As I was venturing into a country I essentially knew nothing about, whatever was to happen in Nicaragua would be a journey into the unknown for me. Yet from volcano boarding, to swimming in natural springs, to visiting a ‘monkey island’, it certainly turned out to be a journey of beauty.
Waking up to the tolling bells of Leon’s town church was beautiful, disregarding my slight irritation after having had very little sleep. However, we needed to set off promptly so the early wake-up call was actually rather useful! We were to attempt volcano boarding down Volcano Cerro Negro (Central America’s youngest volcano, which is also active). Volcano boarding is basically what it says on the tin – climbing up one side of a volcano and sliding down the other on a board. The hike was actually more difficult that I expected it to be, mainly because we had to carry backpacks containing hideous green and yellow suits up the volcano, and also a very heavy board which was buffeted around by the wind. But the 40-minute trek was worth it, as boarding down gave such a thrill! It was just how I imagined snowboarding would be (just with ash instead), although I did become totally covered in dirt and required a long shower afterwards.
We then progressed to the next stop on our tour, which was the sister town of Antigua in Guatemala: Granada. It does look very similar to Antigua, too, as it has a plaza with a church and is arranged in a block-style. The town is also more lively than Antigua as it is a more tourist-orientated area. We explored the town a little and discovered it has a heavy Catholic influence, with many beautiful churches in the area, and discovered the most fantastic restaurant called ‘The Garden’. I would definitely recommend it, as the food I ate there was probably the best I had tasted over the whole trip.
A few of the others in the group and I went on a tour of the Isletas de Granada in Lake Nicaragua, of which there are 365 and they have a backdrop of the beautiful volcano Mombacho. We were taken to see the islands by boat, where we were given local fruits to sample (they were usually horrible) and visited ‘Monkey Island’ to feed the local spider monkeys. We then stopped off at one of the smaller islands which was inhabited by one single family. They had a large number of animals and fruit trees, and along with the fabulous scenery and gorgeous lake it was easy to see how one could become so wrapped up in a bubble that the outside world is forgotten.
Our final stop in Nicaragua was the island of Ometepe. As I have already written about my home stay experience, I will instead talk about what I found the rest of the island to be like in this post. The name ‘Ometepe’ means “island of two volcanoes” and it is the largest volcanic island situated inside a freshwater lake (Lake Nicaragua) in the whole world. There is a population of around 42,000 people and the two volcanoes which compose the island, Concepcion and Maderas, erupt roughly every 45 years. However, the volcanoes haven’t erupted for 56 years now, so another is due any time. It is believed that upon the next eruption an evacuation may have to be carried out, because the population is so much larger than it was at the time of the last eruption.
Firstly, we visited the Ojo de Agua natural springs at the south of the island, and they made for some fantastic photos. Although they were beautiful to look at with their waterfalls and blue tinge, after a while they proved very cold to swim in! We then undertook a cultural tour of the island and visited the Charco Verde and Albergue nature reserves. We were shown some of the flora and fauna of the island, which included a green lagoon, typical ash beaches (certainly very different from the white sand beaches I had become accustomed to seeing), a tree that souls of the dead are supposed to remain in, and a hive of deadly wasps. Later on I spotted an iguana and we were also shown ancient Mayan petroglyphs from the period 300-500 AD.
The next day we had to leave Nicaragua for the final part of our journey. The country indeed taught me a lot: not only about natural beauty, but how majestic beauty can make you feel small, and about types of human beauty, such as determination to scale a volcano and the generosity of people, even those who can’t speak your language. It is on this note that I leave this concluding blog post to my travels: beauty is not only what you consider it to be, but can be found almost anywhere.