Nicaragua Trip

My favorite thing about Nicaragua: random parades at every turn with mini monks and nuns.
My least favorite: the guy with the fireworks who thought that every day was a holiday (even right outside the church during the service, and they didn't make him stop completely, just sometimes when the priest was saying something important).

Our trip to Nicaragua with Nicole was perhaps the best traveling we’ve had yet. To begin with, Nicole is a lovely travel companion, who balances out my inability to ask questions even in my native language in exchange for unlimited back, shoulder and foot rubs. She also likes hanging out immersed in water just as much as I do and it’s nice to have a friend in the pool to practice your flip turns with. As I’ve undoubtedly mentioned before, her Spanish is also excellent which helps jor out too. Mine is getting a lot better, but Nicole and jor haven’t stopped making fun of me for all of my ums yet. (Though on the way onto this plane I did explain where banjos come from without many of them.)

Granada is a lovely city for tourists, though like all cities it has more than its fair share of poverty, garbage and troubles on the street at night. I know that there are tours and connection possibilities with people who actually live in Granada on the poorer end of the spectrum, but this trip was purely for the pleasure of experiencing the many environmental wonders around the town, so we didn’t partake in any of them. At some point I would definitely like to get back to Granada for some intensive Spanish and getting to know the community better.

We stayed at Hotel Oasis because of the pool and possible A/C and comparatively cheap prices. Granada is way too hot for a bunch of gringas from up the mountain in Costa Rica so it was more than worth it to have the option of cooling off at night. When we showed up the pool was being fixed, but fortunately for us, it was only a day and a half before it was filled and functional again. I freely admit to my spoiled United States-ian nature when it comes to being really hot in a city where there is no clean river to go dip my toes into. Plus, I’d been looking forward to the pool for weeks, ever since we changed our trip from the Osa Peninsula to Nicaragua. Getting to Granada was easy because we used TransNica and just took the bus straight from La Irma up to Granada. The border was ridiculously simple since we didn’t have to do any of it ourselves.
Once we got to Granada there was a lot of lying around and playing on our computers. Again, though we were in a lovely foreign city it was just so nice to have a connection faster than 9 Kbps that isn’t connecting through a telephone line. We got a lot of our businessy things done. I even planned a summer project for a student and went through a bunch of negotiations about due dates. I am not going to be sad to be done with that part of the job, but I think I did a pretty good job considering the rushed nature of the thing. If the student had 4 more percentage points for the second semester the grade would have passed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering how many struggles this particular student has had with projects and working up to par, there is still more work to be done to pass my class. Oh well. We’ll work together and get it figured out.

Our first full day in Granada was spent at Laguna de Apoyo. It’s a crater lake near Masaya – about 20 minutes north of the city. The whole area is relatively undeveloped. You could look across the lake and see all of the logging that hasn’t happened recently (if ever?) and hardly see any lodges or roads or buildings of any kind. The place where we went allows day use and there was a swimming raft, kayaks we didn’t use, inner tubes we did use and hammocks galore. Nicole and I spent a lot of time floating around on inner tubes and then later I spent the majority of my time flinging myself off of the raft. When Jordan first met me in 2000 I had a hard time with diving. I can’t really explain why, but it was the swimming skill that has always been the roughest for me. Maybe it’s because of the on-off transition that causes me so much trouble with roofs. Anyway, she and Katy Weseman coached me through a bunch of summers at camp and I’ve got a decent dive now. I started the day at the lake with a bunch of diving and got tired due to the whole end of school year + traveling + moving out of our home concept. So then throughout the day jor and Nicole were coaching me through learning how to do forward flips off of the raft. It’s about the same height as rafts at camp – 3 inches above the surface maybe – and it’s pretty hard to get your body flipped around fast enough. I never really got it, but I did get a bunch better. Then I was working on diving with jumping up, curling a bit and then kicking out to be going straight up and down. The best time I did it involved me jumping up (not very far because I can’t jump good like Samuari Jack) and then kicking up and then curling. I know I’m not a kinesthetic learner, but honestly sometimes the connection between my brain and my body seems non-existent. Thanks to our time on the water I have now perfected my reggaeton backbeats and can sing along with any and every reggaeton song ever written, much to jordan’s chagrin.

Highlights of the Granada food scene: Garden Café is still lovely and wonderful. They no longer offer their pirate map scavenger hunt, though so you’ll have to create your own like we did (minus the map). If you ever end up there, try the lime, coconut, pineapple smoothie. And then have another one for me since they’re closed on Sunday and we had to leave at 5:30 on Monday morning. The ambiance is gardeny and the food is tasty while not being pretentious. The people who run the place are nice and were around when we were there with my mom too, so I think they’re the hands on kind of restaurateurs. There’s a Mexican place on the main tourist/bar street called Taqueria Vallarta. Oh tasty goodness. Though I also really like the tortilla soup in Alajuela at Jalapeños, it was nothing to scoff at. Jor said I should talk about the Taqueria, but at this moment I’m feeling rather at a loss. It was tasty, we had leftovers for lunch. Yum. The last place we went in Granada was a new restaurant called Voodoo. They had some troubles with the kitchen being out of things, and they may have dropped our shrimp on the floor, but damn it was tasty. There are definitely still some kinks to work out, and someone’s chair broke under him while we were there too, but overall, they did an excellent job with the mixups and I’m not complaining about the free drinks and carrot cake that tasted just like my mom’s.

Many of our adventures in Granada included Nicole’s friend Casey. They met in the DR last summer on a teaching program. He’s a teacher from California who is witty, interesting and likes to hike up volcanoes so he was a really good traveling companion for us. We went out to Volcán Mombacho (which towers over the city) on our third day in Granada. We missed the earlier Rivas bus so we had time to have breakfast (and another quick chat with the Fransiscan monk from California) and catch the next one. Since we didn’t know where the actual bus stop was (further down the block) we asked 10 people and went with the most popular answer to figure out when the next bus would be leaving. The options ranged from 8:30 – 11 so we had a pretty big window of time. When we went back we figured out where the bus was leaving from and asked the guys who had our bus’s hood open and were clearly working on it when they would be leaving. With such solid information, we felt fine going on a market adventure while we waited for the ½ hour + to pass. The market in Granada is definitely NOT just for tourists. I would love to have something like it where we live, though the unrefrigerated fish and meat definitely smell the place up a bit. This picture isn't from quite inside the main market area. Jor scored a handkerchief, though we wouldn’t know how much of a score it was until a little later in the day when we were hiking and hiking and hiking and sweating. We got off at the right spot, walked the 2 km to the park entry (where I'm pointing in the picture, the highest point closest to you is where the trails start at the top) and missed the 10 am shuttle up the mountain by five minutes. The lady at the little building said it was a hour and a half walk and about 5 km up to the trails on top. The road was paved with paving stones (not cobbles, but concrete patio block type stones). We went past some houses before the first entry point and there was one tree with fruits that are totally globular and almost the size of my head. There was a brief moment when we thought maybe a van was going to pass us and could give us a lift, but sadly that didn’t happen. Nicole and Casey quickly outhiked Jordan and myself and we were left trudging up the mountain. Jor hadn’t felt well in the morning, and starting the day with a strenuous hike up a relatively steep road isn’t ideal for her even when she is feeling well. About the time she was starting to feel reallyreally nauseated, a truck came by with some seismologists and they picked us up. I tried to be friendly and engage in the geospeak, but my Spanish is definitely not good enough regardless of all of the nice crossover words and it didn’t work well. We then kept going up the mountain and passed our lovely friends sitting at the half way point, (the guys wouldn’t stop for them) right before it got steeper than any road I’ve been on for the past 20 years. The only one I’ve been on that was steeper isn’t quite a road and involved a glacier (Athabasca) in Canada on a bus with tires bigger than any adult on it. They claimed it was the steepest road in North America, if I’m remembering my 10 year old brain well enough. Nicole and Casey got to walk up with a bunch of university students from Managua and got there after jordan and I had a good long time to rest up. They were completely soaked from the sweating 2 hours after we set out. I have rarely seen shirts that wet that weren’t also involved in some sort of falling water or getting dunked in a lake while canoeing. After they had some downtime, we confirmed for the third time when the bus would be going down the mountain before we set out with our guide. For the most part, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but this “tunnel” was made by lava making its way out of here rapidamente. The vents didn’t smell too much like sulfur, and I’m sad we don’t have a picture of us sticking our hands into a smaller vent that was near the trail. If we had been on our own I definitely wouldn’t have stuck my hand in it, but it was cool, so cool, to put my hand into the earth and have it be warmer and the air was moving out as well. That was cool. Have I mentioned how cool it was? We were thinking it might be nice and cozy for a nighttime animal shelter but our guide says no. The only animal evidence in it was a dead cricket. We saw some Howlers and a chameleon and our guide showed us a plant that pulls its leaves in when you touch it (or when it’s raining). We got some video on Nicole’s camera. Maybe I can figure out how to link to it once we get settled back in. The views were pretty great, even though there was a bit of haze happening over the city. It may be smog, but it also may have been that we were a bit higher than some of the clouds. We were able to see the isletas where we kayaked the next day and learned a bit about how they were formed (ash from one of the more ancient eruptions?). Our guide José was friendly, but I’m sure there is a part of the job that can get boring. Twice a day wandering around with tourists doesn’t exactly appeal to me, though. Climbing up to the communication towers they have on the highest point of the volcán was bit of a trip. On the side you climb up on, it’s all steep stairs made out of lava rocks. Then you get to the high point and there’s your standard wooden platform. Then you go down the backside and there are little buildings for electronics and about 10 towers, complete with guys working on them if it’s not a windy day. It can get pretty fierce up there. On our way down and out, there may have been a swarm of wasps to run through. Casey and José were stung, and there was one I couldn’t get out of jordan’s hair for the longest time, but all in all, a lovely adventure with minimal injury. Turns out it was good that we had asked so often when the bus was leaving because it ended up going a half hour before they said and we were on it. Despite the apparent reversal of jor’s transportation karma (see the blog post from coming back from Nicaragua the first time) it’s not all that awesome that she has to get to the point of actual physical breakdown before the positive karma kicks in. See the post about getting Toast home for further proof of this reversal.

The guide book said that you can’t really do Volcán Masaya and the town of Masaya in one day while using public transportation. Frankly, they’re full of it. There are busses up to Managua every 20 minutes and the transportation up the side of the volcano is on demand (though it costs a little more than a dollar a person). Plus, the park entrance is right on the highway so there’s no 2 km hike to get to it. We couldn’t find Casey once we knew what our plans were so it was just the three of us. Many tourists just go up to the active crater viewing area and then leave. They’re silly. We totally gawked at the steam and particulate coming out of the volcano for a while and then went on a hike around one of the dormant craters (it also goes by two other dormant craters). Though the area near the active crater was windy and reasonable temperature-wise, the hiking was oddly lacking in wind despite the lack of trees to block it. It got hot and sunny. As we were leaving the parking lot they gave us directions and asked us our residence so they could radio ahead that 3 United Statesian girls were on their way around the crater. It would have been fun to go on the cave/bat tour too, but we can’t always do everything and we had plans for the afternoon. There were a couple of spots on the hike that were pretty lacking in trail, and I fell down once, but without any scrapes or bruises. The tree in the foreground of this picture is the national flower of Nicaragua. Funny to a northern girl like me for the tree to be the national flower. I’m used to national trees and national flowers that grow on the ground, but national tree/flowers? I guess. They might have a national tree in addition to this one, and I didn’t catch the name anyway... While we were hiking I made a bird friend that I talked to for a couple of minutes. It might have been a flycatcher of some kind, but I didn’t have my book with me, nor did I check right after we returned from our adventure so by now my visual memory is too far gone.

On the way back from shopping in the Masaya tourist market we stopped at the old hospital and climbed the bell tower at the Iglesia de Merced. It’s super close to our hostel and the same place Jordan and I spent New Year’s Eve watching people get their haircut from (there’s a barber’s kitty corner to the church). The views were great and I’m sure it’s worth the very small 20 cordoba entrance. Way cheaper than the cathedral tower I climbed in Germany years ago, but that one also had more than 71 stairs. The roof picture at the beginning of this post is from that tower, and the volcano glowering in the background is Mombacho.

I’m going to let jordan talk about our trip kayaking on Lake Colcibolca (Lake Nicaragua). If she ever gets over this cold. And I’m not sure which of us is going to eventually write about the harrowing and stressful trip home, but it’ll come, I’m sure.


I consider myself to be a very patient person. As a teacher, I am patient with my students. As a community member, I am patient with other people's ways of doing things. But when I've applied for a job I really want, I am NOT patient. I submitted my application online last night for a middle school librarian job and I'm expecting a response today. Totally unreasonable, yet I still want it. Partly, I want some job security going home, but partly it's just because I haven't gotten to do this work for a while and I'm itching to get back to it. I have loved my time in Costa Rica and have some great memories, but I want to go home. For a few weeks in May, I was feeling like maybe we shouldn't be leaving now. But now that rainy season has started again and I'm getting Massachusetts summer urges, I'm really happy about it. I was dreading our trip to Osa Peninsula also, mostly because we can't really afford it and because I didn't want to do a lot of sitting around when I'm so anxious to get home. So instead, we're going back to Granada, which I LOVED the first time. We'll have more time to do some day trips to volcanoes and kayak through the hundreds of little islands on the lake. And we'll get some last minute gifts for folks too. I occasionally need city time with ethnic food and shopping to offset the rest of my time which I spend rurally. So the city will be fun and we'll take a million pictures this time because we'll have Nicole's camera. Our last big hurrah with Nicole, who we will miss dreadfully.

I finished up my English classes last week. This is a photo of three of my five students and me in my office. I really enjoyed hanging out with them and talking. I got so much better at casual conversations because that was always the first hour of class. I finished with some of my music students when they performed for the open mic coffeehouse or the cabaret. Our cabaret performance pretty much sucked because we didn't practice. Oh well. The kids were awesome. But I still have a few lessons with kids who want to milk every last minute out of me. They are the more dedicated students who are fun anyway. If my work schedule isn't too grueling, I might try to squeeze in some music lessons in Montague because I've enjoyed it a lot. We also had our last contradance on Saturday, which went really well. There were a million kids there in the beginning, so we started with Zodiac. All you Farm & Wilderness folks know what I'm talking about. It was fun and intergenerational. I'm getting Toasty all ready to go home: health certificates, travel documents, ride to the airport, etc. Her plane ticket costs more than mine, but I know she'll be treated well.

I want to make it home before the rain starts, so I'm off. Rain starts early these days.