Dear Lonely Planet,
My (new) husband and I are big fans of your publications and have navigated several countries using only your books as a jumping off point. We have found that most of your suggestions are on point and accurate, and for the most part speak to the type of traveling we enjoy. However, we did find the Nicaragua section of the Central America book (which we purchased online before leaving for our honeymoon to said country) somewhat lacking. Why, for instance, when the Costa Rica book devoted an entire section to the state of the roads, was nothing said of the roads in Nicaragua? Having visited both countries, we can quite seriously inform you that the worst road in Costa Rica has NOTHING on, say Nic12, which is one of the main highways between Managua and Leon. This information would have been helpful around midnight on the first day of our honeymoon.
The lack of road descriptions aside, most of the suggestions in the book were accurate (if sparse), and the recommended Finca Porvenir on Ometepe was indeed beautiful and peaceful. However, there is one featured activity that I would like to make a few points about for the benefit of future readers.
“Climbing Vulcán Maderas”
1. The description of the hike as “an arduous 3 hours” was somewhat inaccurate. I consider myself to be in fairly good shape and can tough out most conditions. Granted, I don’t climb volcanoes on a regular basis, but “an arduous 3 hours” seems quite pleasant compared to what actually awaited us. Having now climbed this particular volcano, I believe the writer must have talked to some of the local guides over a few Toñas (and quite possibly a few Nica libres), and decided that he or she did not need to ask any of the poor, muddy, exhausted gringos what their impression of the mountain was. Just as a small point of reference, the “3 hours” actually starts at a lookout point an hour into what I would call a “challenging, but not terribly difficult” hike.
2. You will be encouraged to carry water with you, as well as a walking stick. I can’t stress the importance of the walking stick enough. You will not, however, be advised to bring any food, the lack of which will be the cause of consternation amongst the sleep, breakfast, and coffee-deprived member of your party (that would be me, in case you’re wondering). It may also cause said party member to want to lay down and die at hours 4.5, 6, and 7 of the journey.
3. Your guide will most likely be at least 15 years younger than you, and probably climbs the hated volcano several times a week. He will set a blistering pace at the beginning of the trail (the unspoken first hour), which will make you feel good about yourself until it continues on the first steep incline before the lookout point. While he is probably a lovely person with a charming family, you will grow to hate the lithe little bastard within a few hours. The seed of hatred will be planted when you, panting and with your heartbeat roaring in your ears at the lookout point, ask him how many more hours the climb will be. When he says “tres horas mas,” you will get the first pang of dread for the suffering that awaits you. At this point, you should take a few photos, have a drink of water, then kindly explain that you would like to go back now.
4. You will not see any wildlife. Period. Oh, sure, you’ll hear some monkeys and birds, but you will be too busy looking down at your feet in order not to misstep and fall off the volcano that a pterodactyl could fly right over your head and you would not notice it. The climbing is arduous, all right, and it just gets worse and muddier and steeper and never ends. When I finally gave up and sent my husband and the guide on ahead of me, I waited in the cold, windy, dripping cloud forest for a little less than an hour while they trekked ahead. I saw one ground bird and I was too cold to take a picture.
5. If, my some miracle, you reach the “summit,” you will not see anything. It’s called a cloud forest for a reason. Here’s a picture (taken by my husband, because, as I said, I gave up around hour 4.5).
6. You will fall down. If you haven’t eating anything other than a Snickers bar all day, you will fall down a lot. The climb down is almost worse than the way up; you will have little control over where your feet land because your muscles stopped working properly some hours before and your shoes will be coated in slimy mud that somehow only picks up more mud and cannot be wiped off. These falls will cause you to be covered in mud which will not come out from under your toenails for over a week, and has to be scraped off of your skin in the cold water shower you are now longingly and depressingly realizing is still hours away. Go ahead and have a little cry, but don’t sit down, because you’ll only get muddier (and probably won’t be able to get up anyhow). Your guide will remain immaculate, and will even wear white sneakers to show his superiority to you. You will start to wish him serious harm.
7. Really, though, try not to cry too much because you need that water.
8. Remember to tip your guide generously for stopping to wait for your muddy, bedraggled ass and not leaving you to die on the side of a godforsaken volcano.
9. Several days later (while still barely able to walk) realize that the headache and stomach cramps you were having were probably due to the altitude (1400 m) and give yourself a bit of a break. Don’t listen to your husband, who “really thought you had it in you.”