الخميس، 31 يناير 2013

Nicaragua Trip, Days 7-10

The remainder of our trip in Nicaragua took a very casual pace. This was fine with the four of us, as we were on vacation and had no reason to worry or rush about  (although life in Costa Rica was seldom super busy and stressful). This was because we saw on the news that the day after the big earthquake in Costa Rica, a volcano in northern Nicaragua erupted, and people in that region were being evacuated (not just volunteers-the army was evacuating all citizens)-as well as news that the volunteers from Isla Ometepe (our next stop) were being evacuated because of worries about the seismic activity causing eruptions there. So the official word from Peace Corps came that we couldn't travel there, and had to stay in Granada. So we spent two days walking the streets of Granada,  stopping for a fresh fruit smoothie here and buying some mango slices there. We toured the cathedral, an old church and monastery that had been turned into a museum, what was left of the old hospital, it seems to have just been abandoned and never purchased or maintained. We enjoyed delicious breakfast from Kathy's Waffles-a go-to spot in Granada for tourists-as it has American style breakfast (which was quite good) and finally got some Tip-Top-a local fried chicken chain that we had seen everywhere. We did go out for fish and chips at an Irish restaurant on the main tourist drag-yet, sadly, when we ordered three or four glasses of Guinness, they only brought us one-saying it was the last of the keg and they didn't have another. While I'd certainly blame it on poor management, I wonder if even though (as the menu stated) it was owned and operated by Irish, it still fell prey to the developing country problem of chronically late or incomplete deliveries. As it was my birthday, they guys were kind enough to let me have it. We did grab some cervezas micheladas-which is a way of drinking beer in Latin America-adding lime juice, salt, hot sauce, pepper, and other spices/sauces. This was something Nicaragua did much better than Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, you just get the lime juice and salt, but Nicaragua throws in pepper, hot sauce, and another sauce-similar to Worcestershire. It may not sound appealing, but I challenge anyone to try one and not love it.  
(a view of Granada's cathedral and Lake Nicaragua in the background)
By far the highlight of these last three days was our trip to Laguna de Apoyo, a lake in a volcano crater not far from Granada. We took a mini-bus and then a local bus and got off where they told us too. The supposed ten minute walk to the lodge we used for access to the lake was more like 25, but it was sunny and delightful so no worse for the wear. We used the well run and stocked Monkey Hut to gain access to the lake. For a reasonable price we gained access to their tables, chairs, kayaks, inner tubes, and floating docks. They also sold pizza and beer, and we put more than a few on our tabs. It was a pretty spectacular way to spend a day: lounging on the floating dock, jumping into the beautiful lake for a swim, back to the dock, grab a beer and float on an inner tube for a while. 

Despite not being able to visit Isla Ometepe, which is claimed by many to be the best place to visit in Nicaragua, I had an amazing trip. It was wonderful to see all the historic colonial cathedrals and homes (something Costa Rica has little of), it was great to see another Central American country, which has much in common with Costa Rica but has some strong differences too (baseball, hot dogs, gorgeous doors). We were blessed with fantastic weather during the trip, had essentially no problems (it helps to know the languages and the region), and I really enjoyed traveling with Andrew, Barton, and Brian. Nicaragua is about 4-5 times poorer than Costa Rica on a per person income base, but that was not very apparent except for the number of children begging and some of the houses we saw on the outskirts of Estelí and the market we walked through in Granada-which very crowded and lacked lots of hygienic processes-just like markets in other poor countries I've visited. The transportation system was faster and easy to use-I really liked the more frequently running 15 person buses as opposed to the less often running 60 person buses in Costa Rica. Beer was cheaper and street food was much more abundant, two big wins for Nicaragua. It is hard not to compare it to Costa Rica, because for me during the time I visited, Costa Rica, not the US was my reality. Some of my favorite things were the tobacco tour in Estelí, the Museum of the Revolution in León, the Laguna de Apoyo, and the store side paintings in Estelí. As a very budget friendly country that's easy to maneuver, I'd highly recommend visiting Nicaragua and can definitely see myself going back. In total, we spent ten days in Nicaragua, getting up on the tenth day and boarding a bus in Granada headed back to San José, a trip that went quite smoothly. 

الثلاثاء، 29 يناير 2013

Nicaragua Day 6

On our sixth day in Nicaragua we headed out of gorgeous, majestic, and historic León. We headed down to the bus station, grabbed a quick mini-bus to Granada (they are super common-another great thing about Nicaragua), and rolled right into the central park of the city. The differences between León and Granada were immediately apparent, even if we hadn't know that Granada and León had always been rival cities in the conservative versus liberal power struggles of 19th and early 20th century Nicaragua. Granada's cathedral was cleaner and more colorful than that of León, (its restoration was complete). It's roads were wider and less busy, it's gardens a bit more manicured, and its offerings of tourist restaurants and shops more plentiful and concentrated. From what I gathered, the revolution/ensuing wars hit León a lot harder than Granada, so some of its historic homes had been destroyed or damaged. Additionally, León was very much a university town, and Granada more of a merchant town-thus less revolutionary murals and more storefronts. Despite being more touristy*, I liked Granada a lot, especially its main drag, with the cathedral, municipal building and on old municipal building-all with imposing Spanish architecture. The central park was bustling with tourists, touts, children begging, and old men sleeping or chatting. 
*Note: being an avid tourist, I don't have a single problem with it-but it will inevitably change a town, especially when it becomes the dominant economic activity of the town-often, super touristy towns end up having pretty similar restaurants and bars and shops-and thus aren't as interesting as a town that hasn't changed itself to suit my desires. Of course, there are conveniences in tourist towns that I can't deny to enjoy and take advantage of. 
(all these pictures are taken from different points on the edge of the central park)
There wasn't much more in store for us on this day, we got ourselves checked into our hostel, explaining that we weren't quite sure how many nights we'd be staying-as we weren't sure what the Peace Corps' decision would be about our ability to travel to Isla Ometepe-the island consisting of two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. We walked around town a bit, checked out a few restaurants and settled on the patio at a mostly empty Mexican style restaurant (Granada is touristy enough that you can get all sorts of "worldly" restaurants). We had a good meal, and as we had a feeling that we might not be making it to Ometepe, we let our budgets loosen a bit and ordered a bottle of Flor de Caña rum, one of Nicaragua's most famous products. We topped the night off giving homage to two of Nicaragua's finest products, as we purchased another bottle of Flor de Caña took it back to the hostel, mixed it with some ice, and sipped it as we smoked one or two of the cigars we had purchased up in Estelí.