Friday, 22nd August
We got up relatively early today considering the day of travelling and late night we had the previous day. I hadn’t paid for the hotel yet so after a free breakfast of pancakes, banana and coffee and being entertained by a cat and a Chihuahua smaller than the cat called Sofia that call the hotel home, I caught a taxi to the shopping centre where I could find an ATM. I got in the cab and sorted out my fare (US$1) to the shopping centre. I was a bit confused when the driver proceeded to stop on the way and pick up another couple of people. I assumed this is how things are down in Nicaragua and it does make sense, to share taxis. Anyway, I got to the shopping centre and found what I needed, an ATM that dispensed US dollars and Nicaraguan Cordobas. They use both currencies here but you usually get a better deal if you pay in US dollars. I decided to get some of both just in case. I then caught another taxi back to the hotel. That’s three taxis so far all for the same distance, pretty much, but three different fares – US$1, US$2.50 and US$10. It’s pretty much a gamble of your foreign on how much to pay.
Back at the hotel, we packed up our luggage and sorted out how we would get to Granada. We only stayed in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, for the night as it was where the bus stopped and it was too late to move on the same day. There’s not much here to keep you here and what we wanted to see of Nicaragua was further south with Granada a stop on the way. It is much hotter here than what we have come from in Guatemala. No need for jeans or jumpers in Nicaragua I think. Collectivos run from Managua down to Granada, about an hours journey and they go from a central pickup point when full. We caught a taxi, again same distance but a different amount for the fare, to the ‘bus station’ and were immediately set upon by bus operators vying for our coin. Some tried to take our luggage to make us go with them and we had to ‘bat’ them away forcibly. To be honest there wasn’t much to choose from in the buses so we hoisted our bags onto the roof of one and jumped inside. We stopped on the way numerous times picking up and dropping off, as is the fashion with these collectivos. There are no distinct stops, they just stop where you need them to. The fare was US$1 each for the entire journey which dropped us by the central square in Granada.
Upon arrival we set about finding a hostel and in the end settled on the first one we found, a double room in a lovely old colonial building with inside open-air courtyard for US$12 a night. Once we had dropped our stuff we set about exploring Granada and finding some lunch. We thought we would only be here one day so wanted to check it out. Granada is an old colonial city with the usual central square, cathedral, pastel coloured buildings and tiled roofs. The city of Granada was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and was the first real European city in mainland America. Granada was not only the settlement of the conquest, but also a city registered in official records of the Crown of Aragon, and the Kingdom of Castile in Spain. This meant that it was an important city and the sister capital city to Antigua in Guatemala to the north during the colonial time.
We wandered around the central square, filled with children seemingly on their last days of school and ready for some kind of parade, and passed by the brightly yellow coloured cathedral with ‘chicken buses’ parked outside (for the school kids I think). Further along we found a street of restaurants in a pedestrian zone where we stopped for a bottle of Nicaraguan beer (Tona) and some lunch. We then walked further down this street towards the expanse of Lake Nicaragua, the 19th largest lake in the World and the largest in Central America. When we got close we saw why people don’t swim here. It’s not that it’s got industry on the banks or anything to physcially stop you, just the rubbish and clouds of flies swarming around. You have to close your mouth to stop eating them and needless to say we didn’t stop for long here. We quickly walked back to the main central area to chill out at our lovely hostel and plan some onward movement. I also tried my luck at a Nicaraguan barber – Garay’s. Judging by the size of the trophy in the corner, they now their business. The barbers was the same setup as the hostel but in place of hammocks around a central green, open-air courtyard, there were the barber chairs. They did a ‘rapdio’ job and about five minutes after walking in densely hirsute, I walked out leaner on top, more suitable for the climate. My Spanish did little in there as I haven’t yet mastered the art of ordering a haircut then embarking on small-talk of the type common in barbers. Maybe my next haircut will be more discursive.
We had dinner in the hostel made up of provisions I had bought for the bus journey from Guatemala. They fed us on the bus so we had no need for this food. It made for a decent dinner though. In chatting with a tour operator in the hostel, I discovered a volcano near Granada that’s worth a look and maybe a chance of seeing some red hot lava so we decided to stay another day to do this tour here before moving on to the island of Ometepe and a few days of island relaxation on the side of another volcano. You cat n’t away from volcanos here.
Saturday, 23rd August
The light and noise (no windows, just iron bars) from the street woke us up early and I set about trying to find a tour operator that would take a lone traveller up a volcano for a good price. Kirsty opted out of this one as the gases at the top probably wouldn’t be best for her lungs. I ended up booking a tour through the hostel, the night-watchman last night who I got chatting to offered me a tour for a good rate so once I knew this was the tour I wanted to do I took him up on the offer.
The tour didn’t leave until 3pm so we had a few hours of lazing around in the hostel. We have a couple of rocking chairs in our room, which make for good relaxed, rocking, sitting. Rocking chairs are everywhere here, it’s as if they were invented here or something. In looking into it, Granada it known for volcanos and rocking chairs, cropping up all over the place, even in bars. I then rocked away in my chair, watching Arsenal play Everton (streamed from the UK), revising some Spanish and writing this.
We went out for a bite to eat for lunch at a place near to the Central Square. Granada is hot, deceptively so. That being said we haven’t been in the mood to venture too far in this city so a quick lunch of bean soup (not such a good idea in the heat) was had then back to the hostel. The tour picked me up at 3pm and I was with two others. First stop was at a handicraft market in the town of Masaya, actually a far bigger town than Granada by a magnitude of three but much less visited. All except for this handicraft market it seems. You can pick up any kind of Nicaraguan souvenir here but nothing really grabbed me so I left without having made any purchases. They had us stop there for almost an hour, far too long in my opinion. I can get round the average souvenir market in around 5-10 minutes I reckon. The next stop was at the Masaya Volcano National Park.
In 1979, Masaya became Nicaragua’s first National Park, named Masaya Volcano National Park. The National Park includes two volcanoes and five craters and it is the only volcano in the western hemisphere where you are able to drive to the rim. With the volcano still being active the park is closed from time to time when volcanologists deem it necessary. You also have to park your cars facing outwards to if you have to evacuate it can be done easily. The last activity I can find is from 2008 when the volcano erupted spewing ash and steam. Perhaps more violent though, in 2001 the crater exploded and formed a new vent in the bottom of the crater. The explosion sent rocks with diameters up to 60 cm which travelled up to 500 m from the crater. Vehicles in the visitors area were damaged and one person was injured.
The van we were in drove us right to the top of the volcano, this isn’t your classic volcano in it’s shape but it does have an active core with a crater belching out sulphur dioxide amongst other gases. They were quite noxious and it was recommended we only stop there for five minutes as any longer could be damaging. It was incredible to see the gases coming out of the crater and to think that there is a bubbling pool of lava right down inside there. In the dry season you can actually see the red lava when the gases aren’t too thick but alas not today. I had hoped to seem some molten lava but was quite happy with what I saw. We then walked up to a viewpoint from where we could the surrounding countryside and the extent of the volcano complex with the other, inactive volcanos, now lakes or forested craters. You could also see Lake Nicaragua from there, looking almost like an ocean in it’s scale. Next came the bats and a walk through a lava-tube. A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Tubes can be actively draining lava from a volcano during an eruption, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long, cave-like channel. We walked about 150m into this cave and saw bats hanging from the ceiling in clumps and as we walked out some were starting to emerge to feed in the darkness of the night. That was the tour completed and I got dropped back at the hostel around 8pm; a great afternoon tour.