Leon – Nicaragua

From the Lagoon to Leon was not the most pleasant of journeys. Into the three seats in the back of a minivan they squeezed seven of us, thankfully three of them were kids sitting on their parents lap so not too bad, and I was lucky enough to be squashed in by the window – which happened to be an empty space with a piece of wood across with nails hanging out and a piece of plastic sheeting hung across, – obviously a make do from a crash or being broken into, at least it was very breezy despite not being overly comforting.

As soon as we arrived in Leon people were in the boot, grabbing our rucksack and shouting at us to come with them, flapping maps in our faces and yelling, it was horribly overwhelming, especially in my still kinda still queezy state. Jake managed to get us away, made us walk ages off the main road with our huge backpacks in the heat and only managed to $2 off our taxi, NOT WORTH IT.

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We found the place remarkably easy, our guest house was right in-front of one of the main churches, it was called Punche De Oro, house of gold I think it means. The journey was long and we didn’t really do much the rest of the day, we found a little shop and got tea for the night and felt like we spent the rest of the day asleep.

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The next day we went out for brunch at this little pastry shop; found a much-needed laundrette and a proper supermarket, so at least we were not just having rice for dinner that night. We also met our host and his most adorable fuzzball of a puppy.

That night the sky was full of fireworks and found at this is likely to go on for the next few nights. Beautiful but very loud.

We got given breakfast the next day, a piece of toast and black coffee, better than nothing but I hate coffee. That day we went for a walk around the main square, saw a lot of churches, in the main square there was what seemed like a festival going on, but we could not figure out what for. There was a huge stage with dancers in the traditional dress, there was t.v. crews and a huge mural on the floor which appeared to be made out of spice. Down one street was full of little stalls full of traditional food and down the other one selling handmade souvenirs, was interesting to look down.

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We then went to the revolution museum and we were taken round by this little old Nicaraguan man who spoke very little english and we thankfully had just enough spanish to communicate. He wore a revolution shirt and a beret. We found out from him he was once an original guerrilla fighter on the frontline during the war. He showed us lots of pictures of the war and was so enthusiastic which really rubbed off on us, it was so interesting, he kept on raising his fist and yelling “Leon, Capital de Revolution!!”

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He fought when he was seventeen and was also captured and tortured because he was part of the rebel fighters. He fought against his father who was in the military, and all five of his other brothers, some who fought with him and against him were killed in combat and his mother killed by a bomb blast, he was so interesting – what we could understand that is. He was just so passionate.

He took us on the roof to look out over the city and showed us where the fighting was and which of the houses were destroyed. Jake definitely didn’t like balancing on the wooden beams of the roof so we didn’t fall through the corrugated metal roofing.

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He did try to sell us stuff but we just tipped him instead which I think he very much preferred. We also got to handle some of the weaponry that was used and could fire off a handmade bazooka. He showed us photos of him in his guerrilla uniform and he was so proud, it was an excellent trip I would definitely recommend.

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The day after we went to the Legends, traditions and myths museum, it is in an old prison were guerrilla fighters were held and tortured, and many homeless people held under madness, so not overly comforting place to be to begin with. Prison 21 I think it was called.

Inside there were a few tanks used in the war and a little shrine type thing towards the person who made the museum. Inside the actual prision there were a few pictures and a giant egg head type thing and a gigantic person who looked like a bad drag queen with no explanation at all. Really freaky.

Lots of the exhibitions were in the old cells, they played screams and witches crackles and had lots of manikin’s (which I hate) telling of the scary stories believed in Nicaragua. the rest of the museum carried out in the same way but a bit less horror and lots more manikins, ugh. we didn’t stay too long. It was interesting but not sure I would recommend it.

That night outside the church there was a lot more fireworks and many food stalls and a little fair and kids playing cricket, nice to look round but impossible to sleep with the fireworks scaring the stray dogs barking throughout the night.

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The next morning we were up early for a tour. We met another couple waiting, I think they were Polish. We then drove round to pick up another group, two German guys I think then off to Volcan Cerro Negro. It took about an hour to get there and was surrounded by lots of mountains and three other volcanos. Our one and one of the others surrounding it were still active  or dormant, and it is a concern that they would form together to make a super volcano.

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Cerro negro had erupted in 1999 and you could see to where the lava had spread too. It hadn’t gone very far so not bothered Leon at all, it was the ash cloud that had done the damage. Many old and young had died from not being able to breathe and families killed from their roofs caving in on them by the weight of the ash. All planes were stopped and it reached up to Belize and down to Costa Rica.

What we were doing there was volcano boarding, the only place in the world you could volcano board on a live volcano. We were given a little backpack with goggles and a  jumpsuit and a huge and heavy board (about 3 st) which we had to hoist on out backs and climb up the volcano. It was a steep walk and the loose stones meant we kept slipping back down, the wind buffeted us felt like we were about to be blown off with the boards. It was hard going but fun, the two german guys powered off ahead. Our guide was excellent and kept taking photos and telling us about the volcano and the city. He was 11 when the volcano went off and could tell us what it was really like to live through.

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At the top of the volcano we put our stuff down and walked around the crater, we could feel the heat rising from it and clouds of steam kept puffing up. We put on our sexy jumpsuit and goggles and used a towel to cover our mouth and face, he gave us a two min safety instruction, e.g. hold on; and off we went. Jake went super fast and fell off at the bottom and took a video of me going down after. I didn’t go as fast as him but it felt it. The stones sprayed up in your face and caught up in our hair and up our trouser legs, it was excellent but over, it felt, in seconds.

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The day after we got the bus to the beach, it was scorching hot and so we wandered along the shore, many people were surfing the waves were so big. The beach was mostly empty and we found a little bar on the beach front with a few people hanging out, we could sit at our table and still have our feet in the sand . We had a lazy day having a few drinks and swimming. The waves were huge, easily over our heads, I felt like a little kid again attempting to jump waves twice the size of me. It was excellent.

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The day after was our last day and I was NOT feeling good. I think maybe the heat of the sun and maybe swallowing some sea water yesterday didn’t help, spent most of the day asleep and packed ready to leave for El Salvador at 2am the next day.

Despite feeling like crap the last day I think Leon was one of my favourite part of Nicaragua.

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Ometepe Island and Apoyo Lagoon.

After the fun of Granada I was looking forward to going to Ometepe. Ometepe is a very small island made up of two volcanos, Conception volcano – which is active in the north, and in the south Maderas Volcano, which is where we were staying.

We got a bus (once we found the correct bus terminal) to the dock and met a Brazilian guy on the way, who thankfully could speak spanish and managed to stop us getting scammed for double the price than needed. The boat trip was actually rather enjoyable, it took a while to cross and we were one of the last people on it so had nowhere to sit and were squished down in the hull. It was an old ferry type and the noise (from the at least 50-year-old engine) was deafening and black smoke billowed up from in-between the wooden floorboards every five minutes or so. I went and stood outside, which most of the locals seemed rather alarmed at because as soon as they had got onboard they had all adorned life jackets.


While stood out there, watching the island come closer I met a Costa Rican girl called Sol and got chatting to her. Coincidentally Jake was talking to her boyfriend Will, inside. They hadn’t sorted a place to stay so we suggested our place, we were staying at a hostel called Monkey island and it was only $4 a night for room and breakfast.  We got on really well so they joined us.

On the island we said goodbye to the brazilian guy who was staying in the north, and got on the last chicken bus – of only five trips the bus makes round the whole island. The bus was full when we got on, so they squidged us into the space at the back made to fit about 10 people and all our rucksacks and bikes and boxes, rather uncomfortably but manageable, they then fit 15 more people into that space, then breaking all laws of physics and personal space they fit 20 more people in! It was horrible, extremely stressful and cramped. I was literally nose to nose with about 30 people, our exit was the path of least resistance so anyone getting out had to come through, over, or under all of us. Then get on the same way, but by then it had started to pour with rain so they got on soaking wet. There were no real roads either, so we were bouncing and jerking around all over the place. By the end I was so stressed I was catatonic. After the two-hour journey then half mile walk with our rucksacks in the pitch dark to find our little hostel I couldn’t even speak

Once there however I managed to settle down. It was all open plan and  very basic. They cooked us dinner which was delicious and only about $2.50. we looked in our room which was very basic, and decided to break the budget (haha) and spend an extra $2 a night and upgrade to a nicer bigger room with private bathroom which was extremely worth it. Walked into that room and was met with a huge, thankfully not poisonous tarantula on our doorstep blocking the way, now im not scared of spiders but that thing did make me jump. Thankfully it decided it didn’t want to stay the night… it was a cold fresh water shower too, heaven after the heat of the day.


Our first day all four of us went to climb San Maderas volcano, part way up to San roman waterfall. It was a 3km walk (it said) once you got there up to the waterfall, but that was the issue, it was all up and some of it really steep. We had to stop a lot because of the heat and trek and Jake wasnt feeling to well. We managed to get up to the last km – and that last km seemed to be triple the amount we had walked before. It was through the jungle so not a real path, jumping over logs, and wading through rivers, it was amazing scenery and lovely to listen to the birds but it was very hard work.


Once we got to the waterfall it was worth it, well I thought it was. About 260ft high and a little pool at the bottom to swim in which was extremely refreshing after the walk an absolutely freezing after about 30 seconds so the others didn’t stay in very long.


We were just getting dry and putting clothes back on when the heavens opened all of a sudden and it poured and poured, so strong that you could barely see 3ft in front of you. There was no point jumping over rocks to avoid getting our feet wet now. The path turned into a mudslide and we basically slipped all the way back. It was fun though. English people cope remarkable well in the rain.


On the next day we found the hotel was run by a family and there was a little girl here who showed me her bunny rabbits and some of the words she was learning in english, – I am Happy, I am sad, I am angry, I am sleepy. She loved it, doing cartwheels all over the place and chasing after rouge rabbits. She was at the age where she didn’t really get the gist of being gentle with the bunnies, but you could tell she loved them and were well cared for. I am scared of rabbits as a rule, (think I must have watched Watership Down too young) but these I could cope with.


We hired a canoe from the hostel and went canoeing out on the lake. It was very hard work, as no matter which way we went it felt as if we were fighting against the tide. There were some little islands we rowed to and we got out to have a look, and sure enough there were monkeys on them, hence the name monkey island, but there monkeys, unlike Costa Rica were not friendly at all. They came down screeching, shaking branches and swiping at us, very territorial, baring their teeth. We scampered as quickly as possible, a Capuchin monkey can bite off a human finger in one go and I would like to keep all mine.

After canoeing we swam in the lake. Its much cleaner near Ometepe than by Granada so was nice to do. We then face another animal attack of ants this time. All around our cabin. It was full of them, they were attracted by water in the sink and smell of the kitchen. Never seen so many in my life. Thankfully they didn’t make it too our room.


Our third day we met two girls from Luxembourg at the hostel who were travelling Nicaragua. Sarah and Philippine. We chatted to them a bit then out for lunch with Will and Sol. Everyone on Omepete knows everyone, I think the cafe we went to was ran by the hostel workers brother, and the little shop down the road by his wife’s cousin. Life feels very simple and pure and organic. Not easy mind, but nice. That evening we sat at the pier and watched the sunset before the rain came in.


We said goodbye to Sol and Will as they were leaving tomorrow, same as us but catching the 5am bus, we were lazy and caught the 8am one.
So the next day we got the bus back to the main pier, which was a lot less stressful than before, and got the boat to the mainland with Philippine and Sarah.

This time he boat trip was not fun. Right from the start it was listing to the side quiet dramatically and was a lot smaller and more fragile than the last boat. The wind blew strong too and it became the worst boat trip of my life. Both me and Jake genuinely thought it was going to capsize. It tilted over so far over at one point I could have sworn it couldn’t right itself, and Jake had an evacuation route planned. Our bags were on top too and didn’t know if they had been tied down so were afraid of losing them too. It was not pleasant, especially as there is bull sharks in the lake too. I could see now why all the locals put on life jackets as soon as they got on board.

we made it to the other side, kissed dry land and got another bus to the Apoyo Lagoon.


We said goodbye to the girls who were going to Managua and found our hotel which was right on the water of the lagoon. We had a little four-poster bed, tent thing as our room, out in the open air looking down onto the water. Basic but lovely. (The orange thing on the right side)

We got up early the next day, thanks to sleeping outside and the monkeys and cockerel, and went for a fresh morning swim. The place didn’t have many rooms, it mostly issues day passes, so we had the whole lagoon to ourselves for a bit which was magical. We used the hotels kayak and paddle boards and went around the edge of the lagoon (not all as its huge) and jumped off the floating platforms they had in the middle.


After lunch we went out on the canoes again, messing around and playing tag. Jake caught up to me and tried to board my canoe. He knocked me into the water and flipped my canoe over, while trying to right it, it fell again, but this time on my head. It hit hard and knocked me under the water, Jake had to pull me up and check I was okay as I was so dazed I just stayed half unconscious underwater. I couldn’t move or see straight or was able to get back on my canoe for  a while.

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After that we decided we have enough time in the water and decided to slowly go in. I went for a lie down as I felt absolutely awful and inevitably it made me feel worse. Looking at my symptoms Jake realise I probably had quite bad concussion so got the taxi to the nearest hospital. I don’t actually remember any of this, apparently I wasn’t walking right, had a huge lump on my head, was forgetful and slurred my speech. I do remember that it was very difficult to communicate with a nurse in Spanish even with my translation app. They concluded that I’d hit my head and had a fever… great. They suggested to me all these pills for fever and ignored the concussion, so in the end me and Jake just went back to the hotel and waited until I felt better.

The next morning we left Apoyo and headed to Leon in the north of Nicaragua. Despite the bump, I really enjoyed Omepete and the lagoon.

Managua and Granada – Nicaragua 

It was the first time I had to do a land border bus crossing, and I did not enjoy it. We eventually managed to convince the reception lady to call and ask which bus stop we needed, as there is quite a lot in San Jose.

The border crossing was much more expensive than we had anticipated. We had to pay $8 each exit tax and then $14 each entry tax into Nicaragua on top of the bus fare we had already paid. The journey was okay at first, they didn’t blast the air-con like they did for Jake, but played movies very loud, well very loud for me, I find sense sensitivity is something that affects me a lot with my Aspergers. It took seven hours to reach the border and we didn’t stop once, we were so hungry and dying of thirst when we got there. I found the border crossing very stressful. It was at night, we had had a long day, everyone had extremely large guns, asking us questions in Spanish and I didn’t really understand what was going on. I did panic quite a bit, which doesn’t look good at border control.


Once on the other side, in Nicaragua, we saw a lady selling Pringle’s, they looked heavenly to us, and without really knowing the exchange rate we gave her a 100 Cordoba note and hoped that was enough (worked out about three dollars.)

Once at Managua we couldn’t find a way out of the bus station, then the taxi driver didn’t know where we were going so took a while to get there and eventually arrived around 10 PM. The woman at the guest house we were staying at was really nice it took us out to get something to eat, she did our ordering for us as our sleep-deprived Spanish was awful.

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We only spend one full day in Managua as there is literally nothing to do. We walked down the main street filled with lots of light up trees called revolution Avenue; we went to the pier and looked out over the sea which was filthy, rubbish everywhere, it looks like the sewage pipe went straight into the water which was a very stark difference from Costa Rica. We went to the Main Square near the park, presidential Palace and cathedral and that’s about it, we did everything there is to do in Managua. The little bar made out of someone’s home next to ours was the best part of the day.

The next day we set off for Granada, a little village town by the side of lake Nicaragua. We stayed in a place called – surfing donkey on the lake. Only about 1 km from the Main Square so very central to everything which was good. The place was nice too, very social, with a pool and Hammock chairs. There is a 24 bed dorm which is completely open, and looks out over the lake, no windows or anything – at least it’s hot here. We found that hammock chairs are the most comfy things ever, if we had enough room in our rucksacks I would definitely be taking one home.

At the surfing donkey there was something new each night, Sunday night was barbecue night, so sat down with people from all over the world and chatted the night away. American, Russian, Israeli, German, Spanish. It was great, we even got garlic bread too … it was just heaven. The drinks where very strong. The rum and cokes had 75 mil shots in them, which means I was drunk after two.

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The second day we attempted to climb one of the church towers but it wasn’t open, we did see a lot more of the town though and managed to book a few tours. We didn’t stay out long, soon the heavens opened and Jake was not best pleased about getting soaked to the skin again.


Around Granada there is a lot of horse and carts, it’s a symbol of Granada. Unfortunately they all seem very thin and weak, most have sores on the back so will not be going for a ride. We got a better look at the lake too, it’s filthy, you can see why they advise you not to swim, every so often along the shore there are big piles of rubbish that get swept up every day. Apart from that Granada is actually lovely and beautiful to look at.

Day three we had a very long lying and then a healthy early lunch at this healthy food place, I got an avocado and tuna sandwich with Chia seeds and turmeric smoothie drink which was really nice, turmeric is really popular here. We went to the main cathedral and had a look in and climbed up the bell tower to see over the most Granada, Jake even came up the last bit despite his hatred of heights. They were painting the ceiling with bible stories, but the pictures were very bubble-like, more cartoonish like a children’s book then what you usually see in a church, it didn’t really fit at all.


That night we had a tour to Massaya volcano, we got picked up and drove to the entrance, then had to queue for about an hour. Our guide said there were 28 visible volcanoes in Nicaragua and nearly 1000 unseen ones. There are only three volcanoes in the world where you can definitely see you lava every day, here the Congo and Hawaii.

When we got up to the top it had gone dark and you could see over the Massaya town, then we got the summit and look down to the crater and could see the lava bubbling below. It was so bright it made the smoke and the sky red. It was really beautiful, almost mesmerizing to watch. We didn’t have long enough in my opinion but so happy to have seen it.

The day after we had a walk along the lake going the other way, away from the town. The lake smells and is seriously contaminated, the huge piles of rubbish are piled up every 6 foot. We walked into the old-old bit of town, it looks like there was a lot of parties and clubs and nightlife, now it’s all abandoned like a creepy theme park, all except the Gardens and kids park was still maintained, that night I did yoga, you could easily tell who had done it before, I was not one of them. I was amazed to see how much flexibility I had lost since not going to the gym and pole classes. Afterwards I helped the Israeli girl get her very, very drunk unconscious boyfriend out of the toilets and into bed, he didn’t stay there long but at least we tried.

Thursday our guide came for us and took us back through the abandoned park to the little pier and we got a private tour just for us as it was low season. We went around all the little islands off the coast of Granada in Nicaragua lake, there is around 134 of them, most of the people who live there never leave, everyone moves with row boats, no running water, one bar with a TV. Most do have electricity, but Wi-Fi is a no go, and most make a living from fishing. Our guide took us to San Pablo Island, you could see back to Mainland Granada. There was a fort there that was built to protect Granada and we could see all the different animals that live in the lake,  such as bull sharks, turtles and alligator gar. He gave us lots of different fruits to try and flowers. There were lots of huge boulders dropped everywhere from when Massaya last exploded.


We got to try a lot more fruits and then went to another island with some very friendly monkeys and got to hand feed them. Saw lots of birds and sleeping bats and playing spider monkeys, it was a great trip, you also got free drinks which helped.

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That night there was a bar crawl that finished at the donkey so we didn’t sleep very much so had a very lazy day the next day. Jake got this awful sun hat which makes him look like a stereotypical American tourist, and I had a massage by the “seeing hands”. An organisation which gives blind people the opportunity to work.


That evening we went into the town of Massaya which we did not enjoy at all. Imagine an open sewer filled with mud and rubbish, people throw their waste into the middle of the street, dogs did their business and people spat everywhere all squashed into one small space. The people seemed quite hostile towards us too. We smiled and said hello, but did not get a single smile back. I was also very glad I wasn’t wearing sandals and exited fast, especially when we realise were being followed to be pickpocketed.

The last day we got up and finish packing, we had a game of giant Jenga before heading to the bus stop to get a bus down to the docks to get to Ompete Island which was our next stop. Really enjoyed Granada even though it felt like we didn’t do all that much. But I am on holiday, so I don’t need to.