The bus stole off into the darkness on Wednesday morning, pulling out of the SFS driveway at 3 am on a mission. We would be at the Nicaraguan border near sunrise. When we got to the border, we turned in our customs forms and got our passports stamped. We got our first real taste of Nicaragua after we walked to the other side. There were people selling food, purses, shoes, and trinkets. Some were very old but desperation was on all of their faces. We exchanged money and tried to avoid eye contact with the Nicaraguans trying to sell us their wares. I learned that we would get used to having to say no to children and elderly vendors alike, accosting us on the street, in the park, and at restaurants. The poverty of this new country was very blatant and we could already see clear differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
After crossing the border and driving to Puerto San Jorge, we boarded a ferry to Ometepe Island. I stayed at the bow of the boat, enjoying riding the waves for most of the ride. It was exhilarating, especially when we could see our destination, an island in the middle of freshwater Lake Nicaragua. There are two volcanoes on the island, Maderas and Concepción. They both loomed over the island with clouds all around the top, making them look like they were wearing wooly toboggans. I was impressed by the massive mountains and could not stop smiling as we approached the island.
Ometepe Island was far better than I expected. It was beautiful and very Nicaraguan; although tourism is on the rise, the culture felt so intact. We were able to talk with locals, get accustomed to not drinking the tap water, and bump along on the unpaved, rocky roads. We ate Nicaraguan food and found it to be a more flavorful change from Costa Rican food, but weren’t surprised that gallo pinto was still a staple. Some highlights of the island were: visiting Finca Magdalena to see 1700 year old petroglyphs and the beautiful old coffee cooperative; swimming in the lake at sunset; swimming at Ojo de Agua, a swimming hole in the forest; and a visiting a beautiful waterfall.
Two of my favorite petroglyphs
Ojo de Agua
La Catarata (the waterfall)
Over the next few days, we went back to the mainland of Nicaragua and were based out of Granada at La Posada del Sol. We visited Masaya and Managua as day trips. Managua was especially interesting; it is the capital city that was destroyed by a 1972 earthquake. It was eerily quiet and seemed deserted. There is no city center and it is one of the most forested capital cities. We went to an artisan's market in Masaya and finished buying most of our souvenirs. Both were unique experiences, but I really fell in love with Granada. It was a city that charmed us all with its colonial architecture, cheap prices, and outdoor cafes. However, there was a certain lack of authenticity from the comfortable attributes of the city and the fact that we only saw non-Nicaraguans on La Calzada (except those trying to sell us grass flowers and bracelets). But, the decaying colonial buildings, brightly colored houses situated side by side like horse stalls with family names beside each door, and the local market where I felt the most uncomfortable but alive and authentic all captured my heart. I also loved hiking Volcan Mombacho, the excellent food (especially baba ganoush and goat cheese), seeing the sunset from a bell tower, and visiting El Museo Nacional.
The view I woke up to every morning from my kitchen window
Sunset in Granada
A typical Nicaguan meal of beans, plantain chips, potatoes (these were very good- with onions and garlic), avocado salad, and delicious chicken
Shrimp chop suey- a nice change from Central American food
Homemade ginger ale at a John Lennon-inspired restaurant
Happy hour sangria
Some of the best gelato I have ever eaten, a mixture of dark chocolate and a sweet almond flavor (turrón)
The largest chocolate bar I have ever seen; my friend and I got this bar at the duty free shop at the border. It is very hard to find dark chocolate here so we jumped on this opportunity.