Nicaragua

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on June 1, 2016

During our time with Warm Showers host, Jose, in El Salvador, we’d picked his brains on the likelihood of finding a boat to cross the Gulf of Fonseca from El Salvador to Nicaragua. He not only advised us on the crossing, but managed to get us a place on a boat leaving the next morning! This seemed like a fun and novel way to cross a border and, though missing out on two days cycling in Honduras, it seemed like to good an opportunity to miss. We set off early on the 2 ½ hour ride to La Union from where we would hit the open seas and cross to Nicaragua. La Union was a hive of activity with many locals, not to mention all manner of products, making the border crossing. It was a really fun, scenic and very wet crossing! Thankfully, the bikes survived the choppy ride and we reached dry land, and our sixth country, by mid-afternoon. Cycling in Nicaragua had a very different feel to the other Central American countries we’d been through. There was noticeably less traffic and noticeably more horse-drawn carts! Even the larger towns had a much calmer vibe than similar towns we’d been through in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. There was certainly no let-up in the intensity of the heat and the humidity through the early stages of our time there. Though as we neared the capital, Managua, on day three, we reached the shoreline of the very scenic, Lake Xolotlan, which at least offered some respite as there was a hint of a breeze coming off the lake. We reached the capital on a Sunday afternoon which was a blessing as there was so little traffic. It was quite surreal to cycle through, what would normally be a bustling city, in the dead of a Sunday afternoon. After another petrol station pit-stop (and an air-conditioning fix!) we decided to cycle on in order to take advantage of the quiet roads and escape the city. The problem with leaving the city, however, was the further we left the city behind, the less chance we had of finding a hostel. As the sun was beginning set and we were struggling to find a hostel or a suitable place to camp, as has happened so often on our trip, a friendly local was soon at hand. David had driven past and, seeing two cyclists, had assumed we were Dutch and so invited us into his home just half a mile up the road. We didn’t quite understand the Dutch connection until we were sat round his dinner table, just five minutes later, and he explained how he had lived in Holland and was so used to seeing Dutch people travelling around on bikes. We spent a great evening with David chatting all things Nicaragua and Holland. It was very interesting to get his take on the issues pertaining to modern day Nicaragua, particularly given his experience living in Europe. He talked at length about the proposed construction of the canal across Lake Nicaragua linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the potential economic benefit that it would bring to his country weighed against the environmental impact of construction. David was a fascinating and very friendly guy and it was such a pleasure to share his company and his home. From David’s house we took a short, though spectacular, ride through a corridor of volcanoes – one of which was active – to the beautiful colonial town of Granada, on the banks of Lake Nicaragua. Granada is very similar to Antigua Guatemala, the former colonial capital of Guatemala we’d visited just two weeks earlier, with its colourful buildings and cobbled streets set against a backdrop of volcanoes. It was the ideal place for a rest afternoon – which also turned into a rest morning the following day! After a very hearty breakfast, we got on the trail headed for the coast. From Granada, we had some steady climbs leaving the town before hitting the flat as we headed south once again towards the Pacific coast. We’d been in touch with John, a warm showers host in the tiny coastal village of Playa Gigante, where we planned to take a rest day and sample some of the beautiful Nicaraguan coastline. The final stretch to Playa Gigante was certainly what you’d call ‘off the beaten path’ as we had to negotiate 20km of dirt (read dust!) road on our way down to the beach. We wound our way down through remote villages to the disbelieving looks of the locals and reached Playa Gigante just in time to cool off in the sea as the sun was setting. John runs a hostel in the village where he has separate accommodation for his volunteer staff and for the passing cycle tourist. A keen cyclist himself, he is keen to attract more cyclists to the village as they pass through Nicaragua. The hostel, being right on the beach, had a very relaxed vibe and there seemed to be a great camaraderie between the local staff and the volunteer staff – some of whom had been sucked in by the lifestyle and had decided to stay there for months! We began our rest day with yoga on the beach in the morning, then took the horses for a walk along the beach before John invited us out on his boat for the afternoon so we could explore the bay! As rest days go, it was as relaxing as they come and we enjoyed some great chat with John about each of our travel stories and his setting up home in Nicaragua. The humidity levels signalled the beginning of the rainy season and, though we hadn’t yet suffered any downpours while cycling, for two nights in Playa Gigante we were treated to the most spectacular thunderstorms as lightening seemed to permanently light up the sky and the rain bounced off the ground. Well rested and with the air now a little more breathable, we headed south the next day towards the border with Costa Rica. On our way back up the dirt road – which was now thick with mud after the previous night’s rain - we were overtaken by a garbage truck and the guys took pity on us as we struggled up the hill. Our bikes were promptly loaded on top of all the garbage and we got a ride up the hill from the cheery locals. This was certainly a first – a memorable close to a memorable country!