Escaping the expensive and touristic’s Costa Rica by adventuring into mysterious Nicaragua

In one impetuous week I discovered why Nicaragua is one of the best kept secrets in Central America. Unfortunately, my makeshift trip among this hidden wonders of this country encountered only two of thousands magical places of this undiscovered place: Isla Ometepe, home to fascinating places made unique by its peculiar flora and fauna, and San Juan del Sur, a beach town popular with surfers.

All in all, I must admit that despite the not particularly encouraging recommendations of my friends who were following me from home, my experience traveling alone in these parts was more than positive and even unexpectedly safe. The vibrant and cutting-edge tourism industry as well as the kindness of the locals makes Nicaragua a destination to visit NOW! (COVID-19 permitting).

Let’s start by debunking a myth: is it safe to travel in Nicaragua? I would give it a resounding YES!

I must admit before leaving I was quite worried what might happen. The public at home, friends and parents alike would ask me: “But isn’t it dangerous?” when I told them I had booked a four-month solo backpacking trip visiting parts of Central and South America. Now that I’m here to tell you about it, I can assure you that in Nicaragua, for the short time I spent there, I felt safer than in than in situations experienced in countries like the United States or even at home in Switzerland, even though my adventure was not without incident… stay tuned and I will tell you all about it later on, don’t worry! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Unlucky for us, or fortunately depending on the point of view, we live in a way where the media and the various channels of communication constantly influence our judgment towards other countries and cultures far away from ours.

So why despite the not-so-favorable claims of my trip did I decide to go to Nicaragua anyways? Well, obviously just to collect another stamp on my passport! Come on, what a question! Obviously not… You should know that my trip was not planned, in fact, I started out with the idea of getting carried away and moving according to how I felt starting from Costa Rica, a fascinating country that however in a relatively short time began to get tight for being more touristy and expensive than I expected. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Costa Rica is a country I didn’t appreciate, but simply that the more I talked to people who were going through their journey in the opposite direction from mine, the more convinced I became that I should discover this mystical place called Nicaragua.

Even though at that time I wasn’t a master in speaking Spanish, I can assure you that to say goodbye to everything and change country went very well… I enjoyed my last day in Rio Celeste, Costa Rica, then I took of for Nicaragua.

Bye for now Costa Rica!

Considering it took me the whole day for reaching my final destination. Overall I took 5 buses, 1 boat and to top it off I walked for over an hour in the middle of nowhere with all my luggage. Crossing boarder was such an adventure, I would say pain in the ass. Anyways, it took me a lot of energies and patience! Finally got into Nicaragua officially I jumped into my first issue: not being able to withdraws money, as if al of my cards were blockes. I still had 20 dollars in my pocket so I decided to get to my final destination first and think about it later on. A good idea? Well… let’s see.. you will figure it out later one ๐Ÿ™‚

The driver announces my stop when it was quite late and the sun has long since set. I found myself in the middles of nowhere, surrounded only by an immense darkness. No panic, I put on my headlight and with the help of my GPS Iย  started to vaguely walk in the direction to my hostel. Little I knew it was on a uphill, I didn’t get it. The trail looked so flat on the map.

I believe that in every journey at some point you meet your guardian angel and luckily mine was just around the corner … Or rather say that I was in her backyard.. LOL details. Yes, I know you will tell me that this is cheating: in short, G is standing in front of someone’s door and pretending to be lost in the hope of making the poor lady tender… Okay, let’s get things right: first of all, I was really lost, second I did not know I was in someone’s backyard, last but not least I am sure that from that day on she would remember me with a smile. Well, after about 10 minutes wandering lost in that lady’s garden here she came to my rescue showing me which way was the path to the hostel, it would have been quite hard finding it by myself. Gracias muchacas… ok no let’s move on.

I booked a room at El Zopilote hostel by listening of another stranger’s advice and ended up in a hostel/farm/permaculture. For those of you who don’t know what a permaculture is I quote Wikipedia: “Permaculture is a set of practices aimed at designing and managing man-made landscapes that meet people’s needs such as food, fiber and energy while presenting the resilience, richness and stability of natural ecosystems”. When I arrived it was late at night so I couldn’t really appreciate the beauty and authenticity of this place.

When I arrived at the reception desk, I was drenched in sweat and devastated by the long journey. The girl at the front desk showed me the way to my dorm… you know that scene in the first Kung Fu Panda movie when Po, the panda, at the foot of the stairs looks up into that endless expanse of steps and comments something like: “My greatest enemy: the stairs!” That was more or less how it went for me since between me and my beautiful bed seemed to be illuminated from a distance by a divine light generated by my despair there were 3 flights of stairs…

Finding this place in the darkness? Impossible LOL
Oh.. second pair of stairs.
Of course I’ve got the upper bed. 3 stairs for me!

Regenerated thanks to the night of sleep, the next morning I wander around permaculture trying to understand more about this place. I have to admit that permaculture was an unfamiliar concept to me prior to this trip so thank you unknown friend for taking me on an educational trek ๐Ÿ˜‰ As Wiki explained just above, the idea of permaculture is to be as self-sufficient as possible and at the same time go to reduce the anthropogenic impact of buildings and other installations by making them as amalgamated with the surrounding nature as possible. At El Zopilote, in fact, food and electricity are produced using renewable energy sources, all while embracing a “zero waste” philosophy.

Among other things, recycling and reuse of waste, composting toilets and low-impact buildings were key principles here. Hot showers? Forget it, here only showers with water directly from the source, nice and fresh and regenerating … With even some wasp here and there. The shower was a nightmare moment for me… I felt like I was entering one of those horror movies that you don’t really want to watch since I have bee’s phobia and I found myself within small rocky walls alone with them in an attempt to wash myself… I’ve never had such efficient express showers.

This was the toilet. I let you imagine how the shower was built of.

I planned a tourย  ofย  a town “not that far away”. After retrieving my stuff I set off along the trail, stopping for breakfast surrounded by colorful parrots in a hut along the way. Damn… what a lifeย *-*

My trip to the main city was definitely eventful. I was speculating about taking the bus, since I was too used to it at home and took it for granted that pubic transportation are equally efficient everywhere.. little after I learned that in reality is not like that all around the world. Swiss’s rhythms are always s hectic while traveling around the world I learned that stress is not the only way to deal with life. So all this to confirm that no, the bus never actually arrived and the after waiting a long time I decided to walk down the street. 10 minutes from the start of my walk a rider pulled over and offered me a ride. Me and my still quite rusty Spanish ended up being dumped halfway down the street. Yes guys.. don’t fool around with me! I just gave him the wrong destination.. at least it was in the right direction (that at least).ย Nowadays I am still wondering how me, him and a dozens boxes full of live fishes managed to get there without losing any parts…

I got back on the road and in 5 minutes a second biker pulled over and offered me a ride. This friend was in a chatting mood, so much so that he completely turned the right rear view mirror of his bike pointing directly at me so he could look me in the face while he asked me question after question instead of looking where he was driving. I thought to myself, “Whatever.. be patience, he’s doing you a favor after all by taking you to your destination for free.” Never mind, my positivity ended up pretty soon when he dropped me off at a bus stop 20 minutes from downtown.

ย Fortuna mia che lโ€™autista mi ha notata saltellare grottescamente in direzione dellโ€™autobus dopo essere giร  ripartito dalla fermata… Grazie al cielo alla fine si รจ fermato e mi ha presa su lasciandomi alle spalle il motociclista molesto.ย 

Two hours after my departure from the hostel I decided to have faith in the ghost bus again and wait. In the meantime the bar in front of the bus stop turned up the volume of music creating a pleasant atmosphere. It was nice to be there on that relaxed bench munching on raw pasta (yes guys, I love raw pasta and I’ve been eating it since I was a child… no, I wouldn’t recommend it as a snack but I must say that on several occasions it has saved me during my travels). Now imagine the scene: me lying on a bench with a package of raw noodles, eating them like breadsticks while waiting for a bus that didn’tย  seem to be coming anytime soon… when the motorcyclist who had brought me there reappeared. He approached me by offering me a ride to downtown in exchange for a kiss. I grabbed my stuff, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that without telling him to go to hell! I left quite annoyed and almost missed the bus! Lucky for me that the driver noticed me jumping grotesquely in the direction of the bus after it had already left the last bus stop… Thank goodness he stopped and picked me up, leaving the annoying motorcyclist behind.

In the meantime I figured out why I wasn’t able to withdraw money. Yup, I was still going around without money.ย I constantly tried to have Cordoba (local currency) without even trying withdrawing US dollars. Stubborn as usual, it didn’t even cross my mind to try a different currency… In a last desperate attempt to withdraw, I accidentally selected American dollars and poof, the machine magically started spitting out money OMG WOOOOOW! More than wow now I would say LOL, it’s so true G as Genius!! The worst part is that I perfectly knew that in Nicaragua even locals tend to use the American dollar rather than the Cordoba as the currecy is very unstable and fluctuates daily. More than feeling relieved I felt such an idiot LOL I felt like someone in the middle of desert who found water after two days dehzdrated… I’m not sure how I would have done otherwise without money.

On my way back, I met a guy on my bus heading at my same hostel. No worries, this time he wasn’t a stalker neither he was other intentions otherwise I wouldn’t be here telling you my stories, he was a volunteer at the hostel. Chatting a bit we walked back to the hostel where he introduced me to some other guys who are also volunteers at the permaculture. We all took a tour and dinner together enjoying a fabulous home-made pizza from the hostel’s restaurant (yummy, the owner was Italian)!

Enjoying the surroundings of El Zopilote

The following day after breakfast, Luiza and I had planned to inspect the area of the San Ramon waterfalls forgetting, however, that on Sundays there are no buses in servie… At the end we ended up opting for a day at the beach, specifically ending up at Santo Domingo Beach, where we relaxed in the sun hoping to make our tans more good lookin? LOL . an ideal place for relaxing, sunbathing and swimming. I know, I know… I look like a ringo with multi-layered: 50 shades of brown LOL other than Mr. Grey.. move away.

On our way back to the hostel, we stopped by Chocolate Paradise: the name is a guarantee, right? Since we skipped lunch and our tummy began to rumble, so we delighted in some super vegan sorbets and while enjoying our snack/lunch, it has done evening. The sunset with the view of the Conception volcano was a magical experience, just speechless. I couldn’t ask for something else!

Speaking of Conception.. but does it seem to you that climbing a volcano is still on GExtreme’s To-Do list? Of course NOPE! The following day 4 other adventurers and I accompanied by a guide left the hostel to tackle this decidedly challenging hike. Departed at 5 a.m., we had to face an important difference in height: we departed from a starting point of approximately 300 meters above sea level and our goal was to reach the summit at 1’610 meters… Our mission started with 2 kilometers walking on a flat and dusty path, pretty easy I thought, switching on a decidedly narrower and steeper path.ย  Oh G (not me) send some help!!ย Along the way up we had friendly encounters, in fact a nice cow decided to attack me by chasing me along the way (thanks G, this wasn’t the help I was looking for)... she probably didn’t appreciate the flashy color choice of my pink jacket and line any princess in distress, our guide lauched himself into a valiant rescue scaring the cow (partly me included) away back into the forest.

Once the jungle section finished and we thought the most challenging part of the trail was over, we found ourselves on an exposed path to wind and sun even steeper and more slippery trail than before. The inner path was covered with slippery pumice stone that made the path even more complicated.

Dopo 4 lunghe ore abbiamo finalmente raggiunto la cima sudati e stanchi ma felici. La vista? La vista un bel nienteโ€ฆ solo nuvole ovunque.ย Dovete sapere che questo vulcano รจ solo parzialmente dormiente, infatti lโ€™ultima eruzione รจ datata 2010. Trovarsi in vetta ad un vulcano ancora potenzialmente attivo? Elettrizzante.ย 

After 4 long hours we finally reached the top sweaty and tired but happy. The view? The view is nothing…just clouds everywhere.ย You should know that this volcano is only partially dormant, in fact the last eruption was in 2010. To be on top of a volcano that is still potentially active? Electrifying.

After 4 long hours we finally reached the top sweaty and tired but happy. The view? A whole lot of nothing… just clouds everywhere. You should know that this volcano is only partially dormant, in fact the last eruption was in 2010. To be on top of a volcano that is still potentially active? Electrifying.

Indeed hiking this volcano is the most difficult and beautiful adventure I could ever experienced!

The summit may have been cloudy but the descent… guys, wow. Every time we came out of the bank of clouds that surrounded us, the view was spectacular. From up there you could see the whole island and now imagine the scene: us coming down distracted by the view along a path made of small pebbles pumice stone slippery. Here we go again, it didn’t end well, I think I’ve never stumbled so many times in one day and my butt was crying the next day. On the way down, since we were now more butt-naked than standing upright, we opted for a much more efficient method of descent: sliding down the hill like surfers riding the waves, a fantastic feeling of freedom, as if we were now all ready to take off!

Exhausted from the decidedly strenuous walk we all fell asleep at the bus stop and on the bus on the way back to the hostel. I was really tired but I let me convinced to Jake, a guy who hiked the volcano with, and we went to Punta Jesus Maria and from there off to explore the hidden gems of the island on a rented scooter.

Punta Jesus Maria: a place of unspeakable peace, that feeling of calm that only walking along the beach at sunset. Waves breaking on the shoreline creating different shapes each time, two volcanoes on the horizon captaining a spectacle that becomes more and more fiery as the sun setting down. Mind blowing!

On the way back I trusted Jake and let him ride: worst decision ever! He had no license and had never ridden a scooter in his life, and I, stupid as usual, was sitting in the back still in my bathing suit and obviously without wearing a helmet. You might say: come on, what could go wrong, right? We didn’t go very far before, while speeding at 80 km/h, Jake hit a speedbump and we (scooter included) were catapulted along the asphalt for several meters. Okay, let’s put it this way: we are two idiots and it could have been much worse since neither of us was even remotly equipped.ย Moral of the story: wear a helmet and be careful!ย For a long time I didn’t put my ass on a two-wheeled vehicle and my injuries, fortunately light, accompanied me for the rest of my trip. Fortunately Jake came out only with minor injuries, no broken bones or anything else.

The scooter came out untouched and despite everything we managed to get back to the hostel. This time I drove and those 20 miles that separated us from someone’s help were the longest of my life! Jake couldn’t stop apologizing from what happened and it all made me very upset. It was frustrating to get back in – everything hurt and I could barely hear Jake the whole way through apologizing for what happened.

Once, finally, back at the hostel and washed away the blood and sand that had by then stuck between my skin and my clothes, the receptionist applied aloe to my worst wound to keep it from getting infected. In pain and still in shock I made it to my bed after a decidedly challenging climb…. remember? My bed was at the top of three pairs of stairs and with a leg completely burned and now doubled in size and a sprained ankle it was anything but easy.ย ย 

After a virtually sleepless night due to nightmares and the fact that finding a comfortable sleeping position (so that none of the wounds ached intensely) was more than difficult, we went to a “hospital” to have the wounds checked. Rather than a hospital, the place looked like a house where people were going in and out a bit haphazardly like they would in a supermarket. Fortunately we were welcomed, they cleaned and disinfected the wounds and had a check up that everything was ok for free. You guys can’t imagine the relief of finding out that my bones were still in one piece….

 

Among my plans for that same day there was also the famous visit to the San Ramon waterfalls, but my condition obviously did not allow me to so I ended up visiting Ojo de Agua with some girls from the hostel. Ojo de Agua is nothing but a swimming pool with spring water, a great place to relax and cool off and you have no idea how much I needed it that day.

I have to admit that in the series of unfortunate events that sometimes accompanies my days on the road, something always happens to put a smile on my face and here in Nicaragua some of the best moments I’ve had remind me a little of home. The guy at the hostel restaurant, his fabulous pizzas and the many laughs around those tables of bewildered travelers made me feel close to home and never alone.

It was supposed to be my last day on Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua before going back to Costa Rica BUT my body simply couldn’t take another endless bus ride, at least not yet, the scooter accident had definetely left its mark. I decided to stop to San Juan del Sur for few days instead before resuming my journey. The journey took me the whole day but I slept like a baby then.ย I needed to relax and yet getting to San Juan took me a full day that ended with one of the longest sleeps of that week.

I spent the entire following week desperately looking for a pair of crutches by passing one by one all the pharmacies in town hobbling and hopping here and there like a crazy woman. When finally, a week after the accident, I got in my hands a pair of support poles aka extra help for people with a limp I decided to celebrate by sipping a margarita at sunset, after all I deserved it right? I am of the opinion that a cocktail or a little treat is always deserved ๐Ÿ˜‰

That evening the sky changed so many colorful shades of spectacle that I still remmeber it so lit and pinkish in all its beauty as if to tell me: โ€œcalma, mi vida con calma que nada se faltaโ€. I was feeling so good, finally quiet, me and my crutches happily together at the sunset. Inside me it was as if I already knew something good was going to happen….

In the meantime: step back, enjoy and relax! I didn’t think my goodbye to Nicaragua would be so hard and yet so beautiful. In spite of everything I will always carry you in my heart… and not only given the free tattoo on my left thigh ๐Ÿ˜‰