Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Mombacho ~ "our volcano"

On the drive from the airport to our house on the very first day in Nicaragua, our driver made a point to pull over as soon as we caught sight off Mombacho.

"That's OUR volcano," he beamed. "That's Mombacho, our volcano here in Granada."

Naia's eyes widened as she gazed at the golden late day sun kissing the slopes of Mombacho in the distance. She stood up in the back seat (our first experience in our month of no seat belts) and craned her neck to look. From then on throughout the trip, she called it "our volcano".

We read many different things about visiting Mombacho and we really weren't sure what to expect. How steep was the climb? Was it slippery? How far exactly? Was it little kid friendly? How were the winds up top? Amanda and Marc and Marc's mom wanted to climb the whole way (because little Gabrielle is still tiny enough to go in the carrier) whereas I knew there was no chance of me herding my 4 year old and 10 year old up on my own. We hatched a plan. We would go check out the base of the volcano at the entrance to the park where there was supposed to be a butterfly reserve, then we could suss out the situation for getting to the top of the volcano and decide whether to give it a go, or whether Marc and Amanda would return without kid (they had a grandma to babysit, lucky ducks!)

We jumped the chicken bus to the bottom of the volcano. There we hopped on some tuktuks that brought us up the hill to the entrance of the park. Plan A fell apart immediately. We were told the butterfly reserve was closed for two weeks. Or forever. Or until Saturday. Nobody was quite sure. But it was closed.

Some fast decisions were made and within a few minutes we found ourselves boarding a monster truck.

Up and up and up the steep volcano we went. At each sharp turn I was grateful not to be coaxing my 4 year old up the steep incline. As our elevation increased, the temperature dropped, the winds picked up, and the clouds started closing in. It is a cloud forest after all. I was happy that I actually thought ahead and packed an extra layer of clothes for Naia or she would have actually been cold. By the time we reached the top we were in pea soup fog, unable to see but a few feet in front of us. We felt our way to the ranger station to get our bearings and decide where to hike.

It was an easy choice, traveling with kids we picked the shortest trail. I may have pushed for it more because I had two kids walking that I was alone responsible for versus one little girl being carried and cared for by three adults. Yes, please, let's take the easiest trail.

Easy was relative. For wee little legs, it was very challenging. Hiking through a cloud forest, the trails are wet, foggy, slippery, and full of ups and downs that were a challenge for a 4 year old. And the pace set by the longest legged members of our party was quicker than she was used to. But you know what? She did it. She rocked it. It took a good two hours or more, slowly but surely she circled the crater of "our volcano".

We got back on the monster truck for the ride down which was even more hair raising than the steep climb up. Bumping and sliding in the very back, little miss was all smiles.

There is an incongruous pit stop half way down the volcano. It's a spot set up for tourists doing the zip lines strung up in the lower forest canopy, so it's pretty yuppie compared to the rustic ranger lodge at the top of the mountain. There's a clean bathroom (score!) and a little cafe.

After hot cocoa and coffee, we were told the monster truck was busy, or broken, or going the wrong way or something. So instead a man told us to jump in the back of his pick up truck. And we did.

It was a fast and wild ride down. The kids were all cracking up while the adults held tight to their little gravity defying bodies.  It was a long and wonderful day journeying by chicken bus, tuktuk, monster truck, our own feet, and pick up truck. All of this to get to the top of our volcano.

Monday, February 23, 2015

day tripping from Granada


Thousands of years ago Mombacho volcano spit up tossing rocks into Lake Nicaragua. There are 365 islands, or isletas, ranging in size. This maze of protected water is home to about 1200 people full time. A mix of Nicaraguans and ex-patriots form this community that is totally within the islands. Everything from an island for school, to an island for church, to an island just for the cemetery.

(aerial photo taken from top of volcano by Amanda's husband Marc. Thanks Marc!)

Hiring a boat to tour around the isletas is one of the must-do things for tourists in Granada. It's all ages friendly, it only takes about 2 hours, and there's even some great little restaurants on their own pieces of island where you can get a bite to eat. We went to a place called El Pirata, where the kids declared they had the best gallo pinto (rice and beans) from the whole trip. And we ate a whole lot of gallo pinto.

Oh, and there are monkeys in the isletas. One little island with just a few palm trees and a handful of capuchin monkeys. The monkeys are kept happy and healthy and fed by the local government as sort of a tourist attraction and all of the local guides call them "cappuccino monkeys".

Naia and Zach loved this little day trip because being on a boat around water people felt the most like home.

The butterfly reserve is right in Granada, but it's a little tricky to find. First you need to get to the town cemetery, either by walking or taking a taxi. A taxi can not take you to the Butterfly reserve directly, in fact your taxi driver will probably have no idea where it is. We got in the cab of an old guy who lived in Granada his whole life and he didn't have a clue. He wasn't happy with just taking us to the cemetery though, he made it a quest to figure out where exactly the butterfly reverse was. He stopped at no less than three different friend's homes in Granada to inquire, and asked other random locals on the street. All shrugs.

Finally he acquiesced in dropping us at the cemetery for phase two of the short but zany journey to see the butterflies. At the cemetery there are a couple of tuktuk drivers, you pay $1 and they zip you down a very bumpy dirt back road about 2.5 miles to the reserve. The road is a nice walk too if you don't have hot, thirsty little kids with you.

The reserve itself is simple but beautiful, a peaceful little haven from the bustle of Granada. There are walking trails, gardens, and then a netted in butterfly breeding area. It's a lovely place to just stroll and sketch and have a quiet day.


This was one of those places that could have been easy to get to, but we made it complicated in our ignorance. You can jump a cab for about $7 door to door from Granada to any of the hostels that ring this volcanic crater lake. And then there's the bus. You can walk to the center of Granada and take a local bus that will drop you NOT at the lake, but on the side of the road at the base of the dormant volcano in which the lake lies. From there we started walking, because according to the many highly unreliable internet sources we consulted it was an "easy walk" to the lake from there. So we started, uphill, in the heat. Up and up and oh! There's another bus, quick, flag it down. It's a good thing the bus found us because for little kid legs it was a long way to the top of the volcano where the bus dropped us off at a little town. Ok, here we are...? No, not quite. Now we had to walk, down and down and down the other side of the volcano into the crater.

My little girl was a trooper, doing it all on her own wee legs. It was a welcome sight to find the Monkey Hut hostel where we were able to buy a day pass to hang out on the pebbly little  beach and play in the water for the day.  The water was calm and warm and perfect for swimming. The kids were so excited to be swimming "in a sleeping volcano!"


Masaya is known as the market town. There are two different markets. First there is the gringo market which is in the old fort. It has the sort of tourist trinkets your friends and family expect you to bring home for them.

And then there is the local produce market, where you can buy fresh fruits and veggies for a few cordobas, which was great for stocking up our little house back in Granada.

We did a lot of walking all over the town (again Naia was a trooper walking on her own the whole time.) Masaya isn't as nice to stroll around as Granada. There is so much trash on the streets and sidewalks, and it's much more crowded.

Wandering the quieter back streets of Masaya we found the hammock making district.  At the end of that neighborhood is the crater lake that the town sits on, in the shadow of the active Masaya Volcano.

All of these places are easy to get to from Granada, and renting a house there was a great way to have our little adventures, but then have a place to come back at the end of the day. The kids had space to nap and play, we could do laundry and make snacks and just hang out. It was nice to have a home away from home.

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