Crossing the border from Costa Rica into Nicaragua this morning a short drive brings us to San Jorge on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. This is the departure point for ferries to Ometepe Island. The name Ometepe means 'two hills” and as the ferry (complete with beer, dispensed by the captain while his mate steers, and hammocks) draws near we get an increasingly clear view of the two volcanoes connected by an isthmus. Two perfect cones, Little and Large (or Concepción and Maderas).
We have free time to explore on our own. This involves searching out pre-Colombian petroglyphs carved by the indigenous people, searching the canopy for howler monkeys, parrots, sloths and hawks or lounging on the black sand beaches drinking in the stunning views across the lake.
It’s come to our attention that Artist has been concerned that sometimes her room is inferior to those some allocated to others. My rooms have been bit hit or miss but it seems to come out fair overall. She is less sure and it appears that she has been hijacking Leon and demanding he show her the rooms before the keys are issued so she can have first pick. Naturally, there is a furore at this news and Leon is beginning to look a little pale.
We return by boat to San Jorge this morning and from there drive to Granada. This is an atmospheric and colourful gem, situated at the foot of Mombacho volcano on the northwest shore of Lake Nicaragua. It was the first colonial city in Nicaragua, founded in 1524 by the conquistador Hernandez de Cordoba.
We are indulged in a walking tour of the baroque and renaissance buildings (mainly churches of course) with visits to the Parque Central, the monument to the war of independence, the plaza and the convent of San Francisco, there are myriad narrow lanes and alleyways. This is Leon’s home town and he disappears for a well-earned day off, (it is a marathon tour) and just getting us all through the border posts and check points (official and unofficial)is a major endeavour so we are led languidly by a Frenchman, Pierre, who is so laid back he is horizontal.
Our hotel is a delightful colonial palace on the corner of the main square. You can see the whole world clatter by in horse-drawn carriages from the terrace bar. Much better than Starbucks.
Managua and Leon
The old colonial capital of Leon is reached via the market town of Masayo (and its attendant volcano) and the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. We’re told there will be a short tour to see Managua's ‘curious, if somewhat unorthodox, charm’. This rings alarm bells and fortunately, the trip doesn’t last long. Managua was badly damaged in the 1972 earthquake, and is still, gradually, being rebuilt.
Leon, however, lies in the shadow of the Cordillera de los Maribios Mountains. It is today considered the intellectual centre of Nicaragua. It was the capital for 200 years. It’s also the namesake of our guide, who is today complaining of nausea and stomach pains.
Yet another walking tour, yet another Plaza del las Armas, yet another cathedral (arguably the largest in Central America and a UNESCO heritage site). There's also the Sandinista Murals. The city of Leon was home to the revolution that shaped Nicaragua's future. Since then it has played a crucial part in the social and political history of the country. It’s an interesting account of the country's turbulent history and a thoughtful counterpoint to the friendly welcome of the people.
Next morning, a trip to the active volcano Cerro Negro. After some time we realise that our late departure is due to the absence of our guide. The driver makes umpteen phone calls and finally announces that Leon has been taken into hospital with stress. Pierre has been summoned to act as replacement, but he will be some time.
When we reconvene three hours later it is apparent that Pierre is still suffering from the after effects of indulging in some kind of recreational experimentation with plants or chemicals. Horizontal mode is more or less permanent for the rest of the day. The volcano ascent takes around an hour. Although the climb is only around 500 metres, the path is steep and tough. Up top the caldera belches smoke and gas. The absence of trees on the slopes of the mountain provides fantastic 360 degree views of the area. . The car park where we have left the bus has signs that read: ‘Park your vehicle facing the exit’
Next stop, Honduras.