We left Morgan’s Rock feeling a little spoiled. The manager gave us a ride to San Juan which helped us save $60. From San Juan, we got on a cab to the Rivas bus station. Along the way, we were stopped by some cops doing routine inspection. All six of us showed our IDs and passports. (The car fit four comfortably, but of course, the driver made six people fit.) When I asked the lady next to me why the inspection was necessary, she mentioned that drugs from Costa Rica are smuggled through San Juan. Her nail polish was peeling and her denim skirt was two sizes too small for her. I wished the cops would check her ID more carefully. In Rivas, we had an hour to kill before the bus to Managua was scheduled to depart. Kids were constantly asking us to buy food and drinks from them. We didn’t need to buy food because the staff at Morgan’s Rock packed us a couple of sandwiches for lunch and even gave me ceviche in a Ziploc. I ended up paying one of the boys 5 cordovas to walk me inside the food market and direct me to the public bathroom, though. He also asked one of the vendors for a plastic fork so that we could eat our ceviche. The ride was, as usual, bumpy and loud, but we made it back to Managua safely.
At Oscar Fonseca’s house, we unpacked before we walked around the neighborhood to look for dinner. If you’re planning a trip to Nicaragua, I recommend to skip this sooty city. There wasn’t really anything exciting about it. To our delight, we saw a Pollo Campero sign near one of the rotundas, a chicken fast food place we learned about while in El Salvador. We cabbed it to the main park but there was nothing there except an old church and a fountain. Before heading back home, we stopped by a fruit stand to buy a whole watermelon. That night, feeling a little disappointed with our experience with Nicaragua’s volcanoes so far, we decided to postpone our flight to the Caribbean coast and stay one more day in Managua to make a day trip to LeÃ³n, home of Cerro Negro, or the Black Hill.
The next morning, we woke up very early to catch the 5:30am shuttle van to LeÃ³n, Nicaragua’s “intellectual” city. It only took an hour to get there because half of the country was still asleep, but it took almost two hours before we could find a restaurant open for business. I was so grouchy when we finally found breakfast at Comedor Lucia that I ordered a chicken leg with my scrambled eggs. After eating, we met up with Hector at the Va Pues Tour office inside the Cocinarte restaurant-cum-artist hangout. It was a last-minute arrangement and we couldn’t risk just asking one of the locals for a much cheaper ride to Cerro Negro, so we ended up shelling out $90 for the two of us to hike the crater.
We got on the pickup truck and our driver negotiated the dry mud along the way while Hector told us about his life. He was young and energetic and seemed really thrilled that Chinese-looking people like us could speak Spanish. It was a long drive and we only saw one sign directing us towards the volcano. We tried to convince ourselves that we made the right decision in paying so much money to get us there.
As soon as we started our hike up Cerro Negro, I knew it was going to be a completely different experience from Mombacho or Apoyo. The small stones crunched as we stepped on them. It was like hiking on powdered snow: step up, crunch, slide down, repeat. From afar, we could see how much damage the lava from its last eruption affected the valley. There was no vegetation, only hardened asphalt. Steam was coming out from some of the rocks. I scooped up some to take home as souveneir and was amazed at how hot they were. One section of the hill was completely covered in yellow sulphur.
It was really windy when we reached the top. But the crater was right below us and it was an amazing sight. (Okay, so the $90 was worth it.) Now, this is a crater, I thought. Weirdly enough, crickets and grasshoppers were hopping all over the place. The heat attracted them, but they would die instantly when they would land on the steaming rocks for too long. After several photographs from the top, we readied ourselves for what was to come next: sliding and surfing down the other side of Cerro Negro. If we paid a little more money, we could have rented mini-boards to suit up and ride down like snowboarders. But we just decided to slide down without any props. It was longer than I expected but it was so much fun. The stones gave easily and I couldn’t help but squeal every time I slid without interruption. I imagined our entire surrounding was how the moon would look like. Everything was black and pure. I’ve never seen anything like Cerro Negro before and I’ve definitely never slid down a volcano in my life.
Back in LeÃ³n, we walked to the market to look for lunch. It was so hot, we were the only ones out on the streets. Inside the market, we saw several ladies serving up homecooked meals to the locals. It was my self-imposed rule in Nicaragua: find the fat lady who looks like she can cook as well as she can eat. We picked the largest woman in the group and sat down on one of the plastic chairs with our order. We were sweating when we came down the volcano and we were still sweating while we ate. We still have to go back to Managua at the end of the day but we definitely knew it was time for some beach time.
Where we stayed in Managua, Nicaragua: Oscar Fonseca’s House
Our tour guide to Cerro Negro: Va Pues Tours