Nicaragua - Playa Maderas and Isla Ometepe

Trip Start Jan 03, 2013
Trip End Jul 21, 2013

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Flag of Nicaragua  , Rivas,
Saturday, February 16, 2013

After changing buses in Rivas, we arrived in the centre of the touristy surf/beach town of San Juan del Sur and grabbed a surf shuttle to Playa Maderas, an apparently beautiful surf beach just north of the town. We arrived at the beach and grabbed some lunch at a bar admiring the view. After lunch, we walked the 15 minutes up the beach to the northern end where our hostel, Matilda's, was located. It was a beautiful spot with almost no-one on the the beach - perfect! We headed back to the main surf spot for Sean to hire a board and get in the sea, where he enjoyed the small but fun surf.

We met a lovely french Canadian couple who we had dinner with and enjoyed a few beers in the hammocks by our rooms chatting and listening to music. We were invited to join some other travellers for a bonfire on the beach. The warmth of the fire on the beach and the starlit sky, surrounded by friendly fellow travellers including an Austrian called Willy, was a really nice moment. When we ran out of wood, we went to bed tired but happy after a great day.

Sean had an early morning surf and enjoyed the less crowded waves before the day trippers from San Juan arrived. We spent the morning exploring the coastline to the north of Playa Maderas. We made our way past several stunning beaches, with nobody around, and some nice rocks and coves. We came to a challenging divide in the rocks with the sea surging in between and we were too stubborn to turn back and find another way. So we tackled it with some adventurous rock climbing and waist deep navigating through the water. Our bag had phones, cameras etc in so keeping that dry was our priority so it got lobbed across the water channel. The beach on the other side was well worth it. At the last beach we reached, we came across a private resort and bought a couple of expensive soft drinks before being kicked out as we weren't residents. We later found out that it was Morgans Rock Resort is the most expensive hotel in Nicaragua!

We made our way back and enjoyed the solitude on one of the beaches for a swim and a sunbathe before getting a nice lunch. After a couple of hours of hammock and snooze time out of the midday sun, we both went up to the surf beach and Sean had a late surf before heading back to see the sunset.

We enjoyed the beautiful sunset overlooking the sea, whilst listening to some music and enjoying the romantic setting, especially as it was valentines day! Back at the hostel, we chatted to an English couple Jules and Bob and shared travel tips as they were practically doing the reverse of our trip. We got some dinner an continued to chat to Jules and Bob by the fire on the beach for the rest of the evening.

The next day, Sean had another morning surf, this time with Willy. The waves had improved a bit so it was promising for the late afternoon surf. Late morning, we relaxed on the adjacent beach using a cave as some shelter from the sun. In 2 hours we didn't see one other person, and enjoyed some sunbathing and swimming in the refreshing sea. The water was noticeably cooler here than in El Salvador, which was to do with the strong winds in January.

After watching the waves for an hour or so over a leisurely lunch, Sean went in for an afternoon surf while Alexa went back to the quieter beach outside our hostel. The surf was great and Sean had lots of good waves, enjoying the slightly less crowded surf. We enjoyed the sunset again at our favourite beach, sharing beer and crisps with Willy. On our way back we collected some firewood to make fire on our last night. We had dinner with Willy and noticed some people were having a fire on the beach earlier than usual. We went to join them and unfortunately they had used all the wood, including the pile we collected so we sat around the burning embers chatting in Spanish to some local fisherman who were there too. A nice end to a fab few days here.

The next morning, we caught a lift back to San Juan before catching the bus back to Rivas (It was the best chicken bus ever, playing music videos including Lionel Richie!). We shared a taxi to San Jorge ferry port with 2 Dutch guys (one of which was a spitting image of Peter Crouch!) and boarded the ferry to Isla Ometepe. We enjoyed the scenic journey across Lake Nicaragua with our first view of Isla Ometepe with its 2 volcanoes (Concepcion and Maderas) rising out of the lake surrounded by forest. We arrived in the main town Moyogalpa and haggled for a lift to the recommended place that we wanted to stay called La Brisa. We heard that there was a ultra marathon race on the island and it meant that a few places were fully booked but we hoped that the fact that La Brisa wasn't in the lonely planet or it would have space. We were dropped off in Santa Cruz and we walked the 2km to La Brisa. The last 800m was up a rocky footpath up the slide of the hill, quite tough going with flip flops and the heavy backpacks! We arrived at the top and unfortunately they were fully booked as well! So we trudged back down the hill (Alexa changed into her trainers!) and stopped at Zopelottis, another hostel on the way down that was full as well. Our last hope was another recommended place called Finca Magdelena which we were told was 20 mins walk up the road. We set off and after walking for 30 mins up and down the hills, we asked someone how far it was and they said another 20 mins! We were both hot, tired and hungry and spotted somewhere advertising rooms in Balgue village so we went in as we really didn't want to walk another 20-30 minutes. It turned out to be a good decision as we had stumbled across a lovely small family run hostel right next to the lake which had a room for $12. We took it! We immediately changed and went for a cooling dip in the lake. We still hadn't had any lunch and by this time it was 5:30 so we quickly changed, showered and headed out to a recommended restaurant. While we were changing, there was a huge noise an commotion up the road and it turned out the local football team had just won a big game so were celebrating loudly!

We enjoyed a tasty, but tough beef steak and rice for dinner and had a wander before heading back to the hostel (which had a nice hammock area) to relax for the evening. Unfortunately, the local valentines disco was happening up the road and even though our hostel was 150m away, the music was so loud that it kept us awake until it finished at 1am. It was certainly not what we expected when we came to this peaceful and relaxing island!

We woke early the next day with the disco music still ringing in our ears, and neither of us having had much sleep. We hired some mountain bikes as we wanted to explore this part of the island a bit more. We left about 9am and made our way down the east coast, around Volcan Maderas and discovered that the road quickly changed from being paved to off road, up and down and with lots of rocks. It was only later on when reading the lonely planet that we found out the roads were described as appalling. We spent the morning cycling the long landmarkless road between the small villages (or 4 houses!) and trying to navigate the rocky roads, but our progress was quite slow as a result. After a swim in the lake and drink stop, we continued around the south of the island towards San Ramon where we hoped we could attempt to hike to the recommended waterfall. We decided to have lunch at a local cafe, and were served a huge portion of platano crisps, chicken and the local version of coleslaw. It was an experience eating lunch with chickens and pigs running round our legs! We finally made it to the entrance to San Ramon waterfall about 2pm and found out that the hike to get there was a 3 hour round trip so decided not to do it as time was against us - we would have had to cycled back in the dark which we didn't want to do on these roads with no lights! So we carried on the terrible road, we were only about half way round the island so spent the next 3 hours cycling the difficult roads, arms aching and legs burning. After passing a bull fighting arena in Merida, typically the rain started coming down! The terrible roads were never ending and both of us were losing our rags a little by the end. We finally made it to the paved road which was a relief, and arrived back in Balgue soon after. It was a much harder bike ride that we had envisaged, we hadn't realised it was 38km round the island especially on such terrible rocky and bumpy 'roads'. It was like 7 hours on a power plate! However, we enjoyed seeing this side of the island and will look back on it as an experience.

We were both completely exhausted so showered and went out the get some dinner at a recommended place run by an English guy, but the food was average and the service slow. I think we'll stick to the local places from now on where you get much better service and it's much cheaper! We had booked with a local guide to do the 8 hour volcano trek the next day but over dinner we decided that we probably wouldn't be up for it in the morning. So we popped in the see the guide, a nice local lad called Ryder that spoke good english, to cancel our trip and ask him what other options there were to be able to get to the waterfall quickly so we could actually do the hike. We decided on a motorbike, despite Alexa's hesitancy! We went straight to bed after that and slept like logs, our bodies still juddering after our exhausting day.

After breakfast and in typical Nica time, we finally collected our wheels for the day - a white yamaha dirt bike that was pretty powerful with very good suspension. Ryder's friend ran Sean quickly though the bike and he had a quick practice before setting off. Alexa was fairly apprehensive about how it would go, Sean never really having driven a motorbike like that or any one for over 10 years, especially as we had no helmets but we just did it.

After a wobbly start and the gears took some getting used to, we made good progress on the rocky road and arrived at the waterfall entrance an hour later. We parked up and set off up the hiking trail. It was pretty tough and we knew we made a good call not hiking it yesterday! We finally made it and were greeted by a spectacular 180m waterfall with a trickle of water coming down into mist and ending in a shallow pool - perfect to cool off. We had a dip then headed back down before getting the bike back down. However the brakes on the bike were not that great so coming down was a bit hairy, Alexa ended up walking most of it as the bike was much easier to control with only one rider!

We set off to Merida to get some lunch. There was a group of other tourists in the restaurant who had walked from Santa cruz and they were heading to the waterfall. We had to tell them the bad news that it would take at least another hour and a half to walk to the start of the waterfall, with another 3 hours from there. They would never make it! The distances are so deceptive on the island and the locals seem to have no concept of how long it actually takes to get anywhere. They had been told that it would take them an hour to walk to the waterfall - it was actually more like 2.5! We were thankful (and a little smug!) that we had the motorbike and hopped on it again to go to the volcanic fresh water pools.

We got there after half hour ride (again further than we thought!) and walked to the pools. It was lovely, a clear fresh natural pool that had been made into a swimming pool, with beach chairs, cafe etc, surrounded by jungle. The sun came out as we arrived so we had a refreshing swim and relaxed for a bit. Suddenly, the sun disappeared and the dark clouds came over and it started raining! We headed back and sheltered in some hammocks waiting for the rain to stop. It got lighter in the end so we got back on the bike back towards Balgue. We were both a little chilly as the temperature had dropped significantly and we were wet from the swim so we stopped off at a hotel in Santa Domingo for a cup of tea to warm us up! Sometime you just need a cup of tea!

The next day, we grabbed an early lift to the ferry terminal with Cathy, a Canadian lady who we had met during our stay. Cathy and her friend Judy fell in love with the island and its people, and have spent the last 6 years visiting the island for a couple of months, bringing medical supplies and books from canada and to help volunteer with the local kids, mainly teaching english. After the ferry to San Jorge, and taxi to Rivas, we caught the bus to the border with Costa Rica at Penas Blancas. The immigration and border controls were straightforward, and it was not long before saw the welcome to Costa Rica sign, and we were looking forward to rain forests, sloths, surfing, diving and trekking.

We have loved Nicaragua. It was the cheapest, safest and most diverse place we have visited so far. It's mix of smiling people, colonial cities, beautiful coastline, volcanoes, huge lake with its mystical unspoilt islands made it a brilliant country to explore. Due to time constraints, we didn't even go to the Caribbean coast which we are told is even more beautiful. Its hard to believe that this country was fighting a brutal civil war only 20 years ago. We would highly recommend it!
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Cat Lumb on

Am so glad you are blogging this extraordinary adventure - I only smiled a little when reading that you got caught in the rain! lol!
Great to hear how your travels are going and that you are having a fantastic experience. Keep it up! Can't wait to read all about Costa Rica!
*hugs* Take Care, Cat xx

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