The week following rafting was a busy one. I had a large project about Paraguay to do and a test in Phonetics. In Spanish class we also went to a café (here meaning coffee plantation) in Heredia for a one-hour tour and a quick stop at a mariposaria, finally (mariposaria=butterfly garden)! We made arroz con pollo at cooking class and FANTASTIC papas fritas in the style the Ticos used before the French version. I went to Zumba class again and my first CEA social at a bar/restaurant where we were to hear Tico Freddy Alvez, a friend of one of our directors, play some songs. Unfortunately I had to leave early from that to finish preparing for my Paraguay presentation and essay, but it was fun, anyway. The bar had been quintessentially Costa Rican, playing a soccer game on the big screen TV and 80s rock music videos on all the smaller ones, and my cab home was totally tricked out with embossed "Need for speed" on the windshield, fancy lights all around, and a little TV that played the music video of the reggaetón the taxista jammed to.
Still, the weekend was what I kept my mind on. Tristen, Justin, Leslieann, Kayla, and I went to Nicaragua! (Leslieann is the new girl, here only for a month, but I adore her. She's a lot of fun, got a boistrous laugh, and is full of jokes. She's majoring in microbiology and chemistry at the University of Tennessee Knoxville--half my family's alma mater--and is studying to be a forensic pathologist. She and Jenn went bungee jumping off a 280 foot bridge last Tuesday. She's cramming in the Costa Rican experience.)
We left directly after class on Friday, $130 cash in colones/American in my bag, with bus tickets but no hostel reservations. It was an 8.5 hour bus ride on a line called The TicaBus. This runs from Panama all the way up through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to Mexico. Yes, it was long, but it was also air conditioned and offered movies, like House Bunny (not good but definitely funny at times), to make it less horrible. Plus we had our ipods and each other, so the trip was fine.
At maybe 8:45 we rolled into Granada, Nicaragua. This is known to be a pretty safe town, with all colonial buildings, on the Lago Nicaragua. We had a bit of trouble finding our hostel, The Bearded Monkey, but not too much, and we got there only $2.00 taxi-fair total short.
Unfortunately there were reprocussions for not being able to reserve a bed. Tristen and Justin got mattresses on the floors of two separate dormitories, Kayla and Leslieann had to sleep in hammocks, and, no hammocks left, I got to sleep on a bench. We got some dinner at the hostel, drank lots of water, and just talked. By eleven thirty all was dark and quiet even in the common area where my bench was, so I didn't have much trouble falling asleep. It was actually nice to have the fresh air of the open courtyard dining room-center when I slept, and the bench had a cushion at least.
The next morning we had a plan. Rising early we ate breakfast at the hostel and set out to change our money to Córdobas then explore the city. One old church we found, of gray and dirty stone, offered a climb to the bell tower where we could look out over the city. I really wish more places had something like this.
All the roofs in Granada are of the wavey red clay-looking stuff, which I can't remember the name for, but which is common in Spanish architecture. Most are to square buildings with an open courtyard in the middle, from which are visible trees and orange or pink flowering plants. The windows have pretty white curtains in them behind nice looking cast-iron swirls, and the walls of course are all different colors, typical Latin-American style. You can see the mountains and volcanoes in the near distance and the lake as well, not quite as blue as the ocean, but so expansive that you can't see the other side. A big clean yellow church dominates the northern vista. A soccer field's lines are drawn directly below the bell tower, on the patio of the church.
Downstairs, in the actual city, the people are of a darker complection. My teacher says many are actually mixes of indigenous and African, rather than the mestiza--indigenous and Español--of Costa Rica. Horses are still used for work, such as transport of wood or even sales goods. The buildings are right up on the streets, with only a sidewalk separating them, and this sidewalk is of beautiful flat tiles that vary according to whcih building they sit in front of. There are checkerboards, pure red, pretty marbled/spotted, and green celtic knot looking ones. The difference in cleanliness between here and San José is refreshing. There is much less English spoken.
We walked around, buying souvenirs muy baratos, and just enjoying the pretty city. Lunch was a $1.25 jumbo hotdog and soda, after which we headed back to the hostel to drop off our stuff before going on an hour tour of some of the 360 tiny volcanic islands nearby.
Most of these islands are privately owned, with no more than a house on them. Some have hotels on them. Some are still for sale. It looked like heaven to live on one! But one island a little further out was known as the isla de los monos. Two types of monkeys, spider and white-faced capuchin, live on this tiny piece of jungle. This is unusual because they don't normally get along, said tropical ecology taker Justin. But these guys, at least the spider monkeys, seemed happy.
They are black with REALLY long tails, and bigger than any of the monkeys I've yet seen. We pulled up slowly near an over hanging branch and two came over to look at us and scratch their arms, not 8 feet above us. But then one swung on board. "Zip up your bags!" our guide told us in Spanish, "But you don't have to be afraid." The monkey certainly was not.
First she walked down the isle of the boat right past us, to the prow where she explored a box and towel sitting there. Then she went over to Tristen, arms waving in the air like a monkey's (go figure) and her mouth open to bare her tiny teeth. She was about as tall as our shoulders when we sat slouched on the chairs. She went straight for Tristen's lap. For about 2 minutes she sat there, Tristen mortified, afraid to touch her, to move her, to do anything. She put her little black hand on her shoulder. Leslie snapped a thousand pictures.
Then I dropped my towel in the lake. The monkey, who the guide told us was pregnant, saw it and climbed on over. She sat on my chair, put her hand on my legs, on my own hand, trying to get me to stop holding the towel so she could look at it. I was so afraid she'd take it from me. About a whole minute we battled, monkey and I, for the right to my terrycloth, though of course I'd never actually push too hard someone with babies in them. She finally lost interest when I stood up and the guide took out something from his own bag as a distraction. 30 seconds later she had jumped back onto a nearby branch and was gone.
The rest of the lake was cool, too, on our way back. We were sitting very low in the water, right next to lily pads that were blooming and other water plants. Trees from the islands came out with trunks exactly parallel the water. We saw egrets and colorful ducks. We relaxed and enjoyed a 4 o'clock sun that was NOT burning us. What a day.
That night we spent talking to the cute bartender, trying mombacho borrachos and borrachObama mixed drinks (borracho means drunk if you haven't figured that out). He had his laptop on a shelf behind him playing Planet Earth and we all, Australians, Norweigens, Swedes, French Canadians and us estadounidenses watched, reflecting on our favorite scenes from the series. It was the first hostel experience for everyone present but me, and they all loved meeting new people and talking about travels. It was definitely a good time.
The next morning we woke up early again and half of us went to a waffle place while half stayed in the hostel for breakfast. That was delicious, and from there we went to the yellow church we'd seen from the bell tower the day before. It is a much more modern one--or at least a much more well kempt one, and it was full for mass, so we didn't go inside. We did take pictures and walk by, exploring the first true Spanish-style plaza we'd encountered since being in Latin America. People were selling jewelry and shoes they'd made, and we could hear the classic hymns sung beautifully in Spanish coming from within the open doors of the church. We couldn't stay long, but walked down some more of the colorful colonial streets nearby and found another of the travelling Marys outside a grocery store. It was a gold-haloed statuette of the virgen in bright colors, accompanied by a trumpet, base drum, clarinet, and small gathering. This is a Catholic area, and not the first of these we'd seen by any means. Everything as at the very least a cross on it, from the bank to the buses, many with small statues or shrines.
I have only a few things to remark on about the long trip back. Firstly was that Nicaraguans have to pay much more to enter Costa Rica than we did. They had to pay more to enter their own country than we did, actually!! Second, that we had some Nicaraguan rice and beans at the border, and it was good, but salty. The rice is more like fried rice there than the white rice of Costa Rica, and the beans are small brownish red ones in place of the black beans here or the giant kidney beans in Panama. It was pretty good, though, and only 3 dollars with chicken and veggies and everything! Thirdly was that one of the movies on the way home was a bootleg copy of the unfinished XMen Origins Wolverine movie. It was so funny because half the computer animation had not been done by the time it was leaked. There were clearly visible lines holding him up when he jumped in some parts, and in other places the computerized stunt double had yet to be generated so in its place, as when Wolverine was falling, was just a silver computerized man. At times it looked very very video-game like. At times Wolverine's signature claws hadn't even been artworked in.
Well that is all for Nicaragua. I found it to be very beautiful, very clean and interesting. I found the people to be quite agreeable and the food better than lots that I've had in San José for a lot less money. I would definitely recommend the trip to people!