Finding my special place near Granada

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
Trip End Jun 25, 2008

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bypassing Managua, Nicaragua's capital, we went to the pretty lakeside city of Granada.

Unlike Leon, which fought with Granada for a long time to be the colonial capital of Nicaragua, Granada feels much more laid  back and touristy.

A ten-minute stroll takes you to the shore of Lake Nicaragua -- the largest lake in Central America.

We watched a small boy fishing by dropping in a rope net and then retrieving it 20 minutes later. He had a good stack of small fish to take home when he was finished.

The town has brightly coloured buildings and churches and you can catch glimpses of Volcan Mombacho  when the clouds break up.

Macrame  is the handicraft of choice and there were lots of beautiful pieces, some of which enclosed small gems within the knots.
Most of our group used our one full day in Granada to do a  day trip with lots of activities and sights.

The first was in the white-washed village of Catarina, where we went to see a family that makes pottery.

The young man showed us first, spinning the wheel with his foot Fred Flintstone-style and expertly pushing and pulling the clay to make a vase.

Next it was my turn and I discovered it really wasn't so  easy. My foot got very tired from running the wheel and I couldn't keep my foot going and concentrate on shaping the clay at the same time.

With a great deal of help from the young guy, I ended up with something that resembled a vase. That is until I plonked it down and caused it to sag Dr Seuss-style.

Three lessons of the exercise were:
1. Pottery is soft until it's fired (duh)
2. I may not have two left feet when it comes to dancing, but I  have  two left thumbs when it comes to pottery
3. Electric machines are a godsend.

We went inside to view pots for  sale and unlike most similar tours where everyone makes excuses for not buying any of the stuff, that all looks the same and a bit tacky, everyone wanted to buy stuff but worried about getting it home in one piece.

They had lots of vases with beautifully painted animals on them such as turtles and toucans, but my favourites were the ones worked into geometric-design splendor by etching out small shards of clay and then applying subtle colouring and polishing  up the remaining clay with a stone.  The result is a simple design with fantastic contrast and texture.

I decided to start a list of all the things I would buy if we weren't on the road for over nine months and already struggling with our backpacks.

The first item was a pot with geometric triangles done with a reddy earthy colour and turquoise diamonds. It reminded me of the old fashioned world globes my parents have. Alas, I took a photo and we left.

Lookout of Laguna de Apoyo and Lago de Nicaragua.
The next stop was a magical lookout over Apoyo lagoon, a caldera, and Lake Nicaragua, where I bought some beautiful leather sandals (more functional and easier to travel with than a heavy, fragile  pot).

Then we wound down the hill to swim in Laguna de Apoyo, which is my new  'special place'. I will now go to this lagoon whenever I'm in a relaxation class and they tell you to go to your favourite, most relaxing place and feel your tension melt away... I'll be there in the lagoon, floating on my back in the soft as velvet  water that is almost body temperature so you almost don't feel like you are getting wet, with the beautiful lush hills surrounding it completely. I've never been anywhere like it. I reckon the experience must be similar to being in a flotation tank. Little bits of pumice float up with you and you can duck dive a metre or so down to get a refreshing burst of cooler water.

The only non-idyllic thing about the place was the wasp that stung a guy in my group. It had flown into his bottle of coke and he felt it go into his mouth and sting him on the inside of his throat. Luckily antihistamines  were on hand so a nasty episode of swelling causing restricted breathing was avoided.
After seeing a hotel that still had the bullet holes from when a political figure was held hostage many years before, we went to the market of Masaya.

We had lunch there and I found it really difficult when a boy came round the large table begging for some of our lunch. I don't know what I internally think people begging for money will spend it on? Sports shoes or iPods? Of course they will by food but somehow when someone is asking for a bit of your lunch it makes it that much harder to dismiss.

The second thing to go on the  'things I would've bought' list was  a necklace and earring set made from coconut husk. The stall had a green and olive one and a purple one. The palm pieces had been dyed and allowed to dry into curves and then added to the necklace by drilling small holes. They had  great texture with the rougher side and smoother side absorbing different amount of dye causing a shot effect.

Coyotepe is a fortress turned prison in Masaya with commanding views from its domed garrets.

Doing a 360 degree turn you can see Lakes Managua, Nicaragua, and Masaya and the volcanoes Masaya, Mombacho and all the way over to Volcan Momotombo  by Managua, with lush green in between. Nicaragua really is a land of lakes and volcanoes.

The site has been gifted to the Boy Scouts who give guided tours for a small donation.

Inside the fortress there are cells and tunnels in a hexagon formation. The tunnels run at a very steep angle underground.

The cells where they kept political prisoners were tiny and they often blocked the small windows to leave prisoners in total darkness for years without  trial.

Used as a torture prison, many went crazy. On the wall of one cell, scratched in coal, are the words "Me quiero mortir" - I want to die. 

For those who didn't kill themselves, there was a room where they used to hang people by their wrists crucifixion-style to spill their secrets (and blood, which visibly stains the wall) and a hook with a rectangular opening through to the underground chamber for hangings.

It was a moving place to visit and it made civil war, which has plagued almost all countries in Central America,  all the more real to us.

Especially when we learned that our guide has shown people around it who were actually kept in prison there. Even more gut wrenching, we found out that our cheerful, straight-up guide, Roberto,  with his warm open face and huge grin and hands, had been imprisoned for being a leftist Sandinista as a young man. He later escaped to live, at first illegally, in the States for 18 years, before returning to Nicaragua. He had drifted into being a Sandinista -- everyone supported one side or the other more or less, and he was caught  with some Sandinista recruiting material.  I think it must have been that much harder to be imprisoned for a cause you didn't really believe in.

Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya
After the prison we got to the car park on Volcan Masaya just as the sun was setting.

We saw the end of the flock of chocoyos or parrots flying towards the summit. They have adapted to the toxic fumes of craters and sleep  and build nests on the side of them  to avoid predators, such as vultures. 

When we got to the main lookout car park, Crater Santiago was below us, pumping out steam  and gasses (it releases 1,000 tons of gas daily).

We also got a pretty view of the large cross on the highest point on our right.

The cross was put there on the instructions of a Spanish holy man. He believed the craters in the area were entrances to hell and he hoped to exorcise demons  with the large cross.

Knee deep in bat shit
Next we put on helmets and grabbed lights and headed into some caves that were alive with bats. I've never seen anything like it. There were millions of them, so many that you could hear them making  their click, click sonar noises as they navigated around in the pitch blackness.

To get to a particularly crowded spot we  tramped through guano,  the more elegant name for bird or bat poo, but it was worth it.

The caves was formed from lava when the outside cooled and set but the inside core kept flowing to create a natural  large pipe.

Next we went to a different lookout over Crater Santiago to see glimpses of lava glowing red beneath the cloud of gases.

Prehispanic people sacrificed young women into the crater to appease the goddess of fire. While we were taking turns to look into the crater to see the lava spouts, our guides were convinced they saw a vision of a young women wandering past  who then disappeared.

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