This past weekend’s adventures took me to two of the main cities of Nicaragua, Leon and Granada! Well, the plan was to take the earliest bus on Friday morning from San Jose to Managua… but I managed to sleep through all of my alarms! I woke up in a panic, realizing I had missed the bus. I was planning on travelling with my friends Shingo, Bradley, and Laura, but they had obviously already left on the first bus. So, I rushed to the station and got on the next bus myself.
Our plan for the weekend was this: take the bus to Managua, then take another public bus from Managua to Leon on Friday night. Explore Leon Friday during the day, then take the public bus to Granada, where we would stay for Saturday night and Sunday night. As I sat on the bus to Managua Friday afternoon, I realized that by the time I arrived, the public buses to Leon would no longer be running. By some stroke of luck, the man sitting next to me on the bus had a phone that worked in Nicaragua. He looked up the number of the hostel I was supposed to stay at in Leon, called them, and the owner of the hostel drove to Managua and picked me up right at the bus station! I was reunited with my friends at Hostal Latina in Leon, and it was as if nothing had ever happened. I felt really accomplished travelling on my own and being able to communicate my situation entirely in Spanish to the kind man sitting next to me on the bus. When I arrived in Costa Rica three months ago, I never would have been able to relay my circumstances and ask for help as fully as I was able to on Friday. Truly a great feeling, knowing that I have grown and progressed! While I am still far from being fully fluent, I have mastered what I like to call “survival Spanish,” and I could also definitely consider myself a fluent Spanglish speaker.
Friday night, we were all exhausted from the long day of travelling, so we showered and got right to sleep. The next morning, we woke up early to start our exploring. We decided to go to Volcan Cerro Negro (Black Hill) to go on a hike and try out “volcano boarding.” We all piled into the back of a pickup truck, and when we arrived, I was a little intimidated by the sight of the volcano. It was much hotter in Nicaragua than it is here in Costa Rica, so the hike up Cerro Negro was probably one of the most physical exhausting activities I’ve done. It was a beautiful view at the top, so it was all worth it. After we reached the top, our guide Jesus taught us how to use our boards, which were essentially a piece of wood with a string attached. All we had to do was sit on the board and hang out to the string, just as if we were sledding down a snowy mountain – only this time we were sledding through ash down the side of a volcano! That was our adrenaline-rush activity for the weekend.
After we went back to the hostel and got cleaned up again, we took spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring Leon, simply by walking around. Nicaragua struck me as a much more fervently religious place than Costa Rica. While there are signs of the heavy Catholicism evident all over Costa Rica, it seems to me to be more deeply engrained in Nicaragua. Just in Leon, there are 21 churches. We walked up to the top bell tower of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, one of the largest cathedrals in Central America.
Next stop on our trip was the city of Granada! To make this transfer, we took a bus back to Managua, then got a bus to Granada. Our hostel there, El Caribe, was conveniently located right across from the bus station we needed to get home on Monday morning. And for only $7 a night, we got breakfast on Sunday and Monday morning! Granada is known for being home to Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake on Central America, so we decided to take a boat tour of the lake. Many of the islands on this lake are privately owned, both by foreigners and by Nicaraguans. Our tour guide pointed out islands owned by Americans, French, Taiwanese, and more. One of the islands is also owned by one of the richest families in Nicaragua – the family who owns the Nicaraguan beer “Victoria,” the run “Flora de Cana,” and has some stake in the bank as well. There were some islands left uninhabited by people, though – like Isla de Los Monos! Here, there lives a family of monkeys that were rescued from the zoo. There are spider monkeys and white-faced monkeys. We saw a father and son pair, Pancho and Panchito.
After the boat tour, we had lunch at a place called Henry’s that was right on the water. The rest of our day was spent exploring the churches and colonial buildings, as we did in Leon. The buildings were beautiful, and I loved how so many average houses were painted in the brightest colors. There were so many people out and about in the streets. Families would be sitting outside their houses in rocking chairs, just watching the world go by. There was very evident poverty, much more so than in Costa Rica, as I had expected. There were more beggars in the street and out on the sidewalks. But from the small picture of the country I was able to get, they also seem very rich in other ways. More content with a simpler lifestyle maybe.
When we went on our boat tour, we were joined by an older man named Mario. He was from New Mexico, and he was travelling to look for less expensive places to retire. As we were eating lunch after the tour, he looked at the beautiful lake and the volcanoes behind it, and commented, “I always wonder how a country can be so poor, yet so rich at the same time.” This is not something that’s easy to answer or reconcile, especially not in a visit as short as mine. There is so much beauty and poverty, happiness and sadness, all in the same place. But travelling to Nicaragua was certainly a worthwhile experience. It showed me another small glimpse of life, and how that will affect me, I’ll just have to wait and see.