21 June - La Cruz, Costa Rica – San Jorge,
Nicaragua - 64km
We headed towards the border, and what a busy
border it was. Trucks lined the road for at least 5km before the
border. At least the crossing into Nicaragua went smooth. The
first thing you notice after crossing the border is Lake
Nicaragua, a large fresh water lake. We continued down the road
in the direction of Rivas, the first biggest settlement on the
Once at Rivas we turned down to the lake and
found a room in San Jorge, a tiny village on the lake and also
the place where one can get a ferry to Isla De Ometepe, an
island just 15km off the main land. Isla De Ometepe was formed
by two volcanoes rising out of the lake. Concepcion (1610m) is
still considered active but the last eruption was in 1957, so I
would think not so active anymore.
The most interesting part to me is that Lake
Nicaragua, despite being a freshwater lake, has sawfish, tarpon,
and sharks. Initially, scientists thought the sharks in the lake
belonged to an endemic species, the Lake Nicaragua Shark. In
1961, following comparisons of specimens, the Lake Nicaragua
Shark was synonymized with the widespread Bull shark, a species
also known for entering freshwater elsewhere around the world.
It had been presumed that the sharks were trapped within the
lake, but 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 salmon. Bull sharks tagged
inside the lake have later been caught in the open ocean (and
vice versa). Just how amazing is that?
22 June - San Jorge - Isla De Ometepe - By
We took the car ferry across the lake to Isla
De Ometepe. Along the way we spotted a water spout; what an
awesome sight it was, it only lasted about 5 minutes and
completely disappeared again. From the little harbour at San
Jose we cycled the 12km to Moyogalpa, one of the bigger villages
on the lake. There is really not much happening in these places,
just a few backpackers wandering around aimlessly. The harbour
is the busiest place with locals loading and off- loading goods
to and from the main land.
After sunset street food appeared and tables
and chairs were put on the sidewalk. Both locals and visitors
reappeared from the midday hideouts and enjoyed the cooler
23 June - Isla De Ometepe
We explored the island and turned down onto
small dirt roads. At the end of one of these dirt roads we found
a cabana right on the shores of the lake. There was no getting
me away from there. We swam, sat on our little veranda and
watched life go by on the lake. There was a surprising amount of
activity on the lake. Seeing that it is a freshwater lake,
people bath in it, do their laundry and fish, seemingly all at
the same time.
24 June - Isla De Ometepe
The following morning I woke early, as it is
the coolest time of the day. I took the camera down to the lake
and found just about everyone already out doing their chores.
Ladies were doing laundry, men fished and horsemen were washing
and breaking in their horses.
We finally left our cabana and cycled the
short distance to the other side of the island. The island is
really beautiful and the road offered some stunning views. In
the small village of Altagracia we located some ancient stone
statues. We eventually returned to Moyogalpa and decided to stay
one more night and take the ferry back to the main land in the
25/26 June - Moyogalpa – Granada - 78km
We headed down to the harbour and waited for
the ferry back to the mainland. Once on the mainland we cycled
to Granada, which was not all that far. On reaching Granada we
were pleasantly surprised to find a very pretty colonial city.
Granada is situated on Lago Nicaragua and has a rather
interesting history. Its location on the lake gave it easy
access to the Caribbean Sea via Rio San Juan but also made it an
easy target for the French and English pirates.
Today Granada is a peaceful, pretty city with
a lovely Mango tree covered central plaza and many colourful
restored houses. Needless to say there are quite a few
impressive churches scattered around, but the most impressive is
the cathedral on Parque Central. We fortunately arrived in time
to snatch a few pictures just before the sun went down.
We stayed one more day as there was plenty to
see around the town. Our room was so incredibly hot that it was
impossible to stay much longer after sun rise.
26/27 June - Granada – Masaya - 21km
It was a rather short cycle from Granada to
Masaya, well known for arts and crafts. It is also the easiest
place from where one can reach the top of Vulcan Masaya. We soon
found a hostel and set off to the artists’ market, which is a
huge walled structure selling everything from stuffed frogs to
hammocks. Far more interesting, however, was the municipal
market and bus terminus. The dusty place was fascinating, with
busses coming and going in a seemingly chaotic fashion. The
market was not only dusty, but jam-packed with traders and
shoppers, food vendors and scrawny-looking dogs. You could find
just about everything there, from rice and beans to homemade
cheese and handmade leather goods. We sat down and enjoyed a
plate of baho (plantain and beef stew).
I tried to book a night tour to vulcan
Masaya, but I could only go there the following night. So we
stayed one more day so that I could go on the volcano-tour the
I was lucky and found a local guide to take
me up to the crater. It was fun and at least the guide’s English
was slightly better than my Spanish. The car, however, was far
from roadworthy and at times I doubted whether we would make it
to the top. It was quite a steep and winding road to the crater.
The poor car splattered and hiccupped but we eventually made it
there. The Santiago crater is an active crater billowing out
thousands of tons of toxic gasses causing acid rain and there is
therefore very little vegetation at the top. Folklore has it
that pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the area threw young women into
the boiling lava to appease the goddess of fire. When the
Spanish first arrived they called the crater the Gates of Hell
and placed a cross overlooking the crater hoping to exorcise the
demons who dwelled within.
Just as interesting was the nearby bat cave,
home to thousands and thousands of vampire bats. At around
sunset they start coming out of the cave in search of food; it
is quite a sight to see the constant flow of bats pouring from
29 June - Masaya – Managua - 30km
We cycled the short distance to Managua, the
capital of Nicaragua, and found a rather disjointed city. The
city has been hit by several natural disasters; the latest being
the devastating earthquake of 1972. The earthquake completely
destroyed the city centre, and subsequently Managua was rebuilt
around outlying shopping centres and markets. As a result we
cycled around quite a bit before we found the "traveler area"
close to the old town. We did, however, find the old city centre
which is now derelict, where only the remains of the old
cathedral are still visible. Interesting enough, the clock still
shows the time the earthquake hit - 12h35 midday.
We looked for a bike shop but were unable to
find one selling decent bike spares. We did however get an
address of one which apparently sold Shimano spares but it was
Saturday and already closed. We decided to stay until the Monday
to see if we could locate the shop.
One of the most interesting things in Managua
is the Ancient footprints of Acahualinca. The tracks are
fossilised human footprints left behind in volcanic ash and mud,
which solidified about 2,120 years ago. The footprints were
buried 4 metres underground when discovered and are in perfect
condition. The prints indicate that a group of up to 15 people
(men, women and children) passed by on their way to the lake. In
addition to the human footprints there are also tracks of a deer
and a raccoon.
One cannot go far in Managua without seeing a
statue of Augusto Nicolás Calderón Sandino, a Nicaraguan
revolutionary and leader of a rebellion against the U.S.
military occupation of Nicaragua between 1927 and 1933. He was
labeled a bandit by the United States government, and his
exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, where
he became a symbol of resistance to United States domination.
3 July - Managua – León - 93km
It was a harder day than anticipated as the
road deteriorated and we battled along a hilly and potholed road
for most of the way. If I ever wondered what two tectonic plates
smashing together looks like, this was probably it. It was one
of those days that I did not feel my normal energetic self and I
battled along until we reached León. By the time we reached León
I felt unwell and totally dehydrated.
León is very much a university town and has
the best colonial architecture in Nicaragua. Construction of
León's most famous building (The Cathedral) began in 1747 and
went on for over a hundred years and is the largest cathedral in
Central America. According to local legend, the city's leaders
feared that their original grandiose design would be turned down
by the Spanish authorities, so they submitted a more modest, but
bogus, set of plans.
León was the first capital of Nicaragua and
is considered the capital of the revolution.
6 July - León – San Isidro - 114km
We turned inland and headed for the hills. It
is a slow slog up the mountain; fortunately we had a cloud cover
and the gradient was mild. It was however much further than the
signboards indicated. We expected it to be more like 90km but
the 90km mark came and went and still no San Isidro. We cycled
and cycled and started doubting if we were on the right road.
Eventually we arrived at the tiny settlement of San Isidro and
bunked down in a road side Hospidaje; at $10 for a double room
one cannot complain. We got some food at a local roadside stall,
watched a bit of TV and that was me done for the day. I´m still
not feeling a 100%, don’t quite know what is wrong, just don’t
feel well and can’t eat much.
7 July - San Isidro – Esteli - 30km
We cycled to Esteli, a short but hilly ride.
Esteli is a bit of a cowboy town where one can find handmade
leather boots and oversized belt buckles. The land around Esteli
is perfect for growing tobacco for use in cigars, and the town
became a refuge for Cuban cigar makers after the Cuban
Revolution in 1959. Award winning cigars have made Esteli one of
the most important cigar-producing cities in the world. No
sooner have we arrived in Esteli and we set off looking for
their famous cigars, not a very difficult task. That evening
Ernest puffed away and declared that it was excellent quality.
There was not a lot more to Esteli as it was
mostly destroyed in the revolution. Esteli was the scene of
heavy fighting in the civil war against the Somoza government
from 1978 to 1979. Today it is a peaceful town with only a few
interesting murals reminding one of its more fury past.
8 July - Esteli – Ocotal - 81km
We had a slow start to the morning but
eventually set off in the direction of the Honduras border. We
were firmly on the highlands and the road continued to be very
hilly. It’s amazing what a difference 1000 odd meters can make.
It was much cooler up on the highlands and we even had a drizzle
for most of the morning. It was cold enough for me to don my
windbreaker. Fortunately the hills were not too steep and we
encountered just as many downhills.
We arrived in Ocotal in good time, found a
very comfortable room on the Pan-Americana Highway for the
night, from where it is a mere 25km to the Honduras border.