Cycle breakdown and a festival town.
Woken this morning before dawn by fire works and truck loads of singers passing the hostel, this is part of the celebrations we experienced last night.
Christmas Season in Nicaragua is a celebration that everyone in the country looks forward to, and it begins early in the month of December. On December 7th, Nicaraguans celebrate “La gritería” to honor “La Purisima”, the purest and Immaculate Conception of Mary. This is a boisterous tradition paying homage to The Virgin Mary. For this event, thousands of people in the country, especially children, go from house to house singing Christmas hymns and carols of The Virgin Mary. The houses where the carolers perform rewards such singing and praises by offering treats like rosquillas (doughnuts), leche de burra (a candy called donkey’s milk), oranges, and other sweets
My bikes front wheel has some nasty creaking and crunching coming from the bearings and the wheel has tight spots, I found a cycle mechanic but he couldn’t fix it as it’s too far gone and now it is even worse.
We had to take a chicken bus to Chinandega, we found a line of cycle shops in the market but no new wheels in my size. We jumped on another bus to Leon, the logic being that it was a more touristy town and we hoped we would have more luck, plus we had some sights to see while the bike was being fixed.
On the second bus ride one of the other passengers noticed we had been overcharged and must have complained on our behalf as the conductor came back with some more money for us, the fare was still approx £5 for us both and our bikes.
Ginette – when we were offered the bus price by the tout, I had started to negotiate, I knew the price was too high but Gary just wanted to get to Leon, so I let it go, without making a fuss.
Arriving in Leon, we found it was pretty busy, it wasn’t until we found no rooms in any of the hostels that we discovered the town was enjoying the special festival day in a big fashion. After having no joy in a few hostels we restored to searching on line using one o fit hotels ultra slow wifi connections. the only place we could find was a hotel on the outskirts 4 miles away. While we were searching a German backpacker told us he was also looking for a room and having no luck.
We didn’t want to cycle out of the town and miss the fun and fortunately as we were searching the internet outside another hostel a couple agreed to stay at a beach hostel they were volunteering in so that we could have a bed for the night. The situation was not ideal, we were in separate bunk rooms with a very young clientele.
We had a quick wash and ventured out to enjoy the fireworks and festivities, a lot was going on so to summarise:
The cathedral was lit up and had cheery music playing, the priest in his refinery was having selfies with the public.
A group of tall puppets with people inside were dancing to a massive crowd.
There were well decorated and lit religious displays around the plaza, inside shops and houses
Large 30ft tall dolls decorated the plaza (puppets held on sticks)
there was a queue of people young and old all around a large church waiting to stroll past a line of tents with religious displays with people giving away sweets.
There were several shops and houses with Virgin Mary displays that were also handing out free sweets to queues of people
All in all a very festive and friendly feel to the evening
Ginette – it was a great evening, with the added bonus of finding a local restaurant and having a buffet lunch for the equivalent of £1.50 each. I noticed there were a couple of these restaurants around the city, the portions are not great but at such a low price it was not a problem.
On 8 Dec 2019,
Another bus ride.
We was up at 6.30 having breakfast of poached eggs while the other hostel youngsters were sleeping off the 4.30am return to the rooms which they did very quietly but still woke us.
Ginette – I had thought I would have had a troubled evenings sleep, I am not keen on sharing a dorm but I surprisingly slept very well. Sleeping in the top bunk brought back memories of being a child and sharing a bunk bed with my sister.
We did venture back into the centre of Leon, it’s a pretty city with 70 churches, and the streets were already cleaned from the previous nights festivities.We had a guided tour of a revolution museum with two German ladies. One of the guides was a soldier from the revolution the other an English speaking lady, but one of the German ladies had excellent Spanish and English and did more translation than the guide.
It was hard to follow the Information about the revolution so a bit of self researching was required to fill the gaps. The most striking feature of the tour (although I suspect the soldier was more interesting but I could not converse with him properly) was walking on the roof of the building on a corrugated steel structure flexing under the feet with rusty holes in it, the guide warned us to avoid the holes so that made it all OK (Health and safety at your own risk).
Ginette – it would have been helpful to have a time line, the murals were interesting and informative but clearly displayed from the revolutionists perspective.
We moved onto the city of Managua by bus, it’s a bigger city with better scope for cycle shops (Trek and Specialised have stores here). We arrived on Sunday so most of the shops).
As we arrived at the bus station we had the usual touts coming to us to see were we wanted to go, if you are ever in this area of America you don’t need to worry about finding your bus as the touts find you plus the destination is written on the buses. The first tout wanted to charge us 300 and wait an hour on an empty bus. We walked away and found another full bus ready to leave that snapped us up loaded the bikes inside and was off within 10 minutes all for 200 (£5 for both us and the bikes).
Ginette – this sounds so simple, but the reality is, we often feel hassled, and had to negotiate with the touts. This particular tout was quite stroppy and as we walked off he threw his hands in the air ’not my problem’.
The bus we eventually took was a rust bucket, we could see the floor under our feet. It was rammed full, many people standing for long periods. It took about 1 hour and a 1/2 to cover 50 miles, stopping often to pick up passengers, one passenger was even carrying a life chicken. Riding on the local buses is not for the feint hearted but we find them interesting if not a little uncomfortable. At one point an older lady sat her big bottom on Gary’s knee, you should have seen his face.
Curse of the bank holiday
Just our luck, the city is celebrating a bank holiday so nearly all the shops are closed, we have managed to get groceries but the cycle store we came to the city for was closed.
Ginette – although most of the shops were closed we did pass a market with about 10-20 vendors all selling fireworks. Celebrating Christmas in Nicaragua is a big thing and includes fireworks most nights, parades and lots of nativity scenes and sparkly lights.
We had a 6 mile wander around the part of the city, and we have nothing really to report, we did spot a family playing baseball in the middle of a side street.
At least the accommodation is OK so we can sit around and read and WiFi.
A bus ride to Grenada.
I finally managed to find a bike shop that was open and willing to help on the third attempt.
The city of Managua did not hold much appeal to us so we decided to move on to Granada, my bike however remained at the bike shop.
First impressions of Granada are better than we had for Managua, it has some nice plazas with grand churches and is by a large lake. By the time we settled into our hostel we only had a few hours of daylight left so took a quick stroll around the main plaza and a nearby market. Granada has some rough edges and at night there are a few drunks around so is not a perfect tourist spot but there are several tours we can do from here so we have some decisions to make on whether we want to spend any more cash on trips.
Volcanoes trip by tour bus right to a molten crater viewing point
- Volcano hike through a forest with possible animal encounters.
- Boat ride to the nearby lakes scattered island feature to see wildlife and locals.
- Hire a canoe and do the same trip under our own power
The problem is these are all expensive, $20 plus each, are they worth spending money on when we get to see some of these things on our bikes for free
11th – 14th Dec
Living on an Island, oh boy we’re having fun, but not getting high.
Grenada is a pretty city and not too busy. We had a day wandering around by the lake, the market and up a church bell tower to take in the views.
In the afternoon I decided to jump back on the bus to Managua as I had received a whatsup message saying the bike was ready.
Arriving at the bike shop I found they had a front wheel, it was second hand but at least it was fitted with a tyre and inner tube, but they hadn’t been able to fix the rear derailer as the parts hadn’t arrived. I took the bike back to Granada by bus as I hoped I could get it fixed in Granada!
Next day I had no joy with the Grenada cycle shops and was wondering what to do. We met a Canadian couple of cycle tourers at our hostel in Granada, it’s good to share stories. Even better as he took a look at my bike with me and suggested I try a new chain as I haven’t been able to have the rear derailer cog changed. Turn out this has done the trick.
We had been off the bikes for a while and hardly cycled any of Nicaragua so was itching to get going again, in a way it’s a shame as another day with the Canadian couple wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
We cycled up over a small climb and headed towards the town of Rivas. An uneventful ride other than Ginette having issues with her knee. On arrival a young man called us over as he was also a cycle tourist from Argentina, he took us to the place he was staying and I suspect we could have also stayed there but the language barrier and body language of the owner left us in doubt. We booked into a hostel, pretty tight packed little home stay but cosy enough.
The town was celebrating another religious ceremony and had a festival feel to it, the kids were dressed in fancy costumes and the plaza was well lit with Christmas lights.
Next day we cycled to the ferry in San Jorge to go over to the Isle of Ometepe. It was a strange protracted process getting the tickets, one till for the tourist tax, one till for the ferry ticket then another for the cycles tax. Topping that off we also had another fee for the bikes once on the ferry. After all these fees it still only came to approx £6 in total, but one desk and one fee would have been far easier.
Ginette – it was fascinating watching the locals load the ferry, we were all crammed in like sardines. As we waited our turn (last on, even though first to arrive, this was to protect the bikes) we were surrounding by a swarm of wasps, fortunately not they were in a good mood.
We are now in a hostel called Casa Mauro, on the Isle of Ometepe. It’s a nice place with a big kitchen and friendly owners. The island is made of two large volcanoes so the main activity here is walking up one of them. We are not sure if we will do this now, Ginette has not climbed one on this trip but reading the reviews now we are here it sounds like a hard trek with a high chance of cloud on the top. Since we have been here the volcanoes have been shrouded in cloud at the peaks so paying the $20 dollars for a guide each to the top doesn’t seem worth it.
Ginette – The walk would take 10 hours, I love walking but I think my knee would definitely object to a harduous climb and descent. Hopefully we will get to climb one of the volcanoes in Costa Rica or Panama.
We have taken a short cycle around our side of the volcano to try to find a beach by the lake to bathe on, we did reach a few. One was really just a place for cattle to reach the water. The other was used by the locals for laundry, the third was another 6 miles so we decided to head back to the hostel, hammocks and beer.
Ginette – We are passing time until we head to Mexico, we don’t want to cycle into Costa Rica until after Christmas as the cheapest flight we can find is from El Salvador. This is not a problem although it does mean each day, I have to find something to entertain the puppy (Gary).