Breakfast starts at 6:30 in the morning, where we are given a presentation regarding Nicaragua as a tourism destination. Then we head out on the buses for the Masaya Volcano. We pass by many homes and businesses in Managua. You can definitely see the difference in wealth levels compared to other Central American nations. Trash litters the gutters on the streets as there does not exist much consciousness for keeping the city clean. We drive for about ½ hour to the entrance to the Masaya Volcano. Here one can hike or even bike on many of the trails in the area, but we opt for the quick fifteen minute van ride up to the crater at the top. Here one can look over the steep side of the crater and see the steaming sulfur below. The smell is horrible – and breathing it in causes a great irritation in your throat. I start to climb up the 200 stairs to the cross on the high ridge lookout, make it half way up and take some photos of the gorgeous landscape out over Lake Nicaragua – and then decide to head back to the air-conditioned (and filtered) air in our bus. I have never been so close to an active volcano crater, and yet 10 minutes was enough for my lungs!
Next we go back down the volcano and head to the Catarina Lookout. As we drive there, we pass through an area where many ceramics, hammocks, and plants are being sold all along the side of the main road (I later learn that this area I the White towns of Masaya). We reach the lookout, and from here we can see the Apoyo Lagoon – a lake crater formed below. We shop around a bit, all the while having young kids asking for coins or trying to sell flowers to us made with grass reeds. The views are amazing from the top! I visit the public bathroom, pay 2 cordobas for some toilet paper and privacy. The toilets don’t flush, so after I leave I see a woman coming towards me with a bucket of water. I watch as she pours it into the toilet bowl to manually make it flush. A truly raw experience!
After this we board the bus again and head on to Granada. Here we arrive to Hotel Dario for a nice lunch around the outdoor interior courtyard. After lunch, we go on a walking tour around the city of Granada, first taking in the Cathedral of Granada, originally built in 1583, which has been destroyed and restored numerous times during Granada’s multiple “sacks”. The most recent version has been standing since 1915.
Next we cross the plaza, passing by the horse drawn carriages awaiting interested riders, and then go on to see the Convento de San Francisco. This is the oldest church in all of Central America, still showing the original façade dating back to 1585. It has recently been restored in 1989, and houses a small, but well done, museum with primitive art, a scaled room size model of the city of Granada, and Zapatera statuary. These black basalt statutes were discover on the Chorotega Indian ritual island Zapatera in the late 1880s. They date back to 800-1200 AD. After the convent, we continue on to go for a boat ride through the Isletas de Granada. Over 300 small volcanic rock islands were created when Volcano Mombacho erupted. We toured past small stone protected islands with beautiful homes, restaurants, and some hotels. Many of the isletas are actually for sale – you can buy them, and your own land then is on Lake Nicaragua! We saw some birds as went along, then we came to “monkey Island” where 2 spider monkeys and some capuchin monkeys come out to greet us. As we are watching them and trying to take pictures, one spider monkey leaps from the tree branch and into a boat and began to walk along the outside past everyone sitting inside. Everyone in the boat was quickly advised to guard their things as the monkey continued to walk around and across laps looking for food or something else interesting. Finally they are able to get him back on the island and we come back to Puerto Asese and get off the boats.
From here we went and checked into our hotels, then met up at La gran Francia for dinner. The hotel Gran Francia was William walker’s former home. He is the American “commander for hire” who came in and helped the Nicaraguans fight, and then ended up proclaiming himself as President of Granada and then later burned it to the ground out of spite. This city has a very interesting history of pirates and war!
As we drive through the countryside, I see horses left wandering on the sides of the road – let loose to graze on the pieces of land lining the road that nobody owns. They use wood sticks to build their fences too – but these branches re-sprout once they are stuck into the ground, as the soil here is extremely fertile. So the fences appear as though they are rows of trees in a line with wire around them.