Christmas in Granada

Friday, December 25, 2009

First things first: by this point, we had a cadre, a crew, a group of travellers hanging out together, which I have to admit is something new to me. Generally I'd keep it down to one or two people but it's Christmas and everybody is great. Plus this is Central America, and there's safety in numbers. So the dramatis personae: Myself; Phil, a friend from Saskatoon; Jez, an Englishman whom Phil and I met in Semuc Champey, Guatemala; Fran and Ronja, two Sydney girls that we met up with in Leon; Lizzie, an English girl that Fran and Ronja had met elsewhere; Andrea, a friend of Lizzie's from Switzerland. Today we were all setting out to buy gifts for our Secret Santa, and I had Lizzie. Now contrary to having the crew, I wound up setting off on my own to explore Granada and try to find a good Secret Santa gift and, due to a misunderstanding, the rest took off for the markets of nearby Masaya on their own thinking I wasn't coming (while I was changing). I ran out the door but they were long gone. Oh well, I've never been very good at shopping with other people anyway.

I set off and decided pretty quickly that I really liked Granada. They really take pride in the appearance of their city here and it shows. Brightly coloured buildings line the streets, fresh and glowing paint that looked like it had been applied yesterday. Maybe some would call it artificial, but I had no such thoughts. Nor did I have a mission plan; I just bounced from place to place, church to church, checking out landmarks. Had it been my first stop in Central America, I might have burned through all my camera's memory, but it did have a striking resemblance to Antigua or even Leon for that matter, except well-loved. I found my way to the teeming markets, which is something I really enjoy: people everywhere, singing and crying out the various wares they're selling, chickens clucking, carts carrying supplies pressing through narrow gaps in stalls. Maybe this is why I like going shopping when it's busy (say, Christmas Eve). I like the hustle and bustle. And in the markets, you never have to wait in line.

I found Lizzie a monkey to hang out on her backpack and a Santa hat as she was new to the group and didn't pick up a Santa hat with the rest of us in Leon. That, wrapping paper, and a nice box put me just under the 100 Cordobas ($5) limit, and I was free to explore some more. I met up with the group later at our hostel, The Bearded Monkey, which was a pretty cool place all said (and the inspiration for Lizzie's gift). They had not liked Masaya at all, and the photos they showed me looked like a garbage dump with a market on top. Moreover, most of them hadn't found gifts, so they ran out to the Granada markets to find some Christmas presents and returned. I went out with Phil to help him pick out something for Jez, and in the end Jez got a small bottle of rum, some water wings (to protect him from the surf), and a baby bottle to drink his rum from. Of course, Jez wouldn't know that until Christmas day...

'Twas the day before Christmas, and through the guesthouse not a backpacker was stirring nor even a mouse. Instead, Fran, Jez, Phil, and I took off for Laguna de Apoyo, a beautiful lake set in a collapsed volcano crater near Granada that I'd heard about from some Managuans I'd met in El Tunco, El Salvador. We grabbed a taxi who tried to charge us $30 to get there. Then when we told him the price was $12 he said $10 to the road at which point I said to Crater's Edge, which is a hostel on the lakeside. He would take us to the top only. OK, OK, he said and ushered us in. About 10 minutes later, however, he tried to drop us off at an intersection of the highway saying we'd reached the top. Nope. We weren't having it and he shrugged, somewhat annoyed that his fare hadn't been as stupid as he'd initially hoped, and took us up the road (it would have taken us 3 or 4 hours to walk) to a town and then told us THIS was the top. Well, we definitely didn't believe him and I told him he had better drive us where we agreed as an apology for trying to leave us stranded on the highway and he now very angrily drove on. This is the price everyone charges and we'd asked around so we knew when we were being ripped off. Eventually he realized that he was still getting the regular fare and was nice again, then dropped us off and we were finally at the crater lake of Apoyo.

We walked along the waterfront until we found a swimming area that looked pretty nice. The water was crystal clear and quite warm though still cool enough to be refreshing. We swam around until about 10 locals came to our swimming spot and then decided it was time to find lunch and hopefully some kayaks or water activities we'd heard about. We went over to Abuela's which was quite pricey (200 Cordobas minimum) and then backtracked to a more local spot closer to the road in. Phil and I had some great fish soup, Jez had some chicken dish, and Fran chicken soup. She has a thing about needing a disconnect from the animal to the food, so if it looks remotely like the animal she can't touch it. Needless to say she was a bit grossed out by our soup but she handled it well. We got a taxi back from Monkey Hut where they charge $6 to use their beach but it includes use of kayaks and a floating dock. What a great place this would be to spend Christmas, we thought, and decided to convince the others to return tomorrow.

That evening the hostel put on a Christmas BBQ which, to be honest, wasn't really worth the mention just then but we all had it anyway and sat around, visiting and having a few drinks. We met some really cool Columbians and pretty much the whole hostel hung out with each other along the big table. Fran and Ronja were chasing down some Aussies at another hostel so they left a bit early to go visit with them. Here, they celebrate Christmas at midnight on Christmas Eve and so, aside from Fran and Ronja, we all made our way to the waterfront via taxi as fireworks and firecrackers filled the streets with smoke and the skies with light. It was a great night out at a local club, and we had a lot of fun before finally getting our cabs back to the hostel and calling it a Christmas Eve to remember.

Christmas day we woke up and exchanged our gifts which was a lot of fun. There were some pretty funny gifts all around the table. For my part, I got a small bottle of rum and a Nicaragua leather holster for it, which would probably save my life two days hence. It seemed like we were going to be too late (most people slept in quite a bit) to get to Apoyo but in the end we got reception to organize us a taxi van and filled it with hostellers when it finally came an hour and a half later. Even though our day was a lot shorter than we would have liked it was very worth it and an excellent way to spend Christmas. Sitting out on the floating dock, swimming, jumping, and laying on the beach, it was as good as Christmas can be without family there. And we had our great crew there with us, too. A few more drinks, some food, and we returned to continue visiting at the hostel, where I finally managed to call home and get a Video Skype session going to Nicole's house where the whole family, aunts, uncles, and my grandparents had just finished dinner. I had been looking forward to seeing everybody all day and thanks to the wonders of the internet, I got to. Boxing Day, Phil, Jez, and myself were trucking off for the lake island of Ometepe to spend a couple days before heading down to San Juan del Sur for New Years on the 28th where we would be reunited with many of the friends we'd spent Christmas with. It may not have been a traditional Christmas, but I'm happy that I met so many great people with whom to spend it.

Granada Photos

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