Within 24 hours of being in Leon our true travelling credentials had outed. Chris signed up for a days volcano boarding (walking up Cerro Negra, donning a Guantanamo-style boiler suit then whizzing down it on a tray) & I went visiting the various revolution themed murals & then onto the Revolution museum.
Run by ex-Sandinistas (complete with battle scars/bullet holes) they told me loads of very interesting and passionately presented stuff which my basic grasp of Spanish largely failed to understand. The bits I did grasp made it worthwhile though- the brutal fight had been quite unclear to me before hand but given it happened in my lifetime & is still evident in the city it felt important to know more. I left (somewhat) wiser (topped up by google & an hour in a cafe across the square), a bit somber but better equipped to appreciate Nicaragua and all it has to offer.
Leon is a fairly attractive small city. Once the capital but then destroyed by Cerro Telica (volcano), it relocated out of lavas way only to become the centre of the 1970s civil war. After this two other cities battled to be the new capital (Managua won) so is now all about their University & the volcanos surrounding (52 of them).
Cultured up I returned to our hostel to hear whooping gringos cheering on some hapless fools into downing chilli shots at the bar.
Chief whooper being Chris - already 2 mojitos, 8 shots and 3 beers into celebrating being the fastest man on the slope that day.
Covered in black volcano dust, smelling less than pretty, the boarders continued their drinks for several more hours. Chris wowed everyone with his ability to drink more chilli shots (the fastest woman of the day was throwing up by this stage) and was gifted 2 vest tops for his efforts. A proud moment for us both.
The next day Chris pretended not to be ruined as we headed out to climb Cerro Telica. 90 minutes in a 4x4 took us to a village (3 families, few chickens) where we started our climb. We reached the summit before sunset so went to have a peer in. Having never looked into a live volcano we weren't sure what to expect - first thing to strike was the noise. From 100m away it sounded like a river flowing but on top of it like jet engines running at full pelt. That combined with heat, the smell of sulphur and the sight of pools of lava were incredible.
Even more so when we went back after sunset & lots of pockets of lava we couldn't previously see appeared. Our cameras will never do it justice I'm afraid but the whole thing was somewhere between awful (the sheer pressure under the ground being exposed 200 ms away is both beautiful to look at and a bit difficult to comprehend) and terrifying. If I believed, I'd probably think this is what staring into hell would look like.
From Leon we took the chicken bus to Granada - a disappointing town mostly. Like Antigua in the pretty painted buildings & the colonial buildings around the town square but with very little else of appeal. We walked to Lake Nicaragua (largest lake in the world) and were set upon by hundreds of bugs drawn to the piles of burning rubbish all along the shoreline. Given the current dengue outbreak in Nicaragua we made a hasty retreat back to the town centre- now populated with an unhealthy amount of US & UK expats (could be wrong but I always think a certain type of expat (this type) is on the run from something rather than to something).
The next morning we got the bus out of town to a volcanic crater, now a lake, thermally heated by the ongoing activity beneath it. Great day of swimming & kayaking in a big warm bath - should really have stayed here (Lago de Poyo) & tripped into Granada for a few hours but hindsight & all that...
Onto Ometepe - big island in the Lake Nicaragua with 2 volcanos on it (one active, one dormant). A one hour crossing is the shortest option to the island, but is preceded by 2 buses for a couple of hours first. To reach Ometepe from the eastern banks of Nicaragua is a 10hr crossing- it is HUGE and with big waves is called 'the sea' by locals with good reason. Our trip saw Chris getting soaked by standing Winslet-style at the front while I got greener and greener trying to keep sea sickness under control. On terra firma it was a 2hr journey to our cabina - an Eco lodge on the banks with nothing much to do but kick back, hire bikes & swim in more crater lakes.
Other travellers had led us to expect abject poverty & harsh conditions in Nicaragua. People are undeniably poor, and the country's politics have left it battered in some areas but overall it's a stunningly beautiful country with friendly happy people (with incredible cheekbones).
A few days of uneventful lovely nothingness & we've headed out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica. We've heard they've got some volcanos...