The Journal  

30 December 2005


Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Granada , Granada , Nicaragua

December 13-15

We left León early, heading east to the colonial town of Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua . Soon after leaving the city, CA 1 passes along the shores of the volcano ringed Lake Managua and on to the country's capital city of the same name. In Managua , the Pan-American once again turned into confusing city streets, but in two stops for directions, we were on the final 20 mile stretch to the lake.

Despite our guidebook's comparison, we found few similarities between León and Granada , the latter with its clean, well-marked streets and tile-roofed colonial buildings. Our hostel was located in one such building, with a wide set of wooden double doors that allowed us to easily get the bike inside and parked in the courtyard.

  Jeremiah once again gets permission to bring the bike inside our hostel, wheeling it between couches and hammocks.

Granada has a wonderful street market, where you have to turn sideways to navigate down a narrow aisle between stalls that sell everything from radios to fresh meat to women's lingerie. We purchased the last of our Christmas gifts there and got to the post office moments before closing time to ship our package home. The postmaster insisted on opening our meticulously wrapped box and all of the presents inside. “Café?” he asked, sniffing at our bags of Guatemalan coffee beans, purchased at Lago Atitlán. “Yes,” we told him. “We cannot ship coffee outside the country,” he replied. We told him it wasn't Nicaraguan coffee, but he simply said, “We do not ship coffee from any country. It is our tradition.” When I asked if we could ship the coffee from Costa Rica , he just shrugged. We left partially successful, half our Christmas presents heading on their way back to the U.S.

  The produce market in the center of Granada offered rows and rows of plantains, potatoes, pre-cut vegetables and homemade cheese.

The next day we planned a trip on Lake Nicaragua, Central America 's largest lake. Walking to the docks we were approached by two kids of about 10 years old. At first we tried to ignore them, thinking they were beggars, until one, who introduced himself as Victor, offered us a tour in their grandfather's boat. We walked with the boys to Granada 's lakeside park, where they introduced us to their uncle. The two of us haggled for an hour about price, until he agreed on a two-hour tour for the half-hour price. We followed him to a shallow wooden boat that was grounded on the lake's garbage strewn shore for us to step aboard. Before we left, the uncle asked if we could pay half up front, so that he could buy gas for the next day's tours. We complied.

The water of Lake Nicaragua rolls up brown from the shore's dark, volcanic sand.

In the 19th century, the United States planned an Atlantic to Pacific canal across Nicaragua and through the lake before turning their attention to Panama . The lake is also famous for its now rare freshwater sharks, which Victor claimed to have seen. Off the shore of Granada are Las Isletas, a grouping of 365 of the lake's 400 islands, and the area our tour would pass through.

The first boat took us to rendezvous with the grandfather's launch, a fiberglass-hulled boat called Jessica . Victor offered to accompany us as a tour guide. As the Jessica headed out onto the lake, grandfather and grandson began to argue over the price we had paid. Our first stop was a fortress named El Castillo on the diminutive island of San Pablo . As we toured the ruins, Victor took me aside to offer a more extensive tour if we paid more. I told him that two hours was fine.

  Our 10-year-old guide, Victor, the grandson of the boat captain, tries to get more money out of us as we stood atop of El Castillo a fort built in 1784.

Back on the boat, Victor relayed the news to his grandfather. Over the next hour and a half we cruised the canals around the islands, some topped with mansion vacation homes, others with wooden shacks. Some of the isletas were uninhabited, except for birds or monkeys. But the boat never strayed far from the dock and moved at a snail's pace, its engine at an idle. Victor continued to receive his economics lecture, staring bored into the water. Eventually, both grandfather and our “guide” fell asleep. We languished, rocking in the wakes of the other tour boats that sped past us. We hadn't paid enough and they were making sure we got our money's worth. No matter how smart you think you are, the locals always win.

  Most of the islands were inhabited with some kind of dwelling and many were for sale. We cruised by about 70 of the 365 islands that make up Las Isletas just off the shore of Granada.

  As we rounded a bend a Confederate flag was waving to us from an island inhabited by an American.

  We saw lots of water birds on our two hour excursion.

  Un mono cara blanca or white-faced monkey eats fruit off a tree on a tiny island called La Isleta de los Monos by our guide.

Back in Granada that evening, we visited La Merced, a sixteenth century baroque cathedral, and asked the caretaker if we could climb the bell tower. He pointed at a wooden donation box, where we dropped some change before he unlocked the gate leading to the narrow, spiral staircase. From the top of the tower, we stood among huge cast-iron bells and looked across the twilight illuminated, red-tiled roofs towards a storm that was building over the lake. As we descended the first flight of stairs, we met the bell ringer, and watched as he manipulated two bells to chime in the five o'clock hour. Around Granada , other churches marked the hour as we walked back to our hostel in darkening streets.

  We went up in the bell tower of the Iglesia de La Merced to get a good view of Granada.

  We stood and watch the bells being rung at 5:00 p.m. at the church.

  A statue from atop of the Iglesia de la Merced is silhouetted in a storm sky.

All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus