Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This Is Too Hard; Let's Just Quit! (Part II)

Nicaragua - A Visit In Two Parts
Although there is a ferry that crosses the entirety of Lake Nicaragua, it leaves Isla Omatepe at 1am and, in the interest of sleeping and being rested while on vacation, we opted to take the 9am ferry back to San Jorge and bus it the ninety minutes or so to the colonial tourist and historical mecca on the western shores of the lake: Granada.  One of the oldest Spanish settlements in Nicaragua, founded in 1524, Granada has seen wars, pirates, fires, and fierce political battles - including one to be the capital of the country - in its long history.
Granada's colorful Plaza de la Independencia
Today the city is a place where backpackers and package tourists convene to stroll the streets lined with colorful colonial one and two-story buildings.  Many of the buildings, though restored, are now home to hotels, hostels, spas, upscale restaurants, boutiques, and over-priced gift shops.  Granada's charm still exists, though, and in the early morning and dusk light, the shadows, painted walls, and wrought iron gates tell a different story than the tourist bustle all around.  It reminded me a little of a couple of the other historical Spanish settlements I've visited, such as the Panamá Viejo area in Panama City and Cartagena in Colombia, but on more single-floored way; this is an earthquake zone, after all!

Wandering the streets of Granada.
Side Note: After one near-sleepless night in a recommended hostel, La Libertad (don't go there!), we convened in the main courtyard and unanimously agreed to find a new place to sleep.  It's not that the amenities were terrible here, it's just that we were not solitary 20 year-olds traversing the subcontinent on a journey of haphazard self-discovery.  Also, there was a bar and subsequent lounging areas in every corner, inviting aforementioned travelers to hang out until the uncurfewed wee hours of the morning, loudly regaling each other with well-worn tales of the road.  Fortunately, we found a more respectable and tranquil option a couple blocks away for only $3 USD more for a grand total of $8 USD/person.  (Hostel La Siesta is the place to go should you find yourself in Granada.)

The potter and his craft
Our second day in Granada we opted for a day-trip to two nearby pueblitos, San Juan de Oriente and Catarina.  San Juan de Oriente exists mostly because of the ceramics industry centered there.  This barely one-street town is built on earth that the locals discovered long ago was perfect for making pottery. Craftsmen abound here and one family invited us into their shop to not only admire their wares but also talk with the father and watch as he "threw clay" (pottery lingo for the spinning wheel contraption and process of creating a piece of pottery).  I purchased two vases.  One for my burgeoning and accidental collection of bird-themed souvenirs, and another that was too green, beautiful, and unique to pass on.

Catarina, on the opposite side of the Panamerican Highway, and a short walk uphill from San Juan de Oriente's potter's row, is home to several tiny restaurants and juice stands leading toward El Mirador, or "The Lookout."  From this impressive vista one looks due east over the crater lake Laguna de Apoyo, beyond which sits Granada and then Lake Nicaragua.  To the south, as if adding some sprinkles to the top of the scenic cake, sits the majestic Mombacho Volcano.

Back in Granada later that evening - our last - we spent some time in the Parque Central taking in the architecture of the cathedral and palatial buildings while eating ice cream and enjoying some good old fashioned people-watching.  Dinner that night, at a discretely located and dimly-lit restaurant we toasted to a trip with good company filled with near non-stop laughter and great conversation over ginger chicken, gumbo, and sangria.

Nicaragua was an enchanting place to spend a week and I hope to return one day soon.  There is so much more to explore; the surf spots of the Pacific, volcano-boarding in the north around León, Caribbean island communities, and historical jewels of earthquake-torn Managua beg for my return!  Politics has stoked the fire recently again though, bringing back the not-so-distant fears of a tumultuous past.  Many feel the current president, Ortega, has bought the current congress and will have no problem in changing the laws allowing him to run again for a record third term, when many more people feel it is time for a change.  Venezuela's polarizing president, Hugo Chavez, has been getting friendly as well, in his apparent quest to form a socialist alliance with as many Latin American countries as possible.  The past has been difficult and I hope the future doesn't continue along that way.  We didn't quit on the way to the top of Maderas; I trust the Nicaraguan people won't quit either, as tired as they may be.
Los cinco amigos at El Mirador backed by Laguna de Apoyo.


Anonymous said...

Wait...so you're NOT quitting? I thought we agreed quitting would be best.

Great post(s)!

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