Nicaragua Trip: Day 3

I wasn't THIS much of a tourist, though!

Granada is such an incredibly gorgeous, historical city that I couldn’t help wanting to see it all and photograph it.  So…off I went today, map in one hand, camera in the other.  Hello, tourist!

Pottery of Mayan origin, 1,000's of years old.

I’d heard about the Chocolate Museum from some new friends and decided to go in search of  it’s fabled all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.  YUM!  I grabbed coffee at the hostel while I was getting ready, so I went first to the pottery museum which sits next to the chocolate one.  I wandered there, reading the displays and photographing the gorgeous, ancient pieces for about an hour.

Death is just a step, just a rebirth into a new and different life; it speaks of hope and faith. I kind of like that.

I was/am fascinated by the rows of huge, distended pots, made to look exactly like the roundness of a woman’s pregnant belly.  There was something both beautiful and disturbing about those pots.  I asked the woman at the front desk and she explained to me that they are funerary urns, in which the dead would be buried.  I can only imagine that those dead would have been first cremated- or very tiny- to fit into those pots.  Big as they are, a whole person couldn’t possibly fit in there without some extreme changes.  I find the symbolism of those clay urns fascinating…to bury the dead in the earth, in vessels made to resemble a pregnant belly…

Food so good I forgot to take photos!

The Chocolate Museum was small, but the food was all that had been promised.  Eggs, fried platanos, fresh fruit & juice, coffee, breads, and crepes filled with dark chocolate & bananas.  Mmmmmh.

I can definitely get on board with a culture which uses chocolate as currency!

Just one of the many sculptures dotting Poets' Park

Thus fortified, I began my walking tour of Granada in earnest: the old rail yard, Poets’ Park, a series of churches and historical buildings, shops full of this and that, tiled sidewalks, rundown barrios, profusions of flowers, people and animals and cars… Whew.  

I picked the carriage with the fattest, most contented-looking horses.

By 2 I was hot, sweaty, tired, sore…but I had so many questions.  I longed for a guidebook telling me the history of the buildings, streets, and churches, but there aren’t those.  Nicaragua is too new to tourism yet.  So, instead, I found a sweet carriage driver in the central square.  I talked him down to $10 for an hour-long tour, and off we went.  He didn’t speak incredibly fluent English, but my Spanish is now good enough and he spoke slowly enough that I had no trouble understanding him.  It was nice to chat in Spanish and not wonder what was being said to me.  The carriage driver made sure he stopped and looked at me as he was talking most times, carefully gauging my expression.  When I didn’t recognize a word (usually a name) he explained differently.  It was actually a lot of fun.  I learned:

Sandinista and Contra soldiers lie side-by-side.

My informative carriage driver

  • Nicaragua’s 1st female president: 1990-1995
  • Granada’s founding: 1524
  • The Cordoba ($): named after the first  colonial governor of Nicaragua
  • First national capital of Nicaragua: Granada
  • 85% of workers in Granada have to commute to some other city for work each day.
  • 80% of Nicaragua’s population is Catholic, the other 20% are Evangelical Christian
  • The strange wooden platform being built in the central square was to be the focal point of a vigil being held  to honor the last pope, who was being canonized as a saint…the local catholic schools required their students to attend the all-night event to watch the masses being sung for him in Rome.
  • In the cemetery, nationalist and Sandinista soldiers from the war in the 1980’s are buried side-by-side.
  • The blackened front of one of the churches was damaged by a firebomb in the civil war.
  • Most of the rebuilt historical buildings in Granada were bought and renovated by either Americans or Europeans…but Nicas don’t mind.  They’re happy that the history is being preserved and that the hotels and restaurants being opened mean more jobs in the local area.  They want the tourism industry that Costa Rica has.

The city's tallest bell tower, and best view.

Jesus Christ! No...really.

There are half a dozen old, old churches in Granada.  All of them are, of course, Catholic, and are filled with the sometimes-disturbing imagery the Catholic faith is so well known for- bleeding Christs, weeping women, suffering martyrs.  But I’ve always had a fascination with old churches, and I can’t help but go seeking them out.  That was a huge part of my walk today- checking out the churches.

Late in the afternoon, I paid the $1 donation and climbed the narrow, twisty steps up to the top of the highest bell tower in town.  Oh My God.  The view was amazing.  It brought tears to my eyes as I looked out over the city to the lake on the eastern side and the volcanoes ringing it to the north and west.  Sometimes I am amazed at the adventures I am living through and how much I am getting to see and do.  I feel so incredibly lucky.

The southeastern quadrant of Granada, with the lake in the distance and the slope of Volcan Masay rising to the right.

The waterfront park along Lake Nicaragua

A long, long walk down to the lake ended my day of rambling.  The lake area is gorgeous, but I can definitely tell it’s not the place you’d want to be at night.  It’s a little remote, with very few houses or other things right near it, save for the line of bars along the road that fronts the wide lake-shore park.

After finally making it back to the hostel and  stumbling tiredly into the shower, I was hungry and in desperate need of food, but so tired that not eating was also tempting.  I know better though, so I took myself off to the restaurant district, near the square.  It seems that I’d have to get used to living on fish and rice in Nicaragua.  They’ve got good food, but very little of is vegetarian friendly.  It is a culture that eats more pork and beef than Costa Rica does, and less salad. I picked a restaurant that offered a view of the square and watched the goings-on.

Right out of 16th century Spain, this funerary carriage stands in symbolic wait for Pope John Paul II

I love the great clusters of fruits decorating the raised stage errected for the country's most important bishops.

The night-time vigil brought with it music, spoken masses, crowds, and explosions of fireworks that lasted all night and could be heard, occasionally, from la Oasis.  After dinner I wandered the crowd and snapped a few shots of the vigil, then crawled back to the hostel.  I was exhausted and slept the sleep of the deserving dead.