Saturday, July 04, 2015


Sometime at the end of 2014, someone forgot someone's birthday. As a way to balance that out, we were on our way to Nicaragua with some insanely priced $150 tickets with our dearest friend Lindsay.

Las Peñitas

Our adventures got started at the airport. A random girl with that 'ultimate player look' walked up to me. I couldn't remember her. It was KLS' teammate from masters nationals. We had sat next to her on the flight back from nationals the week before and she recognized my hat. KLS had no idea that she was also going to Nicaragua for a surf camp, let alone on the same flight. We made plans to meet up later that week. When we landed at 2am, we walked out into a sauna. KLS and her planning ways smartly booked us into a hotel across the airport.

They had air conditioning to sleep in and an amazing breakfast to gorge on. Once that was done, we started playing the gringo price game with taxis. We walked a bit away from the airport and flagged someone down. We found a super friendly guy and were on our way to the bus station. However, we ended up negotiating a price to get a ride all the way to the coast. While it was a little more expensive, this vacation wasn't one where we had time to spend so we spent the money.

The view from our house in Las Peñitas.

Las Peñitas was a sleepy little town on the coast where we did sleepy little things. It was so sleepy, I think we even struggled to scrounge up food to eat. We loaded up at a little market where you asked the vendor to hand you whatever you wanted. Then, it was back to strolling along the beach.

A map of our wanderings.
The view from Cerro Negro.

After a couple low key days, our next stop was a bit more adrenaline inducing. We hiked up the ridges and rim to the summit of Cerro Negro, an extinct volcano. On the way, the wind was blowing so hard that the you could easily lean into the wind and not fall over. The situation was made worse by carrying up wooden 'sleds' that were likely to try and lift you up if you held them at the wrong angle. The sleds were for getting back down the mountain in a hurry.

Kin-Ling tries to turn right turn while volcano boarding down Cerro Negro.

 After a forty-five minute hike up, we were given sled suits to protect our skin, goggles to keep pebbles our of our eyes, gloves to pretend to steer with, and about five minutes of instructions that amounted to try to use your hands to steer and use your feet to slow down, but not too much because you'll flip. Buena suerte (good luck).

We all made it down without incident, but we were left picking lava sand out of our hair for the next couple days. However, not everyone was so lucky. When we looked backup at another group we saw some people coming down 1.5x-2x faster than us because they oiled their sleds. We also saw a couple wipe outs.
Cerro Negro survivors.

Ferries to Ometepe?

After our sledding adventure, we went into Leon to get a bite to eat with our guide at some wonderful local place. Then, we managed our way to Rivas to get a ferry to Ometepe. We got in real late, missed the ferry, and checked into the only hotel we could find. Along the way, we found another theme to our trip. There were a lot of conversations started based around trying to sell us things we didn't want and negotiating for non-tourist prices for the things we did want. I hate haggling. It was hot. I got cranky. On the other hand, Lindsay shined with her ability to talk and make friends with anyone. Even when the conversation was started just to sell us an overpriced ride that veered on blatant scam, Lindsay took it in stride and turned the conversation into something more positive. Amazing.

The next morning, we were off to Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua that was formed from two volcanoes.

Volcano Concepción, one of two major volcanoes that make up Ometepe

Standard boarding procedures on the public bus, Ometepe.

When we arrived at Ometepe, our airbnb directions were failing us badly. For the life of us, we could not figure out what was going on. We eventually found a little internet cafe with a modem connection that forced us to turn off the images on websites to even have a full web page load. As it turns out, there are two different boat terminals on Ometepe and we went to the wrong one. Just before we figured this out, we saw the not very frequent island bus drive by so we set off on foot with all our gear. The bus caught up to us long before we made it the 12km to the other terminal. When the bus did, we didn't use the door at the front. We were comically hauled into the back and were moving before the door was even closed behind us.

Ometepe - Ceiba (Silk Floss) Tree. There is a Nicaraguan myth that the dead climb these spikes to ascend to heaven.

Ometepe - insect carcasses

Waiting for sunset on Punta Jesús María, Ometepe

After we finally arrived at our blissful airbnb, we explored town a bit and went for a sunset stroll to Punta Jesús María. It was beautiful and peaceful. We saw tons of funky bugs and vegetation on the walk over there. The next day, we were off on scooters to explore more of the island. We went to a Charco Verde national park with howler monkeys and a single wild horse. We found Ometepe's very own version of Denver's Casa Bonita. While the front of the 'restaurant' had a giant menu, as far as we could tell, it was just someone's house with a picnic table in the back overlooking the water. We literally walked through the house, past the washer and dryer, to get the picnic table. After lunch, we walked right down to the beach from the picnic table.

Howler monkeys in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

Green lizard in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

More 'wildlife' in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

Lindsay and KLS.

Lindsay took many photos of dung beetles and other bugs.

An overlook in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

A butterfly in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe.

Playa San Fernando, Ometepe where we were told not to swim due to the cow pies.

Volcano Maderas, Ometepe on the western side of the island.

After strolling on the beach, we lounged at Ojo de Agua, a natural cold spring for swimming and escaping the heat. We swam. We drank out of coconuts. We watched people fall off a slack line (tight rope) and make huge splashes in the water. Lindsay even managed to find her very own nest of little leech like critters. She is very friendly and they really wanted to go with her. Finally, we also figured out that we have no idea how fix a scooter with a dying battery. That scooter got left behind.

Ojo de Agua, Ometepe - a natural cold springs swimming hole

Next up on our adventures was the surf town, San Juan del Sur. All the guidebooks rave about it, but it turned out to be our least favorite place. While we had some fun adventures, it felt like a small tourist party town, which wasn't quite what we were looking for. On the plus side, KLS and I had a great surf lesson. She stood up pretty quickly while I fell all about the place and chafed the inside of my leg by squeezing the surf board. We had an hilarious table hopping dinner on the beach with Maella, that had to be moved under the roof due to rain, then almost back out to the beach when the rain stopped, then back inside, then to a bigger table, and then I think to one last table. We finished up our time in San Juan del Sur with a lot of good food and a tree top tour that we normally wouldn't have gone because it was 'too touristy', but KLS sold us on it. It was a hoot and we even got see sloths and hold lizards.

Lindsay invokes her inner great ape on our tree top tour.

Lindsay makes a lizard face or maybe the lizard is making a Lindsay face

The final stop on our vacation was Granada, a small city of 125,000 people with a strong colonial history. We were only here for a day visit before heading the rest of the way to Managua for our red eye flight back to Houston. We explored the waterfront, roamed the markets, wandered into an artists' enclave, explored the local architecture, and mostly importantly watched Lindsay make friends with locals.

KLS' new friend in Granada

Iglesia de Guadalupe, Granada

KLS's favorite, buying fruit in Granada

A museum courtyard in Granada

Buying pottery in Granada

Lindsay's market friend.

A random street in Granada

KLS buys something for friend's kid in the Granada markets.

. . . and that was our trip. I was a bit tired, we were a bit rushed, KLS was energetic, and Lindsay continues to be one of the most amazingly friendly people we know. Nicaragua was fun. We'd go again.

As always, we finish with KLS consuming food (at Ojo de Agua, Ometepe)