Nicaragua: Estelí to Granada

After inadvertantly ending up in Estelí during a festival we managed to make our escape from the lure of quick highway riding. The Reserva Miraflor is a locally created area of rural land and forest north-east of Estelí. Our friends Charlotte and Ned are volunteering on a coffee growing Finca there, although much to our regret we didn’t find out about this proximity until after we’d passed through :-( Our route followed bumpy but nicely rockily-graded roads up into the cloud-covered mountains. Keeping as cool as possible has become even more of a central theme than it was further north. Getting high, and following forested routes is the best we can manage at the moment. Coffee and chocolate are also features of the areas we travel through, but we find this much less of a hassle than the heat and humidity!

The lush green countryside, cloud cover and well-made drystone walls of the Reserva Miraflor up from Estelí reminded us of North Wales. It was just a bit warmer though to dispel any confusion!
The nicely paved road between Jinotega and Matagalpa has a justly deserved reputation as one of the most scenic in Nicaragua. After a steady 10km climb, it meanders along a ridge clad with cloud forest and howler monkeys before heading down to Matagalpa

Jinotega and Matagalpa are circled by coffee-clad mountains, with some potted information on choosing your coffee plant and processing the product in the museum in Matagalpa to make us feel as if we at least have some knowledge on the subject. Sampling the local chocolate also gave us an increased appreciation, though as with other things the effect is dose-related proving Sarah’s point that you can never have too much chocolate (or icecream)…

Just after we'd got to trending round Cerro Apante after the steep haul out of Matagalpa we passed some school children playing ball games in the road. There was much waving, and a few minutes later 2 girls ran to catch us up and told us that their teacher'd given them permission to ask us to come back and play. Unfortunately we declined, but tried to convey our gratitude for their very polite request.
Happily rattling along Hugh's route along narrow rocky lanes through cloud shrouded coffee plantations

After climbing steeply out of Matagalpa we were making steady progress around Cerro Apante when we noticed some very neatly painted fence posts. Their owner was a ex-pat Coloradan American who turned out to be a mountain-biker as well. Armed with our best set of local directions ever we thoroughly enjoyed his route down to the San Ramón road. We think we might have dialled into a bit of a network because he mentioned another biker in Granada, who then mentioned another at the south end of Lago Nicaragua…

We were eventually spat out from the highlands at Teustepe and life’s pretty hot without much prospect for improvement until we climb into the Andes in Colombia. We’re both drinking 3 or more water bottles a day, plus mandatory treats of cans of fruit juice (in my case that’s at least 5 litres of fluid a day). We’re both finding the climate very draining and are always tired. Although we’ve lived in this climate (Darwin, Northern Australia), it was very different to now, when we are doing several hours of often tough physical exercise a day. Bring on the Andes!

We've ended up staying in towns and therefore hotels much more than we'd normally do. This has usually been because that's where we end up when it's about to pour, or we don't have the energy for the inevitable steep haul out in the continued heat of the late afternoon. We spent a while chatting to the woman running this refreshment stall in Escipúlas while waiting for the downpour to lessen enough to find a place to stay. (Photo S.Hedges)

Granada is very similar to Antigua Guatemala with its neatly painted colonial buildings and churches. We’re hanging out here for a few days until the next twice-weekly ferry to Isla Ometepe where we’ll be catching up with our German cycle-touring friends, Anita and Mario, and Sarah’s trailer. It’s an interesting place to think about the “insulated” world of the tourist, and indeed there are also a substantial number of US and European Ex-pats based here and abouts. Prices in the majority of shops are in US dollars, rather than the Nicaraguan currency (Cordobas), and it’s a bit mind-twisting to try and work out whether something’s just cheap in dollars vs what we’d pay in Australia or expensive for Nicaragua.

Immaculate spanish colonial architecture is a feature of Granada, and feels quite exclusive of real Nicaragua.
Looking back up the Calzade towards the colonial churches surrounding the Parque Central in Granada. There's even an "Irish" pub just down the road if that's your thing.

We’re also giving some thought to making some progress up into the Andes by plane by maybe flying from Panama or San José (Costa Rica) to Bógota or Quito. Partly this is due to a lot of cogitating about wanting to get to all the places we want to see in South America within the season-window and partly that we (especially me) are finding the demands of wet-season off-road touring in central america a bit too much.

Another discussion we’ve had recently has been about ‘themes’ for bicycle tours. Some people have a central idea that they use to direct their travel. These can include visiting different types of sustainable farming or actively observing and documenting how bicycles are used (or not) down the Americas. We’ve been less formed about our motivations and core values. We then realised that baked goods could be the thing that gets us up the hills and makes the difficult bits worthwhile… So Sarah has proposed that our trip be a mission to find and sample as many different types of baked good bicycle tourist fuel as possible! We’ll now see if we can come up with some retrospective highlights to justify this.


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