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49. Granada

Nicaragua

Granada, another colourful, colonial city, just like Leon but with money. Restoration seemed to be a priority, and as a result has drawn in thousands of tourists and tourist-related businesses. Every street seemed to have a picture-perfect angle to it, almost to the point where it looked artificial. The centre square was massive with a distinct European feel, and a gigantic church took up one side. Horses with carriages were lined up by the dozen, waiting to fleece unsuspecting travelers for an inhumane ride around town. An entire street was dedicated to tour offices and restaurants that spilled out onto the pavement, each offering their own specials. It was difficult to find anywhere in town that wasn’t targeting gringos.

It was so hot when we jumped off the bus that we couldn’t be bothered searching for a hostel, so we stopped at the first one we came across. The travel gods were with us. Bright, colourful, pool, bar, outdoor kitchen and – the best part – a movie screen over the pool. Awesome.

We stopped to pick up a map (the benefits of tourist-friendly towns) and we were handed a discount card. While sipping our happy hour drinks and munching on free yucca chips, we browsed the accompanying catalogue to find other ways we could scrimp on costs. Tours were astronomically expensive for what they offered, even with the savings, so they were out of the question. Even the restaurants that advertised a discount were out of our usual price range. I doubted whether this card was going to get much of a workout.

For dinner we managed to find a simple Mexican restaurant away from the centre. It was a Saturday night, and we were the only ones there. I guess everyone else wasn’t being as thrifty as us. We loved our economically-priced tacos and chalupas.

 

We organized a self-guided day trip to Volcan Masaya, a short bus ride away. We were dropped at the entrance gate as it opened and were lucky enough to score a lift to the crater in a minibus with the rangers. It was a road all the way to the top, so we didn’t miss out on much. Smoke was pouring out of the main crater, which brought with it a lovely rotten egg smell. Mouth-breathing was a must.

 

A neighbouring, plant-filled crater offered the opportunity to walk the entire way around the rim, although it wasn’t exactly sign-posted. We opted for the most direct route, which clearly was not the easiest (or probably most popular) route. For 45 minutes we were scrambling up and down rocky walls and sliding down loose gravel paths, doing our best to not skid down into the crater. Hazy views of the surrounding area didn’t make it worthwhile.

Smoky Volcan Masaya.

As we started heading back down the mountain we were again offered a lift part of the way, to the visitor’s centre. People were so friendly in this country! The centre was well designed and fascinating for anyone interested in volcanoes or ecology. Our interests didn’t extend this far.

 

From the park entrance we caught a local bus back to Masaya, getting off at the final stop. We had no idea where we were (our map didn’t cover this part of the town), so we took a guess and started walking. We ended up in the middle of a sprawling, busy food market, which of course Danny loved. Me, not so much. Too many people, too many weird smells. After escaping the chaos we somehow we landed on the main road in town, and back on our map again.  

 

At this point Danny was ready to head back, so he left to retrace his steps to the bus stop (good luck) while I explored more of Masaya. Walking down towards the malecon (a path around the lake) I was befriended by a local man, about my age, who basically wanted my life story. Question after question after question - I wondered whether he was going to write my biography. I dropped several hints about “meeting my husband” before he finally got the picture (or maybe bored with my life) and left me alone.

 

The malecon was like a ghost town, offering mediocre views over the water and out to Volcan Masaya. The only sounds were from air horns and cheering fans at the large baseball stadium, where it seemed everyone must have been because they weren’t out on the street. Masaya was definitely not on my “come back to one day” list.

 

A long walk took me back through the overcrowded market and up to the bus stop, where I hopped on a bus to Catarina. Here there was a popular lookout filled with every single people in the area who wasn’t at the baseball game. Cafes and food stalls nudged each other out for space along the footpaths, and people were seated anywhere there was a free patch of grass. The views were fantastic, overlooking Apoyo Lagoon far below as well as Volcan Mombacho in the distance. If it wasn't for the thousands of visitors swarming around I could have sat there for hours. Instead I took the obligatory photos and left.

 

Back in Granada I caught up with Danny and we headed off to a restaurant offering a “wine” tasting. My use of inverted commas was to signify that the term was used quite liberally. The first offering was Jamaica wine, which was so sweet it tasted like liquefied lollies. Next was cashew wine, also sweet but more similar to a dessert wine. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t about to buy a bottle of it. The last was made from a local fruit called nancite. Again it was syrupy, perfect for people who like eating honey or maple syrup straight out of the bottle in large quantities. We immediately washed them down with a few cocktails and a plate of nachos, hoping the sugar rush would pass quickly (although our plan was flawed, as the cocktails also rapidly raised our blood glucose levels). Then we headed back to the hostel, with a bag of microwave popcorn and a bottle of wine, to watch a movie over the pool. There's a sentence I have never said before.

Granada, much more picturesque than Masaya.

On our final day I woke early to go for a run. Granada was situated on a large lake, which seemed like the perfect spot to find a car-free, non-cobbled running path. It was. Only the weather took away any enjoyment for me, as all I could concentrate on was taking in my next breath and not inhaling all the sweat that was pouring down my face. Humidity and I were still not friends, even after three months of knowing each other intimately.

 

We heard it was possible to dive in Apoyo Lagoon, so Danny and I made our way out to the water's edge. Fresh-water diving would be a new experience for us and we were keen to discover the differences. We met up with a couple of dive operators but neither were going out today due to strong winds turning the water murky. We were offered the opportunity to go out by ourselves but it didn’t seem worth it (secretly we were terrified at the thought of diving alone). Instead we went for a swim in the crater lake, where the water was wonderfully warm and free of other tourists.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Granada, eating. A huge ciabatta sandwich, fruit smoothie, deep-fried avocado chips, yucca empanadas with madras curry filling, vegetable curry crepe – and that was just for me. We thought we may as well put the discount card to use and load up on foods we didn't see often. I would say I was fairly successful at this task.