Nicaragua has turned out to be a different travel experience compared to the other countries we’ve visited throughout this journey. For one, we traded our modest rentals in out-of-the-way places for a massive house in the heart of Granada’s city center. While it was fun to be near all the action, we also realized just how far behind us those partying days have become. As the bars and clubs around us raged on into the wee hours of the morning, we sat around in hammocks, gazed at the stars in our garden and then went to bed early.
During our time in Nicaragua, we also found ourselves opting for low-cost, packaged tours most of the time rather than exploring on our own with nothing but a navigation app. More so than any other country we’ve visited, Nicaragua had a bit of an air of danger to it. A number of people warned us about areas that were “not safe for tourists.” One day while bike riding out to a peninsula on Lake Nicaragua, a police officer on the road stopped Brian and told him to turn around because the neighborhood was “muy peligroso”, i.e. very dangerous. After 16 months of drama-free, trauma-free international travel, we didn’t need any “muy peligroso” during the last weeks of our journey. Guided tours were just fine with us.
The positive difference for Nicaragua came with the friends and family visiting us. We had rounds of familiar faces joining us this month. We talked a lot, laughed a lot, and reminisced a lot. The time in this big house and those tours to local sites were in the company of fun people who made the experiences all the more memorable.
Volcano Maysaya was one tour we all got to see at different times. As Nicaragua’s oldest and largest national park, Masaya’s craters and caves offer a glimpse into our planet’s geological roots. A short car ride took us from our bustling, touristy street in Granada to a landscape fitting for a dinosaur movie. Dormant craters sit above a network of ancient caves. A solidified flow of black lava covers the field below the massive Masaya caldera. Strange yellow and green rocks, stained by volcanic vapors over the millennia, sit shrouded in a haze of smoke and sulfuric gas. The girls went with friends. I went with my friend, Keri. Brian saw it with his parents. Despite touring Masaya separately, we all got to hike above the craters, walk through the bat caves, and sport snazzy masks when the winds blew the volcano’s sulfuric gas in our direction.
Lake Nicaragua was another aspect of this country proving to be quite different from what we’d expected. With Granada being situated right on it, we had assumed the lake would be a focal point of the city, with shops, markets and restaurants sitting along its shoreline. We had assumed wrong. Granada’s town square and main markets sit quite a few blocks away from it, so it was a week into our stay before I finally walked all the way down our street to reach Central America’s largest freshwater lake. I found a grassy, weeded shoreline speckled with trash and paralleling a line of what seemed to be mostly abandoned buildings. The Lake Nicaragua waterfront of Granada has perhaps seen a heyday, but this clearly isn’t it.
Nevertheless, after some advice from friends we went out on a Lake Nicaragua tour. While walking along the lake had proven to be a bit of a disappointment, boating around some of its many islands (over 360 of them according to our favorite guide, Mario) turned out to be a really fun experience. As we slid past islands of all shapes and sizes, we learned about the history of the area, saw the resident monkeys, and stopped for drinks at lakeside cabana.
Nicaragua definitely had its surprises, and it stands apart from the rest of our journey in many ways. Some of them, like visits from friends and a big, beautiful house to share with them, were very positive differences. Unfortunately, Nicaragua also brought us a heavy dose of the negative side of international travel…but we’ll save the bad stuff for another time.