Volcanos Seems like we fly over all 25 of Nicaragua's volcanos as we fly into Managua. It is a teensy country, after all. The ride to the resort is two hours of constantly dodging pedestrians, dogs, bicyclists, motorcycles, cows, chickens and at time kids. Little do we know that we will be driving the same road at night soon… and it is that much more aggravating given that not all cars and motorcycles turn their lights on! Ooooy.
Don Carlos We sense a patriotic and nationalistic attitude from everyone we meet in Nicaragua. At times folks are almost apologetical for the country's crazy history. This starts right as we arrive at Mukul and are met by the general manager, Federico, who happens to actually be Italian! (But still proud of Nicaragua!) Federico wanted to know why we were in Nicaragua. "Why not?" we answer. He pushes on. What did our friends say when we said we are going to Nicaragua, what did we answer, what did they feel about the country, etc. etc. etc. The concierge wanted to know the same answers. So did most of the wait staff at the restaurant, every guide we had, and even one of our masseuses. We don't have the heart to tell them that we are there to check out Mukul, and the only previous thought about about Nicaragua was that there are so few flights into Managua. But by the end of the week we know quite a bit about Nicaragua, and a tremendous amount about Don Carlos Pellas.
Not For Much Longer We get history lessons from all our guides, but especially Juan Ponte. Juan is very knowledgable and passionate about Nicaragua. He is forthcoming about his feeling of the past and the present, how he sees the futurer, and allows us to pick his brain about many current events. Our take is that Nicaragua will change dramatically in the next few years. The new Panama Canal replacement canal will devastate the country's natural resources. On the east side, it will interrupt the Jaguar Corridor thru Riserva Natural Punta Gorda, negating the massive conservation effort let by Panthera. On the Pacific side, it will transform Lago Nicaragua from a fresh water lake to a brackish lake, devastating the current ecosystem and changing its landscape for ever, not to mention what the pollution from the massive barges. And talking of massive barges, they will be the standard view out from Mukul since the canal's Pacific mouth will be just 5 km from Mukul. The rich will be richer, and the masses will continue being poor. We are so glad we visited Nicaragua, and visited it now.
Billionaire Every fancy hotel is owned by someone. But it is not as if you hear the staff talk about them constantly. We hear about Don Carlos everyday, by anyone who speaks English. Nicaragua's richest man turns out to also be a pretty cool boss. Owning hundreds of thousands of acres of sugar cane plantation, the largest rum factory, the best hospital, all the Toyota dealerships, the largest insurance company, and one of the most exquisite hotels around doesn't change the fact that he cares about the country and his employees. Everyone gushes with admiration when talking about him, the salaries he pays them, he schools he has built, the clinics, down to the staff's daily english lessons. Pretty cool. He seems to be going about things the right way.
Nose Bleed Then there is Mukul. Exquisite albeit nose bleed expensive, beautifully located on a private cove. The beach is not the most beautiful beach we have ever seen, but it is definitely the most isolated and private. Our villa is massive with its own plunge pool and a beautiful palapa. But impresses us is how every detail of this hotel is well thought out and taken care of. Housekeeping is meticulous, the spa treatments pretty amazing, and the chef stops by our table to meet us. Like everyone else, he talks about Nicaragua, and Nicaraguan food. One evening he surprises us with a massive plank of local food, trying to kill is with love by over feeding us. Sounds good? Well, you can buy one of the multi-million dollar villas and hob knob with Nicaragua's top 100 richest families. We pass.
Adventures The bossy concierge takes it upon itself to plan our days out. They do a good job of mixing adventure with culture. We take a great hike in a rain forest on a volcano (Mombacho), do zip lining, jump off a tree, take a boat ride on Lago Nicaragua, and visit the beautiful city of Granada.
Ash But by far the highlight of the adventures is the trip to Cerro Negro volcano for ash-boarding, even if it cost us a few months of our mortgage. Our ride is the only commercial helicopter in the country (!!). An hour later we are at the base of Cerro Negro, facing the ridiculously steep climb up the volcano. The hike is by far the most difficult hike we have ever experienced: We climb 500 meters (1500') in about a mile, in gale force wind while carrying our boards. Once on top, we gear up and off we board straight down the side of the mountain. When they say "ash" boarding, they really mean boarding on top of sharp volcanic pebbles! Either way, it is super fun, and something we will never do again.
Jet Fuel After lunch we are whisked away to Don Carlos' rum factory, Flor de Caña. They land the heli in the middle of the sugar canes because of the sheer amount of alcohol around. We tour he place, are shown an informational video about the rum factory and its contribution to the country — 11% of the country's electricity, for example — and then are treated to a rum tasting session, which unfortunately for the rum goes right over our heads. We are sent home with two chunky bottles of expensive rum, which will also go to waste since, again, we have no clue about how to enjoy jet fuel.
Impressed Nicaragua impresses us with its geography and history. The people impress us with their candor and ease. Mukul impresses with its quality. We don't know if we will return, but we are definitely glad we came. Thanx Nicaragua!