Thursday, August 6, 2015

Nicaragua

Although this wasn't really a pleasure trip, I was able to take some time to explore Nicaragua on my weekends. I will keep this post restricted to the adventure part of the trip and leave the work stuff out because that's not what this blog is all about. On that note, here is what I got up to when I was in Nicaragua for a month this summer!

I flew into Managua at the beginning of July. From there, we took a bus to Juigalpa, the capital of the Department of Chontales, which is known for its beef and cheese. We got to experience lots of local food in our first few days in the town, it was very tasty but also very salty and fruits and veggies were not really available (except from the street vendors).
Looking down a street in a Juigalpa neighbourhood
July is the rainy season in Nicaragua. Juigalpa is surrounded by mountains and was lush and green from all the precipitation. We had overcast skies most days, but most of the rain was higher in the hills, rather than in town. Apparently, during most of the year the vegetation is yellow and dead and there are not nearly as many flowers. It made our visit very beautiful because we got to see everything coming to life.
Lots of advertising on a corner store. Claro is one of two cellphone companies in Nica and their adverts are everywhere
House in Juigalpa with green mountains in the background
Small house in a rural community. 5 people live here and share a bed and a cot. Food is cooked outside on a fire outside.
Our first mini-vacation was to visit Stephanie's Papi's farm for the weekend. She did not tell us much about it so we didn't know what to expect. I was shocked when we arrived at a beautiful farmhouse as I was expecting it to look more like the run down farms we had seen on the side of the road. All the wood for the house was from the huge property and the interior was beautifully decorated. Stephanie's Papi is a rancher and veterinarian that shows his cattle all over the world (including the Calgary Stampede). He has a room in his farm full of trophies from competitions, but he also uses his cows for milk, cheese and beef.
Beautiful farmhouse with rocking chairs outside
During our stay, we met some of Stephanie's friends who are musicians and played us lots of American, Nicaraguan and their own music. We got to meet some of the cows and each tried milking them too. On Sunday morning we went for a hike up into the jungle. It was fun to check out the wilderness of Nicaragua after spending all of our time in urban areas.
Stephanie and her cow
Milking myself a cup of milk
On the hike, we stopped for some fresh mangos right off the trees, and one of the guys who works on the farm knocked down some coconuts for us to enjoy.
Coconut retrieval mission
Taking a break on our way back to the farm
Remains of a cow that died
The next weekend was a long weekend in Nicaragua. We took advantage of the holiday and drove to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. This area is known for its surfing. It was very touristy and I met people from all over the world during our stay. San Juan had some amazing restaurants, seafood and cool cafes. It was a fun place to enjoy the weekend and we actually got some sunshine.
Graffiti and razor wire - common sights in Nicaragua
The town and beach in San Juan del Sur seen from the Christ Statue above the town
View from El Timon Restaurant which had amazing seafood
El Timon happy hour Pina Colada 
I spent Saturday and Sunday at Playa Hermosa. It required taking a truck with bench seats in the back for a 20 minute drive out of town and down a private dirt road, passing lots of cows and termite nests. The beach was huge and had lots of great waves. They had surf lessons there, a little bar/restaurant, open air showers and little huts by the beach with hammocks to enjoy after surfing. I spent hours in the water both days, and would return to San Juan for dinner totally exhausted.
Surfers watching the waves at Playa Hermosa
Surf school on the beach
Views down the beach with Costa Rica across the water
Getting ready to get in the water
Surfer girls
On Monday morning, I went to a yoga class and went explored the town. I found a really cool cafe for breakfast called Simon Says. It was my favourite place in town. I loved the graffiti all around in San Juan, the whole town had such a great vibe.
The surf shop that I got my board rental and ride to the beach with ($20 USD/day)
Entrance to Simon Says - only open from 8-11 am!
On the way back to Managua, we stopped in Grenada, a Spanish Colonial town. The architecture was so different than anything I had seen in Nicaragua so far and it felt like I had arrived in Europe. Grenada was busy and well maintained, I can see why so many people visit! It is also right on Lake Nicaragua and you can get views of the Island of Ometepe which has two volcanoes (Maderas and Concepcion). We had lunch in Grenada then went to a market in Masaya where I got talked into buying a hammock. 
Cathedral in Grenada
During the week, Stephanie's Papi was in town for Expica, a big agricultural show for all of Central America. We went for a few hours to see some of the animals, check out the vendors and watch the rodeo. It really reminded me of Stampede! We tried some new foods, like raspados (shaved ice with condensed milk and candied fruits on top) and a huge sampler plate of different types of meat. Stephanie's Papi got us into the VIP area to watch the rodeo which was amazing!
Raspados - yummy!
Nicaragua meet tray - also yummy!
The next stop on the trip was Leon, another colonial city. Leon is not nearly as well kept as Grenada but the churches were all very different and colourful. I did not spend much time in Leon, but went on tours to areas around the city. One day, I went to Chichigalpa to the Flor de Cana distillery with Tierra Tours. Flor de Cana is Nicaraguan Rum and people in Nicaragua are very proud of it. On the tour, we got to learn about how rum is made, see where they make and store the rum and tried some samples of their different ages (7 and 18 years).
Church in downtown Leon
Entrance to the Flor de Cana Rum Distillery
One million litre tanks containing alcohol at Flor de Cana
Another major attraction around Leon is Volcano Boarding at Cerro Negro (the 2nd smallest volcano in Nicaragua). Apparently it is #2 on the thrill-seekers list of 50 things to do before you die. We stayed at the Bigfoot Hostel which runs tours to the volcano, but after our great experience with Tierra Tours, we went out with them again. We had a really small group (6 people) and a great tour guide! Volcano boarding involves hiking up a rocky trail to the volcano crater with a board which took us about 40 mins and we gained 700m of elevation. You can choose if you want to sit down or stand up to get down the mountain. I picked the sit down option because you get a little toboggan and just point it straight down the hill. You can control the speed by pulling on a little handle (the harder you pull the faster you go), leaning back, and with your heels. It is definitely the fastest way down. There were two snowboarders on our tour that opted for the stand up option. They got boards with better edges and a fabric strap for their feet. Even though they were really good at snowboarding, they could barely make any turns and were falling over every few metres. It looked very frustrating. The tour company gave us coveralls, goggles and gloves to wear for the descent, and I bought a bandana to keep the dust out of my mouth. Despite the protective clothing, I ended up with dust and small rocks everywhere in my clothes! The 2 minute descent was an adrenaline rush for sure!
Courtyard at Bigfoot Hostel
Starting the hike up Cerro Negro with my volcano board
All geared up for the descent
Alicja speeding down the volcano
A month went by so fast, I still can't believe that I am already back home! It was fun exploring Nicaragua this July. What's next??
Enjoying the sunshine at the hotel in Managua


Monday, August 3, 2015

Mt. Cheops Scramble

Upon my return from Nicaragua, I invited myself along on Kyle's long weekend with Alan. En route to Revelstoke, we stopped in Roger's Pass (Alan's wintertime stomping grounds) to go for a hike. By the time we left the parking lot, it was already noon, but that didn't faze Alan who wanted to climb Cheops. Unbeknownst to us, this was a pretty significant undertaking for a seemingly lazy afternoon. 15.5km and 1278m in fact!
Heading up the valley to Balu Pass
 It was hot and buggy on the way up the valley, but the trail was beautiful and we moved quickly up into the alpine.
Beautiful trail made of stone. Alan filling up his water in a stream
Alpine meadow at Balu Pass
At Balu Pass, we stopped for lunch. Cheops was a long way above but Alan was sure we would have no problem making the summit that afternoon. As we picked our way through the scree and meadows, I was amazed by how fast you can move with a small pack and running shoes!
Looking up to Cheops from Balu Pass
Making our way up Cheops, looking down to Balu Pass
Lots of scree left to go to get to the summit
 We got up to what I thought was going to be the summit. Surprise! There was a ridge to follow to get over to the top. No problem, it wasn't that bad. We worked our way along the ridge, looking down over the edge and scoping out winter ski lines.
Looking over to the summit of Cheops
Traversing to Cheops Summit
 From the top (2581 metres), we had amazing view of Mt. Sir Donald and the Asulkan Valley. It was a glorious day!
Summit!! With Sir Donald and Asulkan Valley behind
The boys at the top of Cheops
Alan riding Cheops
 To speed up the descent, we went down a drainage then traversed across the meadow instead of crossing the ridge and going back down the scree. This ended up being just as long as the ridge (maybe longer) and hard on the ankles with all of the side-hilling.
Alan the mountain goat crossing the steep meadow
Back down to the valley
We were back at the car with plenty of light, although we were one of the only cars left in the parking lot! So much for a leisurely hike... at least it gave us a good excuse to get Kitchen Sink burgers at the Village Idiot when we arrived in Revelstoke!