A Travellerspoint blog

Riding waves

sunny 85 °F

San Juan del Sur is a small surf town. There are many surf shops and you see surfers walking around town with their boards all the time. Restaurants line the beach and cruise ships pull in there from time to time. The beach is pretty, kids play soccer all the time on the beach and many people hang out on beach chairs.
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Casa Oro is the famous hostel in town but when we got there there was some noisy construction going on and the dorms could be cleaner. We decided to head to the beach to stay at Matilda's. We met several travelers who recommended that place. San Juan del Sur is the biggest town in the area but the best beach to surf around there is Maderas. Casa Oro has daily shuttles to the beach and back so we hopped on the next one and were at Maderas by 5pm. There is only one hostel (more like a shack) on Maderas. It looked pretty dirty and uninviting.

Matilda's is the next beach over. A 15-minute walk on the beach. The recommendations were spot on. Matilda's is very cute, clean and inviting. In the center of the hostel there are several doghouses for rent. Think of a concrete human-sized doghouse. You open the screen door, crawl in and sleep.

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We were considering that cheaper option but they were full so we stayed at the "dorm" which ended up being a 3-bed room with a shared bathroom for an extra dollar. That room had mosquito nets above each bed but those things are so uncomfortable to sleep under and they block the little air the fan blows. So I decided to skip the net and before going to bed I spent 10 minutes squatting mosquitoes. Obviously I was never able to get them all and they ended up getting me while I was asleep. It was pretty hot the couple of nights I stayed there, not Granada hot but still pretty hot.

Early next morning we walked to Maderas and met Doña, our surf instructor. She's this little surfer girl from Nicaragua who gives surf lessons and when she's not she's surfing or making bracelets and other accessories. We spent a few minutes going over the basics on the beach then she said let's not waste any more time and let's hit the waves. The whole time she was smiling, giving words of encouragement and had positive energy. She was a great instructor who really wanted to see us do well. Getting on the board wasn't as hard as I thought. Timing the waves was the most difficult part. When she's standing with us she tells us when to start paddling and we would ride the waves pretty far but when shes not there it's a bit more challenging. At times the white water wasn't strong enough and she kept saying go further out. I joked around saying I'm gonna go join the pros on the big waves far out and she was like yeah do it, go for it. I don't think so!

While I was in the water I kept feeling this stinging sensation. I thought it was the threading on my board shorts and my shirt. When I got out I noticed that I had red marks on my body! After talking to a couple of other people some said the stings are baby jellyfish that are hard to spot and other said it was sea lice. Whichever it was it the sting marks looked like a hive of mosquito bites and they itched! I guess that was better than stepping on a stingray. During the lesson Dona told us to drag our feet in the water to scare away stingrays and not to step on one. One morning I found a beached stingray right in front of Matilda's. It looked a bit scary!

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The sunsets were incredible on the beach but after sunset there was absolutely nothing to do. There were two places to have dinner one behind the hostel and one at the front. The one at the back looks like a shack out in nowhere. A girl said the food there is very good but someone told her he got sick from eating there. She never got sick so we decided to go for it. The place didn't look terribly clean but the food wasn't bad. No one got sick.

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The place out in the front is even smaller. A shack with two tables only but it's right on the beach. That's where Luke and I had our thanksgiving dinner. The food there wasn't bad either and it was quite pleasant having dinner while hearing the soothing sound of the waves. After dinner there was nothing to do but lay in a hammock and read before going to bed.

After a couple of night of staying on the beach we decided to move back to town and just shuttle to the beach to surf during the day. We checked out several places in town. Many of them were either dark or smelly until we came across Chales. The place was clean, well lit and a private room with two beds, two fans and a private bathroom cost $6 a person only. The place was recommended to us by a couple of travelers we met in Merida.

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Posted by nawaf 08:25 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Nail showers

semi-overcast 85 °F
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The next day we decided to go to the San Ramón Waterfall. We were told it's an hour walk down the main dirt road then an hour hike to the base of the waterfall. A 4-hour semi-flat hike sounded relatively easy compared to the volcano hike. Half way down the road a group of people along with a guide got off the chicken bus and continued on foot towards the waterfall. Once we got there we paid the admission fee but noticed that the group continued past the entrance. We were told there was no other entrance so we didn't know where they were headed. We started or walk up to the base and luckily a tractor trailer was passing by so we flagged the driver down and jumped in the back. There was an Australian couple in there already. I guess they had the same idea. The tractor took us half way up and we had to continue the rest on foot. The trail wasn't clearly marked and at some point we had to walk up the river hopping on river rocks. The river was very shallow but it still didn't seem like the right way to the waterfall.

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And then all of the sudden we look up and this giant waterfall is right in front of us. The colors and the motion of the water were so vivid it looked like some computer generated scene from a fantasy movie or a video game. Once we saw the waterfall the climb got a lot easier. We just wanted to get to it. The waterfall spills into a tiny shallow pool about waist deep. We all got in and let the powerful water fall on us. In one spot the water was falling so hard it felt like someone was dumping a bucket of nail on your back. The water was cool and refreshing. We got out and sat facing the waterfall as we chatted with the Australian couple and a few others.

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Luke wanted to head back and the Australian couple decided to head back a bit later. On the way down we saw the group of people who skipped the entrance. I wonder if the guide was not an official guide who knows of a back path bypassing the park entrance fee. Whatever it was they definitely took a much longer way around! I bet they paid more and ended up taking a the long way. Once we were at the hostel it was the same routine again. Shower, eat, lay in the hammock and watch the sunset.

The Australian couple was staying at a nearby hostel and decided to join us later that evening with a couple of other friends. They couldn't wait to tell us about their hike down. They left 20 minutes after us and half way down a family of two adults and a little girl were running down as fast as they can, freaked out and the girl was pretty scraped up. When they got to them they told them how a local guy with a gun grabbed the mother and put her in a headlock as he waved his gun at them. The woman was trying to reach into her purse to give him her wallet but she was unable to. Somehow they all manage to escape and the started running. The little girl tripped, fell and got all scraped up. The story was a bit strange and things didn't quite add up. The couple was very credible and they said the family seemed genuinely freaked out. The only explanation is that the robber was hiding in the bushes as we made our way down and waited for an easy target. So far luck seems to be on my side with things like these happening right before or after I visit a place.

The next day we were on the side of the road waiting for the morning chicken bus. Our next destination was San Juan del Sur. We got on the bus headed to the boat dock. After a very bumpy 2 hours we were at the dock. The ferry wasn't going to leave for another three hours but there was a lancha leaving in 15 minutes. I decided to brave the seasickness and take the lancha instead to save time. Luckily the water was relatively calm and I had no problems being on this funny wooden boat for an hour. A short taxi ride and another chicken bus and we were going to be in San Juan del Sur.

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Posted by nawaf 12:30 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Muddy Maderas

overcast 75 °F
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There isn't much to do in Ometepe. The island is very underdeveloped and the dirt roads are in horrendous conditions. Most people hike or kayak around the island. Luke and I decided to hike a volcano and go to the waterfall. After talking to a number of people including local guides we decided to climb the smaller volcano, Vulcan Maderas an 8-hour round trip hike to the top.

Ometepe like other places in Nica was too hot. So we decided to start our volcano hike at 6am in order to beat the heat. The guide thought it was a good idea too. And of course there was a sign detailing what to do in case we wanted breakfast earlier than 6am. Talk to the kitchen and tell them what time you want breakfast the night before. Simple. Turns out that the rules never apply in our favor. We were told that the earliest we can get our breakfast is 6am. So much for the rules! No point in arguing so we took our breakfast at 6am and started the hike by 6:30am.

It was very early in the day and it was pretty cloudy so we never really felt the Nica heat that morning. about 30 minutes into our hike the guide told us to go ahead of him and that he was gonna catch up with us. Apparently his breakfast wasn't sitting too well and he had to take care of it in the bushes. Five minutes later he rejoined us feeling much better. We were told that the guides don't provide any information on the volcano or surroundings. Their job is to show us the way so we don't get lost. It's kinda strange walking with someone for 8 hours and not saying much. I don't think it was too hard for him since in my experience Nicaraguans are people of very few words.

Along the path we saw pipes delivering water to the island. Our guide picked a spot to rest by a creek. I watched him pull a tiny stick from the pipe. The stick plugged a hole in the pipe and the guides use that hole to wash their face. It functioned as a faucet. On top of the pipe we say an army of red ants carrying leaves that are three to four times their size. From a distance it looks like a trail of tiny leaves moving along the pipe.

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As we continued we saw the climate changing hour after hour. From a dry path with tall trees to a muddy, slippery path with short trees and roots crisscrossing the trail. Many of these strong roots acted as handles to help us climb some of the very slippery and tough spots. About two thirds of the way up we were in the cloud forest. You can see mist all around you and the temperature dropped to a cool comfortable temperature for a tough hike. On the way up a snake crossed right in front of us snaking its way across tree branches. Four hours later we were at the very top. The visibility was incredibly poor. The fog was pretty dense that we couldn't see the crater lake and since it was cold and we couldn't see much we did not descend down into the lake. We had lunch at the top, sat for a few minutes then made our way down.

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Half way down there was supposed to be a vista point but it was too cloudy that day that we could barely see the lake and we could not see Vulcan Concepcion at all. Bummer! The way down was faster but at times trickier. It's easier to climb a slippery path than to go down one. We eventually made it to the base of the volcano. Near the bottom we saw a group of howling monkeys. Some of them got a bit closer but none of them got too close.

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The base is incredibly green. It reminded me of these movies depicting drug trafficking in the jungles of central america or that scene from Predator where Arnie and the gang stand in the middle of the jungle and they all open fire at nothing and everything.

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When I got to the hostel I was covered in mud head to toe. Not our guide though! So the best thing to do at that point was to jump off the dock into the lake with all my clothes on and even my shoes. I swam for 15 minutes and my clothes were still dirty. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the refreshing lake water. I showered, got changed and then laid in the hammock for hours before I went to bed.

Posted by nawaf 12:09 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Rules!

semi-overcast 80 °F
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We arrive at Hacienda Merida and I was immediately pleased. The hostel is right on the lake with hammocks everywhere. The first thing that caught my eye was the writing on the walls. Now I've been to many hostels with graffiti and funky writings on the wall but this one was different. 75% of the writings were warning, rules and penalties! The way they were written makes it sound like they are talking to children. For example there's this one giant sign with a very very long condescending paragraph. When you read it you feel like you're being yelled at! The whole sign can be summed up to "Take off you shoes before you get in the hammock" too funny!

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Luke and I were really excited about the dinner buffet the first night. To our disappointment the number of guests that night didn't reach the minimum number required for a buffet. The next evening Luke asked how many guests there were that night. The minimum was reached. Wonderful! So Luke assumed there will be a buffet. When he asked the lady working there she laughed at him and walked away! Let's just say Luke wasn't too happy and started arguing with the lady about the minimum number of guests and what not. It was a losing battle and there was no buffet! The last night we were there the same lady came up to Luke and told him that there's a buffet tonight. Luke thought she was making fun of him but what do you know there was a buffet and it was good! We both ate a healthy amount. Well I definitely did.

Every evening around sunset many of the guests made their way to the dock, sat down and watched the sunset. The sunset there was one of the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen. The cloud formation, the colors, the water and duration.

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Posted by nawaf 10:18 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Transtrickery

semi-overcast 80 °F
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We got up at 6:30am to catch the bus and there they were. I guess Amanda managed to talk Lina into going to the lake. We set off knowing that it's going to be a long journey. We walked to the bus station and caught the first bus out to Rivas.

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Right before we get to Rivas the bus conductor asked us if we were going to the lake and he started counting all the gringos, about 12 of us, headed to the lake. It seemed pretty fishy to me and I was right. We were being set up. So the bus pulls over in the middle of the road and tells us that we have to take taxis here headed to the dock. We get off and there was exactly enough taxis to take us all. The three taxi drivers had agreed on a price. They wanted $2.50 per person which seemed expensive for the ride but we had no other option since we were in the middle of the road! We take the taxi and that's when I tell Luke and the girls that I think we were set up. I explained to them what happened and Luke remembered the conductor talking on his cell phone right after he counted us. He called the taxis! Oh well at least we ended up paying an extra $1.50 and not got robbed!

Next was getting on a boat headed to the island. The water looked pretty rough and we had two options. Take a lancha (small boat) leaving as soon as we got there for $1.50 or wait an hour for the "ferry" and pay $3. We opted for the ferry since the water didn't look very friendly. I get the worst case of seasickness so I was very happy with the decision. As we waited all these guys were coming up to us asking us if we wanted a taxi once we got to the island. We told them we'll be taking the chicken bus. All of them were telling us there were no buses on Sundays. Somehow that didn't seem believable. An hour later the ferry arrives. Let's just say the ferry can fit one truck and not that many people. It wasn't much bigger than the lancha!

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We headed to the ferry and asked the people that were getting off if there are buses running today and they said yes there are. We get on the boat and the first thing I noticed was Enrique Iglasies. They were playing his music videos, one after another! That got annoying pretty fast. I tried to sleep because that's how I deal with my seasickeness. I managed to pretty much sleep the entire time. Right before we get to the island I looked out and all I can see is a giant volcano in the middle of the water. What a beautiful sight.

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We get to the island and get off and we were immediately surrounded by taxi drivers. We make our way through pretty much ignoring them and telling them we're taking the bus. They stuck by their story that there are no buses just as a bus pulls in right behind them! Unbelievable!

We find out that the next bus that we need to take to go to our hostel leaves in 2 hours. Luke and I didn't mind hanging out in Moyogalpa while we wait for the bus. Amanda and Lina were going to stay at a different hostel so they have to take a different bus. The bus was going to cost $2 and the ride is about 2.5 hours to the other side of the island. We find a shuttle bus and got a group of people and negotiated a price for the entire group we managed to pay $5 a person for a private shuttle and it took us 1.5 hours. Not a bad deal!

Posted by nawaf 19:09 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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