Granada has some beautiful churches.
Despite my very antagonistic views on religion, I still enjoy looking at churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship when I travel. It's amazing what peoples' incredible blind faith will cause them to construct in honor of their invisible deity. If I sound like a heathen, just remember that thousands of people still visit the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the Greek Parthenon everyday. Does anyone believe in Anubis or Zeus anymore??
Iglesia de Xalteva and San Franciso are two of the largest churches in the city. They certainly command the most attention when you walk by them. Xalteva is more well-maintained, and like much of the city has been recently renovated to appease the growing number of tourists to Nicaragua. People are finally realizing that Central America isn't just about Costa Rica. Strangely enough, long before Costa Rica became the textbook definition for ecotourism, it had nothing to offer to its original Spanish conquistadors; they left it practically untouched to focus on Nicaragua. The result is that Costa Rica is quite devoid of any historical, colonial-style buildings, while places like Granada are filled with architectural gems. Most of the old buildings have high spires and are painted in bright, eye-catching colors that shine in the midday sun.
A walk through the city is pleasant, just remember to bring sunblock.
All of this wandering in the unbearably hot sun lead me to cool off in the nearest body of water, the massive Lake Nicaragua. There is a beach that looks out to Ometepe Island where Ometepe Volcano dominates the view. I hear there are nice, beautiful, unspoiled parts surrounding the lake, but there is nothing nice I can say about this particular beach. It's dirty, smells bad and the locals stared at me in a rather unnerving way. Apparently gringos never make it this far from the city center. When I said the lake is 'nearest,' I should clarify that it's a good half-hour walk from the Calle La Calzada, which is the furthest that your average tourist in Granada ever strays from the center.
I don't blame them. After one day of fulfilling my tourist quotient, I regrouped with some people from the Oasis Hostel then resigned the rest of my long weekend to lazy, people-watching on The Walking Street, or Calle La Calzada. Why bother going anywhere else?
In another notable difference from Costa Rica, Granada's tourist strip is lined with restaurants and bars where the tables and chairs are placed directly on the streets like in many European centers. I haven't yet encountered this kind of cafe culture in Costa Rica despite their fame for quality coffee. Even in San Jose's wide Avenida Central, all the businesses keep their tables within the four walls of their property. Considering that Nicaragua typically reports higher crime rates and higher rainfall than Costa Rica, it seems even stranger to see such a vibrant street scene that lasts long after sunset.
I didn't think much about these things in Granada. It was great to be sitting with a beer in the middle of the street of Calle La Calzada's urban activity instead of observing it from a balcony. The musicians, begging children and street vendors that constantly bothered me only added to the excitement.
Naturally I was drinking more than anyone else at the table. I was the only one at the table who wasn't backpacking through Latin America. My Swiss Couchsurfer travelmate was there with some Finnish girls, several Germans girls and one loud, extravagant Australian metalworker. Tey were nursing one or two beers so they could continue budgeting their next month through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, etc. Meanwhile I was throwing back many Flor De Canas and Coke's on my meager teacher's paycheck that I had just received the past Friday. "Wealthy" is all relative. My teacher's checks are small, but still better than some backpackers with their "five-dollar-a-day-budget." Then again I always budget a lot for alcohol.
The Australian had budgeted for other fun things. He was approached by a Nicaraguan "friend" at the table and excused himself. Ten minutes later he returned with a smile and opened his hand, "Look what my 'friend' found." A small plastic bag of off-white powder sat in his palm.
No one was surprised. The Australian had the best travel stories (like most Australians,) and many of them involved various drugs binges at Thailand Full Moon Parties, cocaine in Honduras, etc. My only concern was whether or not he had been ripped off.
"Are you sure it's real??"
"Yeah, haha...he probably cut it with baking soda and charged me a 'gringo' price. It's OK for tonight. I've paid more before."
|A little off Calle La Calzada|
The Australian and I did shots while one of the Finnish girls sang...a Finnish reggae song. Although we didn't understand a damn word, everyone applauded her beautiful voice. Eventually I worked up the courage to try my first karaoke song in Spanish. It was "La Ciudad De La Furia" by Soda Stereo, and I'm glad I sang it since I spent the rest of the night with a cute Nicaraguan chica who couldn't believe a gringo was able to sing in Spanish. Gracias, Gustavo.