was one of the easiest beaches to learn on. I personally preferred Playa Hermosa, but that could very well depend on the waves that day. I found the waves at Maderas to be a little bit harsher, and since this was a more popular beach, I was often worried that I was going to hit a swimmer or another surfer. In the afternoons it quieted down a bit, and I really enjoyed surfing here as well. But I wish I had gone back to Playa Hermosa at least once more. There are tons more beaches around San Juan del Sur that I didn't make it to at all, which just means I'll have to come back.

It feels redundant to go on and on about how I just surfed for nearly a week, so I won't. But I will say that I completely fell in love with it. Standing up - really standing up - on a surfboard is one of the most exhilirating things I've ever experienced.  After surfing for the better part of a week, my arms and shoulders were basically toast, and I had a pattern of bruises all over my body that I'm sure I could connect-the-dots into something resembling art if I really tried. It was completely worth it, and I'm already looking forward to the next time I'm on a surfboard. Tofino, I'm comin' for ya!

Now I'm sitting in Granada, enjoying coffee, hammocks, shade, and avoiding venturing too far from the hostel (the catcalling, hissing, indescribable suckings sounds, and balding men calling me "Deliciosa" and "Mami" in the streets gets SO OLD, you guys!) I plan to take the day to look through my pictures, read, blog and not think about my trip ending!

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I'd love to hear them all!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Uphill from Here: Isla de Ometepe

Sorry for the delay between blogs, friends. I´ve been (literally and figuratively) attached to my surfboard for the better part of a week.

Let me back up just a little bit: after Granada, the next stop on my trip was Isla de Ometepe, an island consiting of twin volcanic peaks, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. I had Googled pictures of the island before leaving on my trip, and needless to say, it was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. It did not disappoint, providing some of the most incredible scenery of the entire trip.

It´s fairly easy to get to Ometepe from Granada. I took a bus to the town of San Jorge, and from there, took the ferry across the lake. Although it was by no means a trecherous ride like the lancha to Little Corn Island, the water was surprisingly choppy. Still, the ferry was nice and slow, and the view of the island approaching was a lovely distraction.

Getting around once you get to Ometepe is a little bit more complicated, as I learned. Since there were several people on the ferry looking to be dropped off at various guesthouses and hostels on the island, I was able to take a shuttle for a reasonable rate to my hostel, but I learned that the buses run few and far between, are often slow and cramped, and the schedule was inconsistent. The best way to get around the island is to rent a bicycle or motorbike. I discovered the perils of the bus on my way off the island, standing wedged between people, chugging up the steep hills. My arm kept bumping the immaculate hair of the man next to me (due to lack of room, and lurching movements!) He was none too pleased. I´m sorry, guy.

I had heard from fellow travellers that El Finca Zopilote, a working organic farm, was a great place to stay on the island. This was where I dropped off. I was not disappointed. The farm was rustic but comfortable, offering organic food grown right there, as well as products such as homemade Nutella, coconut oil and soaps for sale. It was a surprisingly long uphill trek from the main road (okay, five minutes, but this seems like a lot with a heavy backpack in the heat!) I enjoyed staying at Zopilote. It was a beautiful area, lush, comfortable, with birds and the occasional monkey lounging in the trees, and the food was awesome. Really, that is about all I need. As a bonus, they have an amazing mirador (lookout) that you can climb, and see incredible views of the sun setting over Volcan Concepcion in the distance.

The day after arriving on Ometepe, I decided to hike Volcan Maderas. The two volcanoes on the island are both hike-able. Concepcion, the active volcano, is known as a gruelling, masochistic, twelve-hour trek, and I wasn´t sure I was up to that one. Maderas, the smaller of the two, was advertised as an eight hour hike. I assumed that as an experienced hiker, with a guide to show me the way, this was totally do-able. As I can now attest...it was. But I can quite confidently say that it was the most difficult hike I have ever done. I didn´t think I could possibly reach the point of saying this, but it made Table Mountain feel like a nice, chill stroll. The entire hike (eight hours is NOT an estimate, people!) is incredibly steep. Most of the way up involves big steps, which may be slightly easier if you happen to be on the tall side, but I have the leg-to-body ratio of a corgi, and found this incredibly difficult. In addition, because Maderas is in a cloud forest, the trail is muddy, slippery, and you are often dodging large rocks, making the footing sketchy at best. There are no breaks from the steep climb, and I know for a fact that I have never produced as much sweat as I did on the hike. It was...amazing. After three and a half to four hours, you finally reach the top. Depending on the day, you may have beautiful views from the top...or complete cloud cover. I hiked on a cloud cover day. However, there is a lagoon at the top, and the water is chilly! The highlight was putting my feet in after hiking.

The hike down was also brutal, only this time, it was my joints taking a beating, not my cardiovascular system. I found that I was looking at my feet most of the time, as falling and rolling an ankle seemed like a very high possibility. It has now been over a week since the hike, and I´m able to say that I´m glad I did it. At the time though, I´ll admit it: it was the worst! Protip: bring as much water as you can carry! The level of fluid loss is astounding.

The next day, my muscles were incredibly stiff, so naturally, I rented a bike, and rode aroud most of the (rocky! Hilly! Difficult!) Maderas side of the island. The bike I rented had no brakes, no gears...and helmets aren´t a thing on Ometepe. The roads were very up-and-down, and I often had to get off the bike and walk up the hills, as the lack of gears was not working in my favour. The downhills involved speeding over rocks and potholes, and basically hoping that I wouldn´t hit anything at a bad angle. As well as the bike ride, I also walked to a waterfall on the other side of Maderas. I was told that this was an easy 3km walk, and that it was do-able in flip flops. While it turned out to be, I would say that it is definitely longer than 3km! Not to mention another horribly steep walk...but at least the footing was more solid than the day before. The waterfall was definitely worth it. The water was cold and refreshing, and it cascaded down a huge rock face. There were lush green plants and mangroves all around....here was my Central American jungle, friends!

On my last day on Ometepe, I kayaked in Lake Nicaragua. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the mythical bull sharks who supposedly live in the lake. No such luck, burt I did see a few turtles, and lots of birds. While it was hot and humid, the kayaking over relatively calm waters was a nice change from the extreme hill-walking from the past two days. I would definitely recommend renting a kayak during a trip to Ometepe!

I technically did spend one final day on Ometepe, but this consisted mostly of drinking coffee, lying in a hammock and reading. Nothing to see here.

My conclusion: Ometepe is uphill everywhere you go, hot, spaced out (making getting around a real effort), and consistently 1000% humidity. Would I go back? In a second.

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I´d love to hear them all!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Granada: A Love Story

It's hard to believe that I've been in Granada for almost four days. On one hand, it feels like I just got here, and am nowhere ready to leave. On the other hand, I feel like I've been here forever, but could stay a lot longer. It's a lively, beautiful city, with lots of amazing day-trips, incredible architecture, food options for days, and as an added bonus, this is where I've met the most backpackers. As a solo traveller, this is important!

My time in Granada started early, as Monday was (unbeknownst to me) a holiday, and I wanted to be sure to catch a bus before any madness started. As it turns out, I didn't need to worry, as  buses were up and running, and despite it being Independence Day, this really had no effect on getting to and from places, or accessing different businesses (in my experience, anyway). My initial impression of Granada was that it was an impressive, stunning colonial city, with a frenetic energy, and heat like I haven't experienced yet. Immediately after getting off of the bus, I felt a little bit swarmed by vendors, taxi drivers, and others who saw the glowing ""Lost traveller!!!" sign that seems to be above my head at all times. I stumbled across my hostel completely by accident, but it has ended up being one of the best choices I've made. I was thrilled beyond belief to see people hanging out in the hammocks, or chatting in the large communal areas. Since Masaya had been a largely solo mission, it was nice to be among others. The hostel also includes breakfast, a pool (for when the heat gets painful), and an amazing central location, making it quick, easy and safe to get around. Hostel Oasis, friends. If you ever find yourself in Granada.

Immediately after I checked in, I was informed that they were fumigating the rooms, and everyone was required to leave by 11:30am. I won't lie, this freaked me out, until I learned that this was just a routine thing they did every three months. This seemed like a good call to me. This was also a blessing in disguise, as having to head out encouraged me to meet some rad girls from England and New Zealand, and do a day-trip to Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua. I had assumed that the isletas were a group of small, uninhibited islands. However, as I learned on the two hour boat tour (I know...), they are a group of tiny little islands, formed naturally by an eruption from nearby Volcan Mombacho, and now, owned by wealthy families from Nicaragua, Europe and North America. It's...interesting sitting in a boat, and marvelling at the multi-million dollar homes, some complete with heli-pads, situated in the middle of the huge lake. It was nice to be out on the water for the day, and definitely interesting to see the kind of homes money can buy, but Las Isletas were different than what I had expected. It's a nice day tour, and seems to be a must-do in Granada, but to be honest, I don't know if I would be devastated if I had missed them.

The next day, however, was worth it all. We decided that as a group, we wanted to hike Volcan Mombacho. Originally, we had hoped to hike all the way, but decided that this may be a nightmare in the heat. We ended up getting transport to the base of the volcano, and riding up in a huge, rambling truck that, quite honestly, I was worried may not make it up the steep, narrow, winding road. I was set to get out and push, but thankfully, it didn't come to that.

Halfway to the top, we stopped at a small organic coffee farm, and learned about the process of harvesting, roasting, and producing coffee. While I'm definitely not a connoisseur by any means, I'm an avid coffee drinker, and liked seeing the process. They also sell coffee beans at the farm (shocker!) While I know the prices are massively inflated due to tourism, this did not stop me from purchasing a pretty thorough selection of beans. Vancouver friends, you're welcome.

The hike itself was an hour and a half walk around the crater of Mombacho. Since it's fairly high up, and immersed in a cloud forest, it was wonderfully cool and breezy, and I almost thought it might rain. The number of lookouts along the trail provided unreal views of Granada, Lakes Nicaragua and Managua, and the other volcanoes (including smoking Masaya) in the distance. While I took some pretty awesome (if I do say so myself) panorama shots, it really didn't do it justice. I would go so far to say that you can't leave Granada until you hike Mombacho. It's standing out as a trip highlight for me, and I can't imagine missing it.

Day three in Granada, myself and several others from my crew decided to head to the Chocolate Museum, and take a class, which involves learning about where cacao comes from, and then picking, roasting, crushing, and mixing your own beans to make three different chocolate-y drinks (with different spices), and your own chocolate bars, where you can add anything you want, such as sea salt, chilies, nuts, or raisins. To anyone in Nicaragua: do it. Seriously. This was the best. Ismael, our leader, walked us through the process, got us stoked about the process with ridiculous chanting (that we were pretty keen on joining), and cheered us on as we exhausted ourselves crushing the beans into paste. This was one of the most fun things I've done on the trip, and the end result was nothing but success. As an added bonus, there is air conditioning!

I spent the evening of my last day walking around the city, just taking in the sights, and playing tourist, whipping out my camera at any given opportunity. While I find that the machismo (read: men hissing vulgar comments and catcalls as you try to make your way down the street) culture is slightly more present in Granada than it was in Leon, I still felt quite safe overall. I have found that walking with purpose, and keeping my face set in a Nurse Ratched-esque scowl when these guys approach keeps them at bay for the most part.

To sum up my time in Granada: Hiking. Food. Lounging in the pool. Heat. Chocolate. Friends. Hammocks. Coffee. Frequent stopping and staring. Love.

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I'd love to hear them all!


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hiking Volcanoes, Aimless Wandering, and Gratuitous Spending

After my difficult decision forego my trip to Pearl Lagoon (this time!), I made a tentative plan to head back to the Pacific side of the contry, starting in Masaya, and seeing where I would end up at the end of my trip. Most of what I had hear about Masaya was that while some of the surrounding areas were worth a go, the city itself was nothing special, and could be done in a day trip from either Granada or Managua. Nevertheless, I decided to crash here for a few days, to see the sights and get my bearings. I hate to say it, but I was expecting a rather dumpy, boring town with nothing going for it.

Luckily, my expectations have been exceeded. While Masaya isn't quite the gem that, say, Leon is, it's nicer than I was expecting. The main draw to Masaya is shopping, both in mini-malls, and markets, and as a result, the city has a very modern, buzzing feel to it. There's a lovely parque central with outdoor restaurants and smoothie stands, and I have had some of the best meals of my trip here.

My main reason for passing through Masaya, however, was to visit Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya.
Home to several volcanoes and craters, Volcan Masaya is definitely worth a visit. The main volcano is still very much active. It has erupted many times over history, the most recent being in 2012. Back when the Spanish were settling what is now Masaya, they feared the volcano, naming it La Boca del Inferno (the mouth of hell), and they even planted a cross at the top to ward off the Devil.

Before I arrived, I had read about visiting the volcano, which is constantly smoking away. I had even heard that on occasion, people have seen the liquid hot "magma" (sorry) boiling way down inside the volcano. This was a done deal for me. I paid $30 (pretty standard pricing, as I found out) for a guide to take me on a night hike (which runs from 4:30-7:30 because it gets dark so early here). I was all for the cooler temperatures, greater chances of seeing some sort of boiling lava phenomenon in the dark, and bat cave excursion, which was included.

It is possible to hike all of the way up to the volcano, but we took the slightly easier way: we hitched a ride with the park rangers (in the back of their pickup - sorry mom!), and then hiked to the top from the spot they dropped us off. The smoking volcano is quite something. There is a heavy stream of sulphur-y smoke, and I could immediately feel it in the back of my throat. It's recommended to only stay for a maximum of five minutes, as the smoke can really take a toll on your lungs. Duly noted.

The rest of the hike in the setting sun was pretty spectacular. I saw the different craters, and all of the massive black rocks from previous eruptions, covering a gigantic area of the mountain, stopping just short of the highway (I can't imagine how terrifying it would be to see it in action!)

Once it grew dark, we walked into a deceivingly deep cave. Before enterring, my guide warned me that there were bats - but not the vampire kind! Just little Stellaluna fruit bats. He made me promise I wouldn't cry. I confidently told him I was 90% sure I wouldn't. It was pretty surreal to stand in a pitch-dark cave with only a feeble flashlight, learning about how the Indigenous people had believed that a witch inhabited the cave, and therefore, virgins and children were once sacrificed there, as bats zoomed by, missing my head by mere inches. (FYI: still didn't cry)

But the best part? Leaning against a sketchy, falling-down railing at the lip of Volcan Masaya, looking way, way down, and spotting the unmistakeable glow of lava, boiling inside the volcano. It was a surreal experience, an amazing sight, and worth the strange looks I got when I made a Mordor reference.

The next day, I took another day trip to the Pueblos Blancos, or White Villages, named for the whitewash originally used on the buildings. Each village specializes in a certain artisan tradition (such as flowers, woodworking, ceramics, hammocks, and so on). Although there are about eight villages in total, I only visited a few. While I appreciated the handicrafts, smaller towns and houses, and apparent pre-Columbian influence, I think my expectations may have been a bit high (or I was in the wrong parts of the pueblas to really see the amazing stuff - this is entirely possible!) There is a beautiful walk around Lake Apoyo, and honestly, I would recommend it as a day trip, as it is interesting to have a look at the different handicrafts. Maybe just look more into it, and it will be more worth your while, rather than just hopping on a bus, like I did.

My last day in Masaya was reserved for checking out the markets. I had heard about the famous Artisan Market, and this was originally where I planned to go. However, my guide from the volcano hike tipped me off that this market was very tourist-centred, and therefore, more expensive. He mentioned that the Mercado Municipal Ernesto Fernandez is a better place to go - you're able to buy the same sort of items, but for way less. So that's what I did. I was expecting to be hassled by the vendors, but I was pleasently surprised that while they will approach you, they are no way in your face, and are content if you tell them you're just looking. Generally, bartering isn't a big part of the shopping experience in Nicaragua, but you can usually negociate here and there. The market is housed in a rather dark, run down building, but it felt very safe, not overcrowded in the least, and overall, was a much more interesting experience. Apart from handicrafts and souvenirs, here you can also purchase fruits and veggies, handmade shoes, dog food (!), bizarre-looking pinatas, and so on. (I did have one bad moment where I full-on dry heaved when the scent of some raw beef wafted my way. I'm sorry everyone!)

After the Mercado Municipal, I checked out the Mercado Artesanias, just for comparison. This is definitely the cleaner, more open and organized market, with open stalls, and organized displays. However, lo and behold, the items were basically identical, and I was glad that I had visited the other market first. It's worth a go, but pro-tip: always go to the local market when you want to spend money! It was safe and inexpensive...what more do you want really?

A quick shout-out to Nelson from Samaritan Tours: when I first arrived in Masaya, he approached me right away. Being the rather cynical traveller that I am, I assumed that there was going to be a catch of some sort. I'm happy to say that I was wrong. Not only did he give me directions to my hostel, tips about the markets, and a fantastic hike up Volcan Masaya, but he was incredibly genuine, knowledgeable, and liked my jokes and movie references. Would recommend!

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I'd love to hear them all!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Corn Islands: How I Nearly Chose to Never Leave the Island

When I first started thinking about Nicaragua, I stumbled upon another travel blog where the writer had been to the Corn Islands. From their pictures and description, it basically became a done deal then and there. The Corn Islands bring to life every Caribbean Island dream you have ever had, and it was one of the hardest places I've ever had to leave.

Although buses do make the trek from Managua to Bluefields (on the Caribbean side), and a boat is available to the Islands, I had heard that it's a bit of a gruelling trip, and can take from 24 to 50 hours. Yikes! Since I'm in a bit of a time crunch (and I'm not quite that much of a masochist!), I decided to fly from Managua to Great Corn Island. The flight is $120 round trip, and while this is a bit more expensive than I would have liked, the amount of time it saved was probably worth it. We took a tiny little plane from the Managua airport. Although it was a clear day, there were some bumps upon the takeoff and landing that freaked me right out, but I managed to maintain my cool, as nobody else seemed to notice. (I didn't used to be a nervous flyer! Is this an age thing? Someone explain!)

I only stayed one night on Great Corn Island. It was an amazing place, with colourful houses, brown-sugar beaches, coconut palm trees and a mangrove swamp. I spent my day on Great Corn wandering around and marvelling at the sights. I've seen plenty of beaches on those "Wish you were here!" postcards, but this was the closest I had come to seeing one with my own eyes.

Since I found that there wasn't as much to do on Great Corn (without, say, a pre-booked diving package or something), I decided to take the boat to Little Corn the next day. The transport from island to island is on a panga (small motorboat), that I had read could get quite rough. I popped a couple of Gravol before, but the ride over wasn't a problem. I had heard that the front of the boat is more up-and-down, and the back is where you're more likely to get soaked. My plan was to find a nice spot in the middle, but sadly, it was busy, and I ended up in the very back. As I can now attest, you do indeed get soaked. My stomach did not bother me, but it took three days for my shirt to properly dry out. It's a bit of a deal with the devil, really. However, I was overall happy that it had been a relatively smooth ride.

Arrving on Little Corn is literally arriving in paradise. The entire island is about 1.5 square km, and the population is about 500 people. There are no motorized vehicles allowed. It was perfect. Since the island is so small, you start to recognize everyone, giving it a friendly, communal vibe. This was also where I found the greatest concentration of backpackers since I arrived in Nicaragua. After having some very solitary days, it was nice to make some friends!

The majority of my time on Little Corn was spent blissed-out, wandering all around the island, exploring the white-sand beaches, marvelling at the colour of the water, and indulging in island life. I had only planned to stay for two days, but ended up there for four, and could have easily extended that even longer.

One of the main highlights of Little Corn was snorkelling in the Caribbean. The water was crystal clear, and  I was able to see intricate reefs, brightly coloured fish, and even a few turtles, an eagle ray, and (my personal favourite) sharks! The sharks here are nurse sharks, and they were more like big, lazy dogs. They're nowhere near the size of the Great Whites I saw in South Africa. Even without the safety of the cage, they kept to themselves. I was hoping to see a hammerhead, but no such luck this time.

On the third day on Little Corn, there was a massive tropical storm, the likes of which I had never seen (except in movies). I have never before seen the wind blow a full ketchup bottle off of the neighbouring table, smashing it to the ground inches away from my foot. It was unbelievable. Most people huddled down in restaurants and cafes and spent the day reading, watching people pull their boats to the safety of land, marvelling at the velocity of the wind and rain, and secretly hoping that it would let up, as many of us had plans to leave the next day, and it makes me shudder to think of taking the panga in the near-hurricane weather.

Luckily, it was a one-day storm, and the weather was calm again for my early boat ride back to Big Corn. As a matter of fact, the boat back was even smoother and easier. My original plan was to head to Pearl Lagoon for a few days, and then back to the Pacific side. Although I had been warned that it wasn't too safe to go there alone as a female traveller, I had met two German girls on Little Corn who were planning to do the same trip, and we decided to do it together. However, after more research, it looked like it wasn't an easy place to get to and from, especilly with our respective time issues, and we decided not to go. I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to see it, but I feel that ultimately, I've made the best choice. I guess I'll just need to come back one day.

I'm now in Masaya, home of active volcano hikes, handicraft markets, and general liveliness. Afterwards it's south, to Granada. I'm at about the halfway mark of my trip, and I don't want to think about it!

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I'd love to hear them all!

Leon Viejo, and Surfing on an Empty Beach

It's been a while! For the last week and a bit, I've been on the go (or, more accurately, thoroughly enjoying island living, with no computer access, no cars, no shoes, and no worries).

But let me back up a bit! After I last wrote, I decided to spend another day in Leon. Since I had seen most of the city, I decided to go on a half-day trip to Leon Viejo, which is about an hour bus ride out of the city. It includes the ruins of the original city of Leon, which was destroyed by the eruption of Volcan Momotombo in the early 1600s.

I wasn't one hundred percent sure where I needed to go to get to the site, and got onto a "Chicken Bus" (a brightly painted schoolbus, which is one of the main modes of transport in Nicaragua!) out of Leon. As it turns out, the transport, while a bit frenetic at bus stations, is actually quite efficient. I got off the bus in La Paz Central, hopped on another bus to Puerto Momotombo, and was good to go! The bus stops less than 1km away from the site, and the clearly marked signs make it an easy, if not hot and dusty, walk. I highly recommend the trip for the scenery alone. Not only was the bus ride absolutely stunning, but the walk through the tiny village was beautiful, and it was pretty cool to see older homes, chickens and dogs running free in the dirt streets, and kids biking around without a care in the world. It was definitely a nice change from the big city!

If you head to the ruins of Leon Viejo, definitely don't expect it to be a Dr. Jones-esque saga. Most of the ruins are about 1 meter high walls, and signs marking which parts of the city they would have been. It's a bit of a stretch of the imagination to picture a thriving city here. The best part is walking up a small hill near the end of the ruins and having a phenomenal view of Volcan Momotombo, and Lake Managua. As an added bonus, because it is low season, I was able to explore at my lesure, as opposed to battling tour groups just to have a quick look at the signs.

The history of the area was pretty interesting. There is a small museum on the site portraying Indigenous life, and another showing how life changed post-Columbus. When the Spanish colonizers took over Nicaragua, they built their homes, governmental houses and churches over the Indigenous land. They ran Leon (then the capital of Nicaragua) with a cruel fist, including the practice of setting wild dogs on the Indigenous people in the town square (as entertainment?) This is why it is believed that at least some divine intervention played a part in the massive eruption, which caused the Spaniards to flee, and settle what is present-day Leon. Although Leon Viejo isn't the most exhilirating activity in the area (volcano boarding, anyone?), if you fancy a nice half-day trip, and a beautiful drive, it's worth a go.

After Leon, I just couldn't wait any longer. I took a bus to Las Penitas (near Leon) to get my surf on! I hadn't been on a surfboard since South Africa, which was four years ago. But my fingers were crossed that it would be just like riding a bike. Let's just say it took me a while, but at the end of day one, I was standing up! The waves in Las Penitas were fairly small, and good for beginners, but the occasional cross-tides can make it a bit of a bumpy start. I'm glad I came, as it was a stunning beach, sunsets that words cannot describe, and I was really the only one around, so nobody could see my struggle on the surfboard. I also met Ryan, a wonderfully eccentric local, originally from Winnipeg. He pointed out good areas to eat, cool things to see, and helped me figure out my journey from Leon across to the Caribbean side of the country. Since I was really the only person around, it was awesome to meet someone who knew the area, and gave me a fun place to hang out and write when my arms couldn't paddle in the waves anymore. Hat's off!

The only downside in Las Penitas was that my room was right next to the road. While it wasn't too busy, when the buses started rolling by early (like 5:30am early), they would honk their horn to let the people know of their arrival. This would unfailingly wake me up every time. Also, I say "honk their horn", but it was less of a regular car horn and more of a terrifying, heart-stopping, "Elizabeth, I'm coming to join you!" scream. Anyways. Apart from that, Las Penitas gets a glowing review. While it was quiet during my trip, it is clear that in high season, it's bumping.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. After three days conquering the waves, it was time to move on. The next move was to head back to Managua, and fly to the Corn Islands. Based on word of mouth, and excessive searching of Google Images, this was the island paradise I had been waiting for!

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? I'd love to hear them all!