(NOTE: If you would like to hear this blog post as an audio story, click play on the SoundCloud link below.  If you don’t see it, try reloading the web page – Nate)

No place has brought us such highs and such lows thus far on our journey as Nicaragua.

We entered the country from the northwestern lowlands. Rather than driving toward the mountainous northern region, we opted for the coast. We hadn’t seen the ocean in a while. The drive took us across cattle country; green pastures and rolling hills like a bed sheet billowing in the air just before it’s laid on the mattress. Only imagine large conical volcanoes all along the horizon.

We stayed three nights in the town of Las Peñitas, a laid-back beach town filled with Americans and Canadians looking for a simpler life on the Pacific coast. Our host was an ex-Californian, and boat captain named David. He and his wife set up a hotel/restaurant right on the beach in front of the best swimming spot in sight. I’m not much of a beach guy, but even I got sucked in. The food was good, the ocean warm and inviting, and the people friendly. A good way to begin our time in this new country.

Benjamin and Amelia took surf lessons (something Amelia has wanted to do for a while now). I was quite happy and impressed to see two smiling, laughing kids riding wave after wave into the shore. I think Amelia caught the bug. We may have a surfer girl on our hands now.

B and A's surf lesson.  Photo by Nate

B and A’s surf lesson. Photo by Nate

Amelia catching a wave.  Photo by Nate

Amelia catching a wave. Photo by Nate

Surfer dude.  Photo by Nate

Surfer dude. Photo by Nate

We left the beach and went into the town of Leon – a pretty colonial city that has been moved several times due to war and volcanoes. We visited the Revolutionary Museum and were taught about the 20th and 21st century history of Nicaragua by our tour guide, Francisco, who fought for the Sandinistas back in the 1980’s. We learned of Augusto Sandino, who in the 1920’s led a revolt to kick the U.S. Marines out of Nicaragua only to be assassinated in 1934 when a dictatorial family (the Somosas) came in to power for three generations. The Sandinistas (named after Sandino) started fighting in 1979. A decade of war followed between the them and the US-backed contra groups. Now, an aging Francisco with youthful eyes says that the Sandinistas fight with their minds, not with guns. I don’t know if the Tangletown kids heard that part, because in the corner, leaning against the wall was a real life bazooka they were able to play with for a bit. Who needs history when you can hold a rocket launcher?

Our tour guide, Francisco, in the revolution museum.  Photo by Amelia.

Our tour guide, Francisco, in the revolution museum. Photo by Amelia.

Tangletown kids and their new ... "toy".  Photo by Nate

Tangletown kids and their new … “toy”. Photo by Nate

From Leon we took the long way to Laguna Apoyo where rainwater has filled a crater, creating a beautiful, tranquil, warm, clear lake. And, damn, it ain’t cheap. The only resort that would allow us to camp wanted to charge us $36 to sleep in our van. We searched and searched some more and finally found a restaurant that let us camp on the property for $8. We made dinner and shared some food with the night watchman while he shared his story with us. He too fought for the Sandinistas, only he was drafted and promised a home and a pension. He never received either.

We left one crater for another. The Masaya volcano looks over Managua and Granada like an over-protective, patriarchal father with anger issues. It’s big, beautiful and defines the region, but shows its insecurities through attention getting mechanisms like chronic belching and the occasional violent outbursts. I may be anthropomorphizing a bit too much here. It’s basically a cool volcano. Anyway, we were able to experience it on horseback taking in the views during the day and then a night tour into one of the lava tubes where bats and snakes dwell. There was a red glow reflecting off sulfuric gas in the crater that created a feeling of awe and a little fear.

Giddyup!  Masaya Volcano.  Photo by.... the horse owner.

Giddyup! Masaya Volcano. Photo by…. the horse owner.

Masaya Volcano.  Photo by V.

Masaya Volcano. Photo by V.

At the peak of Masaya.  Photo by V.

At the peak of Masaya. Photo by V.

Cosmo at the Crater with his new van friends.  Photo by Nate

Cosmo at the Crater with his new van friends. Photo by Nate

The glow.  Photo by Nate

The glow. Photo by Nate

Granada was next on the agenda – yet another beautiful colonial town. I used to find colonial towns quite pleasant in their simplicity and intimate, narrow streets. That changed when I started driving a very tall, very long van. Sprinter vans were not made for colonial towns, and finding secure parking lots is damn near impossible. And so, we parked on the street while wandering the plaza in search of lemonade and street musicians. Upon our return we noticed the sliding door slightly ajar, and the keyholes smashed in. We opened the door and our fears were confirmed – someone had broken into Cosmo.

Panic swept over us as we looked around the van to see what was missing. Did those secret hiding places we made for the computers and money work? Were our passports gone? We took a quick inventory and found they had only taken the ancient iPhone…. and Amelia’s brand new tablet she received for her birthday. The poor kid was heartbroken. It could have been much worse, but still we all felt violated and for Amelia her world was crumbling. We looked out onto the streets with that feeling of suspicion. That horrible, corruptible thought that anyone and everyone you see could be the thief.
We drove to the police station to file a report, which took a while. At this point it was getting late in the day, and we needed to find a place to sleep. Hotel after hotel was either too expensive, scary or inadequate for a family of four. We finally found a good deal at the Backpacker’s Inn, parked the van at the fire station and grabbed dinner.

Making the best of a bad situation. Amelia drawing with two girls at the police station. Photo by Nate

Making the best of a bad situation. Amelia drawing with two girls at the police station. Photo by Nate

The next morning we finished our business with the police and met a lovely Oregonian family who now lives on the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. They invited us to camp out on their property, so with our faith somewhat restored in humanity, we left Granada for the ferry terminal in San Jorge. The ferry boarding did not go so well. Apparently we were not allowed to have a propane tank, but for a one-time payment to the pocket of the port authority official, it would be okay. We elected to opt out of that payment, drove the van off the ferry and left.

Feeling defeated, we steered Cosmo’s wheels toward Playa Flor where sea turtles were reportedly returning to the sands to lay their eggs. Playa Flor is a turtle sanctuary. The workers there, with the help of the Nicaraguan army, dig up the eggs when the mother lays them, and store them away to keep them from the hands of poachers. It was an odd site: heavily armed men lying in hammocks watching over bag after bag of sand and turtle eggs. As the sun set that evening, the four of us got to release these little miracles onto the beach and watch them begin their incredible journey as they slowly crawled towards the crashing waves in the golden, orange twilight. This was truly a highlight of our trip. The only thing that could have been better would have been if the workers had woken us up to see the mother turtles coming to shore at night like they said they would. Apparently they forgot, and the mothers came and went in the night leaving only their tracks and eggs in the sand.

A and her new friend. Photo by Nate

A and her new friend. Photo by Nate


Swimming at Playa Flor.  Photo by Nate

Swimming at Playa Flor. Photo by Nate

Playa Flor.  Photo by Nate

Playa Flor. Photo by Nate

Good luck little guy.  Photo by Amelia

Good luck little guy. Photo by Amelia

Vayan con Dios from Nate Brown on Vimeo.

We left for the border of Costa Rica a couple days earlier than we planned. We were done with Nicaragua. Our experience there was a rollercoaster of emotions. We were exhausted and wanted some stability. The border crossing took three hours this time. They keep getting longer and longer. Halfway through the process, Amelia became horribly ill. Out of nowhere. Fine one minute then the next minute curled up in a ball on the immigration office floor with clammy cold skin and nausea. An awful way to leave.

Nicaragua gave us some of our best and worst memories. As my good friend Kathi likes to say, “On a scale of one to ten, it was a one… and a ten”. But I have to say, of all the Central American countries we’ve visited thus far, Nicaragua is the only one that I’d like to come back and visit. The country feels alive in a way I haven’t witnessed in the others. Volcanoes ever present on the horizon reminding us that not even the earth is permanent. The most incredible lightning displays I’ve ever seen that roll in each night. That perfect wave blown open by an offshore wind. The return of turtles to the very beach they were born after years in the sea. This place is remarkable. And sitting here in this wildlife refuge with the ocean lapping at the shore I can’t help but be reminded of a quote. “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it’s still a beautiful world.”

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Showing 8 comments
  • Eric Austin Lee

    Nate! & V., B., A.,

    Such a remarkable tale, my friends. I am so sorry that the sweetness of that place came with the bitterness of a burglary. This happened to us three times while in England. I hate that that happened to you and hate that it leaves us feeling violated.

    All of your pictures are wonderful. It looks like an amazing place. I must say, you have a great gift for writing, my friend. May the rest of your trip be safe and only filled with the sweetness of new discoveries.

    All the very best,


    • Nate

      Thanks for reading, my friend, and thanks for the words of encouragement. The journey has been pretty smooth the last couple weeks. We were even able to spend some time with my folks in Costa Rica. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Ma Amparo Tamayo


    ME SIENTO TAN ORGULLOSA !!!!!!!! que yo misma me obligo a cuestionarme si no estoy siendo muy petulante por estar contando a todo el mundo :todos estos logros, hazañas. aventuras, experiencias que están alcanzando, son unos verracos !!!!!!l l
    los quiero mucho, y de nuevo , estoy muy orgullosa y feliz . los amo con todo mi corazón.

    La Mamá

  • tio nacho

    ! VERY ! NICE well documented, amazing experience , it will be in your memories for ever>>>>>>>>

  • bernard

    Wonderful story and summary of Nica. Our experiences almost exactly. Keep pushing forward, admiring you all for your courage, bravery and tenaciousness . Did you all get to Volcano Board?

  • Kim Arthur

    Desiderata! My favorite line is the one about how, whether or not it is clear to you, things in the universe are unfolding as they should…but I’m better at feeling that way with the ups – when in hindsight i can see that the stars were aligning – than in the moment when the downs are happening. Onward! Love to you four from us four!

  • Nancy

    I listened to the recoding. Great idea!! What a visit!

  • Tamy

    Victoria! Amiguita, apenas estoy lellendo el blog. Me contenta saber que llegaron a ver lo lindo que es Nicaragua, que malo que los robaron a nosotros tambien nos paso algo similar y tubimos que pagar un vidrio nuevo de un carro alquilado. Que lindas fotos y linda narracion, que sigan difrutando, besitos!

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