We haven’t really had any wifi and when we had it briefly it wasn’t good enough to be able to upload photos, so apologies for having such a jam-packed post now… even now, we’re at an internet cafe, and I only have a few minutes left of my wifi time, so the edits here may be bad…
Also, wow, the bugs here are pretty bad. I really haven’t seen many, if any, mosquitos, but there are so many other biting bugs, that it seems like a mosquito ridden place. I think that there are 5 kinds of bites that I am getting.. maybe more. Theres the obvious mosquito bite which everyone knows about, then theres the chigger bite which is pretty bad. Chiggers are in the grass and are little mites that crawl up your legs until they hit a band of some sort (sock band, underwear band, waistband, etc.) and then they burrow in. Their bites are bad and super itchy and last a while. Then there are this seed ticks, which are little and will bite in and release and then humans get an allergic reaction within 12 hours, I think that these are the worst bites I have. I try to resist scratching them, but while I can resist other bites, I absolutely cannot ignore these ones. They also get SUPER swollen and are more like a lump than a bite. miserable. Ok, then theres the fleas. Theres so many dogs around here that I’ve gotten a couple of flea bites, however these aren’t terrible and go away quickly. Then theres the fire ant and army ant bites/stings. These are awful at first, since if you’re wearing sandals, you usually get a whole bunch at once. For about an hour your feet hurt so so much and feel swollen and miserable, but for me they go away quickly and don’t leave any sort of welt behind. There are honestly probably more too, like biting flies and spiders or whatnot, but this is all I can think of now…but basically my feet are covered in bites.. on my right lower leg and foot alone I have around 20 bites.
So, on a different note, as blissful as the hammock bed at our hotel in Leon was, I have to say that I don’t think its the city for me… Its supposed to be the hottest city in the country, and even though we were visiting in the cold season, it was still in the low 90s. While its been that hot in other places, theres been wind too, and this was just super stuffy and stagnant with no wind whatsoever and lots of humidity. Day 10 was probably my least favorite day of the trip so far. I felt kindof ill all day, like there was some sort of microbial upset in my body. We spent the day doing a sort of walking tour of the city, and it was just so incredibly hot. Its also a very crowded city and theres no trees or anything on the streets so it feels a little dirty, so since I was feeling a bit off health-wise, it didn’t please me much. We started off with the massive cathedral right in the center of town where we were staying. We paid a dollar and got to go up a secret staircase around a bunch of side areas and go onto the roof. It was quite cool although a tad bit scary because there wasn’t much in the way of touring or security or guardrails, there were just old concrete stairs going around various parts and we had to climb across areas that didn’t have any stairs too. But it also had a really lovely view of the city and because it was above all the buildings, there was a tad bit of wind, so it was a little cooler temperature-wise.
We went by two other cathedrals too. One was big and yellow and was quite cool looking and the other was pinkish and had fake painted bricks.. it was odd. Both were unfortunately not open to the public but still cool to look at. Leon actually has 16 really old cathedrals, so they are trying to become officially named the “city of churches”.
We then tried to go to the entomological museum but it was unfortunately closed, so we went to the botanical gardens. It was a longer walk into a very odd little neighborhood so we weren’t sure if we were in the right place but we came around the corner and there it was. The botanical gardens were not terribly exciting, but they had lots of potential and the guy running it was extremely nice and very enthusiastic about his gardens and the wildlife that came through them. So while we were walking through the garden, we finally found a guarabarranco! Its the Nicaraguan word for Motmot, which is a type of bird that is extremely beautiful and is actually the national bird. We had been looking for them since our trip started and we finally found one and it was the most perfect view of it.
In the evening, it was New Years Eve, so we went and had a nicer dinner since it was also supposed to be my aunt and uncle’s last day. But besides that, it was a really uneventful New Years. We drank a bit too early in the evening, so by 10 PM I was exhausted and irritable, and since I was already feeling sick all day, I felt pretty awful too. Plus they didn’t do a countdown, and they celebrated the new year 5 minutes early.. I don’t know what was up with that. It was odd. Soooo, yea. not the greatest welcome into the new year, but I guess its nice to spend your first day of the new year with your family since they’re the people you love the most 🙂
We woke up the next day (Day 11), and I was still physically exhausted in a sick sort of way, tummy-achy, overheated, and crabby, but fortunately we were leaving Leon that day. We took our time and made our way out to the coast where we stayed at a little cabana on the beach. Because it was New Years day, the downtown area of Las Penitas (the fishing beach town outside of Leon) was packed, so that was a little crazy. But once we got to our beach cabana area, it got much more relaxing. The day was pretty uneventful. My aunt and uncle left so that was sad. Then my parents and I just kindof unwound for a bit, which was much needed.
Day 12, we took a boat tour out through a mangrove forest/swamp along this island that is a nature preserve. It was a really incredible tour. Our two guides knew so much, and they had the most incredible spotting eyes. They literally spotted so many things that any normal person would never have been able to see. We also did the boat tour with two french women who were so incredibly friendly and fun, so that just made it even better.
The tour took half of the day and along the way I added so so many new birds to my birdlist. As we went along the river through the mangroves there were birds flying out everywhere. There were tons of different kinds of herons, common and uncommon. We saw lots and lots of these beautiful little mangrove swallows (of course one of my favorites) that were irridescent violet and green on their back. There were also lots of these very adorable little kingfishers zipping around.
Then we stopped the boat on the island and went on a little walk and saw a sleeping porcupine in the bush very close to the path. Our guide told us she was pregnant.
On that stop, we also went to this sea turtle egg hatching area where they buy turtle eggs from poachers who steal them to sell to eat and then bring the eggs back to this island and put them in these sandy enclosures so that they can safely hatch. We got to hold a turtle egg too. Then we got back on the boat and continued down the river.
Along the trip, we ended up seeing 4 crocodiles. Two were babies, and two were medium sized. The guide said that farther up the river where it is super isolated and protected more from poachers, the crocodiles can get up to 16 feet long, if not longer, but unfortunately we didn’t see any that big.
We also saw lots and lots of iguanas. A couple small ones and a couple medium sized ones and one really huge one. Once the guide spotted the huge one and we went up close to it, he got really freaked out, but iguanas are so ungraceful that this guy just kindof crashed through the trees. It was interesting because they’re all different colors. I couldn’t completely understand the guide, but I think he said that there are a couple different subspecies of iguana, but also at different ages, the iguanas are different colors and that it also depends on the color of the habitat they are living in.
After the tour, we had a really nice lunch with the french women and then we walked back to our hotel and went swimming in the ocean. It was a bit tough because the waves were breaking so strongly since the tide was so far in by that point, but it was still nice to cool off.
In the morning of Day 13 we had a nice relaxing breakfast before driving south. We ended up at my parent’s old friend’s house. This is a friend who my parents went to grad school with and haven’t seen in over 20 years, so thats fun for them.They live south of Managua near Masatepe on a really nice finca. They took us on a tour of their finca and they have around 70 different types of fruit trees. Its really impressive. We saw another type of guarrabaranco (Motmot, the national bird here). It was bigger than our previous type and was just as beautiful. The weather here is really great, since it is fairly cool. Also they have geckos all over their house. They climb all over the cielings and walls.
They have the most adorable daughter. She is almost 6 years old and the most outgoing, friendly, and enthusiastic little girl. We brought her a coloring book and a jigsaw puzzle, so I spent all afternoon and evening doing those with her while intermittently having little tea parties. She speaks some english and its really cute when she does and I like her Spanish because it is easier for me to understand since she uses simpler words and grammar and talks a bit slower. We spent all evening playing together, and I actually feel like my spanish is a lot better.
Day 14 I was woken up by my parent’s friend’s daughter running into my room yelling levanta, levanta! So I got up and then she immediately presented me with a coloring book and said lets go to paint! So we colored for a bit and then my parents and I and the young daughter packed into the backseat of my parent’s friend’s truck and we drove up north. We stopped at this place that they knew about where you can hike up a river bed (which is filled with mosquitos) up to these rock walls that are covered in old petroglyphs.
There’s a lot of petroglyphs in the area, but these are some of the better ones and are quite extensive and theres no infrastructure around these particular ones because they’re hard to get to, so there are no tourists, although a few have been painted in so they are easier to see that just carvings into the rock. And its really interesting because as much as anthropologists have looked at all the petroglyphs in the area, no one can figure out why they are there and who did them and how old they are, but they’re estimated to be quite old.
Then we piled back into the truck and drove further north up into this area thats a higher elevation pine forest, and they are some of the southernmost pines around. It was weird to see the area because it was a mix of pines and oaks so it felt like back at home rather than Nicaragua but it was quite cool. We did a little hike out to this pretty viewpoint and then headed further up the mountain to this ecolodge type place at the top.
Unfortunately, the ecolodge was having a visit by a huge religious group of 70 people and so all the cabins were completely booked but they had an area a little further away that had camping and they would put up the tents and mattresses and stuff so thats what we did. It was alright, but I think I got some more insect bites. Also, my parent’s friend is a biologist and was looking for this one really particular moth so he used a blacklighting technique which is where you put up white sheets around black lights and the moths and beetles will swarm the lights and just hang around on the sheets. While he didn’t find the one he was looking for he showed us lots of other really cool types of moths.
Day 15, we woke up and did a little bit of birding. There was this section of a little path that was covered in tubular flowers, so it was perfect for hummingbirds. And there were tons of hummingbirds there. I think there were maybe 5 or 6 different species buzzing around. But my find of the day was that after everyone else went to pack up the tents, I stayed watching and turned around and there was this really cool and different looking hummingbird. It looked unlike any other hummingbird I’ve ever seen and floated around rather than flying. It ended up being this rare and endemic species called the Sparkling-tailed Woodstar and when I told my parents and their friend about it once I went back to the truck, he was shocked because he had never seen one before and when we looked it up in the birdbook, hadn’t really even heard of it. So that was special.
Then we got back in the car and drove all the way up to the Honduras/Nicaragua border (but unfortunately didn’t cross over so I can’t add Honduras to my country list 😦 ) to a slot canyon there. We did a little hike in along the river and then took a boat further up the river. Then, once it really became a canyon rather than a riverbed, we rented inner tubes and paddled further up the river. It was so so beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos because I couldn’t take my camera since we were in water the entire time, but it was called Somoto Canyon and here is a link to what it looked like (http://www.nicaragua-magazine.com/best-of-northern-nicaragua-somoto-canyon/). The water wasn’t really flowing quickly, so we paddled way up the river and then floated very slowly back down. Then we hiked back out, got in the car and drove 4 hours back to Masatepe.
Today, Day 16, we’re just having a relaxing, sitting-around sort of day. One of my parent’s friend’s chickens had two of her eggs hatch overnight so now theres 2 really adorable little baby chickies. Plus they have 4 baby guinea pigs and 3 adults that I plan on playing with. We’re in town now at an internet cafe while they run errands and we’re going to do laundry and eat and just relax.