After hearing so much about Granada, Nicaragua’s “colonial gem” of a city, I have to admit I was a little defalted when I saw it. Not that it isn’t beautiful, because it certainly is. Colourful colonial houses line the streets, a gorgeous bright yellow church and town hall preside over a shady town square, and on every second corner men are offering rides in horse-drawn carriages decorated with flowers. It is indeed a lovely place to roam.
But the city seemed to be lacking in something. Perhaps it was because every resturant and bar seemed to be unashamedly geared towards tourists, perhaps it was because doing anything seemed to involve signing up for a tour, perhaps it was travel fatigue. But for me where Leon was loud, hot and bustling, Granada was sedate and even a little bit soulless.
We did inevitably join a tour. Three of us spend the morning being ferried around the shady green islands of Lake Nicaragua. The lake itself was beautiful, with all manner of tropical plants and trees lining the banks and covering the islands. But for me the real interest was in looking at the houses. The islands were actually tiny, with most only big enough for just one house and a backyard. But not just any house. To own one of these islands is quite the status symbol, so the houses have to reflect that. We cruised past luxury mansions and stately homesteads belonging to Nicaragua’s parliamentarians, prominent business owners and – of course – US expats, with our guide pointing out the homes of the country’s rich and famous.
Not every island was like this though. In fact many weren’t. Many were home to local Nicas, who were often squatting on the island in basic mudbrick homes. We stopped on one island where a local family lived – in basic accommodation – and were promptly served up fresh coconuts. Sipping our coconut water, A and I launched several poor attempts at a conversation in Spanish, before giving up and relying on our guide to help us out. It wasn’t long before the father and the son of the family invited us to see their baseball field. I was slightly puzzled. Baseball field? What? Here? Well, yes, actually.
A series of strategically placed logs and planks led us back to the mainland and to a clearing, where yes, there was a baseball field. Basic and far from anything professional-looking, but the baseball diamond was there. It came complete with two large and irritable cows who stood guard. Both the father and the son were keen baseball players and their team was competing for the championship. This was their place to practice. A mansion they do not have, but then I doubt many people can say they have their own baseball field.
During the cruise around the lake I also had the pleasure of meeting Lucy, a monkey with a serious taste for coconut. When we pulled up to her island, she leapt into our boat in a heartbeat, quickly snatching all the coconut we offered to her. A few hundred photos later, and it was time to shoo her from the boat – except Lucy wasn’t so keen to leave. We pulled away from the island, thinking she had left the boat, and had driven for some time before Lucy made her re-appearance. Back to the island we went.
Cruising the islands, taking in the scenery and listening to the bird calls, was a really pleasant experience. Which probably best sums up Granada for me; pleasant. Not amazing, not eye-opening, not buzzing with life. Just pleasant.