I didn’t know much about Nicaragua before riding here. First thing I noticed and loved was the abundance of people on bikes. From age 5 to 105 -lovely ladies hitching a ride side-saddle, 3 teenage boys piled onto one bici, or tiny tots perched on the cross bar of adult sized bikes barely reaching the pedals, proudly hauling whatever mom sent them to fetch. It seems to be woven into daily life as a way to get to or provide work (many pedal powered businesses selling fresh juices and food). I’ve been really enjoying the road chats about the weather, where to find a coconut or exchanging the ever encouraging “que le vaya bien!”.
I had read a few accounts that riding through Nica wasn’t the friendliest experience, though I found alot of Nicaragüenses to be alot like New Yorkers; a bit intense, but you always know where you stand. I like that. A great feeling is greeting a long, grumpy face and watching it turn into the most gigantic grin- these small exchanges make my day.
The afternoons have been hot, around noon to 2:00 it’s a scorcher. I’ve taken to strapping an entire papaya to my bike and around this time I will collapse under a tree and devouring the entire thing. Spoiled by flat terrain in Salvador,Honduras, and Nicaragua I’ve also acclimated to the heat. The border crossing into Nica was smooth, got stamped and paid the $12 entrance fee. A storm tore open the sky and everyone crammed into the office. I scarfed tamales and when it cleared rode to Somotillo, got a room and rode to Chinandega the next morning. Turns out it was THE day to move large farm equipment that hogged the lane and the shoulder. Chinandega seemed to not really notice that tourism existed and contently marched to it’s own drum, I liked this vibe and the street mercado there was pure madness.
Only a 45k ride away was the haunting, beautiful town of Leon, gritty enough to really reel me in. During the 1979 revolution, the Sandinistas took over León in violent street by street fighting. Somoza then had the city bombed, the National Guard took León back over, again in street by street fighting. Finally, the Sandinistas took León back over and held it until the Somoza government fell. You can still see bullet marks on some buildings and from the roof of the Museum of Revolution you see bombed church remnants as well as the former prison and torture chamber, now The Museum of Myths and Legends, indescribably bizarre in its juxtaposition of folklore and the atrocities of war. A local woman wanted to educate about Nicaraguan stories and fables, so there are different rooms where giant paper mache dolls depicting tales like the headless pope as well as paintings of various torture methods on the building. These photos and the first hand experiences of veteran guides are truly haunting.
A friend recently told me that Central America can be a vortex where many a bike tour has ended, and to keep morale up and most importantly, keep moving. I am by nature, an exploratory person that can let wander lust get the best of me, so after one night at the Nica owned & operated Hostal Albergue where I met 2 awesome motor cyclists on my same route, I set out for unloved Managua. I liked the hustle & bustle of this misunderstood city and spent the night at the Fire (bombero) Station. A dinner of eggs, beans and rice and a place to camp..so thankful to the bomberos!
Rode 52k to gorgeous Granada where I had the honor of being the first warmshowers guest of Mark and Julia from Montreal. They were so fun and interesting, having cycled through Asia and now run bike tours of Nica and Costa Rica. Check em out http://www.backpackersonbikes.com/ We geeked out on maps and I got some expert route advice. I left the next day with fresh laundry and positive vibes from these amazing new friends. I knew I had to light a fire under my ass and get to Columbia by Xmas but Mark insisted I shouldn’t miss the island of Ometepe. Golden advice.
Just an hour long ferry ride away to an island formed by two volcanoes,Concepción once named menstruation volcano; (before the Spanish conquest) and Maderas, rising from Lake Nicaragua joined by a low isthmus to form one jourglass shaped island in the shape of an hourglass. Named from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain). A road loops around where I rode my bike, surrounded by surreal and unspoiled beauty. Lush farms, majestic volcanos, pretty beaches surrounded by chilamate trees. Oh, and monkeys that chuck poo at you if you annoy them. A sentiment I can respect.
Daily I would pass by Virginia who worked stringing tobacco all her life. After you eat a fish on this island you will not leave¨, she warned and teased me for all 10 days I lingered. She also believed in a witch called Chico Largo that lived in the lagoon close by and turns humans into animals.
Lots of gossip, and kids working in the tobacco fincas. It gets exported for cigars.