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!

Leon and Volcan Telica

First impressions of Leon were that its a lot dustier than Granada. The well maintained, colourful streets of Granada were replaced with white and cream coloured edifices and an even stronger great than Granada. Leon is apparently central America’s hottest city and you definitely know about it!

I’d booked 3 nights at Latina which although very friendly had put me in the smallest 4 person dorm I’ve ever seen. There were 2 bunks and about a foot of space in between them. Once everyone’s bags were in you could barely move. I finally cracked at booked a $30 airconditioned room at San Juan del Leon for the next night. It seemed to be on special offer on booking.com and was so with it! The airconditioned seemed brand new and was quiet and cold. The first time I’ve had it since Panama City.

Anyway, my first stop was to book a twilight tour to Telica with Tierra Tours.  The tour ran the following afternoon from 2.30 to 9pm. There was more driving than I expected, it’s in a 4×4 and there is 20 minutes at the start in good road before an hour on bumpy off road tracks. Our guide was very good and kept us updated on what we were doing and how long was left of the bumpiness which made it more bearable! When we arrived we were given plenty of snacks, I think a banana, cookies, peanuts and some juice to keep us going on the moderate 45 minute hike to the crater. When we arrived there was a lot of smoke and it was a little hard to breath, probably not as bad as Masaya though. We spent some time looking down into the crater before waking around to the side of it to watch the sunset. While there was a railing around the Masaya crater there was nothing at all at Telica. Just a sheer 700m drop down into the crater right next to us! The guide recommended we lie flat on the floor and do an army crawl forward to take pictures, and that we did.

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The volcano from a distance

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Walking up

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The crater

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Sunset

Once the sun had disappeared we switched our flashlights on and headed back to the crater to look at the lava. Unfortunately the wind that had blown all the smoke away from the crater and into our faces earlier had died down and the smoke had all settled in the crater. The best I saw was the tiny pixel you might be able to pick out in the photo below. I will have to schedule another lava specific trip at a later date

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We walked back down the volcano in the dark using flashlights which was a bit of a challenge due to the rubble. Even the guide tripped a couple of times but we made it back in one piece. It took about an hour and a half to get back into town and we were dropped at the doors of our hostel which was a nice touch.