Ring The Bells

We landed in Managua about eight in the evening, walked outside the airport and smoked a cigarette (I know, terrible, I started smoking again), surveying the taxi drivers all clamoring for jacked up fares from the new arrivals. Eventually we gave up and paid our own jacked up fare to get to a decent guesthouse picked randomly out of the Lonely Planet.

Granada StreetManagua is a medium sized city, neither the best nor the worst I’ve been in, but there didn’t seem to be much worth seeing, and we only had two weeks to spare so we hightailed it south to Granada at six the next morning.

The slow, or ordinario, bus proved to just fine and got us to Granada in an hour or so. We were way too early to check in anywhere, but we stopped by a guesthouse (The Bearded Monkey, rating: B-), reserved a room and stashed our bags before heading out to explore the city.

Granada is famed for its Colonial-era architecture and colorful buildings; it even has the UNESCO World Heritage site stamp of approval. We wandered the streets, taking in the riotous paint jobs and admiring the fantastically massive, ornately carved wooden doors. Behind most of these doorways are fantastic courtyards, lushly planted and beautifully landscaped (judging by the few that were open).

Granada churchWe stopped by a Church that was holding services and Corrinne was hesitant to go in, but having marched right in to so many Buddhist temples (at the urging of the locals I might add) I decided to do the same with the Catholics, come hell or high water as it were.

It turned out to that no one seemed to care, or perhaps the tourist-saturated nature of their town has led to an acquiescence that masquerades as acceptance. A very friendly priest of some kind stopped us on our way out and insisted that we go up in the recently restored bell tower to have a look at the city from on high.

As it turned out, it was the best thing we did in Granada and, for whatever reason, no one seems to do it (or at least no one we talked to). Which isn’t to slight Granada, it’s definitely worth a day, but there isn’t a whole lot to it. Unless you’re really into horse drawn carriage tours.

We paid a nominal fee — which ostensibly goes toward further restoration efforts since the church dates from the 1600s and could use a bit of work — and then went up the narrowest, steepest, circular concrete staircase that I’ve ever encountered. It had a low railing and circled up four stories worth of precipitous dropoffs before you hit solid ground. Never mind the cracks in the stairs, this is earthquake country. It happens.

Granada rooftopsAt the top you have a great 360 degree view of the city, which becomes an endless sea of mottled pink, orange and brown hues — terra cotta roof tiles stretching from the shores of Lago Nicaragua all the way back toward the hills. Oh and there’s some bells. Bells that quite clearly get rung from below, and, judging by the size, it would be best to not be around when someone yanks the rope. Thankfully no one did and we spent half and hour or more admiring the city and trying to decide if Ometepe, the towering volcano in the distance, half shrouded in the hazy of the lake, was really belching thin gray wisps of smoke. Inconclusive. It certainly looked like it was though.

After admiring the views for a while, the idea of lounging in one the aforementioned courtyards kept coming up. Eventually we gave in and headed back to the guesthouse to do the one thing I’m really good at at doing — nothing. And by nothing I mean napping in hammocks, sipping Tona, reading, checking out the German guy’s EeePC (pathetic: Wired technology writer sees first EeePC laptop in Nicaraguan guesthouse), talking about whether or not our house would work with a courtyard and otherwise dodging the heat of the day.

We went out for a late lunch and had another explore around the market area, down a few back alleys, past another very 17th century-looking church, through a game of baseball happening in the middle of the street and finally looped back to the church and climbed up the bell tower again to watch the sunset.

I’m not quite sure what the occasion was, other than a Sunday (could have been a wedding perhaps, this time I decided not to intrude), but the church was in full swing with some extremely morose, gothic-tinged music thundering out of the cathedral hall and punctuated by a man in front of the church launching volleys of giant fireworks, seemingly in time with the music. The effect was like being in a bad Francis Ford Coppola movie (like the Godfather), but the fireworks sounded more like mortar shells than percussion.

Granada sunsetBack up the scary stone staircase I sat down and closed my eyes for a minute and imagined what the same scene would have looked like twenty years ago when the explosions really would have been mortars. After all, that’s what American’s think of when they think of Nicaragua: war, death, suffering. Certainly all part of Nicaragua’s past, but you’d never know it today. Today it’s just fireworks and fugues.

After the sun set we wandered back over to Parque Colón, the central plaza that anchors the layout of the town and serves as its central hub. We sat down to the side of the park and watched the locals go about their business, enjoying the last few hours of the weekend.

Eventually we headed back the guesthouse to grab some dinner and a few beers.

The next morning we were the first bus headed south.


Please leave a reply:

All comments are moderated, so you won’t see it right away. And please remember Kurt Vonnegut's rule: “god damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” You can use Markdown or HTML to format your comments. The allowed tags are <b>, <i>, <em>, <strong>, <a>. To create a new paragraph hit return twice.