Monday 11 to Thursday 14 May
From Leon we drove south, skirting the capital Managua. We took an alternate route past Lake Managua and then to the west which turned out to be a road perched on a ridge. In parts this road was windswept and it was sad to see that rubbish that is picked up in the wind is deposited on the ridge.
We then came across a number of craft villages where the rocking chairs that are so famous in Nicaragua are made. They may be wooden of varying style or cane.
Granada is as lovely as its namesake in Spain. Very much smaller and set on the massive Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.
The main square is surrounded by a large cathedral and a group of stylish buildings with both European and Central America architecture.
Leon to the north and Granada were both vying to become the capital city of the country. Instead Managau was created – a bit like our Canberra.
Our hotel was on the pedestrian street, Calle La Calzada, off the square, a nice jumble of hotels, restaurants and O’Reilley’s Irish Pub right opposite. We usually stay clear of Irish pubs, but Bruce was drawn by the sign out the front offering craft beer. This one was made locally and was called ’19 Dias’, representing the time it took to make the beer. Bruce gave it a score of 4 and was drawn back to try it again.
At the end of the pedestrian street is the lake. There have been plans in place for more than a hundred years to create a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, using this lake as part of the waterway. Apparently the USA had the right to build the canal and didn’t, thereby protecting their investment in the Panama Canal. Now, we are told, the Chinese are assisting the country to study the feasibility of building the canal. Objections are being raised on ecological grounds. Additionally Nicaragua is a very poor country so the cost of such a project may be out of their reach.
It would appear that Panama is the richest of the Central American countries and their revenue comes from the canal.
There is a lot to consider about the economic and ecological viability of a canal project in Nicaragua that would allow even bigger vessels to make the crossing.
Granada is a UNESCO approved town and, while we were there streets were being dug up to put in a sewerage system, apparently one of UNESCO’s requirements.
The Nicaragua lake is in better condition than Lake Managua.
There is a fort at the end of town called Fortelaza La Polvora, which Lonely Planet described as a ‘lavishly turreted Spanish fortress with the best view in town’, so we considered it would be worth taking a look. We passed many churches on the way and stopped to look at their different styles. The fort, however was not open – in fact it looked more like a private residence inside.
We took a drive to the Laguna de Apoyo, another of the many crater lakes in Nicaragua. There is a lookout on the rim near the town of Catarina. We knew we were nearly there when we came across no parking signs and rows of souvenir shops.
Sitting on the rim of the crater was delightful as a cool breeze swept across the water. Such a change from the hot, humid conditions of Granada. I can imagine it to be quite a romatic place in the evening.
We took a tour of the Isletas, a group of rocky islands created when the Mombacho Volcano blew much of its cone into Lake Nicaragua, thousands of years ago.
The islets are home to a variety of birds including herons, egrets and kingfishers. One island is home to a family of spider monkeys, brought here by a vet. They can’t swim and are therefore imprisoned on the island. I don’t understand why, but they do attract the tourists.
This is where many of the rich and famous Nicaraguans live or at least holiday. We did however notice that a lot of island homes were for sale.
There is also the fort of San Pablo on one of the islands, built by the Spanish in the 18th century, to guard Granada against invading pirates.
We stopped for a refreshment and were recommended papaya juice, which the Mayans claim will cure any stomach ailments including ulcers. We sure felt good after that.
This was a ‘soft tour’, sitting on the boat, watching birds and admiring flowers. Very pleasant.
As we drove back to Managua to resume our travels, we stopped by the Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya. There are two volcanos in the park, Volcán Nindirí which is active and Volcán Masaya which is dormant. Volcán Nindirí was puffing our sulphur fumes and you are recommended not to stay in the area longer than 5 minutes. In fact the welcome note we received stated ‘This volcano may erupt without notice since its frequent (sic) activity’ and ‘Park you car facing exit…’.
There is also an opportunity to walk the rim of Volcán Masaya, a fantastic walk with views into the extinct crater of Masaya, Masaya lake outside the volcano and over to the active Nindirí.
The highlight was coming across a volt of vultures, sitting on the rim. They were not disturbed by us until we entered their space, and then they took flight. It was amazing to watch them soar around the volcano rim.
The crater inside Masaya was full of flowering Frangipanis. I had always associated frangipanis with Bali or South East Asia. In fact the are native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America as far south as Brazil, and we have seen them in many places during the last few months. In Mexico they are called the May flower, as that is when they bloom.