El Salvador and Nicaragua – back on the road…to the beaches and volcanoes!

The past couple of weeks we have been moving about a lot more speedily and got a couple more countries under our belts!

From Antigua, Guatemala, we had the most legendary bus journey with a group of Aussie lads where we spent a happy (and more comfortable that most busses) 6 hours singing power ballads and having political discussions, as you do! We knew then that we had done the right thing in leaving San Marcos behind, even though it was sad to go.

El Tunco, El Salvador
We arrived in El Tunco, El Salvador. This is a beach town with black volcanic sand which is known for having some good surf. We were definitely pleased to get back on the beach!

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Now, Alex used to surf quite a lot when he was living in Byron Bay, Australia, but hasn’t done so for a while. I have surfed once in my life, in Cornwall, being taught by someone who hasn’t surfed much either! However, rather than getting a lesson, which we heard was mainly a way for surfers to get paid to surf rather than teach, we thought we would just rent a couple of boards and see if Alex could teach me! The first day we went out, there was loads of white water and the waves were really strong and dumpy, meaning it was basically impossible to get out behind the beach break. We were able to body board a bit but I felt so bashed about, and nearly took Alex out with my board a couple of times. I even got an impressive bruise on my arm from where the board fins whacked me, so I was thinking that surfing just might not be my thing.

The next day, however, we tried again in a different place. It was quite a long swim out and we were knackered. All this sitting around in hammocks has not built up our surf bodies!! We were both a bit nervous of trying to catch a wave but they looked a lot better for surfing than the horrible ones of the previous day. After a while we felt a bit sick from bobbing around on our boards for so long, so edged nearer to the surf-able waves. We spent some time getting used to it here, and then the next thing I knew, I caught a wave!! I was whizzing along on my board, wooooooo! and it felt like I was pretty stable and had been going for ages (probably only about 10 seconds really!) so I figured I might as well try and stand up, like a pro! Then I fell off. Haha. So I just caught a few more little waves into the shore and earned myself a high-5 from a surfer dude! Go me!

Alex, meanwhile, was still out in the sea by the waves, wondering where the hell I had gone! In his words: “Ellie was about 15 feet in front of me when I looked behind and saw I was about to get eaten by a great big crashing wave. I dived underneath the wave, and came up wondering what had happened to Ellie, as I knew she must have been hit by the full force of this gigantic white monster. (Reality, about 6ft). I watched the wave going, wondering where she was, getting anxious that I hadn’t seen her bob back up. It wasn’t until the wave hit the shoreline that I saw her board fly into the air and I knew that she must be now almost on the beach. Then I started to paddle into shore, waiting to see another sight of Ellie. It was only once I reached the region of the big dumpy shore break that I saw her on the beach with a big smile on her face, and I knew she was safe!” So poor Alex didn’t get to ride the waves properly this time as it was such a long way back to the waves that we couldn’t be bothered to go again!

We only stayed in El Tunco for a couple of days, mainly beaching, playing pool or hanging around our hostel pool (we can highly recommend El Tunco Lodge!) and eating the local food Papusas (mainly because they were cheap but also v tasty!). We also saw some beautiful sunsets!

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Next stop, Nicaragua!
We had to catch a bus at 3am to Nicaragua which was one of the most pot-holed and uncomfortable journeys so far, and took about 13 hours to get to Leon, Nicaragua. This took us through El Salvador and Honduras, which just so happen to be two of the most dangerous countries in the world apparently…so I guess it is good that potholes was our main concern there. The boarder crossings were fine actually, and on one we had to have our temperature read, but couldn’t quite work out why…anyway, a loooong while later, we arrived at Lazybones Hostel, Leon. Another lovely colonial city where we explored the old churches, checked out the architecture, and went to the beach on a chicken bus (old american school bus, usually pimped up on the outside and used as public transport in Central America)

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Chicken Bus – named this apparently because the drivers play “chicken” when overtaking! This one however was soooo slow, I don’t think the driver wanted to use any petrol so we were basically ticking along the whole way to the beach!

The main activity that people do in Leon is usually to do with volcanoes. Hiking, or boarding. Despite the fact that I was a bit sick that day, we couldn’t resist the infamous volcano boarding. This basically involved hiking up Cerro Negro, an active volcano, looking at the smoke coming out of the crater, and then sledging down it! It looked really scary and steep from the top but actually it was easy to control your speed so we had fun sliding down a volcano!

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Granada and Isla Ometepe
We then moved on to Granada, (named after the one in Spain), which was probably the nicest looking city that we have been to so far. Another beautiful colonial town and they have done well to make it look nice and feel safe. Unfortunately we did see a few people on the streets sniffing glue, which is very common there, but the city definitely made up for any sad feelings this brought.

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The main cathedral in Granada

On our first night we met a nice Austrian couple, Anna and Philipp, at a bar on this bar and restaurant strip which felt like we could have been in Spain! We drank lots of this cocktail called Macua (fruity and rum) which was basically 2 for £1….before we knew it it was very late and we were pretty merry!

We also visited a Mombacho cigar factory and took an interesting tour where we were able to learn about the process of growing the tobacco leaves and saw people making cigars (Nicaragua being the second biggest producer of cigars in the world). Our guide, Daniel, was excellent and we were also able to see one of the best views of Granada from the rooftop!

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Workers rolling the cigars

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Sorting the leaves

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Massive humidor where they are stored for 2 years before selling

Of course, Alex had to have one, so we took it back to the jacuzzi in our hostel for him to enjoy…happy boy!

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We then moved on to Isla Ometepe, an island on a lake basically made of two volcanoes with lots of wildlife and lush flora and fauna.

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The bigger volcano of the two, Volcan Concepcion.

We spent our time here in a great hostel called El Indio Viejo, which was probably the most sociable and “hostelly” place we have stayed so far. We hung out playing cards and trying to do poi (my new favourite thing!), and in the daytime we had a moped which we could drive around to the different places on the island. We visited the beautiful Ojo de Agua and went on a rope swing…

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…as well as hiked up to a waterfall in the HEAT! (Silly Alex managed to do it in flip flops!). The hike was worth it for the waterfall though!

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The last place we went to was San Juan del Sur, a bit of a surf town but you have to travel to the other beaches. We were keen to move on to Costa Rica so didn’t really explore much here but it seems to be a popular party place for Americans….kinda like Newquay…some of you will know what I mean!!

All in all, we LOVED Nicaragua! It was cheap, people were friendly, and we found loads to do! We would definitely recommend it even on its own for 2 or 3 weeks! We are now in Costa Rica and feeling the price difference!! But will write about that another time. 😊

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