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Trip Report Nicaragua Trip Report Sept 2009

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It's been a month since I got back, but here goes.

This was my second trip to Nicaragua. The first was a short trip to Granada and around. This was an even shorter trip to Leon and Las Penitas. The last time, there were power failures for up to five hours each night. This time it only happened once and it was during the day, so that was a definite improvement. For the first day and a half, part of Leon was blacked out and there was no cable TV or internet anywhere. The story was that it was all caused by a drunk driver hitting a utility pole.

There have been reports of an increase in crime and more hassles for foreigners, but once again I never felt uncomfortable or saw any cause for concern. Tour companies and guides do, however, make it a big scandal if you want to take a tour as a solo traveler. What's the big deal if it's "just one", especially if it's low season and there's no one else around?

The last time, I found the people to be incredibly friendly. That was the highlight of the trip. Everyone wanted to know where I was from and what I thought of their country. This time, everyone was polite and generally friendly, but often seemed a bit abrupt. Maybe it's a difference between Granada and Leon, maybe things have gotten tougher there, or maybe it was me. Just an observation.

The rice and beans is still the best in all of Latin America. I've been trying to figure out what the trick is and I'm guessing it's just a lot of oil and a lot of salt.

Flight:
TACA from New York. About $350. TACA is still better than American and a lot better than COPA, but it's getting a bit rusty these days.

Weather - September is the rainy season, but it was sunny and mighty hot most of the time.

Guidebooks:
I used both the LP Nicaragua & El Salvador from 2006 and Moon from 2007. Prices have of course gone up and some of LP's opening times are off.

Leon - It's a bit more rough than Granada, but has more to see. The Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Guardian is highly recommended. The Galeria de Heroes y Martieres is worth a quick visit. And the Casa de Cultural is no big deal. There are a bunch of nice churches and lots of political murals. There is plenty of pro-Sandanista graffiti, but how many people still support them is up for debate.

Posada del Doctor for $40 a night. This was probably the best place I've stayed in all of Central America. Great A/C, TV, reasonably clean. Nice quiet friendly place a few blocks from the Parque. And I was the only one there, which was strange but very nice. Skip the breakfast though.

Las Penitas - About one hour by chicken bus from Leon, this is a very quiet fishing village with dirt roads and plenty of chickens. During the week, at least in the off season, there is absolutely nothing going on, perfect if that's what you're looking for. It's also a perfect place to lie in a hammock and watch the sunset over the pacific. The sea is rough so be careful and only swim where there are other people around.

Barco de Oro in Las Penitas - $30 for the only A/C room. They provide mosquito nets but somehow the mosquitos found there way to the inside of the net. This is a nice place to go and just lie in a hammock for a few days. And I had a great massage for $15. Food is ok.

Tour Guide:
Julio Tours - http://www.juliotoursnicaragua.com.ni/html/index.html
Julio was recommended by someone online and he was great. Highly recommended. Julio picked me up at (and drove me back to) the MGA airport for $45 (cheaper than the $65 with Paxeos). I also took a great tour with him to San Jacinto to see the boiling mud pits, then back to Leon to the Museum of Myths and Legends, a former national guard prison, and then a long drive to the Laguna de Assososca. The countryside is beautifully green with the volcanoes always in the background. And not another tourist for miles around. The car suffered a slight mishap along the way so we had to stop at a local farm in the middle of nowhere to fix it surrounded by chickens, cows and pigs. Its a bit of a hike in the blazing sun to the lagoon but its well worth it. On the way back we stopped at a festival in La Paz Centro to see a lot of drunk Nicas attempting to ride a bull. Not a place for animal lovers.

All in all, Nicaragua remains my favorite country in Central America. Hope to head back in a couple of years, this time to the north.

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