We did it! After six months we escaped picture perfect postcard land, and stepped back into the real world. It was only for 9 days (= cultural difference … people don’t go on vacation here, so P was under pressure not to look too absent from work).. but my we really packed it in.
All of a sudden the perfectly manicured gardens, roads and houses were gone. Things looked like they needed mending, and all sorts of smells I had forgotten suddenly re-appeared. Our bubble wrap had been taken off.
We spent our first few days in the old colonial style town of Granada, and were awoken at 5.30 am on the first morning (Friday before Easter), by bells tolling and the most mournfully sounding music a brass band could possibly play. I jumped out of bed with a photographer’s excitement (yes sad I know, but those great shots do come at dawn).. I wandered down to the empty streets to see what was going on, to be greeted by dense cloud and a bit of rain … so much for the photo opportunity. Anyway there was a parade of people carrying a cross and a statue around the centre of town, I didn’t get too close as it didn’t quite feel right to chase after them with a huge camera. The streets were cobbled, the buildings closed, hiding behind them lush green courtyards full of flowers, like the one in our hotel. The sun finally rose. I got some shots and went back to bed…
Granada, apart from the early morning call (which had me confused for a moment as I thought I was back in the land of the prayer calls) was a really great place to hang out. Brightly coloured buildings, lots of beautiful churches, and towers you can climb to get great views over the tiled roofs on to Lake Nicaragua. Best thing was it was cool (ish), due to the breezes from the Lake. We cycled down to the lake and around to La Isletas (probably like every other tourist does), where we hired out kayaks. Now that was cool. Well actually it was really hot, but we were thankful it was a bit cloudy that day otherwise we would have all been roasted.. It was fun rowing in and out of the inlets around the islands, peeking in on a mixture of people who lived there and subsisted on fishing, contrasted by the houses where the rich and famous (well Nicaraguan famous anyway) had their homes. The place was oozing with wildlife, and we saw loads of birds, fish and even some bats. I got huge blisters, having made the wrong gamble … we were in two person kayaks and I thought older son would have the muscle to contribute more than younger (and considerably lighter) son…. big mistake. Half way round he gave up, and I was left rowing for two! I was therefore quite glad to get back to town, with a sore behind (missing my gel saddle), and blistered hands – looking forwards to my ice-cream smoothie!
One thing that was really nice about Granada was food. We spent time hanging about in coffee shops and some great restaurants. Before you ask there was absolutely no Starbucks in sight, only little local places with great local coffee and fantastic cakes. It even had quite a buzz at night … far from the streets of our local California towns which seem to be dead much after 8 pm. We loved the vibe in Tercer Ojo.. probably one of the weirdest most diverse menus we have seen, but food was good, and they even had gluten free options!! The pizza in El Pizzaiol looked amazing (although I got stuck with a surprisingly good salad)..
Our last day in Granada was spent ‘doing the volcano thing’ and we had a great trip out to the Apoyo lagoon, a perfect circular crater with lovely warm water (but very rocky entry so bring shoes you can swim in if you want to try it). We were supposed to do a load of stuff around lava caves and night viewings of steaming (and hopefully lava filled) craters, but due to a 6. something earthquake we were only allowed to drive up to the crater at Masaya, have a quick look and then drive back down pronto. Was still really interesing though, as I have never looked into a volcano before (although it was mainly a lot of steam and smoke).
After that we went (yes still on the very well beaten tourist trail) to Ometepe Island, the island of the twin volcanos. It really was exactly that, a different kind of perfect postcard, which you would be lucky to capture as it was pretty hazy most of the time we were there. After a short ferry ride we went horse riding, and really enjoyed some stunning views of one of the volcanos, Conception. It was great to slow down to a different pace, and we got to swim at a nearly white sand beach in fresh water on the shores of the Island. Felt a bit weird to be swimming one moment and then watching cows, pigs and or horses being brought down for a drink by their owners. We stayed on a small, but pleasant Finca nestled in between two beaches. Lovely. Well apart from the trillions and trillions of fresh water flies that descended towards dusk. Fortunately they were un-biting ones, but still they took the edge off our urge to lie on the many hammocks on the veranda.
The following day was filled with a 2 hour hike to a waterfall (yes still with every other tourist), which was really nice, along with some great rain-forest knowledge from our guide, Eric. The boys got to taste termites (they so love Bear Grylls) and we tried many other medicinal plants. Saw a few neat birds and monkeys too.
After escaping the island we headed off to Aqua Wellness Resort for the last 4 nights of our trip, and very lovely it was too. Nicaragua does not have much in the way of posh hotel stuff, but this one worked well for us, as it was small, boutiquey and, best of all for the boys was essentially a collection of tree houses! The beach was nice with great surf, and I was happy with yoga and lots of ‘healthy’ drinks with things like ginger and avocado (not to forget some pretty decent mojitos).
We had howler monkeys (boy do they make a noise) on our deck, and in the trees around our rooms, and a gorgeous hot tub with a view to die for. On the second day we walked the 20 minute walk into the only nearby settlement, a village called Playa Gigante. It had a few shops and restaurants and catered mostly for locals and backpackers/ surfers… Spent a really nice afternoon in a back-packer bar watching FOOTBALL (so nice to be able to call it that again!)… P was immediately in with the locals as they were watching La Liga, and Gareth Bale scored … so again one of those football joins the world moments… (well all the world bar the US that is!).
On our penultimate day I took a chocolate making class with the boys … I didn’t realise how easy it was, and also how good it tasted! – I guess that’s relative though as I was no where near any decent chocolate to compare it with. Basically we watched them roast the beans, we shelled them, and then liquidized and mixed with coconut oil and a bit of honey. Then was the fun bit of rolling them in flavours.. went a bit over board on the chilli and salt one, which I thought tasted great at the time, but not so good the next day.
All to soon it was time to go back to our lovely Californian home, where the weather was as warm as Nicaragua on the day we returned… always helps!
You can see the full photos if you click here
All in all a fantastic way to spend our “Spring Break”, and great to get all four of us together for 10 consecutive days!