Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nicaragua: Volcanomania

Another day, another quaint colonial town with lots of multicoloured buildings fringed by volcanoes. Avid readers of my blog (and let's face it- who isn't?) could be forgiven for thinking I was back in beautiful Antigua, Guatemala.

But wait... The temperature is about a billion degrees, the place is run-down as anywhere I've seen, and there are mobs of protesters trying to dislodge the Government (this type of quasi-peaceful popular demonstration would never happen in gun-ridden Guatemala). It must be Nicaragua!

Nicaragua is a somewhat delightful Central American haven for people who love volcanoes, lakes, colonial towns, unspoiled Caribbean coast, and high temperatures. In my hobbled state after my foot lost an argument with a Belizean glass bottle, my dreams of climbing great volcanoes and surfing the Pacific swell had to be put on hold, but I spent a pleasant few days hanging out in Granada, visiting nearby volcanoes and lakes, and hanging out with my b-school traveller friend Kenna (featured in such posts as Guatemala & Nepal). I particularly enjoyed the national food of Nicaragua- the hot dog. They're sold everywhere. For something a little more local, the Nacatamale was particularly tasty (kind of like a kitchen sink tamale).

In case I haven't already driven this point home, Nicaragua is home to something like 12 major (mostly active) volcanoes, and about 40 other dormant ones. Everywhere on the horizon you can see a smoking volcano, and some of the country's most striking scenery, like Omatepe Island in Lake Nicaragua is formed by two volcanos joined by a lava bridge, reaching over 1,600m high with a large plume of smoke and ash from the more active crater. This creates a cool landscape. I had the chance to visit Masaya volcano, home to a long history of eruptions, about 5 different craters ranging from lakes to boiling lava pits, and thousands of hyperactive bats who themselves erupt from the dormant lava tubes every night to feast on the local population (OK, maybe not- I hear they're vegetarian).

Granada itself is a quaint town, with a combination of rotting and restored Spanish architectural treasures, bustling markets, and an olfactory onslaught. My favourite time was in the evenings, when locals would move their rocking chairs onto the deserted streets to take advantage of the slightly lower temperatures and watch the world go by, their living rooms open to the streets and passers-by. As you might guess, there wasn't much in the way of nightlife.

As increasingly strident protests mounted across the country as a result of a disputed presidential election and rumours of an airport lockdown intensified, I figured it was time to start the long journey home. A slightly earlier flight and a delightful overnight in the Travelodge LAX en route to Moscow reinforced not only how much I dislike Los Angeles, but also how much I was looking forward to being back in Russia, this this crazy country I now call home, many month of travels behind me, looking forward to starting a new business in Moscow in the new year.

Photos are here.

Worldguide is here.

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