Charming Granada

Trip Start Feb 05, 2009
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Trip End Feb 23, 2009


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Where I stayed

Flag of Nicaragua  , Granada,
Monday, February 9, 2009

We arrived at the Hotel Terrasol in Granada by 10 pm.  Although we don't often book our hotels ahead of time, in this instance we did because of the lateness of our flight. I think as I get older I'm planning ahead more!  Less stress that way.

I found the Hotel Terrasol on TripAdvisor, a website that provides advice to travellers from other travellers.  It had gotten rave reviews and was only $40 US a night, including breakfast.  The Terrasol is a small, charming colonial-style hotel located in the centre of Granada.  It is owned and operated by Victor and Katya Chamorro.  High school sweethearts, they were born in Nicaragua, but had spent time California and Costa Rica as well.  Both are veterans in the food industry, Victor being a award-winning executive chef and Katya a bakery manager.  Unfortunately, when we were there the restaurant in their hotel was only open for breakfast because Victor was not well enough to cook.  He had come down with diabetes and pneumonia, had spent three weeks in the hospital and was taking time off to recover.  Too bad for us because TripAdvisor also rated their restaurant as one of the best in Granada.

Granada (population 90,000) is the oldest city in the western hemisphere, renowned for its colonial architecture and ambiance.  Nicknamed "the Great Sultan", it is, according to Lonely Planet, a "Spanish colonial masterpiece".  There are stunning churches aplenty; horse-drawn carriages ply the cobblestone streets.  Massive carved wooden doors, behind which are often lovely flower-filled courtyards with fountains, separate homes and businesses from the outside world.  They are peaceful retreats for all those who enter. 

Outside many of the homes at night, you'll find people in their rocking chairs enjoying the cool of the evening and visiting with passers-by.  The variety in rocking chairs was incredible - it seemed no two were alike.  I thought briefly about buying a rocking chair, but the part about getting it home quickly dissipated my interest.

Granada is located on Lago de Nicaragua; overlooking the city is Mount Mombacho, a volcano that still spews the odd puff of smoke, though it hasn't acted up for a few decades.  The city is relaxed and in many ways, it was like stepping back in time.  Quite the contrast to bustling, noisy Managua.

Martin and I were both excited about meeting up with friends from Seattle in Granada.  We had met Steve and Karen while travelling in Honduras two years prior and had gotten along famously.  We all enjoyed the same sort of travelling and getting off the beaten track.  So it was with anticipation that we awaited Steve and Karen's arrival on the afternoon of our first full day in Nicaragua.  They had taken a red eye flight from Seattle to Houston to Managua to make the best use of their travel time.

One of the first things we did together was take a carriage ride through the streets of Granada with Giovanni or "Johnny" as all the kids called out to him.  We visited the oldest house in Granada, trotted by several churches and stopped at the lake.  Although daredevil Karen wanted to go kayaking, the huge waves made her reconsider.  None of the rest of us were interested in taking on that surf!

We also spent some time in the local market where I bought a ball cap (hats with brims don't bode well in windy weather).  It was interesting that stands in the market were all mixed up together rather than sectioned off according to what they were selling, so a meat stall might be located right next to someone selling flowers.  That was strange.

While out for dinner one evening we met a couple from Osoyoos, BC who had been living in Mexico and were riding motor bikes to Panama.  They had no problems until coming to the Honduras where they were forced to pay a bribe of $300 US in order to be allowed to cross the border.  Needless to say, they weren't impressed.  They did, however, mention that they had loved El Salvador.

One of the highlights of our stay in Granada was a visit to Reserva Natural Volcan Mombacho, home to three species of monkeys, 168 bird species and 100 types of orchids.  It was an interesting excursion that started out with taking a local bus to turnoff to the park.  The buses used for local transport in Central America are old Canadian and American school buses.  Some countries paint them; in Nicaragua they are left orange.  Because I grew up in the country, I took the bus to school every day.  Each time I ride one of those buses I wonder if it was a bus I had ridden as a kid.

Bus rides with the locals are always an adventure.  As the bus travelled down the road, people selling food and other items would approach the bus and circulate through the bus hawking their wares and bartering with passengers.  At the next stop they would leave via the back door.  On every bus there's also the local madman/madwoman preaching or going on about something at the top of his/her lungs.  In this case, Martin kept eye contact with the fellow trying to make out the words which were in Espanol, of course.  (The guy was delighted that someone was paying so much attention to his diatribe and shook Martin's hand when we left the bus.)  I, with my pocket full of balloons, was busy looking for opportunities to make contact with kids on the buses.  It was a lot of fun.

We descended from the bus after about a half hour trip and then took a moto taxi up the road to the park gates.  From there, we were loaded into a big Mercedes truck to begin the steep climb to Mombacho.  At a 40% grade, it's quite a climb!  En route, we stopped at a coffee farm where we could purchase coffee and take in the sights.  Arriving at the top, there was a choice of two trails (one shorter self-guided tour and another longer trail requiring a guide - we opted for the shorter hike).  The views overlooking the lake and Granada were incredible, though it was somewhat chilly on top of the volcano which we really hadn't counted on.

Then I got talked into something I wouldn't normally consider.  A zip line.  I'm terrified of heights, but the others wanted to try it, so I caved.  The truck took us part way back down the hill where we could then take the zip line most of the way to the bottom.

What they failed to tell me was that there were 13 zip lines!  Many of these required braking.  Between braking too hard and having to turn around (and frantically pull myself in so the next person coming along wouldn't take me out) and being very nervous about the heights, my arms and entire body had turned to Jell-o by the end of it all.  I quickly got very weak, couldn't lift myself on to the line to be tethered to it and could no longer break, so on several occasions, they sent along one of their employees (Frank) with me.  Between lines, we stood on small platforms way up in the canopy of the forest - at times there would be 12 or more of us crowded on this tiny wooden structure in the sky.

I must say that the guys who ran the show were very safety conscious.  Between runs, they would ensure we were all harnessed to the platform and were very careful in loading each one of us on to the line and making sure that they were not sending people off too closely together.  They also kept us chickens going at a rate that me as little time as possible to be nervous.  The fellows who accompanied us also took our cameras and took pictures of us.  I found it amazing that even thought there were about three groups of people, they didn't take one shot of someone I didn't know on my camera.  They were also familiar with how different cameras worked and took movies of all us.  Somehow they managed to keep who was with who straight - and they managed it with ease!

Even though I was petrified, I still enjoyed the zip line.  The pictures are evidence in that I have a big smile plastered on my face most of the time.  Of course, I didn't try any of the fancy moves, like Karen and Martin, who played "superwoman" and "superman" and also hung upside down.  Steve and I both stayed upright - and I hung on for dear life!  It was an experience, though I don't think I could be talked into it again . . .  or maybe I could?
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