What a whirlwind weekend!
Saturday afternoon, my sister and I set off for la pescina. A day at the pool seemed like a grand idea, as it was hot and humid and not even noon yet. In order to get to the pool, it’s necessary to walk down La Calzada. La Calzada is the main street where people congregate. It’s lined with bars, restaurants, tour groups, and shops. All of the restaurants have a smattering of tables in the streets in order to both take advantage of the cool breeze and promote their tasty food. This outdoor seating makes for a social atmosphere, as tourists, locals, and street kids all congregate together. This also means that a walk down La Calzada can take anwhere from 15-30 minutes, as you run into person after familiar person.
Por ejamplo, on Friday night, my sister and I left the house to grab a couple of ice cream cones and a liter of Tona when my sister heard some voices calling my name. We turned around and I was happy to greet the little boy who sells palm fronds and another friend who sells ceviche. Turning the other direction, we found another acquaintance I know from my unsuccessful stint as a poker player, and then I almost ran my bike into another friend. Small town living at it’s best!
I go into such detail to explain that it’s impossible to simply walk down the Calzada. So, it’s Saturday afternoon and my sister and I are sweating and more than ready for a dip in the pool. We grab out bathing suits and towels, and head off down the Calzada. Along the way, we encounter friends who have encountered long-lost friends, and all are sitting in the shade sharing Tona, Nicaragua’s national beer. (Or at least the best deal for a liter in town!) It turned out that one of the long lost friends is the owner of a company catering to touristas called Nica Action Sports. He was running short of tourists to take out on his boat, and so he offered to take the group at the table instead of the usual tourists. It’s hard to turn down a day on the lake, so we diverted our pool plan and headed for Lake Nicaragua instead. And oh, how lovely!
The boat came complete with a tube large enough for three, a knee board, and a wake board, as well as a responsible driver and the owner, a pro at all kinds of boating sports. Add to that the fact that the day had turned a bit cool at this point. Lucky for us, Lake Nicaragua is fed by thermal hot springs, which causes the top layer of the lake to be about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This warm water mixes with the cool lake water beneath to create the perfect temperature for frolicking. The many isletas around us were peppered with palm trees and local wildlife, and all was back-dropped by the beautiful volcano Mombacho. Oh, and there are monkeys in the islands!! We weren’t lucky enough to see any monkeys that day, but we did hear them hollering in response to our friends’ grunts. We came home happy and tired, then hit La Calzada again; this time in search of street food. Our friends were raving about a woman who sells fresh grilled chicken (for the meat eaters), salad, and potato and cheese or yucca and cheese balls (for me). For 60 cordobas – about $2.50 – my sister got a large plantain leaf filled with amazing grilled chicken. Small fried balls of local cheese mixed with either potatoes or yucca were only 10 cordobas each – less than 50 cents. Add a salad of rebollo – cabbage, zanahoria – carrot, and a dressing of limon y vinagre, and you have a well-rounded meal when paired with a Tona. The perfect way to end a day on the lake!
On Sunday, we again considered our desire for water as the day started out hotter than the day before. We weighed our options — this time, the pool versus a trip to Laguna de Apoyo. La Laguna won our attention – a natural lake formed when Volcano Apoyo erupted about 23,000 years ago. Now, the mountain is lush with wildlife and the lagoon is one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen.
It’s funny to think that what looks like mountains is actually one mountain, and that we’re swimming in it’s center! We had a great time swimming in the water, which ran a tad cooler than that in Lake Nicaragua. We enjoyed appetizers and of course, Tonas, at one of the restaurants that surround the lagoon. There was only a bit of trouble when it came time to go. We were in a rush, as we wanted to catch the bus for a ride back up the mountain. I’ve learned by now that rushing anything does not work in Nicaragua! Thus, I was not surprised to find that the restaurant was unable to grab a signal to run our card for about 30 minutes, and we were forced to wait as we had neglected to bring enough cash to pay. By then, the bus was long gone. “No problem,” we thought, “we’ll just grab a taxi!.”
The first driver we saw asked for 120 cordobas – 40 cordobas more than the drive down the mountain had cost us. Thinking we were being taken advantage of because we are extranjeras, we said no and began to walk, certain that we’d find another taxi charging a more reasonable price. At a curve in the road, we found a small tienda, a group of rocks, and some locals sitting in wait of a taxi. We joined them as well, as much for the rest as for the hope of finding another taxi. After a wait of 15 minutes, a taxi did drive by and offered to drive us up the mountain, this time for 150 cordobas. This was even more money, and wouldn’t allow us sufficient cash to get home on the chicken bus! We said no again, still with no doubt that another cab would come. After a wait of 15 minutes more, seeing only motorbikes and private cars go by, we decided to begin walking up the mountain.
The walk totals 3 kilometers, about 2 miles, and is uphill. The day was just beginning to darken with storm clouds, which brought sporadic light drizzle and a welcome cooler breeze. If there weren’t a child in our group, I would have missed the monkeys in the trees! He stopped to point one out about half way through our walk, and my sister and I stopped to gape. There was not just one monkey on the tree limb far above us, but three or four adults, one with a small baby monkey riding on its back. The group began to make it’s way back to the safety of the forest as we stopped underneath to stare. My camera is long out of batteries, but here is a great close up picture of the howler monkeys that populate this area of Nicaragua.
We were urged to move on with our walk by a friend, who warned that sometimes the mountain could be dangerous. At night. Gringas have been known to be robbed. Ah, let’s hustle, then! We increased our pace up the mountain, stopping to gape only once more when the young boy with us tossed a rock up at another monkey that we saw. The monkey responded by throwing down a handful of medium sized branches at us. (He missed.)
We finally reached the neighborhood at the top of the mountain, and paid too much for a taxi to take us down to the bus stop – another 2 miles at least. I’m happy we skipped the first few taxis we came upon, as I never would have seen wild monkeys so close up otherwise!
I’m looking forward to more adventures next week, as I have 2 friends coming to visit. How lovely to explore this country!!