Nicaragua Part I

Trip Start Jan 11, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2012

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Flag of Nicaragua  , Leon,
Saturday, June 30, 2012

The hippyesque town of Puerto Viejo provided us with an excellent first glimpse of Costa Rica. The chilled out Caribbean atmosphere, delicious food and friendly locals certainly caught our attention, but unfortunately the noticeable Western influence, particularly from the Stars and Stripes, is not without it's drawbacks. Prices are much higher than the majority of other Latin American nations and English is much more widely spoken. The latter may sound more like a draw card for visiting Costa Rica, but we've really enjoyed the Spanish challenge, English can wait for when we're back at the grind. That said, Costa Rica boasts one of the highest Human Development Indices in Latin America and the New Economics Foundation (whatever that is) considers Costa Rica to be the "greenest" nation in the world, so they must be doing something right.

If we hadn't yet demolished our budget we would have loved to have spent more time exploring the country, but we knew that Nicaragua would provide a much more fertile environment for our remaining ZARs to flourish. The journey north to country number 11 would, however, first require an overnight stop in the pleasant town of La Fortuna, perfectly (or maybe shortsightedly) situated on the slopes of an active volcano. The scenery on the bus trip through Costa Rica was spectacular and the town of La Fortuna was also quite a gem, but prices here were even higher than in Puerto Viejo, so, on the following day, we duly continued our journey north, promising ourselves that we would return to the land of Pura Vida (Pure Life, Costa Rica's motto) after making a killing from our soon to be created travelling circus. We'll have talking ligers, jumping elephants, dragons, Hobbits and a pair of luminous green unicorns. Instant success. We are happy to accept any form of investment from anyone interested in this promising venture.

Welcome to Nicaragua! Or rather, Bienvenidos a Nicaragua! We're back to Spanish and 8 Rand beers. Excellent. First stop, the Pacific beach town of San Juan del Sur where we did absolutely nothing for 3 days. Well we did make sure that we stayed alive by consuming sufficient food and drink, but otherwise we did nothing. The town has a good vibe and apparently some great fishing and surfing, but for whatever reason we decided to rather take it easy and klap some delicious Flor de Caña rum. Don used to give my little sis a hard time for dopping rum and Coke, but the D-Dog has now officially been converted.

Next stop, the neatly restored colonial town of Granada, situated on the banks of Lake Nicaragua, the 19th largest lake in the world. Absolutely worthless piece of information. A slightly more interesting and far more relevant fact is that most restaurants in Granada sell a litre of Toña beer for about 14ZAR. It is this fact that helps to justify why we spent close to a week in Granada without being able to write home about anything particularly exciting. We did go on an island boat tour where we saw a monkey and a few houses built on some islands, but this was no more exciting than a boat tour on Hartbeespoort Dam. Other than the island tour, we frequented a great Irish pub to watch a few matches of Euro 2012 and also enjoyed the fine selection of eateries scattered along the cobblestoned streets. Then the Leinbergers arrived.

Hannah "I can dop more than most okes" Leinberger and her superjock boyfriend, the first boy from Hilton High School to complete the Comrades Marathon without the use of his dad's Ferrari, the first man from Harrismith to turn down a farming career, Lanie Van Heerden, were scheduled to land at Managua Airport at 8PM on whatever date that they were supposed to arrive. With far too much faith in Delta Airlines' punctuality, Don and I set off from Granada in order to greet the American auditors at the airport. The drive there turned out to be somewhat of a nightmare on two counts. Firstly, the vehicle in which we were driving was the least roadworthy car that has ever been manufactured. Brake lights had been replaced with a blue neon strobe light and the headlights had been replaced with nothing. So terrifying was the journey that Dangerous D-Dog could no longer look at the road, but we did eventually reach our destination with all of our limbs still attached to our torsos. Nightmare phase 1 complete, onto phase 2 and Delta decided to cancel a certain flight bound for Nicaragua. So it was back into the death wagon and off we missioned back to Granada with nobody other than our taxi driver, aka the Grim Reaper.

The following morning, after first making sure that Delta was again not just having a laugh about a scheduled arrival time, we headed back to Managua to meet the Leinbergers. Fortunately Don had eloquently displayed her extensive nasty word repertoire to the tour company, so we were no longer in the vehicle from hell and furthermore, Delta Airlines were no longer telling fibs about a certain ETA. With wild embraces, tears and a few expletives directed at Delta, we greeted Han and Lanie and then headed straight to León, Nicaragua's second largest city, where we planned to hit the slopes of an active volcano. As one does.

After briskly checking in at an unremarkable hostel, we hopped straight onto a 4x4 and headed for Cerro Negro, a very active volcano that has erupted 23 times in it's relatively short history. In recent years it has become quite a hit for adrenaline junkies, especially crazy humans that have attempted to break the record for the fastest speed ever attained on a bicycle. An unwell Frenchman currently holds the record, he was clocked descending Cerro Negro at a modest 172kph. We were quietly quite confident that at least one of us would be able to smash that mark.

We arrived at the volcano and were immediately handed our volcano boarding poison: a jumpsuit, goggles, gloves and a block of plywood with a piece of string attached to the front. We were then instructed to hike up to the top of the volcano, a 45 minute slog that provided some pretty amazing views of the various craters and the surrounding countryside. The girls and I decided to break the speed record by sliding on our bums, but Hilton High's ultimate man's man naturally requested a sandboard as he planned to break the record standing up. The tour guide asked Lanie if he was certain that he possessed the necessary skills to undertake such a dangerous descent, to which Lanie replied: "Boet, you should see how I carve up powder in the Rockies".

After reaching the summit of the volcano we all had a look down the much steeper than expected slope and thought what the bloody hell we were doing up there. Our guide gave us a brief demonstration and then it was time to take the plunge. 45 minutes up, 45 seconds down. We may not have reached 172kph but it was certainly quite a rush. After picking up some speed you literally couldn't see a thing in front of you, but fortunately the ground was much softer than it looked, so the inevitable tumble didn't result in any life-threatening injuries. We've uploaded a video of the boarding, let's hope that it works, otherwise the photos will hopefully provide a fair reflection of our Evil Knievel impersonations.

Covered in volcanic rock and ash, we headed back to León where we freshened up and then hit the town for a good ol' Nicaraguan skop. Day 1 of our Nicaraguan adventure certainly set the tone for what was to become a more than memorable week shared with Lan and Han. We may not have indulged in any more daredevil activities, but in Part II there's a 12kg barracuda, flying stingrays, mating turtles, much more Flor de Caña and Lanie becomes the first Hilton boy to reach the summit of two active volcanoes without the use of his dad's private helicopter...
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