Day 318: A lovely ride to Esteli

Quick Peek: Beautiful Route. Rolling hills. Short day.

It seemed like I had been having a lot more rest days than riding days in Nicaragua. I can’t complain, I have been in beautiful and interesting spots that demand that I slow down and just observe and enjoy what nature offered. I have been doing just that and today when I woke up to blue skies, I figured I might find a different spot to continue my relaxed observations.

The people at La Biosfera were a really chilled out bunch and have involved themselves in some good sustainable living efforts. There have good water management, compost toilets, organic gardens, and generally a very positive vibe. I enjoyed my time there. I think it’s definitely a good stop for any cyclist passing thro Nicaragua. I am certain it’s way better than any of the tourist towns by the coast to spend a few days in.

But I had to move on. I bid farewell to the residents, Suzanne, Sebastian, Oz and Manu and hit the road at 8 am. The day was windy and I was secretly hoping the wind would stay put since I’d be making a big turn and be heading the other way, heh. The wind did stay all day long and it was a great days ride.

The route was mostly downhill with a couple of stiff and short uphill sections and then a long sequence of rolling hills getting into Esteli. With the wind at my back and generally a overcast day, it was a easy ride getting into town. I had a stop for b’fast and another when I spotted some guavas. Seems like they are coming into season and I might be in for a bit of guava overdose in the days ahead.

The route was generally staid, it wasn’t what I’d call stunning, but one does not need shockingly stunning views on every corner. This part of Nicaragua was extremely pleasant on the eyes and I could just zone out and ride into the distance all day. It was less than 70 km and a short day by most standards. I decided to stop in Esteli mostly because there was a Warmshowers host in town and also because it was a fork in the route and I wanted some advice on the options.

The way to find a place in most of Nicaragua is funny. Everyone provides relative directions. I was supposed to find a bank, go a block west and half a block south. I’ve heard sometimes people use landmarks that have been demolished for reference and can get real confusing at times. But the bank I was looking for existed and I found my way quite quickly.

My hosts are the parents of another cyclo-tourista, Ariel. He is currently touring in Argentina and his parents decided to open their doors for other cyclists coming their way. Reminded me of what my folks were doing for a while. Well, I was home by 1:30 and had the rest of the evening off for doing some research. So guess I might hang about a day or two and figure out which way I should be heading.

Route: La Biosfera (Jinotega) to Esteli
Distance: 69 Km
Road: Well laid, asphalt and block roads. A small bridge in between is under construction.
Traffic: Very light.
Services: Numerous villages along he way with shops and comedors.
Expenses: SGD 5.20
Comments: It has been really worthwhile visiting the north of Nicaragua. A bit tough at times, but it’s really pretty.

Day 315-317: A visit to La Biosfera

Quick Peek: Bus ride. Rest days. La Biosfera. Cooking.

I had conflicting views on the road out of Wiwili. I’ve had a couple of enjoyable days here and decided to head on regardless of mode of transport. After a quick b’fast, I packed up and headed to the river to do the crossing. First up, I was surprised by the swell the rain yesterday had caused. The river was wider by nearly 50m and I could now see the point of the boat service. I reckon’d they had an old bridge which had collapsed in a flood or something.

Anyhow, after the crossing, I had to push my bike up the steep and slippery mud slope. This was a bit of a tough job and decided I’d take the bus anyway, given the rain and the 75% chance the road was gravel, I’d be better off on the bus. I head up to the bus station and was in time for the 9 am direct to the town of Jinotega.

I got the bike up the roof, found a spot to stow my bags and a place to sit. The bus got incredibly crowded and the ride was in a word uncomfortable. Once again, giving me the thought that it was definitely a lot more comfy to travel on the bike. But sometimes I’d have to make a choice and live with it. It was warm and pretty stinky with too many people around and no legroom. My knees got a bit of a beating. Also it didn’t help that the trip took 5 hrs (for just about 90 km or so).

So that brings me to roads. The route from Wiwili to Phantasma was gravel and decently graded mud. Some of the gradients were steep and I was happy to skip this leg. Outside of Phantasma, the road was newly laid and great, I suspect the gradients were steep in bits, but generally I’d think manageable on the bike. Ah well. I was glad The ride was over when I got down at the bus station in Jinotega.

There was a Warmshowers host in town and I had made an appointment there. The place was called La Biosfera and was run by an American lady, Suzanne and was a completely volunteer run project. I was excited to see the place, always nice to find hippie hideouts :-)

It was a short but steep 5 km ride from town and I eventually got up to La Biosfera. First up, I noticed that the people were super friendly and eager to show me spots and were serious about their attitude towards conservation, recycling and the community. The building was built out of sacks of sand and there was an organic garden, a water retention system, pit toilets with a well managed manure making setup, a good kitchen and lots of bunk beds.

I met the bunch hanging out there and had a good time chatting and joining them for dinner too. The views were great from up the hill top and I was glad to find yet another stunning spot to visit. Guess this place demands that I hang about a bit before leaving…

So I ended up staying for a couple of days, lending a hand with cooking and making myself useful while I was around. On the second day when I was about to start, there was a boat load of rain and it pretty much rained on and off all morning. So I figured it as a sign and decided to stay in again. The result being that I read a couple of Terry Pratchett books and relaxed a lot more.

Route: (Bus Wiwili to Jinotega) to La Biosfera
Distance: 6 Km
Road: Great tarmac for a pretty steep uphill.
Traffic: Moderate
Services: Jinotega is a big town.
Expenses: SGD 21.65
Comments: A perfect rainbow while I sip coffee in the morning. Isn’t that what’s life all about!

Day 314: Day off in Wiwili

Quick Peek: Rest day. Walkabout.

There’s a mango tree right outside my door and every 10 minutes of so, a ripe mango would decide to drop on the tin roof like and sound like a explosion on top of my head. I eventually got used to it and slept like a baby.

My idea today was to take the day off and check out what Wiwili was all about. I was up early and walked about on my side of the river. There was not much happening and eventually decided to go across to look for internet and possibly check out the route to Cerro Kilambe. The river I had to cross, Rio Coco, was a long one and I was told that if I looked for random boats passing by, I could get all the way to La Moskitia and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, hmmm. Not something I had plans for, but sounded pretty cool none the less.

I went across, found a internet place and updated my blog and stuff. While I was there, two young Germans showed up, They had been volunteering at an organic farm a few K’s out of town and have been living in these remote parts of Nicaragua for nearly a year now! Wowsie! Turned out there was a long history of Germans visiting this village and these kids were the next generation of volunteers representing the organization called ADEM, trying to extend some support to the local farms. It was nice chatting with them and they gave me directions to find this farm.

I walked about the village, a very quiet and simple place, found some food (was priced above average), got a spare cable for my gear shifter (Mine seemed to be fraying and I figured it’d be good to carry a spare) and walked up to the Finca La Joba. This was on the way to the trailhead of Cerro Kilambe. I was tempted to see if I can go into the nature reserve, but it was a 18 km route to get to the entrance. So I skipped it. I spent a couple of hours at the farm, hanging about and writing my blog. I checked out the routes for tomorrow and seemed like I’d be in for a tough couple of days till I got to Jinotega. Hopefully after that the roads would have standard gradients and I could get some good riding days in.

In the evening I met a spaniard who was volunteering in a nearby village doing some administrative work and he mentioned how he had to visit Wiwili once in a while to charge his battery pack and stuff because the other village didn’t have any electricity service! It’s always amazing to me to meet people who break normal modes of living and do something that they sense value in – regardless of the hardships they have to put themselves thro. Pretty inspiring, that.

I guess It was a bit of a gamble taking this route, I haven’t read any accounts of cyclists visiting these parts (and I can see why). But I should say though the roads have been tough, it had been absolutely gorgeous, a part of Nicaragua that’s ar far away from the tourism belt as it could get. And as the feller who runs the hotel said, this is where the heart of Nicaragua lies. It is true with most countries, the flashy towns are simply a facade, the real people live elsewhere and one has to put effort to find them.

Route: Wiwili
Distance: 0 Km (yay!)
Expenses: 19.88 SGD
Comments: Wiwili, what an absolutely cute name!

Day 313: I try not give up, at least not before trying.

Quick Peek: Crazy steep rolling hills. Gravel. Bus ride. Puncture. Cute little village.

Today the Feria was going to get interesting, they had a football match between local villages (Recipe for more drunken brawl) and even more interesting was boxing match! I was tempted to stay back and watch, but they are not sports I particularly enjoy and given the day was looking great, I decided to head out and seek a different destination. I was up at 6ish and had a bit of b’fast and hit the road after I made payment for camping and food (it cost me 300 COR for the campsite and a couple of meals and coffee’s I’ve had, not bad).

I had a few ideas on which direction to head towards. The general idea was to head towards the town of Quilali (isn’t that a cute name), but I had options on routes. A couple of quick consultations later I decided to loop back towards Santa clara and take the direct route. The other option was longer, visiting Jalapa and thro El Jicaro and was told it was partly gravel too. I noticed a bunch of off road rally jeeps headed that way too, so good thing I looped back.

It was a nice overcast day and enjoyable to ride. After the turnoff near Santa Clara, the road was generally decent and didn’t have the super steep down and up of the road I came on yesterday. It was generally downhill too and though rolling hills, it was a very enjoyable ride. There was very little traffic on this route and I eventually made it to the town of Susucayan (another cute name) by 9ish. I stopped at a restaurant, mostly to get some charge into my computer and a bit of coffee. It was a Sunday morning and everyone and their grandmother were getting smashed on Tona beers and Flor de Cana rum. I chatted with the fellers and gleaned some useful info on the road ahead.

It wasn’t good news though. Everyone looked at me like I was an idiot when I mention I was heading to Quilali. They just raise their hand in a Nazi salute and tell me its steep hills. I figured it might be alright to try in any case and there was a backup plan, I learnt that there would be a 11 AM bus and would pass me by at some point.

The road out was nice to begin with (I was told I had pavement for 8 km) and even when I hit gravel, I liked the road, it was well graded, no potholes and generally pleasant to ride. And then I hit the serious rolling hills (Before the big 400m hill to come later). The road was seriously tough, I was doing 16% regularly and was running out of steam on top of every short climb. The up and down was relentless and every villager on a bike I saw was pushing their bike up. This was some seriously badly designed roads I reckon, but that wasn’t going to change. I stopped by the side of the road and figured the best course of action would be to wait for the bus to show up.

I spotted the bus and waved them to stop. Turned out I got lucky as this bus was heading further than Quilali to another village called Wiwili (cutest name ever) and I decided to go all the way (I was informed the road was bad between Quilali and Wiwili). The bus rode on the first and second gear all along the way and the 60 km trip took the bus nearly 4 hours. The skill needed to drive a bus in these steep and winding slopes is exceptional I reckon. The views were stunning as we headed down towards Quill, but I was happy I chose to take the bus on this one.

The road was gravel after Quilali and it started raining, quite heavily as we headed towards Wiwili. The bus slowed down even more and I suspect he didn’t bother changing out of first gear, up or down the hills. After a long drive, we eventually hit the village of Wiwili. As I got my bike down, I noticed my rear tire was flat again. Bastard. I decided to call it a day (it was almost 4ish) and looked around for a place to stay. A nice family run hotel had rooms and I negotiated for 100 COR for a night and figured I might take a day or two to generally hang about.

I spent the evening patching my tires, though I couldn’t spot the culprit on my tires. Well might look over again in the morning I reckon.

Route: Finca San Nicholas to Susucayan + 8 Km (Bus to Wiwili)
Distance: 27 Km
Road: Santa Clara to Susucayan + 8 km is great with reasonable gradients. The gravel road that follows is well graded, but gradients of 16% are not easy to ride. Close to Quilali, the road is great but downhill gradients are seriously scary. Mostly loose gravel from Quilali to Wiwili Grades seem to be ok in parts and crazy steep in other bits. Not advisable in the rain.
Traffic: Pretty much non existent. Except for a few villagers on motorbikes and occasional buses.
Services: Villages show up regularly along the route. Easy to find Pulperias (Shops), but Comedors (restaurants) seem elusive.
Expenses: SGD 13.60
Comments: What’s up with the gradients Nica? Try to be a bit more gentle can you!

Day 312: Discovering a gorgeous hot spring

Quick Peek: Rest. Hot spring. Village party.

It got surprisingly chilly in the night, I was tempted to whip out my sleeping bag, but too lazy to do so and slept in the cold. Was up at 6ish and packed up. I was offered one of the shower rooms to keep my bags secure and I put things in and cooked up a b’fast and waited for the show to start.

People started streaming in in truck loads as the day progressed, some food stalls showed up and things generally got festive. There was a small group from the agricultural university and I chatted with a few teachers before the official event began. It was boring stuff to be honest, a bunch of official looking people talking in monotones. May be they were working to provide education on conservation or so. The bunch of villagers and their kids enjoying the picnic was more fun to watch for sure… It reminded me of the small festivals we used to have in vedapatti (a village I grew up in) complete with cacophony of multiple bands playing at the same time and a nice punch up between rival village teens I reckon, no doubt over some girl.

Anyhow, I spent most of the day reading a book and hanging about. The owner of this finca told me that there was some hot springs in the neighborhood. I figured I might check it out. It was a quiet ride up to the turnoff and a off road ride complete with a river crossing to get to the spot. It was way off the beaten track for sure and the guys were trying to turn it to a tourist spot. At the time I visited, they were building up a few gazebos and had made a couple of pools for he hot water to settle in for a soak. The initial stream I dipped my hand in was scorching, I’d notice the boiling hot water oozing out of the spring a while later. But they had built an ingenious system to transport the water back and it also cooled the water enough to take a soak in. Sweet. Though it was incomplete, I liked the rustic feel of the place and was glad to pay them the 30 COR. As far as hot springs go, it’s a wonderful spot for sure. Reminded me of the one I found in Thailand…

I got back to a raucous party and people were switched on and dancing away at 4 (in the evening, heh). I sat around and read a book for a while and a few kids from Esteli showed up. There were volunteers from town and were there to clean up the place after the big event. Cool, got to love young people who create opportunities and try different things. I hung out with them in the evening and eventually at 9 pm decided to knock off. It’s going to be a few good days of riding ahead, I needed my my rest.

Route: Finca San Nicolas
Distance: 0 km (yay!)
Expenses: SG$ 11.65
Comments: Village fiestas seem to have the same ingredients all over the world.