Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Northern Nicaragua, Part 3: Deep Sea Fishing and Kayaking

This is the final installment of my series on northern Nicaragua.   The trip was sponsored by Green Pathways and MatadorU.

My final day along the Pacific coast of northern Nicaragua was spent entirely on the water.   A morning of fishing called for an early wake up to head out in a relatively small boat owned by a local fisherman named Noel.  His house was on a concrete slab with the small dock as his front porch—all sheltered by the mangrove forest that we would kayak through later in the afternoon. 

 It was a slow day in the water and the frigate birds were catching more fish than us.  The owner of the boat said it is usually wasn’t that slow on the water since he catches enough fish to support his family.  Until the last half and hour on the water the most action we saw were two sea turtles mating on the surface of the water.  Just before heading back we hooked a mackerel and brought it back for lunch.  Less than two hours later is was grilled and sitting on my plate surrounded by rice, beans and fried plantains.  Delicious!

Later in the afternoon, we headed back to Noel’s house and hopped in a couple of kayaks to explore the mangrove forests.  Many of the passages only open up in low tide and reveal tunnels and hidden beaches behind the walls of mangrove trees.  As a kid this would be the ultimate place to have a tree fort within this secret mangrove kingdom.  After learning a bit about mangrove ecology, we raced back to the dock before the evening thunderstorms came in and concluded my last day in Nicaragua.

Kayaking through tunnels in the mangrove forest.

Mangrove trees live in saltwater and sacrifice a few of their leaves (the yellow ones shown above)
to rid the whole tree of the extra salt.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Northern Nicaragua, Part 2: Somoto Canyon and Paddleboarding

Here’s the second installment of my September trip to Northern Nicaragua thanks to Green Pathways.  

After a long day of exploring and photographing volcanoes I headed back to Leon for a quick night of rest.  Early the next morning we left Leon for the Somoto area of Nicaragua along the border of Honduras.  It was a five-hour drive through mostly farmland.  We didn’t pass the typical cornfields that would be seen on almost any five-hour drive in the US, but I passed bean fields, and coffee plants, and fields of plantains, sesame, sugar cane and yucca.  Yes, there was plenty of corn, but it didn’t dominate the landscape. 
Typical Nicaraguan Landscape
We finally got to the town of Somoto which is famous for its rosquillas.  The best way I can describe a rosquilla is a crunchy corn and cheese cookie.  There are photos below that show what they really are and describe the process a bit.

Pans of cooked rosquillas.  Some are sweet, but most are savory with a one to one mixture of corn and cheese.
The cooking process takes place in two ovens.  One to cook them and one to make them crunchy.
The whole process starts at 3am and goes until early afternoon.  People from all around the region come to Somoto every day to buy rosquillas.  
The end of Somoto Canyon from the lookout where I spent the night.
Next we headed into a Somoto Canyon.  Somoto canyon wasn’t “discovered” by anyone outside of Nicaragua until 2003 when two Czech geologists studied the canyon and suggested to the locals that it would be a good tourist attraction.  11 years later I was still the only white person in the canyon.   There were a few parts of the canyon that we hiked through, but it was mostly peacefully floating down the Coco River and through a few small, but exciting rapids. 

Deep in Somoto Canyon
A local boy diving into the Coco River as it exits the deepest section of Somoto Canyon.

The Lookout above Somoto Canyon where I spent the night after traveling through the canyon.
The next morning we had breakfast at a local farm.  This chicken was trying, and failing,  to milk the cow. 
The next day we drove to the port town of Corinto and met up with Scott and Gea of Livit Water who took us paddleboarding.  They moved to Nicaragua from southern California to escape the typical American lifestyle and after years of traveling they decided to settle here among some of the most genuine and welcoming people they’d ever met.   Scott and Gea were some of my favorite people that I met during the week in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua has some destination surf breaks that are just as fun on a paddle board.
Paddleboarding near Corinto.  We took a boat across most of the bay to islands that seemed a world away from the busy port.
Great afternoon on the beach on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.
We stayed late enough for the sun to lower in the sky for some great photo opportunities in the water.  
We had a great afternoon on an island across the bay from Corinto and the headed back to town to watch the sun set. 

This is actually one of my favorite photos from Corinto.
Sunset in Corinto
Next week the last Nicaragua installment will come out with deep sea fishing and kayaking through mangrove forests.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Northern Nicaragua, Part 1: Leon, Telica & Cerro Negro

In the middle of September—sandwiched in between a drive across the US and flying to Antarctica—I headed down to Nicaragua on a photography trip.  The trip was through MatadorU where I am taking a travel photography and travel writing course and Green Pathways sponsored the trip to help promote tourism in the northern section of the country.  I've never been on a press trip like this before and it was an absolutely amazing experience.  The days were long and I shot an exhausting average of a thousand photos a day. I didn’t know much about the country so I did quite a bit of research before I left.  Most people travel to the southern section of the country and Green Pathways is hoping to expand tourism in the northern potion of the country.  They are also focusing efforts on promoting tourism to families to come to Nicaragua and spend a few days integrating themselves in the daily lives of welcoming local families. There is less infrastructure and less of a tourist vibe there, which I really enjoyed.  Most of the places that I went I was the only non-local there.  The exception to that was my first day just outside of Leon, Nicaragua where I went volcano boarding and hiked up another volcano to check out the visible lava as the sun set.  This is the first of a short series of photo blog posts about my Nicaragua trip.
My first day in Nicaragua I piled in this truck with a dozen other people to headed toward Cerro Negro for volcano boarding.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this.  Most of the other people in the truck were excited, but there was a hint of apprehensiveness until everyone finished the ride down the volcano.
The left-hand skyline is the slope that you slide down on custom-made volcano boards.
Despite what this sign says I think the fastest way down is the other direction on your volcano board.  The speed record down Cerro Negro is 95 kph (57 mph). 
Cerro Negro last erupted in 1999 and the evidence of the lava flows is clearly marked as it made its way through the forest.
I ran halfway down so I could take photos of everyone else flying down on their volcano boards.  I then hopped on my own board and finished the run down topping out at a whopping 36 kph (22 mph).  It felt fast to me though!
A cold beer awaits everyone at the bottom.  But the rule was that everyone had to make it down the volcano before anyone could open their beer.  

After volcano boarding I headed back to Leon to wash off the volcanic grit and a quick tour through the city.

The Cathedral of Leon is a UNESCO World Heritage site and draws visitors to the central city.  It is within walking distance of great hotels and hostels and restaurants.  
The cathedral is the largest in Central America and has ornate details that are worth taking some time to absorb.  
Known as the intellectual capital of Nicaragua, Leon is known for its medical school and the streets around the school are full of text book vendors.  
That afternoon I got in another 4x4 vehicle and drove up the rocky road to the Telica Volcano.  At points the drive up the road felt like a roller coaster ride and we had to hold onto our seats to stay in place in the truck.  One of the passengers said that we really needed a fighter pilot's harness for the drive. Telica is one of the more active volcanos in Nicaragua.  But it is one of the only places to safely view lava.

The members of the Telica community at the base of the volcano help to update volcanologists and authorities about any volcanic activity.  Their animals are friendly to visitors and they cooked us a traditional dinner of rice, beans, eggs, cheese and tortillas.  
The volcano was great, but these leaf cutter ants on the hike up might of been the highlight of my evening.  We followed the ant's path for more than 100 feet.

Telica Volcano.

Once we got to the crater rim we felt like we were racing against time.  A major thunderstorm was approaching from the east, but the gases hadn't cleared enough for use to see the lava.  We said we'd give it 5 more minutes and then we'd have to head back down to the village.  Just then the gases cleared and we could see lava at the bottom of the crater.
A minute later we started to race down the mountain.  I stopped because I heard the sound of a waterfall in the dark, but I knew we hadn't passed one on the way up.  Then the rain a waterfall.  I've never felt it rain so hard and I was drenched in a matter of seconds.
Part II of the Northern Nicaragua series will be out next week featuring Canyon Somoto and Paddle boarding in the Pacific Ocean.