The intercity buses in Nicaragua are garishly painted school buses. Usually they’ll have some sort of Christian message, but then they’ll also have random colours and stickers, ranging from flames to Transformers to Spiderman.
So I rode one of those to Granada (costing me mere cents). Uncertain where to hop off, I just hopped off…somewhere and started to look for my hostel, the one whose reservation I had abandoned the previous night. After walking up and down the long street at least 4 times (over 1 hour) and not finding it, I found a girl working at the hostel standing right outside of it. Except not really. The hostel I had reserved with had closed down, and the new hostel in its place had nothing to do with it. Oops.
With their rooms being too expensive for me, I headed off and found another place more central. (A dorm bed? $6.) Having all of my stuff with me was not conducive to taking photos, as much as I had wanted to.
Granada is like the model Latin American city that you imagine in your head – stately colonial buildings, colours everywhere, people sitting in rocking chairs outside their doors, churches, a plaza in the middle somewhere… Well, apparently it’s only one of a few examples of that, but still, it’s very pretty and makes for a great introduction to the country – clean, not too chaotic, and pretty tourist-friendly. When I finally got my camera out, it stayed out.
Intending to only tour the city for an hour or two before returning to my hostel, I instead walked towards the Centro Turistico, the area just outside of town on the coast of Lake Nicaragua. Foreign tourists were hard to spot, but there were plenty of Nicaraguans on the beach (oddly enough, many swimming fully clothed). It’s great to just watch people having a good time – big family picnics and barbecues lined the entire beach. On the sidewalk, vendors selling vigorón (fried pork rinds), sweets, drinks in plastic bags a la Bolivia (and shaving ice by hand on the spot), toys… Despite being accosted every few metres by touts for boat tours to the isletas, I chose to walk much further down to join a kayak tour.
The isletas are a cluster of 365 (or so) islets formed by the nearby Mombacho volcano. It was very picturesque to paddle where the tour boats couldn’t go, and our guide talked us through the history, current affairs (locals and super-rich foreigners living side-by-side, with isletas for sale starting at $150000), the variety of fruit trees, and the wildlife. Plenty of fishing birds around – kingfishers, orioles, cormorants, and even an eagle carring a fish in its claws. Unfortunately for me…I wasn’t expecting to go to the isletas that day, and forgot my sunscreen. Five months away from the sun means I burn pretty quickly. Heh.
By the time I returned to the city, it was just about sunset! The buildings take on a completely different character in evening light, and the lower temperature was a very welcome respite. After climbing a church tower for a nice city view, I met Conni from Germany, currently working in Costa Rica as a German teacher. She stopped me on the street, mistaking me for someone she had seen earlier in the day, but after introductions and like ten seconds later, we ended up going to dinner and then promptly decided to become travel buddies for the week! Whoo! I also decided on the spot to stay an extra day in the Granada area.
The next day, we headed out of town to Masaya, hopping on a school bus. Some lady hopped on later and started delivering a long sermon…but anyway, we got into town and found it quite different from Granada immediately. The bus station is located in a chaotic, dirty marketplace, a fair walk from the main, sanitized-for-tourists artesanial market. The contrast is a bit shocking.
Finding that we were too early for most of the artesanial market’s shops, we opted to return later, heading first to the nearby lagoon, then to the nearby volcanoes of Masaya. Only in Nicaragua can you take a taxi all the way up to the lip of an active, fuming volcano! We were even given some ugly hard hats, just in case of falling rocks. While Volcán Masaya had the smoke, the neighbouring Volcán Nindiri was dormant and scenically covered in wild plants. Both provided great views of the valley below, but also of the many dried lava formations around. Unfortunately, we missed out on the bat caves and seeing the resident parakeets – ah well.
Returning back to town in the afternoon, Conni had already managed to convince me (though she begs to differ on whose fault this is) – I bought a hammock! I don’t think I have anywhere to hang it in Boston… But anyway, Masaya is famous for its hammocks, and we had passed by many hammock weavers while walking around. Purchase justified. By far the biggest souvenir I’ve ever bought, but it was only $15…
We returned to Granada and fooled around taking some more pictures of the colourful buildings, before heading to dinner. (I repeated my Chefchaouen game of finding a building to match my blue shirt.) Foodwise, everything is ridiculously cheap if you eat typical food – we stuffed ourselves to the tune of $3 both nights!
Nightlife and the foreign tourist district is centralized on La Calzada. We headed there just for kicks – creperies, gelato, American food, Irish pubs, clubs, street musicians playing very stereotypically Latin American music, breakdancers performing to Gangnam Style (which I heard 3 times in 2 days!), people walking around in costumes, and a hodgepodge of other stuff was on offer. Amusing, yes, but we preferred the local ambience instead!
On a final note, the people have been exceedingly nice and very happy to converse (especially if you speak Spanish). I get the feeling that everyone is very proud of the country, despite the problems (expensive utilities and gasoline being the things I keep hearing about). Everyone always lights up whenever I mention the places I’m planning to visit within Nicaragua. Makes me really look forward to what’s next!