exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Granada, Nicaragua
Here's the breakdown on my border run to Granada, Nicaragua. I went with my roommate, who needed to make a run herself soon.

Thursday -
We left the house at 4:30 AM so that we could get to the TicaBus station in San Jose an hour before our departure. The bus to San Jose dropped us off in an area with no taxis, so we had to walk a couple of blocks. In that short period of time, a bum walked by, begged for money, then snatched the hat off my head and ran away. It was a bad start to the trip. But we made it to the terminal and onto the bus without further problems.

When we reached the border, we all had to get off the bus to get our exit stamp from Costa Rican migration. Here we were also confronted by hoards of money changers. I brought US dollars to exchange because I'd been told I'd get a better rate than using colones. I got 18 cordoba for each dollar, which was only a little worse than the official exchange rate I'd checked online of about 18.5:1. After we got back on the bus, the driver collected our passports, customs forms, and the $8 Nicaragua entry fee. I'm always nervous when my passport leaves my hands, but it had to be done. He got them stamped all together at Nicaraguan migration so we didn't all have to stand in line. Instead, we all just had to stand in the parking lot. I'm not sure that was an improvement.

Nicaragua - Migration Nicaragua - Migration - Our Bus

We arrived in Granada around 3 PM and began the hunt for a hotel. We stopped at a few places close to the central park, but they were all very expensive, around $60 to $80 per night. A few blocks outside, we started to find cheaper places, but they were a bit sketchy. Finally, we came upon Hotel Granada, which a fellow traveler had recommended. It was $30 / night for a big, comfortable, safe, air-conditioned room. And it was right across the street from a church that provided an interesting view. That night we had dinner at the Roadhouse, where I had a fantastic jalapeno steak.

Nicaragua - Hotel Granada Nicaragua - Granada Nicaragua - Granada

Friday -
We had breakfast at our hotel's restaurant, where we saw the man who had recommended it to us. His name was Bill and he was doing missionary work in Central America. He'd been in Granada a few times, so he gave us some suggestions on things to see and do. After talking for awhile, he said he'd like to do a tour himself, and asked to come along. He functioned as our friendly travel guide for almost all of the rest of our stay. He arranged a motorboat tour of the Isletas on Lake Nicaragua. It was amazing to see million-dollar houses built on the tiny little islands. We made a stop at an old fort, which supposedly saw attacks from famous pirates back in the day. And we went by an island filled with monkeys. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning.

Nicaragua - Isletas Nicaragua - Isletas Nicaragua - Isletas - Fort

Back at the hotel, Bill talked to the security guard and learned that there was going to be a baseball game that evening at 6. My roommate's a baseball fanatic, so she was more than happy to go. To me, the idea of watching Nicaraguan baseball was too surreal to pass up. We all hopped in a taxi and went to the stadium to watch the Granada Tiberones play against... some other team. It was an odd site - the contrast of something so American in such an unfamiliar environment. Instead of hotdogs and peanuts, vendors walked around selling sandwiches and quesillas (burritos filled with cheese, onions, and sour cream). I had a quesilla and quite a few beers (at less than a dollar a can, I couldn't refuse).

Nicaragua - Tiberones Baseball Nicaragua - Tiberones Baseball

By this time, I'd had a chance to sample the three major local brews: Victoria, Toña, and Premium. The first two are standard pilsners - crisp, refreshing, and very easy to drink. Premium has a corn-like flavor that was odd, but not unbearable. Though perhaps not as good as Costa Rican beers, they were all decent (better than BudMichCoors) and inexpensive.

Saturday -
I just wanted to hang around town on this day. There was a lot going on in the central park area; vendors and musicians filled the town square. I could tell they were gearing up for a major party. This was confirmed later, when I saw a huge stage being constructed. While I walked around, I came upon a little cigar shop, just a hole in the wall. It was the real deal: I could see the rolling equipment and the tobacco leaves drying outside. I bought a few different types (very cheap at $1 or $2 per cigar) and headed to a bar to enjoy them. The street between Hotel Granada and the central park is lined with restaurants and bars, most of which have seating outside.

Nicaragua - Granada - Horse Cart Nicaragua - Granada Nicaragua - Granada Nicaragua - Granada

I stopped at Zoom Bar, where I got to talk to the owners, Cheryl and Wayne, who hail from California. They'd owned the place for about 4 years. Wayne has a serious passion for food, so he cooks up a couple of specials on the weekends to supplement the typical bar-food menu. This weekend's offerings were lasagna and BBQ beef. He brought out samples for those of us in the bar. While they weren't the best I'd ever had, I can appreciate the efforts of cooking gringo comfort food in this environment. If I were a long-term expat, that would've been a slice of heaven, a delightful respite from rice and beans.

One of the patrons noticed my cigar, so he asked me about it. I told him where I got it. He said, "Yah, that's my place, I make those cigars." He was Eddy "the Stick" Reyes from Sultan Cigars. He invited me to join him, so we sat around talking tobacco for awhile. I mentioned my family owns a tobacco shop, so he gave me his email address and said he does some exporting to the US for the right amount of volume.

Afterwards, I met back up with Roomie and Bill so we could have dinner together. I chose Casa Macondo because I wanted to try their seafood paella. It was quite tasty, with a mix of lobster, shrimp, and mussels.

Then we went back to the town center, where the party was in full-swing. The whole event was sponsored by Victoria beer, so there were ads everywhere. And the Victoria girls were dancing on stage. And the Victoria song was blasting through the streets (Victoria! Victoria! La cerveza de los Amigos, Amigos!). There was a parade through town with highschool marching bands. And there were carts at every turn selling beer for around 50 cents a can. It was absolutely wild. After taking it all in for awhile, we walked down the street back to the Roadhouse, which was having its own party sponsored by Flor de Ca ña rum. They were having a ring-tossing contest, but you had to buy a drink to compete. So I had a few shots of that lovely liquor and pocketed the shotglasses as a souvenir. I didn't win the ring-toss.

Sunday -
We left the hotel around 5:15 AM to wait for the bus, which showed up around 7. It was a long, hot, stinky ride. The stops at migration were much the same as our entrance. But this time, I used the wait to visit the duty free shops, where I bought a few bottles of Flor de Caña at incredibly reasonable prices. The rest of the trip was, thankfully, uneventful.

Nicaragua - Flor de Caña

All of my Nicaragua pictures are here. I've reached the limit of my free Flickr account, so I need to pay for a Pro account. If you can't see all of my older photos, that's why.