Outside the Museum of the Revolution in Leon.

Volcanoes, veterans and new amigos

Third instalment of Hartridges in Central America takes them to Omepete Island and meeting locals

Hello again from the beautiful country of Nicaragua!

When we last sent a story to the Quesnel Cariboo Observer, we were heading towards the incredible volcanic tropical island of Ometepe. It’s located in Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.

The island is basically shaped like an hourglass and is home to two very large volcanoes.

The larger one, Volcan Concepcion, is considered active and last erupted in 2009. Please, not now!

We stayed at various hostels and hotels all over the island, every day meeting new and interesting people. There is no question, Nicaragua is currently experiencing a surge in popularity among tourists from all over the world.

Yes, there were lots of “touristas,” but we also made a point of befriending the local folks as well. From business owners to seniors riding their bicycles in the street, we applied some of the Spanish we learned in Granada and it worked!

We have come to the conclusion that Nicaraguan people are very friendly.

Our destination after Ometepe was the southern beach town of San Juan Del Sur. But first… we had to take the ferry back to the mainland from Ometepe.

As soon as our “Little Ship That Could” passed the spit off the west coast of the island, well… the fun began. There have always been stories of how this crossing can be a rockin’ and rollin’ extravaganza.

Today was the day and the high winds were the contributing factor. It started kind of innocently and then I realized I had to hang on to the seat in order to stay put.

And, when the boat rolled sideways, I wondered to myself, “was it going to stop?”

What were you thinking.. of course it was! It was actually kind of hilarious when it became clear we weren’t going to be thrown in the water as long as we hung on.

By the time we arrived in San Jorge, we were happy to say goodbye to the crew.

It was quite an arrival! There were deckhands throwing lines to the dock and shore men throwing their own lines back. All the backpacks were quickly launched to the dock where the wide receivers caught them – hopefully. (Glad I didn’t bring that laptop.)

We all had a good laugh and I shook El Capitan’s hand. Too much fun!

We spent a few “chilled” days in the Pacific coast beach town of San Juan del Sur and the best part for us was the accommodation. The family-run AirBnb was a refuge from the party town and our hosts Marianna, Enrique and Dayanna were welcoming in all respects.

Next stop? Leon, Nicaragua.

Our first priority was the City Walk of Revolutionary and Cultural Leon in the Lonely Planet book.

There’s lots of history here – the tour stops at 25 different, fascinating places of interest.

From a Museo Entomologico with all the bugs, big and small you’ve ever wanted to know about to the world class art museum – Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Guardian.

The best way to describe our explorations? …sensory overload. The art museum houses a world-class, mind-blowing collection – too much for a one day visit.

Our next stop was the Museo Historico del la Revolucion. Just walking into the emotionally charged building was a chilling experience. You could literally feel the anger, pride, rage and grief after many years.

We were greeted in the lobby by Juan – a very passionate Sandinista veteran. He was friendly, but the very first question he asked me, looking straight into my eyes was… “de qué nacionalidad es usted?” “Somos Canadienses.” I replied.

He appeared relieved. “No Americano… bueno.” He came closer and spoke quietly, “Americanos son malos.”

We got the message. It made us feel somewhat on edge because we have lots of good friends who are American. But, we understood where the comment came from.

For almost an hour, we listened intently to the story of how the Sandinista movement started and how they rose up and fought against the Somoza dictatorship. Neither of us have ever heard anyone talk about a subject the way Juan did.

He was extremely animated – quite often drawing his index finger across his throat to signal ‘death’. His emotional and hot-blooded descriptions of executions, women or children dying and his amigos being slain were born from images he’ll clearly never forget.

And yes, Juan fought and was injured in the war – he rolled up his pant leg and showed us his leg that he nearly lost.

In the end, we had heartfelt empathy for Juan and the Nicaraguan people who to some degree, still struggle finding the path to a non-corrupt democracy. Depending on who you talk to and where they live, support for current President Daniel Ortega can be 50-50.

Overall, our visit to Leon was an eye-opening, rewarding time. There is no question in this city, the centre of the Nicaraguan Revolution, Canadians are very welcome. “Amigos” was the word we heard many times.

We’ve now moved on to the west coast, one more time. A small village called Las Penitas is home to folks who have created a mecca for surfers. Situated in a spectacular Pacific Coast beach setting, we’re here thinking how lucky we are to have family at home taking care of our place. Oh, and to have missed the legendary snowstorm.

Thanks to Annie and the Observer staff for their continued interest in our travels.

We’ll send another update from down the road. If you’d like to see more photos, please visit our blog, “Quesnel Bikers – The View From There” at: http://quesnelbikers.com

Chris and Heather Hartridge are Quesnel residents whose most recent adventure takes them to various Central American countries.


Dayanna and her mom Marianna, hosts in San Juan Del Sur.

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