Monday, July 21, 2008

9 Nicaragua

After deciding it had been much too long since we had left the country, we settled on a brief weekend trip to Nicaragua. Upon arrival at Logan we were joined at the American ticket counter by the New England Revolution who were on their way to LA for an upcoming match. While our flights were uneventful that day (the way we like it!), we found out on the news later that the Revolution were not as lucky.

We arrived in Managua, Nicaragua's capital city, after dark and quickly found our hotel shuttle. Along the road we saw numerous red and black Sandinista flags being waved as people were getting ready for celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 revolution the next day. Our first and last nights of the trip were spent at the Intercontinental in Managua. The accommodations would certainly be considered deluxe by Nicaraguan standards, with spacious rooma, a pool, and a bar that served delicious cherry daiquiris. Thankfully, the hotel was practically free thanks to a great Orbitz flight plus hotel deal.

Still unsure of the safety of our surroundings, we gently settled in to our time in Nicaragua with a visit to a nearby mall that offered a number of restaurants. This mall was not too dissimilar from an American one on a Friday night, with teenagers abound waiting to see dubbed versions of Mamma Mia! and The Dark Night. Though we do love ABBA, we passed on the movies and settled on Tacontento for dinner and Tonas--Nicaragua's most popular domestic beer.The next morning we hopped a bus to Granada (pictured above) to get out of town before the Sandinista rallying, and presumably American villifying, really began. Riding a Nicaraguan bus is an experience in itself. There is no schedule--the buses leave as soon as they fill up with enough people. Along the way an agent stands at the open door of the speeding bus yelling out the destination, hoping to coax more passengers aboard.

Granada is best known for being the oldest colonial town in the Western Hemisphere, founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in 1524. Upon arriving in Granada we oriented ourselves by first visiting the Parque Central, the city's hub of activity. We refreshed after our bus ride with juices and a vigoron--a local favorite of yucca and fried pork skin. As we slowed our eating pace we were approached by a 12-year-old boy who pointed at our food and gestured to ask if he could have some. He sat down, finished off the plate, and told us the dish was "picante" and pointed to our juice. Before slurping down the last of the drink he was joined by his friend, who was not going to miss out on this fun. And thus, we made our first Nicaraguan friends: Kevin and Jonia!

Unfortunately they did not recognize our hotel name, but we knew it was south of the Parque Central, so we set off to explore. Two blocks later we were in the middle of the bustling city market, the street lined with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to homemade cheese to new white sneakers! We navigated our way through the busy streets, asking people for directions to the Hotel Terrasol, finally realizing we had gotten ourselves much too far from the center of town to be anywhere near our hotel.
Back at the Parque Central (pitctued above), we finally found someone who could direct us. For those of you who decide to stay at Hotel Terrasol--which we highly recommend--it is located three blocks west and one block south of the Parque.

The Hotel Terrasol is owned by a married couple, Victor and Katja, who built the hotel from the ground up just last year. They are wonderfully attentive and helpful; within minutes of arriving they directed us to many must-see sights and booked us on an afternoon boat ride on Lake Nicaragua to explore Las Isletas.

The archipelago is composed of 365 little islands off the coast of Granada that are said to be formed from a volcanic eruption by nearby Mombacho some 20,000 years ago . Our tour weaved in and out of the many islands with a few stops along the way. Our favorite stop was Monkey Island--residents of the neighboring islands rid themselves of these pests by transporting indigenous monkeys to a single island of exile. Since they can't swim, they're stuck there. As we sat in our boat watching the monkeys swing on trees, another boat of visitors arrived and two monkeys hopped right on board! One of them moved to an empty seat in the back and sat patiently waiting to go for a ride. The other (pictured above) was pushy and wanted food. Both took a good amount of coaxing to disembark the boat, and the pushy one put up a real, and momentarily terrifying, fight.

We spent our time on land visiting Granada's old cathedrals, museums, eating delicious food and drinking delicious Tona. The best view in the city is to be had at Iglesia de la Merced. For the price of one dollar you can climb the bell tower of the city's oldest church, built in 1538. To catch some of the sights we missed by foot, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride through Granada's colorful streets to the city's outskirts. Our carriage driver, Otilio, brimmed with pride as he described the sites and history of Granada. The only problem was his descriptions all came in Spanish, leading to many interesting exchanges between him and Patrick who speaks Spanish on a pre-school level. After one particular miscommunication where Patrick generically asked "personas entrada?" we ended up on a private tour of the closed and dark Forteleza la Pólvora.

We were sad to leave Granada after only a short time there. It is beautiful, charming, and most amazingly, wholly unspoiled. The people living there are some of the friendliest and most welcoming we've met in all our travels.

Managua, on the other hand, is one of the most depressed cities we have seen. It has yet recover from the catastrophic earthquake of 1972. Even the cross on the top of the historic old cathedral has been left broken. Managua is not safe to explore by foot, but there are guided bus tours designed for visitors. However, we found a surprisingly cheaper option--hire a taxi for a few hours! At a rate of $10/hour, our cab driver, Guillermo, took us all over the city, offering us his personal narrative in very good English. We saw Loma de Tiscapa crater lake, the 6,000-year-old footprints of Acahualinca, the official presidential palace, as well as the real, heavily-guarded mansion residence of President Ortega. We also saw the huge city plaza, still dotted with red and black flags, that had the day before been packed with tens of thousands of Nicaraguans rallying in honor of the Sandinista Revolution Anniversary.

On our last morning in Nicaragua, we scavenged the Mercado Roberto Huembes. Much larger than the Granada market, we got lost in the aisles of hanging raw meat and walls of T-shirts. We polished off a final plate of gallo pinto, a popular rice and bean dish served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then returned to our hotel for final packing.

As we sat by the Intercontinental pool waiting for our shuttle, we brainstormed destinations we can cram in to our next year of travels. Stay tuned.....

9 comments:

  1. Who knew Nicaragua had so much to offer...looks like a fun trip!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm going to Nicaragua in a couple weeks and I can't wait after reading this. Lots of good info!

    ReplyDelete
  3. just got into your blog by curiously searching info/rebounding, etc.
    Reading info about my upcoming travel to Managua.
    Thank you for all the information, I am also a compulsive globetrotter and I love the way you guys write about your travels.
    keep on writing, I'll keep on reading, very inspiring.
    happy trails and good luck
    Alessandra Zeka

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi, can you tell me how i go about reserving the Hotel Terrasol? Their website seems to be down.Do you have a number or email address?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nikita,

    Thanks for your comment. The email we used to make our reservation was info@hotelterrasol.com and the phone number is (505) 552-8825.

    ReplyDelete
  6. hello I love your information helped me a lot to me and my family.
    I recommend it because my friends are also in doubt thank you very much for this information

    ReplyDelete
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