After our struggles in Honduras, we were anxious to cross into Nicaragua – although the oppressive heat, heavy headwinds and 40lbs of a broken electric assist continued to weigh us down. But for some reason, even though our hardships had nothing to do with the country of Honduras itself, crossing that border brought some relief. Over the last few days we had adjusted to these difficult conditions and anticipated continuing to face the same hurdles at least until we reached León. It didn’t hurt that in Nicaragua, the road was immensely better than the highway in Honduras. We had a generous shoulder, smooth pavement, and very little traffic. There was also a change in the landscape: for a day and a half we were within view of the smoking Volcán San Cristóbal – a spectacular sight that I hadn’t ever thought I’d see so closely or by bicycle.
We were excited about Nicaragua. We had missed out on the ‘good’ side of Honduras, that is the Caribbean side, which was across an expanse of mountains that we didn’t have the time or courage to conquer on this trip. The activities and places of interest in Nicaragua were all on our route and within reach. We also knew that Costa Rica and Panama were going to be quite a bit more expensive than Nicaragua, so we decided to hang out a bit longer here where we could afford better hotels, food options, and a few excursions.
Trucking along slowly due to the failed electric assist, we reached León a little more tired than usual. Rolling into the city, we hopped from hostel to hostel trying to find a room – this city was popular! We investigated over 10 places before deciding on one that was within budget, suited our needs, and actually had vacancy. Our first order of business during our two days off here was to troubleshoot the motor problem. With a bit of email tech-support from Grin Technologies in Vancouver, we took some readings with a multi-meter and determined that the issue revolved around a malfunctioning hall sensor – a known problem with this brand of motor and normally the result of a wire becoming detached from a circuit board inside the hub. Re-soldering the connection involved first disassembling my bike, then finding a mechanic to help extract a seized screw in the motor casing, and finally hunting down a Radio Shack that could assist with the solder. This took the better part of a day, but in the end the motor was once again operational! Amazingly, we were only setback one day in our schedule and a few bucks from our budget as a result of the failure. It could have been much worse!
The remainder of our time in León was spent relaxing in the hostel as well as going on walks to explore a few of the many cathedrals this town has to offer – including the largest in Central America. With amazing architecture, a wide variety of restaurants and food options, as well as numerous great hotels and hostels, León proved to be a great city to spend a few days in. We met and mingled with people from all over the world, slowly readjusting to seeing so many other white faces in town as we hadn’t been to a touristy area in weeks.
We set off early from León, planning for a long day with the wind in our face, targeting a small town about 70km down the road towards Managua. The winds were indeed strong, and after a grueling morning and afternoon, we arrived – but there was no hotel to speak of. After asking a few people about lodging options, we learned there was a hotel down the road, so we confidently set out to ride another 8km into the countryside. Knowing that 8km can really mean as little as 3km, or as much as 15, we pushed hard with the last of the energy we had left, moving as fast as we could seeing as it was already late in the afternoon. The sign for the rumored hotel finally came into view after 15km. Relieved to have made it, we pulled off the highway and into the driveway where we were promptly turned away by the security guard – no minors allowed here (probably for good reasons – ‘hourly’ motels are common in the country and outside of cities). Still without a place to spend the night, we were now on the edge of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua and also it’s largest and most dangerous city – and the sun was close to setting. With legs burning, we mustered up some more energy from the depths and chugged down the highway, stopping at anything that looked like a hotel – and continued to be turned away because we had children with us. This was the first time that traveling as a family actually made finding lodging more difficult!
Our guidebook showed a cluster of hotels in what we assumed was a safer area of the city – so we reluctantly decided to squeeze out another 15km to get there. We were now riding in the city – and in the dark. Not our ideal conditions. The sight of all the lights mesmerized the kids, as this has been the first time of city riding in a long time. We rocked up to a hostel, surely one of the less expensive options in town, and of course they had no vacancy! A quick couple more blocks led us to a hotel that was out of our price range but at this point, we didn’t really have a choice. It was late, we were hungry, and the kids were tired. This ‘American-style’ hotel was incredibly comfortable and clean – surely the nicest lodging we have stayed in south of the U.S. border – not a bad place to end up after unexpectedly riding 103km and setting a record for longest day on the bike yet. Once again, Reuben and I were a bit frazzled from the physically demanding ordeal, but the kids didn’t seem to notice anything was out of place on this difficult day.
We were back on the bikes bright and early the next morning for now a very short ride into Granada. This was another colonial town with great architecture, and was set right on the shores of Lago de Nicaragua. We had originally planned to cross the lake to Isla de Ometepe to relax there but found our hostel, the Oasis, too good to give up after our exhausting experience the day before. We spent two days here, swimming in the pool at the hostel, taking a horse and carriage tour of the city, relaxing at café’s and taking a boat tour of the small islands in the lake – one of which had a special treat for the kids: four playful monkey inhabitants.
After Granada, we continued south through Rivas and prepared for the entry into Costa Rica where, we had read in journals, the winds we had been fighting since El Salvador would soon die down, and we would be in ‘paradise.’ A little apprehensive about what this famous tourist destination would mean for our budget, we were still quite eager to see Costa Rica and find out what the big deal was.