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Salty hair and sandy toes – living the beach life in Nicaragua

After spending enough time travelling out of a backpack in the relentless Nicaraguan summer heat, your hair begins to feel like straw and the “sniff test” starts to give you early stage depression. Enjoying the beach life, but not the sand in my underwear, I look back on the three weeks I have spent in this arid land and recall that for the most part of it, I sweltered. And while I also managed to enjoy it, I am also now sporting some pretty special tan lines!
Nicaragua is certainly a place that young people come to party – from “getting weird” at the Treehouse hostel near Grenada, checking out a beach party in Las Peñitas, to the much hyped Sunday Funday pool crawl in San Juan del Sur.
Sunday Funday pool crawl - before things got messy!

Sunday Funday pool crawl – before things got messy!

A little messier, no photos after sunset!

A little messier, no photos after sunset!

It seems to me that the more hype surrounds a particular party, the less impressive it tended to be – I guess the higher your expectations the more likely you are to be disappointed. After paying $30US for entry and a free “shot” (read juice with a tiny amount of alcohol) at three different bars, it is clear that someone’s pocket is getting well and truly lined. The sunset was pretty awesome seen from the Naked Tiger which is on the side of a hill just outside town.
Sunset from the Naked Tiger

Sunset from the Naked Tiger

While León had not felt super safe, the feeling was amplified in Grenada – shops being locked up during the day does not necessarily give you the greatest feeling! We were quickly warned that walking around at night = getting robbed, and that one should leave their smartphone at the hostel rather than take valuables around in the street. A warning duly heeded.
Friends of ours recommended we catch the shuttle to spend a night at the Treehouse hostel. Like the name suggests, it is literally a treehouse built on the side of Volcan Mombacho just outside of Grenada. As we would later find out, the Australian who now owns it had bought it (for a steal) from a crazy Texan lad who had an unfortunate drink driving incident resulting in the death of a local man on a motorcycle (who was also drunk by the way). The case was eventually settled for the largest sum in Nicaraguan history. However by that time the treehouse had been neglected so much that it’s structural integrity was in question. Enter the Aussie who was at the end of his quest to touch the ground in over 60 countries – he went down to the lawyers office with $500 to pay the deposit – and the rest they say is history.
Hammocks at the Treehouse

Hammocks at the Treehouse

A ute pulled up, and they piled our luggage up on the rack while around 12 of us jumped in the tray for the 15 minute ride. I took a seat in the back and hoped that we would arrive in one piece. After trekking up a steep rocky hill with our packs in tow, we found our hammocks for the night – glad to be in the treehouse next to the bar and not having to make the drunken stumble down the treacherous path to the dorm below!
We partied into the night, completing the five flavour infused shot challenge (sadly none of them were any good) and then at some point in the evening it became a good idea to try asking the bartender if we could “get weird” – this involved a mystery shot and a piece of crazy attire handed out from a special collection they keep for these such occasions.
Saying goodbye to Grenada, we made the trip to San Juan del Sur in time for the infamous Sunday Funday pool crawl. San Juan itself is more of a family holiday tourist town an a surf beach, with the surf beaches located to the north and south accessed by shuttle. We chose to take the less beaten path and head north to try and catch some waves. Popoyo is a surf town with a lovely stretch of beach around 2 hours away. Having only two small mini markets, a surf shop, a handful of hotels and hostels, and a laid back atmosphere, the rural town was perfect for a weeks break from the backpacker trail (even though it wasn’t quite planned that way!)
Sunset stroll on Guanacaste

Sunset stroll on Guanacaste

While the others moved on to Ometope a few days later, I had to stay behind and rest my injured foot, spending time with new friends Kenny, Roger and Brian from Florida and the three Norwegian girls, Christina, Gro and Pernille. Days were spent moving between the water and my hammock, trying to cool down in the Nicaraguan heat. We explored the natural rock pools at the north of the beach, got excited when the vegetable truck came past, cooked family dinners, did yoga on the beach at sunset, and spent Saturday night partying at Magnific Rock whch is an amazing hotel jutting out from a cliff overlooking the surf break.
Having spent a couple of months on the Pacific side of the continent and longing for the Carribean, Alex and I decided to make the journey across to experience the Corn Islands. After reading many horror stories we decided to take the easy route and fly, rather than make the two day trek by chicken bus, panga and cargo ship (complete with sandbags to sleep on).
Just prior to boarding the aircraft, we had a brief moment where we didn’t think our hold luggage was going to make it, causing us a little bemused surprise, as of course both of us had packed our bikinis in our backpacks! Fortunately, once on the island our bags had in fact arrived.  We took the small panga (ferry) across to the smaller island, little corn, jammed five wide inside the boat with little room to move.
The eclectic little island did not disappoint – it was full of Carribean charm, and jungle melting into gorgeous white sand beaches. Climbing up the old weather station to see the sunset, you are afforded views of the whole island whilst listening to the beats of local drummers below.
Climbing up the old weather station

Climbing up the old weather station

View from the top

View from the top

Known by the locals as Islita or Isla pequeña del maiz, it is small enough to walk across the entire island in around half an hour. Impressivlely, the town water supply is filtered and can be drunk from the tap, and visitors are reminded to kindly take their plastics off the island with them – due to of the environmental sensitivity of a small ‘off the grid’ place all garbage has to be removed and this becomes somewhat of a problem.
Although the food was really good, eating out was expensive, so we chose to make our own food in the hostel kitchen most days, although anything left in the fridge was subject to inspection by the local food thief. Fresh fruit, vegetables and other supplies arrive by cargo ship each Saturday, so by the end of the week stocks run low and you have to work with what you can get. However, mangoes and starfruit were plentiful around the island, and free!
Enjoying a brownie at Cafe Desideri

Enjoying a brownie at Cafe Desideri

The Greenhouse Hostel had two extra special “guests” – a puppy named Lobo and a kitten “pinto gallo” who was so small she would just fit in my hand. By the end of the week the two seemed to have made friends, with the kitty retreating to the safety of sleeping in someone’s shoe anytime Lobo got too excited.
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Can I keep Her?

I decided to try scuba diving for the very first time, and was treated to seeing a Grey Nurse shark and a Stingray as big as me on my Discovery dive. Needless to say, I fell in love with exploring this new underwater world and completed my Open Water diver certification, even doing a night dive which was a special experience – at one point we were in complete darkness under the water looking at the bioluminescenece whch was pretty cool!
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Returning to Big Corn to a much bigger island with cars, cheaper food and even an ATM (though it was always out of money – that USD I was carrying came in handy!) Locals were busily preparing their craypots for the lobster season – stacked high in every flat cleared piece of land on the island. Unfortunately we were around three weeks early – I did manage to try the local dish ‘Rundown’ (lobster and fish in a spicy Carribean coconut sauce) which was tasty but I can only imagine how amazing it would have been with fresh lobster!
Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock

We did a two tank dive to Blowing Rock which was a rock formation seemingly in the middle of the ocean, waves slapping against the rocks at the surface. Circumnavigating the dive site in the boat it did strike me that this would be perfect shark territory, but asides from a single grey nurse shark, we didn’t see any. Swimming in and out around the rocks, we saw barracuda, angel fish, lobster, and plenty of parrotfish.
Running out of time on my visa, it’s time to move on to beautiful Costa Rica!
Soy poca loca!

Hurtling down an active volcano at 89kph on a piece of wood, and surving!

Arriving in Nicaragua towards the latter end of a fourteen hour bus journey, having made three border crossings in one day, I was understandably weary and ready for a rest! However, that wasn’t to be the case as plans had been made, and I was duly informed that I was to go on the hostel’s infamous Volcano boarding tour the following morning at 8am. Instantaneously glad that I had US currency in my pocket, having not had the chance as yet to withdraw any local money, I stumbled toward the bar and ordered myself a beer.

The following morning my alarm didn’t sound (probably because in my tired haze I had forgotten to set it) and I jolted myself awake just ten minutes before the tour left, quickly throwing some clothes on and trying to make sure I had the required equipment for the day. Everyone piled into the hostel’s troop carrier, and soon the suburban streets of Leon were long behind and we were making our way along dusty tracks, passing horses carting people and farm produce, making our way towards Cerro Negro which is one of the most active cinder cone volcanoes in the world.

The team arriving at Cerro Negro

The team arriving at Cerro Negro

The sun was intense and our hike up to the top was not made any easier from carrying our volcano boards, the wind picking them up like sails. Carry them bottom side down, we were instructed as otherwise the glue holding the all important slide panel would become unstuck, and that would mean we would go nowhere fast.

Never trust an Englishman!

Never trust an Englishman!

Our guide Oscar inspired us with tales of all the crazies who had gone before us, including the Aussie who invented the sport (who also happens to own the Bigfoot hostel) along with others who had ridden bicycles down the volcanic slope only to have them disintegrate on impact at the bottom and wind up in hospital with every bone in their body broken.

All fired up and ready to roll

All fired up and ready to roll

Stopping at the crater rim for obligatory photo poses, the guide stooped down to uncover something with his hands. Pulling up a plastic bag, he them surprised us with baked potatoes which had cleverly been left there the previous day – the volcanic heat had baked them through, and they were tasty (particularly so after missing breakfast in my hurry!)

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Pulling on the orange “safety” suit, I sincerely hoped everything was going to work out just fine… I’ll admit the piece of wood I was holding in my hand made me a little nervous. Brakes? “Just use your feet, but don’t dig them in if you are going fast, you’ll break your legs” we were told. Great. Just great. So why am I doing this again? I wondered as I sat down making sure I was centred on the board. I leaned all the way back as I shot off down the slope, careering down whichever way the board felt it wanted to go, faster and faster until I was seriously worried that crashing was going to cause serious injury.

Soy poca loca!

Soy poca loca!

Coming down on to the final stretch, I saw someone in the track below me and sat up to slow down in an attempt avoid crashing, only to find myself out of control and rolling off across the volcanic rock, arms held up over my head to protect my face as I finally came to a stop. Shaking, and in mild pain, I looked myself over for injuries to find that I’d broken a couple of nails, and torn most of the skin off my right forearm. It could be worse, I told myself as I climbed back onto the truck and held a cold Brahva (beer) against my arm to try to stop the stinging. I was told my speed was 89km/h, a mere 2km/h off the all time record for a female – and my first thought was, I could totally have gone faster!

Arriving back at the hostel, the fastest man and women of the day have two “privileges” to attend to. Firstly, publicly shaming the slowest people of the day with a nice ice cold esky bath, and secondly a free entry in the Lava Shot challenge and the chance to earn Bigfoot hostel legend status. Three shot glasses were lined up in front of me, two singles and a double, each containing ghost chilli infused tequila (?). The rules were simple. Fifteen second between each shot, and a thirty second countdown after the last shot. No drinking anything until time is up, no kissing, and no throwing up to win. Completing the challenge, the worst part was actually how quickly one gets messed up by drinking that much so quickly! I definitely earned that “free” shirt.