A Quick Note on Granada and Nica Safety

Initially we had heard and I had written that Granada might not be a safe place to walk around at night. This proved to be unfounded and had we followed that advice would have spent all our time lounging at the hostel pool drinking. Don’t get me wrong, we did our fair share of that to be sure but each night we ventured out around town and never felt unsafe.

The perception that Nicaragua, and for that matter Latin America, is a dangerous place to avoid traveling in is to be taken with a grain of salt. This is definitely the least developed of any of the countries that I’ve been too but safety and getting around hasn’t been a problem. True, things take awhile longer here but honestly what’s the rush anyway (and I say that even as someone with limited time in country). You can enjoy being in the moment more when you accept the pace of where you’re at and go with the flow even if you don’t like the pace. One piece of advice I can give based on the 5 days we’ve been here is don’t put yourself in a position where feel you need to be rushing to catch your boat, taxi, etc. The taxi will wait, the boats rarely leave exactly on time and the buses…..well I’m sure we’ll end up on one at some point.

All of our interactions with any of the local folks haven’t been negative and the few people we spent a longer time speaking with (Robinson, who rented us our motos, and Jorge who drove us to the port at Altagracia) were very friendly and extremely helpful. It does help tons to have a decent grasp of Spanish because the further you get outside of the cities the percent of people who may know how to speak some English decrease….a lot. The women who owned the hotel we stayed at in El Castillo were extremely friendly and even said we could use the Internet in their lobby and hang out on their deck even after we checked out. They even went to a hotel next door and found us a room because they were booked completely full the second night we were there and knew we needed a place to stay.

A smile will get you one in return most of the time, if you don’t expect things to be like they are at home then you’ll get along a lot easier here. It’s hot, people share the roads and sidewalks with bikes, cars, stalls, buses, dogs, scooters and food vendors. The smells can be potent. Be agile and not afraid to jaywalk. The transportation can be limited and the schedule inconvenient and subject to change. Take the same precautions you would at home, don’t flash money, don’t wander drunk alone at 3 am, be friendly. If you’re here to enjoy yourself don’t let preconceived notions of what may happen prevent you from experiencing the best that can happen.

I’m not looking forward to the 12 hours of traveling we’re going to have to undertake to get to León, I doubt very much that what we’re doing is what most people would consider “vacation”. There is no swim up bar, no fruity tropical drinks or spa treatments. Our spa is a lake in the middle of a volcano crater, our fruity tropical drink is our bottle of rum mixed the whatever soda we decide to grab. We signed up for adventure, for something different and we’re definitely getting it. The fish comes fried whole, you have to ask for or buy ice for drinks, air conditioning is at a premium.

What we consider roughing it is how people live here, we get to go back to air conditioned homes and Mad Men. We get to have food whenever we want it and hot water and electricity are reliable. The third world is no place to complain about your first world problems. There are pigs and chickens everywhere, there are barefoot kids and shabby looking schools. Yet…..I haven’t seen anyone who looks unhappy or angry. In Latvia almost everyone we saw on the street looked surly and mean, here I don’t know what it is, but something is different and I like it.

Anyhow, the sun is about to set and I need to fill my glass with more rum and fresca. The group is walking around and the festival is still going on so it’s time to see what’s going down on the one main street here in El Castillo.

Granada Day 2

With limited time in Granada we had to choose our day’s options carefully. I had read cool things about the Laguna Apoyo, which is a giant lake that was created when a volcano collapsed on itself and the ground and rainwater fillled up the crater. The tour from Hostal Oasis left at 10 am so we went to a kiosk in el Parque Central for breakfast. I still can’t believe how cheap things are here, my breakfast of rice & beans, fried eggs, tortillas and salad cost about $2.40.

It was a pretty quick ride to the Laguna from central Granada, maybe 45 minutes tops. We were dropped off at the entrance to the sister hostel of the one we were staying at in town and were given a brief introduction of how things worked at the bar, for using the kayaks the hostel provided, etc.

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The description of Laguna Apoyo at the hostel and what I read o the Internet didn’t prepare use for the size and sight of the lake. Compared to the bustle of Granada the peace and tranquility of the lagoon was a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the city. There was a small platform not too far a swim from shore which I was determined to take a few running dives off of.

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The six hours spent at Laguna Apoyo went by very quickly, but long enough to get some good swimming in, kayak around for an hour and enjoy some frosty beverages. The water was crystal clear and just the right temperature for swimming.

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We had passed a cigar shop on the ride out that I had read about that who show you how cigars were made and let you roll one of your own. This sounded like a fabulous idea to Clark and I so after getting back to Granada we made a pit stop at the hostel and set off back out.

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Doña Elba’s cigars is located in the Xalteva neighborhood of Granada, about a ten minute walk from our hostel. This is somewhat of a tourist attraction but enough out of the way that accidental discovery by folks who aren’t actually seeking good cigars won’t end up there. There’s was an old picture of Arnold Schwarzenneger with the owners on the wall so the place is pretty legit. They let you see the process of how their cigars are rolled and then let you roll your own.

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Having experienced a dinner fail finding dinner the night before we decided to head back to the local market and procure some ingredients to make dinner at he hostel. On the walk bak we passed by La Iglesia De Merced. For $1 they let you climb the 70 steps to the top of the bell tower where you can get great views of the city.

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The water is out but the wifi is on…….

Well, the water was only out for most of the day, luckily we spent the better part of the day exploring Granada’s streets. The Parque Central is the main square area of the Centro Turistico where we’re staying. The cathedral is located right at the park and from there the streets radiate out from the city center.

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There are tons of stalls set up selling souvenirs, tour guides vying for your business and a lot of horse drawn carriages in which you can bumpily tour the city. The carriage tour could have been romantic but the horses seemed in rough shape and the smell was pretty pungent that none of us were up for it.

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We wandered around a bit until finding a suitable place to eat breakfast before getting the day started. A typical breakfast consists of a juice, coffee, pinto gallo (rice and beans) and eggs and toast

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Having already wandered around the central area near the park the previous night and that morning, we took a different direction after breakfast and ended up at the municipal market which was a wandering maze of stalls selling everything from clothes and hardware to raw meat, vegetables, and everything in between. Think of it as a mix between a farmers’ market mixed with a swap meet and having the one stop shopping convenience of a Walmart. Laura just about lost her breakfast walking through the meat section, the smell was pretty atrocious and it was an unnerving thought that perhaps this is where the restaurants get their food from as well as the locals. Seeing someone waving flies off fish that’s sitting on a counter in 80° heat was interesting. I actually enjoyed the assault on my senses, the competing smells, the people, cars and motorbikes everywhere….the controlled chaos of it all was exactly what I look for in traveling to strange places.

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Our self guided tour took up a good portion of the afternoon and the heat and humidity started building up enough that a few old drinks of the adult variety and a dip in the pool at the hostel seemed like a great plan. Clark and I stopped in a small store near the hostel and picked up a small bottle of rum, a bottle of coke and two beers for about $5.50.

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Now the hardest part about winging it starts..it’s our second full day, where do we go next!? We’ve got several options so Nica is our oyster right now…as soon as we can get Laura out of bed. Below are a few more photos from our day in Granada.

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Toña time!

Alarm goes off at 6:45 am RVA time, 2 hour drive to DC to park the car near Dulles where we met our friend Christie to drive us to Reagan National where we were flying out of. Not the most convenient of ways the start a trip but when you get a good deal sometimes you to need to sacrifice.

The trip over was pretty uneventful in itself, in fact things went a little too smoothly easing in country. We breezed through customs and our driver that we arranged for was waiting for us right outside of the door to exit the terminal. The first thing I noticed upon getting outside was the humidity and a smell that Clark described as “not the most effervescent”… But really it smelled pretty bad, like we were the villains in Back to the Future and somehow landed directly into a pile of manure.

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The ride to our first stop of the trip was a lot quicker than expected….maybe because our driver was taking the speed limit as a suggestion. We got to Granada and got dropped off at the hostel, checked in to our room (2 double beds, private bathroom..$11.25 per person) and got directly into a hammock with a nice cold Toña. This place looks pretty nice, has free wifi, a swimming pool, an honor system more or less for buying beer and cheap food served in house.

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Normally I’d be all about wandering around the area right away but getting lost around here doesn’t seem wise on the first night. I’d heard that Managua was really sketchy, Granada less so but we heard it’s a take a taxi if going out at night kind of place, that remains the be seen but the first night we won’t test it. So our first night is going to be spent in the hostel having beers and relaxing……..so I should probably get off the Internet.

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Lam and Harms – there’s beer in that tea cup

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Clark & Laura