Published: May 16th 2008May 15th 2008
The Crown Jewel...
Here is the Crown Jewel of Granada, the Cathedral. It was repainted in its current colors in 2001
It's now been a few days that I've been in Granada, able to see what changes have or have not occurred in this Spanish Colonial city in the country of Nicaragua. With this observation, I can say there are two Granadas...the one of hope and that INTUR (the Nicaragua Tourism Agency) and the one that remains much of what Nicaragua still is...waiting in desperate hope of a better tomorrow.
The city of hope...Granada has the Calle de la Calzada. This is a large pedestrian street going from the central park to the lake. On the park, there is the city's "crown jewel", the large and bright yellow-and-red painted Cathedral. It is the traditional Spanish Colonial style, as is much of the historic center of the city. As you walk down the Calzada and its brick-lined street, you see the long line of decorative lightpoles, all working at night. You see some palm trees and flowers along the Calzada, all designed in mind with the tourist visit. Two years ago when I was here, I don't remember the street lights and the street itself was still undergoing a lot of repair (which is still the case further down the street past
Waiting on hope...
A sign all is not well in Granada...the park with broken and long since used park equipment.
the renovated part, we'll get to that) and there were very few restaurants or shops along the Calzada. In the evening, you can even sit out on the plaza itself with the tables and chairs set out by many of the restaurants. Last night, I decided to try sitting outside and was pleased to NOT be approached too many times by people selling whatever and/or asking for change. It did happen, but not nearly in the numbers I would have expected. Maybe that's only because it's still early in the tourist attraction game for Granada. Perhaps when there are more tourists, more street sellers will be attracted to the street. It is interesting to see the restaurants and shops that are here and how they were built into the existing buildings. The buildings usually had few windows and just the door to the entrance. Some of the more basic shops didn't add windows or other entrances to the building and, while it works, can give the impression you're walking into someone's private home as opposed to a business open to the public. Some of the others, though, spent some money and put in windows to seem more welcoming to the
When you're ready for tourism...
Here is on el Calle de la Calzada, the tourist developed part that is slowly getting better.
public - especially an American or Western European public more expecting to be able to look in or out. Also, the restaurants really are picking menus to appeal to the tourist that is coming; there isn't much in the way of traditional Nica cuisine (to the extent it exists). You're much more likely to find burgers and pizza. Right now, I will also say the restaurants are much more geared to the casual palette, which makes sense when your tourist at the moment is much more likely to be one coming here for the cheaper trip and thus less likely to spend relatively large sums on a meal.
Even with these improvements in the last two years, it's still a quiet area. The number of shops to be at is still fairly sparse, so the shopper won't be doing much purchasing of souvenirs quite yet. You'll still have to go to the artesian town of Masaya about a half-hour away for those items, at least until enterprising people set up a shop here. If the level of progress that has occurred thus far is an indicator of time for more improvement, I think Granada is still 2-3 years away
Up the Steeple...
The walkway was a spiral staircase, and very narrow. Barely room for one person to get by. Don't be afraid of heights!
from hitting anything along the lines of "hot-spot" (metaphorically speaking...it already is a hot city temperature-wise!) What will be the biggest indicator, though, is when the first chain hotel opens in the city and very possibly on the Calzada. Granada will then have hit the big-time...Of course, I think Granada's attraction at the moment is that it isn't all built up and "touristy". The people who are coming here are doing so exactly because it's not
Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. It also is still significantly cheaper than Costa Rica, which is a draw. In fact, I've heard that Costa Rica is justifiably concerned about losing tourists to Nicaragua because Costa Rica is expensive - it's basically the same pricing on everything as in the States even in San Jose which is less of a tourist draw than the surrounding areas. I've actually wondered, though, how "little tourist attractions" such as Granada that draw the tourist looking for "quaint and cheap even if a little rough on the edges" progresses to a tourist attraction that brings the more "main-stream" tourist expecting chain hotels but also raises prices. It is really a chicken-or-egg issue: do the big draws come first and wait
On the Roof of God's House...
Here I am on the roof of God's House (well, one of them) in Granada, La Merced Church...Lake Nicaragua is in the background.
to be discovered by the mainstream tourist, or do enough mainstream tourists try something different, maybe on a daytrip from somewhere else, that the chain hotels and big draws decide to follow these crowds? I suppose it depends on a lot on the investor in the hotels or draws. Anyway, it would make for an interesting study someday how these little destinations become bigger ones - especially when it seems the smaller "rough-around-the-edges" locations tend to draw a different tourist than the more developed areas. In all, there is food, basic accommodations, and sights to see and do your picture taking while in Granada, at least for a couple of days.
Now for the other Granada...past the renovated part of the Calzada and the other attractions (such as the few museums and La Merced Church), you can quickly see the other Granada. Granada, in Nicaragua, remains the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere beating out only Haiti. Further down on the Calzada, the street becomes more bare as not enough businesses have reached this far down. The street becomes more disrepaired, and what is being worked on by workers is being done by hand-tools versus any type of
Here's the Church, and Here's the Steeple
Looking to the east, with the Cathedral and Lake in the background.
power tools you'd expect to see for street workers working in the hot sun. While walking down, the buildings quickly start falling into disrepair: paint absent from buildings showing concrete with water stains or worse, buildings in various stages of crumbling, garbage strewn on the side of the road with seemingly little disregard for it, the few people sitting on the side of the road with seemingly nothing to do during the day other than maybe wait for hope to arrive to their neck of the woods, and even further down the open drainage trench. The houses on this part of the Calzada or on the side streets quickly become the ones with tin roofs and little holding up those tin roofs. Here is the Granada and Nicaragua desperately needing those tourist dollars/euros/pounds but with seemingly no way to get them. At the end of the Calzada, you reach Lake Nicaragua. There is a pier and a small plaza area you walk to, but seemingly little life to what you might think would be a tourist draw, a large freshwater lake (in fact, I'm told largest freshwater lake in the world - even with a type of shark that swam up the river and adapted to freshwater. However, others say it is nowadays more myth than actual sharks any longer in the lake). There are a very few locals around only because that's where their day takes them. Their is no real beach, and what is at the lakeshore also has trash and no discernible beachfront to enjoy. Thus far, nobody has developed this area into something that people would enjoy. Perhaps the lake isn't all that great to be in anyway? Pollution? Swampy? Not sure, and I realize that when it is hot like it was when I was there you may not want to be outside all that much anyway. In any case, probably the greatest sign is the small park that is actually present. There were no kids playing, and probably understandably so. The swings and equipment is rusted and in disrepair...little reason for kids to be there - especially if they're needed to be in school (more hopefully) or on the streets trying to sell or beg (less hopefully). After a few pictures, I headed back towards the other Granada...
I was going to bring my camera back to the hostel after some pictures taken. However, I first realized that I hadn't visited La Merced Church nearby the hostel, so I stopped in. There was a gentleman, Mauricio, who greeted me and spoke English. He invited me to look and if I wanted to go up into the steeple asked for either a $1 donation to the 400-year-old-plus churches restoration or $3 if I wanted to go to the roof and steeple. I figured how many times will I get to stand on a historic roof of a church, especially for only $3?. Mauricio got someone to watch the door and up we went. The staircase was spiral and very narrow, certainly not to any code or standard in the last 100 years. We got to the point where we'd go on the roof and Mauricio unlocked the gate. The entry to the roof was tiny requiring anyone to duck to watch their head and ultimately their back as they climbed up through the entryway to the stairs turning and leading further up. We went up on the roof and climbed both up and down some stairs that went over the domed parts of the roof of the main sanctuary, all without any railings. The only thing to hold onto was the side of the building. Now, it sounds less than safe and probably was somewhat, but if you keep your wits about you you'll be fine. Soon we were walking on the main domed/curved part of the roof directly over the main aisle of the sanctuary, with great views of the church itself plus also of the city. We looked around and Mauricio talked some about the churches history and current needs for restoration. Some of those needs were quite obvious on other parts from where we were standing. After a short while, we walked back and headed up the steeple to the highest point in the church. Great views were to be had in all directions, though east was the better view with the main cathedral and lake in the distance. However, there is also the south with the volcano mountains to see too. Mauricio and I talked some about the city and Nicaragua, including the transportation strike I heard about...yes, as part of the "other Granada", or really Nicaragua, there is currently a transportation strike that is supposed to be encompassing all the public transportation in the country. I have noticed no buses ("chicken" or "express" buses) running, though it is supposed to include taxis too. I have seen taxis running, apparently flaunting the strike in return for making money. Mauricio says those drivers are risking angry strikers attacking them, though I haven't seen much evidence of that. Anyway, after a while I had the pictures and views I wanted and we headed down. It did make for a new experience while returning to Granada, Nicaragua.
I now think I will decide how to spend some additional time in Granada. The sights to see seem to have largely been seen, though this would be a good point to get to the handicraft markets in Masaya (which the built up market is) or San Juan de Oriente (where those handicrafts are largely made). To do that, however, I think I will switch to the more expensive hotel that has info and ways to get there. There is where I'll do my work and research on getting possible items for import. I also think I will spend time learning some Spanish by lesson. Yes, I waited well into the trip to do this as opposed to when I was starting. However, my thoughts were originally I would pick it up along the way. I have somewhat but realize I need to hear
it more. That's the part that has challenged me and I didn't plan on, thus needing the lessons at this point. At the hostel there is a woman who is also taking lessons and is recommending the place she's going so I'll walk with her tomorrow morning to start my own. It will be a good thing to do over the next week or so. From that point, it will be time to head to other destinations, including even Managua to meet with some people on their big property developments in the New Nicaragua they are working on and you too can join if so interested.
So here is Granada, both of them for better or worse...I think it will continue to improve if governments or nature doesn't interrupt the progress. It just isn't going to happen today...