We arrived into the tobacco and coffee growing region in the north of Nicaragua. Our first stop in Esteli gave us some flavour of the Nicaraguense and the support for the Sandinistas in the civil war. We were given a somewhat impromptu tour of a very smoky cigar factory. i'm not sure they really did tours, but obliged us when we knocked on their door and asked. So all you cigar smokers out there - support La Perla Cigars!
From Esteli we headed west and into the heart of the volcanoes. Behind the village of San Jacinto lie boiling mud holes, connected to the Telica volcano. For $1 the local kids will walk you around the boiling mud, past steam venting from the very hot ground and across the no doubt very thin crust of the earth, supposedly keeping you safe, but they don't stick to the makeshift paths that have been put there.
A quick detour north found us at the door of Flor de Cana, one of Nicaragua's more famous and popular exports and being fans of this delicious beverage, it wasn't something we thought we should miss before heading into Leon.
Leon had been the capital of Nicaragua since colonial times but from 1839 the capital shifted back and forth with Liberal administrations preferring Leon and Conservative administrations preferring Granada. In 1852, as a compromise Managua was chosen as the permanent capital and remains so today.
Leon nevertheless is a lively university town with its colonial architecture and numerous ancient churches and cathedral juxtaposed with murals and monuments depicting the civil war. It was also a place where we were able to catch up with another traveller, Margaux, in need of sticks!.
From Liberal Leon we headed to Managua, the country's sprawling capital on the shores of Lago de Nicaragua. The downtown area, which includes the cathedral and the Palacio Nacional, was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1972, and while this area was abandoned at that time, it is slowly being brought back to life.
Conservative Granada completed our tour of Nicaraguan capital cities Much quieter than Leon, with a beautiful cathedral, numerous churches and a colourful colonial charm, despite being razed to the ground by a withdrawing William Walker in 1856.
Finally, we couldn't not visit a volcano. Declan still hasn't forgiven me the climb up Santa Maria in Guatemala, so what to do? Chose one, where a bright soul thought it would be a good idea to build a road to the rim of the crater and allow you to peer into the lava depths below, but only for 5 minutes as the gases can be a little harmful!! Great H&S. Love it!