Recently, my father and I traveled to the lush, unspoiled country of Nicaragua and learned, like many others, that Central America’s largest country possesses all kinds of cool draws for the tropical traveler. The people, the culture, and the land are a treat to explore at a price that any backpacker can afford. On this trip, we used public transportation rather than renting a car and it saved money on an already affordable excursion. From the colonial city of Granada, across Lake Nicaragua, and to the warm sunsets of San Juan del Sur, every place we went and everyone we met convinced us to come back as soon as possible.
Morning in Managua, we enjoyed a typical breakfast of eggs, rice and beans, and white cheese. Eating is my single favorite thing to do when I’m away, and breakfast is my favorite meal. We had already decided that we were not going to rent a car like usual, but count on public transportation and taxis. Granada was to be our first destination which meant we needed to head about 45 minutes south of Managua. The buses run out of the depot or, like we did, you can wait for a shuttle bus to come by at regular intervals. This usually costs less than a dollar but can be quite packed (as ours was). Once we were on the bus, you can just sit back with your head out the window, and enjoy the sights and smells of Nicaragua.
Granada is a modern city that still holds onto its colonial roots. Everything surrounds the central park and we were staying close to that area. It makes things nice when you are trying to find your way around. A visit to Managua isn’t complete without a trip to the mercado. Every town has one but the market in Granada covers a great expanse of neighborhood and seems to wind forever into mazes of plantains, fish, and chicken. I mean there was some crazy stuff in this place. I bought a freezer bag of human heads. For real. It’s a few blocks west of the central plaza and is liveliest in the morning. I’ve never seen anything like it. After the sun comes up, a stiffling blanket of wet heat descends upon the city until late afternoon. That’s when you take the short trip up to sites such as Volcan Mombacho and experience cooler cloud forest temperatures. Enjoy a volcano trail draped with ferns and bromiliads while the sloths and spider monkeys sing to you from the branches above.
Power outages, while common in all of Central America, can happen frequently in some parts of Nicaragua. Take Isla Olmetepe for instance. This island pair, formed by twin volcanoes is remote and with that you can expect some minor discomforts. A full day of riding motorcycles over dirt and and cobblestone roads, dodging roosters and pigs can wear out the heartiest of world travelers. The bikes were less than $30 for the day and we drove anywhere they could take us. We tried to scoot around the NE side of the island, but we almost shook the scooters apart on bumpy rock roads before deciding to abort the mission.
Pop had been traveling more with mom so I was afraid he might have gone soft and not be able to take the road less traveled. Too much room service you know. This was my night to pay so naturally we stayed in a hostel. While it had few amenities, it did have a box fan for each person. A man can put up with a great deal of life’s curve balls if he has a box fan in his face at night(1). Around three in the morning, all the power went out leaving me lying in a pool of sweat and Flor de Cana,and pop had locked himself in the bathroom, coming to terms with a late night chicken burrito. Be ready for this if you leave the resort. Not everyone is on board with this kind of silliness, but if you are, it will take you down some unusual roads.
The last stop on our trip was San Juan del Sur, on the Pacific coast. This tropical outpost of fisherman and surfers sits in a protected cove and invites foot traffic reminiscent of an old Caroline Street in Key West. If the sea of ripped surfers doesn’t make you feel like an emasculated prune with a sunken chest you can always get on board and learn to ride the waves. It’s easy. You just rent a board. Swim out. Turn around. Paddle fast. Stand up. Surf…..No problem. You can even look up how to do it online. Right. Trust me, surfing is hard work. That’s why surfers have big chests.
I had plenty of trouble just walking around town with my mother ship of a surfboard. The winds blowing across the country from Lake Nicaragua slide over San Juan del Sur and push the lip of the waves up high. And they can virtually lift up someone trying to walk down the beach with a board the size of a canoe. It almost didn’t fit in the hotel room, but it did kinda look cool.
The main problem with San Juan del Sur is the women. Some surf, but many just lie on the beach and watch surfers all day. Believe it, it’s almost surreal how many gorgeous women are walking the streets. It is unbelievable. The really fancied up girls wear flip flops. Most others have on little more than a bikini and smile. With so many girls from so many places, it’s easy to think you are in Mexico Beach for spring break, rather than the jungles of Nicaragua.
Remember, as a bus rider, you need to know what you are doing before you do it. As you walk up to a taxi or bus depot, have an idea in mind. You are going to be mobbed by drivers trying to give you the best deal. Keep moving like you know where you are going. A bus ride is $2 from Rivas to Granada while a cab ride is over $20. Keep a sharp eye. Look for the unexpected and see where it takes you. Don’t plan everything. It pays to be a cautious traveler. You don’t know what you’re going to find around that next stretch of trail or beach. Visit Nicaragua. Wherever you go, good luck and have fun. Be sure to check out Nail Travels for a jalapeno cream sauce recipe that found it’s way back from the streets of Granada.
(1) Lila, Mama. Beach house. Fort Morgan Road, Gulf Shores, AL. 1979