Conseguia trek with Quetzaltrekkers

I originally planned to head from Leon to Esteli in the North where rumour had it there is great canyoning and the weather is a few degrees colder. However I heard many horror stories about transport during semana santa by this point and I didn’t want to mess up getting to my pick up for yoga teacher training so I decided to spend 3 more days in Leon. I needed something to do with myself and I’d read good this about Quetzaltrekkers so decided to check them out. They’re tours are run by volunteers from all over the world and the money they make goes to projects to improve the lives of local people. It just so happened that they had a 3 day 2 night trek to Volcan Conseguina that fitted my dates so I signed up without paying much attention to the details. Little did I know that it would involved hiking 5 hours uphill carrying 7 litres of water with no shade, and 4 hours standing up on a rammed chicken bus!

We started at 6am on day 1 at the Quetzaltrekkers offices where the 4 of us on the trek and the 3 guides  (so many guides! It was great) had breakfast cooked by the guides and packed our bags. The equipment can all be provided by quetzal at no extra charge so no worries if you’re missing anything. At this point I started to realise the hike might be tougher than expected as I was directed to a 60 litre backpack and a pile of equipment including water, food and various camping necessities. I had only half listened to the accommodation arrangements so hadn’t prepped myself for needing to carry a camping mat and that kind of thing! Anyway, once I was all packed I tried the bag on for size and while heavy it was manageable so I wasn’t too worried. Next step was walking 20 minutes to the bus station for the first of 2 buses. This was pretty straightforward and took about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the next town where we got off and retrieved our bags. Next up we loaded our bags into the smallest taxi I’ve ever seen. This the smallest kia you can get but somehow with 5 doors. Surely we weren’t going to fit 7 people, all our bags and the driver in there?!? As it turned out somehow we did! Even the locals seemed to thing it was funny and we semi-enjoyed the ridiculous 10 minute journey across town to the other bus station wedged in like sardines.

The next bus was not so good. We arrived when it was already pretty full but of course nicaraguan buses almost never turn away a passenger so we were manhandled on to stand in the aisle a little too close for comfort to the other passengers. I had in my head that we were on the bus for an hour and I half and thought it would be grim but manageable. Unfortunately I was very wrong. The journey was actually 4 HOURS! Not only were we standing until the last 10 minutes, every half an hour or so local women selling snacks and drinks would board the bus and somehow make there way down the aisle. I’m not talking just one, it would be 3 at a time and they did not take no for an answer. I’m still not sure how they were doing it as it felt like there was literally no space left. Think of the most crowded rush hour tube you’ve been on with similar temperatures and you’re about there!

Anyway I survived. I’m quite proud of myself for not getting faint or anything like that. After we finally got off the bus we sat down at a cafe by the bus stop for half an hour to recover. This was where we’d have our lunch tomorrow but unfortunately not today. We had an hours walk ahead of us first! It was actually more like 40 minutes when we found a shady spot and sat down for a picnic of baguette, cream cheese and tomato. Sadly I wasn’t carrying any of this meal so my back didn’t get lighter. All too soon we were on our way again.

Not going to lie, the next 4 hours were really hard. I’m glad I got to see the view from the top but I’m still a little traumatised by how hard the hiking was! There was no shade at all for the first couple of hours and it was 40 degrees with no breeze. We stopped every half an hour or so which made it more manageable but I still felt like I was going to combust. For the second two hours we had some cover tree cover but by now the bag was seriously cutting into my shoulders. It was soooo hard, I’m so glad I didn’t try to do the Inca trek as I don’t think I could have managed it!

Along the way we saw lots of insects and birds, and a lot of areas that had been burnt by local farmers. We didn’t work out why – there wasn’t a lot growing there!

I was so happy when we made it to the campsite at about 5.30. We quickly ditched our bags and walked another 15 minutes up hill to the crater at the top of the volcano. The view was spectacular, the crater itself and distant volcanic islands, not to mention you can see Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador spreading out into the distance. I’m not ready to say it was worth the hike just yet but it was spectacular!

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The photos really don’t do justice to how beautiful it was.

We asked whether you can swim in the lake and apparently no tour operator has managed to find a safe way down yet so the only people who’ve touched the water are a few local fishermen. Pretty cool!

Once the sun was gone we headed back to camp for dinner. One of our lovely guides had already set up our tents for us when we arrived which was awesome! Dinner was pasta with vegetables and more cream cheese. They brought plenty of salt and black pepper with them which I loved! We also had fun toasting marshmallows for dessert. Bedtime was 8pm, everyone was exhausted!

I was sharing a tent with one of the guides and we slept just under the liner so it was partly see through. I got to watch the moon and stars for a whole before I fell asleep. Its been ages since I’ve slept outside and it was nice, made even nicer by the breeze. I even had to put my sleeping bag over me at one point as I got a little cool!

Next morning we woke up at 5am to head back to the crater for sunrise, another chance to see the dining views from the night before. On returning to camp our guides had breakfast ready and waiting. It was instant oats with granola, cinnamon and banana which is one of my favorite breakfasts ever so I was happy. Afterwards we packed up and started the 3 hour walk back down at about 6.30. It was so much easier than going up but still hot! I was happy to reach the cafe at the bottom and sit for a while. We placed our orders for lunch then got up and headed to the local swimming pool to cool off.

The pool was an experience! We were the only non-locals and pretty much everyone was wearing clothes, ranging from a tshirt over their bikinis to being fully clothed in trousers and tshirt. There were a lot of people just standing in the water drinking beer (I’m pretty sure this was Semana Santa, not normal behavior) and one guy just standing there having a cigarette! There wasn’t much swimming going on.

The water was more like bath temperature but it was still a nice way to cool off and especially to clean the ash off. I was wearing trainers but somehow still managed to end up with a pile of ash inside my socks!

The rest of the day was very relaxed. We caught another bus to the Pacific coast and picked up a boat that drove us around some mangroves and to our hostel for the night. Finding the boat was funny. When we arrived there were a lot of drunk people at the dock who claimed not to know our boat guy and tried to convince us to go with them. Semana Santa strikes again! Luckily a very friendly man further down the road let us shelter at his house and put some chairs out for us. We hung out with him, his wife and their animals for a while as our guides tried to sort out our boat. 10 minutes later it pulled up in front of the house and we were away for our mangrove tour. The guide spoke really clear spanish so I actuality understood some of it, yay! The mangroves can live off salt water which apparently is crazy in plant world as salt is the death of most things!

After the tour we reached our hostel for the night (camping again in the grounds) and coloured and chilled with the others staying there for the rest of the evening.

Next day after the slowest breakfast ever (one hour to serve porridge when there were only 5 of us eating!) we started back to Leon. I was headed to Granada and had 4 buses to take but luckily it all went fine and there was nowhere near as much travel chaos as I’d heard there would be during semana santa. I made it to my hostel in Granada by 6.30. Not too shabby.

I thought Quetzaltrekkers were awesome and when I wasn’t hating myself for forgetting I hate hiking with bags I had an amazing time. They’re a great choice if you’re looking to do sine hiking around Leon.

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Getting from Granada to Leon

I came to Leon with high hopes of lava. I’d heard a lot about Volcan Telica and was excited by the prospect of seeing lots of the stuff! I was excessively nervous about taking the local transport to Leon so I thought I’d write about my experience in a bit of detail here in case it helps others. I’m not a strange to local transport and I’d taken several chicken buses in Belize and Sri Lanka with friends on previous trips but somehow the prospect of going it alone filled me with an unreasonable amount of dread!

I was in fact planning to take a shuttle to Leon  (easily available from tour operators and hostels in Granada for $15). However, deciding to go on the kayaking trip with my roommates on the last morning forced my hand as the shuttles all left way before we were due back. I’m actually glad about that as the bus was completely fine. Very straightforward and not at all scary or uncomfortable. After arriving back from kayaking I had lunch then walked to the bus stop 5 minutes from my hostel on Calle Vega. I was nervous about my bags being allowed on but the bus guys are super efficient and I’ve never seen them turn down business so my bags were quickly piled up at the front of the bus and I took my seat to await departure. The bus took about 10 minutes to fill up and then we were on our way. It costs 24 cordobas (about $1) from the one hour-ish journey to Managua and apart from the inevitable close busily contact with strangers as people jump on and off along the route (don’t worry, people are very friendly and avoid squashing up against you if they can!) its a fairly comfortable ride in a mini bus. Although I’ve heard stories of aircon on the route my bus didn’t have it but with windows open it wasn’t too sweltering.

The minibuses drop you at Managua’s UCA which is the last stop and the minibuses to Leon depart from the same place. In contrast to most bus stations around the world (including the UK!) I found it very easy to find the bus to Leon. There are maybe 10 berths for the buses which are in a row, they’re clearly labeled with their routes and there are lots of friendly bus guys (I’m not sure what their official name is!) waiting outside shouting their destinations. If all else fails the buses themselves are also clearly labeled with their routes. Simple!

The bus standing at the Leon stop was full when I arrived so I joined a group of about 10 locals already waiting. It took maybe 20 minutes for the next bus to arrive. As soon as there was a sign of a queue forming I made like a good English person and joined it. I had to stand with my bags for about 10 minutes but when the bus arrived I turned around and the queue had grown by about 10 people behind me so it was worth it! This bus didn’t have an obvious place to put the bags so I followed the drivers directions to keep them on my lap and grabbed a seat at the end of a row so that my big backpack could go easily on the floor. This bus was full within 5 minutes due to the queue and then we were on our way again. The ride to Leon was about an hour and a half and included a lot of dubious overtaking. The road seemed to be one long queue of traffic with a lot of lorries on the route and the driver was determined to overtake all of them be it on straight road, blind corners or hills! I decided it was better not to look and happily we survived the journey. It cost 51 cordobas which is about ($2). Along the way we made a snack stop while the driver collected the fare and various local women surrounded the bus settling quesillos, frescas and other snacks that I didn’t recognise. You won’t starve on a Nicaraguan bus!

I thought about trying to walk from the Leon bus station to my hostel but on arriving the bus station is pretty chaotic and I didn’t have much idea which way to orient my map. I was immediately surrounded by taxi drivers offering to take me into town for 100 cordobas. This is way too much, I learnt later that a taxi costs 20 cordobas. In the end however I went with a pedicab driver who charged me 50 cordobas for what was a 15 minute cycle. This was probably still too much but for the novelty and the effort he put in cycling me and my bags on the potholed roads I didn’t mind.

So, there you have it. I made it to my hostel in Leon in about 3.5 hours for $5. The shuttle is undoubtedly more convenient but I got a nice “yeeeeeah, I can do the buses” feeling and it wasn’t so bad!

Granada

Granada is lovely. I ended up spending 7 days there doing yoga, wandering by the lake and enjoying Hostel Oasis (my favourite of the trip so far!) Here are a few of my highlights:

Yoga at Casa Lucia

Casa Lucia has to be Granada’s loveliest hotel. I found out about the yoga class there with a quick “yoga in Granada” Google and was thrilled to find twice daily classes for $5 including mat hire. The classes happen on a beautiful outdoor yoga deck in the Lucia garden and if you take the evening class they’re candle lit. The teacher Melanie was great. I tried lots of cool new things with her (including King Pigeon, something I never thought I’d be able to do!) and the classes were pitched just right to be accessible for beginners while offering enough substance for regular practitioners. I’d love to stay in the hotel! The morning yoga session is included with your stay and they serve breakfast afterwards on the terrace.

Volcan Masaya twilight tour

This was my first attempt of the trip to see lava. I booked with Leo Tours add they were the first company I walked past and they gave me a discount if I went that evening. It ended up costing $22, pretty good to see an active volcano!

The tour started at 4pm when we met at the office to be driven to the Masaya crater. This took about an hour and on arrival we were given 20 mins to look around and take photos before our guide arrived to show us around. It was very cool, you’re at the edge of the crater a the sun is setting and every so often as the wind blows the smoke away you can look straight down into it

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The clouds of gas are pretty thick and I recommend that if you’re given a gas mask, use it! We were told we could leave ours in the car but I existenced a nasty feeling in the back of my throat while I was breathing around the crater and by then it was too late to go back.

Unfortunate you can’t see lava here, the guide told us a ledge from which you used to be able to see it collapsed a few years ago. I was happy anyway, I live volcanoes! We climbed a bit higher to watch the sunset and the guide told us more about Masaya and the surrounding volcanoes. Apparently they’re connected in a line all the way down the Americas and if they all went if together they’d wipe out the whole continent he also pointed out the now dead crater of a volcano that used to be active here. It was huge!

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After sunset we walked to some nearby caves to watch the bats that live there heating out to feed. This was incredible, there were hundreds of them flying overhead. The your guide encouraged us to use our flashes to take pictures, I really wish I hadn’t as I’m not sure this is good for the poor bats! Otherwise I loved this tour and thought the Leo did a good job of arranging it.

Laguna Apoyo

This your was organised by hostel Oasis which has a sister hostel (Paradiso) at the lagoon. I went on a whim as a girl I’d met earlier told me she had a great day there. I’m so glad I did! The day trip costs $12 and you get to use the Paradiso facilities including lockers, kayaks and very comfortable deckchairs. They were incredibly well organised with someone meeting us on arrival, showing us around and giving us tab cards for drinks. The lake is beautiful and has a nice cooling breeze which was amazing after the great of Granada. We spent the next 4 hours alternating swimming with drying of on the deckchairs and trying out the very nice and reasonably priced restaurant. I was so sad when it was time to leave, I wish I’d spent the night there!

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Brunch buffet, Chocomuseo

I intended to head her for brunch then do the chocolate making workshop. Unfortunately I ate too much brunch and the last thing I wanted to do was make chocolate! The buffet cost $7 (including tax) and included local options (rice and beans, fried bananas, cheese and tortillas) as well as fruit, yoghurt and anyway eggs. You could even get pancakes or waffles if you wanted! It was great value.

Kayaking

Another whim which I did on my last morning in Granada. One of the girls in my dorm had arranged it and after some trepidation (I’m not a good kayaker, I went on a couple of school/guide trips as a teenager and was always the one who got stuk in the reads!) I decided to go for it. I’m so glad I did, the lake and islands are so beautiful it was like I’d fallen into a dream. In those 2.5 hours I saw more wildlife close up than I have on whole days of boring rainforest boat rides. Our guide was great and the company was so much fun. The highlight was the assistant guide (who was on his first day, bless him!) capsizing his kayak, being unable to get back in and having to push it to shore so that the main guide could help him back in! You can see the islands by boat but we saw several go past and I was so pleased to be in the kayak getting up close rather than on the noisy boats. By the end I was so tired as my arms are very weedy. I was incredibly proud of just making it back to shore after 15 minutes paddling open water and also happy to discover I’m not totally awful anymore (just very slow). It was a great morning and I’m so glad the girls convinced me to sign up.

General wandering around

If you can deal with the heat you can spend a happy day just looking at the city. Here is what I mean:

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Traditional funeral carriage

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Sunset

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Down by the lake

Accomodation

I ended up staying in 4 different places as everywhere was crazy busy. I had a couple of favourites: La Mexicana which had a friendly owner, fairy lights, a private room for $14/night and home made Greek yoghurt at 20 cordobas a pot. I left after 1 night thinking I’d find something better. I did not.
Hostel Oasis was where I finally got to stay a few nights after 3 days of moving every night. For $10 a night I got a comfortable bed with a fan right next to me, all you can eat pancake and banana breakfast, a well equipped kitchen, free filtered water, tea and coffee all day (and actual milk for the tea)!, good wifi and a tv room.  There was also a strictly enforced 11pm silence time and a swimming pool! It really was the best big hostel I’ve stayed in and was incredibly well organised. I miss it!

Eating

Go to Pita Pita. I had the falafel and chicken breast pitas. They were both huge and delicious.

I also liked Cafe Sonrisas. The waiting staff are all hearing impaired and the money for your meal goes towards helping them. They were all super smiley and the food was nice and well priced.