Not Normal in Nicaragua

Destinations Travel Magazine, May 1st, 2013

Not Normal in Nicaragua

Destinations   nicaragua adventure travel

Even on aquamarine water as clear as a Nordic princess’ eyes, fishing from a tiny bass boat in the middle of a choppy sea means the ocean is in charge here. Off the coast of Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, the fishing boats are like the people. They are simple, a little rough around the edges, used well and wet with ocean salt. These are not the fancy beer-serving, shade-giving, smooth-sailing fishing boats of most Caribbean islands. It’s barely enough room for four of us, but, much like the Corn Islands, it’s simple, it’s friendly and it’s enough. Captain Elvis with his dark Caribbean/Nicaraguan skin and sing-song voice (“I feesh e’ery marnin”) has taken me and my travel friend Ash to a secret spot where yellow snapper gather for afternoon festivities and easy meals. It’s my second time on an ocean; the first was two days before when I was miserably puking up strong island coffee over the side of an even smaller bass boat. A good dose of motion sickness pills and a positive attitude has me settled this trip, even though the waves are still tossing us about like a cat with a play toy. “When your line hits bottom, be ready,” Captain Elvis tells us as he helps me unreel my weighted line hooked with two silver minnows speared through the eyes. “They hit ‘Boom, boom, boom!’” Boom! My line hits the bottom. Boom! The line yanks like it’s angry, and suddenly I’m reeling in as fast as I can as the pole bends nearly in half with the weight of whatever underwater creature is fighting me. We all yell the same four-letter word when my fishing rod cracks in half with a sound like a gunshot. Captain Elvis tells me to keep reeling, but I can’t. Instead, I throw the wounded reel over to Ash to work as I grasp the two broken sides of the pole together. We pull in a shark. “Ah, no!” Captain Elvis laments. “No shark. Shark is no good. They scare the fish away.” We find another sweet spot and reel in yellow snapper after yellow snapper. My little broken fishing pole is still fighting a valiant fight, but Captain Elvis has to teach me how to snag fish by pulling on the line itself and then reeling with the pole. Nothing is ever quite “normal” in Nicaragua, and perhaps that’s the fun of it. Nicaragua is a teenager fresh from a war trying to figure out what it is going to be when it grows up. On the Pacific side of the country, the land ranges from scrubby and dusty to surf-friendly to lush and wet with primeval forests at the peaks of volcanoes, some still active. It’s the only country in the world where you can surf down the side of an active volcano, sliding up to 80 miles per hour down the black glassy sand of Cerro Negro in Leon. It’s a country where volcanoes form islands in the middle of lakes the size of small oceans, where hiking can kill you and where the nightlife and beach parties surf beaches make Santa Monica look like pre-school. Nicaragua is many things, and it’s constantly growing and changing like a co-ed changes clothes, but in this country, adventure abounds for those willing to be a little uncomfortable. VOLCANO COUNTRY Leon is home to the dark and brooding Cerra Negro volcano, a young giant that was born in 1850 and has erupted over 20 times. It’s also home to the only place in the world where you can go volcano boarding. For a nearly a one hour hike up the volcano, coming down is much quicker, averaging 43 seconds on a toboggan or a surf-like board. Goggles and protective clothing is required, but the tours can provide you with what you need. Bigfoot Hostel in Leon (www.bigfootnicaragua.com) offers tours Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for $28 and a $5 park admission. The hostel also has dorm rooms and private rooms, but another nice place to stay while in Leon is Hotel La Perla (www.laperlaleon.com) with its private rooms and pool. Once you’ve had your fill of sand boarding, head south toward Masaya and Granada. Masaya is home to the Masaya Volcano National Park and it’s spectacular night tours. Starting right before sunset, visitors hike to the La Cruz de Bobadilla cross to see the glowing lava of this active volcano and the birds and bats that live within that noxious sulphurous crater. Swing up toward Granada for the Mombacho Volcano, a giant with four craters, all snuggled deep within cloud forests. Besides zip lining at the park, the hikes bring you face to face with howler and white face monkeys, as well as snakes, deer, reptile and the rare Mombacho salamander. While in Granada, make your home at the charming Hotel Kekoldi (http://www.kekoldi-nicaragua.com), a reasonably-priced oasis in this Colonial city that can book your Mombacho tour for you. Be sure to grab a meal at Cafe de las Sonrisas, or Café of Smiles, a restaurant and hammock factory run entirely by deaf mutes. ISLAND LOVE A trip to Isla Ometepe, located in the middle of the mind-bogglingly huge Lake Nicaragua, offers not only some of the nicest beaches and waterfalls in Nicaragua, but trails that challenge even the most experienced hiker. Volcan Concepcion, the larger of the two volcanoes on the island, and Volcan Maderas aren’t volcanoes to take lightly. Little trails branch off from the main trails, leading unsuspecting hikers deeper into almost impenetrable forests, leading hikers to their death. A guide is mandatory to crescent both volcanoes, and for good reason. Experienced hikers have died on both in the past decade, usually from falls or from dehydration. The volcanoes will claim victims who underestimate them. If hiking isn’t on your to-do list, explore the island’s Charco Verde Reserve, with its hidden lagoons and beaches, and sign up for a zip line adventure after your hike there. The San Ramon waterfall on the south end of the island is a gorgeous 50 meter waterfall, and after your exploration there, visit the Ojo de Agua, two natural swimming pools in the forest that invite visitors to unwind and enjoy Coco Loco, a simple drink made from cutting the top off of a coconut and pouring in a shot of rum. Where to stay? Hotel Y Restaurant Charco Verde butts up against the reserve and serves some of the best fish dishes on the island (http://www.charcoverde.com.ni/). To be nearer to the Volcan Maderas, try Finca Del Sol in Santa Cruz (http://www.hotelfincadelsol.com/), situated only steps away from the trail to Volcano Madaras. CORN ISLANDS Little Corn Island is a Caribbean paradise undiscovered by the hordes of tourists and developers who have invaded most of the Caribbean. A short flight from Managua brings you to the Big Corn Island and a wild and wooly motorized giant canoe zips you across the ocean to the Little Corn Island. Here, the waters are turquoise, and the Rundown (a traditional seafood stew made with lobster, fish, shrimp and coconut milk) fills you up before a night of Reggae parties, bonfires and fellowship with both tourists and locals. A favorite of diving enthusiasts, Dolphin Dive and Derek’s Place on the island both offer certification classes and night dives, but ask any local to set up snorkeling adventures, fishing excursions or day-trips to the surrounding islands. The places to stay are all unique on Little Corn, but Nicaragua's first eco-lodge, Casa Iguana (www.casaiguana.net), is by far the most popular. It includes a private 40-acre reserve with an active farm and white sand beaches. The only hotel with air conditioning on the island (except between 8 a.m. and noon when the electricity is non-existent on Little Corn… as well as random other times) is Hotel Los Delfines (www.hotellosdelfines.com.ni). Don’t miss eating Rundown and garlic lobster at Miss Bridgett’s place, right near the dock. Radcliff at the Sunset Shack makes the best coffee on the island and will cook up whatever fish you catch on your latest fishing adventure. Nicaragua is also one of the safest countries in Central America, and its roads are among the best in the region, if you don’t mind dodging herds of cattle, horses, ox-drawn carts, horse-drawn carriages and the odd baby or two in the road.

Back