Growing gills in Nicaragua: My first few weeks

My first 20 days in Nicaragua were a pleasant blur of oceans and lakes; beaches and lounge chairs; surfing and kayaking, boat rides and hours and hours of floating, frolicking and playing in the water. Throw in some particularly amazing new friends, sunshine, plenty of sunsets, a few new locations and you have the gist of my last couple weeks.

First Stop–San Juan Del Sur
Near to the Costa Rica border, the surfer/gringo favorite of San Juan del Sur makes a logical first stop. I immediately meet a great group of people with whom I spend my entire stay–a Dutch girl, an Australian guy and German guy. I celebrate my 26th birthday on the rightfully named Playa Hermosa, eating cake and napping on a lounge chair. Tired of the crowded dorms, the four of us move into an empty hostel and make it our own–invading the dorm, cooking dinner each night in the kitchen and ending every day with a swim in the pool. One day, I pretty successfully learn to surf. On another, we rent a boat and snorkel and fish–bringing our catch home and cooking it for dinner. A few nights we go out for drinks along the beach. On our last night we drink beer and play pool at the Black Whale, before heading back to our dorm and chatting, laughing and swimming into the early morning hours. Sadly, our group splits and heads north for Costa Rica, while myself and the German head north.

Celebrating my 26th on the beach in San Juan del Sur with some new friends

Celebrating my 26th on the beach in San Juan del Sur with some new friends

My San Juan del Sur gang, at our hostel, sitting down to a meal of sweet curry

My San Juan del Sur gang, at our hostel, sitting down to a meal of sweet coconut curry

Embracing the beach life

Embracing the beach life

Second Stop–Grananda
My travel companion and I spend 2 days in Granada. We kayak through a portion of Las Isletas, a breezy cluster of 365 islands in Lake Ometepe. Our flambouyant tour guide points out birds, and monkeys and gossips about the wealthy Nicaraguans who own homes on the islands. We eat a nice meal and share a few cervezas along the popular Calle La Calzada, then catch up on sleep in our particularly nice, comfortable hostel.

Taking in the views of Granada from a cathedral tower

Taking in the views of Granada from a cathedral tower

Kayaking along Las Isletas in Granada

Kayaking along Las Isletas in Granada

Pit Stop–Massaya and Laguna de Apoyo
We make the short chicken bus ride to Massaya, an important market city. We wander through the crowded maze of venders, shoe makers, barber shops, souviner shops, butchers, food stands and more at the endlessly facsinating Mercado Municipal, and make a loop though the touristy, and slightly overpriced old market. Before catching a bus back to Granada we check out the vibrant central plaza and wander down a few side streets, enjoying the sunday commotion.

After another night in Granada, I share a taxi ride to the nearby Laguna de Apoyo, a spectacularly peaceful crater lake. I spend the entire day on or in the impossibly clear, and perfectly cool water–kayaking, swimming, and lying in deadmans pose on the floating dock. These are easily some of the most relaxing few hours of my life. I nearly melt into a puddle of bliss. In the evening I gorge on fresh fish, and watch a lightning storm from the hostel deck. And in the morning, I awaken with the sun, thoughtlessly swim in circles and spend more time lying on the floating dock, before joining a few girls from my hostel who are heading to Isla de Ometepe.

Shoemakers in Massaya

Shoemakers in Massaya

Bagged resferescos--a common market treat

Bagged refrescos–a common market treat

Laguna de Apoyo--quite possibly one of the best swimming lakes I've ever encountered

Laguna de Apoyo–quite possibly one of the best swimming lakes ever.

Third Stop–Isla de Ometepe

We arrive in Ometepe, sweaty and tired, after a taxi, chicken bus, another taxi and a ferry ride. The girls give in to a tout at the dock who takes them to a run down, and completely empty building, which is supposedly a new hostel. For whatever reason, I would rather take my chances and try another place alone. I head to a cheap hotel near the dock. I have a delightful dinner with myself, stroll around town and spend some quality alone time reading and writing in my journal. I head back to the hostel with the intention of going to bed early and getting the early bus to the other end of the island. However, I meet a group of Norwegian guys, who’ve just checked in. One of them invites me to join in a game of cards on the rooftop terrace. I get on quite nicely with the guys, and will more or less spend the next two weeks travelling with them.

In the morning, we share a shuttle with a group of girls volunteering on the island. We are dropped off at a farm and hostel in the jungle. Pretty quickly turned off by all the white people with dreadlocks, dazed looking flower children making jewelry, buggy paths, and communal meals, we head down the road to a simpler, quieter spot. We stay here for two nights. Because of transportation difficulties on the island, we eat most of our meals at our hotel, which has a lackluster restaurant–for example serving spaghetti with ketchup instead of marinara–and for music plays only Nickelback and David Grey. One day we rent horribly maintained bicycles and ride down horribly maintained roads to a reserve on the other side. In the reserve, we take a moderate, though poorly marked, hike to a waterfall. We quickly cool off in the brisk water before hurrying back to our bikes and unsuccessfully making it back before sunset. Though we wouldn’t recommend the day’s activities to anyone, a generally nice time is had by all.

Having our share of bad food and music, we move to a much nicer cabana on Playa Santa Domingo, a lovely stretch of black sand beach on the infinite Lago de Ometepe. We swim in the lake, before walking to El Ojo de Agua–The Eye of the Water–a delightful spring-fed jungle swimming hole. We spend the afternoon, swimming, swinging on a Tarzan rope, reading and relaxing. After hitching back on a pickup, we take a dusk swim in the nearly placid lake, as the setting sun paints the sky and the clouds clear just long enough for perfect views of both the island’s volcanoes. As if the evening couldn’t get any better, we have a delicious dinner with lively conversation, and muchas cervesas. We continue the night in a beachside local bar. When they politely kick us out, we wander along the beach until someone suggests yet another swim. We leave 4 piles of clothing in the sandy moonlight and run into the warm water. The night ends late.

Enjoying Lake Ometepe at the calm part of the day, just before dusk, and a pretty spectacular sunset.

The black sand of Playa Santa Domingo

The black sand of Playa Santa Domingo

Swinging into El Ojo de Agua

Swinging into El Ojo de Agua

Return to San Juan del Sur
As I seem to be suffering from a serious bout of decision fatigue, and am unsure of where to head next, I join the boys for the weekend back in San Juan del Sur. We stay in a cliche backpacker hostel, in a crowded, and overly sunny dorm room with Israeli surfers and people who look like they’ve fallen in a black hole. We spend the next few days as everyone does in San Juan–frequenting bars named after animals, eating seafood, and catching beach shuttles. And like everyone else, we have a good time.

On our last day we return to Playa Hermosa, and relax in the perfect, breezy shade– frolicking in the lively sea whenever sweat forms over the brow. Nearing sunset, I walk along the flat and expansive beach–the ground beneath me moves as hundreds of tiny hermit crabs scury ashore and the sun makes its dramatic descent into the sea.

The next day we share a crowded cab to the airport to catch our puddle jumper to Big Corn Island–but more on that another time.

So far, Nicaragua does not disapoint…

How to spend a day at Playa Mederas

How to spend a day at Playa Maderas

Another San Juan del Sur sunset

Another San Juan del Sur sunset

See Also:
A Stop in Nicaragua’s Caribbean Paradise
Food & Place
Four Months in Central America: The Lowdown

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