- Leon – Managua – Granada
- Apoyo Crater Lake
- Masaya town
- Masaya volcano
After a two horrendous, hungover bus journeys in the blistering heat, we arrived in the central square of Granada. Immediately this town struck us as being more beautiful than Leon as it was full of charm, colour and character. We walked the few blocks to our hostel, passing market stalls and friendly faces, and arrived at Oasis mid-afternoon, dying to get in the pool and out of our sweaty clothes (sweat is becoming a very common theme, I know).
The relief provided by our pool dip was short-lived as we realised it wise to go explore the town since our time was limited. The heat of the day was still relentless but we powered on through and stumbled across some gorgeous, brightly-coloured buildings, cute market stalls and vintage shops, a lovely ice cream stand where I devoured a strawberry yoghurt sorbet cone, and also spoke to a few tour guides to get an idea of prices for the tours we wanted to go on there.
The last guide we spoke to told us that the Lake Nicaragua (approximately the size of Jamaica) was only a short walk from where we currently were. Since it was approaching sunset we wondered down to suss it out and could see Las Isletas off in the distance. These are a group of hundreds of small islands about 1km offshore of mainland Nicaragua and full of animal treasures and indigenous people. The looked good from the shore too!
Once back at the hostel and knackered from our heavy previous night, we took showers and decided the only way to go was off for sushi! Lucky for us there was an Asian restaurant right opposite our hostel. Aside from the food being excellent (we shared a rainbow vegetable sushi roll and cream cheese and salmon sushi roll), the experience was quite entertaining. We had a call button to push for service and made friends with the American/Australian elderly couple beside us who’d lived in the area for the last 14 years.
The next morning we planned to head out to the nearby market town of Masaya. This town is known for two reasons: 1) its market and collection of Nicaragua’s finest art and artesans, and 2) its active volcano. We caught a chicken bus out to the town, loaded on with a million and one other people, arriving in the centre of a giant fruit and veg market the other end. Our maps told us it was a 2km walk down to the market so we aimlessly roamed the streets in that rough direction for an hour or so to explore the town.
We didn’t actually think too much of the market so continued on down to the lake instead. Well, what we though was the lake we were after. Turns out we’d actually walked along to the Masaya Lagoon and were not in the crater lake we’d expected. However, the park here was hosting a giants children’s birthday party and was a lot of fun to watch for a while, whilst we demolished a giant packet of cheetos!
Once we’d had enough, we hailed and cab and set off to the actual volcanic crater lake, Lago de Apoyo. The cab dropped us at Paradiso hostel as advised by our hostel in Granada and we wondered down to the beach to join all the other hostel goers enjoying what the lake had to offer. It was B-E-A-utiful and just what we were after. From side to side there was luscious green landscape, few buildings or black volcanic sand beaches; just a purely unspoilt landscape for us to enjoy.
This hostel offered free use of tubes and kayaks. During our initial swim, we made the most of the tubes and sunbathing on the raft a little way out. We met two lovely girls who gave us tips on Nicaragua and shared their knowledge of British sayings picked up along route (e.g. “bellend”, “pissing someone off”, “birds and lads” and “dropping the kids off at the pool”). Later on we made use of the kayaks and went for a gorgeous paddle around the shoreline, diving off rocks as we went and snapping unsuspecting tourists from afar!
Back on dry land, we took up our books and parked our bums in the available deck chairs. Mine collapsed resulting in complete squashing of our bread rolls which were then quickly nabbed by the hostel dog. A successful few minutes for me. Still, nothing a bit of sun and reading wouldn’t fix and that was how we spent the rest of our afternoon until the shuttle bus back to Oasis arrived at 4pm. We’d also somehow managed to get through the day on under $5 which worked wonders for us poor travellers.
Before sunset that evening I promised to go out for a run so donned my sports gear and set out in the direction of the lake. I totalled 4 miles, feeling a lot fitter, and appeared to make some friends along the way – one guy even paced me a whole mile from the lake back to my hostel at the end! It was a great way to see more of the urban park around the lake and run down some local back roads where they all sit out eating dinner, cheering on the sweaty white girl running past!
It took me forever to cool off upon my return! I quite literally sat with a fan in front of my face for 30 minutes and was still saturated! A quick shower and change later and attempting to regain normal body temperature, Zalie and I head to the main square where we’d spotted a cheap, traditional Nicaraguan dinner place. My dish was served on a banana leaf and consisted of yuca, topped with chilli, cheese and pork. It was super, super tasty. I’m really going to miss the availability of vegetables likes yuca when I’m home. Once again, we were highly unsociable that evening but it didn’t matter because we had such an exciting next day planned.
I woke early and decided to head to the gym before Zalie woke up. Nicaragua seems to be only capable of cooling itself with the use of fans. I don’t know why but it means that cooling yourself at the gym is a near on impossible task! Anyway, I was active and that’s all that matters, right?!
After a quick breakfast we were picked up by Cesar, for the first time that day. He drove us half the distance to Masaya in to the canopies of the rainforest surrounding the Masaya volcano. We were going zip lining around the jungle canopy and were like excited little kids! Here is the result of our morning in which we regressed about 10 years in age, flying like superman, hanging like monkeys and bouncing like kangaroos:
Cesar took us back to town where we gave him a cheeky “hasta luego” as we really would be seeing him later and then ran off to the pool for some sun and swim time. We made friends with two German boys who said absolutely nothing seriously, leaving us in fits of giggles for an hour or so and brightening up our days even more.
We grabbed some market veg to make a stir fry lunch and then head out for yet another wonder around Granada town. This time we climbed the church bell tower and roamed the brightly coloured side streets in search of some hidden gems.
We had to rush back to the hostel for our next meeting with Cesar, this time for something extremely exciting. We were off to see actual lava from an actual active volcano bubbling from the actual middle of Earth. As you can imagine I, the geography student and enthusiast, was in my element! There was a first hurdle of waiting in the line to enter the national park and then the small incident where we nearly missed our time slot because our guide was describing the history of the area to us over at the viewpoint. But, luckily Cesar was on the ball and whistled us over because it was time for the main event.
Now let me tell you, lava is REALLY F*CKING COOL. It’s the brightest orange you’ve ever seen, bubbling in the out of a crater, darkening when it cools and splashing on to the surrounding rocks. The glow creates a perfect spectrum of sunset colours in the volcanic emissions to give the illusion that you’re witnessing something magical. Well, you are. It was beyond words.
Thoroughly enthused by our lava experience and our new Aussie friends from the bus, Shannon and Tom, we bounced back to Oasis for dinner. We sat down to eat with our new friends, discussing life, and then set about packing up our things ready for an early morning departure. Before bed, Zalie taught me the life long skill of how to French plait and Emma, a girl we’d met in Léon, came over for a chat and then we head off to bed. It really had been a great day!
So, 214 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and I’m living the geography dream in the land of volcanoes with my Aussie pal, absolutely loving life.