NICARAGUA - Granada - 2012

November 2012 – Arrival day
Well I arrived in Nicaragua via the land border crossing at Penas Blancas on the Pan American Highway.  I took the TransNica bus from Canas Costa Rica to Granada Nicaragua.  The total drive time on the bus was about 3 hours with an hour spent at the border for Immigrations and a Customs check.

At the border we had to get off the bus to get our passports stamped to leave Costa Rica, and when we returned to the bus we were met a Nicaraguan who took our passports and $13 dollars to get the stamp to enter Nicaragua.  While he was getting the inbound stamp, we drove a couple hundred meters to the Customs inspection station, which was outside under a simple wooden awning; good thing it wasn’t raining because we would have gotten wet.  From there it was about an hour and a half to Granada.  Overall the process went smoothly.

Granada is located on the northwest side of Lake Nicaragua which is the 12th largest lake in the world and Nicaragua’s 5th most populated city with over 110 thousand people.  The city was founded in 1524 and named after ancient Spanish city of Granada.  Okay, that’s enough for the history of Granada.

I checked into the Hotel Granada Nicaragua, which is on the main tourist road for bars and restaurants, trinket shops, and street vendors, and took a walk to get my bearings.   Since my walk was mid-afternoon there wasn’t much going on.

The architecture of the hotel and the most of the city of Granada is old Spanish colonial.  As I entered the lobby I noticed the dark red floor tiles and stone walls which are consistent through the main structure.  I got a standard room which is plenty big enough with two double beds, a lockable closet, and small bathroom.  The only negative I’ve seen is the size of the bathroom, but what the hell, it’s not a library or locker room, it’s a toilet and shower; you don’t need much room to use either.  The staff is welcoming and always ready to help, with many of the speaking excellent English (most of the staff spoke at least basic English).

About 5PM I went to the hotel restaurant to get something to eat before taking a walk to check out the nightlife.  I stopped off for a couple of beers and just watched the people pass by.  The vendors were out in full force as well as the beggars.  As the night wore on the ladies of the night also arrived in full force and they weren’t timid about approaching anybody.  I was asked three times if I wanted “company” and a couple of times the straight out asked if I wanted sex.  My response to them all was no; picking up street girls is not my gig.

I called it a day and headed back to the hotel about 9:30PM.

2 November 2012 – Lake Nicaragua and Masaya Volcano Night tours

The world is really a small place.  Today I met four people from the Tampa Bay area, and more specifically the Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs areas which are in the same county (providence) as my home.

I had made arrangements to tour some of the islands in Lake Nicaragua and invited my new friends (Jess, Justine, Pam, and Charlie) to join me.  After breakfast a horse and carriage driver (Winston) I met yesterday was ready to take us on the tour.  We rode in his carriage to the docks where we boarded a tour boat that was waiting for us.  We stopped at a couple of islands and got out to look around.  One had a fort with cannon mounts to protect the city of Granada from pirates.  Yep, in the past pirates patrolled lakes and oceans in search of goods to plunder and in some areas of the modern world they still do.

A s we made our way to other small islands we learned that the indigenous people living on the islands don’t’ go to the mainland very often.  With the islands being in close proximity of each other and the mainland, the majority have electrical power via overhead lines.  They have some islands dedicate to specific functions like a cemetery, homes, schools, and stores.  As expected the primary means of transportation is by boat, most of which are rowboats.

Many of the islands are privately owned with nicely landscaped and maintained grounds surrounding equally nice homes.  Some of these are used as vacation or weekend escapes while others are the primary residences.  A few have sand beaches but most of the private islands are rimmed with rock retaining walls.  We noticed several islands for sale, some with homes and others that were just raw land waiting for the development and tender loving care of a new owner; and some of these undeveloped islands are about $150,000 USD.

 So we left the small fort guarding against pirates and continued our journey to an island used as a bar/restaurant and recreational area, guarded by a macaw parrot.  We stopped to look around had a beer and reflected on the surroundings.  The five of us came to the conclusion living on a private island has got to be close to living in paradise.

We left the recreational island and found an island with a few monkeys.  They got really excited as we approached because they knew they would soon be getting fed.  We didn’t really want the monkeys on the boat, but there isn’t much you can do with a wild monkey except don’t get close enough for them to jump on-board.  We got lucky and only one made it but was swooshed off after eating a banana.

After almost two hours we returned to the mainland and made our way back to the hotel.  We agreed to have Winston arrange a night visit of the Masaya volcano so we could see the lava flow after dark.

At 4:30PM we all met in the hotel lobby and headed for the volcano.  The tour included two stops at two other towns which we elected not to go as our main objective was to see the volcano.  After an hour ride, we arrived only to find the Masaya National Park closed.

When we returned to the hotel Winston asked for full payment and we didn’t agree because all we got was a taxi ride.  We agreed to pay for gas which we gave Winston and returned to our rooms.  About 7PM I got a knock on my door asking me to come to the lobby, where I was greeted rather rudely by a Tourist Police Investigator.  This tourist cop didn’t speak English and I let him ramble on about me having to pay full price.  After he finished I told him in Spanish that I didn’t fully understand his problem and I had already paid what I owed.  The cop looked at Winston who agreed and said he didn’t have a problem with me, but the others owed him money.  Charlie entered the lobby and told the cop he wanted the boss or somebody who spoke English.  Within a few minutes the hotel owner came over and translated for us.  He listened to Winston and the cop and told them it is the responsibility of tour operator (Winston) to make sure the location to visit was open and not ours as tourists.  Within about 5 minutes the owner had the situation cleared up and told Charlie and I to go to the bar and have a drink on him.  We did.

While we were having our drinks a local tourist agent approached us and explained some of the services she offers.  My intentions are to get with her and find out more about here business and when I've done that I'll share more information.  But until that time I invite you to take look at her website Nicaragua Travel Guide and Face Book page.

After a few drinks the five of us decided to go find a festival that they had heard about, but that wasn’t going on either.  So as tourists, what do you do when all your touristy options have gone to crap; you consume a small amount of food chased with large amounts of alcohol.  So that’s what we did.  The ladies left after a couple hours while Charlie and I hung out to have a couple more.  The couple more ended when the bars closed.  In the end, our morning tour was the highlight of the day, but our night excursion was also a good time had.

So that concluded my first full day in Nicaragua; having fun and traveling safe.

3 November 2012 – No Plans followed by much rain

Well today started out looking nice but that soon changed.

After breakfast, I headed out for a walk with no particular place to go.  With Sunday being a national election day, today (Saturday) some things would be closed while others open with limited services.

With that in mind I decided not to make any plans and just wander around looking for places to go on Monday.

My walk-about lasted a little over an hour and revealed places I’ll visit on Monday.  Upon returning to the hotel, I realized the internet was finally back on line so I checked and responded to emails, Face Book posts, and uploaded pictures for my blogs.

About 1PM rumbling could be heard in the distance and by 2PM the rumbling was now overhead and with that the bottom fell out of the sky.  It rained for the next 2 ½ hours or so with several periods of heavy downpours.  When it finally finished the streets were spotless and air was thick with humidity for another hour.  Not knowing if the rain was done for the night I took the opportunity to get out and find something to eat.

I went to one of the restaurants (Ke-de-Ke) on the tourist road and had their mixed grilled platter.  As with the Roadhouse Bar/Restaurant I ate at the other day, the food was plentiful and the price was excellent.  I have not yet spent more than $15 for a dinner meal with drinks.  The prices here are far less than I had expected.  Last week, I told an airline representative that I could live here for a week on what they want to charge me to change my ticket returning to the US.

While dining I met another traveling couple; the lady was from the US and her friend was from England.  They had just arrived in Granada and were unaware of the election and were quite surprised to find out they couldn’t have wine or beer with their dinner. I explained the situation and the conversation continued from there.  This was only a short stop on their trip which will take them to a couple more Central American countries.  Oh, the joy of traveling….

I made it back to the Hotel Granada Nicaragua about 8PM and called it a night.

4 November 2012 – Hotel change

I changed from the Hotel Granada Nicaragua to the Hotel Spa Granada.  In my trip planning, I sent an email to the Nicaraguan Government Tourist Board and a total of 8 hotels explaining my intent to write a travel article about single travelers in Granada.  I received two responses, so I split my time between these two hotels.  The government tourist board did not respond.

The Hotel Spa Granada is located farther from Lake Nicaragua, more towards the center of the city.  It’s one block off the main tourist street and is closer to shops, restaurants, and touristy stuff.  As with most other buildings in Granada, it too has old Spanish colonial architecture.  The original owner, Evaristo Carazo was the President of Nicaragua in the 1870’s, and remodeled and expanded by his sons.  The hotel has a lot of history to include the 1981 confiscation by the Sandinistas (a rebel faction in Nicaragua).; the current owner is a North American investor.

The hotel is open and homier than many hotels I’ve been in.  When you enter the door you’ll walk through a short corridor to the reception desk which is located on the edge of a garden.  Surrounding the garden are original paintings, original metal works (light fixtures and wall hangings), and art deco furniture all made by Nicaraguans.  As you move past the reception area toward the pool and spa area you’ll pass another garden.  A good number of the rooms are located on the second floor overlooking the gardens with other on the ground floor by a smaller garden.  The spa and pool area are in an open air courtyard which is overlooked by a roof top terrace.

The staff at the Hotel Spa Granada is extremely welcoming, friendly, and helpful.  As with the Hotel Granada, many speak good English, with most of them speaking English at least to the basic level.  You’ll have no problems communicating with the hotel staff.

By the time the rain stopped again it was time to eat.  I headed back to the tourist area to have a late lunch but early dinner.

I went to a small restaurant/bar called Comidas Tipicas y Mas (Local food and more).   I’d walked past the restaurant a couple of times during peak dinning hours and noticed most of the tables were full so, I thought I’d give it a try. Good decision, now I know why they were so busy; the food, service, and atmosphere are some of the best I’d received in the area.  I will go back here.

5 November 2012 - Chocolate

Adjacent to, more appropriately, attached to the Hotel Spa Granada is the Chocolate Museum.  It offers a tour that will give you the Nicaraguan history of chocolate from the growing of the cacao trees to the making of ancient chocolate drinks, culminating with you making your own chocolate bar.  The tour takes about 2 hours and I highly recommend it.

As I mentioned the other day, the hotel offers spa services and my room included a one hour choco-theropy massage.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but wanted to know what was involved with a choco-theropy massage, so I scheduled one for later in the afternoon.  With a couple of hours to fill so I did my touristy shopping and eat some lunch.

For lunch, I had the best quesadillas at a little restaurant called “El Corral”; located on a side street about 25 yards off the main tourist road of La Callaza.   I’m not saying the best quesadillas in Nicaragua, but the best quesadillas I’ve eaten ANYWHERE.  I ordered the mixed quesadilla platter which consisted of 4 different types (chicken, two types of cheese, and bean) of quesadillas coving a 12 inch platter.  Each had a very fresh taste, perfectly melted cheese, surround by a lightly toasted tortilla shell.  After eating I gave the waiter my card and asked if they had a website; he responded with they have a Facebook page and he would get me the link.  To my surprise, the owner came to my table and started asking about my business and explaining his restaurant and his fathers’ neighboring hotel (La Possada).  Since I did not stay in the hotel or even look inside I won’t mention it further, but if it’s anything like the restaurant, it’ll be good.

I completed my lunch and the little shopping I do and returned to the hotel for my massage.  The first thing I’ll say is WOW.  The spa rooms, all private are located in the pool area, surrounded by tropical trees, equipped with bamboo beds, natural lighting, and staffed with professionals.  Now for how this amazing experience went for me; Lilliana met me at the door with a welcoming smile.  She took me into the room, gave me a small cloth, told me to take all my clothes off, lay on my stomach and cover my butt with the cloth.  When that was done I told her I was ready.  She re-entered the room and I felt some liquid being poured on my back; you got it, I was getting a massage using chocolate instead of lotions or oils; fantastic feeling.  After about 15 minutes of spreading chocolate over my body she added a fine gritty substance.  I don’t know what it was, mainly because I couldn’t understand what she told me and I didn’t really care.

Okay, Lilliana finished my back and gave me the cloth back as she told me to turn over and replacing the cloth, before telling her to come back in.  While I turned over I got my first glimpse of what I look like covered in chocolate.  Lilliana returned and repeated the process starting at my face.  When she had finished covering my entire body from my head (excluding) hair to the bottoms of my feet I was wrapped in the sheet used to cover the bed, given a towel and let to the shower.  After washing all the chocolate off, my body felt great, I never knew that chocolate and whatever the gritty material was would clean so completely, but it did and I felt great.

I know the description of the choco-theropy massage sounds crazy but it was only my third professional massage in my 55+ years of life and I don’t know how to describe them.  I guess I’ll have to take advantage of the experience and get more massages so I can describe them better.  Add that to my list of things to do again; along with sharing with friends, drinking new rums, sex, traveling, watching sunrises and sunsets, and many other things are a often different every time you do them.

I previously mentioned that I’d met the owner of a tour company here in Granada and earlier I’d made an appointment with her to discuss the travel industry as it pertains to singles in the Granada area.   We talked for about an hour and I’ll detail that discussion in a separate post titled “Travel – Granada Nicaragua – 2012.

That ended my day with the exception of preparing for my next two days which will be travel days.

6 November 2012 – Travel Day 1

Today is my departure from Nicaragua; it’s been a great visit, a town and country I’ll be returning too.

My trip back to Costa Rica, as with my trip to Nicaragua was on TransNica, a bus company that offers international transportation throughout Central America.  I had arranged a ride to the bus agency but the driver didn’t show so I simply caught a passing cab.  I arrived at the agency a bit early because it was a stop on the route and like any stop, if you’re not there, they won’t wait.

The ride should have gotten me to San Jose Costa Rica around 6PM but that didn’t happen for a couple of reasons.  First, our border crossing took about 2 ½ hours and then came the rain.  We were about two hours from our destination the sun was setting and the rain started, heavily at times.  As we approached a bridge the bus stopped, started backing up and eventually was parked facing the direction we had just come from.  The driver informed us that the bridge was impassable and we’d have to turn around.  A passenger asked if we were going back to the nearest town and was informed we’d just find another route to take but we’d arrive in San Jose later than scheduled.

We finally arrived at the TransNica terminal about 8:30PM, which like most bus terminals I’ve been in, is not a place to hang around much, especially after dark.  I found a taxi within less than five minutes of our arrival and made my way to the hotel arriving shortly before 9PM.  I grabbed a quick bite to eat, a couple of drinks, and hit the bed.

7 November 2012 – Travel Day 2

Checkout time came and I asked the receptionist to call a taxi.  As some of you that have followed my travels know I’ve been in San Jose a few times and knowing the traffic situation in the city I checked out early leaving plenty of time to get to the airport.  The taxi arrived and started the meter; but I asked him if he wanted to run the meter or I’d pay him $25 in advance (the normal rate the receptionist told me).  He took the $25, bad move on his part as the ride to the airport took an hour and a half.  After an hour in the cab I intended on give him a tip, until he said he “expected” a big tip.  I’m a firm believer in giving tips, but I’m also a firm believer in letting your services determine the amount, not your expectations; he did not get a tip.

My flight to the US and eventually my connecting flight to Florida went fine and I finally arrived home about 11PM.

As I do with most of my trips I’ll update my blog “General Travel Tips” for the specific country.  In addition to updating my tips for Costa Rica I’ll also be adding a tips page for Nicaragua, so check them out for do’s, don’ts, and more.

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