Travel Blog for Fredrik and Gunnhild

Nicaragua

Ometepe

Based on our previous experience with crossing the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, we booked a private car to the border, and planned on just finding a taxi on the other side to avoid waiting. But when we got to the border the lines were incredibly long, and the only way to get through faster was to be part of a bigger group. Too bad, so we waited in line for two hours. We teamed up with a Dutch couple and shared a taxi with them to San Jorge dock. We planned on arriving there in time for the 2.30 pm ferry to Moyogalpa, Ometepe, but just made the second 20141227-1-3to last ferry at 5 pm. This was going to San Jose instead of Moyogalpa, but San Jorge was dirty and full of annoying flies, do we just wanted to get out of there. The sun set just as we left the dock, so the ferry ride was very dark. We didn’t know how long the journey was, and didn’t really see any lights from Ometepe until we were basically at the dock. We took a taxi to Moyogalpa in the dark, and were looking forward to some light the next morning.

In the evening we walked the quite short main street in Moyogalpa (the second biggest city on Ometepe with around 3000 inhabitants), booked a trip for the next day, had a couple of beers, waited a long time for a small, reheated lasagne, watched another Christmas parade and had a short chat with two Norwegian travellers sitting on the table next us.

20141228-1-2Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes (Concepción and Madras) rising from Lake Nicaragua. We have climbed enough volcanoes this year (but will probably be ready for a few more next year), so we visited four easily accessible sites instead. In the Ecological Reserve of Charco Verde we had a nice 1 hour walk in a tropical forest surrounding a lagoon. There were lots of lizards everywhere, and butterflies in all kinds of colours. We heard a lot of birds in the trees and between the reeds in the lagoon, but mainly saw stilts and several orakas (blue jay family). Our next stop was at Al ojo de aqua, a natural spring where we went for a refreshing swim and enjoyed a beer while watching the kids (and some adults) jumping from a rope swing. After a lunch break we had another swim at Playa Santo Domingo, a beautiful 4 km long sand beach, popular among tourists, locals and domestic 20141228-1-3animals (a herd of cows were drinking from the lake when we arrived!). It was a special feeling to have sand bottom and waves and in a fresh water lake. Really nice! On our way back to Moyogalpa we stopped at Punta Jesús María, a narrow spit of land formed by water currents and sediments. We walked along the sand bank a few hundred meters, and got great views towards the two volcanos of Ometepe Island.

In the evening we booked a shuttle for the next day and walked around the city a bit more. We found a lovely pizza place a block away from the main street hassle, so we had dinner and a couple of drinks there. On our last day we enjoyed a slow morning, had a large breakfast, did 20141229-1some shopping (running out of sunscreen again!) and had plenty of time before the 12.30 pm ferry. We were picked up by our driver Francisco at the San Jorge dock, and had a nice (but warm, no AC) 2 hour drive to Managua. We even had a quite long conversation with him in our tourist Spanish, discussing our travels so far, where to go next and things we saw along the road.

Since we have a very early flight out of Nicaragua, we booked the hotel solely based on the distance to the airport. We didn’t expect anything very fancy based on the price, but when we arrived it turned out to be a 5 star hotel with tennis courts, a spa and a swimming pool, and our room was very large with two double beds. The biggest luxury was the shower though, hot water AND good pressure! Haven’t had both at the same time in a month! We got a free welcome drink and after some blogging (best internet in a month as well) we had a great dinner and went early to bed.

Granada

20141220-1Our shuttle from León to Granada took about 3 hours, and we arrived just after noon. We went for some “luxury” this time, a cheap hotel (Case de Alto) in the outer part of the city centre, with hot water, air condition and a balcony. The air condition was a good choice, because Granada seems to be even warmer than León. Granada was founded by the Spanish colonialists in 1524 and was the first European city in mainland America. It’s the national tourism hub, and it’s popularity has led to a large-scale restoration of the old colonial buildings.

20141219-1There’s not a lot of attractions in the city, but it’s nice to walk around in the colorful streets, with loads of tourist-friendly restaurants and bars. Parque Central in front of the cathedral looks very touristic at first, with horse carriages, market stalls and expensive cafès, but there are also street food stalls with plastic chairs popular among the locals. The main tourist street is Calle La Calzada, a pedestrian area with bars, restaurants, travel agencies and a few shops. It stretches all the way to the docks at the shore of Lago de Nicaragua. This part of the street is mostly empty, and the area by the lake is not much developed either. But with the growing rate of the tourist industry, I’m sure it won’t take long.

20141219-1-2We didn’t have too many excursions while in Granada. We enjoyed the amazing breakfast at Kathy’s Waffle House (twice), tasted the craft beer (lemongrass ginger wit) at Espressonista, relaxed in the many beautiful courtyards, watched several Christmas parades and something we think was a celebration of the Nicaragua canal, had a great time talking to a Canadian couple at a way to warm pub terrace, had some Nico Libre at our hotel balcony and a Nico Mule (local rum and home-brewed ginger beer) at Casa San Francisco, visited some churches (got a sneak peak of a wedding and a graduation) and watched some live music at Imagine.

20141220-1-2One afternoon we climbed the tower of Iglesia La Merced to enjoy the view of the city, the surrounding volcanoes and a beautiful sunset. We stopped by the tiny Doña Elba cigar factory, where we were shown the entire process and got the final result as a gift. We also bought some cigars for Christmas and New year’s eve. And on our last day in Granada we went on a canopy tour to Miravelle at the base of Mombacho volcano. It had 17 platforms, 3 hanging bridges and 11 zip lines, the longest 300 meters. Zip lines are always fun, but on this tour we also got to go upside down and superman style. On the last one the guides bounced the line while we were going down. Really fun!!

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León

20141216-1After a short stop in Panama we arrived in Managua, Nicaragua where a driver was waiting for us. It took about two hours to get to Colibri hostal in the center of León, a tranquil place with a hummingbird garden and several hammocks to relax in. León is one of the oldest cities in Nicaragua, and is known for it’s colonial architecture. It was founded in 1524, but was moved in 1610 after being ruined by a volcano eruption. It is an important university city, and the tourist industry is still young here, so the city felt very authentic. They had some noisy traditions including church bells and drums, but the strangest was probably the air-siren going off at 7 am and noon every day. Our hostel was a few blocks away, so it didn’t wake us up (but we heard it), but we were close to the main square at noon one day, and it was so loud that it hurt. Strange tradition.

The temperature got really high in the middle of the day, so we often had a siesta in the hammocks during this time. We went on a couple of afternoon tours and enjoyed the city in the mornings and evenings. The central square is in front of the cathedral. There were market stalls and street food (very good!) in the side streets, lots of people selling everything from blinking toys to hammocks and ice cream (and most of them had a bell or similar to get attention). Two gigantic traditional dolls (La Gigantona) and several Christmas cribs were set up on the square, and there were kids and families everywhere. The first evening there was also fireworks and a group of kids were allowed to ring the cathedral bells before performing La Gigantona over and over again for hours. This was really fascinating the first night, but after that we stayed away in the evenings. Too much noise!

20141218-1-3“La Gigantona” is a street play that combines drums, folk verses and dancing performed by young boys. La Gigantona is a 3 meter high tree doll in a colorful dress, representing the elegant Spanish woman. El Enano Cabezon is a small man with a big head, whose intelligence is underestimated by the Spanish colonialists. El Coplero resites the folk verses and Tamborilero plays the drums enthusiasticly.

León Cathedral is the biggest cathedral in Central America and is declared a UNESCO world heritage site. From the rooftop we had great views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes, but it was being renovated, so parts of the roof were closed and some were so white, that we were almost blinded. Still a nice experience. The local market was also fascinating. It seemed that the locals did most of their shopping here, and you could buy pretty much everything. It was stretching through several buildings and into the streets, with different areas for food, shoes, toys, clothes etc.

We often like to sit outdoors when eating or drinking in warm countries, so that we can watch everything happening in the streets. Except for the city’s oldest restaurant in the plaza in front of the cathedral (noisy), we didn’t really find any, but we soon learned that instead of having tables on the sidewalk, most restaurants had large courtyards in the back. From the street they looked dull and with no people, but in the back there were lots of people and often fountains, trees and flowers. It was hard to find the good ones though, so we used Tripadvisor a lot. But addresses in León is not easy either. 2,5 blocks from the plaza, down the road from the travel agent etc was the closest we got. Yavoy was one of our favourites, popular among the locals, good music, good food and a few craft beers available.

20141217-1One afternoon we went on the Telica twilight hike with Tierra Tours. The drive to the Telica volcano took about 1,5 hours, most of it on a crazy dirt road, where it felt like the car would tip over several times. The road is only a few years old and is maintained by the local farmers. It certainly gave us an experience, and saved us for a long hike. It took us about 45 minutes to walk from 600 meters above sea level to the lower side of the crater at 1000 meters (the highest is 1061). Two locals were sitting close to the crater selling beer and soda from a cooler, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a beer before climbing the last 20141217-1-2few meters. There was a lot of smoke coming from the crater, the sulfur smell was quite strong, and between the smoke we could see lava glowing 120 meters below. The release of gasses in the crater made a loud sound, almost like a jet plane taking off. We walked back down in the dark using flashlights, and stopped along the way to watch the stars. No light pollution and really clear skies made it a magical experience.

20141218-1We also spent an afternoon volcano boarding down Cerro Negro volcano. The drive there was shorter and easier, but the climb to the top was a bit harder. The black lava, strong sun, loose rocks and heavy volcano boards didn’t help, but we reached the top in less than an hour. The volcano consist of two craters, we hiked up the smalest crater where some smoke were coming out. At the top we walked over to look at the big crater, here the ground was so hot that we could actualy burn our fingers when we removed the top soil (or is it ash?). The entire group were sledding down (sitting), except the two of us (nicknamed “the mental Norwegians” 20141218-1-2by the rest of the group) who went for the home made snowboards. When standing on top we saw a couple of very small cars at the bottom, but the slope itself was so steep we didn’t really see it. Definitely (and literally) a black slope! We have sandboarded before, but this was much more difficult. We kind of got a hang of it in the lower part, but by then our feet were cramping up, so we needed some breaks. We were chewing lava all the way home and probably still have some lava in our ears… A great experience, but the next time we will probably do the sledding as well. More speed and less work.

Galapagos and Central America 2014/2015

In only 1 week it’s time for this year’s big adventure. We both have a month vacation in December and got one month off (unpaid leave) in January, so we will be traveling for two months. We will start in Quito, Ecuador and continue to the Galapagos islands.

On the Galapagos we have signed up to take the PADI Open water course and certificate at TipTop diving and then go on a cruise for 7 nights visiting Isabela, Fernandina and Floreana on Angelito I.

After a short stopover in Guayaquil, we fly north to Nicaragaua and have almost 7 weeks to travel around Central America before our flight home from Panama. So far we only have one thing booked in this period, and that is to spend Christmas at Hotel Villa Amarilla in Tamarindo, Costa Rica like we did two years ago.

In addition to Nicaragua and Costa Rica, we will probably visit Honduras, Guatemala and Panama, but with no itinerary planned we don’t really know until we’re there.

Destination Arrival
1 Quito, Ecuador 29 November, 2014
2 Puerto Ayora, Ecuador 2 December, 2014
3 Playa Las Bachas, Ecuador 7 December, 2014
4 Mosquera Islet, Ecuador 8 December, 2014
5 Dragon Hill, Ecuador 8 December, 2014
6 Rabida Island, Ecuador 8 December, 2014
7 Tagus Cove, Ecuador 9 December, 2014
8 Punta Espindza, Ecuador 9 December, 2014
9 Urbina bay, Ecuador 10 December, 2014
10 Elizabeth bay, Ecuador 10 December, 2014
11 Punta Moreno, Ecuador 11 December, 2014
12 Puerto Villamil, Ecuador 12 December, 2014
13 Punta Cormorant, Ecuador 13 December, 2014
14 Devil's Crown, Ecuador 13 December, 2014
15 Post Office Bay, Ecuador 13 December, 2014
16 Puerto Ayora, Ecuador 13 December, 2014
17 Daphne Mayor, Ecuador 14 December, 2014
18 Guayaquil, Ecuador 15 December, 2014
19 Leon, Nicaragua 15 December, 2014
20 Granada, Nicaragua 18 December, 2014
21 Tamarindo, Costa Rica 23 December, 2014
22 Ometepe, Nicaragua 27 December, 2014
23 Roatan, Honduras 30 December, 2014
24 Antigua, Guatemala 7 January, 2015
25 Lake Atitlán, Guatemala 12 January, 2015
26 Flores, Guatemala 14 January, 2015
27 Caye Caulker, Belize 16 January, 2015
28 San Pedro, Belize 20 January, 2015
29 Portobelo, Panama 24 January, 2015
30 Panama City, Panama 26 January, 2015
31 San Blas, Panama 27 January, 2015
32 Panama City, Panama 30 January, 2015