Adios Granada, ola Laguna de Apoyo

“Time marches on and waits for no one.” Heather’s Dad Bruce was a very genuine fellow and would discreetly share this type of wisdom with us. We all lived together at Hillridge – the family homestead on the Fraser River north of Quesnel, BC. In 1974 as two young “back-to-the-land-ers” we moved north to Quesnel with Bruce and Heather’s Mum Sheila, and we looked up to Bruce to ration his life’s insight with us. Thanks Bruce…..

Yes, the past month has gone by very quickly, indeed.

Some photos from our stay in Granada:

The experience at the language school, Spanish Dale was both rewarding and exhausting. Starting every day at 8:00 AM, we’d typically start the day’s lesson with a conversation around the table with our instructor, Arleen. All sorts of topics were covered in the 15 days we were with her. Weather, characteristics of food in Nicaragua and in Canada, living in British Columbia, living in Nicaragua, how we live with bears and she lives with scorpions, religion, politics, etc.. oh, and the major differences between the English and Spanish languages. During the ‘conversations’ if we didn’t know or understand a word, we’d stop, Arleen would write it out and we’d record it for future use… X 1000.

After the morning discussion, we’d start into structured lesson plans covering the basics of every necessary combination of verbs – regular/irregular – even the ones that end in irse-erse or arse, feminine/masculine nouns, adjectives, idioms, prepositions and all the exceptions to the primary rules. In the first week we made major progress with common introductions and questions. By the third week it settled into a fairly intense info storm. As the linguistic wave crashed over us we felt a little overwhelmed but willing to push on through this chunky bit. It paid off. Without being totally aware, our brains WERE storing some of the hundreds of words and structural rules we were taught. So, now it’s up to us to continue to practice with the tools we’ve been given. We ARE conversing and we ARE understanding. Wow.

The three weeks did something else for us. They allowed us to become good friends with our homestay family in Granada. The head of the household was a warm and welcoming woman, Rosita. Maria, Rosita’s daughter and their housekeeper Esperanza made us feel like part of the family. Their place was very close to the Parque Central and the incredible Calle Commercio. We had the keys to the main gate at the front entrance so we could come and go as we pleased. However, with the day’s schooling wearing us down, we were typically in bed no later than 9:00 PM! Leaving the family was sad… hugs were exchanged and a few tears shed. Rosita’s final words asked us to not to forget “Mi casa es tu casa”. Anytime we’re in Granada…

Today, we’re enjoying the tropical luxury of Laguna de Apoyo 18km outside of Granada. It’s a remarkable place. The 175m deep lake occupies the caldera of an extinct volcano. The bottom of the lake is reportedly the lowest point in Central America. We’re staying at the Hostel Paraiso perched on the edge of the laguna. Wonderful.

Nicaragua is a magnet for world travelers. Apart from many, many Canadians we’ve met, we’ve had the good fortune to chat with folks from Germany, Holland, Norway, France and the USA. I’m sure we’ll meet more trekkers from other parts of the globe as we noodle our way around the country.

Next stop? The island of Ometepe – “an island formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua. Its name derives from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain), meaning “two mountains”. – Wikipedia … Sure to be an adventure.

Commercial Drive

In Vancouver BC there is a fascinating street called Commercial Drive. Home to many ethnic stores, restaurants and pubs, it’s a hub of activity. In Granada, there is Calle El Comercio. The two things these thoroughfares have in common are: business – lots of it and, people – lots of them.

In Grenada there is a certain energy – an ardor and visible passion to just jump in and be one of the hundreds of vendors – however big or small.

Yes, this passion is driven by a need to survive in this poor country, but the point is, they’re doing it. Unless they’re very poor, they’re not looking for a handout.

On Calle El Comercio, the huge selection of products and services is staggering.

The vendors are located on the street, in stores off the street, in alleys lined with stalls and in the main market building the Mercado Municipal.

This building was built in the 1890’s, constructed in the “Neo-classical style”. It’s one of the historical landmarks in Grenada.

What can I buy?

It would take quite a while to stop at every stand or kiosk to recognize everything for sale. Some are obvious – a small bench, a tarp for a roof, bicycle wheels and tires hanging up and all kinds of bike parts dangling from the rafters give it away. Fair enough.

Down the back of the main Mercado building, we came across the long and narrow room that was the butcher’s area. As we entered, we saw a pile of deep fried something and when we looked closer, it was the pork rind (skin) that is part of the typical Nica dish Vigaron. Cool. As we continued on, there were all kinds of animal parts hanging up and down on the counters there were piles of meat of all kinds including yummy organ delicacies.

Back at home in the typical supermarket, the chicken is cradled in Styrofoam and wrapped up within an inch of its life – which as we know involves a fair bit of processing and industrialized care. Open and available for your selection, here the chicken selection was hygenic and convenient. And, there is a good chance this chicken was raised in a very different environment than we’re used to. They certainly taste that way!

Other vendors could fix your shoes, give you a haircut, fix your watch, shine your shoes, top up your cellphone plan, cook your lunch or dinner and even perform a mani-pedi.

As far as other tangible products go, the list is almost endless. From the freshest fruits and vegetables to cellphone cases – it’s all here.

We realized as we walked through the market and along the street what we were witnessing was the true Nicaragua. People buying and selling all the essential things for their daily lives. As long as people live in Granada, Calle El Comercio will be the place to shop and meet your friends!

Getting connected

We’re happy to say our second week in Granada has been both relaxing and challenging. Even though we’ve walked our buns off, we’re feeling very relaxed – just being here. It’s something we’ve been blessed with over the years – in a new and unfamiliar place, we find a way to chill and to appreciate the people living in their community – while making every effort to be good visitors. We have walked to districts over almost all of this city and have met good people along the way. And, living with our homestay family, we’ve had the opportunity to learn some of their language, customs and daily routines.

Early Risers

People get up early here. If they’re anything like us, their alarms are assisted by the doves cooing outside the window. Mornings are a very busy time with cooler temperatures and lots of business to take care of. Our home street Calle Estrada connects directly with the VERY busy Calle El Commercio. Each morning as we make our way to our Spanish school, within minutes of walking out our front entrance, we’re caught up in the wonderfully organized chaos of the commercial street, absorbing each and every aroma, sight and sound – generally turned up to 11. On the street you can buy everything from cellphones to freshly squeezed orange juice, radios, bras, cheese, bread, quesadillos, pocket knives, school uniforms, avocados, flip flops, t-shirts, exchanged money, watches, jewellery… the list goes on.

And, as we’ve come to realize, these people are polite, courteous and happy to be alive. Yes, there are unfortunate souls who beg for help but the people our Grandson calls “bad guys” aren’t around… at least where we tread.

The Reality?

If you dig a little deeper, not everything is ‘bonita’. According to Forbes.com, Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, with widespread underemployment and poverty. This week we took a walk to the outskirts of Granada’s poor district and the poverty was easy to see. Within blocks of the busy downtown with it’s ostensible bustling economy, we saw poor folks living in deplorable conditions. All that said, today we were informed by a hotel owner in Granada that Nicaragua has been experiencing very steady and rapid economic growth in the past few years partially due to the upswing in tourism. Sounds like Forbes needs to re-visit their stats?

Human Rights?

The Human Rights Watch (hrw.org) published a story last July about the current ban on abortion.

“(New York) – Nicaragua’s total ban on abortion is putting women and girls’ health and lives at risk. The country’s 2006 law punishing abortion – without any exceptions, even if pregnancies are life-threatening or resulted from rape – has driven abortions underground.”

Good to be informed about the country you’re visiting…

Espanol?

Ah, the Spanish lessons. Muchas gracias, they’re going well. We are fortunate to have a very gifted instructor, Arleen.

She has a LOT of patience and in the first week we’ve progressed through many practical lessons that make everyday conversation at least within our grasp. During her instruction she speaks in Spanish 99.9% of the time. We’re getting accustomed to HEARING Spanish and that’s half of the reason we’re studying the language. When we get back to our homestay, it’s immersion all the way.

Tourist Cards

We had walked to the north side of town to visit the government Immigration Office to see if we could extend our tourist cards past the 90 days, an additional 2 weeks. Fifteen years ago, we remember doing this but times and policies have changed. We walked into the quaint office and with our Spanish not nearly adequate to meet the demand of the inquiry, we resorted to Google Translate. Thank goodness for that. If you were wondering about extending your 90 day tourist card – we have learned the following…

  • Managua isn’t the only place with an office. Others exist in the country. Granada, Rivas, Leon, Bluefields, Corn Island all have offices (at least right now they do)
  • We were told (by the office in Granada) our 90 day tourist card must be waaay closer to being expired than with the 80 or so days it had left when we inquired. So, that’s it, we’ll visit the Corn Island office in a few months.

Let’s make a friend…

This week we met a very friendly man. His name was Manuel. As the main greeter in front of the cigar factory in the north end of town, he’s used to approaching people and making them feel welcome. And, he’s very good at it. We declined the offer to tour the factory but that didn’t matter to him. He wanted to know all about us and where we were from. We talked about the weather and he told us some facts about the neighbourhood. When we told him where we were from, his eyes lit up and a big smile appeared. “Ahhh… Canada! Nicaragua and Canada…. together!” At that point he flung his arms around me and gave me a big hug. He then turned to Heather with outstretched arms and gave her a hug too! What a great guy! He wished us well and smiled as we said Adios!

El Poeta

We were extremely lucky and very happy to attend a reading by the well known Nicaraguan poet Pedro Xavier Solis Cuadra.

We were invited by our school Spanish Dale to hear his inspiring and down to earth poetry. Yes, it was in Spanish but a wonderful lady named Diane Neuhauser translated his work into English with passion and love. The poetry took one’s breath away. Fabulous. On it goes…

Some more pics from the last week…

Granada Gastronomy

Nicaraguans are such wonderful people. Since we arrived almost a week ago, it’s been inspiring to get to know a few of them a little bit better every day. They are so welcoming, helpful, patient and most of all, full of life. (Lleno de vida) 

You can see it in the way they celebrate even the little things – like the street vendor dama (lady) making Quesillos… A yummy treat typically made from a thick corn tortilla wrapped around soft cheese, pickled onions, and a sauce of sour cream or liquid cheese and vinegar. We had our taste of these Nica gems at the well-known little stand next to the Iglesia La Merced on the Calle (street) Real Xalteva. The lady’s whole family was there and the vibe was cool. She had a big smile and each quesillo was made with love and care. 

And… HAPPILY we continue to sample other local fare. Muy sabroso! (Very tasty!) In Granada, it IS a veritable culinary feast. Ensalada fruitas top the list. The fruit here is fresh and full of rich flavor. Bananas definitely taste different here! The tasty Nicaraguan national side dish Gallo Pinto (rice and beans mixed) can accompany everything from a steak to eggs. This morning we had breakfast at the renown Garden Café. No Gallo Pinto but potatoes and carrots were fried together with mild chilies and then topped with two poached eggs, bacon with fruit salad on the side. (for those of you who love bacon, it’s incredible here!) Wow. 

Yesterday evening we had “Vigaron” – another traditional dish. It’s quite a creation. Start with a banana leaf on a plate, pile on boiled yuca, deep fried pork rind called chicharrones and spicy shredded cabbage called curtido that includes tomatoes and onions tossed in pineapple vinegar. Safe to say, we ARE eating well. Mmmmm. 

As you can see, we’re inserting the occasional word en espanol. We’ve completed our first three introductory lessons at La Escuela (school) One to One run by Roger Ramirez and his son Roger Jr. It’s been great to see how our slightly older brains deal with a huge download of info. Pretty well actually. Arg! The instructors were excelente! Muchas gracias Roger Jr, Rosa and Miyka. Tomorrow, we see the first of many planned changes during this adventure. Our second Spanish school is giving us a ride from Diego’s to the homestay folks in Granada where we’ll spend the next three weeks. We don’t know all the details yet so look for those updates in our next blog! 

Till then, here’s some more pics from the last few days…

Vigaron!
Love those Quesillos!
Miyka, Roger Jr. and their star student!
Heather and Roger Jr. studying hard.

Settled in Granada

According to Diego our Airbnb host, the New Year’s celebrations continued until 4:00 AM on Calle La Calzada – the main party spot in Granada. Diego’s house is away from the hustle bustle but with earplugs in anyway and trying to catch up with the Aeromexico jet-lag, we slept well.

The next morning walking out into the streets it was wonderful to see the community already cleaning up from the huge party. For some, the festivities continued and we were greeted with a VERY happy ‘Buenos Dias!’ and ‘Feliz ano nuevo!’ from those folks. The family feeling was everywhere as January 1st is a special holiday here for everyone.

The next day was our first day of ‘business’. We needed to get some Cordobas – the Nica currency, and we also wanted to locate the Mansion de Chocolate (pronounced Choco-latte). It’s where our daily Spanish classes start next week.

But… the first order of the day was… the dentist. Dental Tourism is a well known and established business here. Standards are high and the dental community is well trained. One can expect to pay 50% of what the cost would be back home in Canada. Why not we thought? We booked with Dr. Erwin Esquivel Chavez a couple of months ago and now here we are – in Granada at his office!

Both Heather and I arranged for a cleaning and checkup. When we were done, that’s all it was. No extra work to do. The cleaning was very thorough and we went out smiling. Partly because it only cost $140 for the two of us. Thanks Erwin! We’d recommend this if you’re taking a trip to Nicaragua. And anyway, it’s nice to start the adventure with clean teeth.

We have to say right off the bat that the food… oh the food… is very very tasty. One night we had a steak dinner at the well-known El Zaguan restaurante and holy cow. Literally. We thought back to many memorable dinners we enjoyed over the years and we agreed, our meal here was one of the top ten restaurant dinners we’ve EVER had!

We’ve also linked up with an old friend of a friend who runs a Spanish language school in Granada. In preparation for a three-week homestay immersion program (at another school we had already booked) we’re getting together with Roger and his son for a few one to one ‘pre-school’ lessons starting tomorrow. We have travelled many times to Latin American countries and yes, we even worked there but we were never able to carry on a conversation without getting in trouble. That’s about to end! Ya no diremos que no hablamos español!

Oh, one other thing we did – we watched a kid’s baseball game. It was great! And were they ever good – super entertaining! Baseball is huge here.

The Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League (La Liga Nicaragüense de Beisbol) has four teams that compete against each other, the Indios del Bóer, the Tigres del Chinandega, the Leones de León, and the Orientales de Granada. – Wikipedia

So, after our first few days, we’re very comfortable. The people are super friendly and warm hearted. Due to the breeze off Lake Nicaragua, and the moderate temperatures, (30 C) the climate here is perfect. And, from where we’re staying, everything is a short walk away. What more could we wish for?

Here’s some pics from the last couple of days…

First breakfast - what a lovely setting.
First breakfast – what a lovely spot.

We had seen the funeral procession earlier…

The quaint entry to our apartment.

Quiet and cool sitting room below our apartment.

Erwin performing his magic.
Downtown Granada’s busy, busy market.
17th century Iglesia de Guadalupe
Mombacho volcano right next to Granada – last eruption? 1570.

Iglesia Catedral Immaculada. A bit of an icon…
Quiet back street behind our apartment…

The Big Day

As most seasoned travellers know… things will change. It’s a part of getting out there and experiencing the moveable feast that is travel. With our cycle tours we’ve become accustomed to the feeling of being in some kind of control, gracefully and slowly accepting those things that aren’t. This trip has started out a little different for us. Not bad, just different.

At the risk of belabouring the story, during the journey to Nicaragua, essentially we were treated to a royal miscarriage by the airline Aeromexico. Upon arrival in Vancouver from Prince George, we were told that our connecting flight from Mexico City to Managua was cancelled. Period. No viaje for you guys. At first we were struck with the nonsense of the whole thing and then the reality of it set in. We were probably going to spend a night in Mexico City. As we usually do, we made the best of it and after arriving in one of the 10 largest cities in the world, we went for a walk.

After gazing off our 16th floor balcony of the Century Hotel, we realized how massive the place is. We had seen less than a dot on a map. But, we were in the geographical centre of the city so that was cool. At the risk of being overwhelmed, we attempted to absorb the atmosphere of this part of downtown. It was huge. After leaving our little house on the Fraser River in Central BC, this was a culture change immersion for sure. But, a pleasant one. The only thing challenging was the air quality. People WERE wearing masks and one could feel it on the chest.

After a really good night’s sleep we made our way to the airport again and all went well until Aeromexico threw us another curve ball. We sat on the bus that was to take us out on the tarmac for an hour until someone went and asked and we found out the flight HAD NO PILOT. Nada. We waited for an extra 2 ½ hours for El Capitan to show up. Hard to believe. We felt bad for our Granada Airbnb host Diego. He was coming to pick us up and in the end, he waited for 4 hours with his driver Louis at the Managua airport. So yes, change is OK sometimes, but not when it screws up other people’s plans. Diego and Louis were so cool about it. Thanks guys! It was after all, Dec. 31st. Yes, it was Heather’s birthday too!

On the way to Granada we started to feel the familiar friendly air we remembered from the time we spent here 15 years ago. Already we were starting to chill – putting the Aeromexico debacle behind us.
Diego’s Airbnb is a refuge. Within a short walk of the downtown, it’s perfect. We have our own apartment with shower, comfortable bed, balcony and we also have freedom in his house that he shares with his Mum and Aunt. All for $21 a night.

We were not too tired to take a good walk about to get our bearings. As it was New Year’s Eve, things were starting to get busy on the Calle de Calzada – a no-traffic mecca for touristas and locals alike. We had a celebratory beer and then Heather picked a spot for her birthday dinner. It was all good and really made us feel like were in familiar and welcoming territory again.

After dinner, we took in the local celebration in the neighbourhood next door to Diego’s place. So cool. We saw the whole neighbourhood out enjoying the music, the treats handed out by volunteers, and families enjoying the evening together. Fabulous.

As fatigue set in we toddled back to Diego’s much too early by New Year’s Eve standards. With explosions ricocheting off the walls of our little apartment, with earplugs in, we fell asleep feeling happy, satisfied, and most of all fortunate that we were doing this. We have so many more people to meet, places to go and good vibes to feel. Can’t wait. Bring it on.

Century Hotel
Looking west from our downtown viewpoint.
Are there pilots for ALL these planes?

F

Ugh!

Louis and our host Diego

View from a much quieter balcony

Birthday Girl!

Neighbourhood New Year’s party about to start.
Setting up a Nica pinata.
The band is over to the right…
Time for bed. Feliz ano nuevo!