Nicaragua Diary

Monday, 27 October 2014

Let the adventure begin!

After 36 hours of traveling, I have finally arrived on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. The (almost) last leg was with a short flight on a 12-seat “puddle jumper” from Managua to Big Corn – view over the pilot’s shoulder included – followed by a 1-hour boat ride from Big Corn to Little Corn.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Settled into my deluxe bungalow at the Casa Iguana – sound of the waves and swaying palm leaves, view of the sea, and cooling breeze included. View at breakfast from the restaurant also not bad. Breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, and gallo pinto (beans and rice).

Tuesday, 29 October 2014

First dives of my Advanced Open Water Diver course and first attempts at underwater photography with my Canon S120 and WP-DC51 underwater housing. Still struggling with the right exposure settings…and fish identification: a blue fish and dive instructor plus a little skittish hole-dwelling creature.

First night dive. Making some progress with fish IDs: toadfish, octopus, and queen trigger fish (I believe).

Thursday, 30 October 2014

First deep dive to 22m as part of the course, starring a nosy resident moray eel. Followed by a fish ID dive. Admittedly, these didn’t pose much of a challenge: cute little nurse sharks that follow you around and even enjoy being petted.

There’s an invasive species of fish called lionfish here which poses a bit of a problem here as it has no natural predators and eats all the little reef fish (details here). Some divers harpoon them and feed them to the sharks, which is why they associate divers with food. A bit like going for a dog walk and dogs hoping you’ve got treats in your pocket.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Completed the Advanced Open Water course yesterday and am now ready to do some fun dives. – Okay, these creatures are a bit easier to identify: myself, lobster, sting ray, and another little nurse shark.

In the afternoon: first cave dive. A bit spooky to dive through those confined spaces, but great light, though not many fish….

Saturday and Sunday, 1 and 2 November, 2014

An involuntary break from diving. Heavy rain and wind. The sea is pounding against the shore, the palm fronds are rustling and brushing against the tin roof. It sounds like the world is coming to an end. In the middle of the night, a coconut falls on the roof with a loud bang. During the day, the view from the breakfast table is transformed. But there are a couple of hours when the rain stops, providing an opportunity to walk along the shore. Although there are a few nice stretches, the beaches are very narrow. As far as tropical islands go, Little Corn above the water is not bad, but there are more beautiful ones.

Monday and Tuesday, 3 and 4 November, 2014

The weather has improved. Although it’s still windy and it occasionally rains, it’s possible to go diving again and the sun breaks through from time to time. Here a few more diving highlights and island impressions.

Thursday and Friday, 6 and 7 November, 2014

I flew back to Managua yesterday and made my way to Granada. Founded in 1524, Granada oozes colonial charm, with a large cathedral, crumbling churches, and brightly colored buildings.

In addition, Granada has a Choco Museo, which offers all sorts of things revolving around chocolate, including a “Chocolate Workshop.” Although not cheap at US$19, it is definitely worth it. It starts with an explanation of the different types of cocoa beans and the way they are grown. You then get to roast, shell, and grind the cocoa beans, which first turn into powder and then into cocoa paste (at which point you can really start smelling the chocolate aroma – hmmmm). Next, you get to make two cocoa drinks with the paste: Aztec and Spanish. The former, if I remember correctly, contains water, honey, cinnamon, and chili, while the latter contains milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. They’re both yummy in their own way, although surprisingly I preferred the Aztec version. The chili gave it a nice kick…

But you also get to make your own chocolate bars at the Choco Museo! The chocolate paste is mixed with sugar and then conched (mixed and ground) for 5-6 hours to make it smooth and free of grains (apparently, chocolate manufacturers conch for a few days). Rather than having to wait that long, you get to use some of the mix they’ve already prepared – 50% or 70% – and choose your own ingredients. Being the only workshop participant, I even got to make two bars, opting for 70% chocolate and an “adventurous” concoction inspired by the Aztec cocoa drink with chili, vanilla, and cinnamon for the first one and just peanuts for the second one. Probably the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted – especially the first one! Maybe it’s time to change careers and become a choco warrior…. ?

Hidden behind the colorful facades of Granada are shady courtyards that are oases of tranquility, like the Garden Café, which serves excellent Nica breakfast. Another place of peace and tranquility is the Nicaragua Butterfly Reserve (Mariposario) a 4km hot and dusty bicycle ride out of town. Hardly anyone seems to visit, which is a shame, since they are making a great effort to rear local butterflies, whose habitat is increasingly encroached upon.

Saturday to Monday, 8 to 10 November, 2014

Only a short bus and boat ride from Granada is Ometepe Island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua (Cocibolca), with two towering volcanoes, Conception (active) and Maderas (extinct). It is through this lake that the canal to rival the Panama Canal is planned to be built (proposed start date: later this year), to which there is a lot of opposition on Ometepe. In one corner on the shore of the island is the Charco Verde Reserve, home to various bird species as well as capuchin and howler monkeys. The latter can be heard from kilometers away…and are hard to miss when they’re right above you!

Monday and Tuesday, 10 and 11 November, 2014

San Juan del Sur and the beaches in the vicinity apparently are a surfers’ paradise and the streets of San Juan certainly are full of surfer types and surf schools. I arrived in the mid-day heat and after finding the first two hostels full, drenched in sweat and close to heat stroke, I just walked into the Coco Azul (Blue Coconut). What a find! My usual price category is the cheapest single room I can find (in my younger days, I would happily sleep in a dorm, but these days I do like a bit of privacy and a safe place for my camera gear), but what a find the Coco Azul was: a nicely decorated, bright, airy room with a balcony, two wild parrots playing on the roof opposite, and yummy breakfast. And all this for US$35 – only US$10 more than the cheapest room.

But the main reason I came to San Juan del Sur was to visit Playa La Flor Nature Reserve, a beach 18km south of San Juan, which is one of the major sites in the world for the Olive Ridley sea turtles to come and lay their eggs during half moon between July and February. A threatened species, the turtles need all the help they can get, with locals, vultures, coatis, crabs, and feral dogs all keen on the eggs and/or the newly hatched turtles. For this reason, rangers dig out the eggs on the beach and put them in large sacks of sand, where the eggs incubate safe from predators. After 45-55 days, the little turtles hatch and the rangers let tourists release them in the sea after sunset. (In addition, at night soldiers patrol the beach to protect the eggs from poachers.)

During the “arribadas,” up to 20,000 turtles lay their eggs on a single beach. That night was rather less busy, with a turtle emerging from the sea here and there and then laboriously shuffling up the beach to dig a whole, lay about 100 eggs, cover them in sand, and then heading straight back to the sea. Spending the afternoon on the deserted beach (the tours only arrive after sunset), observing the ominous vultures, watching the sunset, releasing the hatched turtles on the beach and ushering them into the waves, seeing a coati digging out some eggs and running away, discovering baby turtles that have just hatched on the beach, and witnessing a grown female lay its eggs under a starry sky – what an experience!

(To protect the turtles, flash lights and white torch light are not allowed on the beach. Instead, one has to cover the torch with a red film – hence the red color cast, which I digitally corrected to some extent. The turtle laying eggs under the stars was light-painted using very weak light from a covered torch.)

San Juan was my last stop in Nicaragua before moving on to Costa Rica. To follow my travels there, please visit my Costa Rica Diary.