Central America is teeming with backpackers traipsing from hostel to dorm, not to mention the odd thin-as-a-whipppet cyclist grinding out the miles from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, or the reverse trip. So there’s nothing particularly special about the six of us hitting the road in a rental car for a couple of weeks. After spending six weeks in one place, for us it seemed like a big adventure.
So we ignored the admonitions never to drive in Nicaragua and struck off to the north; the Pacific coast, Nicaragua’s “cutural capital” Leon and the coffee growing mountains of Matagalpa and Jinotega.
The city of Leon, so often compared with Granada, is baking hot and much more of a workhorse of a town than its southern counterpart. As a treat for New Year, we blow the budget on a stay in a gorgeous hotel, arranged around the most stunning garden, creating a fantastic backdrop for dining on the terrace. Yet day after day breakfast is a Fawlty Towers-esque comedy of errors from which we emerge with barely a slice of dry toast.
Sharing a room with five other people is never easy, but when you throw in a range of ages and a baby who’s not sure if he has ambitions to be a good sleeper, it can make for some very overtired parents.
So you cope, whatever way you can. You might find you can mount the cotbed, complete with baby, on the bath, where it fits perfectly. This may or may not have happened. Or you go horse riding without helmets, no questions asked.
On a day trip from Leon, we enjoy the swooping waves and hot sands of Poneloyo, but we are way more taken with the sleepy cove at Las Penitas.
Then we head for the hills and the first damp chills we’ve experienced in weeks at Selva Negra, an organic coffee farm-cum-hotel with German roots. To warm up, we make trips to the bustling town of Matagalpa where the baby, heretofore merely celebrated in the lowlands, is practically mobbed on streets where gringos are a more unusual sight.
Driving in Nicaragua is not a problem so long as you stay razor sharp to avoid the assorted pedestrians, cyclists, horses, cows, chickens, holes, broken down trucks and ice cream vendors liable to wander into the road without notice.
It would be nice to think you could as easily avoid the law enforcement services on the make. In fact we are within 10 kms of home when we are hit for an “infraction”, at a cost of 400 cordobas (around $16). After a somewhat terse exchange, the policeman flashes us the widest of grins as he trousers the cash.
Many times we find ourselves off the paved road, on dirt tracks, wondering, always wondering if we should have gone for the 4×4, rather than a low-set Toyota Corolla.
It’s quite the adventure; full of surprises. We were charmed to meet a young Swedish family in a very remote village, just as we were trying to find a person locally. Their landlady helped us to find the person we sought, travelled with us up there and the Swedish mother, Linda, was able to translate for us. We marvelled at their packing skills (just two rucksacks for five of them for four months) and their capacity to integrate into a local village in a family home. Our children played together, oblivious to language barriers and we all enjoyed a meal in their ‘home’ at the end of a lovely day.