The first thing we saw when we disembarked the morning ferry from Isla Ometepe to San Jorge was a bright yellow former school bus on the dock bound for Managua via Masaya, our next destination. We were planning on hitchhiking, but could not let such an opportunity slip, especially since it was quite inexpensive. We hopped on. 2 hours later, we were dropped off at Nindirí, a cute village with some massive dinosaur statues on the main square just before the Masaya Volcano. We ate some papas salchichas while enjoying the sounds of the dinosaurs mimicked on the loudspeakers in the background and then made it to the park entrance with another short school bus ride.
Once we got there, we were told that we would not be allowed to walk the 9km or so up to the crater. To resolve this apparently recurring problem, the park authorities have come up with a solution- in addition to the entrance fee of USD $3, they could shuttle us to the top for an extra USD $6. The rangers demonstrated severe paranoia that an eruption was imminent, and that would potential incinerate all tourists on the slopes on the volcano. (We have discovered through the course of the frequent scare-mongering on the trip, that this was often done coincidentally at the same places where an extra buck or six cold be made). Despite the skepticism the rangers showed when we declined the paid shuttle option, we managed to easily hitchhike up to the top with 2 other tourists going up, with the condition that we return with the same vehicle. Once at the top, we were not allowed to walk to any of the viewpoints or use any of the trails. This was monitored by a whistle-wielding park ranger who trained his hawk eyes on all of us. We were just allowed to have a peek into the main steamy crater. This daylight view was a little underwhelming to say the least. We were informed however to properly appreciate the glowing lava down in the crater, it was best to come in the evening.
We decided to give Masaya another chance at night given all the rave reviews on TripAdvisor. So we lingered around the entrance until dusk, when we once again paid our entrance fee (now increased to USD $10- someone at the park office evidently understood prices and demand) and hitchhiked up again with another truck along with 3 other backpackers. Sure enough, it was a lot better at night. There were also a lot more visitors and we were strictly limited to staying only 15 minutes at the top. This was just enough to take some pictures, but not enough to marvel at this almost unique natural phenomenon.
We saw how this sight cold unbelievably impress visitors. However, we are truly spoiled travelers and had spent a night at the crater rim of the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo less than half a year before. The simple fact is that Nyiragongo is no match for Masaya. It was much more of an adventure to get there (5 hour hike up a very steep hill with 2 armed guards) and the lava lake is much much much bigger and more impressive. Nonetheless, staring into the fiery depths of our planet is always awe-inspiring and we were content with the fact that we now have visited 2 out of 6 active lava lakes on our planet.
After our quick peek at the lava, we hitchhiked back with the truck we had come up with all the way to Granada. In Granada we found a cheap guesthouse, ate some fantastic tacos from a vendor on the main square and slept. The next morning, we went out to explore the photogenic main tourist city of Nicaragua. By now,we have seen our share of postcard pretty town centres and Granada just added to them. It is quite nice, but we simply did not take the time to really explore Granada properly due to our ambitious travel schedule. Furthemore, we were craving for some actual good coffee that was waiting for us in the north east of Nicaragua (after our somewhat failed attempt on Isla Ometepe) too much to linger around any longer after breakfast and just started our day of hitchhiking.