Tag Archives: traveling

A monkey in Granada, Nicaragua.

Central America 2017: Granada

I met Patricio, my guide, early the next day after his police encounter the afternoon before. Patricio was resigned to the way things are here in Nicaragua, and neither of us discussed it. We spent the morning walking around the old historic city and central plaza. Next, we met our city guide in a horse drawn carriage and continued to see other historic sites. Then she met up with her teenage son, who replaced her, and he took us several miles out along a boulevard running along the shoreline of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. I soon learned it is the only lake in the world with sharks. That is easy to understand, as the continents we know came from a narrow strip of land mass, and millions of years ago there was an open ocean, teeming with sharks, when volcanoes began creating a connection between North and South America.

We saw a small boat with a captain waiting for us on a small dock, and off we went in his long, narrow motor boat. After the hot, humid weather in Leon and Granada, being on the water was refreshing. We passed small tropical islands, most privately owned, with luxury homes. Our captain pointed out one owned by the ex-president of Honduras (a woman), then another island where the largest coffee grower in Nicaragua lived. Around these islands, a few men were diving for fish. We went to another nearby island that was home to spider and cappuccino monkeys. They were used to people feeding them, and they would swing far out on low branches, waiting for treats which they took from your hand. Another island had many moetazuma oropendula, yellow tailed tropical birds. They build sock-like nests in ceiba trees. This tree has a fruit like a date, and it is used in a drink to aid the stomach.

We walked back to town, which was about five miles. It was like walking in a desert, and we were delighted to find a place in town selling cokes. Some places in Nicaragua are very warm.

I found a tiny store with a couple of hand painted postcards. I bought them, and next I set out to find a post office. Several cobble streets closer to the central plaza was the tiniest post office, with one woman sitting down, and no customers. She got up and went behind the counter, and I wrote and mailed off the postcards. Postcard writing is a tradition that is almost extinct, and I was glad to help keep it alive a little longer.

The famous "tall woman" and "small man" of Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The famous “small man” and “tall woman” of Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

I was ready for a break and headed off to my air conditioned room for an hour’s rest. When I emerged, Patricio was ready to take me on another walk around Granada. We went to a cocoa museum, a hammock factory, and several churches, to study their interiors and history. That evening in particular was a fun time, as we chose an outside café for dinner, in a busy area lined with restaurants and entertainment. The musicians came to the people: there was a trumpet trio, a hip-hop group of four or five young performers, a Mariachi band, and finally, to Patricio’s delight, he was able to show me La Gigantnay and El Enano – the tall woman and small man. They are famous characters of Nicaragua, and the lady walks on stilts.

Later that evening, we stopped at the Central Plaza where a large crowd was listening to poets, and winners of the International Writers Conference were reading poetry and some music lyrics. It was a safe, well-mannered crowd.

Street music performers in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Street music performers in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Granada was an active, busy place for visitors, whether native or international. The resorts and hotels offered a great place to rest and relax in my free time. The cities were good places to stop and sightsee when not hiking in the mountains, which were much cooler. Diversity was good and a great educational opportunity. What a blessing it is to travel and explore new places!

(posted January 16, 2018)

Monotombo, the smoking volcano, with the volcanic lake Oxolotam in the foreground. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Monotombo, The Smoking Volcano

The hills and mountains of Nicaragua are beautiful and cool. Leon, where I was staying, is a lovely place, but too hot. Even Patricio, my guide and a native year-round resident of Honduras, found Leon too warm for him. We went to the ruins of the old colonial capital of Nicaragua, Leon, but there was little to see. A very small museum of early people from the Aztec were found here and a few artifacts from the Spanish conquistadors.

The Royal Road, remains of the government house, and the flat ground under the fort had been on a small knoll. The grand city collapsed because of the revolt of the indigenous people. They endured abuse; some were handcuffed and dragged down the Royal Road to keep all the others in line. Then 21 priests who complained to the leader Cordoba about the terrible treatment were killed while sleeping in their beds. Soon after, the volcano erupted and sent the people fleeing. We walked around the old site and up on to the knoll of the old fort. There was a great view of Monotombo, the smoking volcano, and the volcanic lake Oxolotam.

Thatched huts in Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Thatched huts in Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Patricio and I stopped for lunch at a local roadside café for fritos questo, made with homemade tortillas and filled fresh chopped tomatoes, onions, and mozzarella cheese. The café had a thatched roof. Many of the homes in this area have thatched huts, where the owners can sit under the shade. Thatch is sold at places along the highway.

We drove to Masaya National Park to see the active volcano Masaya. You can smell the sulfur fumes from quite a distance and see the smoke rising for miles away. As we approached, I could hear the raging river of red hot lava before I saw it. Far below, inside the large cauldron, was the bubbling river of lava. It is amazing to see the power and force of nature at work. When the wind changed direction and the fumes blew towards us, it stung our eyes and hurts our noses—not  a safe place to stay for very long. The warmth around the vast volcano is a snake’s paradise. There are road signs that say, “Watch out for snakes.”

We were on our way to Granada, Nicaragua, when Patricio was stopped by the police, our worst fear. One police officer came to the car. Patricio had everything in order: his driver’s license, registration, ID card, travel documents, insurance card. We both had our seat belts fastened and he was going below the speed limit. The police officer got in the car to see what we were carrying—only my bag and Patricio’s duffle bag. He could find nothing wrong and Patricio was quiet, polite, and patient. I just sat and watched.

The other police officer came up to the car and told Patricio to get out of the vehicle. They walked a few yards behind the car and stood under a tree by the road. They were there a long time talking. Finally Patricio came back and got in the car and was very mad.

He said, “I hope they get diarrhea!” I tried not to laugh, as I know he had all he could do to control himself. He had had to give them money. We know why he was stopped. He had a Honduras license plate, it was a nice new van, and it had all the marks of being a tourism vehicle. That meant easy money for bad police.

Patricio, a nice man, who was usually very polite and mild mannered, was not the same for the rest of the day. He had been so meticulous about doing a good job, never passing, never speeding, and following the laws. That was why he was so mad.  It was very near Granada and the end of another day. I hoped Patricio would calm down.

That night, after settling in to my room, I met him at a café in the main plaza and we had a native dinner. Patricio had his favorite vigorom, cooked papaya leaves on the bottom then layers of chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, fried pork skins, yucca, and squeezed lime juice. I had fresh vegetables and a stew with chicken and rice. Thankfully, our next day was a hiking day and Patricio didn’t have to drive.

(posted November 14, 2017)

View from the bell tower of the Church of the Ascension, in Leon, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon is a beautifully restored historic town, once the capital of Nicaragua. It was so hot that I found myself persevering to stay focused on why I had come here to learn about the city. My physical and mental state reminded me of only one other place: of being at the site of ancient Troy while my guide sat, and my daughter and I stood, under a small olive tree and he told me about Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in 113 degree heat, and oh did I seem distracted!

Leon was built in 1610, after the old city was ruined by a nearby volcano. My guide Patricio and I walked the clean narrow streets, passing though a tiny new plaza honoring national poets and heroes, to the central market beautifully restored from a grand historic block of buildings. The market was well maintained, and the produce was fresh and clean.

We went to the Church of Ascension, which is still the center of daily services and activities. It is also the tallest building in the region. Patricio and I went around the block-sized grand edifice and found a side door to the basement, and there a woman was selling tickets to go to the roof of the building. We walked around the block to the opposite side of the building where a man sat by a tiny door. We gave him our tickets and he opened the door where a walled-in, narrow stone staircase went up in front of us, going three levels to the bell tower.

There we were, alone on the bell tower, and able to look out on Leon below us. An attendant soon appeared and told us the history of the Basilica. It took 113 years to complete it. In the 1700s, a French pirate burned it for the gold. The local people built 7 tunnels to connect underground to the other churches in the plaza, since there were 16 Roman Catholic churches in Leon.

View from the roof of the Church of the Ascension, in Leon, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

View from the roof of the Church of the Ascension, in Leon, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The attendant asked us if we would like to go out onto the roof, and we agreed and removed our shoes as requested. The roof was whitewashed to a pristine white. There were 36 medium-sized domes on the roof, and we had to carefully walk around them to focus on the spectacular view of Leon and 11 volcanoes in the distance. It was a beautiful clear sky and we had visibility for many miles.

We left the basilica and walked across the central plaza to a shell of a large granite building, surely grand at one time, but now in disrepair. There were no signs for public entry but Patricio, my faithful guide across Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, said we could go inside. It was the Museum of The Revolution. This turned out to be quite an experience! A few men were sitting on a bench placed on the bare ground of what would have been beautiful inner gardens. As we walked up the wide interior granite steps, a man sat at a small table facing us. Patricio asked if we could look around.

The man had no tickets and no change, but he still charged us a fee. We stood by the desk and in a few minutes, a man took us to a large empty room with 10 – 12 framed newspaper photos, which were not matted or labeled, but just leaning against the walls of the room. The man began by pointing out one newspaper photo from the 1920s of Augusto Sandino, a great hero of the people of Central America. He had worked for the United Fruit Company and traveled to several countries including Mexico. There he met the revolutionaries, Chi Guevara, and the Castro brothers from Cuba. Sandino was in power 20 years and assassinated by General Somoza (supported by the US) later killed by Ernesto Lopez. General Somoza’s son became President and fighting continued until 1979—the last revolution. The US was involved in this revolution, with William Samson being the US and Marines’ involvement.

Learning about the Revolution in Nicaragua from a former guerrilla fighter. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Our man took us to another room with very high ceilings—at one time this was a grand place, but not even wallpaper or paint or a stick of furniture remains. Again, leaning against the walls were a few framed newspaper photos. As the man was talking about one of the photos, the man from the rickety table came in and told the man he had spent enough time with us—now it was time to go. The man ignored him and continued to tell Patricio and me about the revolutionary history of Nicaragua. The last photo he showed us was of him and four other men, including Daniel Ortega.

They were the Sandinista guerrilla fighters of the revolution, and I was now talking with one of them. The photo was from the 1970s, when they were all young men; he was 19. Now he is in his 50’s and Ortega is President of Nicaragua. Leon was the first place to start the revolution, and it is still a place where liberals and poets gather today. The former Sandinista guerrilla fighter shook my hand, and Patricio took a photo of us together. It was a different museum experience—one that I will remember.

In the plaza, I passed a large bell that is rung only on Independence Day in September of each year. It was mid-day and over 100 degrees. I stopped at El Cabararo, then San Francisco Church (the oldest church in Leon), and then back to the former nunnery, to my air-conditioned room for a short reprieve before exploring further. Early mornings and evenings are best for outside adventures in this heat!

(posted October 31, 2017)