Leon- El Transito- Granada – Omotepe Island- San Juan Del Sur – Costa Rican border
Horse and carts, fried cheese, lines of volcanoes, tourist hot spot and surf mecca. They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but not in Nicaragua. Physically, the vegetation here is greener than Bob Brown. I had to wear sunglasses because the neon shine was just too intense for my Australian eyes. Under the beating hot sun, it looks like a gardener with a spray water bottle had been running ahead and giving an extra burst of life to all of the plants before I rode by.
Metaphorically, Nicaragua has few comparisons. It’s like the Tanzania of sub saharan Africa; all of the best parts of the region rolled up into one friendly, easy-to-use, comfortable and inexpensive country. I spent one week in Nicaragua, partly because I’m legging it down to Costa Rica for a quick side trip to Ecuador to visit my cousin and partly because I just know in my heart that I will return.
On day one I hiked a volcano for sunset and met lots of fun travellers, but I knew I had to continue my cycling trip and ride away from the party bars and expensive yoga classes. An alternative Canadian couple told me about a coastal spot called el Transito and I would head there first. I found myself in a port town Sandino and the locals tried to convince me I couldn’t connect the road with my destination. I ignored them, trusted in maps.me and kept riding along the coast. I found myself sitting with a beautiful older couple somewhere along a dusty road. They swayed in their rocking chairs, fanning their faces and snacking on coffee and bread while I used sweaty, shaking hands to load my sweet bread with every last morsel of my can of tuna. They told me about another cycling duo that had passed by eight years earlier and without any prompting they urged me that everything here is ‘tranquilo’, meaning I am in a very safe place on these roads. It’s amazing how mental this journey is. I heard a quote a few months ago that went something like; ‘so many tragic things have happened in my life but none of them have ever actually happened’. How apt. When people feed the good in your mind, you have a really good time. So Nicaragua feels safe. I spent two days in the cobblestoned, European church dotted, retiree filled, cafe culture of Granada.
I boated over to Omotepe Island and checked out the party hub San Juan Del Sur and walked freely at night. I haven’t used my bike lock in weeks. The best security guards are people. I smile with the woman in the shop and ask her to watch my bike while I use the ATM. I leave my bike out the front the of the restaurant and ask the waiters to keep an eye on my baby.
The locals are kind. I sat with a family on the volcanic island of Omotepe because I smelt the alluring scent of chicken on the BBQ and let my nose determine the direction. The mother told me about every one of her children and grandchildren and then brought her husband out to meet me because he also rides a bike sometimes. After this I tucked into a plate of long banana chips, cabbage salad and chicken for $1.30. Omotepe island is in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, which is easily mistaken for the ocean. I rode around the paved parts of the island with my mind drawing cartoons of the wonderland Mother Earth has created. Meeting with a few friends we spent the hottest part of the day sipping from coconuts in shaded fresh water pools.
Speaking of friends, I met Australian brothers who have been motor biking around the world for two years raising money for the QLD institute of health because their sister committed suicide. I also met a Brazilian solo female cyclist who has been riding over 400 days from Alaska. It seems the travellers you meet in Central America are here for the long haul type of trip.
At one point I had to cycle via Managua, the capital of the country. It had a scary feel as soon as I hit the edges. I was cycling along a big connecter road and saw a desperate kitten on the side of the road with a broken leg and a can lid embedded in its skin. I wanted to stop and help it or maybe help end its suffering but there was a man walking along the highway by the kitten and he started making the big kiss lips and sounds at me and the trucks were roaring past, so I decided it was best to just keep myself safe and continue. I stopped a few minutes later and just had a moment to feel my body. I was hot, exhausted mentally and felt my heart beating way faster than it should be. It made me recognise that I must respect the gravity of our experiences and process them because they probably take a huge toll on our bodies.
The other challenge I faced in Nicaragua was the cows. Anybody who knows me well know they are my biggest fear. Think cover my eyes and get down on the ground huddling type fear. Or head on collision with a car rather than go near the cow. It’s ridiculous – I grew up on a farm. Brains, hey. So there are lots of cows here wondering around on the road and I had to brave up and pass them. And guess what, I did! They are the super silky, big eared sort of nerdy looking cows. Perfect starting practise for the muscly looking, devil horned cows at home.
While riding I almost always had a volcano in sight. The cloud formations over the craters were ever changing. There’s a lot of land on the caribbean side of the country that is hard to reach without a boat, so I can only speak for the pacific coast.
Nicaragua is a world away from the Mayan influence, traditional robes, cool mountain villages and abject poverty of Guatemala. Before I arrived in Central America I kept getting the two names mixed up, but now I know how different they are.
Nicaragua is such an effortless country to visit. It helped me chill out, ride easy and get over my cow-phobia.