8/2/11

Retrospective Nicaragua: Granada

Approximately 32 miles due east of Managua, lies Granada's scenic landscape, an amalgamation of dry and humid forests that line the base of Mombacho, the local volcano.  The city is located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, and similar to its sister city of Leon, Granada is rich in colonial history, and has been cited as one of the first European cities established in mainland Americas.

I have hired Luiz for a half-day tour, a courtesy of the hotel (and sadly the only option for touring). We're in a compact sedan, a Nissan Versa or something similar and my driver, Luiz, is fit into the front seat like a giant in a clown car.  As you can imagine from the picture at right, he would be better suited for playing offense with Michael Oher than folded into a bucket seat. But as I would learn later over coffee, the job market in Managua and neighboring cities is centered around limited industries, and mostly hospitality. If you  were lucky enough to find a job, as Luiz had, you learned to make do with what the universe handed you.

We arrive in Granada, the sky overcast, making our way toward the national park for a scenic drive around Lake Nicaragua. The largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua is freshwater and home to the Caribbean bull shark, as well as two volcanic islands, Ometepe and Zapatera. We were headed for the dock/marina to take a 25-minute boat tour and as Luiz takes the curves of dirt road, I am mesmerized by the sky. Deep thick clouds, swirled with shades of gray, are descending onto the glassy surface of the lake, cotton balls hovering above the stillness of the lake's waters.

I turn to Luiz, "You want me to go on a boat tour in that?" 
He laughs, parking the car, encouraging me to look around.

I step outside and almost immediately feel the caress of a breeze, hauntingly so that it brings to mind a magical time when sirens called ancient pirates to their deaths at sea. I have no aspirations to follow in Elizabeth Swann's shoes, and beg off the fishermen's assurances that the storm will pass. This New Yorker, knows when to follow her gut and I thank my lucky stars I did, for just moments after leaving the marina, the sky erupts and unleashes one of the lake's reputable and unmanageable storms, with rain coming down in sheets, and the wind conjuring a sandstorm of mass proportions.

The storm lasts our whole journey back to the Plaza de la Independencia where the Cathedral is the main attraction. I wait patiently in the car, thankful for the A/C as we wait for the storm to blow over, for the rain to ease up so that I can make a dash inside.


The cathedral is minimalistic in design, there are no frescoes on the ceiling, no elaborate stained glass or rose windows for the sun to form a kaleidoscope of color on the hardwood floors. Instead the interior is a paler shade of its brightly colored yellow exterior, trimmed in a sun-bleached robin's egg blue.


Upon exiting the cathedral I look around the square, every one and every thing is recovering from the downpour. Even the volcano in the distance is obscured by the floating rainclouds and mist. Back in the car, Luiz drives around the square and a little deeper into town, stopping occasionally for me to feed my photography obsession:

Rainy streets of Granada
Entrance to walled garden

Colorful houses on the square

Green houses

Doorways - Granada

We stop for espresso at a local hotel. Chairs and tables are spread out across the courtyard, a small marching band performs on the street. At the cafe, Luiz tells me stories about his life in Managua, about his family and his daughter, about holidays and hardships. My mind strays for a moment to The Tiger's Wife, a book I have brought with me on this trip. There is a character that figures prominently in the story who reads coffee grinds, and it occurs to me that one can learn much about someone over a cup of coffee.

Our final destination is San Juan de Dios, an abandoned hospital that dates back to 1626. The structure is absolutely beautiful as you can see from the pictures below:



Luiz drives back the way we came with a side trip to Masaya City and a quick view of the infamous Mombacho skyline. It is almost 7 o'clock in the evening and as we drive along the highway, I notice a colorful strings of lights that remind me of Christmas trees decorating each of the roundabouts. I ask Luiz about them, and he tells me that this light display is a beautification project requested by President Ortega, for his love of rainbows:


Granada, and what I've discovered thus far about Managua, and its surrounding towns is the minimalistic throwback to a non-commercial, non-materialistic way of living, a simpler existence worth remembering.
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