To get off the magnificent island we required a taxi to the port, a ferry ride back to the mainland and opted for another taxi to take us all the way to the grand city of Granada. Our bodies were in agony from the day before so taking a ride directly to the front door of Casa Barcelona on the outskirts of the old town was lazy but appreciated. We were welcomed with open arms by a lovely middle aged petite Nicaraguan lady with four children, two dogs and a Spanish husband. The casa was spotless as the high roofed entrance opened up to a long garden with rooms on each side and wishing well out the front. You could tell she took her job very seriously and provided a five star service for a two star casa.
We had heard many positive things about Granada with its rich tapestry of history and we were excited to explore to the little town. Established in 1524, Granada was the second oldest city in Central America after Antigua in Guatemala. Subjected to many battles, invasions of pirates, with one of the more recent and notable by American William Walker who conquered Nicaragua and declared himself president in the mid-1800s. Apparently when Walker eventually fled the country he torched the city of Granada and left the famous words, “Granada was here.” Kind of like and antique version of “Scotty waz er”.
So arriving just after midday we decided to walk into town for a quick tour before it got dark. Stepping outside the casa we were located a few blocks back from the central market and in a suburban area. You immediately knew you were in a very poor neighborhood (the neighborhood of Granada or Nicaragua for that matter), the gutters littered with rubbish, oils and froth bubbled around in a below river stream, skinny dogs tore for anything editable in the garbage and families squished into little banged together iron and concrete shelters. The old American school buses belched up the streets while young men rode around on rusted old bikes and women tended to shop keeping roles and walked their children to and from school. Although the area was poverty stricken, as we traversed up the main road past the market to get us into the old town, the calls of “aloha” and “buenos” became all too familiar. Why is it that when you are in the poorest of the poorest countries, the people who really have absolutely nothing can still look at someone like you that has everything and smile? This question has always plagued me.
So the following day we toured the city, taking in the historical quarter with its magnificent yellow and white church (fairly modern) forming the central square. Surrounding the square or Park de la Independencia were old colonial Spanish buildings colored in navy blues with white trims, aquas, purples and reds. Lined up outside the park square horse and carts where stationed and adorned with ribbons and decorations around their pretty little carriages that could take you for a tour.
The park encompassed little kiosks selling ice creams, hamburgers (Kiosk Gordito or Fatty Kiosk), a tourist market and kids playing around on the equipment. The old church at the tip of town dated back to the 15 century and we were beckoned in by a Nicaraguan man with head injury hollowing “welcome…welcome” as he pointed to the church tower which you could walk up for a birds view of the city. And what a pretty view it was, stretching out across the tiled roofs all the way to Lake Nicaragua and the Masaya Volcano range. In between the red tiled roofs where spots of green where palm trees grew out of the centre courtyards or the surrounding casas.
We were told that the bars and nightlife where pretty happening in Granada so we visited Calle La Caldaza where numerous American style fast food restaurants and bars serve the backpackers and expats. We had drinks at the old green Irish Bar run by an expat named John (from Ireland). As we sat outside in the street we soon were surrounded by beggars and street sellers – the deaf, the kids, the mums carrying little babies and a few dodgy drunks. Again, that uncomfortable feeling of do you give or don’t you? Here we met Keith, a great guys from Denver who had a week to travel and completed a nights stop over in Granada before hitting the surf coast. We spent a fun night hanging out at the Garden Cafe with its beautiful courtyard occupying tropical palms and flowers before hitting the Imagine Bar for drinks with its American owner/ musician that moved to Nicaragua for “the adventure and to help out the people”. It was late and we were told that it was best to take a cab as the streets cutting through the market were dark and a bit isolated.
The following day Belinda came down with a bug, so we spent an extra night and toured the streets again, walking down to the Malecon and stoping at the “Chocolate Bar” an amazing Spanish Casa with incredible courtyard, wooden floors and ceilings, brass fans and cigar smoking clientele, you felt as though you were some foreign journalist on assignment drinking the most delicious chocolate ice coffees rather than english teas. Our next stop was Laguna de Apoyo, a 20min taxi ride out of town. After saying many a thank you to our hosts who really gave us that extra level of service and were so kind and considerate about Belinda being sick, we caught a cab with a friend of their families to check it out.
The taxi ride took us through the dusty and hot streets of the city before turning off to the nature reserve where we commuted up over a 1000 feet to a more green and calm environment. Looking down we were at the tip of volcano and could see the crater which houses the natural lake. The shimmering laguna looked clear and was declared a natural reserve in 1991. We had heard that it was a pretty chilled out place and perfect for swimming in the natural waters, kayaking, hiking and Murray wanted to check out the diving. So we checked into the Monkey Hut which was an a large wooden a-frame hostel on the river bank. Tiered green lawns led down to the lake where kids where jumping off the pier and swimming out to sunbath on the wooden pontoon. We spent the next two days at the lodge, swimming in hammocks, kayaking on the lake and watching the day trippers from the city that came in and out to use the facilities.
Our next stop was a 3 hour drive by taxi to Leon, the third largest city in Nicaragua with again, a historical Spanish quarter, a negro volcano that you could board down and of course, the positioning closer to the Honduran border. A few exciting days lay ahead.