Familiar grounds

For the first time since Baja (or backtracking our few times through San Cristóbal), we have arrived in a place that I’ve visited before–Nicaragua. Back in 2008, in the summer between my first and second years of grad school, I came to Nicaragua for two weeks with two friends from San Francisco. We met in the south, in Granada (an easy bus ride from the Managua airport), and then traveled north to San Juan del Sur, Ometepe, Las Peñitas, Leon, and Estelí.


My buddy Sam on the bus in July, 2008.

When Juan and I crossed from Honduras on Monday, the first city we came to was Estelí. Since we’ll be traveling from north to south, we’ll be hitting a lot of the same places in reverse. It’s amazing what five years can do to your memory. I often have the sense of having been somewhere before, but now I have that sense with a certainty that I actually have been there. It happens with random places like a store, a bar, or a restaurant, and not so much with the big monuments like churches or squares.


Border fumigation, ghostbuster-style

Estelí is not much of a place to visit–I forget why we went there years ago, but I think we just wanted to see the highlands–but I did get an amazing pair of cowboy boots there on my last trip that I still treasure to do this day. After a night in Estelí, we spent a night in the Tisey Natural Reserve, where we hiked to a waterfall and to the top of a lookout that afforded a view of nothing but the cloud that we were in.


El Salto

Driving south from Estelí to León, we entered a valley surrounded by volcanoes and stopped at the Hervidores de San Jacinto for a picnic. The locals told us not to let Milo near the steam, because the ground is so hot it would burn his feet.


Steamy! And one of Nicaragua’s many volcanoes in the background.

León is a lot bigger and prettier than I remembered. It’s also a lot hotter.


León means ‘lion’ in Spanish. Milo strikes his most ferocious imitation of a león.

Hotel notes…driving through the city looking for a place to stay was not much fun. We ended up stopping at probably eight hotels before we could find one that was okay with Milo, the Hotel León del Sol. It was more expensive than what we liked to pay, but we were frustrated and it just so happened to be our three-year anniversary, so a splurge was in order. There is very little parking in the city, so we asked the amazing guy Hotel Austria if we could park our car there in their secure lot.

(Actually, we also splurged on Sunday night, our last night in Honduras. And for any overlander crossing the border from Danlí to Los Manos, Hotel Casa Encantada is worth it! Dog-friendly, nice parking, good breakfast…but a splurge. ($45!) ))


I love this pink church

We spent three nights in Las Peñitas, which has one of my favorite beaches ever. Milo and I are wimps when it comes to big, crashing waves (though Juan loves them), and Las Peñitas has this big tide pool that is mostly shallow during low tide, and really fun to play in, as well as areas for big waves and small waves further down the beach–something for everyone! We also saw all manners of wildlife washed ashore: blowfish, a four-foot-long sea snake, sand dollars, and more.


The inlet at Las Peñitas, a doggie paradise.

We had a decent set-up at Playa Roca with a full-service restaurant, bathrooms, showers, electricity and even WiFi, but we were far enough from the beach to not get any breeze at all, which meant for some pretty sweaty nights. Still, it was a relaxing and fun time for all of us. It got very full during the days (we were there on a weekend), but by 8 p.m. the place was always completely cleared out. Since Las Peñitas is less than 20 minutes from León, most people just come as a day trip.


A packed Friday night at Playa Roca

One more lion impression, and then more photos (including a slightly gruesome one) at limpire.