Granada, Again

Published: April 22nd 2016
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Granada's famous cathedral.
The title of this blog is a homage to the blog entry I wrote about the time I visited Granada's Spanish namesake. It took me a while to finally get to Spain's Granada, but once there it perhaps surprisingly, became one of my favourite cities in Europe. Would Nicaragua's version have the same effect on me?

Well, I didnt nearly have as much difficulty getting there than I did finally getting to Spain's version though I had to get up earlier than I would've liked. But overall the transfer from Isla de Ometepe was painless.
The ferry we took to San Jorge was nice and big and rode the swell a bit better than the small, creaking, wooden vessel we came over to the island on. And just as well, as it was super-windy and the waves were even bigger than they were on that aforementioned journey.
We then took a chicken bus to Rivas where I bade farewell to my travel buddy of the last twelve days, Canadian Carter. We shared some good times and he was a great guy to hang out with. While he to a bus back to San Juan, I was going to Granada and I have to say that seats of this old school bus were hard on the arse and
Granada CementerioGranada CementerioGranada Cementerio

Would hold it's own against Recoleta in Buenos Aires, or Santiago's cemetery. Latin Americans really go for gold with their cemeteries.
it was so packed. I couldn't believe the amount of people crammed onto it and I was lucky to have a seat as I watched as the bus piled more people in off the side of the rode, even when it appeared that there was nowhere to fit them.

Looking out the window of the chicken bus, I would say that Nicaragua is probably one of the poorest countries that I have visited on this trip - certainly the poorest I have seen in Central America, as it is much less developed than Costa Rica and Panama. The sweltering heat apart, the dirt streets of the rural towns we were passing through reminded me of the poorer parts of Ecuador and Peru, though probably not as poor as Bolivia.
Arriving in Granada, the city itself was also a lot less developed than I was expecting.
There are also these young men driving around with massive speakers on the back of a pick-up truck blaring out advertisements interspersed with f*cking reggaeton (of course). They are super-annoying and super-loud. Why do they have to be so loud?

But Nicaragua is definitely the hottest country I have visited so far.
Colourful BuildingsColourful BuildingsColourful Buildings

Granada's trademark.
walking a couple of kilometres from the bus station to my hostel, I arrived completely saturated. It was literally as if I had just come out of a swimming pool and I had sweated through all my clothes. I had sweat coming out of every single orifice - sweat where you didn't know you could sweat. I struggle to think of another occasion in my where I have sweated so much.

After taking some time to rest and cool off a little at the hostel, I still had the best part of half a day to explore the town so that is exactly what I did.
My first stop was the heart of the city - the Parque Central. There is nothing particularly outstanding about this pleasant space but there are four restaurants on each corner of this main square selling vigoron, a local Nica dish which I of course had to try for lunch. Pickled vegetables and roasted pork rind on a bed of crushed yucca and doused in lime juice, the dish was nice enough although I wouldn't say it's amazing.
Just around the corner, the Convento y Museo San Francisco is a "top sight" according to
Facade Of Iglesia de la MercedFacade Of Iglesia de la MercedFacade Of Iglesia de la Merced

I *think* that this is the oldest church in Granada and the facade seems to suggest so.
Lonely Planet so it was perhaps a shame that most of it was closed for restoration. The archaeological museum was the only part of the complex that was open and but for a model recreation of two weird playground games played by the indigenous people back in pre-Columbian times, the small museum was disappointing as the only other things in it were primitive pots and statues, of which I had seen plenty in South America.
The much vaunted facade of the church - "robin's-egg-blue" according to Lonely Planet but was more like white - was also disappointing. It definitely didn't seem to me like it was "the most striking building in Granada".
The Casa de los Leones was a much nicer building aesthetically, with much Moorish influence, much like the buildings in Granada's Spanish namesake. There were several art workshops inside and apparently there was a fee to enter but I just walked right in without anybody appearing to care.
The last sight I saw on the way back to the hostel was the Iglesia de la Merced, which is probably the prettiest church in Granada. It is also probably the oldest, if the worn facade is anything to go
La Casa de los LeonesLa Casa de los LeonesLa Casa de los Leones

Outside of an elegant building close to the cathedral and the Parque Central.
by. With Semana Santa (Easter) just a couple of days away, there was a special service taking place inside and the was plenty of activity outside as well, including the construction of nativity scenes and the selling of raspados and quesillos - a tortilla filled with cheese, cabbage and sour cream - of which I bought three for dinner. They were pretty average, I have to say.
As for the city itself, Granada is very colourful and there are some really pretty buildings; so much like Cartagena though it lacks the architecture, the pedestrianised alleys, the city wall and the sheer number of beautiful buildings that the most beautiful city in South America has.

So it was a shame that the hostel I was staying at didn't share the same character - it certainly left a bit to be desired. Still incomplete, there were knobs missing from doors, a DYI laundry service that you had to pay for, no atmosphere, no character and it was located in a slightly ropey neighbourhood 15-minute walk from the town centre which doesn't sound like much, but is not a distance you really want to walk in this heat and humidity. I mean,
Mercado MunicipalMercado MunicipalMercado Municipal

Granada's old, crusty markets. Things were even more squalid inside.
the last thing I really want to be doing with my day is paying US$5 to spend two hours hand-washing my own laundry.

Not that there was too much happening in town anyway.
On my second day in Granada, the Spanish fort near my hostel was closed (there didn't seem to be much to it anyway), the central market was busy (and was quite possibly the most squalid market I have seen so far) and it was far too hot to properly look around the cemetery which would hold its own against the likes of Recoleta and Santiago's. Latin Americans really do go to town on their cemeteries.
Maybe the best part of the day was going up the tower of the Iglesia de la Merced for a decent view over the city.

Continuing my experimentation with Nica cuisine, the tiste drink that I ordered at lunch tasted a lot like ginger beer but with ground cocoa beans and corn something I probably wouldn't have again!
For dinner that night, the nactamale I had was actually quite nice - pork in a tomato sauce topped with rice, mashed corn and yucca wrapped in banana leaves. It was
Like Cartagena...Like Cartagena...Like Cartagena...

...but not quite.
washed down nicely, like always in Nicaragua, by an ice-cold Toña beer - which always go down easily and is definitely the best beer I have had on the trip so far.

And would you believe it, joining me in downing those Toñas was Teo!
It was all rather unexpected; Teo had sent me a message the previous day that he had found a completo in he had managed to catch me up without either of us realising. With him was his new travel buddy Dominique from Germany, and the three of us caught up on what we had both been up to since I left Teo back in Santa Marta. It would have been nice to have joined them on the road as they were travelling north to Managua as well, but they were going to spend a little more time in Nicaragua, whereas post-Managua, I was going to start a long journey to the Caribbean coast of Honduras. But who knows, there is always a chance we will meet up again...

As well as taking a horse and carriage ride around the city - too expensive and a far too romantic thing to do on my own -
Las IsletasLas IsletasLas Isletas

Boats cruising through the archipalego.
the other classic activity one must do in Granada is to take a boat tour of Las Isletas, a sizeable archipalego of little islands on Lago de Nicaragua just south of Granada. The hostel was charging US$25 for their own tour, which I thought was a bit steep and sure enough by walking down to the Centro Turisitico - an avenue of restaurants, bars and discos just behind a long, sandy, lake beach - I managed to get a tour for just US$10 by sharing a boat with some random locals.
The Centro Turistico was absolutely rammed by the way; it was the day before the start of Semana Santa but I don't think anyone was working at all today.
As for the archipalego itself, it is where a few of the Nicaraguan elite (or wealthy foreigners) have decided to build their relatively lavish (holiday) homes on their own islands. Sure enough, there were actually a few islands for sale. I wonder how much it would cost you to have your own island? Other islands have restaurants on them complete with swimming facilities and there was one island that was supposedly full of monkeys, although I only saw one. It
Island In Las IsletasIsland In Las IsletasIsland In Las Isletas

Typical island with a nice-looking private residence on it.
was a nice little boat trip.
I spent the rest of that afternoon hanging with some old, local men on some steps opposite the Parque Central, watching the world go by while enjoying a raspado to cool off. The wind and shade here helped in this respect too. I would say that the raspado I had in Panama City was better though.

I then had an evening of important administration.
Up until now I have been travelling with no fixed limits of time, which has allowed me to be very flexible in terms of staying in places longer if I wanted to and changing my plans. Well, that has now changed after I bought a flight from Cancun to Havana and another one from Havana to Madrid. I would've done it as late as possible if I could've, but the prices were going up everyday so I had to act now.
I now had until the 4th May to get to Cancun and have three-and-a-half weeks to do Cuba before flying back to Europe on 30th May. For the first time on this trip, I now had hard dates to work to.

Over dinner that night, I got to

A weird maypole-like playground game played by the indigenous people in pre-Columbian times.
practice my Spanish with a Guatemalan man staying in my dorm.
I can more than hold my own in Spanish now although I still have trouble picking up what people - especially locals - are saying. It really depends on how clearly and slowly they speak. It hurts my brain and ears after an extended period in conversation however and my limited vocabulary makes it difficult to have a deep conversation. With small talk however, I am fine.
The Nica ropa vieja - pretty much a Nicaraguan stir-fry - I had for dinner was pretty nice and it was enjoyed on a lovely cobblestoned street lined with bars and restaurants with the majority of patrons dining al fresco.

And that was that in terms of Granada. I think the one in Spain is much better but the one here is pleasant enough although nothing truly special. You don't need more than a couple of days here.

I now face a long journey and have a bit of time and distance to cover until my next point of interest - across half the length of Nicaragua and the whole length of Honduras to the Caribbean coast. It's time to
Parque CentralParque CentralParque Central

With the cathedral in the background.
get back to the ocean.

Hasta luego,

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Iglesia de la MercedIglesia de la Merced
Iglesia de la Merced

Granada's prettiest church.
Iglesia de XaltevaIglesia de Xalteva
Iglesia de Xalteva

Another pretty church in Granada.
Capilla de AnimasCapilla de Animas
Capilla de Animas

Apparently modelled after a French chapel of the same name.
View From The TopView From The Top
View From The Top

Atop the bell tower of the Iglesia de la Merced.
Calle El BolzonCalle El Bolzon
Calle El Bolzon

Street that my hostel was on. As you can see it is in a poorer area.
Calle La CalzadaCalle La Calzada
Calle La Calzada

Nice pedestrian alley full of al fresco restaurants and bars that leads to the lake.
Inside Casa de los LeonesInside Casa de los Leones
Inside Casa de los Leones

Not sure who the dude on the patio floor is but this is pretty cool nonetheless.
Packed In On The Chicken BusPacked In On The Chicken Bus
Packed In On The Chicken Bus

Now I now why they are called chicken buses.
El MaleconEl Malecon
El Malecon

Granada's pleasant lakeside promenade.
The BeachThe Beach
The Beach

It was packed with locals, the day before the start of Semana Santa.
Beachside PartyBeachside Party
Beachside Party

Locals getting into the swing of things with a bit of a boogie by the lakeside in the Centro Turistico.
Cruising Through Las IsletasCruising Through Las Isletas
Cruising Through Las Isletas

Our boat cruising through the archipalego.
Vigoron & ChiaVigoron & Chia
Vigoron & Chia

Local Nica dish of roast pork rind and cabbage on crushed yucca, and chia, a drink made from a sweet local fruit.

Tortilla grilled with cheese and topped with cabbage and sour cream.

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