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.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

iced in

We interrupt this slow and sunny meander through Nicaragua to bring you our current reality.

It's February. I so remember, not so long ago, that there were some days in February where the kids could romp without jackets in the clear sunshine. Not happening this year. (orlastyear)

What makes the record breaking low temperatures worse is that the marina is under construction. This is month 3 of what was supposed to be a short project. The docks are a hazard with boards and tools and wires everywhere. The lights have been broken. And then last week... the fresh water system crapped out. That was the final breaking point for me. We had been house sitting and I asked the dear friend whose house we were sitting in if we could stay. And she said yes. So this week we abandoned the boat in the sub-zero temps and played house. And I was so crazy grateful to have these friends who took us into the warm fold of their family and took care of us in the worst of it. It was a slumber party that lasted several days, full of good food and friends and sledding and kids playing non-stop. Oh, and hot showers and laundry.

We're back on the boat now. It's still in the single digits outside tonight. And we still don't have water. And the 10-day forecast is...well...depressing. But this is our home. Iced in and frigid, but still home sweet home.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Strolling Granada

Granada is snuggled in the crook of Lake Nicaragua and the majestic Mombacho volcano. The days are hot, but tempered by the ever present breeze churning off the lake. And clouds always hover on the top of Mombacho no matter how clear and sunny it is.

The town is easily walkable, but walking comes with a dash of caution. First, there are the "sidewalks". The sidewalks come in 3 styles, balance beam, obstacle course, and death drop. The balance beam sidewalks are narrow and require everyone to march along single file like a 2nd grade class. The obstacle course comes from any sized sidewalk being littered with potholes, rubble, stray dogs, or trash. And the death drop is when the sidewalk suddenly changes levels and you're forced to walk up some steps and suddenly you are 6 feet up and there's a sheer drop to the street below. Any of these sidewalks can be combined, so you might have a balance beam death drop. Or you could encounter an obstacle course balance beam. The there's the fact that many of the sidewalks are clad in a patchwork of tiles. Yes, oh so lovely, but also sadistically slippery when wet.

All of this means that often the safest place to walk is in the street.

(phone photo)

Crossing the street takes skill. It kind of made me wish I played more video games in my life, then I might have the dexterity to dodge oncoming traffic and livestock. Amanda coined the strategy quickly, never cross at a corner because then you need to dodge traffic from four different directions. It's always better to cross in the middle of the road so you only need to look 2 ways and then run for your life. The kids got really good at dashing across the street and then jumping straight up 6 feet onto the slippery tiled sidewalk. See, it's PE class! At least the drivers in Nicaragua are courteous, they always give a gratuitous honk on their horn before they run you down. On the whole, it's not as bad as it sounds because there just aren't that many cars in town. Most people walk, or bike, or go by horse. Lots and lots of horses.

Usually the first stop in Granada for visitors is the Merced Church Tower. Pay your $1 and climb the spiral staircase up and up to the bell tower for a fabulous view of the town.

(phone photo of Naia and I and a fellow tourist taken by Amanda)

Ironically Zach who is normally not a fan of heights, really loved the bell tower and Naia who is usually fearless was not happy at all with the heights. Never a dull moment. Zach took some nice photos from up top. I love how where I was always shooting up and out, he took a different point of view and looked down.

Aside from the unpredictable sidewalks and colorful doorways there are the churches. So many churches, and each one more beautiful than the next. I never got the chance to learn much about them, my excuse being that traveling alone with kids doesn't allow one to really delved deep into matters historical and intellectual. But it sure was pretty.

My only regret about Granada is that I didn't spend twice as much time there strolling around, getting lost, finding new color clad streets to wander down.  Even with the death drop slippery patchwork balance beam sidewalks, it's someplace I could spend hours and hours strolling around.

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