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John and Mandi

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Dreamy to Desicating, Nicaragua

Mar 31, 2017
by John

Our pressing visa expiration had us a bit worried about the amount of time we had to explore Nicaragua. What we didn't expect was the drastic change in plans once we found ourselves enveloped by the renowned Central American heat in the throws of the dry season. While not a false interpretation, influenced at the least. The power of external influences remains evident, experience does not relate or equate to being the same.

While we thoroughly enjoyed the highlands and Granada, we found ourselves devoid of interest in most of what remained. The dry landscape we were traversing was beginning to tear at us, similar to our time around Arizona and Utah almost two years ago. A lesson in preferences, one we're apparently destined to repeat. The drive of what is perceived as necessary instead of yielding to what we prefer. Quite possibly, the ache of certain seasons more than the lack of desirability. If in another time, we are sure we would think differently, obviously.

What We Did

Las Manos: Honduras to Nicaragua Border Crossing

We have been told that the Central American border crossings would start to get harder the further south we traveled. Not rectal exam hard, just even more disorganized and disinterested unfriendly agents. Arriving early, with mounds of copies and precisely tuned packets of documents, we drove around a long line of semis to reach the border. Meaning, dodging oncoming traffic while driving in the wrong lane as fast as possible to reach the gaps before the approaching vehicle reaches you, real life video game. Eventually we were parked, stood in a short line to have our fingerprints scanned for verification, and then were promptly stamped out. Our only confusion was a customs declaration form that was required to have the van's TIP cancelled. We asked an agent about it and she soon became annoyed and filled it out for us, who knows what she wrote on it. Another stamp and done, not even 30 minutes.

Entering Nicaragua was more of the usual. Park like we own the place, stand in line, answer a couple questions, pay roughly $23 for the two of us ($10US and 45C each), get stamped in, drive 30 meters to have the van fumigated ($3), stand in another line, get a form to fill out, locate a random person standing around to review the form and check the VIN before signing it, get back in line, wait for someone to peck our info into a computer while chit chatting with the other agents, receive vehicle stamp and an official document that we'll need to exit ($100 fee if we loose it), pay a municipal fee ($1 each), drive to various check points and provide whichever document they wish to review, and eventually pass through a gate which is the official entrance into Nicaragua. Maybe 45 minutes to enter so just a little over an hour in total, not bad at all!

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa

Our intention was to start with Somoto Canyon but while driving we noticed the landscape had changed to a more open and arid environment. Knowing that the daytime highs were expected to be in the upper 90s, we decided to skip it and head into the Northern Highlands, landing at Finca Esperanza Verde nestled nicely in the mountains outside of Matagalpa. We expected to stay a couple of nights to get caught up on the blog, we left after 6 and could have easily stayed many more.

The $15 fee to camp per day seemed a bit steep at first, easily becoming justified after the first sip of free coffee. Vivianne has created a wonderful place, teeming with hummingbirds and other wildlife. Her property has 5 trails of varying difficulty and she serves food that is comprised mostly from vegetables grown onsite. Her restaurant prices are not cheap at $10 per person for breakfast, $15 per person for lunch or dinner, but the quality of her food is exceptional. Both lunch and dinner include a fresh salad, a reasonably portioned main course, and a small dessert to finish. Three full meals would have been too much food for us so most days we opted for breakfast and either lunch or dinner depending on what was being served. We ended up eating at her restaurant a lot since we didn't have enough food for the length of time we stayed and it was much more delicious than we imagined.

Besides taking it easy, drinking massive amounts of coffee, and sleeping soundly under a light blanket (not to be undervalued these days), we managed a couple hikes and attempted to photo the hummingbirds zipping around the property. During our first hike, we hung with a group of howler monkeys at a small waterfall and Mandi spotted our first sloth. Jack, one of Vivianne's dogs, escorted us through the jungle on another hike as patiently as he could. Oh how exuberant we were to stare at a hairy blob high in the tree top. Finca Esperanza Verde is a wonderful place, one we hope to frequent again someday.

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Coolest spot in all of Nica

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Mr. grumpy pants

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

It meets jungle building code

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Mogwai

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

He acts as though he's paid by the tour

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Look ma, no feet

Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Vitamins, all natural

Volcan Masaya, Masaya

Coming down from the mountains had us scrutinizing any plans we had for any places that were expected to be in the upper 90s. While we didn't want to skip a lot of things, we knew that wandering around in extreme heat would not be fun...no matter how awesome a place is supposed to be. That had us skipping Leon and driving towards Volcan Masaya, eventually settling on spending the night in the parking lot of Bucaneros Restaurant after having a really good pork dinner. It was free, and loud, but a safe place not far from the entrance to Volcan Masaya which we checked out the following morning. We weren't particularly enamored with the park, it was relatively inexpensive at just under $7 for the two of us.

Volcan Masaya, Masaya, Nicaragua

All paths lead to... nope, that one veers away

El Chocoyero, Managua

After spending less then an hour at Volcan Masaya, we decided to check out El Chocoyero which has parrots that nest in a rock face beside a waterfall. The entrance costs $10 for two but they let us camp in the parking lot for free. We hiked through the dry forest to a waterfall, running into a Nicaraguan group from Budget Rental Cars a couple of times who were being guided by the friendly park manager. We got to overhear a few explanations of the species and see a couple birds we may have otherwise missed. Unfortunately, the trail to El Brujo (another waterfall that disappears underground) was closed due to damage. We hiked back to the waterfall at dusk to witness the return of the parrots to their holey homes, failing to get a decent photo since I forgot to bring the tripod. It was a magical experience nonetheless.

El Chocoyero, Managua, Nicaragua

Surely that rock is gonna tap out

Taller Amadeus, Managua

Our planned visit to Lake Apoyo was thwarted due to overcrowded parking lots, an astronomical fee to camp in a dirt lot without any shade (250C each per night), and ultimately realizing our van was leaking transmission fluid just after reaching the lake. It was hot, so we weren't entirely disappointed to turn around and start driving to Managua, spending another night in the parking lot of Bucaneros (after drinks and dinner of course) on our way. The following morning we arrived at Oliver's place, Taller Amadeus, and he traced the leak to our steering pump within minutes. We had a few other items we wanted checked so his staff went right to work on the van. It took a couple of days to get sorted, but Oliver let us camp in the shop and made sure the shower and bathrooms were available. He also let us use his WiFi and he dropped us off at a mall so we could pickup a couple things including a Claro SIM for our phone, our Guatemalan Tigo SIM no longer worked as Tigo wasn't operating in Nicaragua. Our last morning there, Oliver rode with us to Firestone to get a professional alignment for the low cost of $8.64!

Taller Amadeus, Managua, Nicaragua

When in doubt, WD-40 it out

Villas Vista Masaya, Masaya

After getting the van all patched up we drove into the mountains surrounding Masaya to a Dutch owned place, Villas Vista Masaya. They recently completed a clubhouse but are still constructing the pool so it isn't operational just yet. They invited us to palaver on their porch over fresh squeezed orange juice before having us park in front of one of their onsite casitas, giving us the keys to have access to a bathroom and shower. At $10 per night it was an exceptional deal, especially considering the place they let us use. When all of their improvements are complete they will have a few designated parking spots next to the clubhouse for overlanders to use. The view from the pool is one of the best on the property. We stayed 3 nights, managing to make a set of screens for the front windows and a new set for our barn doors in preparation for Costa Rica.

Villas Vista Masaya, Masaya, Nicaragua

At least we can see water

Hotel Jardin de Granada, Granada

We had been on the fence regarding Granada and Ometepe for most of our time in Nicaragua, ultimately deciding to skip Ometepe and to rent a hotel in Granada. Out of all of the Colonial towns in Central America, it was one we didn't want to miss... plus, having air conditioning was becoming a much needed reprieve. We initially booked two nights, changing it to four after our first night there. The town is quite beautiful and full of great restaurants, Hotel Jardin was exactly what we needed complete with onsite parking. Matty & Ingrid decided to stop in town on their way to Oliver's shop in Managua so our visit was made even sweeter by getting to spend a couple evenings with them. Many might criticize Granada for catering to tourists or being too touristy, that's a shame as it is truly quite a charming town. We could see ourselves living in Granada, as long as we have AC ; )

Granada, Nicaragua

Not the golden arches we were looking for

Granada, Nicaragua

You be noticing the colors, we be noticing the clean

Granada, Nicaragua

Yup, on her cellphone

Granada, Nicaragua

For a second I thought we were in St. Augustine

Granada, Nicaragua

You got steeple, no people

Hotel Monte Verde, Rivas

We visited Hotel Monte Verde twice, each for three nights for a total of six. Our first visit was after spending two nights hanging with Matty & Ingrid at Camping Luna near Playa Popoyo, which is a dusty lot in the dry season not really suitable for non-surfers in our opinion. On our way to Playa Maderas we spotted Moby, the rig now owned by Cate & Will (The Life Nomadic). We pulled in to Hotel Monte Verde, chatted a bit, continued to Maderas to find it overcrowded but with a great beginners wave that would have been perfect for boogieing, and then returned. Our second stay was after Granada for an overlander meet-up and our upcoming border crossing.

Yong, a native of Alabama, has created a really nice place mostly frequented by the local Nicaraguans except for Friday's which is a pool party/wing day for the local expats. Each morning we'd have long talks over coffee before he left to work on his other bar, soon to be open, in San Juan del Sur. At $5 per person we found Hotel Monte Verde to be a good deal. Free coffee, WiFi, flush toilets, a shower, onsite pool, walking distance to the ocean (which we never did), and not nearly as dusty as every place else we visited in the area. His two puppies were an added bonus, one was a three pound fuzz ball, the other a gigantic doofus. Yong told us that in the wet season wild horses come down and graze in the corner of his property, that would have been cool.

The overlander meet-up was a success, five plus rigs in attendance. We reunited with Pete & Natasha and we finally met Amie & Matt (The Traveling Together Journal) whom we've previously messaged a few times. Amie & Matt interviewed us for their blog, hopefully we made some semblance of sense, so sometime in the future we'll be sure to share a link to the video if we make the cut. It was fun times, leading to us spending one more night than planned, before we had to leave for the border.

Hotel Monte Verde, Rivas, Nicaragua

These people will live any damn where

Hotel Monte Verde, Rivas, Nicaragua

I was wondering what the smell was

Honorable Mentions

While we don't list every place and thing we do there are some that stick in our minds. Weeks later we catch ourselves mentioning them to others or just savoring the memory of the exquisite cuisine we consumed. Here are a few standouts.

Sunrise Cafe, Masatepe

A random stop that resulted in a fantastic breakfast. An American/Honduran owned establishment that serves a Nacatamale we will forever dream about. We each ordered an omelet and one Nacatamale to share, taking the majority of the latter to go for breakfast another day. We sat around talking to the owner before Mandi also had a piece of cheesecake. Our bill just broke $14 with tip.

El Zaguan, Granada

Real, properly cooked, tenderloin...not much else needs to be said. Mandi had the orange glazed chicken which was equally phenomenal. Not cheap but decently sized portions that left us completely satisfied.

Kathy's Waffle House, Granada

Big ole American breakfast complete with three eggs, mound of greasy potatoes, four slices of bacon, toast, and free coffee refills. Mandi tried their strawberry and blueberry pancakes one morning which were great too. We had breakfast at Kathy's every day we were in Granada, each time costing under $13 including tip.

Pita Pita, Granada

A Mediterranean place that is as decadent as we could have ever wished. The falafel and hummus lured us in but the grass fed lamb and chicken dinners tantalized our palettes. Not a cheap place, but one we visited again with Matty & Ingrid during our last night in Granada.

Pan de Vida, Granada

Unfortunately they were closed on the night we wanted to try their pizza but the desserts we had purchased previously were all fantastic. Their selection of baked goods changes, we wouldn't hesitate to try any of them. We will be reminiscing about the chocolate chip cookies for a long long time.


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Say what? (6)
Sandy in San Diego
Mar 31, 2017 at 04:05 PM
Thanks for all your entertaining writings and great photos. I wonder how you have the energy to keep going. But then I'm old, and you be young. I wish you safe travels and good health.
Apr 10, 2017 at 05:04 PM
Hey Sandi!

Thanks. We remember you were taking trips in your Chevy so you're definitely still young enough ; ) Keep on keepin on!
Apr 1, 2017 at 01:42 PM
Nice to see you all continuing to run into eachother, along with meeting new friends along the way. Can't say we're not jealous of that, however each mention of the heat had me thankful we aren't dealing with that ;) Happy trails friends
Apr 10, 2017 at 05:16 PM
Hey Rhonda (Jim too)!

It's a small world out here, as you well know. In a couple days we board a plane bound for Florida for some much needed family time, thus breaking the pace we've been sharing with so many friends : ( We expect to see everyone again sometime down the road and hopefully you guys in SA. You know us Overlanders, we never really know what we're going to do next.

As for the heat, the Highlands of Nica and the mountains south of San Jose are the best reprieve. We've had lows in the mid 40s in Costa Rica and we saw Quetzales!
Apr 19, 2017 at 05:39 PM
Excellent! I see you enjoying waffles (!) in Florida and sharing time with family. We shall plan on seeing you again somewhere down the road. Cheers
Apr 26, 2017 at 03:03 PM
Most definitely Rhonda!
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