When I was a kid I remember visiting Melaka (my mother’s home town) during the rainy season. In the late afternoon, the air would get thick, and a big fat drop of rain would go splat, right in front of me. Then there’d be another. And then another – this time smacking me on the face. I’d look up and the sky would be big and black and really mad. And all of a sudden everyone would quicken up, like someone had pressed the fast forward button. Mum would be yanking on my arm, hard, yelling at me to hurry up. The sky would split into two and all these sharp bits of rain would sting my skin. We were soaking by the time we got home. I loved all the excitement.
The rainy season in Central America goes from July through to September, give or take a month, depending on the region. Here in Nicaragua, October is the wettest month, probably due to the fact that it’s also hurricane season.
None of the countries I’ve visited are well equipped to receive the rain. The streets start flooding within minutes. Garbage gushes up from overflowing gutters. People start madly sweeping down the uneven footpaths. Traffic gets even more lawless. And anarchy reigns supreme.
And so there’s been a shedload of water of late. It chucked it down. For the whole 4 days we were in León.
So on Saturday, our first night – I found a vegetarian restaurant that supposedly did some good curries. Skye’s a pescetarian. And after 4 months of meat, rice & beans and plantains – I am really missing Asian flavours. We had an okay curry and a very salty chow mien. I would have been very unhappy with it back home. But you take what you can get, here.
After two days of being in transit, we were absolutely knackered – so we turned in early. We just took it easy over the next couple of days. Skye was still recuperating. I was just being lazy.
After 2 nights, we moved from the funeral parlour of a hostel we were staying at, to the far more atmospheric ViaVia a couple of blocks away. The front end of the hostel was a restaurant / bar which was frequented by locals as much as tourists. Behind the bar, was a lush tropical garden spotted with people dozing in hammocks and reading in rocking chairs. It was just lovely.
On Tuesday, we started the day at a French bakery around the corner. My croissant was perfectly crispy on the outside, and all fluffy & buttery on the inside … a truly simple pleasure that made me a very happy girl.
After running a few errands, we then set off to see the largest cathedral in all of Central America. It took more than 100 years to construct. The outside, blackened by years of grimey rain and city pollutants is a bit of eyesore, truth be told. But when you walk in – you are greeted by cool marbled floors, high vaulted ceilings, serenely sad statues, and imposing classical art in ornate golden frames…
We paid to access the cathedral’s roof via a skinny, dark & damp stairwell, to an old concrete expanse of gigantic active bell towers, larger than life statues (visible from the street below), perfectly formed concrete domes (the outties to the innies of the high vaulted ceilings below), and multiple levels with turreted walls.
The rain miraculously stopped for the time we were up there and so we were very fortunate to get amazing views of a fairly sprawling city, considering its relatively small population of 145k people. Beyond the city limits, we could see the Cordillera de los Maribios – a series of volcanoes to the noreast.
One of the reasons I had wanted to come here was to ‘surf’ one of those volcanoes. The first time I had heard you could do this, was when I stumbled upon a blogpost, while doing some preliminary reading about Nicaragua. Basically you haul your arse up an active volcano, they stick you in a space suit and off you go hurtling down course sandy black ash on a modified snowboard. People have been clocked doing close to 80km / hour. I thought that it sounded way fun. And terrifying.
Nursing a sizeable gash on my left knee that was still bleeding and seeping after a good 3 days (I had come-a-gutsa at the Brewery. While sober.) – I admit to feeling pretty nervous about the whole boarding thing. So i was very relieved to hear a few different people saying how it was a bit rubbish at the moment due to the heavy rains. That was enough for me to decide I wouldn’t do it here & now. Maybe another opportunity would present itself elsewhere. There’s plenty of volcanoes in these parts.
Later that afternoon, I took Skye to the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián – a gallery that LP deems ‘Nicaragua’s finest by a huge margin’. It is home to a lot of interesting contemporary works by Latin American artists. I loved it. I particularly dug the pieces by Nahum Flores. We spent a good couple of hours there and then went back to our hostel.
Sparkles had messaged me saying he was going to be in town that night. We met at ViaVia & caught up over drinks. His life had taken some interesting turns, to say the least. Among the stories he had to share with us, was how he’d fallen into diplomatic circles and was staying as a guest at an ambassador’s place, complete with staff, in Managua. He had come in a hire car. I teased him mercilessly about being a flashpacker and he took it on the chin with his usual good sense of humour.
The three of us fell into a restaurant called Manhattan which ended up being one of the best meals we’ve had in all of Central America. Proper Japanese! I was absolutely beside myself. The three of us scoffed down mountains of fresh sushi rolls of every description, some perfectly battered tempura vegetables, and a few yakitori sticks to boot.
The next day Sparkles went & did a couple of the sites. Skye and I waited for him in a cafe while it rained and rained and rained. We had convinced him to join us at the beach for a night and so off we all went in his lovely hire car. The car was a very basic Toyota Yaris and had done 65,000 clicks – but it felt like a goddamn limousine to Skye and I.
None of us really bothered to firm up a best plan of attack for get out of town & to the beach … and so naturally, we ended up heading in a mostly wrong direction. But we quickly worked out it was rectifiable in that we could take a right and we would be heading in the general direction of the coast. And so, at my behest, we took that right. My thinking being, we could get to the coast then follow the coastline to get to Las Peñitas. Works in Australia.
Anyways, it turns out the road we took wasn’t a proper road. And it wasn’t a short road. And it wasn’t a dry road.
It wasn’t too long before we came upon our first muddy puddle.
I did my best not to back seat drive as Sparkles plunged the car into muddy pool after muddy pool that got larger and deeper and at times, looked like they were going to engulf the tiny Yaris.
Mike had morphed from a self-styled James Bond, mixing with Nicaragua’s bourgeoisie, into the intrepid leader of Sparkle’s Safaris.
At one point, Skye & he got out of the car to test the depth of a particularly big muddy pool with rocks and sticks (all very scientific). I watched from the safety of the car.
We were discussing the feasibility of navigating through the muddy pool when a man driving a horse-drawn buggy stopped to encourage us to follow him on through the big muddy pool.
I just kept having flashbacks of having to push a van out of freezing cold, knee-deep, schleppy mud at Glastonbury and not really loving that experience very much at all.
The ‘road’ worsened.
We passed by a big salt factory called Salines Grandes. This is a miniscule dot in the guidebooks and is virtually non-existent on the tourist maps. For. A. Reason.
No one goes to Salines Grande.
Except for the workers who live in a shanty town of homes constructed from sticks and industrial black plastic, and very little else. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
This was so far off the beaten path, all we saw were skinny cows. A couple of fat boars. Some chickens. Lots of skanky dogs. A couple of jeep collectivos. A few dirt bikes. Lots of walkers. And no other cars.
Why? Because the road we took wasn’t a proper goddamn road.
We persisted and eventually hit a junction that I believed would take us to the beach. However, we would never find out. The rest of the road looked like a river.
Pissing ourselves laughing, we decided to turn back. All in all, this little ‘detour’ took us 2 hours. The beach is 19km from where we started.
We headed back to León, and started again.
Skye found the right road to take us there, and within 12 minutes – we were checked in to the very simple Quetzal Trekkers hostel with front row views to the Pacific Ocean. With its beautiful black volcanic sand, and wild wild seas. It was so nice to hear the sounds of waves crashing. It’s been such a long time since i’ve walked in white wash.
We spent the next couple of days doing little else but sleeping, reading and well … that was pretty much it. We said goodbye to Sparkles on Thursday and by Friday, we were on our way to the Cosigüina Peninsula. The possibility of hiring a dugout canoe had piqued our interest, and we heard about a place to stay called Rancho Tranquilo.
Not the name I would have picked for it.