After another “Gong Show” at the border from Honduras to Nicaragua we headed straight for the hills around Matagalpa.
Although I remember watching the news about the war in Nicaragua years ago, Sandinistas and Contras, Oliver North and CIA, it was always just another one of those uprisings one gets used to hearing about somewhere in the world. Hiking in the mountains and valleys of the northern highlands of Nicaragua, it is hard to imagine that this was where the Sandinistas and Contras (fueled by the CIA) had their clashes. The losers were the campesinos that live there and try to make a living with what little they have.
The area has a nice climate and lots of agriculture, Bananas, Coffee and Cocoa beans. We passed a familiar sign: “Ritter Sport”, Swabian (German) chocolate, Günter loves their “Rum-Trauben-Nuss“. Ritter buys much of the high-quality, organically cultivated cocoa here, it grows in only a few areas of the world.
We drove to San Ramon and on higher into the mountains, it was late afternoon, people, horses and cows where on the dirt road. Several people carried instruments and were headed to a gathering, I would have loved to follow and hear them play. But alas, we had to find Finca Esperanza Verde where we planned to spend the night. We were lost for a while but that made it even more interesting. After stopping and talking to the locals a few times (who were very friendly) we finally we turned around and eventually found the right road.
The finca is an organic coffee farm at around 1200 m. It was cool and the air was fresh and clean. The banana and papaya trees are grown to provide shade for the coffee plants, visitors are free to help themselves to bananas, they are everywhere and also an important food source for the animals in the forest. We camped right in the parking lot and had great views of the valleys beyond, the cloud forest and the sunsets. A very special place with many birds, plants and welcoming owners and crew. They maintain trails throughout the property, these trails are also used by the local people and it is fun to meet them and talk to them. We sent an email to our friends Vroni and Michael, they (and we) had been suffering from the heat in the lower elevations. Two days later they showed up as well and we had a great time hiking and relaxing in the cloud forest. The birds are plentiful and with any luck you see a sloth hanging on a branch.
Vivian, the owner, plans to level out a grassy patch on the property so she can accommodate campers in the future. The tap water is potable, you can fill your tank and jugs.
We left for some “volcano time”, hiked around the crater of Masaya volcano, saw the green parrots that somehow are able to live on the crater walls without being harmed by the noxious fumes and enjoyed the expansive views.
We swam in the crater lake Apoyo and stayed in the Paradiso hostel (parking lot), and we toured the beautiful city of Granada and drank ice cold pinolillo.
Always trying to escape the stifling heat and humidity. Ometepe island in Lake Nicaragua promised relieve, we read that the eastern shore has a pretty steady breeze. And so it was, hot but nice wind to cool the skin and keep the bugs off. Swimming in the lake was nice, it is quite warm.
Lake Nicaragua, despite being a freshwater lake, has sawfish, tarpon, and (bull)sharks. It had been presumed that the sharks were trapped within the lake, but this was found to be incorrect when it was discovered that they were able to jump along the rapids of the San Juan River (which connects Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea), almost like our salmon in Alaska do.
The lake is in trouble though. Here a news clip from the Tico Times:
January 2015. According to documents from the Chinese company HKND Group, 106.8 kilometers of the planned interoceanic Grand Canal of Nicaragua will go through Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater body in Central America.
The World Bank calls this lake the “Galapagos of Central America” because of its great biological diversity. The canal – if it is ever made – will enter the lake from the west – south of San Jorge – then cross the lake four kilometers to the south of the volcanic island of Ometepe. It then will hit the eastern shore eight kilometers south of San Miguelito.
The shipping channel in the lake must be 29 meters deep and 280 meters wide so that the largest container ships, bulk carriers and oil tankers in the world can use it. However, Lake Cocibolca is shallow. There are some deep areas, but on average, the lake is no deeper than nine meters. For that reason, HKND plans to dredge 715 million cubic meters of material from the bottom of the lake, possibly the biggest dredging job ever. In comparison, all dredging and excavating in the 100-year history of the Panama Canal has removed a total of 550 million cubic meters of material.
I hope this will never happen.
Horses and cows were brought to the lake every day by the farmers, and occasionally the pigs would come by. I found it interesting that a certain form of fishing for sardines in the lake was done by women and children.
We rode out bicycles to Ojo de Agua, a spring with fresh cool water, great for swimming. (They allow camping!) Günter rode around Maderas volcano while I went half way and then explored the petroglyphs.
Frequent thunderstorms told us that the rainy season is just around the corner.
Our laundry bag got heavier and heavier, no chance to get it washed, because of the high humidity it would never get dry. So we checked in the iOverlander app and decided to go to a finca on the other side of the border, in Costa Rica. There – we knew – is a nice Swiss couple and a washing machine.
Recommended reading on Nicaragua:
The Jaguar Smile by Salman Rushdie
The country under my skin by Gioconda Belli
Blood of brothers by Stephen Kinzer
@Re: Camping on Playa Santa Domingo
There is a home made sign on the northern part of Playa Santo Domingo that says that you are prohibited from driving on the beach. We drove on to Playa Santa Cruz where there was access and no sign. This access is also used by locals that drive to the beach to swim and picnic. We talked to one farmer on horseback and asked if it was ok for us to park our camper on the beach and he told us ” of course, stay as long as you like”.