Granada – the opposition

My elbow rests on the windowsill as I peer over at the continuous snake-like yellow line that divides the lanes of the Panamerican Hyway. I look up and through a break in the trees I see the Lago de Nicaragua. A snapshot of the beauty behind the capital. Two large volcanoes litter the far shore, dark shadows that have become so familiar to me.

The minibus to Managua is cramped, as usual and there will be another one from the stop behind the university, on to Granada.

Leaving late as usual, the estimated time of arrival in the next destination should be at 3pm.

As we drove through the streets on Managua, I recognised streets and noticed that we were not stopping behind the university as planned. Panic began to fill my gut. I didn’t especially want to end up in the wrong part of town let alone spend another night there. The shuttle stopped at a different market, closer into the city centre. But low and behold, as we pulled up, a shuttle was ready for departure onto Granada. Panic strikken state averted.

It was another 2 and a half hours on the cramped ride but as we drew closer, I began contemplating the history between Leon and Granada.

A history littered with political conflict, culminating with invasion and the embarrassing affair with William Walker. If anyone has the time, it is a fascinating story and I recommend you check it out.

Granada is another beautiful colonial town. A little more grimy, but the multicoloured buildings weren’t a drastic contrast from the likes of Leon and Antigua.

Blue skies and a colourful entrance.

I stepped off the minibus and was immediately aware of the heat. The sweat was back and in full force, but luckily the recommended hostel was only a few blocks away.

It took a while to find due to the lack of any signs outside, but we finally found the conspicuous little metal lattice doorway that was opened by a rope system from behind the reception desk.

The building inside is gorgeous. High ceilings, tall archways and a central open air courtyard, heavily laden with rocking chairs and hammocks. A perfect township retreat where I could catch up on some well needed rest and exchange stories with other travellers.

Hostel Oasis, true to its name.

After dropping off our bags we explored the town and re-fuelled on some well deserved chips at a local take away.

The central park was not as run down as Leon’s but neither was it as well kept and bustling as Antigua’s. Nonetheless it was beautiful and the usual act of people watching whiled away the hours until it was time to sleep.

The next day was another appointed cigar day and we awoke at a decent hour to head over to the Doña Elba cigar factory, 8 blocks away.

It was placed just outside of town, across the street from a large and ornate orange church. We had been recommended the place by Mahdi who told us that they hand made the award winning organic cigars within the owners house.

And just like we were told, we stepped into what looked like an old Spanish colonial living room, ornate mahogany furniture, old cedar humidors and the stereotypical old men smoking cigars in lazy armchairs.

I felt like I had been washed back through time in a haze of musty cigar smoke.

The living room opened up into a large White courtyard where they had a few tables of cigar rollers. Very friendly people, who let me roll my own cigar, press it and then watch a master of the art apply the final wrap.

A true piece of spanish Nicaragua.

I tipped them generously and took the cigar as a souvenir of my handy work.

It was a smaller outfit in comparison to what we had seen in Estelli, but it had the old family atmosphere that the owner, Silvio Reyes, was famous for.

Intoxicated by the experience we decided to hit up a lead from a drunk American back in Lago Atitlan. He told us there was a local cigar expert working a small resellers booth in the park central. All we had was a name.

Eddie Reyes.

We had walked into a small cigar shop the day before, but never thought to ask for him. So we returned to inquire of anyone knew who he was, in the hope of some enlightenment on the quality of the Doña Elba’s and the Estelli’s.

It was a small bare shop, grey walls, a clear plastic display desk of cigars and a few wooden tables.

I asked the lady in the store if she knew Eddie Reyes.

There was a pause.

A longish pause.

And then after the strange period of eye contact, she arched her neck to look back at the room and called out, ‘Eddie’!

I hadn’t noticed them before, a pair of legs on the floor. They began to stir.

The torso of this afternoon napper was concealed by a desk.

He arose, a short man, round face and bristly little black moustache.

It was Eddie Reyes.

That drunk old fool at the lake had talked some sense.

He was semi-helpful in telling us the differences between the local brands, but his main focus was an attempt to sell us some cheap well known brand cigars that he brandished with pride.

It worked and I thought a few of them would make excellent gifts.

We went back to the hostel to relax and ended up befriending a group of other residents. There was Dom who was a ‘teacher’ living in Leeds. If he is reading this then he gets the joke. Then there were the very polite and friendly dutch guys, Robert and Matijs. (No that isn’t a spelling error). And finally Vicky, a veteran traveller from Australia.

We spent the evening moving from topics like music, through to local politics and made a plan to do a trip to the Isletas in the morning. And so we slept late after good conversation and woke relaxed and ready for a days exploration.

The Isletas are a group of tiny islands a short boat ride from the lake shore of Granada.

They were created during the eruption of local volcano, Mombacho. Large rocks and adjoining spits of lava landed in the lake, cooling to create a strip of small island outcrops.

We took a taxi down to the Centro Touristico, an abandoned park that stretched across the lakes edge and found a small launchas to commandeer for the hour long trip around the islands.

Once we got there, I wasn’t so impressed. Maybe I was expecting too much. My minds eye might have been picturing a smaller Halong Bay. But all I saw was a large group of small islands with very expensive looking villas perched on each one.

It looked like James Bond real estate.

And roll the iconic and dramatic Bond music......

The ending scene when he has the girl in some island retreat in an expensive villa, dressed in that white linen suit. Alas, there was no James Bond. But good company on the boat kept me amused.

This lonesome boat caught my eye.

The highlight was a small island, inhabited by a group of rather well fed and cheerful monkeys. Glutenous from the throws of tourists that frequented their shores. Fearless and playful, they swung close to the boat, above the boat and nearly in the boat. Feeding off our laughter they grew tiresome and retreated back into the thicket of their island.

Cheeky monkey.

We returned to the shore of the lake as rain began to bucket down from the glooming clouds over the town. Young locals streamed excitedly onto the boat as we struggled to clamber off and make a hasty retreat to what looked like a derelict bar.

And from this spot we whiled away the afternoon with general chatter and attempts at capturing rain drops on my camera off of the surface of the lake.

It was successful.

The festivities carried on back into town as we found ourselves in park central until late. Although I was mindful of the time. I had made the decision to head off to Isla Omepete the next day. Advice from Vicky had cautioned me against travelling the day after as it was a Sunday and services on the island would be at a stand still. So not very sure of how to get to the island, I made my way back to the hostel to pack and try to gain some knowledge on the best way to get there!

The market shopping planned for the next day would have to wait for the return leg before the airport.

And so we woke, early, and made our way across town to the bus terminal for the next leg down to Rivas and a boat across to the mystical Isla Ometepe.

-U.Mirza

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