I woke up really early this morning, excited for what the day was going to bring. Also, my meeting time for the excursion I had planned was at 7:00AM in the Explorer’s Lounge. I had to get ready and grab breakfast and get to the lounge so that I wouldn’t miss my tender to the shore.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect today in Nicaragua. Everything that I had heard about the country seemed rough and dangerous. Sandinistas, Civil War & Contras seemed very much in my thoughts today, but I assumed that there was just no way that Princess Cruises (or any other reputable cruise line) would risk their passenger’s safety.
Here is what Princess Cruises says about the country from their excursions page:
“Nicaragua is the largest Central American nation and has stunning landscapes, vast cultural treasures, and an intriguing history.
Until recent times Nicaragua was unfortunately known for the civil war (Sandinistas and Contras) that raged from the late 70s through much of the 80s. Today, the soldiers and guerrillas have given way sightseeing in a beautiful country. From strolling the cobblestone streets of colonial Granada on Lake Nicaragua, to exploring one of the many volcanoes, Nicaragua has something for even the most seasoned traveler.”
So, I decided to really go out of my comfort zone and do something that I had never done before. I chose an excursion recommended by the Discovery Channel that included a guided hike around a volcano. After waiting around the Explorer’s Lounge a bit, our group was called and we boarded the tender to take us ashore. Once on land, Princess Photographers were there to document our visit, and we were whisked to our waiting motorcoach. Today’s tour guide was Max, and he was an incredible guide. He was a former school teacher; so on the way to the Mombacho Volcano, we were treated to a bit of Nicaraguan history. It was fascinating to hear it firsthand from someone who lived through what I had heard on the news in the 70’s & 80’s.
I have to say that from what I saw of the countryside & small towns that we passed, Nicaragua is an extremely beautiful country. I would love to visit again, and stay much longer than a day.
After about 80 minutes of riding through beautiful scenery and listening to Max tell us all about Nicaragua, we finally arrived at our destination: the base of the Mombacho Volcano. Here we had to transfer to two 4-Wheel drive trucks to get us to the top of this mountain. We were to ride up the steepest road in all of the country. The first half, the average grade was 32 degrees; then, we would take a break at a coffee plantation before continuing up to the top of the volcano. The second half of the drive, the grade averaged 45 degrees.
As you can see from the picture I took above, the top of the Mombacho Volcano is covered in clouds. This is usually the normal state of the mountain, and I soon learned what this meant!
Once we were loaded in the trucks, they took off rather fast, and we were on our way up a volcano. It seemed to take about 20 minutes to get halfway up where we were going to take a break (Our first bathroom stop of the day was much needed!). Along the way up, we passed houses, a school, and fields of coffee & bananas. When we passed the school, all of the children came out and waved at us, excited to see a bunch of tourists in the bed of a truck going up a mountain. The halfway point of the trip up proved to me that we were very high up.
There was a small gift shop (that mainly sold coffee that they produced); restrooms, a coffee bar that gave out samples, and a view that was simply outstanding. My pictures do not do this scenery justice. We had just 15 minutes here, and we were on our way through the steepest part of the road and to the top of the mountain.
Amazingly, all along the way, I saw plants that I had once sold in my flower shop. I saw poinsettias, bromeliads, orchids, peace lilies, deiffenbachia, schefflera & corn plants. Actually, I saw thousands of corn plants…here they even planted them in “living fences”. They seemed to grow everywhere, and I saw some that were at least 30 feet high. I couldn’t believe that all of these “house plants” were just growing basically on the side of the road.
Not too long after we left the halfway point, we entered the clouds. Here, all the trees & plants that grew here is known as a “cloud forest”. I had never been in a cloud forest before, and it was beyond cool. Of course, since we were driving up into the clouds, visibility was poor, as there was fog everywhere. It was cool, damp & misty everywhere, with moss & bromeliads and other plants that I had never seen before were growing on all of the trees, stumps, branches and basically everywhere. Max (our guide) said that it can rain in a cloud forest, but it usually just stays wet from the moisture that is in the clouds.
During the time in the truck, I basically held onto the safety bar with one hand, and had a death-grip on my camera. We were driving what felt like straight up this mountain, it was a bumpy rode, and you could hear the truck’s gears grinding. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. And, since we had driven so far up, it was actually cold. Well, chilly. Cold. I live in Florida, anything below 75 is cold…our temperatures was in the sixties at best. It was cold and damp. Visibility was not much because we were in a Cloud Forest. I felt like I was in the strangest place that I had ever been…and probably that was very true.
After we unloaded the trucks, we assembled in the lodge at the top of the volcano. There was a model of the mountain, and Max described for us where we were to hike. Basically, we were hiking a bit more than three miles around the caldera of the volcano. There would be no handrails, and the path was about 15″ wide. Most of the trail was either up or down hill…there wasn’t much ground that was level. Out of our group oaf about 50, only 4 people decided to stay at the lodge (more like large cabin) while the rest of us decided to go for it.
We went single file, and begin climbing down. There were “stepping stones” laid out in the floor of the forest, made out of circles of wood. I had to be really careful, as each piece of wood was wet, (we’re in a cloud forest!) and moss had begun to grow on some of the pieces. There was people in front of me and behind me. If someone fell, we would all go down like a line of dominoes.
It actually didn’t take too long to get used to the pace, Max went slow and everyone was being extra careful. I’m sure they probably had the same idea that I had…if you fell, it would take hours to get to the closest hospital. No one complained that anyone was going to slow, and no one tried to pass anyone that was going slow. Honestly, though, there wasn’t room to pass. I looked down for every step that I took, and this was also somewhat dangerous as there was tree limbs in the path that you had to duck under to get by. This hike was the best one I’ve ever experienced! Everywhere I looked, there was moss-covered trees, and branches filled with bromeliads. Howler monkeys were screaming at us for most of the hike to let us know that we were in their territory. We stopped a few times during the hike, and Max told us fascinating facts about the volcano, the plants in the area and the wildlife that inhabited this cloud forest.
The roots that are hanging down are from the “Strangler Vine” and is what Tarzan used to swing from tree to tree!
Before long, (actually it was a long time, lol…the trail was over 3 miles long) we came to a clearing where orchids grew in the ground and we could see the view from the top of the volcano. Also, there were a few vents here, and when you passed your hand over the opening, you could feel very warm hair leaving the ground. It was all surreal. Of course, being in the clouds, the view wasn’t as good as it could have been. Max said that some days were clear and you could see for miles. On the day I visited, the clouds parted a bit, and I got a few pictures…
Here are two of the orchid species that were blooming. The orange flowers were about the size of quarters, and the lavender bloom was about the size of the palm of my hand.
After we saw “the view” and took pictures of the orchids, it was time to make our way back to the lodge and the waiting trucks to take us down the mountain.
Now here is where I began to doubt myself. For the most part the trail has been all down-hill. Of course, I knew we would have to climb back up. It was much harder going up than down. But, it did feel a bit safer going up (or maybe I had just gotten used to stepping on wet wood). By the time I made it back to the lodge, I was out of breath, and needed some water! I was really glad to see the trucks waiting, along with what they called a restroom! (which was basically just an outhouse!). After using the “facilities” and getting a bottle of water, I sat down in the truck to wait for everyone else to make it back. (I was NOT last!!!!!). About 15 minutes went by, and we were all ready for our next adventure: Making it down the mountain!
As the trucks started up, the drivers & guides started speaking in Spanish to one another…we wondered what was up, so asked. Apparently, two police officers had followed us up the mountain, and weren’t supposed to go but to the coffee plantation (halfway). They went all the way up, and when they were going back down, the road was so steep that one of the policemen drove off the road. We asked if they called 911 (not sure if Nicaragua has 911!). Max said that he was ok, and that when they found his bike they would call. Not sure if he meant the bike or the driver was missing, but Max and the other guides didn’t seem too worried, so off we went “straight” down the mountain. The trip down was much scarier than the trip up. The sound of grinding brakes followed us all the way down, and we made it down in half the time it took to go up. Truly terrifying, but awesome at the same time. What a morning!
After our transfer back to our bus, we were off to nearby Granada where lunch was waiting for us! On our way to the restaurant, we had a quick tour of the town, & saw some of their handicrafts.
When we arrived at the restaurant, our table was ready! Out of Beef, chicken, fish or vegetarian, I chose the chicken. Everyone seemed to love the food here. It was good, but we were all hungry because of our morning work-out. I loved the dessert–it was a very moist chocolate brownie that was baked with cinnamon. Unusual, but delicious!
Before I knew it, it was time to head back to the ship. Today was an incredible day for me, and this excursion one of the best I’ve done! Good Job, Discovery Channel & Princess Cruises! About 20 minutes before we got back to the ship, we had one more stop…Lake Nicaragua, that is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world and has amazing views of twin volcanoes! This lake is also home to the only fresh-water shark on the planet.
It was no time after this stop that we were back at the port and on the tender to the ship.
I feel so blessed that I was able to visit this beautiful country. I had an amazing adventure in Nicaragua, and I hope to return one day. I certainly didn’t expect that Nicaragua would become my favorite port of this cruise…when I booked this cruise (about 18 months ago) I never would have thought that I would say “I will return to Nicaragua one day!”. One of the things that I love about travel is the discovery of new places. Nicaragua is certainly more than Sandinistas, Contras & civil war! So happy that I put some fears behind me and tried an excursion to a country that I knew so little about.
I’ll be back with more reports from my “Ocean to Ocean” cruise from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco on the Island Princess!