Have you ever returned to a country and felt you were visiting for the first time, the experiences and locations so utterly different than before?
That was our recent visit to Nicaragua.
During our first visit to Nicaragua in 2009, we aimed to climb volcanoes, chill out in quaint colonial towns and relax in hammocks on Ometepe Island. We'd been “beached out” from Honduras (not possible, you say?) and chose not to seek out any of Nicaragua’s famous surfing outposts or coastal vistas.
This time around, just a couple of weeks ago, we visited Nicaragua with fresh eyes. We spent time on its Pacific Coast for the first time. The country – its landscapes, nature, and people – surprised me. Sure, I enjoyed our first visit, but I honestly didn’t remember Nicaragua being quite this beautiful.
Here are just a few of the memories from our twelve days in the western part of the country — most of our days on the Pacific Coast at Morgan's Rock Ecolodge with two days on an isleta on Lake Nicaragua at Jicaro Ecolodge.
Fourteen Memories from Nicaragua's Pacific Coast and Lake Nicaragua
1. Sunset: Mother Nature's daily show
I know, I know. Sunsets are often overdone, but really, the ones in Nicaragua – whether on the Pacific Ocean or Lake Nicaragua – were stunning each and every night. It was as if someone flipped a switch, and the show began. Even the Costa Ricans we'd met admitted that the sunsets were better on the Nicaraguan side…although they'd never make such an admission publicly.
2. Taking to the hills on horseback
Dan and I have done quite a bit of adventurous stuff these last six years, but getting comfortable on horses has not been one of them. But when the views are like this and the horse isn't trying to sit down in a puddle with you on it (I have flashbacks to Kyrgyzstan), it's easy to forget one's fears and just enjoy the ride. Literally. Yes, even when the horses begin to gallop across the beach.
3. Walks on the beach
Morning, afternoon or evening, I never tire of this view. Therapeutic, relaxing, mind-expanding.
4. Fresh lobster ceviche right on the boat
Need I say more? OK, maybe I will. The captain's first mate dove for lobsters along our morning sail.
5. Meeting a howler monkey family on the way to breakfast
One early morning, as I walked the suspension bridge to breakfast, I looked up to see a momma howler monkey sleeping in the tree with her baby tucked behind her. Reminds me of how moms keep a tight grip on their young ones, right across the animal kingdom.
6. Boogie boarding competition on the beach
Well, the competition was really only between Dan and me. If you know us, you know that our marital rivalry occasionally runs deep. Now, I'm not going to say who won…(hint: not in the photo above).
7. Morning coffee with a view
Now this is something to get your day started on the right note – this view paired with a delivery of freshly brewed coffee. Only thing this photo doesn't convey: the sound of waves crashing below.
8. Learning to milk a cow
Now, I get that for those of you who grew up on or near a farm, milking a cow is old hat, a complete non-event. For the rest of us, however, this is pretty exciting stuff. Getting your hand on a cow's udder and learning the tug and squeeze motion to yield milk may be a bit bizarre for the unaccustomed, but it does teach something about rhythm and touch. We were motivated, ultimately on a mission: fresh milk for our morning coffee.
9. Purisima celebration and Nicaraguan hospitality
This visit to Nicaragua happened to coincide with Purisima, a Nicaraguan celebration for the Virgin Mary. Festivities include local families fashioning altars in their living rooms. On the final day (December 8), many families open their homes at 6 PM to allow people to view the altar, sing songs and in return for their participation, receive candy, food and gifts. When we showed a little curiosity outside of a local home in San Juan del Sur, we were whisked in and invited to share in the celebration. When we left, the family literally ran after us insisting we take our Purisima gifts — maracas, noisemakers and lots of food. Generosity of spirit at its finest.
10. Nicaraguan Food
I'd be lying if I said you should go to Nicaragua for its cuisine. It's not bad, but it just doesn't feature the culinary diversity or flavor of Mexican or Peruvian food. While much Nicaraguan street food is fried, when you take a step up, you can get a lot of fresh seafood, beef, fruit and vegetables. So while we did eat our fair share of gallo pinto (beans and rice) — a Nicaraguan staple eaten morning, noon and night — we also chowed down on as much seafood, fruit and salads as we could. Don't expect much on the spice front. Keep your Spanish handy and ask often for salsa picante.
Another thing that surprised us on this visit: the quality of Nicaraguan beef. If you're a meat eater, give it a try, especially churrasco style beef served thinly sliced, grilled and often with a chimichurri sauce.
11. Early morning kayak ride on Lake Nicaragua
When you're on a quiet lake framed by a two-volcano backdrop and scattered with over 2,000 little islands, it's worth an early rise to hop in a kayak. Water birds, big and small, keep you company on shore and overhead you as you quietly paddle your way through caches of water lilies and scrubby isletas (small islands). This is their territory.
12. Bird puns
While getting close to the egret below during our kayak ride was memorable, what I'll recall most from this bird is Dan's commentary:
“I've done a lot in life. Although not everything has gone quite as I had planned, I can say I have no egrets.”
Groans. Smiles and laughter, too.
13. Catching my first tuna, old school style
I can count on one hand the amount of times I've gone fishing in my life; and even fewer fingers counting what I'd actually caught. So imagine my surprise (yes, there was a squeal) when my traditional fishing contraption — a flat wood spool wrapped with fishing line — almost jumped out of my hand. The result? This beautiful, though admittedly not enormous, tuna fish.
Maybe I should try fishing more often.
14. Oh, and did we mention the sunsets?
Yup, they're really that spectacular.
So, did Nicaragua surprise you like it surprised us?