Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Granada, Nicaragua

I hopped on an early morning bus out of La Fortuna to cross into Nicaragua. Here's what the border looked like. Charming, huh?

I was thinking at some point that I'm always posting photos of the beautiful tourist attractions in the various Latin American countries I've visited; and have hence given an unintentionally skewed view of what life is like in these places. For every active volcano and sparkling beach there are probably 10 vistas like the one above--dirty, garbage-strewn places that remind one that this is a very poor part of the world.

The garbage is particularly noteworthy. For whatever reason, Latin Americans have no problem throwing everything and anything out of a bus window. At one point I was at a filthy bus-stop looking for a garbage. Two locals asked what I was looking for. When I replied "una basura," they laughed and pointed to the ground. "Aqui esta la basura" (here is the garbage). I certainly wasn't going to throw my half-eaten taco all over their country. The whole thing was kind of sad.

A Bit of History

Granada is Nicaragua's oldest Spanish city, founded in 1524. It became a rich trading port due to its easy access to the Caribbean Sea. But, the conservative city perpetually struggled with more liberal Leon for political control. This rivalry intensified after independence from Spain, and culminated in an strange event that would be humorous if it wasn't so tragic.

There was a crazy American guy called William Walker who was constantly trying to conquer Nicaragua. The Leonese actually contracted with him to subdue Granada. When he was eventually forced to flee, he torched the entire city leaving only a famous placard reading "Here was Granada."

Here are some shots of the central square:

I've included this last photo because it's a continuation in a series of pictures of phallic monuments I've posted over the trip. Some may recall that I've developed a theory--the more arrogant the country, the larger the phallic monument they display. The U.S., of course, takes the top slot with the Washington Monument. Argentina (known as especially "arrogante y orgulloso" to other Latin Americans) is not far behind with a large display in Buenos Aires. Well, here is Nicaragua's--appropriately modest for a nation its size.

My First Day
I arrived in Granada on Sunday, 8/12. I had come on a good day, as the annual festival del toros, featuring a running of the bulls through the streets of Granada and bull-riding at night was that day. Unfortunately, I was a bit too late to see the running. I got showered and changed and headed out to get some street food at about 5:30 pm.

After dining at a kiosk in the central square on vigarones, a local delicacy, I wandered around the square.

I heard a commotion coming from a large balcony overlooking the square. I inquired and was told this was a private residence having a private party, not a bar. There was music playing and a young crowd appeared to be having a good time. What the hell, I thought, and yelled up to the folks at the balcony, ¨Soy de Nueva York, puedo venir a tu fiesta?¨ (I'm from New York, can I come to your party?)

They invited me up and I soon discovered that the oldest person at the party was 20. Oh well, they were very friendly and introduced me all around.

After drinking some beers on the balcony a group of us headed out to the bull ring, which is used only once per year for this occasion. There we drank more beer and watched as locals rode and taunted bulls. It was nearly impossible to get a decent shot of the ring in the dark, but here's the best I could do:

And here's a shot of the revelry in the stands. Notice the charming hat on my new friend in the yellow:

The following day I headed out to Laguna Apoyo, a laguna formed inside an old volcano. It was a very pretty spot, but not a great day weather-wise.


Here's an email I drafted to myself about the next day. I'll post in pictures where appropriate.

I had a classic Latin American day today, so I just had to write about it. It seems all my craziest adventures down here involve the mail.

I woke up early today determined to get my laundry done, go to the post office, and then head out of Granada to Lago Nicaragua to see the huge lake and its islands. I was on my last bit of clothes (no underwear today) and I´d been carrying around a bunch of heavy books I´d finished reading.

My first stop at about 8:30am was the laundromat. I was hoping to get my clothes back by around noon and hit the road because the last ferry to the islands leaves at 4pm and it´s a two hour bus ride and then a 30 minute cab ride away.

Well, turns out that isn´t possible because the city of Granada routinely has water outages during the day. The water had just gone out and wouldn´t be back on until 2pm. So, I could pick up my laundry at 7pm. So much for leaving today.

But, being a flexible and experienced traveler by now, I did some quick re-planning and turned a negative into a positive. I could hit the famed market in the town of Masaya, 30 minutes away, today instead of after the islands. Then, I could go to the post office this afternoon or tomorrow and send everything home at once--my books and my new acquisitions.

But, before I left, I wanted to find out for sure exactly when the post office closes--that way I could get back in time this afternoon if I moved quickly. So, I returned to my hostel, had some free breakfast, and asked the dude at the desk ¨donde esta el correo.¨ He told me, drew me a map, and I went looking.

Well, it wasn´t there. So, I stopped into a store. They didn´t know where it was, but they looked it up and pointed me straight down the same street about three blocks. On the way, I asked a third person, just for confirmation, and he told me something totally different. So, I asked a fourth, a woman who said she didn´t know. I was just through thinking ¨how can you not know where the post office is in your town¨ when I asked a fifth guy. He gave me a fourth location. When I protested that everyone had given me a different answer, he asked his friend for confirmation, who came up with a fifth response. So, I asked six people where the post office is in a relatively small city and I got six different answers. It turns out the woman who didn´t know was the only one who knew what she was talking about.

I decided it wasn´t worth trying to find it this morning and asked the two guys what time it closed. Four o´clock, they said. ¨Estan seguro,¨ I said (are you sure). Absolutely, came the reply. As I headed back to my hostel, I couldn´t help but laugh. I had spent half hour searching unsuccessfully for the POST OFFICE in a major city.

So, I headed out to Masaya. The trip was smooth, the bus came where the guy at the hostel said it would, and I ended up buying a shitload of stuff and getting back on the bus by about 1:30--in plenty of time to hit the post office this afternoon.

Here is the entrance to the market:

When I got back to my hostel overloaded with gifts for family and friends who´ve recently been married or had babies, I asked the dude to call the post office so I didn´t lug all that shit around the city aimlessly. He did and gave me a map of where to go (a decidedly different locale than he´d given me this morning).

So, I loaded up my backpacks with books and gifts and headed out. On the way, I stopped to make some CDs of photos so I could send them home as well.

I made it to the post office at about 3:40. It was not what I expected in one of a country´s largest cities. It was about the size of a college graduate´s NYC apartment. As soon as I walked in, I had a strong feeling they would not have a large box to pile my shit in as I´d hoped. Of course, they didn´t.

This, however, was the least of my problems. It turns out that Granada not only has routine water outages, but power outages as well. After about 2pm, there´s no power. Since the post office only has an electric scale, they are unable to weigh my yet-to-be-packaged package and therefore I can´t mail it today. I can´t mail it tomorrow either because it´s (of course) a holiday and ¨no hay trabajo.¨ So much for my well-laid plans to head out tomorrow.

Well, the only thing I could do was at least find a box to stuff all the shit into because I certainly wasn´t going to lug it around loose, and when I finally got my laundry back I´d need my big backpack for clothes.

It turned out that they are open until 5pm, not 4, so they let me leave my crap with them and directed me around the corner to buy a box and some tape.

When I returned, I started to tape up the boxes and began a conversation with two employees about my best course of action. Veronica took pity on my and agreed to come in tomorrow morning at 7am ¨solo por usted¨ (JUST FOR ME) to weigh my package and send it out, so I could leave town.

Wow. For all the efficiency we take for granted, can you imagine a U.S. postal worker opening up the office on a holiday so a foreigner can mail a package home to mom?

Here's Veronica:

It turns out there may be power at 5:30 this afternoon and if so I can come back then. So as I write, the story continues to unfold. It is already, however, a pretty good metaphor for life down here. Shit is whacky, but sometimes people´s kindness will amaze you.

UPDATE: The power was working by 5:30 and I was able to send my packages. The two packages I sent arrived about 2 weeks apart (making me extremely nervous about the second one) but ultimately I received everything--including a women's jacket that wasn't mine (must have opened and repackaged it all in customs.


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