Category Archives: Nicaragua

Island Life for Me

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Naturally, after two weeks in Granada we missed island life so much, we found an island and headed there to explore for a week.

We hired a van to take us from Granada to San Jorge, a quick two hour ride, and the van dumped us off at the ferry “terminal” at 11am. (I use the word terminal loosely.)

IMG_5655 IMG_5662 IMG_5694 IMG_5747When we arrived, we sat in a building with a little shop that was filled with gringos. We thought with smug satisfaction that we must be at the right place.

And we were.

But we could not determine, for the life of us, when the ferry was going to depart. Every single person had a different answer when we asked. As an islander, I can complain about the ferries with the best of them. I can whine on and on about the scheduling and how inconvenient it is for us. But there is a schedule.

Maybe there is a schedule that only the Nicaraguans can understand. But finally a boat pulled up. And we hoped to God that we would not be going on that one.

IMG_5723This is not the boat that pulled up. The boat that pulled us did not have the capacity for vehicles. Half of the gringos gathered their stuff and headed down to the boat to try to board.

By this time, we had been waiting for a couple hours in a ferry terminal, with bored and cranky children and limited snack supplies. It was tempting to grab our bags and jump on the ferry. But a little voice told us to wait.

So we waited.

An hour later, another ferry was ready to depart and this one looked a little more sturdy. The waves, which looked quite rowdy by mid-day, were less threatening now so we shuffled our stuff down to the dock and tried to board the slightly larger ferry.

IMG_5749 IMG_5755Successful, we stationed ourselves in front of the bano in case any of our party had to be suddenly seasick. Yeah, we weren’t joking. This lake was rough!

IMG_5763Soon we saw Ometepe Island rising up to meet us. Ometepe has two volcanoes that jut out of the lake, forming a beautiful sillouette against a jungle horizon. The kids were delighted that, just like the moon, the volcanoes followed us wherever we went.

IMG_5833 IMG_5839 IMG_5843We arrived at the dock on Ometepe an hour and a bit after departing San Jorge. A quick taxi ride landed us at Hospedaje Soma.

IMG_5854Hostel Soma was absolutely lovely. If you need a recommendation on a place to stay in Ometepe, Hostel Soma is my first choice. It is located in the small town of Moyogalpa, right where the ferry comes in. It is a 5-10 minute walk from town. There is a local dog to greet you, (Tricky, we still miss you) and fantastic friendly reception staff. Most of the units have a hammock and a front deck area.

IMG_5858 IMG_5861 IMG_5862 IMG_5863 IMG_5864Inside, the rooms are simple and clean. Only two of the units have hot water but it is quite humid there so showering in cold water is quite refreshing.

There is a fridge in the common dining area where you can help yourself to bottled water, cold beer or juice anytime. Then your drinks are marked on a tab you have and you pay for everything at the end of your stay.

Granada felt fairly safe though every doorway had metal gates. Every wall was topped with barbed wire, and the banks were punctuated by an armed guard. Everyone was friendly and greeted you as you walked by. In Ometepe, the metal gates were gone. The barbed wire, absent. There were still armed guards at the banks but you barely noticed them because they were reclined on chairs, chomping on fried plantains.

One morning, I went for a run as the sun started to rise. I found myself with a rooster as a running companion. I greeted the wild horses, grazing in the ditch. I ran in the shadow of Vulcan Conception. And a pig on a long rope, snuffled at me as I jogged past.

Ometepe may have required some guesswork and patience to get to but soon I found myself swinging in a hammock at Hostel Soma, I knew, island life was still the life for me.

Chocolate Plantation Tour

The fabulous place that offered the Bean to Bar workshop also did a Chocolate Plantation tour where you could venture out to the cacao plantation and see the chocolate being Grown! For us Farmer folk, this was a Must-Do. It also involved horses. And boats.IMG_3768 IMG_3785 IMG_3808 IMG_3810The tour pamphlet say that it is a “short” horse ride and that if you don’t want to ride a horse, it is optional and you can hike it instead.

This is not true.

There was no option to walk. So everyone valiantly mounted their horses. Including two in our party who are rather afraid of horse and had never been on a horse in their life! Gabrielle and Naia thought it was the most fabulous thing since honey on toast.

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Beside the banana plantations, the cacao plantations and the mango trees, there were coffee bean bushes growing. Oh, and beehives and howler monkeys. Really, I’m telling you, Nicaragua has everything wrapped up into neat little packages. Including unexpectedly long horse-back rides. (Two hours each way!!)IMG_3853 IMG_3875 IMG_4519 IMG_4535 IMG_4547 IMG_4551 IMG_4566 IMG_4614 IMG_4659 IMG_4666 IMG_4668 IMG_4675 IMG_4679 IMG_4684 IMG_4692 IMG_4694 IMG_4703 IMG_4711 On the way back from the chocolate plantation, there was a bit of a flash storm on Lake Nicaragua which caught us unexpectedly. After holding onto some reeds on a tiny bush island for half an hour when we were almost capsized in a tiny boat, we hobbled carefully to shore. Because of the mighty wind that had almost tipped us and managed to thoroughly soak us, a tree had fallen on the road. No matter. Every man is armed with a machete around these parts. Neighbours, old and young hacked at the tree until it was cut clean through and hauled it off the road. The horse-drawn carriages got first passage.

Nicaragua is an utterly amazing country.

And the chocolate plantation tour through ChocoMuseu is totally worth doing. But be aware, there is a lot of sketchy boat rides and long horse-back riding included. Totally Worth It.

Chocolate: From Bean to Bar

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Photo by Cindy

I had some people ask, “Why Nicaragua?”

In fact, even the border guard asked me that. My answer was simple. It is warm.

But it is more than that. Nicaragua is known for their production of chocolate and coffee. Those are exports I can fully support. (In fact, I support them in my daily life.) I was muy excited for this workshop at the chocolate museum. (ChocoMuseo.) It was called From Bean to Bar. You start with cacao beans and then by the end of the workshop, you have made your own chocolate bar. A-Maaaahz-Ing!

Photo by Cindy

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First we took the cacao beans that had already been picked, fermented, and dried and we roasted them red hot coals. Once they were roasted and smelled heavenly, we peeled the cacao beans. Then we put the peeled beans into stone bowls and mashed them until they became powder. Then we mashed them some more until they formed a thick dark brown paste.

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Photo by Cindy

Now it looked like delicious chocolate but it still tasted very bitter. We mixed it with some milk and honey and water, into jugs and we got to taste the different ancient cacao drinks. From the Inca to the European, we learned how the different cultures flavoured their chocolate drinks to their preferred palate. Chili, pepper, milk, honey, cinnamon. All the flavours mixed together with the cacao beans to form complex combinations. Then they showed us how the cacao beans are mixed in a machine for 12-18 hours with sugar to form different grades of chocolate. We poured the chocolate mix into molds and voila! After a few hours in the freezer, we took home a chocolate bar which we were involved in creating.

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We walked back to our rental house on a sugar buzz, excited to pick up our very own chocolate bars.

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Photo by Cindy

The 3 hour course was not expensive, it stayed in-house at Choco Museo and it was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday for me. Totally worth it!

 

Mombacho Volcano

We did the Mombacho Volcano twice. We did it as a day trip from Granada. For anyone looking for information on how to get to Mombacho from Granada, we took the chicken bus from the bus depot in Granada (read: dirt parking lot with lots of fried plantains) to Rivas or Nandaime and ask to get off at Mombacho Volcano.

The first time, we all went together to try and see the butterfly reserve at the bottom of Mombacho Volcano with the kids. FYI, the butterfly reserve is closed. For maybe a year…. Or maybe a while, like a week. Sometimes it’s hard to get a clear answer. Like sometimes when you ask for a vegetarian dish, they say “Yeah, it’s vegetarian. It has chicken.” And sometimes you ask if something has no pork, and you are told that it has no pork, it is just a chicken-ham bone on your plate. Riiiight…..

We paid $20 each to ride up the volcano road to the cloud forest so we could walk the trails. We were a little unprepared for how cold it would be in the cloud forest. Gabrielle snuggled down into the Tula and the rest of us tried to walk faster to keep warm. We did the smaller of the trails with the kids. It was about 2k. Every time there is a sign saying how long a walk is, add one or two kilometers. For some reason, Nicaragua tends to be very bad at guessing distances.

The second time we went up the volcano, Marc and I went solo. Gail offered to watch Gabrielle so she and Cindy and the kids stayed behind and had a pool day. Marc and I hiked up the volcano on the road, got a free and unexpected coffee tour at a plantation, walked the long cloud forest trail and then hiked down. We ended up walking 20 kilometers and we were very thankful we hadn’t hauled Gabrielle with us the whole time.

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Half way up the volcano, there is a rest stop with very clean bathrooms and a very good coffee shop. The coffee shop is owned by Cafe del Flores. Their coffee plantation is right there and their coffee is exquisite. They have a little gift shop where you can also purchase their beans. This rest stop is where the canopy tour begins as well. We saw the platforms for the canopy tour up in the trees but we were more interested in the cloud forest.IMG_4870 IMG_4873

So, the chicken bus drops you off at the bottom of the road, and then you can hire a tuktuk to drive you the 3k to the base of the volcano. The tuktuk cost C$100 ($4 USD.)IMG_4894 IMG_4913 IMG_4914We walked the road back from the base of the volcano to see the houses. It was a beautiful walk and we got to take pictures along the way and wave at the beautiful children who ran to the road to greet us.

The picture below is Marc taking a grateful rest on the hike up the volcano.

When Marc and I traveled to Scotland 10 years ago, we hiked Mt. Ben Nevis. I complained the whole way up. I was cold. I had the wrong shoes. And I was out of shape. Hiking Mombacho was so redemptive for me. Here I am, 10 years older, climbing a mountain a little higher than Ben Nevis, in tropical heat and I was in much better shape! I did it effortlessly! Hurrah for exercise! I was so proud of myself.
IMG_4927Below is a picture of the coffee beans drying in the sun.

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Coffee Bean picking is among the most dangerous jobs in Nicaragua because the Pit Vipers love to sit in the coffee bean bushes. They are quite aggresive and their bite can be lethal. The coffee pickers are paid by how many baskets they fill so they are often picking very fast and in remote places, which takes longer for them to receive treatment. So the workers have sticks with them and they hit the coffee bean bushes to scare the snakes away before they begin picking. Sometimes this is effective.

The coffee beans must be fermented and peeled and dried and roasted. It’s a long process but as a huge fan of the beverage, I thanked these people profusely for their hard work.IMG_4954 IMG_4955 IMG_4956 IMG_4958 IMG_4967 IMG_5001 IMG_5005 IMG_5011

The first time we went up the volcano, all the views were totally socked in. This is very common. But the second time we went, it cleared up for us and we had the most magnificent views.IMG_5023The picture below is a Fumeroles. (We joked that they were Funerals.) The air venting up from these holes is hot and smells a little like sulphur. The volcano is constantly making new pockets where the steams escapes. It was a good reminder that Mombacho still rumbles and grumbles now and then.
IMG_5028 IMG_5038 IMG_5052 IMG_5100 IMG_5118 IMG_5144 IMG_5163 IMG_5187 IMG_5188 IMG_5230 IMG_5253For the sake of details, the chicken bus from Granada to Mombacho cost us $7 cordobas. The entry fee to the park for walking up the volcano was $5 USD each. If you take the truck, the park entry fee is $20 USD. The longer trail up on top of the volcano requires a guide. And the guide cost us $22 one time fee. That guide fee applied to any group up to 7 people.

This volcano was spectacular and completely worth the money. It is such a beautiful country. Volcanoes, cloud forests, epic scenary! Seriously amazing!

Masaya Volcano

You don’t have to take a bus to Masaya!!

We took the bus to Masaya, thinking we could catch another bus that said “Volcano” on the front but if you catch a bus from Granada to Managua and tell the driver you want to get off at the Masaya Volcano, you will have much better luck. And it will only take you about an hour instead of two hours. It will cost you around C$10. (Cordobas)

You pay at the gate upon entering the park. And you can walk or hire a taxi to get to the top. The taxi was C$100. (About $4 USD) and for us it was worth it because then we had more time to explore the volcano itself. (Because we had spent so much time on the busses just trying to get there.) The walk isn’t difficult though. It’s all on the road and it isn’t very steep. Half way up the volcano, there is an information centre. And it is a fantastic one.

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Masaya Volcano reminded me of the hole where they try to throw Hans Solo and Luke Skywalker in the third Star Wars. Yeah it’s steaming a bit more but it drops off the side of the mountain into oblivion. Into, what I imagine to be, the bowels of the earth.

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It was a beautiful hike. Very windy. We walked around and explored for a couple hours and then we got a ride back down the volcano. It was beautiful and totally worth the explore. The sulfuric gasses are something to be cautious about as there is no one regulating how long you stay by the edge of the volcano. There are some paths they encourage you not to explore past 4pm. And at the information centre, you have to give your information on a sheet so they know how many people ascended the volcano. The little pamphlet they give you say that you should be issued helmets but we received nothing of the sort. And as Marc pointed out, we don’t know what good helmets would do for you if the volcano decided to erupt.

This thought is much happier sitting down at the bottom of the volcano again.