14.05.2015 - 20.05.2015
We spent the rest of our time in Nicaragua in and around Granada, basing ourselves at the Hotel con Córazon (Hotel with a Heart), which invests 100% of its profits in local education projects. With several days here, we really got to know the streets and absorb the atmosphere. Whenever I go on a trip, I like to find a balance between sightseeing and pretending to live there. I like to get a ‘feel’ for a place rather than just running around museums and following a tourist trail all the time.
So, whilst we made sure we saw all the major historical sights, and we loved learning about the colonial architecture, particularly the iconic Catedral de Granada and the Convento San Francisco, we also spent a lot of time sitting in cafes, reading and writing.
Being the book geek that I am, I put a lot of thought into my travel reading list before we left the UK. Whenever I visit somewhere new I always choose a book (usually a novel) that is somehow related to that place. I find it really enhances my experience, and it will have a large bearing on my time there. I've read Hemingway in Cuba, Hideous Kinky in Marrakech, Miss Garnet's Angel in Venice, and Dracula in Transylvania.
During our time in Nicaragua, Matt and I both read the same two books: The Country Under My Skin, the autobiography of Gioconda Belli, an inspiring woman who joined the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) and played a big part as an intellectual revolutionary in the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979, as well as juggling another life as a wife and mother; and The Jaguar Smile by Salman Rushdie, which he wrote after his visit to the country in 1987. Without turning this blog into a history lesson, both books really helped us get our heads around this beautiful and strange country, and made it easier to understand how it has become the country it is today.
Having read these two books, we were able to get more out of our visits to places such as the Cementerio de Granada, Central America's oldest cemetery, where six Nicaraguan presidents lie in grand, white tombs and mausoleums. There are also a lot of (smaller) stones with two flags painted on them: the blue and white Nicaraguan flag, and the black and red flag of the Sandinistas. These stones all had very similar dates of death, in the early 1980s, during the Contra War.
Of course, sitting in cafes with a book or pen and paper often (well, always) goes hand in hand with eating and drinking, another of our favourite pastimes. Aside from an incident with an accidental avocado in an organic greens smoothie, which we won't talk about, the food we ate in Granada was excellent, with highlights including chicken tamales, fish tacos, tender steaks, and so much gallo pinto and fried cheese. Meals were usually washed down with coffee or cocktails, my favourite being the 'Macuá', Nicaragua's national cocktail, made with the national rum, Flor de Caña.
By far our favourite meal, though, was vigorón. In each corner of Parque Central, the main square, there is a colourful little kiosk selling this traditional Nicaraguan dish: a hearty pile of yuca (cassava-n appetite) with fried pork rind, pickles and cabbage, served on a banana leaf. This should be eaten with chicha de maíz, a bright pink corn-based drink, which is definitely more delicious than it sounds.
After several days of enjoying the cuisine, we felt pretty slovenly, and regretted our pre-holiday laziness, realising that a few sessions of badminton had not turned us into Bear Grylls. So we hit the gym. Yes, the gym. I can't believe it either.
The local 'spa' was pretty shabby, and much of the gym equipment was broken. The gym was also outdoors, where a giant turtle called Snoopi roams the grounds. Working out in the almost 40 degree heat was definitely a challenge, and didn't help with the clamminess of the Clemmies. But after a workout (okay, ten minutes on the treadmill and a bit of yoga), we felt wholesome and smug, and finished off our health kick with kombucha – a fermented mushroom drink full of vitamins and good stuff (it actually tastes of ginger beer).
Two weeks in, and a quarter of the way through our adventure, it feels strange to be getting on a plane to the US, and not back home. But as the sun sets in Central America, we're ready for the next stage of the journey.