Nicaragua – The Last Day

On our last night in Granada, Chico mentioned that if we wanted to see a Nicaraguan market we should get up at 6 am the next morning and he would show us  where they sell everything from artisan crafts, food, clothing and everything else. It was a tempting offer but we had just spent 2 long days touring around the country and in some ways we were looking forward to going home to Costa Rica so we decided to pass. Guess we will just have to go back again to see the many sights that we couldn’t fit in this time.

The Hotel Granada is located right across from the oldest church in town and at 6 am we were woken to the ringing of bells. At first we thought this was nice and they were waking everyone to go to morning mass…..but the bells rang about 2o times before they stopped. Ten minutes later it started again and still they rang more than the actual time and gee it was early. Then another ten minutes of silence and  another round of bells at which time we both wondered whether the pirates from England were invading Nicaragua again. Thankfully the bells finally stopped and we both fell back to sleep. After sleeping in just a bit we met Chico in the restaurant for breakfast, I think he was glad to have slept in as well. The following is a picture of the church that we borrowed from vianica.com (this is a great site to check out all the places to see in Nicaragua) as we forgot to get our own picture.

Guadaloupe church

After breakfast we headed out to the Apoyo Lagoon which was created when a volcano erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is very large, very deep and very blue. There are couple of stalls where you can buy souveniers. Masaya Lagoon

A trip to Masaya would not be complete without visiting the artisan market where there are a number of stands where you can buy items such as pottery, hammocks, art work, leatherwork etc.  As soon as we got to the market Chico suggested that we could take as long as we wanted to do some shopping but since neither of us are that crazy about shopping we figured an hour would be more enough time. Boy were we wrong…..we could have shopped all day.  As soon as we got out of the car a guy attached himself to us and chatted about where we were from,  how we were enjoying Nicaragua, what kind of things we were looking for and showed us around the market. He told us that he worked for the Nicaragua government to help tourists have a good time and steered us to specific shops and appeared to barter on our behalf. Apparently he asked John for a small tip as we were leaving but John didn’t understand what he was saying so he lost out. I am a little skeptical about the whole scenario but we did get some nice things.

Masaya Pottery

Chico mentioned that he had bought a ceramic statue the last time he was here and John wanted to go and see them. John and Chico both called them virgins but I have my suspicions. We picked up this one but unfortunately it broke on the way back so John bought some glue and will see if we can’t put it back together. It is now part of our new decor at the condo. The beads are from Mardi Gras in Louisiana that Danny brought back from his last trip.

Masaya Virgin

Another item that we bought was a painting of houses from Granada which we thought was nice and colourful and would brighten up our place. When we got back to Coco we took it into a gallery to have it framed where we met Marco and Alessandra from Italy….more in another post.

Granada houses

We must have shopped for about 2 hours when Chico came to find us and then it was back to Coco. We had an absolutely amazing time and were pleasantly surprised with our first trip to Nicaragua, the scenery was gorgeous, the people fabulous but I am sure we wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much without our new friend Chico. Chico is one of the best guides we have ever had and we hope that we will get to see him and meet his family during our time in Costa Rica.

Home from Nicaragua

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Nicaragua – Day 2

Day two of our Central American adventure found us having breakfast with our tour guide before packing our travel bag and registering at another hotel  for the next night. Nicos and Ticos  fight over who invented the traditional breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixture) with either scrambled or fried eggs, fruit and tortillas. Unfortunately the hotel we were in had mixed up our reservation and was booked for the night. The Hotel Granada is across the square from the old Granada Cathedral and has all the charm of  Spanish colonial architecture. The good thing about moving hotels gave us the opportunity to see one of the oldest hotels in the city.Hotel Granada

http://hotelgranadanicaragua.com/

Once checked in, we headed straight towards the waterfront for a boat ride through Islets of Granada or the islands of Lake Nicaragua. Thousands of years ago the Mombacho volcano erupted and created over 300 small islands in the Lake.

Ferry Boat in Granada

Being the only passengers on a eight person boat allowed us to converse directly with the boat captain as we cruised between islands with their towering mansions. This one belongs to the owner of a rum company, that one belongs to rich Americans who visit once a year etc.

Mansion island

After a while we came to a small island inhabited only by monkeys. Some research venture where the animals were saved and then released on the island, we were told. Chico had brought some cheetos and we handed them out to the little guys who were quite happy as well as the fish that swarmed around when we dropped them in the water. But be careful, we were told, this is the only freshwater lake with sharks – we were careful and kept our hands in the boat from then on.

Monkey Island

Fish Feeding

Magical things can happen in Central America and this was confirmed on the way back to the marina. The captain backed the boat up under a tree overhanging the lake and snapped off a large bean type object and told Rosie to hold the bottom part. He then pulled on the top and presto,  a beautiful flower appeared in her hand – unbelievable.

Flowers in ferry

Then, flower still in hand it was back to the car and off on the newly paved two lane highway to Managua on lake Managua, capital of Nicaragua and home to President  Daniel Ortega  of the socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front  or (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional,  –  FSLN).

This is like many larger cities with their Hilton hotel, McDonalds’s and Burger King restaurants. The city still has some of the Spanish culture we loved in Granada but is transitioning to a more North American type city. We visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was completed in 1993 to replace the old cathedral that was destroyed during an earthquake in 1972. The new cathedral has created much controversy, particularly about its architectural style and finance. Locals refer to it as La Chichona on account of the plethora of cupolas adorning it like so many “chiches” (Spanishslang for breasts).

Church in Managua

And then we headed down to the waterfront of Lake Managua (also known as Lake Xolotlán)  for lunch. The lake which was badly polluted by raw sewage  being dumped there and created horrible smells  has recently been cleaned up by the current government to attract tourists. A stone rip-rap and concrete wharf was constructed and a sight seeing boat called “La Novia de Xolotlán” makes hour-long lake tours when there are sufficient tourists.

Lake side Lake Managua

Another great lunch, washed down with a Toña, a local beer, ended with Chico requesting a Spanish guitar player serenading us as we rested.

Serenade in Managua

Before heading off to the volcano we went to the top of Managua to see the Managua lagoon which was created many years ago and today offers zip lining which criss crosses the lagoon. John and Chico said I should go and they would meet me at the bottom but I passed.

Managua lagoon

After, we visited a few more sites and found the residents very friendly.

Friendly Natives

Then made our way up the rugged terrain to Masaya, a local active volcano. After a very interesting visit to the volcano exhibit, we headed straight up to the top to look into the mouth of hell.

Masaya Volcano exhibit

The volcano is still active and emits sulphuric gases which are highly toxic and tourists may be prevented from going to the top if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

Masaya Volcano

A cross was erected on the top of the mountain in the early 1500’s to exorcise the devil and protect the villagers below. There were a couple of local guys who would take us to the top of the mountain on horseback for only $5 US each.

Top of Masaya Volcano

By this time the day was dwindling and it was time to head back to Grenada and freshen up at the hotel before heading out to dinner – more food! We didn’t have far to walk as the hotel is situated very close to some of the best street restaurants in town. The restaurants are housed in the buildings but everyone spills out into street to eat under the stars.  The streets are closed to traffic and the party begins.

We selected a mixed grill of beef, pork and grilled chicken which we shared and ordered a bottle of wine – to help with digestion of course. Sipping wine, we hired another guitar player to entertain us as we looked back on our day and considered just how lucky we really are.

Just then, the crowd parted, the music started and five young men began to break dance in the street beside us; it was unbelievable. Soon after, Michael Jackson’s Thriller began to blast the street and they danced in unison. It was so entertaining, Rosie chased them down the street to get their facebook info.  Again, it was quite the night under the stars in old Granada. Check out his video on Youtube. http://youtu.be/TUMefgMEdug

Nicaragua – Day 1

As visitors to Costa Rica we are required to exit the country every three months for 72 hours before we can return. Liberia is only one hour away from the Nicaragua border and there are a number of ways one can cross the border and come back in one day with the required passport stamp. It’s not exactly legal but it is doable, however John and I wanted to see a bit of the country. We heard that the country side is beautiful and there are a number of wonderful sights to be seen so we checked around with a couple of the tour operators in town. Most of the tours offered were only 1 day trips  which we thought would be too hectic and sounded too much like work.  We were hoping to do 3 days to for a more relaxed trip and have more time to see places other than the regular tourist traps.  Some operators suggested they could take us across the border and then pick us up a couple of days later but we wanted someone who spoke the language and knew the lay of the land. We checked out the Blue Marlin which offers mostly fishing charter but Juan Carlos recommended  someone who could do custom tours and that was how we met Chico. Francisco, known as Chico to his friends, came and picked us up  at the condo at 6 AM. This would give us plenty of time to pass through customs at the border which can be difficult unless you know the ropes. The trip to the border was a pleasant surprise. There were a number of large farms with Brama bulls, sabaneros (cowboys) and beautiful scenery. There is a ridge of volcanos that run down the middle of Costa Rica and people say that when they blow the country will be split in two and one side will be called Costa and the other, you guessed it, Rica. We had breakfast at the border buffet restaurant which offered gallo pinto, eggs, fruit, fried chicken etc and does a booming business with the traffic that crosses all day long. Nicaragua map Chico leaves his car at the customs lot in Costa Rica and rents one in Nicaragua as they would charge him a tax of more than $50 US a day if he took his own across. To get into Nicaragua one needs to exit the CR customs and then enter on the other side paying fees on both sides of course…..seems like governments across the world love to collect money. Then it’s a quick walk across the border to pick up the car and Rudolpho. Rudolpho is a Nico associate of Chicos who speaks excellent english and is extremely knowledgeable about all things Nicaraguan. He is going to spend the day with us, along with Chico, pointing out all the sights as we tour around and giving us insights into the culture, economy and politics of the country. First stop…San Juan del Sur. This is a small fishing town which is popular with bathing beauties, beach bums and surfers. There are a number of small hotels and cafes along the beach and has a growing tourist area. On top of a hill, just outside of town, there is a huge statue Christ of the Mercy that overlooks the harbour. It was built by a very rich Nicaraguan gentleman who had cancer and promised to build the statue if he survived. You can drive up part of the way but near the top you need to climb a steep hill to reach the top but the view is amazing. San Juan del Sur The statue is 24 metres high and when the clouds are soaring above when you look up it feels like you are moving as well. Christ of Mercy Driving in Nicaragua is a real treat as the main highway was only recently completed and is in much better condition than any in Costa Rica. There have been significant improvements to life here after the end of the civil war between the Sandinistas and the Contras….remember Ronald Regan and Oliver North. Daniel Ortega is in his third term as president which is against the constitution but life still goes on. Traveling from San Juan del Sur, en route to Rivas, we pass Lake Nicaragua which is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. It is also the only lake with bull sharks which apparently swam up the river from the Pacific Ocean and became acclimatized to the environment. We also pass Isla de Ometepe which is an Indian word from Ome (two) and tepeti (moutains). The island was formed by two volcanos rising from the Lake: Concepcion which is an active volcano and Maderas which is not active.   You can see the steam rising from Concepcion on the left. Isla de Ometempe The wind was blowing like crazy and there were large waves and white caps on the lake.  Conception volcano There are a number of windmill developments along the lake which is a perfect set up with the huge winds that blow here. This development is a joint project with a Spanish company. Windmills on Lake Nicaragua On our way to Rivas the guys are kidding us that we have to ride bicycles through town. We were a little apprehensive as the temperature was around 35° C and much too hot to do any cycling.  Boy were we relieved when we found out that we are taking a bike cab with William doing all the work. Bicycle ride in Rivas Rudolpho is from Rivas and William is a buddy who took us on a tour of the town. The market is crammed with all sorts of street vendors selling everything from food, clothing and souveniers. The work is hard and William was soaking as he pushed us across intersections, up small hills and had to stop occasionally to avoid running into people or other cars. I asked Rudulpho if the bicycles had right of way and he laughed and said” who ever gets there first”.  market in Rivas Passing this church with the doors open William recommended that we go inside and take a look. It was certainly worth the stop. Even in this small town the church is very beautiful and ornate. Church in Rivas We are starting to get hungry by this time and we stop at a wonderful restaurant not far from town (sorry didn’t get the name). Chico and Rudolpho recommended the 12 oz steak but neither John or I thought we would be able to finish it so instead I ordered Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken) and John had the grilled Mahi Mahi. There was probably enough food to feed 10 people.  The currency in Nicaragua is Cordobas , with 24 C to $1 US and each dish was only around 200 C which is approximately $8 US which was a great deal for the great and plentiful plates.  John tried the local beer Tonya which is light and has 4.2% alcohol. Next stop Granada which is a main attraction due to it’s colonial buildings and historical importance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granada,_Nicaragua One of the highlights is a horse drawn carriage ride through town. Rudolpho arranges it with another of his pals and comes along to help with the language issue and highlight some of the spots. These horses await right next to the central park which is  a feature in almost all the towns. There are a number of souvenier stands,  hotels and outdoor cafes all around. horse carriage in Granada Nicaragua is predominantly Roman Catholic and there are a number of churches and cathedrals in every town.  This is one of the oldest churches in Granada. Catholic church in Granada All the houses in Granada are built side by side with large beautiful wood doors with ornate gate fences and little windows so you can see who is at the door before opening….similar to the peep holes in doors in apartment buildings. Inside the richer houses there are a number of rooms and a grand court yard in the centre with colourfull plants and occasional water fountains. The homes are all painted different colours and may identify the family living inside. Colonial homes in Granada After a long day we are getting tired and head off to check into the hotel and Rudolpho heads back to Rivas by bus. We are staying at the Hotel El Almirante which is a lovely new hotel with a lovely courtyear with a pool, bar and restaurant. http://www.hotelelalmirante.com/  Hotel courtyard in Granada John decided to take a dip in the pool and relax a bit in the courtyard. John relaxing in Granada We had tacos for dinner at one of the cafes near central park as we were all still stuffed from lunch and then it was off to bed where we slept like logs. A wonderful day’s adventure and looking forward to tomorrow.