Graceful Granada

Published: December 25th 2017
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Geo: 11.94, -85.96

Granada and surrounding area, 30 April - 13 May

We used Granada as a base, leaving one bag here as we visited first the Caribbean coast as described in the last blog, and then Lago de Apoyo, a crater lake quite close to Granada, where we spent 2 nights. Unfortunately we had 2 bouts of minor illness during this time, a flu type virus and then a stomach bug. We suffered in tandem! It was one reason we retired to the lake, to rest and recover in a slightly fresher spot by the water. Our problems were not too severe but lasted a long time and left us feeling weak.

Despite that we love Granada, it's delightful colonial buildings and churches, it's fascinating history, restaurants, little central square with trees and cafes and the people. It is small enough for all the sights to be within walking distance. Most of the larger houses have internal courtyards, often forming beautiful gardens.

Founded in 1524 by Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba (after whom the Nicaraguan currency, the Cordoba is named) Granada is one of the oldest cities in the New World. It was a trade centre from the beginning being on the route from the Caribbean, up the Rio San Juan, across Lake Nicaragua and then the short stretch of land to the Pacific. It was built as a showcase city to demonstrate the wealth and power of the Spaniards with elegant architecture and elaborate public buildings. It's wealth made it vulnerable and 3 times between 1666 and 1670 it was sacked by pirates from the Caribbean, including Henry Morgan.

In 1769 a 17 year old girl was battling alongside her father, the Spanish commander, against British pirates when he was killed. The Spaniards were going to surrender but Rafaela Carrera, the daughter, rallied the troops and lead the battle to defeat the enemy, becoming a national hero.

With great tenacity after each attack the city was rebuilt to the same plan and became even richer. After independence from Spain, Granada and Leon, to the north, battled to became the capital of the new state. Tension between the cities increased into full blown civil war in the 1850s and then Leon employed American William Walker, a mercenary, and his gang of 'filibusterers' to defeat Granada.

This they accomplished but then Walker proclaimed himself President and set about conquering the rest of Central America! He was soon defeated in Costa Rica and withdrew back to 'his' capital of Granada where he destroyed the city and left a placard reading "Here was Granada". Again Granada rebuilt itself. Surprisingly pirates founded more cities in Nicaragua than they sacked.

Now the city is trying to build up tourism to create income. It has a lot to offer as, apart from the town itself, on the edge of the nearby Lake Nicaragua only a mile or so away are Las Isletas, 365 (they say?) tiny beautiful islands, and only a little further away are Mombacho and Masaya volcanoes, complete with fumaroles and clouds of sulphurous gases. On one of the Isletas there are 4 spider monkeys and one Capuchin (White faced ) monkey left there by a Vet.. The Capuchin has been rejected by the others, but must have managed to get close as a baby has just arrived and it has a white face!

While in the town we saw 2 events, the arrival of the Costa Rican Harley Davidson Chapter and a SUP championship! Not familiar with SUP? It took us a while to work it out - Stand Up Paddling, on boards. There were groups from countries in the Americas from Canada to Ecuador as well as a number of European countries including GB and Denmark. They started the event with a procession of the teams in some version of national costume.

Despite these activities and the independent tourists Granada struggles with it's infrastructure and utilities (as does the rest of Nicaragua) having regular power outages and water stoppages, as well as washed out roads in the rainy season.

We stayed at Casa del Agua owned by an Irish man called Gerry. It is successful because it is a very attractive house with clean and comfortable rooms in a perfect location just off the central park.However, as Gerry explained, it is not easy. Some days the water is turned off and it is difficult to do the washing. Other times the wifi fails because of problems with the telephones. Or the electricity fails so the air conditioning doesn't work. Visitors from North America often perceive these problems as Gerry's failure to manage rather than appreciating some things are out of his control! At one time there were no light bulbs available locally, and any replacement furnishings require a trip to the capital, Managua. That is a journey not to be undertaken lightly.

Managua suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 1972 which destroyed the city centre. It has never been rebuilt, just left in ruins, so the city is spread along main roads, like a two dimensional spaghetti junction sprawling over a huge area and jammed with traffic. The overseas aid to help after the earthquake disappeared into the dictator Somoza's accounts and never reached the victims. 300,000 were left homeless and 6000 died. This was one of the factors precipitating the revolution in the late 70s and the downfall of the Somoza's dynasty. We visited the prison where he kept political prisoners, torturing and killing unknown numbers and disposing of their bodies in nearby Masaya volcano.

Gerry took us on a 'tour' to see Masaya Volcano, the 'white villages' where one village specialises in garden plants and decorations (see pictures of hens and ladies), nother in wooden furniture etc. We also visited the hand made ceramic tile factory and saw how the tiles are air dried rather than being fired. They are only made to order.

But returning to Casa del Agua, the rainy season is due any day now. Gerry is prepared with numerous buckets and insect spray. Once the rains start the leaks in the roof make themselves obvious, hence the buckets! The frequent earth tremors ensure there will be leaks. And the insect spray? The rain floods the drains so the cockroaches come up and indoors. We are moving back to Costa Rica tomorrow so we are hoping for a dry night and a quick escape! Having said that Gerry works hard to make sure his guests have a very comfortable and pleasant stay and that is why we kept returning.

So this is the end of our time in Nicaragua. We would not have missed it even though it does not have the comfort levels found in Costa Rica and Panama. Like those countries it has beautiful forests, rivers, beaches, volcanoes, wild life and birds. Unfortunately it does not have the resources or expertise yet to take advantage of these natural attributes, but hopefully it will come soon and help make life easier for everyone. The Nicaraguenses, or Nicas, are very patient, uncomplaining people. Even on the crowded chicken buses they often stand for 5 or 6 hours on bone jolting roads and in all our journeys I have never seen anyone get irritable or short tempered. It only seems fair that after all their suffering they should be entitled to some peace and prosperity.

Additional photos below
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15th May 2014

That's impressive, did it stink of sulphur?

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