León and Granada, Nicaragua – From Maltagalpa we took the bus down to León. León was hot – we’d heard it was hot from other tourists we’d met in Honduras who where traveling north, and they weren’t kidding. It hit us like a brick when we got off the bus and we had a very sweaty walk to our hostel, Lazy Bones. We were pleased that the Lazy Bones had a pool and hammocks – there were definitely some lazy afternoons in our future.
We spent our mornings in Leon touring the sights around the city, a few churches, a roof tour of the Cathedral, a so-so art museum and the Heroes and Martyrs museum, which was a bunch of mug shots of Sandinistas taken during the war. It was morbid and haunting – most of solders looked like little boys. As a tourist it’s hard to see that many of the countries we visited were so recently involved in horrific revolutions and civil wars. This exhibit – though simple – really brought that home for us. Some of these guys are probably our taxi cab drivers, waiters, hotel staff or the shoe shiners in the park.
Our afternoons were for relaxation. We discovered a French bakery in León where we had baguette sandwiches and mango juice for lunch. It was so good, we just couldn’t help but eat there every day. We also made use of our hostel and stayed true to its name, and were lazy bones – swimming in the pool and reading in the hammock. The only way that we could deal with the heat was to take it easy.
The “thing” to do in Leon is hike up the Cerro Negro volcano and sandboard down. It sounded pretty cool, and I think it is the only place in the world you can sandboard down an active volcano. I decided that since I still wasn’t feeling well I shouldn’t push it (plus hiking up a volcano in the heat sounded miserable), so I didn’t go. Stuart had to go alone. He had a good time but decided that for the cost – $30 – it wasn’t quiet worth it. Apparently, it takes half the way down to get used to the board and the ride is over pretty quick. But you’re still sliding down the side of a volcano!
We had our first, and hopefully last, bed bug experience our first night at the Lazy Bones. We saw a few really small ones crawling on the bed while we were watching a movie on the laptop – which is actually pretty unusual as bedbugs typically come out in the pre-dawn hours. We both got bit a few times before Stuart managed to kill all the bugs we saw. Then we had to decide: should we stay or should we go? Leaving so late at night would be a big hassle, but getting bit up by bed bugs while trying to sleep is never fun, and what if they crawl into our luggage? Ugh – both options were not appealing.
We ended up deciding to stay. In the night Stuart woke up and killed a couple more bugs but we never saw any after that – so we think the bugs had not actually infested the room yet. They probably just came in with the last guests or on the towels or something – and moving the bed out from the wall might have helped, too. The absolute worst part about traveling for us is the constant worry about those little buggers and I guess we were lucky not to have to deal with them until now.
After Leon we headed to the much more touristic city of Granada. To get there we first had to take a bus to the capital, Managua, then transfer to another bus to Granada. When we got to the Managua station a bunch of taxi drivers offered to take us direct to Granada for a “cheap price.” Yeah, uh, huh – $25 doesn’t sound so cheap when the bus right here costs a couple bucks. Thanks, but no.
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Granada sits on the banks of the very large Lake Nicaragua and there was a nice breeze when we arrived making it was much cooler than León. It was a trick though – the wind died down by the next day and it was just hot as hot as Leon had been.
I immediately liked the charm and feel of Granada – that’s probably because it reminded me of those wonderful colonial towns we had visited in Mexico. It is a really pretty town, but very touristy with lots of overpriced international restaurants (though some were quite good) , and of course, tons of tourists and ex-pats.
Our hostel in Granada was oddly similar to the one in León, the same layout with a pool and hammocks (great: more lazy afternoons). This hostel was even better because it had a free pancake breakfast – yum.
We took a nice walk along the lake and toured the city’s sights. We started with the Inglesia de la Merced which had a nice bell tower with a cool breeze and view of the city. We met a couple from Maine at the bell tower who were thinking of relocating to Nicaragua. They highly suggested visiting the cemetery, so we checked that out next.
It was an impressive cemetery with lots of big, elaborate tombs and, further out in the back, some graves that were marked with just wood sticks with hand written names – the disparity between the rich and poor is even evident in death. During our tours of the city we also visited the Convento y Museo San Francisco – a church famous for its blue facade – but for some reason was white. The museum had a really cool painting exhibit – all about life in Nicaragua in the past and present in this cartoonist Where’s Waldo style.
We met a Canadian couple at the pool and later had dinner with them on the Calle La Calzada, which is very touristy, but still nice because you can eat outside and there is good people watching. We were treated to all kinds of street performance, including a group of breakdancing guys. They had pretty good moves and we were impressed, and then totally blown away when these tough looking guys broke out into a dance routine to Gangnam Style followed by Thriller. Man, it was awesome.
Unfortunately, because the street is chock full of tourists, its also chock full of kids begging for money or selling little flowers or figures that they make out of leaves. Some of them can be really aggressive. Our restaurant’s menu had a notice warning us against giving money to these kids. They are not street kids – they have families, but are sent out on the street to make money because they can make a lot of it on the street.
Being on the street keeps them out of school and exposed to drugs and gangs and we were strongly advised not to support them. We did talk to a few of the kids – it’s hard to ignore them. They knew all the “right” answers to our concerned questions about school and being out late. One rather aggressive kid kept asking me for my food (fyi, we were told that these kids are not hungry – they just want to eat expensive tourist food). It was annoying, but I was more annoyed at the adults that support this than the kids themselves.
We spent one morning doing a boat tour of the islands offshore from Granada. We walked down to the boat dock through a park full of picnicking families. The first boat guy we talked to wanted $10 each for the one hour tour which we knew was way over priced. We got on a tour that was leaving soon for half that amount by walking a couple more feet out the dock. Of course, the Nicaraguan family on our boat paid only 200 cordoba for all four of them (which is $8). It was a nice tour, there are lots of tiny islands with expensive houses and nice hotels on them, and its a really pretty lake.
The next day we took a day trip to the nearby Lake Apoyo, a beautiful volcanic crater lake. We had a nice, cool day swimming and relaxing. The water was the prefect temperature. It was the perfect day, but it went by way too quick. We ran into the Canadians that we dinner with in Granada and they told us that the hotel we were hanging at was actually for sale. It’s a tempting fantasy to buy and run a hotel in such a beautiful location. But we’ve heard that buying property in Nicaragua can be iffy – lots of times the true owner of a piece of land is unclear and people are often sold land that actually belongs to someone else.
We made on overnight detour to Managua before heading out to the Corn Islands. I was concerned about going diving on the islands because of the consistent health problems I was having, so I made and appointment at the newest and nicest hospital in Central America, Hospital Metroplinano Vivian Pellas We checked into our hotel and had lunch at an expensive coffee shop (who in Nicaragua has $4 to spend on a coffee?) and then went to hospital for my appointment at 5pm.
I was greeted by Frances from the medical tourism office and she walked around with me the whole time I was at the hospital. The doctor gave me the A-OK and said I should be fine to dive – unfortunately he didn’t really have a good diagnosis for the pain and we decided to have some labs done just to be on the safe side. He emailed me later that day to let me know the labs came back fine.
While I was there I had a lot of time to chat with Francis. When I told her that we were traveling for seven months she said, “you must be rich.” I tried to explain that at home I’m not rich, but that our money goes a long way in Central America. But it just felt awkward because compared to most people in the world, yes – I am “rich”. Later when we were parting ways she said to me, “I want your life” – how to you respond to that? I felt so guilty.