Friday, 10 April 2015

Up the creek without a paddle

After another day of travelling, overland and by air this time, we our now in Nicaragua. Our first stop for one night was Leon. Our driver made a stop in the way, just as the sun went down, to let us take some pictures of two of the area's dozen or more volcanic peaks. We arrived in Leon after dark and went straight out for some traditional Nicaraguan food. 

We had a free morning the following day to do some activities. We could choose between kayaking the mangroves to look for wildlife or volcano boarding. Having heard tales of people losing half their face boarding, I chose the safer option with my room mate, Christine. 

I say 'safer'. It would have been had we not been caught on an exceptionally strong current as we paddled up an estuary and ended up being washed back out towards the sea. As fast as we were paddling, the current was pulling us twice as fast, backwards towards the ocean. In the end, we had no option but to jump out of our kayaks and swim through the current back to shore. However, the water was a lot deeper than we realised and we were pulled under (fully clothed and with my bag and camera around my neck) and I lost my paddle in the process. This did not stop us. We fought the current which was like wading through fast setting cement and eventually made it back into a calmer part of the estuary, although it was still very hard going. We continued for a couple of hours up stream with the promise of seeing howler monkeys, alligators and various bird life. We didn't see much other than a lot of white herons, a couple of blue ones and one kingfisher. I'd have loved to get some pictures, but, well, my camera was wet.

Coming back down stream you would think would be easier, no? It wasn't! This time we had a freakishly low tide to deal with and ended up somewhat stranded with our kayaks in what was basically sinking sand. By this point we were not very happy troopers, there may have been a bit of swearing, I can neither confirm nor deny. Eventually some nice fishermen saw us struggling and came to our rescue, dragging our kayaks all the way back up the beach to where we started. We were hot, we were wet and we were more sun burned than a pair of baked crabs. It was not a good day!

Luckily our drive to Granada was much shorter than our others and we arrived by 5pm and were back out for an orientation walk by 6. I really like the town here. It's street after street of brightly painted shops and houses, each a different colour, all leading towards a central square and crumbling cathedral where the sound of impassioned singers spilled from the doors. We had dinner in a lovely restaurant called Garden Cafe, which had a central garden and water feature and lots of local art on the walls.

Today has been a highlight of the trip for me. We had a boat ride around Las Isletas which is a miniature archipelago of around 300 tiny tropical islands. Many of them had houses on, others were home to howler monkeys. Las Isletas are in Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America and is home to many fresh water sharks, although they're pretty shy so you'd only see them much further out than what we went. It was originally thought that these sharks were trapped in the lake but in the 1960s they discovered that they were able to jump along the rapids in the San Juan river, which connects the lake to the Caribbean Sea.  

After that we drove up to Masaya volcano (the most heavily venting volcano in Nicaragua) but the path up to the top was closed because of volcanic activity. From where we were all you could see in the valley was sulphuric vapours creeping up to the peak. It was quite eerie looking. 

We also went to the volcano museum and read about various types of eruptions and learnt a bit about our next stop, Laguna de apoyo. This is a volcanic lake which is the result of an eruption where the volcano collapsed in on itself, causing a giant crater which then fills with water creating a lake. The shore was all volcanic sand and molten lava rocks. After lunch we decided to strip off and go for a swim in the lagoon. I don't normally swim and I can't remember the last time I did it, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to swim in a volcano!

In the evening we climbed the winding spiral staircase of the cathedral to the roof to watch the sun set over Granada. It was a great last sight of the city before moving on again in the morning.

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