10/27/2007, Grenada, Nicaragua
After having a great time in Leon and meeting some interesting people, I have headed back down to Grenada for the weekend. Leon is great during the week as young and vibrant university students fill the streets, markets, and local hot spots. However, Grenada is simply too charming of a place to stay away. So, I am back in Grenada, staying at the Bearded Monkey hostel, and already having a great time with various travelers from Australia, Germany, U.K, Holland, and a few brave Americans.
I'd like to say a special thanks to Wayne and all the guys at Zoom Bar. I spent the majority of this Saturday hanging out with some fellow Americans, who like me, can't get enough college football. Wayne and Ramon make a wicked ½ pound bacon, blue-cheese burger, and I appreciate the hospitality, great football talk, and fun. Who would have ever thought you can catch all the college football games AND the World Series in a remote part of Nicaragua!! What a relief to get a solid Saturday of football. Unfortunately I seriously doubt this one Saturday will fill the major void I foresee in the near future.
In addition to the football fun, Halloween celebrations made the nighttime activity this weekend especially fun with local parties, crazy street activity, and enough firecrackers to give China a run for its money. Chris and Julie sailed Cisnecito up to the northern part of Nicaragua, secured the boat in a great marina, and headed inland as well, so we will attempt to meet up in the next few days and explore this interesting country together.
10/25/2007, Leon, Nicaragua
After enjoying Grenada and the surrounding areas for a while, I have moved to the northern part of the country, where Leon is located. My plan was to reach into the central highlands and explore those regions, however the rains and floods have been quite strong and travel to that part of the country would be slow, if not impossible. Roads are washed out, power is unreliable, and water supplies are most likely polluted due to the run off. No big deal to me though, just another excuse to come back to this amazing country.
Leon is also a vibrant city, possibly more active than Grenada. Street vendors, horse carts, and taxis el loco are abundant. Simply walking through the streets and markets is enough to force an afternoon ciesta. Interestingly enough, Leon is one of the oldest cities in all of Central America, founded in 1523 by Don Francisco Cordoba, the famous Spanish conqueror. Senor Cordoba also founded the beautiful city of Grenada to the south, so he left his Spanish colonial mark in a fairly large way. Cordobas are now the national currency, for obvious reasons. 19 Cordabas is equivalent to one U.S. dollar, and 11 Cordobas buys a can of local beer in the market. Full blown meals in restaurants, cafes, or sodas range from $2 to $6 dollars, drinks and tip included. I have thoroughly enjoyed eating out the majority of the time, which is something I do not regularly do in the states, unless it is at Costco or the $2.99 Subway weekday special. I tend to seek out local places where the Leonese meet , menus are nowhere to be found, and lines are long. These places are noisy, crowded, and often times chaotic. A solid meal of rice, beans, fried or grilled chicken, yucca, and fried plantains normally run under $2.50 or so. This is generally a safe rule for hygiene issues as well, due to the food being very fresh, hot, and eaten by many. Although, I have had a few bad tacos in my day. It is all part of the experience.
In the center of town is a nicely sized park and large cathedral. My small hotel is conveniently located just outside the center park, so I spend the majority of my time in this area. Ruben Dario, the famous Nicaraguan poet is buried in the cathedral, although I have yet to find his grave despite searching for hours. I can only think of the De Vinci Code as I walk around the cathedral, my head titled high, and a confused look on my face. I normally take shelter here from the hot sun and pollution from 1 pm until 3 pm. The air is cool inside, it is somewhat dark, and the structure is breathtakingly beautiful with wonderful arches, old paintings, and chilling acoustics. A few times female choirs sung classic hyms in the side wings, sending harmonious Spanish melodies through the holy building. These were some of the most special moments I have had in Nicaragua. Young students can be heard playing soccer in the square just outside the church, a reminder to me that this is just another normal place to the Nicaraguans, similar to the park in Moraga, or Scottsdale.
I plan to continue enjoying my time here in Leon for a few more days. I may return down to Grenada for the weekend, stopping in Managua along the way, but it depends on my mood, and what I feel like doing. It has been a great joy to be on my own, decide where I go, how I do it, and when. And this afternoon, I will lay low in Leon.
10/22/2007, Masaya, Nicaragua
Volcanoes have always intrigued me and I continue to find them fascinating. They exhibit the greatness and raw power of Mother Nature, and greatly affect millions of people living in various parts of the world. Central America is packed and scattered with volcanoes, one of which steeply towers over Grenada, Masaya, and Managua. Best of all is the fact that the volcano is still alive and well, which made for a great day of exploration and excitement.
I left the sleepy and mellow hostel early in the morning. I opened my creaky wood door with no plan, intention, or agenda for the day. In fact, the only reason I got up and walked outside was to pay a visit to the shared banos across the way. I knew I wanted to visit the volcano, but was waiting for a weather window to go through with it. A small outdoor courtyard was located just outside my closet sized room, and shined bright and alive with brilliant sunshine. I squinted as I slowly slugged my way across the courtyard in my boxer shorts and bed head hairdo. Well, I guess I'll hit that volcano today.
I packed my small Northface pack, grabbed my water, and headed out for a quick and cheap breakfast of rice, beans, eggs, and coffee. Make that two cups of coffee please, I am climbing a volcano today. Volcano Masaya stands just over 1000 meters high and is easily accessible from the Interamericana highway, the main road that connects Grenada, Masaya, and Managua. I jumped on the expresso bus and asked the driver to drop me off at the Volcano park entrance, about 30 minutes outside of town. The expresso bus is the fast bus, and fast they go. They are drastically underpowered diesel buses that seat approximately 20 people, but somehow make room for 30, along with all the junk each passenger brings along. Once the bus gets up to speed they generally don't slow down for anything or anyone. So, they habitually blast the horn as they race past side streets, warning pedestrians that they are coming. So, if you hear a horn in Nicaragua, get the hell to the side of the road.
The hike to the top of the peak was incredible and provided stunning views of the lava flows, crater, and surrounding nature. Despite it being a 7 kilometer uphill battle, I enjoyed every minute of it. I proudly reached the summit in 1 hour and 46 minutes which included a short stop at the visitor museum which was entirely in Spanish. Obviously I didn't stay long there and hit the road quickly thereafter. The crater emits smoke, gases, and ash that would make any person nervous, including me. Nicaragua simply doesn't have safety standards to that of the U.S, so entering at your own risk took on an entirely new meaning. In fact one sign at the top instructs people to hide under their cars if rocks or lava shoot out of the crater. Sweet. Andrew aint got no car to hide under...just a backpack full of bananas and granola bars.
I was shocked by the rawness of the crater and the intense activity. I was able to walk right up to the side of the crater and look down into the scary, deep hole. If only I had a ring to throw inside and free the world of all evil.
I devoured two bananas, three granola bars, and a can of fruit juice for lunch and sat at the top for a few hours enjoying the natural pyrotechnic show. The walk back down was actually worse as my left big toe has been giving me problems since I blasted it on a piece of concrete when walking home a few nights ago...the same toe involved in a minor bowling accident last January. Sometimes you just never get a break.
I made it back to Grenada in time for a quick dinner and fell fast asleep to images of lava rock, exotic plants, and plumes of white smoke.