Sky high shakes and crater lakes – Leon to Granada, Nicaragua

Waking the next morning in Leon, El Desayunazo, a small restaurant on the corner or Calle 3 right near Lazybones hostel, became the breakfast place of choice, and the well priced plates (including optional bacon!) left us satisfied. A few other

Cheap breakfast complete with slab of queso, El Desayunazo, Leon Nicaragua
Fast, filling and easy on the wallet, El Desayunazo, Leon

With volcano boarding French friend in tow, we piled in the van headed for Granada…but Porkchop had other plans. Doing the routine oil and coolant check, Sarah replaced the lid on the coolant overflow only to have the 35 year old plastic bottle half disintegrate in her hands. Lucky for us Matt’s alter ego Macgyver was on hand, so with a coke bottle, some silicone, duct tape, cable ties and a lot of swearing things were patched up and we hit the road, though with the delay we’d end up having to stop in Managua the night.

 Taxi co op gas station we stayed in for the night.  Managua, Nicaragua.
A bit of Spanish, a $2 tip and this was our safe place for the night

With a population of around 1  million people, the capital city of Managua is not known for being somewhere you want to be stuck on your own at night. In fact it’s not known for being somewhere you’d want to stop at all (although in true Nica style Managua International airport has been voted the safest in Central America). Dropping our mate off at a cheap hostel, we found a guarded gas station to park up for the night, coming across one that is solely for replenishing taxi drivers empty tanks. Patrolled by two armed guards with great big guns, we asked the attendant in perfect Spanish (we’re getting there!) if it’s cool to park for the night, get an affirmative, flick the guard a couple of dollars, he gives the van a once over and we retire in the knowledge that we can sleep safe and sound.

 San Juan de Oriente is known for it's ceramics.  Nicaragua.
Ceramics for sale in San Juan de Oriente, part of the Pueblo Blancos

We woke as early as possible as 1. a Managua gas station is not somewhere you want to spend your morning hanging out and 2. we wanted to beat the morning heat and arrive in Granada in time for the afternoon winds that frequently breeze across the lake. We’d heard about a drive which weaves it’s way through numerous crater lakes along a route named Pueblo Blancos or White Villages, and combined with a stop over in the town of Masaya, famed for it’s Mercado Artesanal, sounded like a good plan.

 Masaya, NIcaragua.
Masaya

Driving through the small town of El Crucero we reached 930m+ and the regular Pacific coast tsunami evacuation route signs were replaced with volcanic eruption evacuation signs, frequently dotted along the roadside. Up here it was all rolling clouds, cool winds and lush foliage, and the locals had traded baseball caps for beanies (worth noting baseball is Nicaragua’s favourite sport…full of interesting Nica facts aren’t we!). The villages are known mostly for the ceramics and pottery and Catarina is also known for it’s plants.

Artesian Market. Masaya, NIcaragua.
Hammocks for sale in Masaya

Parts of the drive were nice but we didn’t really see many white villages…we did see a lot of garish looking garden ornaments that looked like a kids first attempt at the plaster fun house – caterpillars, smurfs and creative yet crazy birds of all kinds made out of old car tyres. Needless to say, we weren’t in a buying mood.  Our route finished at El Mirador de Catarina, perched high above the approximately 23,000 year old Lake Apoyo with great views down to Granada. Offering camping, hiking, scuba diving and paragliding it would make a perfect relaxation spot though, unfortunately, we had to press on to Granada.

La Catarina and the view over Lake Apoyo.  Nicaragua.
Lake Apoyo, La Catarina

Leaving the slightly heart shaped lake behind we arrived in Masaya in time for breakfast. You want everything under one roof?  This is where you’ll find it. Tack, hammocks, jewellery and carvings are the most plied goods in the tourist market. If you find your way into the real market though, you’ll be right in the dirty thick of it and you can pick up anything from tourist tack to rope to socks. Picking up a little woven llama for Sarah’s niece (only to have it torn apart by Australian customs enroute) and some local coffee, we wondered into a beautiful little square housing what has to be the coolest juice store anywhere.  Climbing up around five meters to our sitting positions, we had a boss vantage point where some people wouldn’t be far off a case of vertigo, and sipped on fresh 100% juice smoothies.

Ceviches El Pollo.  Masaya, Nicaragua.

Ceviches El Pollo.  Masaya, Nicaragua.
Not a bad spot for a fruit smoothie! Masaya

Cruising the heat drenched streets of Granada, the city has that old colonial feel, with the Cathedral of Granada, it’s stunning center piece, adorning one side of the leafy Parque Central.  One interesting place not to be missed is the Café de los Sonrisas (Café of Smiles).  The brain child of Tio Antonio the place is run completely run by deaf and mute locals.  Not only the café is worth a look but the custom hammock shop out back too. Being such a success the program has been extended out to others in need as a great incentive to avoid a life of crime or begging.  ‘How the hell do I order?’  we hear you say?  Easy.  A picture card is given to you and this makes it all simple.  A brief yet informative tour is included with you order.

Artesian Market. Masaya, NIcaragua.
Masaya tourist market

Stepping back out onto the melting pavement we lasted no more than 30 mins.  Darting into a yet another courtyard adorned with stores and bars to escape melting ourselves, we chill out letting our sweat soaked clothes dry. With the sun dipping lower in the sky, we decided to find somewhere to enjoy some local beers. Enter Moropotente craft beer and the Garden Café.

Cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua.
Cathedral of Granada

The café is a beautiful space, again set around a central court yard, endlessly full of both tourists and locals, and we opted for a couple of obscura ales (Scotch Ale to you snobs) to unwind.  Being a weekend the place was busy and we soon found ourselves across the road at Reilly’s Irish Tavern, sitting at the end of the bar with a young local couple.  Of course they’re here to let their hair down so before long a bottle of Blanca Flor de Cana (rum) is slid across the bar, we join in and the pretty young female is soon knocking them back like nothing else.

 Inside the Garden Cafe.  Granada Nicaragua.
Courtyard of the relaxing Garden Cafe, Granada

It’s a testiment to how well the Irish can party that sometimes no matter where in the world you are, you can still have the best night in the local Irish bar. If you’re in town on a weekend we can highly recommend checking it out. Although the La Portena beer was a little tasteless and almost tasted watered down, the place was soon packed , a lot of dancing followed, and eventually we made our way outside and directly across the street to where we’d wisely moved Porkchop earlier the evening, accompanied by our own white Cadejo. A figure of Central American folklore, the Cadejo myth varies but usually consists of two dogs, a black and a white, which appears to travellers in the night…the white to accompany them safely, the black to kill them .

Want some more Nicaraguan facts? Remember Bianca Jagger, married to Mick of Rolling Stones fame? She’s Nicaraguan. Also in 1967 the current president was arrested for robbing a bank, how’s that for second chances!

If you’ve had your fill of facts check out some more photos on Flickr!

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Asuncion - Xalteva.  Granada, Nicaragua.
Granada

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