Friday, June 27, 2014

Granada, Nicaragua

Honduras was a beautiful country, but we couldn't wait to get to Nicaragua (and it was such a long journey from the Bay Islands to Nicaragua that it made the anticipation even worse). We decided to spend the majority of our time around Granada, which is one of the cutest little towns I've ever seen. There was so much history and culture in the tiny area that I couldn't soak it all up. 
We walked all over the place just so we could see as much as we could. There were multiple churches to visit, a cemetery, bustling markets, and beautiful artwork. Can I just stop for a second and say that Nicaragua has, by far, the best artwork in all of Central America. Fact. Guatemala has some great tapestries, and Honduras had some cool woodwork, but Nicaragua had beautiful paintings and pottery. We could've spent days in the numerous art galleries in Granada - but the sun was shining and we really needed to soak that up as well. 

Anyway, back to what I was originally saying, we walked all over Granada. The churches here were, of course, breathtaking. But the market is what I was really intrigued by. It is built out of a historic building that I think was burned or something... I don't really remember. But I remember that it had to be reinforced on the inside in order to house the market. The facade is slowly decaying, and it is ultra hot on the inside, but it was such a cool looking way to house a market. 

We spent quite a bit of time in the city center for a few reasons. One, it was our point of reference for all other destinations. Two, it housed some of our destinations. Three, it had an ice cream shop. And four, it had a lot of street vendors who sold traditional foods that we wanted to try. But we really enjoyed it out there. Actually, there wasn't much about Nicaragua that we didn't like.  

The people in Nicaragua were probably the nicest, most helpful people we have ever encountered in all of our travels. They really want to help you, and they don't want your money. They also want to share their culture with you. That was one thing I loved. We always want to try new foods, and we ate quesillos our first night, which is like a quesadilla, but with sauteed onions and cream in them. And we told the street vendor that we had just gotten to Nicaragua. They got really excited and told us about a bunch of other foods we should try and where we could get them. They also told us what landmarks were within walking distance so we could check some of those out. After we finished, they wanted to make sure we enjoyed our fist experience with Nicaraguan food and they were so excited that we did. It was a lot of fun that first night. 

We also had a great experience with some Nicaraguans when we kayaked Lake Nicaragua and were attacked by monkeys. Yes, you read that right, we were attacked by monkeys. Nicaragua is beautiful and has very friendly people, but it is not without its dangers. :)

On a beautiful morning, we set out on a kayak tour of Lake Nicaragua. It was a day just as any other day. It was super hot, a little humid, and we were ready for an adventure. We had read about these islands off the coast of Granada, and there are supposedly 365 of them. We didn't get that far. One of the islands is called, Monkey Island. It is the only island to have monkeys on it. Our book mentioned how the monkeys would eat food out of your had. Great! I am so excited to feed a monkey. I had never seen one in the wild before. 

So we set off on our adventure thinking that it was going to be eventful - but not really understanding what lay ahead. It took about an hour to paddle out to the islands, and along the way I would ask the local fisherman where we could find Monkey Island. They kept giving us directions like, "Go around this island and you'll see two islands close to each other and it is three islands away from those ones." Not very helpful, since all the islands are pretty evenly spaced, and it is nearly impossible to find the exact ones they identify. But eventually we find a fisherman who tells us that the island is on the other side of the one we are at. We get excited, and he tells us to be careful, since the monkeys are really aggressive. Cute little monkeys? There is no way those things could be aggressive. We pressed on.

We finally caught our first glimpse of Monkey Island, and I was thrilled to see the branches of the trees swaying as the monkeys jumped back and forth. Seriously, I was more excited than a child at the zoo. And as we approached, we snapped a few pictures of our would-be attackers. 

Here are the pictures of the devil monkeys. 

As we went around the island, I was craning my neck to get a good view of the monkeys, when Caitlin starts yelling that we are going to run into the trees. There were a handful of branches that bent over the lake, and we were on a crash course for the branches. Too late. In that instant, monkeys embarked our kayak and began plundering all they could get their paws on. A monkey jumped in my lap, one behind Caitlin, and others swung around in the trees grabbing for anything they could reach. One grabbed my water bottle, and the one in my lap grabbed my backpack. Did you know that monkeys are surprisingly heavy? Did you also know that they are freakishly strong? Seriously strong. 

As I'm fighting with the monkey over the backpack, Caitlin is wielding her oar as though it were a sword, hitting the monkeys in the trees to make sure they didn't jump onto our already swarming kayak. I end up jumping out of the kayak at some point in time, still holding onto our backpack (which stayed dry somehow), and with me tugging on the boat, and Caitlin wielding her oar, we somehow escape the evil clutches of the monkeys. Unfortunately, once I'm back in the kayak I realize that my oar is missing. One of those little devils was actually trying to carry the oar into the tree. Luckily it was big and awkward so he couldn't lug it through the branches. He eventually drops it into the water, just below the branches... and it sinks. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure kayak oars aren't supposed to sink. But we were in Nicaragua, and the rules are different there. 

We start formulating a plan of how to get out of this mess. We really wanted to get the oar, but we were scared out of our minds, shaking, and not wanting to go anywhere near those monkeys ever again. A tour boat came around and the guide had no interest in helping. He knew how evil those little creatures were. So Caitlin and I devise a plan of how we'll get the oar and she says a prayer to help calm our nerves and she asks for help. As we open our eyes a canoe crosses in front of our kayak with two locals in it. They ask me if we lost something and I told them that Satan's imps took our oar. They said nothing, but immediately started helping. One of them jumped fully clothed into the water. The other used a bucket to splash the monkeys. Turns out they don't like water. The guy in the water dives in and retrieves the oar and brings it over to us. Then he goes back. We're totally confused until he returns to the boat with my newly mangled water bottle. I told him thanks, and he laughed with how unusable the bottle was. We try to tip them, and they refuse (seriously the nicest people in the world), but instead invite us to their island restaurant for a drink so we can calm down for a bit. 
Caitlin had the camera on her wrist as the attacked happened. This is the only shot she managed. :)

The island restaurant was really cute, and we enjoyed a couple of sodas at 9:30 in the morning. Not really something we did normally, but we felt it was polite to order something. 

On the island we assessed our battle wounds. Caitlin came away unscathed, but the monkey in my lap left his mark on my arm. One small scratch. Although it is barely visible in this shot, it does exist and I can still see it on my arm. If you look behind me in the picture, that is the infamous Monkey Island. Looks peaceful, doesn't it? 

After our time at the restaurant, I tipped the guy as much as he would allow me (which was only like 2 US dollars, but he was much too nice to allow me to tip him for helping us), and we made our way back to shore. 
We loved our kayaking adventure, so we didn't want to end our time at the lake. Instead, we spent some time on the beach and splashing around in the warmest fresh water we have ever experienced. 

We always have to take a jumping picture. 

Then we have a photo shoot. 

We are amazing models. 

We walked along the beach for a long time. I found some super cool sunglasses along the way. Then we had a picnic and decided to get home so I could clean out my battle wound. 

The rest of the time we spent in Granada was not nearly as eventful. We went to the cemetery in town, since hanging out with dead people makes you grateful to be alive, even more than a near death experience. That, and the cemeteries in Latin America are so cool to see. 

Caitlin thought this was a cool idea. Just build a house instead of having plots, and you can bury all your family in the same place. 

I love how many of the crypts have the pope or the Virgin Mary on them. Quite a few have Christ as well. 

This cemetery hosts many of the former presidents of Nicaragua. 

This guy had some unique sculptures on his crypt. They symbolized freedom, law, work, and religion. 

And of course, you have to lighten the mood of a cemetery by taking a crazy selfie with a statue. 

Like I said earlier, the artwork in Granada is spectacular. We went to a gallery that had this tile mosaic on the fist floor, but you could only make out the image from the second floor balcony. Impressive. 

This is the mosaic from the fist floor. 

One other great thing we did while in Granada was Blind Massages. Did you know that they train blind people how to do massages so they can earn an income? Well, they do. We got 15 minute massages, and after 3 weeks of traveling, we definitely needed them. If you're ever in Granada, go get a blind massage, you will not regret it. 
While we were in Granada, we also made a few day trips to some nearby places. I'll blog about those soon. 

And just in case you're in the giving mood, the school we used to work at in Mexico is raising money to try and build a new building since the one they are in is falling apart. Check it out here if you would like to donate a few dollars to the project. We only need $2,500 to finish the building. Until next time.

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