My Mombacho

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July 8, 2013

One full day in Granada, Nicaragua. Two possible pursuits: climb the volcano, or cruise around the islands.

I’m a sucker for volcanoes. I’ve gotten closeup views of the calm kind (Mount Saint Helens in Washington state), the smoky kind (Volcán de Fuego in Mexico), and the lava-spewing kind (Arenal in Costa Rica, before the show abruptly ceased in 2010). Now, the magnetic pull of Volcán Mombacho is drawing me into a taxi and onto the dusty road out of town.

A few córdobas (well, actually, they collected it in dollars) gains one admission to the Reserva Natural Volcán Mombacho, and for a total of US$15, one also receives a ride to the top in the back of a pickup truck. Well worth it versus walking.

A gaggle of guides lies in wait at the visitor center, and I hired young Januar to accompany me on the Sendero la Puma, a 4-kilometer trail around the crown of the crater. Since its last eruption in 1570, the volcano has been covered over with lush jungle- I was surprised to find myself thinking of New Zealand while hiking in Nicaragua.

Januar (gringos usually can’t remember his name, so he tells them to call him Jaguar instead) and I explored, getting in touch with our inner Tarzan. Sorry about the poor audio quality.

Back in town, I grabbed a meal and hit the museum at the Convento San Francisco.

You know, whispers the diabolical part of my mind, maybe I didn’t have to choose between the volcano and the islands. There’s still time to visit the shore of Lago Nicaragua- the huge lake that contains Las Isletas. There are said to be 365 islands in the bay… which sounds like a suspiciously convenient number to me. I had glimpsed some of them from atop Mombacho.

As illustrated by the museum’s scale model of the city, reaching the shore simply requires getting from here…

… to here.

How hard can it be? I wasn’t keen on a horse-drawn carriage ride, so I waited for a taxi. Over the course of several minutes, every single one that passed was occupied. How far can it be? I started walking.

It wasn’t a difficult walk; it was just difficult doing it three hours after circumnavigating a volcanic crater. My legs were killing me. Add to that my suspicion that the lakeshore would be hugely anticlimactic. After all, this isn’t tourist season, and I was walking to an area named Centro Turistico.

The wide avenues were empty, except for work crews patching the sidewalk. Would this be yet another instance where I expend too much effort for too little reward?

Thankfully, not this time. A young woman- clearly a fellow tourist- had been walking ahead of me for several blocks, and when we wound up viewing the lake from the same vantage point, she struck up a conversation. I’m glad she took the initiative, since I generally don’t accost solo female travelers on deserted streets, figuring they get too much male attention as it is.

Veronique and I walked together through forlorn Centro Turistico, a collection of shoddy bars and restaurants. A few boats bobbed in the lake, their captains no doubt wishing for the high season’s throngs of tourists.

Exploring this area would have been the feared letdown, if not for the interesting conversation with my newfound friend. Veronique, a French-speaking Canadian, was living with a local family and learning Spanish, so we bounced among three languages to get our meanings across (“Tell me about your clase de español, s’il vous plaît.”).

And yes, Veronique confirmed, she does indeed get altogether too much attention from local men- they whistle and yell things as she walks around town. Machismo is alive and well in Granada.

A few of Centro Turistico’s bars were open for business and neither of us had tried Nicaragua’s national beer, so we stopped off for a cold Toña before walking back downtown and parting ways.

From volcanoes to lakes to creepy mannequins, it was an enjoyable day, made all the more so by the “real Tarzan” tour guide and the Québecoise traveler I shared it with.

Now, to get some sleep and store up energy for tomorrow’s departure from Granada… aboard the chicken bus.