Category Archives: Nicaragua

2015 Nicaragua Post 7 – final

2015 Nicaragua Post 7 – February 18 – 25 , Leon, Las Penitas, Leon Viejo

Line of retirees and disabled waiting to pick up their pension on the 20th of the month. Cash only.

Line of retirees and disabled waiting to pick up their pension on the 20th of the month. Cash only.

Harvesting mangrove from the Selva Negra Reserve. Supposedly only dead trunks are harvested. But there were multiple loads a day coming out of the reserve.

Harvesting mangrove from the Selva Negra Reserve. Supposedly only dead trunks are harvested. But there were multiple loads a day coming out of the reserve.

Making our selection at the Leon bakery.

Making our selection at the Leon bakery.

Momotombo volcano in the distance past Lake Managua. The eruption in the 1600s buried the original Leon town which had been recently relocated because of earthquakes.

Momotombo volcano in the distance past Lake Managua. The eruption in the 1600s buried the original Leon town which had been recently relocated because of earthquakes.

Sunset over the Pacific at Las Penitas. The dawns were also spectacular with the volcanoes and the shore slowly being illuminated.

Sunset over the Pacific at Las Penitas. The dawns were also spectacular with the volcanoes and the shore slowly being illuminated.

 

Deni Posting – We didn’t find the time to do a posting about the rest of our time in Leon or our final days at the beach. We’re home now. I’ll summarize a bit and then give you some overall thoughts about Nicaragua.

We spent a total of five days in Leon. It was definitely our favorite place in Nicaragua, although it was very hot. One of the most amazing things we saw in Leon took place just down the block from our hostel. We were heading out to explore, and we noticed that the cross street was blocked off and there was a huge line of folks heading into a building. We learned that on the 20th of each month throughout the country, pensioners have to line up to receive their pensions. Because so few people in Nicaragua have bank accounts, there is no such thing as automatic deposit. And I guess mailing checks could be very problematic. So, all these old people have to line up and wait in the hot, hot sun. The line moved very slowly. As people were processed, more people kept coming to join the line. The reception guy at the hostel told us that folks start lining up the night before – sort of like people in the U.S. line up to get tickets to a concert. The processing goes on for several days. It’s just a terrible thing for elderly people to have to go through. I hope Nicaragua can figure out some way to show more respect to their seniors.

We spent our last four days in Las Penitas on the Pacific coast. It’s only about 20 minutes away from Leon, so the place really rocks on the weekend. We stayed in a nice hotel (for Las Penitas). Our room had an ocean view and an ocean breeze at night, which we very much appreciated.  We didn’t do much there. The major attraction is surfing – not something we wanted to try!!! One day we hired a guide with a boat to take us into the mangrove nature reserve. That was fun.  I had a run-in with the Pacific. I was being very careful to walk well above the water line as we were going out to a point to see the sunset. A sneaker wave came in; grabbed me; shook me around; tore the sandals I was carrying out of my hands; and ripped my hat, sunglasses, and glasses off. The sandals were OK, but my glasses were long gone. Thank goodness I wasn’t carrying our camera or a cell phone and that I wasn’t hurt. But I’m very annoyed with the ocean for stealing my glasses.

On our way back to Managua to get our flight home, we stopped off at Leon Viejo, the original location of Leon. The original city was hit my numerous earthquakes; in 1610 the inhabitants decided to relocate and moved to the city’s current location. Subsequently the city was buried in ash from the nearby volcano, Momotombo. In the 1960s archeologists started to excavate. They no sooner got a lot of the place uncovered than the country was rocked by hurricanes that covered a lot of it up again. So, it was back to digging. There’s a museum there that does a good job of telling the city’s story. It’s no Machu Picchu or Tikal, but it’s interesting and there was a beautiful view of Momotombo.

We spent our last night in Nicaragua at a Best Western Hotel with two pools, a bar, and a restaurant. The hotel is directly across from the airport, which made it very nice and very convenient. It was clean! It had air conditioning! The food was good! It was a nice place to end the trip. (Although the journey to the hotel through Managua at rush hour with a failing GPS was not so great – oh well, we got there.)

Here are our final thoughts about Nicaragua.

  1. Nicaragua has been described as just like Costa Rica only less expensive. We know it’s less expensive – that’s why we went there. But, based on our experience and the experience of other travelers we’ve talked to, it ain’t no Costa Rica. Nicaragua still hasn’t quite decided whether it really wants to be in the tourist business. The lack of good roads into the nature reserves; the poor service in some restaurants; the unfriendliness of many Nica; the poor or non-existent signage; and the water, air, land, and noise pollution all need to be dealt with before we would recommend it without reservation to other travelers – especially older folks.
  2. There are things to do – but not a lot of active things if you’re over 40. Surfing, both ocean and volcanoes (!!), is a big attraction for the backpacker set. And there are many inexpensive surfing schools on both coasts. Beyond that – not so much. We did enjoy Somoto Canyon; we recommend contacting Reinel through Hotel Rosario in Somoto. He was a great guide. But the canyon and the mangroves out of Las Penitas were the only two reserves that we could easily access. We noticed many young folks sitting around hostels trying to figure out how to get into the reserves without a 4-wheel drive or spending money to go with a tour group. We love to hike and were not able to find many hiking opportunities, other than the trails in Selva Negro, a private reserve.
  3. The whole issue of the Chinese canal should be taken into consideration if you plan on going to Nicaragua. The farmers and ranchers in the area the canal is going to go through have staged several protests. When we left, they had embargoed their products and were not supplying the cities with meat and produce. The government has sent newly trained soldiers (kids with guns) into the area – essentially to protect the Chinese and their investments from the Nica. We see no way this can end well unless the whole scheme is shelved.
  4. A word about expenses. Yes, the list price of things is low. But you have to add 15 percent tax to everything – food, services, etc. A tip of 10 percent in restaurants is the expectation. So, a lobster dinner that is $12 on the menu is really $15 – still a deal, but that needs to be taken into consideration.
  5. If you are a volcano nut, Nicaragua is the place for you. We were blown away (no pun intended) by the volcanoes. We’re from the Pacific Northwest, so we know volcanoes. But ours are covered in snow and are sleeping (except for Mt. St. Helens, of course). The Nicaraguan volcanoes are younger than ours and are very active. Seeing smoke pouring out of some of them is super cool.
  6. If you want to head south and have a choice between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, go to Costa Rica if you want to see animals and if expense isn’t a big issue. If you want to see volcanoes and not spend a lot of money, go to Nicaragua. If you want to go someplace spectacular, friendly, and easy to travel in, go to Colombia, which continues to be our favorite place in Central and South America.
  7. Our recommendations for places to stay: Managua – Backpackers Hostel, Masaya – stay at San Simian at Laguna de Apoyo and make Masaya a day trip to see the market (which is just OK) and the volcano, Granada – Hostel El Momento, Rio San Juan – Sabalos Lodge, Matagalpa – La Buena Onda, Somoto – Hotel Rosario, Leon – Lazybones Hostel, Las Penitas – Hotel Suyapa, Managua Airport – Best Western.
  8. Best food – The Deni Cooperrider Best Food in Nicaragua Award goes to the fish tacos (fish steamed in cabbage leaves) at Casa de Huesped Chinandegano in El Castillo. In Matagalpa ask Stein at La Buena Onda for directions to the best ice cream in Nicargaua. Also in Matagalpa there is great seafood at El Pescamar ( with a no smoking room!!!) and good Italian at La Vita e Bella. In Leon, El Sesteo on the central square has good food although it’s a bit expensive. Also in Leon we really liked Yavoy for its huge salads.
  9. How to make the Nicaraguan national cocktail, the Macua: 2 parts white rum (usually Flor de Cana), 2 parts guava juice, 1 part lemon, sugar to taste. Serve on the rocks. A very good thing.
  10. A final word. Lonely Planet has proven to be a reliable guide to many of the places we’ve gone. The Nicaragua book was a disappointment. Directions were not always accurate, and information was often incomplete or just wrong. Be aware.
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2015 Nicaragua post 6

2015 Nicaragua post 6 – Observations

So, this is Deni with some observations and general stuff. We’re spending a lot of time in Leon because we really like the city, and there are lots of things to do. We get a slow start every morning, spend a couple hours doing churches and museums, have lunch, visit a few more things, and then come back to the Lazybones Hostel, get in the pool, have have a little wine/beer, maybe play some Scrabble or Yatzee (I’ve totally creamed Coop yesterday and today), and then go to dinner. It’s a hard life.

Hostels: Generally speaking hostels are divided into party hostels and more quiet ones. We always check out the hostel situation anyplace we go in a foreign country. A good inexpensive hostel is usually better than an inexpensive hotel. Generally. The thing about hostels is, they are full of young travelers from all over the world. This is usually great – we’ve met so many young folks from all over  and have enjoyed hearing about their lives and adventures. But the other day we experienced the downside of hostels. We were all sitting around the pool in the late afternoon, just chilling and chatting, when suddenly it was like an invasion. A Canadian backpacker tour group (there were 17 of them, but it seemed twice that many) descended on us. They poured into the hostel, dumped their backpacks and dirty shoes on the floor, and jumped into the pool. Quite a shock!! Eventually they calmed down a little, but those of us who had been here for awhile were very taken aback. Have to say that when they came back from dinner later, they were quiet and didn’t cause a problem for all of us already in bed. But in the morning, vomit was discovered in two of the sinks used by the dorm dwellers (we have a private room with private bath). I hunted down the tour leader who is probably all of 25 years-old and told him he had a teachable moment here. These young folks were doing the “Free-and-Easy Tour” because they are not seasoned travelers and they all wanted to travel in a group their first time out and about. I suggested that they need to know that it just isn’t cool to barf all over and leave it for some poorly paid cleaner to clean up. Not Cool! The leader agreed. He called the group together, explained the issue, and they got the mess cleaned up. (I was in total Mom/Grandma mode. But darn it, if these kids are going to travel the world, they need to have some respect for others.) One of the maids and I had a laugh over the invasion. With her Spanish and my English we agreed it had been tranquillo and then – BOOM! 

The TV is on as I write this. Suddenly I hear, “Salem, Oregon,” and it’s a story about a crazy owl in Bush’s Pasture Park that’s attacking people. Guess Salem had a naming contest, and he’s now known as Owl Capone. So strange to hear this oddness from home here.

Something that is hard to get used to is the large number of young travelers, mostly European, who smoke. What’s up with that? Oh, we’ve also been surprised at the large number of folks both young and old all over Nicaragua from British Columbia.  Lots of fun talking with them.

Food: It’s true that you can eat very inexpensively in Nicaragua. But sometimes the cheap food is not so wonderful. We’ve had to eat at more tourist-type restaurants in order to find something more than the inevitable rice, beans, plantain, and chicken. Here are some of the best food we’ve had so far: Matagalpa did a good job – gourmet ice cream, lobster with garlic for $12, and  wonderful spaghetti carbonara (not an easy dish to get right). I already mentioned the amazing fish tacos in cabbage leaves in El Castillo. I’m going to try to find a recipe and reproduce it at home. I’ve enjoyed the two Nicatamales I’ve had – very tasty. I had a really good vegetarian spaghetti dish out at the coast when we went on our coastal hotel exploration trip the other day. And Leon has a some good restaurants where we’ve been having salads, tacos, and a sort of squash soup (our waiter had a lot of fun learning the word “squash.”) We also had a good meal at the Leon market. The chicken and pork was cooked on big grills – very tasty. Another yummy thing at the market is the cacao and milk blended with ice and seasoned with cinnamon.

The Worst: Spaghetti carbonara at a restaurant here in Leon. Excuse me, spaghetti carbonara is not spaghetti with chunks of bacon and cheese sauce poured all over it. In Ocotal, I had a quesadilla that was beyond bad and some “natural” juice that tasted like bubblegum soap. In San Carlos I had a chicken salad that wasn’t bad – just strange. The meat was hot, there was no lettuce, and the whole thing was swimming in a sort of mayonnaise dressing. In general, the cheaper meals come with tons of carbs – rice, beans, plantain, tortillas, and yucca. Many of the Nica are overweight as a result.

Animals: The poor cart horses in the cities make me very sad. Their ribs are showing and they just plod along so sadly. The cattle horses and oxen in the rural areas are in much better condition. There are lots of stray dogs in bad condition throuhout the country, but also many who are well-loved family members. And there were cats in Somoto that looked like they would have welcomed a little more food, but seemed to be in good enough shape and were part of the life of the hotel where we stayed.

One of the other reasons we’ve spent so much more time than we’d planned here in Leon is that the people are friendly. They actually make eye contact and smile! As we were walking through a residential area today, a family sitting in front of their house greated us. We took pictures of the mom and baby and shared a banana with the baby who gave us a two-toothed grin. That’s the sort of interaction  we’ve been used to in Africa and Bangladesh. Were glad to find it here. When we got back to the hostel, we were further touched by Nica kindness. The cleaning staff had prepared a “surprise” for us in our room as you can see in the picture. So sweet and so unexpected.

We’ll do another posting later detailing some of the things we’ve seen in Leon. But that’s it for now. Tomorrow we say goodbye to our friends here at Lazybones and go to Las Penitas, a twenty minute drive from here. We found a nice little hotel and our room has a view of the Pacific. Looking forward to it.

Bob and Deni Cooperrider blog

2015 Nicaragua post 5 – picture album from Leon

A few introductory pictures from Leon Feb 15 – 17. We’ll post more from here in a couple of days before we head to the beach for a final four days in Nicaragua.

2015 Nicaragua post 4

2015 Nicaragua post 4 – February 13 – 17 – Somoto, Ocotal, Leon

Deni Posting – This entire trip has been interesting because we’ve been comparing Nicaragua to Colombia – and poor Nicaragua hasn’t been doing well in comparison. The biggest difference has been in the attitude of the people. The Colombians were just so happy to have us visiting their country – I’ve spoken before about people coming up to us on the street and thanking us for visiting their country. That generally has not been the response here. People have not been actively rude, but most have not been very welcoming. That changed once we got to Somoto, and here in Leon things seem a bit better. But other travelers we’ve spoken with agree that the Nica do not seem happy that tourists are here. And oh my gosh, the service in restaurants is so slow. When Coop remarked to his server that 45 minutes seemed a long time to wait for lunch, she shrugged and said, “It’s Nicaragua.” I’m sorry, that just seems a really poor excuse. Oh well, things have improved, so I’ll bring you up to date.

We left Maltagalpa on the 12th. On the way out of town we stopped at the grave of Benjamin Linder. I was very saddened – tears were shed, which surprised me. But I remember when he was killed, and I remember when his mother testified before Congress and was so poorly treated. And here was his grave, in a foreign country – not in the Foreigners’ Cemetary but in the National Cemetary. And there were weeds on his grave, and it all just seemed so sad and pointless. So, of course, I cried.

On our way to Somoto, we came down from the mountains, through coffee coutry and into tobacco country in the valley and back up again into the mountains and more coffee. When we got to Somoto we were pleasantly surprised. It’s a small town with a lovely central square and lots of quiet. Quiet is something we had been craving – everyplace we’d been to that point was so darn noisy with traffic, horns, blaring music, and loud conversations. Somoto has a population of 37,000, and would not be a place for tourists to go if it were not for the nearby canyon, which was “discovered” by two Czech scientists in 2003. Of course, the locals knew it was there; it was no surprise to them! Huge granite cliffs rise from source of the Rio Coco. We spent three nights in Somoto. The second day we went with a wonderful guide into the canyon. He described the trip as “walk, boat, walk, iswim, walk, swim.” Coop explained that the broken rib issue would make swimming a problem. No big deal – instead of swimming when we came to that part of the hike, we were plopped onto innertubes and pulled along by a young man. It was great fun and very beautiful. I was able to do some swimming, which I enjoyed a lot. Our guide said that his favorite people to guide are Canadians and Americans because they are so easy going. He said the Germans are too intense and the Nica complain all the time. Very interesting observation. The whole trip was only $20 each – the taxi from town to the canyon, the boat, the innertube journey, and back to town. What a bargain.

The next day we drove north to several towns to see what we could see. Ocotal was fun because the church was having a festival to celebrate something or other. There was a bounce house for the kids, and church members and nuns were selling tacos and such. Very cool. Ocotal has a place in history that had implications for the US and Nicaragua. In 1927 Sandino began his guerrilla war, attracting mostly farmers and indiginous prople. This came to the attention of the US and raised concern. So more than 2,000 US marines arrived with a treaty and demanded the surrender of the Liberal and Sandino forces. The Liberals gave up, but not Sandino. His forces attacked the marines in Ocotal. The US responded with aerial bombing, making Ocotal the first city in history to be bombed by fighter planes.  Gosh!

We went further north to Ciudad Antigua, which as the name implies, is an old town. It was founded by an Englishman in 1536 and suffered attacks from indigenous groups for a century. In 1654 it was sacked by pirate Henry Morgan. It has a famous church and not much else. By this time I was feeling a bit wonky. We headed back to Somoto and stopped for a not very good lunch in Ocotal. By the time we got back to our hotel I was super sick – much throwing up all night. I was well enough on Monday for our drive to Leon, but still feeling a little punk. I feel much better now.

Leon – oh my goodness. We love it. It’s freakin’ hot – coming down into the heat from the mountains was a real shock. But the city is beautiful, there are many things to see (churches, museums, a botanical garden), and the people seem a little friendlier. We are in a wonderful hostel with a swimming pool. It was great to go out exploring the city today and come back and take a welcome swim. Very refreshing. Tomorrow we plan to crank up the toaster and head to the beach, about 20 minutes from town. Our current plan is to stay here in Leon until the 20th and then spend the rest of time in Nicaragua out at the beach – if we can find a good place to stay there, which is part of our goal for tomorrow.

Time for bed – more later.