Day 168-188 Nicaragua
We had a fairly smooth crossing at the border in Somotillo and entered Nicaragua after about an hour's wait at customs. We can't believe we left Antigua, Guatemala only three weeks ago, and here we are in Nicaragua.
Shortly after crossing the border we pulled off at a recreation area/hostel with a big pool where we pitched our tent for the night. Several truckers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica were staying at the hostel as they waited for clearance at the border to pass through. We hung out with them in the pool as the sun neared the horizon, laughing, joking, and talking about our travels through Mexico and Central America so far.
The next day we were off to an early start. We pedaled to the small town of Villa 15 de Julio, but not before Mehedi's tire blew out. Either way, we were thrilled to be in Nicaragua, pedaling through country number five! After his tire continued to go flat, it was clear he needed a new tube as we were out of extra tubes. Fortunately a small bike shop was able to fix Mehedi's tire blow-outs by drilling out the presta valve to make it fit a schrader valve and now we are able to exchange tires.
On our third day we approached and cycled around Volcán de San Cristobal. By noon we made it past the bustling industrial city of Chinandega and had León in our sights. After what may have been our longest and furthest cycling day so far, about 60+ miles, pushing through the late afternoon heat and heavy traffic, we pedaled into León. We were ready for a couple days off, as we had been pedaling for about two weeks straight through El Salvador and Honduras.
León is a busy and colorful city full of wild smells and sights. We bunked down in a hostel for while we caught up on rest, writing, bike and gear maintenance. And sat in front of a fan. Camping in these temperatures hasn't been too comfortable with the heat, so a room with a mosquito net and a fan is some kind of heaven on Earth to us right now.
Ruedas León hooked us up with some great, much needed service on our bikes. We spent many hours in the markets, wandering and discovering new tastes and smells. Nicaragua has some really incredible markets.
After several days in León we decided it was time to push on. We managed to carve out a fantastic route on mostly dirt roads from León to Granada, circling the Chiltepe Peninsula before riding through Managua, Masaya and then onto Granada.
Our first night out of León we camped in a church courtyard in Nagarote. We met a lovely Salvadoreño family making papusas in town where we ended up eating dinner and chatting with the family. They told us they had a better quality of life in Nicaragua, and had moved from El Salvador about fifteen years prior.
We followed dirt roads which took us along the perimeter of the Chiltepe Peninsula with a gorgeous view of Lake Managua and the surrounding volcanoes.
We decided to camp on the peninsula near San Martin and pitched our tent behind a family's capilla. We were told and later read about how heavily polluted Lake Managua is, with a multitude of ecological and social impacts on communities around the lake.
It was an extremely hot day! As we navigated through the busy Managua streets, we found the most wonderful health food store and cafe, Ola Verde.
We had a wonderful time cooking dinner and breakfast with Carla, sharing stories and ideas about travel, nutrition and growing food. We hadn't planned to stay in Managua, but we were so thrilled to meet Carla – a lovely, well-traveled expat whose passion is educating and improving the lives of marginalized Nicaraguan communities through good food and proper nutrition. We need more Carlas in the world! The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed toward Masaya.
We hopped back on dirt and shortly after, Mehedi got another flat tire and Erin's pannier broke. 15 minutes later we were patched up, had a temp fix on the pannier and pedaling again. Our dirt road began as a busy mining road with big trucks but slowly quieted down as we put more distance between ourselves and the capital. Over all the terrain was mellow and the riding quite easy.
We pedaled into Masaya's extremely colorful and vibrant Central Park by early afternoon and decided to find a cheap place to stay so we could visit the volcano the next day. We ordered smoothies (about $2) and found a sweet little hostel in town where we could keep our stuff and venture about town.
The next day we made it up to Volcán Masaya. We got hooked up on a tour with Samaritan tours thanks to our new buddy Nelson.
As we rode up the volcano, we caught a glimpse of the magnificent colors of the blue sky, and the smoke reflecting bright red from Masaya's churning crater of molten lava below. We knew we were in for a treat.
If you've ever had the chance to witness volcanic activity up close and personal like this, you know how utterly spectacular it is to peer into the Earth. Almost 900 feet above and you could feel the immense heat and force of this wonder of nature. We were also lucky to visit at an extremely active time!
The next day we had an incredible downhill ride through tiny back dirt roads and paths all the way to Granada.
We cycled through sugar cane fincas and several communities without electricity or running water. Locals were friendly to us and many asked for money as we were passing through. We offered them money and the fruit we had. Most of the homes were one room bamboo shacks covered in black plastic to keep the rain out. These were some of the poorest communities we've pedaled through on our journey so far. It was a brief ride but profoundly impacted us. By the afternoon we made it to Granada.
We spent about five days in Granada close to the market and Plaza. Much of our time went to catching up on our blog, cleaning the bikes and mapping out our next leg. We enjoyed Granada as it felt much mellower than León. The heat was so intense that we mostly stayed inside and hydrated during the day and usually only went out early in the morning or in the evening. The market was abundant and luckily we had a kitchen to cook in which we took full advantage of.
After a few days off, we were ready to pedal again. We had a late departure and long but mellow grade climb out of Granada. We stopped outside of a school in the late afternoon in Belen, and Mehedi asked the janitor if we might be able to camp there for the night. "Go up the dirt road off the highway and find Diana. She's a teacher here and she might be able to help you."
Eventually we found her house. She wasn't home, but her mother was, and welcomed us in without hesitation. Later we all shared stories and laughs together into cooler evening air and they loved seeing Mehedi's carved spoons.
They said told us they knew their country was very contaminated and chose to live away and eat more of what they grew themselves. They said they were very poor, and that their land and family were their greatest assets, and to them that was still "better than gold." Incredible people, so humbling.
The next morning after they fed us breakfast, we said our goodbyes and cycled out of the family compound, through Rivas to San Jorge where we caught our ferry to Ometepe.
On the ferry, we met another cyclist, Alex from Spain. He was about halfway through a three-week bicycle tour through Nicaragua. We ended up spending about three weeks cycling around Nicaragua, too, though we easily could have spent much longer!
After a slow morning, we headed out toward Zopilote Farm & Hostel. There was some fabled fresh baked bread we heard about, so it seemed like it might be worth a stop!
We met a group of locals who we enjoyed a 20 minute roadside chat with. We couldn't believe how excited the locals were to see travelers riding their bikes around the island.
Our three night/four day leisurely pedal around Ometepe was coming to an end. After taking the ferry back to Rivas in the late afternoon, we stayed the night and headed straight for the border of Costa Rica on the PanAmerican Highway the next day.
Adiós Nicaragua! What a beautiful country.