We left our hotel in Leon, backpacks on, hoping to catch a taxi on the streets nearby. Within minutes, we were in the capable hands of Marcello the cabbie. Las Penitas beach is just over 20 kilometers from Leon so the cab fare was very reasonable. We made sure to agree on the fare before jumping in… 350 Cordobas? Just fine. ($14.00 CDN)
Marcello was another one of those genuinely super-friendly Nicaraguans. We enjoyed his chilled Nica music and watched the landscape change to dry farmlands as we buzzed along.
The volcano Cerro Negro made a beautiful backdrop to the northern vista. As volcanoes go, it’s a newbie. Originally formed in 1850, it’s considered to be the youngest volcano in Central America. It’s consistently active – some of the volcano’s slopes are covered by massive volcanic rocks, others by volcanic sand.
At the end of our relaxing ride, Marcello dropped us at the door of the Simple Beach Hotel and agreed to pick us up Friday at “Diez y media”… 10:30.
The few days we’ve been in Las Penitas have been quiet and relaxing. Lots of walking up and down the long beach, good seafood, new friends,
…and lot’s of watching the surfers catch the waves.
OK, I’ll attempt to put that in surfer lingo…
So… right in front of Simple Beach, there’s a beach break with a line up area just next toa big pile of volcanic rock. Mostly, the waves are off the hook but some are blown out ‘cause of the Nica winds. To get started, most of the Kooks wait ‘till the waves knock them off their feet but the Dillas duck dive to get out to the line up. They’re the guys that finish the ride with a snap! And, we actually saw a couple of young Groms that put the others to shame!
Phew! Did you get all that? Totally.
Certainly one of the highlights of our stay here was a boat tour we took to the Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve. We enjoyed the tour with two new friends we met at the hotel. Katherine and Howard were from England and we got to know them over the past couple of days after having dinner together and chatting about our travels.
Separated from the mainland by quiet mangrove-laden waterways, the island is really just a thin, 22 kilometer-long strip of sand next to the ocean. The nature, however, is spectacular.
The mangrove forest, which houses up to 80 species of birds is also home to crocodiles. As well, there are lots of crabs, other crustaceans and of course, fish. (After our tour we saw and crossed over many fish nets).
As we slowly cruised along, the environment appeared primal. Mangroves suspended over brown, soupy water with alligator eyes just peeking over the surface here and there. Even our sense of smell was impacted by the huge amount of decaying life in and around the waterways. Our Captain, Miguel had an eagle-eye for anything that moved or was hiding in the forest.
Perfectly camouflaged birds stood quietly on top of huge termite nests while other birds like White Egrets with their yellow booties were obvious against the ultra-natural background. It was absolutely beautiful.
Miguel signalled for the driver to slow down… slow down… and then stop. We pulled up to a muddy bank with mangroves growing in and around it. Miguel could see it, and at first, we couldn’t. Once we learned how to separate the various species of flora and fauna living right in front of us it was obvious. Lying quietly in the water, there was an alligator a couple of meters from the boat.
The little alligator was pretty tranquillo – Miguel estimated he was a couple of meters long. It was a little like swimming with sharks… you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing.
It would be hard to top that sighting but we moved on to something even more wonderful.
The boat pulled up to a jungle dock and we clambered out. We walked about five minutes to the coastal side of the island and there we found the Palo de Oro Ecotourism Project, where a permanent sea turtle nursery has been developed.
Olive Ridley turtles have chosen this place to raise babies since the dawn of time and now humans are actively helping them! If you’re into it, you could rent a rustic cabin there and a restaurant is available as well!
We first saw the tiny creatures in a large plastic bin.
At the nursery, eggs are collected after being laid and they’re stored in sand, in bags for around 55 days until they hatch. This phase of the project is designed to protect the eggs from all the natural predators in the area – and it looks like it’s working. The little turtles in the bin were now ready to enter the ocean – with our help.
Lines were literally drawn in the sand and tourists were cautioned to stay behind them.
Hands were washed in the ocean first to avoid any contamination and people were given the opportunity to gently pick up a turtle and lay him/her on the sandy downhill slope to the ocean. Heather couldn’t wait – she was giddy with excitement as she picked up the tiny creature. I was there with the camera to catch the moment. Incredible.
Pretty soon there was a small battalion of Tiny Tim’s fluttering toward the wide open Pacific Ocean. Farewell!
Looking around at the crowd that gathered, it was clearly an emotional moment. The survival rate is slim. 1 in 1000 makes it.
The remainder of our time at Las Penitas has been devoted to watching more surfers and getting ready for our next leg of the adventure.
Tomorrow we’re off to Matagalpa – high up in the mountains of Nicaragua – easily 10 degrees cooler than this area. Fresh coffee brewing, clouds in the sky… in a way, it will be refreshing!