Thursday, May 12, 2011

Nicaragua – Rockin it in Granada

The Granada cathedral
We left Managua early in the morning for Granada, happy to get out of yet another Central America capital without any security incidents. Although we were even hesitant about taking a taxi to the bus terminal from that area, as it's mentioned to be careful about the taxis that look for gringo prey. So we didn't get into a parked taxi opposite the Tica bus terminal but flagged a moving one on the main street. One also without a passenger already in it, as they often operate more like a private bus and you pay per person not per ride, so they will stop and add a passengers along the route.

Arriving in Granada was a huge relief: the city looked nice from the very first moment and thankfully we have been informed that it's considered pretty safe for foreigners.
Granada has a long history of construction and deconstruction. It was built in 1524 by the Spanish invaders as an example for the newly conquered lands of Central America to observe the superiority of Spanish architecture and construction skills. It suffered many setbacks by earthquakes and fires (including arson by a crazy American called William Walker who also wanted to take over Central America), but has always been rebuilt and restored. Today, Granada has some of the finest colonial buildings in all of Central America. We actually liked the architecture better than Antigua Guatemala. It is also bigger than Antigua and despite the many tourists still retains somewhat of a local flair – especially once you walk the streets south of parque central. It feels more lived in than touristic.

Posada las Brisas
Our rocking-out "home" in Granada
Arriving in Granada felt a bit like returning to a home base. The last 3 weeks of travel were not always easy and involved a lot of uncomfortable bus rides and "one night stands" in hotels. This also means continually trying to find our way around new towns, always in search of a place to stay and how to continue again. Yes, it can be exhausting without a break. Granada had instantly a good feel to it. We settled in a lovely guesthouse called Posada las Brisas and decided that it was time for us to stay in one place for a while. Las Brisas was recommended to us by a fellow traveler and did not fail to impress us. We really enjoyed staying in this small family run place. We had a big and well equipped patio kitchen for our use. Next to the kitchen are dining table, rocking chairs, hammock and a TV in a partially covered common area. Rocking chairs seem to be the thing here in this we are ready to rock SLOWly and chill out now. The last time we felt this comfortable was in Xela some 5 weeks ago. Yes, it was like "Mi casa es su casa" or should that really be: "Su casa es mi casa?"

Calle La Calzada is quiet at day...
Granada is admittedly touristic and arguably not typical Nicaraguan, but we just loved being here for 6 days and enjoy walking the picture perfect Calle La Calzada street with all the cute restaurants and bars... Incredibly, this town does not go to sleep at 6pm...
...and gets busy at night
quite the opposite: after dark is when Calle La Calzada becomes active with people enjoying al fresco dining, drinks, and even karaoke. Being in a town with nightlife is truly refreshing. We just loved to walk through the scene and people watch. It's been a long time since we could be outside after dark without having to be concerned about a possible robbery…or just witness gated and closed shops with the occasional armed night security guard protecting the more important places.

Horses are often seen in Granada
pulling goods...
We spent the days walking around town, taking lots of pictures of the colorful buildings and activity. Granada is giving Antigua stiff competition as the most picturesque town we've seen in Central America. Granada has a slight edge in terms of buildings but Antigua wins when it comes to the traditionally dressed people – none whatsoever in Granada.
...or tourists
Antigua also wins in terms of climate, it's much more pleasant than the sweltering heat in Granada (although it's been 2 months ago since we were in Antigua but we think is still cooler this time of year as the altitude is much higher). The Granada temperatures are ~35°C (95°F) during the day and not much cooler at night. But with the humidity it feels more like 40°C. It was actually so hot that the ice cream that we bought started dripping down the wooden stick before we managed to eat half of it.
Thankfully there was a light breeze blowing from the lake to help us cool down a bit... not enough though, we must have sweat out a couple liters a day

Funeral Urns at "Mi Museo"
If you have some spare time we recommend visiting the "Mi Museo" Museum. It has a collection of over 5000 pre Columbian pottery pieces and is free to the public. The history of the museums Danish founder is also quite interesting. As he started to collect pottery he was falsely believed to be an antiques poacher wanting to take the historic artifacts out of the country. He actually was imprisoned for a while until he could convince the courts that he was indeed trying to preserve the antique pottery for Nicaraguans. Interesting that after all that he still decided to go ahead and open a museum that does not charge an entrance free. Visit the museums website for more info.

The chicken pimp?
Sounds quite scandalous, eh?
We also stopped at the Choco Museum, which provided a scientific explanation to Julane why Patrick likes Chocolate so much: The Swiss eat the most chocolate worldwide. Its something like 11kilo (24lbs) per person per year. The Choco Museum has informative displays on how this sweet treat is made from the Cacao fruit to the final product. There is also a workshop where people can make their own chocolate, but we skipped that part. And believe it or not: neither of us had any chocolate that day!

Did you know that Nicaragua is famous for cigars? It's actually the number one supplier of high quality cigars to the United States (Cuban cigars are illegal in the US. ie contraband!).
Some people say that the Nicaraguan cigars have now surpassed the Cubans in quality. The majority of tobacco plants in Nicaragua are grown from Cuban seeds though.

Granada is one of two major cigar producing cities in Nicaragua and also home of the company that supplies the Governator with his favorite smoke. Maybe he learned to say "Hasta la vista" down here?

Since Patrick occasionally also likes to puff a cigar, we had to stop by at one of the factories.The term factory is hugely exaggerated though.
It's not easy to roll cigars
In the courtyard of a residence are 5 wooden bench workstations where skilled hands roll the tobacco leaves into round tubes and then place them in wooden moulds which are used to press the hand rolled tobacco leaves into the classical perfect cigar shape. Then after the pressing, they cover the cigar in a very fine tobacco leaf to seal the form and make the perfect smooth appearance.

Patrick also tried making his own cigar, trust me, it is not as easy as it looks! Thankfully one of the ladies gave it a "makeover" by covering up it's roughness with the fine layer tobacco leaf. I guess the quality was not up to par, but he could keep his creation. It now will travel with us waiting for some special spot to enjoy it: maybe once we have something to celebrate (e.g. the ascent to Machu Picchu).

Our first canopy tour
On our 11 year wedding anniversary, we went on a zip line canopy tour– for the first time. The company that runs the tour is 100% Nicaraguan owned and operated. With 11 cables stretching 2000 meters (6500 feet) over a coffee plantation, it was a recipe for fun…especially since we were the first customers that day.

We had three guides for the two of us, one of them took our camera and went ahead of us to take pictures as we zipped along the lines. We literally got the "hang" of it after the first few runs; the guides encouraged us to try "superman" and upside down poses on the next runs... Woooha, flying head down through the trees is a good recipe for an adrenaline rush (and blood rushing into your head).

Check out our video below
(YouTube unfortunately removed the music, so humm along to "Hey Hey We're the Monkees!") 

We are leaving Granada with fully replenished energy tanks, ready to go explore the rest of Nicaragua. So far we are impressed by the friendly people and the scenery.
Our next stop will be the Island of Ometepe. Join us soon for the ferry ride!