Monday, April 2, 2012

Nicaragua take 3

  Yep, it was once again time for us to leave Costa Rica to get a new tourist visa on re-entry. This was our third trip to Nicaragua in eleven years and it has really grown on me as a destination. This trip we went with a couple of Costa Rican friends on their very first trip out of their country. It was fascinating to see their reactions, which boiled down to:
    1) This is really different from Costa Rica and has some really great things to see.
    2) Prices are really low.
 I agree with that and would add that Nicaraguan food is very tasty.
   Because we liked it so much last year, we returned to the Island of Ometepe and to El Encanto.  This small hotel has excellent food and is a relaxing spot for hanging out. One of our activities was a nice walk along the nearby Santa Domingo beach near sunset.
After two nights on Ometepe we went back to the mainland and proceeded towards Granada. We paid our taxi driver a bit extra to take us on a little tour along the way. We visited San Juan de Oriente, one of the Pueblos Blancos famous for handicrafts. At the Cooperativo Quetzalcóatl we picked up a couple of beautiful ceramic pots for shockingly little money and had a nice chat with the artist that was tending the store that day.
  Next stop was in Catarina to see the Laguna de Apoyo, a beautiful lake in the crater of a volcano. For a small tip we listened to some terrific marimba and guitar music. The marimba de arco is a local version of the instrument that is extremely portable. The arc makes it easy to carry and the player sits on the arc to play, eliminating the need for legs. A marimba expert informs me that they use a similar version of the instrument in West Africa.
   Nearby is Masaya, famous for its huge handicraft market. Unlike Costa Rica where many of the souvenirs sold to tourists are actually from Guatemala, there is a wealth of beautiful local handicrafts to choose from. If you get tired of looking at those, there is a very impressive fruit stand with massive papayas.
  Our tico friends were particularly impressed with Granada, which is a lovely colonial city with many churches and a fine central plaza. I knew from our first trip to Granada that it's very hot, so I was pleased to have AC in our room. We stayed at a sweet new hotel with just six rooms called Hotel Casa Barcelona. Thanks to our friends, we spent a lot of time exploring the fascinating local markets. Juan got his sandals repaired at an on-street shoe repair shop that doubled as a bike parking lot.
Also at the market, I paid a few cents to be weighed on a bathroom scale a guy was carrying around.
   While touring the churches we saw this funeral procession. (I held my camera down by my waist to be discreet in taking this photo.) A local resident told me that this is a standard hearse.
When we tired of being tourists we took a  coche for the living back to our hotel.
 The nitty gritty:
   We just found out that it's a myth that one needs to be out of Costa Rica for 72 hours to get a new visa. (That's only necessary if one has imported duty free goods into the country.) There are plenty of interesting things to do in Nicaragua but it felt nice knowing we were spending several days of our own free will.
   We took a Quality Transfers shuttle from Monteverde to the border at Peñas Blancas and then a private taxi onward. Since I blogged about the border last year they have been improving the immigration offices on both sides. Things seem to be moving more efficiently and even right before Semana Santa when everyone in Central America is on the move we made our crossing in about 40 minutes each way. Long distance buses now have an employee handle all the passports for their passengers. We were lucky and didn't get behind long lines of people who arrived on local buses. It seems that early afternoon is a very good time to go through. The restaurant is closed for remodeling, but fortunately we didn't arrive hungry. Important: have your airline ticket with you to prove you have a way out of Costa Rica within 90 days. If not, you may need to buy a bus ticket you will never use.

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