Boating through the Islands of Lake Nicaragua and the City of Granada

Published: December 20th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Dec 4, 2009

Unlike the USA/CND/JPN, times are far from being “exact” in Latin America. In fact, I don’t even know why there is a bus schedule. We kept missing the bus the day prior to our departure, so we decided to get to the bus stop very early to not miss our transfer in Liberia. Lucky for us, the bus left about 30 min before its “scheduled” time (usually in Latin America transportation is late…not early!). Everyone says the bus to Liberia is only about 90 minutes long. After stopping at every little town hidden in the jungle between Tamarindo and Liberia, we arrived to the Liberia Golden Arches (McDonalds) about two and a half hours later. It was a pretty ride through a little more of Costa Rica. Despite being a more expensive area we have visited, we would love to see more of the country. It was probably one of the most welcoming and tourist-friendly places yet.

Our Tika bus representative told us the Tika bus would pick us up at in front of the McDonalds (an easily identifiable place for foreigners). We decided to grab a snack and wait for our departure. We met up with some backpackers and discussed adventures thus far. A majority of the tourists you meet in Costa Rica aren’t the long-term travelers we had met in more out-of-reach locations. Most were North Americans enjoying a 1-2 week vacation. We sat with a few Canadians and two Californians that were traveling together. They had spent the majority of the time around the beaches of Tamarindo.

We also met a couple from Botswana. We talked about past travels and getting around in Africa. We shared a lot of the same perspectives and we had fun talking through our next adventurous bus ride to Nicaragua (especially making fun of seven European girls who just didn’t quite understand why they had to wait in line to go through this “immigration” process to get to Nicaragua - very funny).

The bus arrived to McDonalds about an hour and a half later than advertised. Normally we may be a little worried, but since there was a group of us, we relaxed and were entertained by a half-meter long iguana.

Our bus arrived to the border two hours later than predicted. The line to process through was additionally about an hour and a half. Consequently, we barely processed through before their closing time. I am still confused on why it takes longer to exit Central American countries than enter (at least our experience). Entering Nicaragua took less than half as long - they didn’t even check Rumi and my luggage.

Our friends from Africa got off at the first stop near Ometepe. Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. It’s supposedly a very cool destination. The island has two huge volcanoes. Lake Nicaragua is the 10th largest lake in the world and is the only fresh water with sharks in it. Most people think that the sharks are now extinct, but up until recently, bull sharks were found in the lake. It’s the only record of sharks breathing through fresh water. We would later hear from one of the locals, not the tourist guide trying to lure tourists with the prospect of seeing a mysterious fresh-water breathing shark, that the sharks are extinct because of the pollution.

We continued on to Granada arriving into a very quiet, closed, and dark city. We grabbed one of few available taxis and he took us to a hostel we had researched. Unfortunately it was not taking any more guests, so not having much choice, the driver took us to the only available hostel, Hostel Oasis. Despite its slightly higher price, it was actually a very nice hostel and the people were nice. Tired from the long day, we crashed and would see how Granada looked in light the next day.

Dec 5, 2009
The next morning we ordered a small breakfast from the hostel and decided to take advantage of their laundry sink on the roof. It was our first good glimpse at the colonial-style architecture of the city - very nice.

After hanging up our laundry to sun-dry, we decided to walk around Granada and try to catch a boat to tour Lake Nicaragua and the famous 365 Isletas that were around the area.

We walked to the wonderful main square surrounded by restaurants, horse-drawn carriages, and an impressive church. We got some lemonade at the Euro Café and tried to get a Blind Hands Massage, but they weren’t working. Afterwards, we walked down the very touristic street riddled with bars/restaurants/tourist centers in every color Crayola could imagine. We even saw bars that were full of American style football jerseys and were showing American football games. It was a bizarre site for us - in South America, futbal is soccer and nothing else.

We were planning to take a private hour cruise of the islands, but were approached by a man named Leon who offered a three hour tour with a small group. The price for the three hours was the same as the one hour private tour, so we decided it would be nice.

We had some time to kill before the tour, so we walked down and visited the Iglesia de Guadalupe (very pretty church). Our boat crew was very friendly and interesting. There were two US girls who were taking a short vacation from their semester abroad in Costa Rica. One girl had really acquired Spanish well. There were also two nice girls from England and Australia. The last tourist was a French man (born in Martinique) who was very friendly.

The port was quite far from downtown Granada, so instead of getting shuttled there, we rode bicycles. It was very nice to ride along the lake and catch the breeze (very very hot there). We half-hazardly shuffled our way to the port avoiding the swerving US girls who had been enjoying a few Margaritas before the tour.

The boat ride took us through many secluded peaceful islands. Some native people still live on the islands (not as fascinating as the Uros who could completely sustain themselves from the lake, but they still live a very interesting secluded lifestyle). Most of the islands now are inhabited by very wealthy foreigners desiring to live on their own island. We saw some price tags ranging from 250K to almost a million USD. Some of the houses were small palaces.

The tour boated around “Monkey Island,” a small island overrun by monkeys. They put on a show for us while we got some good photos. Sometimes they board the boats, but I think our boat driver stayed far enough away they could not (I was hoping they would).

Next we stopped on one of the islands still inhabited by the natives. We weren’t forced to buy anything, but we all felt obliged to help support the local community so we got some drinks. On the island Rumi and I found the largest chicken we have ever seen. Apparently, I got too close and Rumi thought it was going to attack/maybe eat me.

Our last stop was the fort of San Pablo for sunset. It was very interesting, but the most interesting aspect was the boats debate on the difference between “fort” and “castle.” The girl from England had a completely different outlook on the two words. She considered any defensive structure a “castle,” while the North Americans think more of castles being where Kings/Queens/Princess Fiona lives.

After our boat ride, we had to bike back to downtown in darkness. Everyone made it safely and parted ways. Guy, the French guy, had a drink with us at a Mexican restaurant. We talked about traveling, his family, and how France’s outlook on vacation time was different from North America’s view (France has got it right I think!). Rumi and I had some great Mexican food and called it a night.

Dec 6, 2009

Our next destination was Leon, Nicaragua, slightly Northwest of Managua and Granada. It doesn’t look that far on the map, but taking local buses takes a long time sometimes.

Before we boarded our bus to Managua (had to go first to continue on to Leon), we got breakfast at the Euro Café because it was better and cheaper than the hostel.

We caught a collectivo bus to Managua (leave every twenty minutes). It wasn’t that bad of a ride, but it constantly stopped to pickup passengers along the way.

When we reached Managua, we were shocked to find a huge lineup to go to Leon. Since Nicaragua doesn’t have very many large buses, we were faced a very long wait. Every half an hour to an hour, a 12 passenger van would shuttle people to Leon. We easily had 5-6 van loads in front of us, so we all huddled under a small tent until for a few hours. The waiting finally paid off, because our ride to Leon was a cheap air-conditioned van.

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