Friday, September 18, 2009

Vacation Nicaraguan Style

Well I've got some good news and bad news. Good news first, right? Well our two week vacation in Nicaragua was splendid, completely fantastic. And the bad news? Surfing, or at least attempting to surf, was so much fun that I may just give up running and focus wholeheartedly on waves. I'm just kidding of course, but it's a kick in the pants as well as a great workout.

We arrived in Managua on August 30th and headed straight to San Juan Del Sur, where we spent the whole first week. We rented a "casita" at Rancho Cecilia, and our lovely hosts Scott and Liz picked us up at the airport and drove us the four hours back to their wonderful piece of property in San Juan. Scott and Liz are from California, but having sailed to Nicaragua 3 years ago, they fell in love with it and moved there. Now they rent out the "casita" and teach surf lessons. Not a bad way to make a living, eh? Their property is 7 kilometers outside the town of San Juan Del Sur, and literally carved out of the jungle. They even have a troop of howler monkeys on their lot. It's just beautiful and so incredibly relaxing. They are literally "off the grid" as well. Their larger home and the casita are powered entirely off of solar power.

During our first week in Nicaragua life was pretty simple. We'd typically head down to the beach at 9:30 or 10am and begin surfing. Usually by 1:30 or so we were taxed enough to take a short break from the waves and dine on fresh fish tacos. Now let me make it clear that there is no restaurant or hotel or any such thing on this beach. There's simply an open air tent with a grill and two folks fixing up the most delicious tacos I've ever sampled. Lunch was followed up by yet more surfing, and usually around 5:00 we'd wrap things up and make the 40 minute trek back to the casita. Like I said, life was pretty simple, but that's exactly the vacation we were seeking.

We stayed exactly one week in San Juan Del Sur and loved it. It was actually quite tempting, since we had no reservations, to stay the duration of our trip in San Juan. We were however lured away by the temptation of Ometepe, a volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua. For about ten bucks we were able to catch a taxi (If you can call it that. Cars in Nicaragua are serious pieces of S#*t!) to the ferry terminal in San Jorge, 40 minutes away. From the terminal it's about an hour by boat to Ometepe. And boy if I thought the cars were crummy, don't even get me started on that rust-bucket of a boat. The cruise across Lake Nicaragua was a little unsettling, but once back on terra firma, I was struck by the lush, green beauty of Ometepe. The island is shaped like a dumbbell with a larger, active volcano at the north end and a slightly smaller, dormant volcano on the south end. If memory serves, the island is approximately 78 kilometers around.

We spent 4 nights on Ometepe and enjoyed it immensely. We hiked a bunch, biked a bunch, and even rode horses. As much as I enjoyed trying to surf, Andrea and I both agree that Ometepe was our favorite spot on the trip. The highlights were hiking to San Ramon, a magnificent 40 meter waterfall and summiting Maderas, the slightly shorter of the island's two volcanos.

From Ometepe we headed back to the mainland and the city of Granada. Granada is a beautiful colonial city right on the west shore of Lake Nicaragua. Although the city itself lacked the adventurous atmosphere of Ometepe, we found the most exciting activity of the trip just outside of Granada. Right on the flank of Mombacho, the volcano rising above the southern end of Granada, we zip-lined our way through the jungle canopy. The zip lines crisscrossed their way through the treetops on a total of 13 platforms. And unlike the cars and the ferries, the zip line tour equipment was remarkably well kept. Andrea and I both agreed that the zip lining was the single most enjoyable activity of the entire trip.

We expected to have a great time in Nicaragua, but having never been there ourselves and not knowing anyone who'd been there, we really didn't know what it would be like. Now speaking from experience, it was probably the coolest place I've ever been, and I would go back in a heartbeat. Neither one of us ever felt even slightly unsafe, especially after we realized the machete wielding locals are just going about their day-to-day work, and the locals could not have been more friendly. And the beauty of the country is completely breathtaking. Go to Nicaragua and do it now before it really becomes a more touristy locale.

*I'll get some photos up as soon as we get them all organized*