Granada is considered to be the jewel of Nicaragua. It’s a well deserved title as this small city is quite spectacular. Horse drawn carriages take tourists through street after street of colonial homes. Each with colourful walls, large windows and impressive doors that open into high ceilinged salas and internal courtyards.
There are several impressive churches which, by law, must stand higher than the surrounding buildings. Imposing government buildings with impressive columns and cool porticoes and bustling markets. Spacious squares have numerous benches placed under the shady trees where you can watch the world walk by unless its a tour guide, then they walk by ten times and ask you the same question about whether you want to go on a boat trip, horse ride etc.
It’s not an overly busy town. Considering the number of hotels and its self proclaimed ‘Jewel’ marketing you would expect to find far more tourists. Perhaps because of this the town lacks either the energy of a real town or a more touristic place. We did look a round a few properties that were for rent or sale (great prices for a lot of house) but, there was just something missing in the place – maybe music and art – I don’t know. It just left Rachel a little underwhelmed although I was conversely pretty whelmed. We stayed for several days though.
The further from the centre, the poorer the people and housing. But even so the homes are generally well maintained, the faces friendly and there was no sense of threat (although Rachel noticed a different and more leering attitude to her when walking to the supermarket alone than with me). Welcome to my world Rachel – At least she didn’t have to bat ‘em off with a stick like I do when I go out alone.
The town is in a great location. It’s directly beside the huge Lake Nicaragua which is reached by a gentle amble down main street to the promenade. In another direction lies Volcan Mombacho and in another Laguna de Apoya. We took some bikes and did a 25km ride around the edge of Lake Nicaragua which was very pleasant. We passed a few of those pesky tour guides near the town who actually tried to sell us tours whilst we rode past them! The promenade runs for several kilometres along the shore. A dirt roads then heads off through the jungle on a promontory and we pedal through small villages packed with smiling kids and machete carrying women until we reach the end and sit and have sandwiches on a dock whilst watching a boat load of roughly 9 year olds struggling to row from school to home against a strong wind – strange entertainment!
Another day we went with Vince (owner of our hotel) his girlfriend and Anne Marie, a fellow guest from French speaking Montreal, to Masaya for a market – and Laguna del Apoya which is sited in the crater of an old volcano. Here with the sun shining down we laid in the sun and read (Rachel) or swam a bit, canoed a bit and read (me). A nice day with nice people in a nice place. What more could you want?
Next stop Ometepe. An island made up of two volcanoes half way down Lake Nigaragua. The boat crossing was fun! We arrived at 11.00am and the ferry’s had been cancelled until 4.00pm due to high winds. However, the intrepid (stupid) Lancha service announced a crossing at 1.30pm we jumped at it. And so with about 80 other locals and backpackers we made the 1 hour crossing in 1½ hours. People were throwing up, gripping their seats with white knuckles and wide, popping eyes. Water flowed freely over the gunwales and into the cabin, slooshing around our feet and soaking possessions. The wind pulled at the window coverings and waves crashed through the openings wetting the occupants of nearby seats. The joy on people’s faces when we reached the port was akin to looking upon the face of God.
We stay in a small AirB&B which we thought would be quiet since it was on a back street of the small town. Unfortunately the next street along had one bar that played loud beating music till the early hours to what was probably an audience of 5 backpackers. BASTARDS! That aside it's a nice island. We hired a trials bike for a couple of days – great fun and a while since we have had a bike – and set off along the quiet roads – 50% of which were tarmacked. Hence the trials bike! Interestingly we came across the airport (just a runway really) that the road crossed. When a plane comes in they put a rope across the road until the plane has touched down. Cool little runway though – with a volcano one end and a drop off into the sea on the other. We saw our first decent sunset for a long time here. Standing on a sand spit that reached out toward the fading sunlight.
We rode to the further olcano and trekked up a reasonable path to the Cascades de San Ramon. A 50m high, 10m wide waterfall that cascades vertically into a pool. Well in the wet season that's what it does. In the dry season its meagre volume trickles and mists its way down the drop. Not as impressive as one would hope but cooling to stand under and pretty to look at.
Seeing as the island is effectively just two volcanoes it takes a while to get anywhere because you have to go around the base of each rather than in a direct line. That was OK. We loved riding the bike, feeling the wind on our faces and having the freedom to see stuff that it afforded. Unfortunately as we had to have the bike back by 6.00pm on day two we missing the bull riding event that was happening in one village and were only able to see the rambunctious way they unloaded the huge bulls from lorry to pen.
Last place in Nicaragua is San Juan del Sur. A seaside resort on the pacific coast. Its touristy but our place in a quiet barrio. We have a couple of pushbikes and can bike to town or an empty beach – both about 20 minutes away. We do both – the town route was nice in the day and we locked up the bikes and walked on the nearly empty beach in the surf. At night, the same journey was less fun, with no street lights, bike lights and only a high vis vest and glimpy torch to keep us alive. The other way – to a different beach was over a dusty bumpy path that led though the hills to a small cove with a few surfers and a bar. Its good to be alive and seeing all this but we are definitely in a need for a change. So today we have booked flights home to England. We leave in about 5 weeks or so and are not sure of our plans. Still moving about but maybe do some work in Spain. We will see. We still have Costa Lotta (Rica) and Panama to squeeze in before that so stay tuned.