Nicaragua has just implemented a scheme where work travellers have to get pre authorised to enter the country…. Nothing too strenuous, you have to complete a form around a week before hand stating the organisation you are visiting, with contact names and addresses, your point and date of entry and exit (as if we know such information in advance?!). This is not for tourists; however, no-one has told the immigration officers that! As always, Pan American Travellers on Facebook had given us a heads up about this and having survived a ‘toys out of the pram’ hour or so as I tried to fill in a form in Spanish that mostly wasn’t relevant (and a helping hand from @vueltaamerica – thanks guys) we had our permission emailed back to us and we were good to go. A slooooow border, requesting a lot of detail, but free wifi (go the socialist government) and a friendly customs officer who loved practicing English made it all pretty easy.
We started at Somoto Canyon, a great afternoon climbing, scrambling and swimming and wild camped that night with a great German couple, sharing the last of our wine and beer for supper. While they decided to stay put and chill for a few days we headed off to restock supplies, and see what else Nica had to offer… mostly highland hiking, beautiful colonial cities and live volcanoes.
Both Leon and Granada were lovely cities, with real life going on in the old, somewhat restored parts of town. Granada has succumbed more to the tourist influx and felt a little more cleaned up with bars and restaurants overtaking the centre.
Our knowledge of this part of the world was (and probably still is) sorely lacking before this trip… I do remember terminology like Contras being talked about but it was all very outside my sphere of experience. Since being on the road it’s impossible to avoid the visible evidence of the politics that continues to haunt so many of these nations. Best not start ranting here!
Masaya is an active volcano about a 15 minute drive from Granada and the area around it has been closed to tourists for the best part of a year now. What they will allow is for you to drive up and look in the crater which really is quite amazing. You have a 30 min turnaround if you go during the day, and only 15 mins at night, but to see the lava glowing and churning away only a little way below you is quite something.
I think our biggest highlight of Nica was La Flor, a beach right down in the south which is one of the busiest turtle nesting sites in the world – around about 100 000 next on this one beach each year. The busiest time is Oct/Nov finishing up in Dec so we weren’t sure whether we would still find mother’s laying, but our maths is good enough to figure out that hatchlings wouldn’t be in short supply. We arrived early afternoon and set up camp in the carpark (we getting good at that) and headed down to the beach. Now, sensible turtles hatch at night, giving the babies a slight chance of getting to the sea without being eaten by sea birds or dying of heatstroke/dehydration from the nest to the water. Of course, that’s in theory and instead we spend most of the afternoon walking very slowly down the beach escorting individual tiny olive ridley babies in our shade, to the water. It’s bad practice to pick them up and put them in the sea as it seems that skews their radar later in life and they can’t identify the beach to return to. The site is protected by 8 scientists and 8 soldiers who work in pairs to patrol the beach at night to stop egg collectors but they also dig up nests and keep them safe until they are ready to hatch. Each night thousands of turtles are ready to be released so we got to help with that shortly after sunset. At around 10 we decided to go back down to the beach on the off chance we would find a mother laying and we were lucky enough to spot the tracks and sit silently and watch her dig a hole (digging up another next at the same time!) lay her eggs and cover them back up – using her underside to thump the sand back in place, something I’d never seen a turtle do before. A very magical evening.