Hot and exhausted, we staggered off the bus in Granada. Although we’d hoped for an entire day to explore the gorgeous colonial architecture, domestic airline issues had ruined that plan. No matter. Somewhere along our journey, there had been a highway sign for a hotel with a pool. After a couple of hours sweating on a chicken bus, we fixated on that place as our holy grail.
Although seemingly dozens of cabs passed us by, we finally caught one. Nicaragua is one of those countries where taxi drivers utterly stuff their vehicles with as many willing passengers as they can. It was no surprise when there was already a gringo in the front seat, a very friendly guy from England. (Have you ever noticed that English people get offended when you ask where they’re from? Like you should just silently recognize the accent and speak no further of their origins? Calm down, Brits, I’m just making conversation… or maybe I think you’re Australian).
Anyway… after hearing of our vague idea to stay at this highway-sign hotel, our new mate redirected us to the center of town. We should stay at a reasonably-priced hostel, he advised, right in the middle of the city. I believe that flexibility is key while traveling. That’s how we ended up getting out of the cab with the Brit. He had taken us directly to Calle La Calzada, a busy strip that hosts shops, restaurants, and hotels.
He was meeting a group of expats for beers at a bar/restaurant that also offered rooms for rent. The rooms were hot and cramped.
“You can have this one,” said the bartender leading our tour. She opened a door: inside, a baby squawked with surprise from the bed where he lay prone, his mother arranging his diaper. Everyone smiled.
“That’s all right,” I demurred. “We can find somewhere else.”
We left the bar and began our walk down Calle La Calzada. But we were not alone.
“Miss?” said a boy of about ten, blinking up at me with an offering outstretched from his hands. He had twisted a rose out of palm leaves.
“No, gracias,” I smiled, not slowing. The boy turned to Xavier.
“Flower? One dollar.”
“No, thanks, brother,” he declined.
“Give me a dollar,” the boy demanded.
“No,” Xavier replied.
“Don’t give him any money,” our new gringo friends chimed in from their table. “It’ll just encourage him. Leave them alone, dude.”
But the kid persisted.
“Give me a dollar.”
The exchange went on for quite some time, with our new shadow following us for a block with the requests for money never ceasing. Finally, after a particularly firm no, the little guy lost his patience. He let out a string of curse words in Spanish, culminating with something that we’ll nicely translate to “stupid gringo.”
Xavier switched over to his perfectly fluent native Spanish. “Really? You’re gonna go there? I’m not a gringo, I’m from Ecuador. Nice try.”
The boy replied in sullen Spanish. “Give me your bag.”
“Yes, give me your bag! I’m going to rob you.”
“No. Leave us alone, dude.”
“I’m going to kill you!”
Welcome to Granada.
After three days on gorgeous, secluded Corn Island, this sort of nagging was a much-needed reality check. We were back on the mainland and in a city, with a completely new set of stimuli.
Our “friend” went on his way after he realized he wouldn’t be receiving any handouts. We wandered around until we eventually found a place to stay: the Hostal San Angel, right near the main square. For $20 a night, our room featured a double bed, a single bed, and a private bathroom. No air conditioning, which was a little intimidating in the brutal July heat, but two fans oscillated valiantly against the humidity.
After quick showers (cold, obviously), we set out to explore Granada. It was late afternoon and we wouldn’t have much time left!
The central square was just a block from our hostel, and we quickly wandered over. The square was packed for a Monday afternoon. Vendors selling Nicaragua shirts and handmade jewelry bordered packs of friends laughing and chatting on park benches. Tourists, like us, meandered with cameras in hand. And horse-drawn carriages waited patiently for their next passengers.
Granada is supposed to be the oldest city in Central America, founded in by Spanish settlers in 1524. True to its heritage, the buildings we saw were colonial in appearance. Their bright colors were cheerful and gave it a true Latin vibe. The city reminded me of the older part of Quito, Ecuador.
But don’t forget to look south: you’ll catch a glimpse of the volcano Mombacho. Its peak is usually capped with clouds, but sometimes you can see all the way to the top. That is, if the weather cooperates.
You can even see Mombacho from Parque Central.
I loved some of the small details and textures around the streets: gorgeous old doors with brass handles, tiled street signs.
Of course, we had to take a couple of obligatory tourist photos. Otherwise, how would anyone know we were really there?
By this time, we had been exploring for a while. Our stomachs grumbled and we longed for a good meal.
Strolling down La Calle Calzada yielded many food options. We saw an Irish pub, a steakhouse, and even a gelateria, among other offerings. Maybe there was something about the enthusiasm of the servers imploring us to look at their restaurant’s menu, which, though admirable for its intensity, bordered on annoying. Maybe it was the throngs of people crowding the street. For whatever reason, we wandered down a side street and found a quiet little steakhouse. Our meals – giant slabs of steak, mine with mushroom sauce, Xavier’s with jalapeno – came with side salad, french fries, rice, and steamed vegetables. With a couple bottles of Tona and bottled water for the table, the tab came to something like $25 USD.
A full day’s worth of travel coupled with comfortably full bellies led me to make somewhat of a mistake here. Darkness was falling and the nightlife was beginning to crop up, with groups of happy people drinking and laughing in the streets and music trickling out from bars. But I felt the kind of overwhelming exhaustion that yields to no amount of caffeine. I needed to close my eyes before we saw Granada’s night scene. It was only around 7:30, so I figured a power nap would be just the trick to recharge and enjoy a night out. We’d start with gelato, and finish at one of those exciting bars.
Back at the hostel, I set my alarm for a 30-minute power nap. Xavier sent work emails for a bit, then joined me to sleep. I’m not sure what happened next. All I can tell you is, we time-traveled to the moment when we woke up at about one in the morning, at the tail end of an evening wasted.
We rolled over and went back to sleep, waking up well-refreshed but somewhat disappointed in ourselves.
The next morning, we considered our options as we strolled around after a balanced breakfast of gelato and pineapple-orange smoothies. Should we stay in Granada a little longer? We’d missed our chance to explore, after all. But beyond the attractions of Granada itself, the city is a great home base for many external activities: horseback riding, volcano hikes, market trips, kayaking, boat rides, and more. A plethora of tour organizers are based in Granada and could have taken us just about anywhere.
It’s true, one could stay for weeks in Granada. During our hours there, we just barely scratched the surface of the beautiful city. But our hearts were already looking towards the next place on our itinerary, a place where we knew we’d be hiking, riding horses, and swimming. If we had more time, Granada would have been fabulous. But with another long journey ahead and just days left of our trip, we thought it was time to move on.
After collecting our baggage, we hitched a ride on a horse-drawn carriage and headed towards the bus station.
We would catch a chicken bus to Rivas, a taxi to San Jorge, and then a ferry to the magical Isla de Ometepe…
Do you travel on a strict itinerary, or do you make decisions as you go?