Nicaragua: A Splash, A Dash and A Crash

A few years back I was privileged to be able to spend three and a half months in Nicaragua. I was there with a group of friends doing community development projects and running medical clinics in different villages in the Northeast region of the country. While that time was very rewarding and full of adventures, what I'm going to cover here are the few weeks of vacationing we did during our trip.

Our first destination was Little Corn Island, off the Eastern coast of the country. We flew on La CosteΓ±a airline out of Puerto Cabezas in the NE, and part of our group had tickets going back across the country to Managua and then to Big Corn Island while the others had tickets to Blue Fields and then to Big Corn. Once we all met up on Big Corn island, we took a boat across to Little Corn. The boats leave Big Corn at 10am and 4:30pm each day but will sometimes delay leaving if the flights in are behind schedule. The fare is $6 each way. Upon arriving on Little Corn there are quite a few places to choose from for lodging. We stayed at Carlito's Sunrise Paradise. Carlito runs a great restaurant and his beach cabanas are nice with fans inside, private baths and hammocks on the porch. You can go snorkeling right off the beach and see a large number of varied tropical fish. Another method of seeing what's under the sea that I took advantage of was scuba diving. We got a great group rate with Dolphin Dive and I was able to get some sweet dives in including a night dive with amazing bioluminescence and a dive where they frequently see hammerhead sharks which lived up to its reputation.

  Diving with hammerheads via Flickr Creative Commons, copyright Josh Hallett 

Diving with hammerheads via Flickr Creative Commons, copyright Josh Hallett 

To keep our travel in country on the cheaper side of things, we decided to take the bus across the country from Puerto Cabezas to Managua. Most of the buses running around Nicaragua are retired US school buses. Ours for that trip happened to be one which seemed to have survived a few wars, but not without some damage. It barely had enough power to get us up a few steep hills and one side of the bus had a significant tilt to it. Toss in a number of holes through the floor so dust and exhaust can come up into the interior and you have all the makings for an excellent overnight bus ride across the country. While all of that is true, it wasn't that bad of a ride and we made it to the capital without any major issues. Before paying for your bus ride you can always give your bus a once over to make sure the tilt of it doesn't seem too much for your liking.

  Trying my hand at surfing in Leon 

Trying my hand at surfing in Leon 

After reaching Managua we ventured NW to Leon and stayed at Bigfoot Hostel. They've got a great atmosphere and nice clean rooms, with rates starting at $8/night. While we did some surfing through Bigfoot--and they now have added another hostel near the beach which caters to surfing--the real activity to do when staying in Leon is volcano boarding. If you've never heard of this activity or think it just exists in an episode of The Magic School Bus, prepare to add something to your "crazy stuff I want to do" list. This sport was purportedly invented on the local Cerro Negro volcano which happens to still be active; but don't worry, lava won't be chasing you down the mountain. For $31, Bigfoot will transport you out to the volcano, provide you with a board, an orange jumpsuit, some goggles and a few instructions. The board is like a mini toboggan and has metal sheeting and hard plastic on the bottom to facilitate your accelerated dance with gravity. After climbing the volcano, you walk over to where there are two tracks going down and then you sit on your board with your feet out to the side as brakes. Now, Bigfoot has a radar gun at the bottom recording everyone's times and they keep a Hall of Fame list back at the hostel of the top times. If you can make it on the list of the speediest speedsters you get a free drink and local fame. After hearing this, I decided that I wanted to try for a fast run and not use my feet to brake much. At first this seemed to be going well as I zipped down the side of the volcano with the wind in my face. Then this delightful combo of speed and incompetence started to create the feeling of being out of control. What I soon discovered is that this feeling was 100% accurate when I came off my board and started to roll down the mountain with my first bounce being off my face. Thankfully, I had the protective prison suit on along with the goggles so despite pulling a few pea sized pieces of lava rock out of my nose I wasn't too bad off. I restraddled my board and was off for a much slower final descent. It turned out my max speed had only been 55 km/hr while the current record sat at 85 km/hr (now at 95 km/hr). I'll leave it to your discretion if you want to be the next Top Gun of volcano boarders, but I would definitely encourage anyone to try it out as it was a great adventure and something you can only do in Nicaragua.

  Bouncing off my face while volcano boarding 

Bouncing off my face while volcano boarding 

  A smoother end to my descent 

A smoother end to my descent