On December 24th, we waved goodbye to Costa Rica and said “Hello” to Nicaragua. Before leaving the States, we planned to meet up with our friend Suzy for a leg of our journey. So on the 23rd we met up with her for our travels through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. We left San Jose, Costa Rica early in the morning because of horror stories about the holiday border crossings (e.g. 8+ hours for Suzy to cross the Panama-Costa Rica border). Luckily, our first overland border crossing was painless and we found ourselves in Granada by 1 p.m.
The first thing anyone says about Granada, or Leon, is “It’s very colonial.” Even Nicaraguans say this, so we weren’t surprised to see this when we arrived:
It was Christmas Eve and the city was full of what were clearly last minute shoppers. With only a few hours of daylight, we went straight to the main market. This market had everything. There were fruits, vegetables, clothes, huge speakers (for some reason, there are no normal sized speakers in all of Nicaragua), washing machines, stuffed animals, and cell phones (just in case you forgot what you came to buy in the first place and need to make a call). Julia and I had expected to find markets like this all over the place, but this was our first.
As the sun went down, we retired to our hostel for a Christmas Eve dinner. Honestly, I can’t even remember what we ate, but I guarantee that it was nowhere near as good as what my family had for dinner. There are some things that you miss while traveling and home cooking is one of these things.
Like giddy 8-year-olds, we woke up bright and early Christmas morning. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a nearby cafe and took a quick walk around town. Granada was empty, a complete change from the day before. Clearly, everyone was home with their families celebrating the holiday. Granada is right on the coast of Lake Nicaragua and a popular thing to do is to take a boat trip along the coast to see a series of islets on the lake. Since most places were closed on Christmas, we decided to go to the beach and hopefully take a tour if boats were running. When we got to the beach, we saw this:
We were not aware that Christmas in Granada is a huge party. Everyone who lived in the city was at the beach. There were barbeques set up, music blaring and fireworks being shot off. Snowmen in magic hats and fat guys in red winter coats were nowhere to be found. It was like the 4th of July on a lake. Lucky for us, there were plenty of boats running tours. We found one that was happy to take the 3 of us around for about $5 a person.
Beautiful. Oddly enough, the price of an island is quite affordable. An island with 3 fully built houses recently sold for the sum of $300,000. So all you San Franciscans, if you need an inexpensive vacation home, look no further.
On the 26th, we took it easy for the most part. We took a taxi with our hostel-mates to a lake that was supposedly one of the best for swimming. Meh. Maybe if the weather was a little better I would have had a different opinion, but on this particular day, it wasn’t impressive. So instead of that picture, here is the view from a church tower in Granada:
The next morning, we caught a bus headed to Leon. The trip was only around 2 hours so we still had plenty of daylight when we arrived. Unfortunately, our hostel didn’t really fit our expectations. The hostel is a self described “party hostel” and they made this disturbingly clear throughout the day. We were badgered constantly about the pub crawl that night. The hosts described themselves as alcoholics. When we asked for recommendations on where to go and what to eat, we were told that there was a bar in the hostel and that they served food. Luckily, Suzy had a guidebook and we were able to find a historical church (under construction…) and a very cool museum that was in a traditional Leon home.
Although the hostel was mostly terrible, there was one event that they offered that all three of us were excited about. A baseball game. I have to mention that Nicaragua bleeds baseball. I wear my Giants hat almost anywhere I go and, in Nicaragua, I was suddenly popular with the locals. People would tap me on the shoulder then point to their Pablo Sandoval jersey or to their Giants hat. I even had a boy try to trade a palm frond flower for my hat (nice try kid, but there is way too much luck in this hat). I could go on, but the point is, Nicaraguans love baseball and they absolutely understand the game. So at 6 p.m. the three of us walked to the stadium for the Leon vs. Chinandega baseball game. Admission to the game was a little less than the cost of a beer and beers at the game were less than $1. For some reason, I don’t think the Giants prices will be comparable when I return. Also, our seats were front row.
The game was a blast. The hostel left early (because they had a pub crawl to get to…) so they missed out on all the fun. After being down 2-0, our Leones fought back to load the bases. The crowd chanted songs praising their valiant Leones and telling them that they supported them no matter what. There were drums and trumpets keeping the beat as the crowd around us sang their songs and made hand signals in unison. Then, a shot. The crowd cascaded down the stands to the fence just in time to watch the ball sail over the fence! Grand slam 4-2 Leones! Beer went everywhere, the chants got even louder and suddenly, we were in the middle of a very soccer-esque party. Unfortunately, it was the 8th inning and our Leones would eventually lose in the 10th, but the game was pure fun. It was summer baseball…but in winter. We left the game with the crowd and went back to our hostel, knowing that tomorrow would be another long day of travel.
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur was our only stop on the Pacific coast while in Nicaragua. Unlike Leon and Granada, the town isn’t colonial. In fact, it was very touristy and felt a lot more like Costa Rica than Nicaragua (other than the power going out every hour or so). We arrived at our hostel around 6. This was a problem because we said we would be there around 5 (note: this has never been a problem, and shouldn’t have been one). The woman working there rudely told us that our reserved beds had been given away. We complained and she told us we could leave or we could use 2 beds and Julia and Suzy could share one but still pay for 3 beds. Luckily, the woman turned out to be an idiot and there was room for all 3 of us. Then we passed out on our mattresses made of sand bags.
The next morning, we were supposed to switch to a private room with 3 beds. Predictably, the woman running the hostel told us that they had given our private room away to another group. We didn’t think that was fair because we had reserved the room in advance. The woman at the front desk told us that we could either take the dorm, or leave the hostel. This time, we left. When we tried to leave, she told us that we needed to pay for the second night. Suzy valiantly argued with the woman in Spanish until she gave up (but not before she threatened to call the cops because we were “robbing” her) and only charged us for our one night. Stunning customer service.
However, the rest of the day went wonderfully. We spent the day on the beach bodysurfing and enjoying the sun.
Then we enjoyed one of the best sunsets we’ve seen on our trip:
There were even fireworks in preperation for New Years celebrations:
Overall, Nicaragua was spectacular. The nature and terrain in the country is unique for Central America. If it weren’t for the pollution and trash, this would be a top tourist destination. With that said, I would absolutely go back. One week wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything and I hope to return at some point to see more of the country.
Up Next: New Years!
San Juan del Sur