Leon is another one of those beautiful colonial cities where the former splendour and glory is still tangible around the magnificent cathedral next to the main square, the biggest in Central America (Mexico not technically being part of central America), or the yellow-walled iglesia (church). Other than visiting these sites there isnt much to do though, excluding the sandboarding on volcanic ash as a day trip.
We stayed at a hostel called Sonati, which is an Eco-hostel with lots of other volunteering projects that you can join in if so inclined. The first night the hostel was fully booked, but the second night and third night we were able to get rooms there.
Most travellers who have done a backpacker route anywhere in the world will know from experience that certain loops have places that everybody visits with usually roughly the same time frame in mind. Therefore you bump in to people again and again. And this, luckily, happened to me. When we (still traveling with my Argentinian friend, the other, Talei, left us in Leon) left Utila, both of had forgotten our bikinis there. In an attempt to get them back we called the dive center and asked them to give it to a couple from New Zealand I though we’d possibly see at some point in Nicaragua, but it was a long shot. Lo and behold, when checking in to the second hostel in Leon, we stumbled across them!! And they still had our bikinis! We stumbled across another friend from before, a Swede a few days later, and upon reaching Granada we saw Talei again. Isn’t it fun to travel?
We hung around Leon, but didn’t do very much (not that there’s much to do in the town itself). I was very excited when I saw a supermarket and a cinema – it’d been over 5 weeks!
Our next destination was Little Corn Island. The Corn Islands are off the coast of Nicaragua in the Atlantic ocean, and we’d heard nothing but good things about the little one – imagine a beach paradise if you will. The island is only 3km long, and also has superb diving – 4 resident/frequenting hammerheads are in the area. And I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to dive with them. They also get dolphins but I never saw any of those.
We went the cheap was – which took about a day and a half o travel, but a return only amounts to about 40 US dollars whereas a flight, on top of being worse for the environment, is 165. It was, well, interesting. We took a bus at 6am to Managua from Leon, a taxi in Managua to a different bus station, waited for an hour only to take an 8 hour bus journey that nearly killed my ass, to a city called Rama, followed by a 2 hour boat ride (or panga if you wish to use the local word) down a river (quite pleasant actually) to Bluefields.
Bluefields is not exactly a nice place and we splashed out on Bluefields Bay Hotel, for 40 US for the room but with hot water, air conditioning and a TV! Luxury!
Bluefields is quite different from the rest of Nicaragua. The majority of the population is Afro-Carribean, with cornrows in their hair and adorned with gold rings on almost every available finger. They speak a mixture of Spanish and Creole English, some claiming that they speak neither English nor Spanish, and basically not trying either.
We took the Wednesday morning passenger boat to Big corn island, from which we had to take a final boat ride to little corn. Agustina, my argentine companion, was less than amused by the 6 hour journey to Big Corn. We had rain, splashes from the waves as a result of rough seas, and those who occasionally get seasick most likely would do so (thank my lucky stars I dont!), like Agustina who spent the journey going in and out of the toilet. Arriving in Big Corn soaking wet, and hour later we were in the 20 minute boat ride over to little corn, where we saw the aforementioned Swede.
We loved little corn the minute we arrived, though the weather tried vey hard to discourage us. Out of the 5 days we spent there we had 4 of on and off torrential rain all day long. Saturday, the 4th day, saw occasional breakthroughs of sun, and then Sunday, our final day, we ha the full paradise experience.
The rain wasn’t as big of a problem for me, because rain doesn’t change underwater conditions unless it’s accompanied by strong winds and currents. I signed up for a 5 dive package (with dolphin dive), of which I did 2 on the dive site for seeing hammerheads (called Tarpon channel), and 3 others which were quite pretty. I’ve heard another site, blowing rock, is amazing as it’s far away, but the weather was too bad to get out there. Strangely, both here and in Utila, I’ve always seen experienced divers go out with spears to kill lionfish. I was shocked at first, but soon learnt that they’re an invasive species in the Caribbean, and were released when a ship carrying a big load sank near Florida, and lack of natural predators in the area means they thrived. They are quite voracious eaters, so it’s for the safety of the reef to do it, but they can be very poisonous so it’s not a danger-less hunt.
We met 2 Irish guys and an English guy, so us 2, the Swede and our newer friends spent the next rainy days doing nothing other than wishing for better weather whilst playing Argentinian crd games (when not diving of course!). There was a pub quiz one night, which we won! We also spent our sunny day exploring the Northern beaches of the island with our cameras.
Agustina and I had by this point decided to splash out on a plane for the way back, which only takes 2 hours compared to a day and a half.
We went to buy our tickets and were forced to take the morning flight As the afternoon one was full. A smooth and comfy ride back to Managua follow by a taxi and a minibus brought us to Granada, the former cultural epicentre of Central America. And we loved it the second we arrived. The wide parque, beautiful colonial buildings and atmosphere of a place loved by foreigners but not spooky by it has made it one of my favourite cities so far. The next few days will see us exploring before heading to San Juan del Sur and on to Costa Rica.