Ride South – Nicaragua

While it wasn’t quite a full day, the border crossing into Nicaragua had taken a bit more time than I would’ve liked. As I mentioned before, when it comes to Central American border crossings, it’s best to assume they’ll take quite a bit of time. I ‘budget’ about a day to cross one; if it takes less time than that, then great; I’ll use that time to explore and find a nice spot. 

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So hey: Time to find a nice spot with the time I had. After the border, the terrain changes a bit. You ride through stunning forest on a beautiful road (really, I was shouting into my helmet how amazed I was at the quality of the pavement). Wonderful twisties sling into slowly into lower, drier land and you’ll eventually hit the town of Palacagüina. I made a gas and snack stop and weighed my options. I’d heard nice things about Léon, and it was a fairly quick ride there. 

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It was 2:13 PM. Doable? I guess I’d find out! 

I passed through some areas where the locals were burning fields and it created some very cool light for a motorcycle glam shot or two:

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Nicaragua really enchanted me with gorgeous landscapes out of the gate. Things got a lot more monotonous and dry as I progressed south-east, until I turned onto Nicaragua Ruta 26, a somewhat straight-shot two lane road right to Léon. 

Out of many rides through Central American countries, for some reason, this particular stretch really stuck with me. I don’t know if it was the unique, purple and orange light that preceded the sunset that started casting itself on the small, makeshift homes between the thin forests that lined the road or the interesting pockets of dwellings I rode by. It might’ve been the looming turrets of volcanic buttes and mounds that dotted the landscape in the far distance, making for an alien and new landscape, or the entirely-new shade of volcanic brown that the soil took on.

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Either way, it felt magical; a really unique, and different place to be riding, which was nevertheless ruthlessly casting longer and longer shadows as I rode through it. 

It wasn’t looking very good for me. I was racing the sunset. It’s not a race I won.
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In my resignation, I pulled over and took a few shots of the ridiculous view. I was on a small two-lane road, which a clear view of spectacular volcanoes on my side; the brilliant orange—yellow sunset light creating a for-once harmless conflagration of their slopes, a light-show that defied superlatives. Stars were already visible and barely a car passed by while I sighed into my helmet. 

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I kept riding, feeling like a bit of a moron. I remembered how things turned out in Honduras and I decided against pressing on. I pulled into a marked turnoff for a small town. 

I often use previous ride reports, tips from friends and other travelers or something like iOverlander to find a nice spot to stay. I had no data, so this was going to be a fun adventure. I barely knew where I was. That made my first order of business was finding a bit of food and a beer. 

At the restaurant, I asked the locals who were extremely surprised to see a giant space suit wearing gringo if there was a hotel in town. There was one! Just… one. With two rooms. I was happy to have a spot and wandered the town, which was having a religious parade of some kind:

It was impressive and I would’ve loved to find out more about tit, but after a solid 500 km day it was time for some rest.

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The sole restaurant / cantina of sorts in town wasn’t open for breakfast so a quick load-up in the blazing Nicaraguan heat and I was off to go to Léon. I could go on the main road, but it looked like there was a trail into town that was dirt…

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Easy choice! I did run into some traffic, so some lanesplitting was required:

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The road wasn’t incredibly scenic as it was dug into the landscape, but it did have some fun technical bits with rocky parts and deep sand in addition to cattle dodging. In about an hour or so I was in Léon.

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Hmmm, dirt. I love it. I had washed off some of the previous dirt with some low water crossings and it was now time to properly dirty it again.

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I made a quick stop for breakfast in Léon and decided to push on for Granada. It looked a bit more fun than Léon, which I didn’t find all that appealing.

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Granada is a beautiful town, reminiscent of Antigua Guatemala. I settled on grabbing a spot near the lake to explore the town and relax a bit.

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Colorful buildings with volcanic backdrops; the Central-American speciality. Granada has a bustling center, but if you’re staying near the water you can explore it without having to put up with the overly-touristy buzz of the main square.

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The weather took a turn for the worse later in the day.

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I took the early afternoon arrival to grab local fish lunch, walk around and generally relax a bit. The pace of the last few days had been intense, so it was nice to kick back. At night, I met a few other overland travelers and had a pleasant dinner with them in the touristy-but-fun-bustle-y center of town and even drank a few (good!) local brews.

It’s great that microbreweries are just about anywhere now, which makes for better drinking than a dozen of Nicaraguan’s regular Toña lagers.

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Relaxation day was over, and since I budgeted only one day to get from Nicaragua to Costa Rica and my girlfriend was coming in on the 22nd, I had some time to explore something I’d really wanted to go explore: the island of Ometepe.

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It’s a quick jaunt down to San Jorge from Granada, where you can grab a ferry to the island. Ometepe is a volcanic island, formed by twin volcanoes that pop out of the massive lake Cocibolca.

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Ferry tickets are bought at the dock.

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This is why you bring your own ratchet straps, folks! It’s worth noting there’s two different ferries, but the other one isn’t exactly great for vehicles; it’s a much smaller boat. You might be able to get a motorcycle on it, but it’d require some skill.

Anyway, for this one the price was 50 cordobas for a person and 420 (heh heh) for a vehicle. After chit-chatting with some of the people on the dock (with a Toña or two) and talking shop about bikes they simply let me on the ferry for free.

They even let me play Captain for a bit:

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I like Nicaraguans.

While it was a bit windy and choppy the day before, today was smooth sailing with some white-heads and rocking but nothing terrible. A beautiful view of the island was paired with intermittent rainbows of light casting through the lake waves the bow was smashing through.

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It was already getting a bit late by the time we made it to the dock. Longer shadows cast from the ship and golden light was playing all over the island.
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I travel rather spontaneously, so I hadn’t really looked into where I should stay or eat. As the sun was setting, I found myself on a far more important mission: Finding the best possible spot for watching the sun set into the beautiful, vast lake. I rolled off the ferry and quickly zoomed through the tiny port town and onto the ring road that loops around the volcanoes.

I came across the island’s airstrip, which you get to drive on — a first for me!
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A short distance down the road from the airstrip was a dirt trail, leading to two farms near the water.

RIDEEARTH-1004576I asked the (also motorcycle owning!) owners if I could pay them to stay on their beach and they happily welcomed me, offering me food and a beautiful spot to pitch my tent and watch the last rays of sunshine lick the faraway mountains as the weather cooled.

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This will do.

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