It has been rare during our time here in Central America that we have relaxed the somewhat strict set of rules we have constructed for ourselves to maintain safety in this lifestyle. Amongst the most strict of these is to never drive after dark and to make sure that you arrive at camp in the daylight hours, earlier still if attempting to find a place to wild camp.
It is only then due to our new found love for and feeling of complete safety in Nicaragua, that we find ourselves setting off to drive for at least another hour as the sun sets and the world begins to turn to darkness around us.
We have a failsafe, a secure campsite some 2 hours away, which we will make a beeline for if things here do not work out. At this moment, however, running from the looming storm clouds we are heading towards the northern shore of Lake Xolotlan (or Lake Managua) where we can hopefully find somewhere decent to camp in the shadow of Volcan Momotombo.
We pull in just as dusk is setting, but there is enough light to catch the smoke billowing from the top of the volcano. Moreover, there is the wind strong enough to nearly blow us from our feet. I jump out, grab my camera and try to do what I can to capture as much of this unique and unequivocally awe inspiring setting as I can before the sun paints its last or the clouds drop their first.
A few minutes, a few photos later and nightfall and rainfall align themselves perfectly. I throw the camera back into the safety of the car, shout to the others to run for the shelter of the nearest bar and to order me a beer. I would join, but at this stage, the beauty of the landscape has distracted us from the fact that we still have not found a place to camp. With 4×4 locked in, I tear off down the lakeshore and am delighted to learn that there is a dirt track that follows the edge of the water for several miles, with plenty of open flat space on each side. In the rain and darkness, with only headlights and the flashes of lightning to illuminate my surroundings, it is hard to gauge their suitability in fact, with the wind blowing off the lake and the soft, lakeside earth, this place actually looks less inviting than I thought and for the first time, I remember that we are breaking one of our cardinal rules and get a pang of self-blaming nervousness.
I pull back up at the bar, a ramshackle construct of corrugated metal and palm leaf, but right on the shore and with an empty frontage that leads down to the lake. I explain my findings to the others and we all agree at this point, there is still less risk in staying than in trying to drive another hour or so, in this storm, at night, without guarantee. As I order my beer, I ask the waitress if she thinks it will be safe for us to sleep around here, she laughs and says of course. What is more, she has a night security guard that she will ask to keep an eye on us! All we have to do is stay put, see the storm out with a cold one, and enjoy the view.
These are the moments that make every sleepless night worth it. Every mosquito bite, every day without a shower, every hour spent on my back under the Cruiser. They all melt away into insignificance in those incredible, fleeting, show-stopping moments in which you get to spend your evening watching a thunder storm unleash itself over a smoking volcano, from the shore of a lake, with a cold beer in hand.
The life of an overland traveller is nothing if not one of seismic shifts (excuse the pun). Never a dull day, only dizzying peaks and crushing lows.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.