Esteli, León and Volcano Surfing in Nicaragua

Once we reached Esteli we took a day trip out to see Salto de La Estanzuela which was a beautiful waterfall nestled in the hillsides of the fincas and homesteads surrounding the small city. It is a popular camping and swimming spot on the warmer days. It took us a while to find it, but getting lost in the countryside was a real treat. Unfortunately, we didn’t do much else in Esteli aside from enjoying the company of our friends and then saying goodbye to Adrian as he set off to meet some family in another part of the country.

Driving into León was a tad confusing with the main street ending abruptly and turning into a one way street going in the opposite direction. We managed to navigate through the unmarked streets to finally find our hostel which was appropriately named Lazy Bones, and were thrilled to see such a laid back place to settle in for a few nights.  They had wonderful breakfasts, a refreshing pool, and a pool table too!

We set off into the city in search of a strange museum called Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones which was built inside of an old war prison. We expected to see some strange things, but not this strange. The museum, albeit small, was full of large life size handmade manikins with very strange and unsettling features.

There were little paper descriptions with stories and myths about the characters describing tales of odd or mysterious beings that haunt particular areas of Central America. Witches that turn into boars, death carriages, and to top it all off paintings of torture techniques used in the war covering every wall. If you want to see something truly strange in Nicaragua, go visit this museum!

After seeing a bit of Leon, we signed up to do some volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, one of the nearby active volcanoes. We had met a few people on our travels that highly reccomended the volcano boarding and a few who regretted not doing it, so of course we were ready to give it a try. Since the hostel had a smaller number of people signed up, we would be getting to the volcano by motorcycle instead of van which was an adventure in itself!  The morning of the boarding we saw our rides parked outside all strapped in and ready to go!

We strapped some helmets on that were too big for our heads, hopped on the backs of the bikes, and zipped on over to Cerro Negro. When we got out into the grasslands near the volcano the views were beautiful, and they were even better once we made the 45 minute hike to the pinnacle.

Cerro Negro is the volcano that is black and covered in volcanic rock. It erupts fairly frequently and creates new landslides. It apparently had a tight schedule of erupting once every 10 years, however our guide told us the volcano was going on 20 years without any eruptions. In the next picture you can see some people volcano boarding!

When we got to the top near the crater we felt the ground below us and it was very hot. There were also small pockets of steam coming from the loose volcanic soil, but no Lava. After taking in the vista we got suited up for our volcano boarding. The basics included putting on a jean jump suit and goggles, sit on what was basically a piece of wood with some rope to hold onto, and go straight. Steve bailed on his way down and had to chase after his board, but he took it like a champ.  At the bottom we met the guides again, hopped on the back of the bikes, and headed back into León.

Like getting dirty? Want to slide down the side of an active volcano at questionable speeds? Try volcano boarding in Nicaragua…you won’t regret it.

Somoto Canyon in Somoto, Nicaragua

Ok, so I know I mentioned in the previous post that we were on our way to Honduras.  Let me just say we honestly tried our damned hardest to get there, we really did!  But instead of heading up toward Gracias, Honduras like we originally planned, we ended up driving straight through to Nicaragua with a double border crossing within a matter of 2 days.  It was, to say the least, extremely frusterating, but we made it to Somoto and set a new course through Nicaragua.

Somoto was a small little town just off the highway with a few adventures nestled in the surrounding areas to keep us busy.  When we arrived, there was a thriving fiesta on the streets between a beautiful central park and some simple eateries and business.  We tried some award winning bread at the fair in the shape of a turtle and boy was he delicious!  I ate the head first.  Our hotel, Hotel Panamericana, was quiet and well kept and run by some nice locals who helped us get all the information we needed for a canyon tour nearby.

So the next day we took a cab with our friendly guide to the canyon.  We had a nice short hike into the mouth of the canyon alongside the river while the guide looked for flora and fauna native to the area.  Eventually we all put on life jackets so we could have a nice relaxing float down the river as some areas of the canyon were impossible to continue without getting wet.  Thanks to Adrian for bring his camera along for the adventure.

We jumped off some rocks into pools of water, took some leisurely floats along the river, hopped-skipped-and jumped all through the canyon and had a great time.  Our guide was the best and was always smiling and laughing along the way.  He ended up finding lots of cool things to show us, like the frog above, some water spiders (he teased me and told me they could swim…I think they could actually…*shudders*,) exotic and colorful bugs, bats, cows,and a snake.  The tallest waterfall was about 6 feet high, but surrounding cliffs alowed us to get in a 6-7 meter jump.

Here is a video of us walking across a part of the river…Or should I say failing to walk across the river.

We also found the disturbing and smelly remains of a cow.  The vultures had already picked it clean as it rested in it’s own juices in some of the stagnant pools alongside the river.

We really enjoyed the canyon and even though it wasn’t as rough or adrenaline packed as our canyoning in El Salvador, we had an amazing time. We finished the tour off with a short hike up a hill to get to the main road with an amazing view of the canyon to the left.  Highly recommended for anyone visiting Nicaragua.


FMLN Headquarters in Perquin, El Salvador

One of our last stops in El Salvador took us to the northeastern corner of the country to a small mountain town called Perquin which was the FMLN headquarters 20-30 years earlier during El Salvador’s civil war.  Perquin stands now as a memorial and constant reminder of mankind’s struggle for equality and its prosperous community lives in peace today paying respect to the men and women who fought for their equality with a revolution museum and reconstructed guerrilla camp.

When we first arrived in town, we found our hostel, La Posada de Don Manuel, which was converted from an old lumber mill into a small resturaunt and a few very simple concrete walled rooms with beds.  It was one of the only options aside from camping in the national park nearby, but with the three of us we decided to opt for the simple but comfortable lumber mill.  The food wasn’t too bad either and was all home cooked.

The following day we walked to the tourist office, Prodetur, located down the road from the hostel and booked a guided tour to the museum and the reconstructed guerrilla camp.  The guide spoke no English (or very little) and Adrian helped us out with understanding some of the history about the civil war.  It was extremely interesting and we got to walk around and see lots of photos, old rusty war memorabilia, weapons captured by the guerrillas after seizing camps, and pieces of destroyed helicopters.  It was amazing to see some of the ingenuity of the guerrillas and how they engineered some of their equipment for the war.  Here is a picture of some mines they made.  It is said that though most of the mines were recovered from the surrounding area, there are still warnings to hikers to stick to the trails in case of any stray mines that might still be silently resting in the nearby hillsides.

The guerrillas also obtained radios from camps they seized and used them to decode and listen in on US radio conversations to gain the upper hand.  They also used Betamax tapes!

Most of the weapons aquired later in the revolution were seized after taking over opposing camps and they were able to gain better fire power and near the end eventually gain the upper hand and win the war.

After the museum, we headed over to the reconstructed guerrilla camp which also had some various weaponry displayed in reconstructed shelters made of a wood frame with a plastic lining and large leaves for camouflage and protection from the weather.  The medic tent was simple and had a constructed table with leaves on top for tending to the wounded.  One interesting fact we learned was that the guerrillas never killed any of their prisoners, but instead sent them to the Red Cross.

There were also underground trenches which were used as protection from bombs.  They even built makeshift bridges to get over nearby streams and rivers and could have possibly used them as alternative escape routes.  We were able to wander around in the camp and across the bridges and through the trenches to get a feel for what being inside the camp might have been like for the guerrillas during the civil war.

After touring around the camp, we headed up to a mirador where they utilized the top of the nearby hill for landing helicopters and to keep an eye out with a 360 degree view.  You could see the small town of Perquin below and all of the hillsides surrounding the area.

The entire experience was extremely informative, the guide was fantastic, and we all came away from the tour with a new respect for the people of El Salvador and their beliefs in equality for all.

After the tour we enjoyed a simple tipico meal from a local eatery in town with our guide and settled back into our hostel for the night before getting ready to do a border crossing into Honduras the following day.  Honduras, here we come!

Two of El Salvador’s Colonial Towns: Suchitoto and Alergria

After spending a few days at the beach we headed back inland to visit a few small towns that offered some architectural and geographical eye candy.  Our first stop was Suchitoto which was a small colonial town with cobble stone streets near the large lake Embalse Cerrón Grande.  When we arrived, we found the hostel we wanted to stay at, El Gringo, but the hostel was completely full!  Robert, who owned the hostel was extremely helpful and told us of some nearby hotels with cheap rates since he couldn’t accommodate us.  So we ended up at Posada Blanca Luna a few blocks down and it was just fine.  It had a nice terrace area just outside the rooms with hammocks and a table to sit at and it was mostly quiet all day minus the occasional music coming from the owner downstairs.

After settling into the hotel we decided to go out to the town square and find some chilled drinks as the heat was getting unbearable during the day.  We found a nice café nearby and had some iced coffees and got some reading and research for traveling done.  We then decided to take a walk around the town and see the sights.  We wandered near the cathedral which was nice, but had a tendency to ring its tower bell every 15 minutes extremely loudly.

We found our way back to El Gringo to ask Robert some more questions about things to do around Suchitoto and he gave us some good information about a waterfall nearby with great views of the lake.  The only catch was that some robberies had been reported recently along the road to get there so it was advisable for us to ask for a police escort to the falls which he said the police would be more than happy to help us with.  A police escort?  Sweet!  So after we were finished at El Gringo we headed down to the police station and let them know we wanted to visit the falls in the morning and they said no problem.  Afterwards we headed to a recommended leftist bar called El Necio which had lots of interesting photos, propaganda posters, and memorabilia from the El Salvadorian revolution.  We sampled some local moonshine, called chaparro, which was a alcohol made from corn with a mixture of honey and fruits.  It was incredibly good and smooth and not too sweet so we had a few shots and enjoyed some local live music in the bar.

The next morning we had some breakfast and coffee at our little plaza café and then headed down to the police station.  The breakfast took a lot longer than expected to come out so we were late to the station, but it didn’t matter anyway as most of the officers were in a meeting and we had to wait until they were finished to get an escort.  While we waited we chatted with the officer at the front desk and he showed us some bullet holes in one of the police trucks parked outside.  He said that a local just fired on them for not liking the police.  They arrested him and he spent a month in jail.  Cool story bro.  One month in the can for shooting at the police.  Guess which truck we got to ride in with the nice police officers as they escorted us to the waterfalls?

The ride was entirely safe and the officers were extremely friendly.  They took us to the waterfall which had an amazingly beautiful and out of this world look to it.  Then after the waterfall we walked toward the mirador to get a great view of the entire lake.  It was gorgeous and all thanks to our wonderful escorts!

After our morning sightseeing we checked out of the hotel and hit the road for a town called Alegria, another small colonial town nestled up in the El Salvadorian mountains.  When we arrived we didn’t know where we were going to stay as the book didn’t have an extensive amount of information on the town, but we found the central park and a small hostel/resturaunt.  It was a beautiful little place with good food, great coffee and a really nice little three bed room in the back near their garden.

We settled in and then took a walk around the town for a bit.  There was a fiesta going on in the central park with food, artisan vendors, and even carnival games!  We found a ring toss and you had to try and get your rings around 2 liter bottles of coke with things rubber banded to them.  Some of the prizes were money, cigarettes, and there were even coke bottles with a full bottle of rum connected to it!  We spent a dollar or two trying to win a bottle of rum and coke, but failed miserably.  There was also another nearby hostel that had a beautifully painted façade which sold lots of local crafts and artwork inside.  The cathedral in the town was very modest, but had its own small town charm.

The following day we took a 2 kilometer walk to Laguna de Alegria which was supposedly El Salvador’s emerald lake.  Robert at El Gringo told us to visit and we were not disappointed when we did.  The lake was small, but gorgeous, even for being the rainy season.  We had fun walking around the lake for a while taking pictures and looking for orchids in the surrounding jungle.

Both Suchitoto and Alegria were gorgeous and had that “land that time forgot” feel.  Of course there were teenagers chatting on their cell phones and wifi at the cafés, but it still felt like being in a part of history, especially at El Necio.  We got our first tastes of stories from locals about the revolution that happened 20 years ago in the country and we were about to find out even more in nearby cities we were heading to.  On to Perquin!

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