Today we continued our Nicaraguan adventure by traveling south to Masaya and Granada. Leaving Leon and the beautiful El Convento, we drove about two hours back towards and past Managua to the Masaya Volcano and National Park. Under the expert guiding of Roberto, we learned that Masaya is another active volcano in the same chain as the others that we've visited. At Masaya you can drive right to the crater rim and look into the smoldering caldera. It really stinks like sulphur. In fact, we climbed to the lookout point and were unable to catch our breath due to the terrible sulphur fumes. It is an amazing sight and worth the trip.
From Masaya National Park we went to the town of Masaya to visit the famed Masaya market. This is the market where the local artisans sell their wares including hammocks, pottery, and weavings. After spending so much time in Mexico, we were not super impressed. We picked up a few things, but nothing too exciting.
Our next stop was the famous El Zaguan Restaurant in Granada. Granada will be our base for the next two nights and this restaurant is THE place to eat. Lunch al fresco in the beautiful garden was worth the trip. El Zaguan is known for churrasco, grilled beef that's seasoned just right. Needless to say, we enjoyed our lunch.
And the day was just getting started! Once we checked into our hotel, Plaza Colon, we met our new guide for the next two days. Eric from Mombotours will be guiding us while in Granada and he got us started in very cool fashion. We drove to the shores of Lake Nicaragua and boarded individual kayaks for a tour of Las Isletas, the collection of 365 islands that surround the shores around Granada. We explored the islands, many of which are inhabited. On some, families live in shacks. On others there are schools, churches, and hotels. At one island we were able to overhear a Christmas Eve mass being conducted. On another, we rocked out to latin music and imagined the party that was going on inside the shack.
On the way back to the dock, it began pouring a warm rain, to the point that it didn't matter whether we were on top of the kayak or in the water. Still, we enjoyed the whole thing.
Our dinner was traditional Nicaragua. We walked a few blocks to Calle de la Cazada, which is kind of like Las Ramblas in Barcelona. It's a pedestrian street that's filled with bars and restaurants with tables pouring onto the sidewalk. We dined at Comida Tipico, a traditional Nicaraguan restaurant. Steve had baho, a concotion of beef, plantain, cabbage, and rice wrapped in a banana leaf. Marnie enjoyed a nacatamale, the Nicaraguan version of a tamale, again, wrapped in banana leaves. Choco flan for dessert topped off our Christmas Eve dinner.
In Nicaragua, Christmas is rung in with fireworks- lots of them. In fact, they've been going off all day, beginning at 6:00 a.m. They to culminate at midnight with a REALLY BIG display, and we were able to enjoy the festivities on our balcony overlooking Granada's central park. Think 4th of July multiplied by ten. Once the baby Jesus arrived, things settled down and we were able to sleep.
Speaking of the baby Jesus, Nicaragua is primarily a Catholic country. In every Nativity scene we've seen so far, the manger was empty. Now that Christmas is here, the baby will be included in the scene. We're not sure who delivers him to all of the nativity scenes throughout the country but we're sure it's divine.