Days 75-77: Granada, Nicaragua
I won’t lie: We had a rough time crossing the border into Nicaragua from Honduras. Lots of hoops to jump through. The Honduras border guard charged us to exit the country, a fee that we’d already paid upon entering two days earlier. He knew that, having seen our receipt for the charge (which he promptly tore up), but still had the gall to charge us again. Guatemalan border guards demanded fees for insurance (with wildly varying prices), municipal taxes, and a host of other things. It seemed like everyone had some sort of side scam or just wanted to milk us for money. In the end, we got through, and it didn’t cause us more than a few frustrating hours.
Two fellow overlanders, riding motorcycles, finally left the police checkpoint in extreme frustration saying: “You know where we’re staying! Arrest us as we drive away!” after being told that insurance was $100 USD ($12 being the proper charge). It was a mess.
We checked into a nearby hotel and promptly crashed. It’s all part of the adventure, I suppose. We’ll laugh about it later.
The next day we headed for Granada. Despite the border debacle, the roads in Nicaragua were lovely and the country was beautiful. The old quarter in Granada is particularly lively.
Ben wanders off to check out the paintings.
At this point, my kids know the routine for cathedrals: remove your hat, don’t walk on the kneelers, and above all, be quiet. Ben would have been horrified by lady in back of me that was passing the time with a rousing game of Candy Crush on her phone (with volume turned way up!). I had a nice little chuckle. Keep on being your fabulous self, Senora.
Ben and I took a ‘bean to bar’ chocolate making class. Here we are toasting our beans.
Ben was a pro. He even perfected his chocolate chant and dance. Naturally he was fascinated to learn that early Aztecs anointed their chocolate with human blood. He also looked nervously at Alejandro, our teacher. Were we going to have to do the same?
Fortunately no blood was shed during class.
Here are our roasted beans, peeled while piping hot at the expense of our fingers.
We earned our chocolate today!! Freshly ground beans, aching arm muscles.
Ben added so many marshmallows there was barely any room left for chocolate.
Best of all, we met new friends while in the chocolate shop! M, R, T + D (of World Family Adventure) originally hail from New York/San Fran but are on the same journey south as us. We haven’t bumped into many overlanding families thus far; we had a delightful lunch swapping stories and talking about our future plans. We really hope to meet up with them again further on down the road.
On the recommendation of our host we took an evening drive up Masaya Volcano, a moderately active caldera near Granada.
Even from the main highway you can see it belching smoke and ash against the sky.
Driving up the mountain at night is eerie. You can only stay for 15 minutes and must park facing downhill, in the event that a quick departure is necessary. The precautions are well-founded: a 2003 mini-eruption from the crater destroyed a few cars and caused one injury. I only figured that out after our visit; sometimes you don’t want to know the truth until you’re safely home and tucked into bed. 🙂
The view itself, though, was spectacular. I’ve never before laid eyes on a lake of boiling, steaming lava. This was definitely a fantastic experience for us and I highly recommend it for other travelers. Just remember to point your car downhill.
Ben was thrilled to spot his first snake, hunting near our place in Granada. Much to his disappointment it was likely non-venomous individual of the colubridae family, although we were not able to make a confirmed identification. The one bummer for us in Granada was the heat. Somehow we’ve managed to pass through all of Mexico (and beyond) without getting too boiled but that came to a screeching halt in Nicaragua. Poor Emma got the worst of it waking up one morning with a heat rash. We bailed and headed for the coast, hoping that cool winds and ocean waves would cool us down.
Next Up: The Pacific Coast near San Jose del Sur
Bean to Bar Chocolate Workshop – Choco Museo, Granada
At $22usd/person ($12 for kids under 12) this was an expensive activity for us. But it was only Ben and I in the class and our instructor Alejandro was excellent. He was patient and knew how to handle kids bouncing around due to sugar/chocolate highs. Ben had a blast.
One note: you are making a dark chocolate bar; which is lovely and delicious, but my kid usually eats bland milk chocolate so his final product was a bit of a let-down. He did add in a massive number of marshmallows so that kept him mostly happy.
Masaya Volcano National Park – Night Tour
(One of our top five activities of the trip so far!)
Any hotel in Granada can organize a tour but we just drove our truck up there. The entrance is off the main highway; you’ll see vehicles lining up along the road waiting to enter.
Tip: Try to arrive no later than 5pm. You’ll have to wait in the car for an hour but we heard that it’s nice to watch the sunset at the top. They only allow a few cars up at a time. Cost: $10USD/person. Kids: half price. Under 6: free.
Or, if you pay more, the local police will personally escort you to the top and you’ll get access to a part of the park closed off to the cheapskates that only shelled out ten bucks. Price: unknown.