Granada, Nicaragua

Granada didn’t suit me.  It’s an old colonial town, so on it’s face, it has a great deal of appeal.  The Parque Central is lovely, as is the cathedral,

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and the streets are lined with brightly painted buildings.

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Volcan Mombacho looms, always there to orient yourself.

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But the streets are full of tourists acting like tourists, more beggars than I had seen anywhere in my trip combined so far, and a fair handful of drunks, who sometimes doubled as beggars.

The Calle la Calzada is the epicenter of this.  Part of an urban renewal project(there are plaques), it is lined with expensive restaurants and bars, interspersed with a few nice shops.  During the day, traffic is allowed down in, but in the evening, it becomes pedestrian only.

After getting settled in to my hotel, I went to the Parque Central to find somthing to eat.  I sat at one of the food kiosks that occupy each of the four corners of the park and had a quesillo; a tortilla wrapped around fried cheese.  I watched a shoeless boy clear tables for the opportunity to finish what was left.  His cohort took buckets of water from the nearby fountains and splash them around to keep the dust down.

I wanted a drink, so I walked down the Calle la Calzada looking for a bar.  There were plenty, so I chose one very much at random. The server was disappointed when I didn’t order food.  Three men, Nicaraguans, sat at a table near me, an older man and two younger.  The older man eventually turned and started talking to me,  and hearing my hesitant responses in Spanish, told me he spoke English, that he was visiting Nicaragua for the first time in sixty years.  He had been invited by his nephews, the two other men sitting with him.  He asked me where I was from, and I told him  New York.  He introduced me to his nephews, who, along with him were also very drunk.  He asked me where I was from again, so I told him.  He told me that his nephews were good guys, he asked me where I was staying, and told me I should just stay with his nephews for free, or maybe just buy them beer, they were good guys.  I demurred.  I hadn’t actually considered it for a second, but I still couldn’t help but think that beer for them would cost me more than I was paying for my hotel.

He asked me where I was from again, so I told him.  It wasn’t that he kept forgetting where I was from, it’s that he kept forgetting he had asked.  He asked several more times, and when it finally registered, he then asked me about the Yankees this year.  I told him I was born in Chicago, so I was a Cubs fan. On the subject of baseball, he was actually lucid.  He was a Red Sox fan. He knew all the players and stats who was traded and who signed where as a free agent.  He asked me about the Yankees again.

I tried to let the conversation die.  At one point, he asked me if I could buy them a beer, and I said no.  He said he was having trouble using his credit card down here, and threw it on my table, to prove his point,  which was I’m not sure what.  He asked me why I wasn’t looking around, when there were so many pretty girls walking around. He didn’t use those words, it was a bit more vulgar.  His nephews cat-called every woman that walked by, including a girl who looked about 13 who was walking with her grandma.”Abuelita, Abuelita!” I told him I had a novia at home. He said “She is there, you are here.”

Finally, they left.

I wandered the market, which is like any other Central American market, dirty and chaotic.  I’m not big on visiting markets, as I think if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen just about all of them that don’t specialize in something.

That night, vowing to avoid La Calzada, I bought my dinner in Parque Central from a fritanga, which is just someone with a grill set up on the sidewalk, selling a set meal.  Mine was grilled chicken with ensalada(cole slaw I’d call it) and a good handful of plantain maduros for $2.  I ate sitting on a bench after buying a coke zero from another vendor.

Despite myself, I ended up back on La Calzada for a drink.  It went much better the second time, and after I finished, I sat in the Parque Central for awhile. It was still quite busy, being the Saturday night before Easter.  I went back to my hotel feeling better.

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The next day was Easter, so I didn’t know what to expect as far as things being open, but I should’ve guessed that in a town based so much around tourism, it would be like any other Sunday.

I went down to the public beach after noon.  Granada is on the shore of Lake Managua, the same lake that holds Ometepe Island, where I had just been.  You have to walk quite a distance, maybe 25 minutes from the Parque Central, to get there.  It’s not a bad walk, but it’s not a nice one, as the neighborhood seemed to get seedier the closer you get to the water.

The beach area is called the Centro Turistico, but I was the only non-Nicaraguan tourist I saw there, which I found odd.  Bars lined the beach and the frontage road, blasting music. One had a lived band with dancing.

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People sat in the shade of the trees, or if on the sand, cobbled together shelters about of whatever they had dragged with them.

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I walked up and down the beach in the sun and watched and listened and then headed back into town.

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For dinner, I went back and got another grilled chicken dinner from the fritanga, and headed again to La Calzada for a drink.  It was packed with Easter crowds and tourists.  The table in front of me held 10 people, all related. Well-off, very drunk locals.  Another man, Mario, sat at a table on the sidewalk, alone, smoking a cigar and drinking his own special bottle of liqour, and chatting to the servers. He was clearly some kind of VIP.  A group of boys, street performers with papier mache costumes passed by, and Mario had them stop and perform.  One of the drunks at the table in front of me, the leader and the drunkest, demanded that they move down ten feet to where he had a better view, so they did.  They did their show.  The drunk man jumped up and started participating.  He took one of their papier mache heads, put it on himself, and started dancing.  He gave that back, seized his infant child from his wife’s hands, and held her over his head and danced with her, shaking her from side-to-side so violently I’m sure she’ll have brain damage.

When the show ended, and one of the boys came around with a hat to collect tips, he waved him away.  Mario handed them some money and bought them cokes.

I felt the need to leave so I asked for my check.  While I waited, a homeless man asked Mario for money. A server ordered him away, but Mario told him to stay. I thought Mario was a decent guy. After chatting for a bit, though, Mario abruptly ordered him away.  The man begged for a drink.  Got down on his knees and supplicated himself begging.Mario pushed him over.  The man got up and asked again for a drink.  Mario told him to sit down again. Then again, ordered him away. The man stood begging.  Mario stood up and started shoving him, cuffing him once across the face like you would a dog that was misbehaving. I was starting not to like Mario at all.  It went on like this for five minutes or so, Mario taunting the desperate, pathetic man.  Maybe they had some kind of previous relationship I knew nothing about.  I paid my bill and left.  Not much later, sitting again in Parque Central, I saw the beggar walk by, holding Mario’s bottle of liquor.

I would’ve left Granada the next day, as I had seen enough.  It didn’t feel like a place people lived and worked, outside of the market.  I’m sure that part exisited, but it was overwhelmed by the cater to tourists part of it.

But I still wanted to see nearby Masaya, and the Mirador, a viewpoint overlooking a crater lake, Granada, and Lake Managua.

Getting to Masaya gave me my first chance to ride a chicken bus this trip.  A chicken bus is a local bus common throughout Central America.  They are repurposed American schoolbuses, painted up in wild colors, usually with the driver’s dedication to God emblazoned on the windshield and on the inside of the bus.

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This short, 45 minute ride would be a nice way to ease myself back into the transport I would likely be riding for the next six weeks.  They don’t replace the seats.  They are still sized to fit children. On the right side of the bus is a row that could fit two grade school children snuggly, on the left side, three.  I chose a seat on the right, as I knew that I’d end up with a seat partner, and I’d rather only have one than two. There was a group of Australians on the bus being jovial.  One to a seat on the right, and two to a seat on the left.  Little did they know.

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I guess I could have told them that the bus was certainly going to get more crowded, and they were going to end up with a seat buddy, so they might just want to double and triple up now, lest they end up sitting next to an eldering Nicaraguan women with a chicken in a sack.  But they had started to annoy me, so I just sat and watched and the driver’s helper moved down the aisle and started directing people to sit here and there, and they each ended up with seatmates of varying desirability.

Masaya wasn’t much.  After not being able to orient myself leaving the sprawling market/bus station,

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I flagged a cab and had him take me to the Artist’s Market, which was nice, even if most of the Artist’s were selling the same things.  I tried to wander down to the waterfront. The neighborhood got seedier and seedier, and when I got near the end, down the street that I thought would finally lead to the Malecon, I saw a group of men standing down the block passing a bottle, and another group of boys throwing rocks at something up in a tree.  Maybe they got their frisbee stuck and they were trying to knock it down, but I doubted it. I turned around and headed back to the bus station.

The Mirador is a short bus ride away in a town called Catarina.  It’s an uphill twenty minute walk from where the bus drops you.  The village was pleasant. It is known for it’s horticulture, and shops lined the road and the air smelled of flowers.  I wasn’t that impressed with the Mirador.  It was okay.  You pay 75 cents to get in.  There are some benches set in amphitheater style on a grassy, mostly shadeless slope looking down on Lago Apoyo. It’s supposed to be nice for swimming the water warmed by thermal vents, but it was difficult to get there from here, and that wasn’t on my agenda.  There are a few restaurants overlooking the water, and some snack shops around the parking lot.  I stayed long enough to feel i justified getting there, and walked back down the the bus stop, to Masaya and then back to Granada.

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I left the next day for Leon.

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