Kitesurfing in Nicaragua

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Kitesurfing is an extreme, dangerous and rather addictive sport, so some people who practice it tend to become incurable kitesurfing maniacs. Nothing is more important for such people than kitesurfing. Their jobs, their families, their lives away from the shore don’t matter much and the only thing that really moves them is the wind. The most extreme kitesurfing maniac we have ever met is our friend Rado, who hosted us in Nicaragua. He would go kiting anytime, day or night, as long as there is good wind, sometimes driving for hours to get to a spot, and it doesn’t matter if a meteor strikes Earth and everything explodes… as long as there is water and the wind blows- he is happy!

Rado

Rado

Well, there is a lot of wind on the shores of lake Nicaragua most days, and most days, Rado is there flying in the air, alone or with some of his kitesurfing buddies. One of them is Dinko- another awesome Bulgarian living in Managua, and while in Nicaragua, Ivo joins in.

Dinko

Dinko

Ivo, Rado and Dinko ktesurfing in Nicaragua

Ivo, Rado and Dinko ktesurfing in Nicaragua

We arrive in Managua and spread our tent in Rado’s backyard. This is going to be our main campground while visiting Nicaragua for two weeks. The very next morning, we pack the kites. Rado has a bunch of different sizes kites and boards and he is always planing to get some more. We drive direction Granada for about an hour and then some more to a special place on the lake, where the beach is wide and the waves are big, driven by the easterly winds blowing west to the Pacific Ocean. The road becomes sand among cow pastures. We pass through a tiny village with poor houses. Dogs, chickens and barefoot kids roam in the dust. Giant spiderwebs have invaded bushes and trees, suffocating fences, climbing on roofs. And then we drive on the beach.

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We get to The Place. I love tagging along with Ivo and Rado just because these special hard-to-get-to kitesurfing places Rado takes us to are unbelievably beautiful and unpopular with the tourists. The beach is deserted except for a lonely white egret patiently staring in the water; the lake is dark and agitated by the wind. On the horizon, the perfect cones of Maderas and Concepcion Volcanos are perched on top of Ometepe Island.

Lake Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua

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Lago Cocibolca (Mar Dulce- Sweet Sea) or Lake Nicaragua is a navigable tectonic lake with an area of over 8,000 km2. It is the largest lake in Central America and the 19th largest in the world, slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca. Even though it is much closer to the Pacific Ocean, the San Juan river joins the lake with the Caribbean Sea, and thus has provided access for pirates to Granada in previous centuries. A project to build a canal linking the Atlantic with the Pacific similar to the Panama Canal exists since over one hundred years now, but for various reasons (mainly financial) the project remains on paper only.

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The lake is a windy place, with a reputation for powerful storms, excellent for kitesurfing all year round.

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But kitesurfing is not an easy-breezy business… It involves a lot of equipment repairs, as the inflatable part of the kites tends to break and deflate, and the fabric tends to tear. Especially if you are a newbie, like Ivo. The first couple of times on the lake, he kitesurfs mostly around, on top and inside of trees…

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Practice makes a difference, though, and with time, even Ivo starts enjoying the ride.

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Ivo ktesurfing in Nicaragua

While Ivo, Rado and Dinko are flying around, Maya and her friend Cathy (Rado’s daughter) are playing in the lake, running among waves, making sand sculptures and drawings.

Cathy and Maya

Cathy and Maya, Lake Nicaragua

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And while the girls are having fun, I am negotiating with a local man for a couple of watermelons. He takes me to the watermelon field so I can pick the melons I want and he doesn’t charge me for the ones we break right there and then to try if there are red and juicy. Yes, they are.

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Mira and the watermelon man

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PHOTOS FROM THE LAKE

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Dinko

Rado

Rado

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Dinko

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KITESURFING AND SAFETY (from Wikipedia)

Kiteboarding is a surface water sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, skateboarding and gymnastics into one extreme sport. A kiteboarder harnesses the power of the wind with a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water on a kiteboard similar to a wakeboard or a small surfboard, with or without footstraps or bindings.

Any location with consistent, steady side-onshore winds (10 to 35+ knots), large open bodies of water and good launch areas is suitable for kitesurfing. Controlled flying is possible and is one of the biggest attractions of the sport.

Power kites are powerful enough to pull the rider like a boat in wakeboarding and to lift their users to diving heights. But a kite could become uncontrolled and that situation can be very dangerous; especially within a difficult environment. A kite can get out of control after the rider falling or in a sudden wind gust, which can happen more frequently due to excessively strong winds from squalls or storms (“collard”).

It is possible to be seriously injured after being lofted, dragged, carried off, blown downwind or dashed, resulting in a collision with hard objects including sand, buildings, terrain or power lines or even by hitting the water surface with sufficient speed or height (“kitemare”, a portmanteau of kite and nightmare). Adequate quality professional kiteboarding training, careful development of experience and consistent use of good judgement and safety gear should result in fewer problems in kiteboarding.

Kiteboarding can pose hazards to surfers, beachgoers, bystanders and others on the water. Many problems and dangers that may be encountered while learning kiting can be avoided or minimized by taking professional instruction through lesson centers. Kitesurfing schools provide courses and lessons to teach skills including kite launching, flying, landing, usage of the bar, lines and safety devices.

Accidents can generate serious injuries or even be deadly. 105 accidents were reported in the Kiteboarding Safety Information Database between 2000 and September 2003, with 14 fatalities.

Kitesurfing safety rules

Kite High Rule – A kiter who is upwind (closest to the wind) must keep their kite high to avoid their lines crossing those of downwind kiters. Similarly, the downwind kiter must keep their kite low to avoid their lines crossing upwind kites. This applies regardless of whether kiters are on the same, or opposing courses.

Clearance Rule – A kiter while jumping must have a clear safety zone of at least 50m downwind because they will move downwind during the jump. A rider must also have a clear safety zone of 30m upwind to jump as his lines could touch the kite or the lines of another rider kiteboarding close by (see Kite High rule). It’s important to also consider potential hazards downwind and crosswind of the rider such as people, buildings, trees and other fixed obstacles.

Kiters are also considered as sailing vessels – so some standard sailing rules apply such as:

Starboard Rule When kiters approach from opposite directions the kiter who has the wind on the starboard (right side, right leg/arm leads in direction of travel) has right of way. The kiter who has the wind on the port side (left side, left leg/arm are leads in direction of travel) shall keep out of the way of the other. In simple terms, this means “keep right” with the kiter coming in the opposite direction passing on the left.

In sailing terms, a sailor or kiter with right of way is entitled to “insist” on exercising that right (warning opposing kiters) by shouting “starboard” very clearly and in good time.

Other boating rules such as no-go zones, distance from shore and swimmers also apply.

Similar articles from the blog:

Kitesurfing in Aruba

Kitesurfing in San Blas

Kitesurfing in Panama

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The Old Hermit And His Dream Mountain

The Old Hermit And His Dream Mountain

Don Alberto

Don Alberto

We are sitting on the terrace of a small restaurant in front of the big white cathedral in Leon glowing in the permanent tropical heat. We are eating tacos and drinking beer with our friend Katia Angelova, whom we met only a few days ago.

– Have you heard about this old guy who lives alone in the forest and all he does since many years now is carving the stones of the mountain, I ask Katia.

And even though she lives and works in Nicaragua since many years, Katia has never heard about Don Alberto. It seams that he and his mountain are not very famous; not your typical tourist attraction. Maybe, it’s not worth it? But for us and for Katia, an old stone-carving hermit sounds intriguing.

– Lets’s go and check him out, she proposes excitedly.

– He lives up north, near the border with Honduras, in Esteli. We need two days to get there and back! When do you want to go, we ask.

– Now, she is not joking. In two days I have to fly to Florida, so it’s now or never!

We can’t believe it! There is someone who is even more spontaneous than us! Let’s go!

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Katia Angelova in front of her hotel in Managua

Next, we drive back to Managua with Katia’s car, prepare our stuff for the journey and start driving north. It takes hours on a narrow road winding through hills and small villages. The entire time, Katia who owns and manages a few hotels in Nicaragua, is telling us the funniest stories. I mean, these are some hilarious hotel-stories that can easily become scenarios for the next most popular TV series. The one about the forty refugees from India stuck in her hotel without papers for a few months is my favorite. Crammed in just a few rooms to save on money, they founded a small Hindu community with its intense exotic sounds and smells, washing and drying their turbans on the balconies, starting small businesses within the confines of the hotel lobby, like facial hair epilation for example, smuggling prostitutes now and then, and finally, one of the guys married the hotel receptionist!

In the evening, we get to Esteli, not far from Don Alberto’s mountain, and thanks to Katia and her hotel business, we gat a nice discount in a nice hotel.

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Hotel in Esteli

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After breakfast, we meet Joconda, Katia’s friend who lives in the same town and is also interested to visit Don Alberto- a local legend. Together we head for the forest.

Finding Don Alberto’s place proves to be very tricky and this might be the reason why not many get to visit him. We drive on narrow roads, paved at first, then covered with dirt and rocks, through tiny communities and vast forests, and everywhere we see people we stop and ask them which way to go. In this forgotten part of the world, everyone knows Don Alberto and they explain to us how to get there, first driving to the end of the dirt road and then walking through pastures and farmland. I am worried that after this long journey, the old man might not be home, that we might not meet him.

On the way to Don Alberto's

On the way to Don Alberto’s

– Is he there, I ask a woman working in the field as we get closer.

– He is always there, she replies almost offended by my pointless question.

Don Alberto was born in Nicaragua 77 years ago and for the past 37 years has never gone further than the village church which he visits on Sundays and holidays. He spends his days in the forest and up on the hills overlooking the valley. His home and shelter for the night is a miniature wooden shack with large religious drawings on the outer walls, smaller than an elf’s house.

Don Alberto in front of his home

Don Alberto in front of his home

We find the place empty. He is not there…

A narrow path leads us through the shadows of old trees, and on the side of the path, and in the shadows of the old trees, are scattered grey rocks- big and small, and each rock has been shaped into an animal or an icon of a saint. These shy stone sculptures slowly appear one after another- the most extraordinary forest gallery.

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And then, like a ghost from an enchanted world- small and almost transparent, an old man emerges from the darkness of the forest and floats towards me. I don’t know what to say; I am afraid my words or my presence might scare him away, such a delicate white butterfly he is. The others have gone up the hill and there is no one to share this magical moment with me. I meet Don Alberto.

Don Alberto and his art award

Don Alberto and his art award

He is smiling with the sad smile of an angel, his hair is shining white, his skin is the color and texture of tree bark.

Immediately, he starts explaining about his rocks, his forest, the animals, the plants. He sounds like a recording. I am sure he repeats the exact same things to all his visitors and I wonder if he likes to have foreigners disturbing his peace.

 

– Have you gone up the hill, he asks me?

– Not yet, I explain.

– Go, go up the hill and then come back. I will be here.

I go up the hill. There, suddenly, looming above me, a few meters tall and many meters long- the vertical stone face of the mountain covered in carved figures of buildings and animals, Egyptian motives and religious scenes. An elephant, a tiger, a whale, even a helicopter are facing the vast open view of the valley to the east. The colossal scale of the artwork is totally unexpected, stunning and unbelievable. The work of a lifetime, secluded at the end of the world. Birds and sunrises are this gallery’s only regular spectators.

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It is hard to conceive that this little, humble person who has never seen the world beyond his forest, who has never studied art or carving, who has never been to school at all, has brought the world to him in such glorious proportions, and only using some basic tools. A world of dreams and imagined images, captured in rock for eternity.

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– I wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning and I say my prayers. Then I go and I shape the rocks. Later in the day, many people come to see me from all corners of the world. I like when people come to see me and my stonework. They take pictures and more people come every time! One woman who works in university brought me notebooks and I ask everyone who visits me to write their names in these notebooks and the country they are coming from. I have 15 notebooks already full with names. I am teaching myself to read and write now, and I read the names in my notebooks. If you are coming back, please bring me more notebooks, this is my last one. I don’t ask the people who visit me to pay. They can give me a gift if their hearth wishes. Here, look what people have given me.

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Someone has given him a pocket knife he never uses, he keeps it hidden in his shack, like treasure, together with a small pin with the Canadian flag, a plastic Jesus on the cross wrapped in foil, and a pair of black leather boots.

– These are good hiking boots to go up the mountain, why don’t you use them, I look at his old broken shoes he wears instead of the new black leather boots.

– I only wear them when I go to church on holidays, he smiles.

 

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The Three Capitals of Nicaragua

The Three Capitals

While in Nicaragua, we visit three of the country’s biggest and most famous cities: Managua, León, and Granada which have all alternately held the title of The Capital at some point in history.

Cathedral in Granada

Cathedral in Granada

León had been the capital of Nicaragua since colonial times, so when Nicaragua withdrew from the United Provinces of Central America in 1839, León became the capital of the new nation. But for some years the capital shifted back and forth between León and Granada, with Liberal regimes preferring León and Conservative ones Granada, until as a compromise Managua was agreed upon to be the permanent capital in 1858. These three cities- The Three Capitals of Nicaragua- have seduced us with their unique vibe and character, and getting to know them has been a pleasant and beautiful experience.

Maya, Ivo and Mira in Leon, Nicaragua

Maya, Ivo and Mira in Leon, Nicaragua

Managua

Managua is our greatest surprise. Based on what we have read and heard, we expected to be robbed and killed there immediately. Instead, we discover a nice big city decorated with hundreds of permanent colorful light sculptures and even more grandiose temporary decorations for Christmas. Nicaragua’s capital turned out to have very little gang violence and to be much safer than its neighbors to the north- the capitals of Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala, and even safer than Costa Rica‘s capital San Jose, where we had the scariest experience on our way back from this trip.

Light Trees in Managua and the Hugo Chavez monument

Light Trees in Managua and the Hugo Chavez monument

Managua is the largest city in Nicaragua and the second most populous city in Central America, after Guatemala City, located on the southwestern shore of Lake Xolotlán (Lake Managua), declared the national capital in 1852. In 1972 Managua was completely destroyed by a violent earthquake and most of its colonial buildings and cathedrals were reduced to dust. The Nicaraguan Civil War which followed in 1979 aiming to overthrow the Somoza regime, as well as the 11-year-long Contra War of the 1980s further devastated the city and its economy. To make matters worse, a series of natural disasters severely disrupted and stunted Managua’s growth. It was not until the mid-1990s Managua began to see a resurgence in investment and infrastructural development. Today, Managua’s downtown has been partially rebuilt and new governmental buildings, galleries, museums, apartment buildings, squares, promenades, monuments, boat tours in Lake Xolotlan, restaurants, night entertainment, and broad avenues have resurrected part of Managua’s downtown former vitality.

Managua lake promenade

Managua lake promenade

Downtown Managua is decorated with hundreds of permanent Light Tree sculptures

One building that barely survived earthquakes, disasters and civil wars, is the Old St James Cathedral, designed and shipped from Belgium in 1920 by Belgian architect residing in Managua Pablo Dambach who got the inspiration from St Sulspice in Paris. Santiago became the first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere to be built entirely of concrete on a metal frame. Santiago was extremely damaged during the 1972 earthquake, but in recent years, the restoration of the old cathedral of Santiago has appeared to be possible and is currently awaiting renovation.

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The Old Cathedral of Managua

The earthquake damaged cathedral in Managua

The earthquake damaged cathedral in Managua

In the evening, we stroll around the promenade on the shores of the lake illuminated by colorful lights and the central plaza where the old earthquake damaged cathedral sits heavy and silent and wrinkled in the company of giant Christmas light statues. It is full of people and the breeze agitates the evergreen tops of the palm trees. Managua is charming and we feel a bit guilty for thinking so bad of her before getting to know her.

Plaza Managua

Plaza Managua

León

León is the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua, located along the Río Chiquito, 90 kilometres (56 miles) northwest of Managua, and 18 km (11 miles) east of the Pacific Ocean coast. It has long been the political and intellectual center of the nation and its National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) was founded in 1813, making it the second oldest university in Central America. León is also an important industrial, agricultural, and commercial center for Nicaragua, exporting sugar cane, cattle, peanut, plantain, and sorghum. The city has been home to many of Nicaragua’s most noteworthy poets including Rubén Darío, Alfonso Cortés and Salomón de la Selva.

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Church in Leon

León is rich in both architectural monuments and historical places. Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of León is a colonial baroque building built between 1747 and 1814 and the largest cathedral in Central America, as well as one of the oldest dioceses in the Americas. Because of its solid, anti-seismic construction its walls have endured earthquakes, volcanic eruptions of Cerro Negro volcano, and bombings during civil wars. In the cathedral’s crypts are buried several illustrious figures such as poet and diplomat Rubén Dario- the leading figure of the Modernism Poetic Movement of the late 1800s to early 1900s declared the Prince of Spanish Letters by literary figures of the Spanish speaking world.

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Cathedral of Leon

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Leon, Nicaragua

The market, where the mini-bus from Managua drops us off in León, like many other markets in the world, is a noisy crowded place, alive with local colors, sounds and smells. As if all people have gathered here and everything is happening; the streets are buzzing with vendors, buyers and merchandise, small covered three-wheel taxis (capuneras) and horse carts. Giant papayas, leather saddles and boots, furniture, meat, candy. Strange mixtures of smells: fish and oranges, fried pork and ice cream. Thus greets us the madness of Leon, before we find the more peaceful plazas and narrow streets with colorful colonial two-story buildings and cathedrals at every corner.

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The market in Leon

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Big papayas

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Love is in the air

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Cathedral in Leon

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Leon, Nicaragua

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Ivo and Maya in Leon

Granada

Granada, with its rich colonial heritage, seen in its architecture, is much more popular and touristy than Leon with even more beautiful freshly painted colonial buildings housing some world renowned restaurants and luxurious hotels with square inner yards. One evening, we gather with many of our Bulgarian friends living in Nicaragua in one of the restaurants lined along the streets. As everywhere else in the Latin American world, orders takes ages to arrive. In the meantime, we drink beer and exchange stories and wisdoms, while mariachi, beggars and street vendors offering sunglasses and local arts and crafts, constantly stop by our table to torment us, and is hard to get rid of them.

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Cathedral in Granada

Granada, founded in 1524, is historically one of Nicaragua’s most important cities, economically and politically, and one of the most visited sites in Central America. During the colonial period, Granada maintained a flourishing level of commerce with ports on the Atlantic Ocean, through Lake Nicaragua (a.k.a. Cocibolca) and the San Juan River. The city has been witness and victim to many of the battles with and invasions from English, French and Dutch pirates trying to take control of Nicaragua.

Granada’s economy continues to grow as it is becoming the national tourism hub. Though Granada remains Nicaragua’s sixth largest city, it is widely known for preserving some of the finest colonial-era architecture in the country.

Granada’s restaurants have received international recognition by newspapers like the New York Times. In recent years, the city of Granada’s evolving culinary scene mixes local and international flavors, as well as supporting farm to table sustainability of local growers and producers. Granada’s economy continues to grow in big part because it is fast becoming a tourist attraction for its colonial architecture, as well as its ecological beauty and now as a food destination.

 

(with information from Wikipedia)

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Granada, Nicaragua

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  • Next: The Hermit and The Mountain

 

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Volcanos of Nicaragua

Volcanos of Nicaragua

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Rado, Maya and Ivo on the edge of a crater

Nicaragua- a small Central American country of 6 million inhabitants, has an impressive collection of volcanos- a chain of more than fifty volcanic cones of which 19 are full size volcanos, of which seven are active. Rising off a flat coastal plain just above sea level, they are striking to look at and more accessible for climbers and hikers. These fiery creatures of immense power and beauty- some sleeping peacefully, others rumbling, smoking, exploding- are one of Earth’s most awesome natural powers, and in Nicaragua we have the unique chance to get up close and personal with a few of those sleeping, rumbling and smoking giants with enchanted “M” names: Momotombo, Masaya, Maderas; to go for a swim in a crater lake, and to do some volcano boarding.

Momotombo

The news, as we arrive in the country, is that one of Nicaragua most picturesque volcanos- Momotombo has just erupted. A symmetrical stratovolcano rising 1300 meters above sea level towering over the shores of Lake Managua, Momotombo is Nicaragua most famous volcano emitting only ash for the past century, until now. A strong explosion followed by incandescent ejecta and spectacular lava flow occurred in early December, 2015 and a few more times while we are in the country with more explosions and ash emissions in January 2016. For us, the most incredible part of this event is that for the local people it is almost like something normal. Their reaction to the volcano spewing lava and ashes right next to their backyards is like that of people in other countries reacting to a minor snowstorm: not a big deal, it will pass.

Lava flows from the Momotombo volcano during an eruption as seen from Papalonal village, Nicaragua, December 2, 2015. According to the National System for Prevention, Mitigation and Attention to Disasters (SINAPRED), they will assess the situation constantly and will give their recommendations according to how the phenomenon develops. The Momotombo volcano last erupted 110 years ago, local media reported. REUTERS/Stringer EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE

Lava flows from the Momotombo volcano during an eruption as seen from Papalonal village, Nicaragua, December 2, 2015. According to the National System for Prevention, Mitigation and Attention to Disasters (SINAPRED), they will assess the situation constantly and will give their recommendations according to how the phenomenon develops. The Momotombo volcano last erupted 110 years ago, local media reported. REUTERS

Masaya

Only 25 km southeast of Managua, another volcano is constantly smoking, creating a white dense cloud over Nicaragua’s capital. This is one of the easiest volcanos to access on the planet. Our friend Rado takes us there driving on an asphalt road- right to the rim of the huge Santiago crater from where we can peek inside the depths of the earth. Surprisingly, in this toxic environment of sulfuric gazes live crater dwelling parakeets!

The Masaya Volcano National Park features a few cones and a crater lake. We hike to the rim of anther crater from where we can see the smoke of Santiago obscuring the sun- a mighty dramatic vista. Recently, the volcano has erupted in 2001 and in 2008 throwing huge rocks on the park’s parking lot and damaging a few cars. Strolling on the edge of an active volcano, bending over and looking inside a smoking rumbling crater is a unique almost spiritual experience, a bit scary and extremely exciting.

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Masaya

Maderas

Of course, we also visit Ometepe island formed by two volcanoes- Concepcion and Maderas- rising from Lake Nicaragua, and we climb one of them. In the ancient Nahuatl language of the Nahua Indians who first inhabited these lands, Ometepe means “two mountains” from ome (two) and tepetl (mountain).

The two volcanoes of Concepción and Maderas are joined by a low isthmus to form one island in the shape of a peanut with extremely fertile soil and an area of 276 km2, where coffee and plantains are produced for export. The two volcanos rise to 1400 and 1600 meters above the lake making Ometepe the highest freshwater lake island in the world, considered one of the Seven Wonders. But this is not the only reason why you should not miss it while visiting Nicaragua. Ometepe has a few friendly very tranquil and authentic little villages, where backpackers and tourists are welcome, excellent beaches and some fantastic kitesurfing spots, many hiking trails, rivers, waterfalls, thermal pools, various sleeping accommodations from hostels to luxurious eco-lodges situated among organic coffee plantations, and more.

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Concepcion volcano on Ometepe Island

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Coffee

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A man from Ometepe

We spend an entire day getting there, changing 4 crowded chicken buses from Managua to Granada to San Jorge and one last one to the ferry pier, from where we take the ferry.

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On the ferry

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Plantains for export from Ometepe

The ferry takes about one hour and a half and then- two more busses to get to our hostel near Maderas trailhead- El Jardín Del Buho, on the southeast half of Ometepe. It is a charming little hostel very secluded and picturesque, owned by an artist who has painted the large volcanic rocks in the garden, and his wife who is an anthropologist. We recommend this place to anyone who really wants to get away and relax undisturbed by the rest of the world on one of Nicaragua’s most beautiful and most appreciated by the tourists places- Ometepe Island. Only a dear, like a miraculous vision, may float out of the forest and sniff you while you are chilling in one of the hammocks on the porch, drinking coconut water in the shadow of two volcanoes…

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Our room

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A hairless Inca dog

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A deer

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A fearless deer

Early the next morning, we meet our guide and head to Maderas At 1400 m, as Concepción is active and considered very difficult and dangerous for hiking. Maderas is a medium difficult hike, where the difficulty comes mainly from the fact that it is always extremely muddy and slippery, walking through a dripping wet rainforest home of howler monkeys and many tropical birds. By the time we get to the top we are covered with mud from head to toes. It takes about 3 hours to climb the volcano and then descend in the crater, where the small crater lake is enveloped in dense mist. The trail is straight forward and we regret bitterly that we took a guide, after everyone told us, that people got lost and died and that guides are extremely strongly recommended. With our experience climbing mountains and volcanos, with a trail that has no alternatives, and with so many groups hiking Maderas every day, it is absolutely impossible to lose your way. Our guide, who is a good person and we have nothing personal against him, was completely useless, and most of the time just walked ahead of us in silence.

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The hike begins among plantain farms and volcanic rocks

 

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Maya found a giant dead bug

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Scrumptious

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Ivo used it as a hat

 

Apoyo Lagoon

 

Our next volcano experience is not with the volcano itself but the crater lake it created 20 000 years ago. Laguna de Apoyo is filled with beautiful blue ocean water (semi-salty) and is the biggest of the fourteen crater lakes throughout Nicaragua, situated near Granada. It is also a nature reserve and a popular weekend destination for the locals who like to swim, kayak, chill and organize picnics and BBQs on the shores and beaches around the laguna. One of those “locals” is our new friend Dinko Iliev who invites us to spend a day with his charming family and a few German friends at a private site on the lake owned by a friend of his. This becomes our most gourmet experience while in Nicaragua. When Dinko told us “We will BBQ some stuff and drink some beer” we didn’t realize he meant “a lot of stuff and lots of beer”. There are 4 or 5 different kinds of sausages, burgers, smoked chicken, and beef on the grill, plus salads and extras and a big cooler full of beer. And desserts. For many days after, we could still savor in our memory the exquisite meats prepared by Dinko by the lake…

While Dinko and Ivo are BBQing stuff with a beer in hand, Maya is playing with Dinko’s two blue-eyed super smart and cute sons, and I am chatting with the German guests and with Dinko’s beautiful Nicaraguan wife who turns out is a very adventurous person. And when it gets too hot we all chill in the strange volcanic waters of the Apoyo lagoon. Unforgettable.

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Apoyo lagoon

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Dinko’s family

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Cerro Negro

Last but not least, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you about Cerro Negro Volcano! Near the colonial city of Leon, in the middle of the Maribios Volcano Mountain Range, the small yet incredibly active Cerro Negro measuring only 450 meters continues to erupt with ferocity. It is Central America’s youngest volcano born in April 1850 with eleven heavy eruptions in the 20th century. But what Cerro Negro is even most famous for is its black volcanic ash slopes which have become the only place in the world where you can go volcano boarding!

We wake up early in the morning and pile up in Katia’s car- another new Bulgarian friend in Nicaragua. Katia owns and manages a few hotels in Managua and invites us for breakfast in one of her hotels before we head for Leon on our way to Cerro Negro. She is the funnest person you will ever meet and we have a blast listening to her hotel-stories while driving for an hour and a half to our destination. With us is another car- Rado and his older daughter Sophie (17) will be volcano boarding with us too! In Leon, we change vehicles. The agency organizing the Cerro Negro tours has 4×4 jeeps and we all fit in one of those, together with the driver and the guide. After another hour on a dusty dirt road, we arrive at the foot of a small black hill. The guide explains the rules, distributes small backpacks containing jumpsuits, protector glasses and construction gloves, and awards us with a long laminated board each. We start climbing up the black hill and the hike turns out to be the much more difficult and longer experience than the sliding down the slope. The black volcanic ash is soft beneath our feet and the wind as we go up becomes like a hurricane. We are climbing with the boards on our backs walking on the edge of a beautiful, smoking, mysterious crater. At times it is dangerous and impossible to continue. It is also super tiring and heavy. But we all make it to the top in less than two hours! From there we look down the western slope and the scary part begins. From up there the drop looks vertical and Maya is unsure if she is brave enough to actually sit on the board and slide down. I am terrified too, and our friend Katia, exhausted from the climb up is 100% sure she will not risk it. But Ivo, Rado and Sophie are here for action, ready to go! Somehow, Rado fits in the jumpsuit, Ivo installs a GoPro camera on his head, and Sophie is the first one to disappear down the black mountain! The guide convinces Maya and me that there is nothing really dangerous and explains once again how to control the thing, how to turn and how to slow down: “Just press your shoes down; your feet are your breaks!”

Here we go! Eventually, we all make it down alive. Rado, Sophie and Maya have perfect uneventful rides, Ivo manages to accelerate too much and turns over at the end (a fun GoPro video to watch), my board gets damaged right at the beginning and barley moves, so I am so slow, I have to push with hands and feet instead of stopping myself. Last arrives Katia WALKING! down the slope. The Walk of Shame, we joke.

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Cerro Negro

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Maya

Maya

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The Walk of Shame

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Maya did it! Volcano boarding in Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

The volcanos of Nicaragua are what defines our visit to this beautiful friendly country. But there are a few other places and adventures to tell about, which are not less interesting: our visit to the colonial sites of Leon, Granada and Managua; a road trip to the north of the country, where we met an old hermit and a stone-artist; and kitesurfing on the great Lake Nicaragua.

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