The city of Chinandega is located in the Chinandega department (region), located in northern Nicaragua on the Pacific side.
My first impression of Nicaragua was formed at the Nicaragua / Honduras border (Los Manos), and it felt sketchy and deceptive. Men quickly surrounded our truck as we pulled in, portraying themselves as border officials with credentials. They insisted that we hand over our documents, as if they had authority. They were actually men you could hire to escort you through the border process. By hire, I actually mean tip. This is not necessarily bad, since it became very apparent that they know the process well, and maintain positive working relationships with the actual border officials.
We spent four hours there, at the border. Once through, we went directly to an ATM to get cash. That was when the machine kept my card. I was pissed, because I knew that would be a big hassle. Ten minutes after the ATM incident we were back on the road, and I saw a volcano smoking. I grabbed my phone, and rolled down the window to get some photos. Suddenly the wind blew, and my phone went flying out of the window. It didn't feel like a good sign.
A couple days later, people surrounded us again as we parked near a town center. We could barely get out of the truck, because people were suffocating us with their presence. I wasn't sure what their purpose was at first, but I soon realized they were just trying to get us to eat at their food stands. They even grabbed us to pull us the way they wanted us to go. I definitely didn't want to be rude to someone in their own country, so I tried to escape the crowd gently.
Nicaragua was the country I was most excited to see because it was the most unfamiliar. I also thought of it as the most dangerous, and for those reasons I was interested. I didn't really know what to expect. After a couple days I was in love with the place.
As we drove into Nicaragua, I was surprised that the roads were so pristine. The highway was lined by grass on both sides, and beyond that there were big open fields. Horses grazed along the road, and volcanos rose up proudly in the distance. It felt so serene.
As we got closer to the city of Chinandega that first night, the road got busier. It was a Friday evening, and sunset was approaching. Suddenly I noticed we were sharing the highway with people, bicycles, pedi cabs and cows and horses pulling old carts.
It was dark by the time we arrived in the city, and the streets were awash with enthusiastic energy. People socializing in the streets with no regard for motorists trying to squeeze around them. Smoke was drifting through the air, and I guessed that crops were burning near by.
That first evening we had to find the property management company to get the keys to the rental house. As usual, there was no proper address for the place. We were just told it was at KM 154, past a bridge. They said to look for a wooden house on the left side.
Somehow we found it. They offered to escort us to the house, since it was hard to find and down a dark road. They led us up the highway, and then turned down a dusty dirt road. We drove through a creek and past pastures and thatched houses. I squinted to catch a closer look at the houses and people through the darkness. I could see the living spaces were mostly outside, but under thatched rooftops. Most had outdoor kitchens and washing sinks, and old water wells with cranks and buckets. There were animals wandering near the houses; pigs, cows, chickens and dogs.
Finally at the end of the dirt road, we saw the white caps of the ocean lit up by a big moon, and we turned into the driveway of our rental house.
Daylight photos taken along the dirt road.
The modest concrete rental house had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and an outdoor shower placed under a giant tree (no indoor shower). The windows had shutters and screens, but no glass. There were fans, but no air conditioning. No television or wifi. No hot water. The floors were rough concrete. It was nicely furnished and comfortable. The outstanding features included a large screened-in patio, and an outdoor brick barbeque grill.
We really enjoyed the house, and the location. It was a large lot, and the house stood on a hill looking down on the ocean. There were neighbors, but they weren't close. PJ could run free here, and he had open access to the cool Pacific. He shared the yard with the neighbors' two pigs, who wandered over every afternoon. Horses grazed freely on the perimeter of the property, and chickens and roosters were always around. One rooster in particular loved to wake me up at 5 am. He would get way too close to my window, and I think he must have stuck his head under my pillow so he could crow directly into my ear.
See photo description of the house below. I found the rental house on www.airbnb.com
The caretaker and night guard of the house, Fernando, was waiting for us when we arrived. He showed us around the house, then went outside. Jorge told me Fernando was going to sleep in the hammock on the patio. The hammock right outside my bedroom window? Just tonight, or every night? Well, every night he slept there. I was kind of taken aback at first, but in the end I didn't mind him being there at all. I could tell he was careful to not bother us. He was quiet as a mouse each night as he swung in his hammock with his machete strategically placed below him.
We quickly began to enjoy Fernando's company. He was a happy person and a pleasure to be around. We started to bring him coffee every evening. He drank it black with one spoon of sugar. Then we started cooking him dinner and eating with him outside each night. His Spanish was hard for me to understand, but we would have these funny conversations. He would say something to me in Spanish that I didn't understand, so I'd reply in English. In turn, he would reply back in Spanish. We'd go back and forth like this for twenty or thirty minutes, smiling and laughing. Neither of us had any idea of what the other was talking about, but It didn't really matter.
We came to find out that Fernando worked at the property seven days a week and was paid $150 per month by the American owner. He would arrive around 3 pm and work on the landscaping. After dark he would retire to his hammock. He got up early each day and racked the leaves before leaving.
He told us a little about his life. He was 51 years old. He had married twice and had eight kids, and a few grandkids. His second wife died not long ago. She had been sick, but died rather suddenly one day. He said he was with her, and she bent over to cough, and suddenly she was gone. Just like that. He didn't have the money for a casket or formal burial, so he built a wooden box for her and got permission to bury her in the corner of a pasture. He said he could only bury her four feet down, as deeper than that he would hit water.
What I loved about Chinandega was the country setting right up to the coast line. I usually think of a country landscape being inland. I loved all the trees, plants and flowers. And I loved how the animals just mixed together freely, and animals were everywhere. Most of the houses near us on the dirt road had dogs, pigs, chickens and goats. Many had cows that would graze in the big pastures during the day, and at night they would come home and stay in a coral near the homes. I have never seen so many cows!
We took advantage of what nature had to offer in Nicaragua. There was so much to do! When I think of Nicaragua I will remember the breathtaking volcano hike, and the rough off road trip to get there. I will never forget racing down the wide open beaches on our motorcycle, and paddling through the thick mangrove forests. I will laugh when I remember being on the water when we heard the blare of the tsunami siren after an earthquake, and PJ chasing the chunky pigs in our yard. And I will dream about the deep orange sunsets and the simple life of days past that still remain.
Cosiguina Volcano hike memories below...
Paddling photos below taken at: Resurva Natural Padre Ramos, Estero de Aserradores and the Pacific Ocean.
Motorcycle and Bike Ride Photos
We visited the city of Leon, the second largest city in Nicaragua, and founded by the Spanish in 1524. The streets and colonial buildings were crumbling. I wouldn't rave about Leon, but it was fun to see. There was an outdoor market/mercado set up behind the cathedral, with large outdoor grills, and folding tables and chairs set up under tarps. We had an amazing chicken lunch there. There were many other stands with vegetables, cheese, house supplies, meat and fish. Although I saw several tourists and international students around the city, the vendors didn't seem to cater to them. The shopping was mostly for locals.
Chinandega, Nicaragua beach photos below. The first two shots were taken directly in front of our rental house.
I actually had a good cry as we pulled away from the beach house for the last time. Fernando was waving through the rear view mirror. I wondered if I would ever see this place again. It was perfect, except for that damn rooster who was too close to my window.