Sunday, December 27, 2015


After a couple days in Leon, it was time to move on to Granada. Granada was, like Leon, hot enough to limit daytime energy and activities, but with the breeze off the lake it was a little more tolerable. Add in a healthy dose of a good hostel environment, and Granada was quite the destination for all of us.

The ride to Granada was one of the nice ones for the bike. Good roads, good weather, and no real issues. I stuck to the north route which rode the edge of Lago de Managua, which made for some pretty good views. I made a quick stop in Masaya for a snack and a rest, but when I looked at the map and realized how close I was to Granada I got back on the bike pretty quick and finished the trip.

This was one of the days where riding was much faster than the bus, so I was in town quite a bit before everyone else. Unfortunately, we'd had trouble finding spots for six of us in the hostels over the weekend, so we only had a room of four reserved in one of the hostels, while the one we wanted to go to had been full. So my first stop was De Boca en Boca to see if we could find two more beds for the night. Fortunately, they had exactly two left, and they even had a spot I could pull my motorcycle into. While I waited for the others, I wandered around town a little bit and got a haircut.

There was a funeral going on at the church next door to the hostel.

The main market street stayed pretty busy.

Street art on the wall of the hostel.
Once everyone else arrived and got settled in, we all made our way to De Boca en Boca to hang out. And it ended up being quite the night for the hostel, as it was the owner's birthday. There were shots of infused alcohol being poured, lots of beers, and a lot of guests coming to the bar who weren't staying at the hostel (even quite a few who were locals and just friends of the owner).

The bar's collection of infused liquor. I really enjoyed "passionfruit and pepper."
The next day we made a trip to the grocery store to pick up some food, and on the way back to the hostel, Mylène said she was heading over to the market to get some fresh fruits and vegetables there. The rest of us arrived back at the hostel and had been relaxing a bit when Mylène came in breathing hard and scraped up. Apparently when she'd been returning from the market she had pulled her phone out to look at the map and figure out directions, when a bicycle went by. There were two guys on the bike, one riding normally and one on the pegs on the back wheel, and the guy on the back took the opportunity as he rode by to reach out and grab Mylène's phone!

She reacted instantly, trying to wrestle it back from him, and then jumping on his back while he was still on the bike, scraping her shins on the back of the bike. She was able to wrestle the phone back from the thief shortly after, and then sprinted away from them back to the hostel, where she recounted the story to us.

I honestly hadn't seen much danger in Central America before this - I'd heard a few stories, including one of some travelers being held at knife-point in Leon, but this was really the closest experience I'd had with anything criminal. Luckily it was in daytime, and she was able to retrieve it, but it still was a bit of a scare for her.

We had decided to head to Apoyo crater lake that Saturday, but we were all a bit hesitant, I think, due to the fiasco that was the last time we tried to head to a crater lake in Leon. But this one went much smoother - after a short walk to the bus station we caught a bus to the mirador that overlooks the lake (though we did have to sit on the bus for a good 20 minutes sweating before departing), where we paid a few dollars to get in and enjoy the view.

Reppin' Chicago.
After enjoying the view for a bit, we found some tuk-tuk drivers to take us down to the edge of the crater. That ended up being a lot longer drive than I expected, winding down through some small towns and steep roads. The tuk-tuks were really struggling with the roads with three of us plus a driver in each of them, and all I could think every time a motorcycle passed us was how much I'd rather be riding these roads myself.

But eventually we arrived down at the bottom, got into our swimsuits, and headed into the lake.

Nice warm water.
Because the depth of the lake starts shallow and then reaches a point about shoulder-deep where it drops off really quickly, we spent a lot of our time in the lake having fun with some acrobatic maneuvers. Someone could stand right near the drop-off and hold people on their shoulders, and when they fell (or jumped, or were thrown) they would end up in much deeper water. We even managed to stack three of the guys on each other's shoulders and hold it for a while.

Eventually we dried off, headed out of the lake, and went to make our way back to Granada. Because we weren't going to the mirador on the way back, the tuk-tuk drivers recommended a different route which, combined with us catching the bus right as we got out of the tuk-tuk, made our return trip take less than half as long as the trip out. We ended up getting off the bus in a different place, but it was right on the route that I'd ridden into town on the motorcycle, so I knew exactly where we were and was able to navigate us home.

I recognized these houses from my ride in, and was able to take a picture this time.
We spent another night relaxing with the people at the hostel - this hostel was interesting in that almost everyone there, both employees and guests, seemed to speak French. At one point as I was looking around the room counting conversations, and other than a group of three talking in English, the other fifteen or so guests were all talking in French. I can't say French has been more useful than Spanish, but being able to speak it has been super useful on this trip. For starters, if I couldn't speak any French I'm not sure I would have bonded with the Belgians and the French guys like I did (which may have led to me being around less Francophones in general) but I've been fortunate to be able to participate in so many experiences and conversations just from my limited French ability.

By Sunday morning, I was really missing the guitar that we'd had at the hostel in Leon. So much so, that I started thinking about ways that I could travel with a guitar. It's not exactly easy to put a guitar on a motorcycle, but it's not impossible either - I'd met Niv in Palenque who was traveling with one on his motorcycle. It wasn't likely that many guitar stores were open, but on the off chance that one was, I decided to hop on the motorcycle and head to Masaya, where I knew there were a few.

So I tossed on the jacket, boots, pants, and helmet, and got on the bike - but without all the other stuff I usually have on there. This was one of the first times in weeks that I'd had a chance to ride the bike without all that heavy stuff changing how the bike rides, and it was amazing. The weather was great, it was a gorgeous day with just enough heat that the breeze while riding kept me at a perfect temperature, and the roads in Nicaragua were, as they have been, wonderfully paved. I cruised my way up to Masaya only to find that the guitar stores I'd found were all closed (kind of expected), and decided that I might as well take advantage of the wonderful weather.

So I pulled out my phone, looked up a route, and made my way down the road we'd done on the tuk-tuk the day before, this time with a real engine under me. The roads down were again wonderful, and I enjoyed the sweeping curves and hills, passing just about every other vehicle, most of which were struggling on the road. After arriving down at the lake, I made my way back up and around the lake the other way, heading back towards Granada the long way.

I arrived back at the hostel without a guitar, but rejuvenated - getting to enjoy the bike like that for once, without all the extra weight, was amazing. I had also spent most of the trip trying to evaluate the name that David had come up with for the bike the night before, as well - I feel like any name for a vehicle has to be tried out a bit, to make sure it fits, and this ride was the trial run for the name. With no objections from the bike or me after this ride, I decided it was set: this bike is named Hidalgo.

The afternoon, we all headed out for a kayak tour of the "Isletas" on the lake - well, all of us except Dan. Dan had other plans: a tattoo. When we were in Leon, we had seen a guy with a brand new tattoo come back to the hostel. He'd told us that there was a Canadian woman traveling around with her tattoo gear and tattooing at hostels, and he'd gotten it from her. When we arrived in Granada, she was at our hostel, so we actually saw her doing a couple tattoos. Dan liked the art that he saw, so he talked to her some and they designed a coverup for the star tattoo that he'd had on his wrist for a long time. So Sunday, while we were out kayaking, he got that done.

The artist at work.

The before, middle, and after pictures. Quite the improvement, if you ask me.
Meanwhile, we all went out on the lake and made our way through the network of small islands on the lake southeast of Granada. The islands were formed by a volcanic explosion a few thousand years ago, and are quite beautiful. There's a wealth of different types of vegetation and wildlife, and especially a lot of birds. I don't have any pictures this time because I was smart enough to not bring my phone out onto a kayak.

There were about ten of us on the tour, and there were a bunch of single-person kayaks and a few doubles. Mylène and I partnered up, since we had a little experience paddling together already. We navigated the reeds and rocks really well, and even got a compliment from the guide on how well we coordinated. The guide was one of the French guys who worked for (or at least knew the owner of) the hostel and most of the people on the tour were Francophones, so the tour was primarily in French with a little bit of English or Spanish from time to time. He pointed out different birds and had us listen for their calls, talked about the history of the islands and how much the sell for if you want to buy one, and then we eventually paddled up to a restaurant on one of them and took a break to have a drink.

Eventually as the sun started to go down, we got back in the kayaks and made our way back to our starting point, enjoying the wonderful sunset on the way. We took the short drive back to the hostel, and spent yet another night relaxing in the wonderful atmosphere there, albeit a little more relaxed since it was Sunday night now.

Sometimes the adventures make the place, and sometimes it's the little stuff. Granada was definitely more of the latter - the owner and employees at the hostel were great (the owner even gave us one of his cigars when he saw us smoking one), the other guests at the hostel were similarly friendly, and the environment just seemed to lend itself to talking to everyone around you. While the activities were great in Granada too, it was really the hostel (and the people there) that made it so enjoyable for us, and made us sad to leave in the morning.

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