Our time in Granada was spent hiking volcanoes, learning about the Sandinistas and the unique Nicaraguan culture, drinking sangria at dusk amidst brightly colored buildings on the main drag of town, and dealing with intense, extreme, in- your- face poverty.
Part of the reason I was so taken aback by the poverty was most likely because I was expecting Granada to be almost identical to Antigua, Guatemala, where I spent my summer. When we were told by G that our trip to Panama was canceled due to social unrest of the indigenous tribes and frequent violent clashes with the government we all immediately googled the places we would visit in Nicaragua. The pictures I saw of Granada showed the same pastel colored buildings that I saw in Antigua, the streets lined with trees, small stalls of original crafts and jewelry being sold on corners, and a beautiful church at the front of a central park with trees and fountains, and a striking volcano in the background. Similar to Antigua, Granada is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the similarities stopped at the city structure and sights.
Our first night out my friends Kate, Dylan, Josh and I went out searching for a good place to eat along the main street of Granada. We came across a small purple restaurant with outdoor seating in the street and an advertisement for 2×1 Sangria, all night happy hour. Who were we to turn that one down? After about an hour we were a few glasses of sangria in, and I had eaten all I could of my huge, delicious plate of nachos- refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and jalapeño peppers drizzled with cheese. Favorite food. I clearly couldn’t finish and offered up nachos to everyone at the table- and then was completely taken aback when a small child, probably 9 or 10 years old, came up to the table, looked at me pitifully, hung his head down, pointed to my food and to his mouth- “para mi? para mi?” I had never been approached like this and had absolutely no idea what to do. A few of our friends at the table next to us called over that they had let him have the rest of their food too, and that it should be okay as long as we weren’t giving the children any money (many of them had drug addictions, even the young ones. Dylan had been approached by a young boy earlier who had needed money for rubber glue.) and of course I had no heart to say no, so I let him have most of the rest of my nachos. We were later told that all the children have a shelter in Granada where they get fed every day, and the reason they only beg because they want the more expensive, tourist food… I still can’t bring myself to feel bad about giving the boy the rest of my nachos, he definitely enjoyed them more than I would have.
Our second day we visited Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua. It was much different than Granada, with no real downtown area and there wasn’t as much of an effort to cover up the poverty stricken areas. Then again, we didn’t see much of the city, mostly the historical areas and the rest of what I saw was through our rickety, old school bus window. We had an interesting lecture on tourism in Nicaragua, which we were able to compare with our knowledge about Costa Rican tourism. Afterwards we visited some of the historical areas, including the President’s House and a large National Museum.
Our next day was one of my favorites (minus every day on Ometepe, obviously). We spent our day climbing around Volcan Mombacho, and it has quickly become one of my favorite volcanoes. My knee has been acting up with all of the intense physical hikes- some of the slopes and inclines on those volcanoes were enough to send healthy people to the floor- and along with a few other girls with knee (or similar) problems I have been having to take the easier route on some of the hikes, or miss out on them. It’s gotten a bit frustrating because there is almost nothing I love more than a good hike, and almost nothing I hate more than feeling like I can’t do something- not a great combination.
Upon arriving at Mombacho Erin (my arthritis and patellar tendonitis twin) and I were all set with our knee braces strapped on, aleve in an easy access pouch, and ready to fight tooth and nail to get into the Puma Trail group. We had gotten so frustrated at missing out on the beautiful views, and were determined to have a good time no matter what. When the Crater Trail (the easier one) and the Puma Trail were introduced we were ecstatic to discover that not only would the Crater Trail not kill our knees, but also we would be able to see all of the views they would see at the look-outs of the Puma Trail. (PS the Puma Trail? ALL stairs on these slippery wood stumps called “cookies” and it was incredibly steep. I’ve never been so glad to miss out on a hike!)
After a long day at Mombacho (despite being called the easier trail, the Crater Trail still took it out of us, as any long day walking around in the sun will) we explored Granada once again. This time our quest for an incredible dinner took us to the Garden Cafe, an incredible cute little restaurant that, literally, has a garden in the middle. We sampled the local beer (for anyone curious, Nica’s national beer, Toña, beat out Victoria) and I finally got my salad fix with a huge Mediterranean salad. We then ventured to a much higher scale restaurant, El Tercer Ojo, advertising two-for-one sangria… Once again, who am I to turn that one down? It’s become my new favorite food. Tercer Ojo, incredibly different than Garden, gave it a good run for its money in terms of internal decor and vibe. Tercer Ojo had a gypsy vibe, it had deep red and rich purple draped fabric, tapestry, dark lighting, plush chairs and sofas, built in bookshelves stuffed to the edges, and yoga/chakra information on all the menus. It was such an incredible difference from the world we had just stepped inside from, and I could hardly believe that we were still in Nicaragua- but what an escape it provided for the small amount of time we spent lounging and listening to soft music.
Our next day was our final full day in Nicaragua, and was met with reluctance by most of us. We started our day, just like every other in Granada, at Kathy’s Waffles. Every morning at 7AM our entire group of about 40 people, students and staff, met at Kathy’s Waffles and sat on their outside front porch stuffed at a long, long, long table and gorged ourselves. They brought out fresh orange juice (some of the best orange juice I have ever had), incredible dark strong coffee, and their food? I could go on for hours. I got huevos rancheros the first and third day, and they had delicious salsa drizzled on (and I then drenched them in tobasco), and the rest of the plate was filled to the edges with home fries. The other two days I had a vegetarian omelette stuffed with every great vegetable, drenched in hot sauce, and with more of those fantastic home fries on the side. It was the absolute best way to start my day. Not to mention after (finally) growing out of my egg allergy that I suffered through for five long years I enjoy eating fantastic eggs probably more than most normal people do… Not that I really mind.
After our wonderful breakfast (see? I just can’t stop raving about it enough!) we had a bit of free time to lounge by the hotel pool before we were off to the Masaya Artisan Market. The market was similar to many I visited in Guatemala- it was one giant open area with weaving mazes of stalls, people crowding everywhere, vendors advertising their prices, jumping on you if you stopped for one second too long to look at their wares, and beautiful goods everywhere. Needless to say we were all a little overwhelmed when we first stepped inside, and I spent a good half an hour wandering around dazed with Kate. We finally found good gifts for our friends and family, and wrap skirts for ourselves to wear out later for our last night in Granada, and before I knew it our time was up and we had to race off to the bus to be on our way to Volcan Masaya.
I know what you’re thinking. Another volcano? Haven’t they climbed at least, what, ten by now? And yes, we had seen a lot, and yes, it is quite debatable about how excited I was about this one. And yes, it was more than worth it. We drove all the way up this ridiculous pot-hole filled, steep dirt road in our rickety old bus (think graffiti covered school bus falling apart at the seams, complete with windows that got stuck halfway down and seats that had stuffing poking out) and I still don’t know how it made it up the trail. When we pulled up to the crater and shoved our way out of the bus (you can never get out of there soon enough) we were completely overwhelmed by the fumes. I have now visited more volcanoes than I can count (it just never gets old) and never have I been hit by a smell like this one, it felt like I walked into a brick wall. We all immediately started hacking and coughing, as our professors apologized for our bad luck. Apparently the fumes weren’t always so bad, someone in our group must have just had horrible karma!
Anyways we climbed about six flights of stairs to this lookout point that allowed me to look to the right and see a distinct crater shape in the valley below of an extinct crater, and to my left see the smoking active crater, and behind me was the looming, tall, extinct crater of Masaya. Being able to stand at the top of the lookout and be surrounded by three craters was certainly an experience I will soon forget.
We did a small hike to the extinct crater and were able to look inside and get a better view of the landscape, then we had to leave about an hour or so early because the fumes. The volcano was extremely that active that day, and Achim told us that if that had been a park in Costa Rica it more than definitely would have been closed due to safety hazards of the volcano erupting and the fumes being so dangerous. All of us were hacking, feeling lightheaded, and some were scared of an asthma attack. I wasn’t feeling too terrible but I was most certainly not upset to leave early, those fumes were no joke.
Our last night in Granada was spent, once again, at the Garden Cafe with almost our entire group. We probably made up at least 60% of the restaurant’s revenue that night, and had the best time all celebrating the end of Nicaragua together. The next morning at breakfast we were all sad to leave, and I was especially sad to see Nicaragua go as it reminds me so much of Guatemala. Those streets, buildings, volcanoes, the children I met, the music on the radio- it all brought me back to my summer in Guatemala immediately. It also made me think, once again, about how different all the Central American countries are from each other, despite their small size and location to each other. All of their cultures are so historically rich and beautiful, and each group of people have such unique personalities and outlooks on life.
Although I was sad to leave Nicaragua, I was also happy to be coming back home to the Center. After we got back I realized how much this place feels like home. I make homes in places that I connect with very easily, and while I know that someday I will return to Isla Ometepe, sit on that dock, and feel right back at home, right now our Center is all I want. Sitting in the hammocks on the front deck, walking up Vista in the morning, watching Friends&Modern Family in our common room, eating rice&beans in the kitchen together- I love every minute of being here.
our wonderful little school bus...
A statue for the famous Nicaraguan poet, Dario
El Pueblo de los Presidentes
The German buses that we took up the hill at Mombacho
View of Granada, Lake Nicaragua, y los islets de Mombacho
- Can you spot the sloth?
Me&Kate at the Masaya Crater
Our group hiking the extinct Masaya Crater
Me&Erin celebrating our climb at Masaya with the active crater behind us!