Esteli – Day 1 : let’s move again

Today, we left Matagalpa. Our friends left to the beaches around Leon, and we stayed in the mountains to continue our tour of socialists strongholds (socialists as in rebels and guerillas here, not old dudes voting for bankers like in France).

The bus was probably one of the worst we took, because it was very full, and also because we were standing up ! The region is very poor and people travel in bus to go working in other cities (and see their kids once a month for 3$ a day, yay). This morning then, the bus was leaving every half hour, we got on and we went, for 2 hours, in a dust cloud, hanging onto the ceiling bars, pushed around by vendors of chicken or miracle herbs (did you know that fenugreek could cure hemorrhoids, cancer and tumors, impotence… it may be true, but certainly not in these small plastic bags going from clammy hands to sweaty pockets).

Esteli is a colonial city (like most cities we go through), but never like locals mean it. They all want us to go to pretty “colonial cities” with old houses, wooden balconies and colorful paints. Sadly, every city doesn’t have as much money as Granada to impress tourists (and the volcanoes erupting and rebels revolting didn’t help). However, every city here has a perfectly orthogonal plan. The houses are organized in blocks of a very regular size and distances are not told in meters but in blocks. It took us a while to understand that when told 100 or 300 meters, we should hear 1 or 3 blocs, whatever their size.

So, all central America cities are similar in these ways : one of the blocks in the center is the Parque Central, one of his neighbors is the cathedral and the city hall is another. One of the avenues bordering it is Avenida Central, streets and avenues are numbered, and just like in New York, only one road disturbs the nicely aligned squares. In New York, it’s Broadway, but here it’s the Panamerican Highway, which is not too bad either (but less lit).

Esteli was simple to understand after this. We went straight for the hostel that we had booked and had trouble finding it. Furthermore, our room had been given to a girl prolonging her stay with some story about a bag that we didn’t get, and we understood nothing. In the end, we went next door and it’s great. When we looked for a nice restaurant that was in the guide, we also had trouble finding it… Turns out, every address is wrongly indicated, which is crazy because they have a super organized street-system, it should be so easy ! I can’t imagine people from here moving to small French villages, with dead-end streets and curvy streets with funny names…

We also paid a visit to the non-profit touristic agency, before we went to eat. In the restaurant, we were acutely observed by the 3 to 6 girls on the next table, and in the end, they all asked us to translate their names. It was easy enough for Maria, but for others, which I can’t even write the name, it was harder. But they all say “Au revoir” in the end, which was nice !

All of this is now ending, we are fed and lying like slugs on our bed. See you tomorrow for more adventures !

Matagalpa – Day 3 : coffee and waterfalls

Today we visited the highlands around Matagalpa.

The super big quality panorama!

As we’ve said in a previous article, the city itself isn’t really that interesting, but the surrounding area with its coffee farms and natural reserves are the main contributors to the region’s charm and rising tourism.

This is not a jungle, but a coffee plantation!

So we did an organized tour with a company that gives part of the benefices to the local communities. It was very nice, especially because we were only 4 people (we went there with Alix and Pierre, our french friends). The guide spoke well english, but we still tried to improve our spanish with him, and also with the other locals we’ve met.

The day started with a visit at one of the many farm plantations around San Ramon. There are several communities of farmers around San Ramon, but even if some of them reach 6000 souls, they mostly look like very tiny villages because the farms are scattered over big areas.

Trees make shade for the coffee, but also for the workers!

The visit was very interesting, and we learned a lot. Contrarily to the coffee plantation we saw in Colombia near Salento, who were very visible covering several hills, most if not all the coffee produced in Nicaragua grows beneath trees. The trees provide shade and nutrients (through the composting of the fallen leaves) for the coffee bushes. So the plantations look like rich forests with lots of animals (we saw two sloths!), it’s very cool!

Another benefit of this type of plantations is that you can plant “useful” trees if you want. So during the visit we ate cacao beans and oranges, both freshly picked on the trees above the coffee bushes, and also sucked the gelatin around the coffee beans. There are also cypress to form hedges and old eucalyptus trees to make tea or medicine, although they stopped planting those because they tend to grow big roots and steal all the nutrients in the soil!

Another nice aspect of the visit was to see the efforts done to keep a natural cycle of harvest. One of the big problem of coffee production is that the water used to clean and sort the coffee becomes really acid, so it’s not really cool to dump it into the nearby river. So here they form swamps to contain these waters, and wait for the swamp to ferment, which regulates the pH. And they can use the fermented swamp as a liquid fertilizer for the next crops! Same for the coffee flesh, which is dried and then used again to fertilize the soil. So there is a whole cycle where the coffee production waste is used to grow the next crops, and that’s really cool!

We also learned that coffee is sorted into 3 categories:

  • Premium quality, mainly exported (the expensive coffee we find in France)
  • Second quality, also exported (cheaper coffee) or drunk here in Nicaragua.
  • The third quality, considered really shitty, sold to big companies producing instant coffee (Nestlé, Nescafé or even Nespresso!)
Coffee beans sorting machine

In any case, the once the coffee is sorted, it still needs to dry for about a week (which is done with the sun, on black plastic tarps around Matagalpa, where it rains less than in the highlands). Then it needs to be stored for about a month to get really green, and lastly a machine separates the last peel around the bean. Generally, the farmers sell the end product and do all the processing themselves (or with the help of cooperatives). The last essential process, roasting, is donne directly in the consumer countries by the big buyers.

At lunch we ate with an old local women, and it was very good (and yes, it was the standard rice-beans-chicken again!). We really liked the re-usage of waste (plastic bottles, cans, old tires,…) as flowerpots.

After lunch we hiked again (ok, only about 2h and mostly easy walking), so we had nice views of the surroundings. And to see waterfalls (which are always loved by backpackers because often free 😉 ). The first one had a pool underneath deep enough to jump in from the top! The second one, much higher, had a nice big cave with bats behind her.

A big thanks to all the ants for their contribution to this drawing in the form of numerous bites!
Ok, we didn’t jump from this one!

In the end we went back to our hostel to chill out and also to decide where we’re going next (about time, we’re leaving tomorrow!). But as usual, we’ll tell you in the next post!

P.S : Small video bonus to show off Ben’s Olympic skills :p

Matagalpa – Day 2 : we didn’t do anything

Today was resting day !

We got up late, our friends had gotten up early and went back to sleep, we lazed around… We booked the tour for tomorrow, accommodations for New Orleans (it was about time ! everything is full and expensive…) and train tickets for December (the wallet is now hurting in comparison with transportation here).

At noon, we cooked and also prepared lemonade ! At night, we went out for cocktails and ate some nice stuff, and the day was gone…

Tomorrow, though, will be very much active ! X


Matagalpa – Day 1 : coffee and socialism

Today we went up in the mountain a bit.

So now we’re in Matagalpa, main city in one of the most agricultural oriented region of Nicaragua, mostly known for its coffee production. We do find here similar conditions to the others coffee regions we’ve seen (around San José in Costa Rica, or Salento in Colombia), with fresher and wetter weather, but still a lot of sun.

To get here, we had to get up early (too early…). There are only 2 buses a day from Masaya to Matagalpa : 6am or 7am. And we were told we should arrive at least 30min before departure because they can get quite crowded (well, there’s only two of them…). As we were about 40min away from the bus station, the 7am bus seemed better (as we didn’t really want to wake up before 5am). Bus we left the hostel pretty quickly, and took a taxi because it was raining a lot, so we reached the bus station just before 6. We got lucky as there was still room available on the 6am bus, so we left immediately!

After two and a half hours bus we reached Matagalpa’s bus station, and walked to our hostel with 2 other French travelers we had met in Liberia, Costa Rica and met again here on the bus. We realize more and more that central America is a very small place, as we often meet other travelers again, or at least people who’ve met other people we know!

As we arrived at the hostel at 9, the rooms weren’t ready yet, but we booked our room and left our big backpacks in the luggage storage, before going in town to explore. Matagalpa itself isn’t beautiful, and aside two nice parks with a lot of Mexican food trucks (no idea why…) and a very white cathedral, there’s not much to see. But the town is surrounded by green hills, so it seems much less grey and oppressing as it could have been.

The parks provide a great deal of shade ! Phew !

As we had some time on our hands, we went to the free coffee museum. A lot of informative panels about the history and the production of coffee around here. There was a lot of text, very dense and not always well written or laid out (sometimes it felt a bit like a first draft…). But it did help us realize life here is often very hard, and people died of hunger in the region just 15 years ago, following the coffee crisis of 1999.

The museum was also clearly pro Daniel Ortega, the actual president, which belongs to the same party that overthrew the old dictator in the 70s. But as one of the founding members and most important figure of the party, Carlos Fonseca, was born (and assassinated) here, it’s no surprise. We also went to the Carlos Fonseca exposition, hosted in the house he grew up in, but the translations were very bad, and the panels were not in the right order (and some of them obviously missing). So even if there was a lot of information, it was a bit hard to understand the story as a whole.

So, that’s enough cultural information for now! But I had to fill the article a bit because aside from eating lunch at a local restaurant, taking a nap and eating great pizzas (at a real Italian pizzeria, with the only wood oven in the city), we didn’t do much today (yes, the nap was long 😊 ).

More news about Matagalpa and around in the next post!

P.S : this article is redacted on time, but the Wi-Fi code is written on the reception desk, and I’m in bed in my underwear, so it will be posted tomorrow !

Masaya – Day 2 : going out into real Nica life

Today, we decided to go around a bit before leaving Masaya, because it turns out it’s quite nice !

The city is know to be a center for crafts and commerce and has an old market in a fortress, selling all kinds of stuff from around here (or not ?). Around the city, there are also many villages selling stuff, but mostly making it ! They are called the Pueblos Blancos (the white towns) because they used to be painted only with lime. Today, they are all painted with bright colors, so it doesn’t make sense anymore, but the name stuck. We left from the main terminal in Masaya to the closest and most famous of them : Catarina.

It is said that Sandino liked to hang out, talking about the world whilst sitting on the Catarina gazebo, overlooking Apoyo’s lake (he was the revolution leader in Nicaragua, Wikipedia is your friend if you want to know more on Nica revolution history;) ). We can totally get it, and even if we didn’t talk about politics much, we also sat there a while to enjoy the view…


As you can see, there is a lake in front, then a volcano, then the Nicaragua lake, and between them the city of Granada and its surrounding country. Not too bad. However, we were a bit disappointed by all the junk being sold around, it was way worse than the touristic market of Masaya, and the vendors were less nice. So we went straight to the next village, San Juan de Oriente, and we walked because it is really close. The specialty is pottery and they had really nice things. The town is much smaller and we couldn’t see the workshops, but a cooperative of potters had a really nice exhibition (we didn’t take pics, it would have been rude).

Then we took a Tuk-tuk (that which Colombians call moto-taxi) to Masetepe, where the specialty is wooden furniture. Here, the craftsmen’ cooperative is in an old train station, and there is also a nice central square with a park and a church.

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What was really nice about these villages is that we can feel a bit better the atmosphere and the life of Nicas (I didn’t make up that name, it’s official). It puts us back into a way of traveling that we experienced in Colombia where we ate and took the bus like anyone living there, whereas in Panama and Costa Rica, there was always a rift or a glass wall between tourists and locals. Of course, when we go into a crafts shop, we go back to that side of the barrier, but otherwise, since we are in Masaya, we feel like we are in the real life and not in a postcard anymore (and that’s good !)

wp_20171121_15_42_07_rich_rWe were a bit disappointed that we only saw ceramics (of respectable sizes) and furniture (like rocking chairs), which are really nice but impossible to transport in our backpacks, so we went back to Masaya, encouraged by the smile of the photophorus (or scared…)

There, we grabbed a bite to eat and went back to the market to buy a few souvenirs, including wooden objects smallerwp_20171121_18_14_46_pro_r than furniture, for our future next home (wherever it may be). There are a lot of wood-towered objects and the local wood species are quite fancy (mahogany, teak and others that we can’t name but have fine grain and won’t rot). In the end, it’s not that cheap, but we have to say that they are good !

We ended the day with tacos and beers, watched by the Chester-cat-smiling moon !

Masaya – Day 1 : bus and artisanal market

Today we took the bus again !

We started the day late (yesterday was a cool but long day), and we spent the rest of the morning writing yesterday’s article (there was much to be said). After a quick lunch in a nice little restaurant near the market, we took the bus.

Ok, it wasn’t very long this time, we only went from Granada to Masaya (about 20km, but still over an hour!). We still had the old school bus and kids seats, even smaller this time so the big backpack didn’t fit under the knees, so we had to pay an extra seat for it (which is common practice here in Nicaragua).

Masaya is mainly known for the volcano (we saw yesterday) and the artisanal market. It’s a bit like Otavalo in Ecuador : small artisanal villages are scattered around a main city with the touristic market where local and made in china stuff are tossed together. We went there in the end of the afternoon, just before closing time, and some wood crafted objects are really nice (our backpacks might get a bit heavier here 😉 ).

The entrance of the artisanal market, which is surrounded by old stone walls

Most tourists only come here on day trips from Managua or Granada, mostly on organised tours combining a stop at the artisanal market and another at the national park to see the volcano. We chose to sleep here because the city seemed less touristy than the other ones we’ve been since we entered Nicaragua. The city itself isn’t great, but the atmosphere is nice, it feels “real” and aside from the artisanal market, you see much less gringos than in Ometepe or Granada!

DJ Wawa in the place!

And the hostel is probably the cheapest we’ve seen on our trip (10$ a night for 2 persons in a room with shared bathroom). But there was only the 2 single beds room available, so tonight we sleep a bit less like sinners!

Phew, that’s all for today and we’re not even late on the blog ! With the sun going down at 5pm, we tend to go to bed early and often postpone the redaction to the next day 😉

Granada – Day 2 : tons of adventures

Today, we went touring !

We got up early thinking of booking last-minute a boat ride to monkey-island. Since Granada is the first tourism destination in Nicaragua, you can find tour operators anywhere in town, and since Nicaragua (or its Pacific side, denser in population, volcanoes and roads anyway) is not that big, you can go anywhere in a day-trip. This way, for a short trip, you can book in the morning, and the later you arrive, the more inexpensive it is (and the less choice you have).

We found an office on the main street (that we call gringo-street among ourselves), and the guy wanted to fill his boat for an island-tour. Since he already 5-6 people, he was sure to go, but since he also has 20 seats in the boat, he wanted a few more, but they would have been a “bonus”, so the prices were nice (yeah, we are counting a lot, the prices are almost costa-rican here but it’s also less organized, so we are paying a lot of attention).

Being (very) lucky, we directly booked the island-trip and the volcano-trip in the evening, and we almost had 2 hours to walk around town before the boat left. Granada is very pretty and cared for. Gringo-street is completely reserved for pedestrians (and street vendors : jewelry, hammocks, paintings…), the central park is very nice, shaded in the day, lighted at night… Most buildings have been restored or maintained, and we also went up the bell-tower of one the churches to have a view of the city and its surroundings.

When we got back down, we bought some food for a picnic and joined the group for the boat ride. Granada Islands (called isletas, i.e. mini-islands) are a bunch of little rocks around a peninsula, resulting from a lava flow a few thousand years ago. The earth is so fertile that in the lake, it took the form of a wetland archipelago rich with life-forms. There are many bird species, birds of prey but also herons and egrets, a few monkeys in half-captivity on small islands (some were brought by a veterinarian to save them) and of course various fishes.

The boat then took us to a restaurant-island, and we had a drink. Since are a still a bit scratched (but it’s getting better fast), we didn’t swim, but it was the perfect time for a watercolor-painting.



We went back and ate our picnic, after which we went for a nap, before going to the volcano. Masaya (that’s its name) is the most active in the country, the last eruption was last December, and was mostly lots of gases being pushed into the atmosphere and a few lava sprays that made the crater broader (so now the fumes are better distributed and the view is better). It’s still growling, sometimes shaking a bit, if it’s showing signs of getting angry, the area will be evacuated (2-3 small towns) but it’s not an explosive hazard at all.

At night,the lava at the bottom of the crater is very visible, and so the tourists cars are waiting in line to take pictures in groups of 20. No more than 20, so if Masaya gets angry, less people will die (no, because they can go away faster, of course, there is a seismic early-warning system, it’s not their first rodeo !). As good tourists, we took pictures (and even a selfie, it had been a long time since the last one).

Then we got back to town, it was late and the day has been long. We shared a pizza and fell into bed !

See you tomorrow, X

Granada – Day 1 : bus-boat-bus

Today we finally left Ometepe.

Bye bye Ometepe !

And it was a bit heartbreaking, because we really loved the island (even though the scooter accident part wasn’t very nice). But we also wanted to see something else.

So we started the day by waiting for the bus to Moyogalpa. As we’re not the only tourists on the island, we were 8 foreigners waiting, so a big transport van stopped hoping to make a fortune out of a group of naive tourists. No luck for him, we were all budget backpackers used to taking the bus (and aware of its price). So after only a few tries (still…), he got his price down to what we wanted (a bit more than the bus, but much faster so worth it).

I don’t think we’ve mentioned this yet on the blog, but south of Moyogalpa is the only airport of the island, with one large landing strip, the longest they’ve managed to fit. But a bridge or a tunnel costs money, so here they found a cheaper way : the road goes through the runway. So it’s quite funny to see the drivers slow down, look left and right to see if there’s a plane, and then crossing the strip by car.

So we were dropped off at the ferry terminal just in time to catch the next ferry (no waiting time!). After the 1 hour crossing under a perfect blue sky (we’re definitely starting to be close to dry season), we arrived to San Jorge. From there it’s about 5-6km to Rivas, where you can catch the main buses.

Of courses buses from San Jorge to Rivas are rare, irregular and there is no schedule. But an army of taxis are waiting for you as soon as you step out of the ferry. Even with four people (we traveled with 2 Swiss girls we met at our hostel), there is a minimum price under which they won’t go (still lower than the initial price). Our ride was probably the shittiest car we’ve seen, but it managed to drive the few kilometers to the bus station.

From there, as you’ve probably guessed, it was bus again! Still the same old American school buses with kid-sized seats, completely filled with locals. The trip wasn’t that bad, and it only lasted 2 hours (which seems very short for us now!). Once in Granada (the one in Nicaragua, not Spain!), we grabbed a bite before heading to our hostel.

Well it sure is a change of style from our very cool hostel in Ometepe. Here we don’t have mosquito nets, but it won’t be a problem since we don’t have any windows either ! Well at least we’ll be visiting the town more instead of lazying at the hostel.

Central park, Granada

So before sundown, we went to the city center. We can feel the city is quite touristy with pedestrians streets with all the tourist-souvenir shops, nicely painted and maintained colonial buildings and a lot of hipster or at least tourist-oriented bars/restaurants. But you can still easily find the local street food specialty : the vigoron, mix of coleslaw, mashed yucca and pork (and optionally additional chicken).

So we tried the vigoron in the central park, under a few trees with a lot of loud birds (see recording), but most of all under an umbrella. The table with the umbrella was the owners suggestion, and thanks to him we avoided the bird feces shampoo free trial! Otherwise, the vigoron is pretty nice and very cheap.

So, that’s all for today (we’re up to date again, phew!). More news on the city tomorrow!