Excursion highlights from La Mariposa

October 9th 2014, 7:44:00 pm

While studying at La Mariposa I got to take advantage of a lot of free excursions to cool places around Nicaragua. Here's a few of my favourites from the month there.

Granada =======

First stop for the day was the cemetery, where we saw the graves of a huge number of young people who had died in the contra war. It was really sad to think of how many young men never lived to see 20, fighting in that war. We learnt that “burial” plots (most of which are actually chambers above ground) are rented out, and when the family of the deceased can’t afford to pay anymore, the body gets moved out so another one can take it's place.

We made a visit to a cigar factory and saw how the cigars are made, using 5 kinds of leaves and a press. It was quite impressive to see how quickly they could roll one up, then finish it off in the press.

One of the big fat cigars and one of the thin ones were passed around for the group to try. I thought the thin one was much nicer, but both left a terrible stale smoke taste in my mouth.

The cigar factory was also home to a huge scarlet macaw who was quite tame. Andrei took this great photo with him on my shoulder.

We climbed up the bell tower of the old cathedral to look out over the city. It gave a nice view of one of the volcanoes, and allowed you to see all the colonial style court yards in many of the old houses.

After lunch we took a boat ride out among the 365 islands surrounding Granada in Largo Nicaragua. Some of them are tiny, while others are fairly sizable. There were many, many houses out there, some very fancy holiday homes among them.

One of the islands is dubbed "monkey island". It is home to a number of rehabilitated monkeys, apparently put there by a vet. There were 3 spider monkeys and a white faced one. The way the spider monkeys move is just like in the cartoons, using their tail as if it were just a 5th arm. Apparently the monkeys get fed regularly by the vet as the island does not grow food they eat. The spider monkeys are quite curious and they all come out on the outer branches of the trees and look at passing boats.

We stopped at a bar on one of the islands for a cold drink and a swim in the lake. There was a sprung diving board which made for some fun jumping into the lake, which was a beautiful temperature. Most of the swimming I'd done on this trip had been in salt water, so it was interesting to see how much more easily I sank in fresh water.

Volcan Masaya =============

One of the afternoon trips was to see an active volcano. It's not actually Volcan Masaya, which is apparently the dormant crater next to the Santiago crater.

It's definitely the easiest volcano you can summit, with the car park being right on the crater rim.

The day we visited it was pumping out a lot of cloudy gas; enough to block out the sun. This also meant we couldn't see much in the volcano. I'm told that the lava at the bottom is about 120°C, which sounds pretty hot, but another one in Nicaragua is supposed to be 400°C and glow much more brightly.

We walked to a few different view points, then went up a nearby hill which passed the dormant Masaya volcano.

We watched the sunset from the top of the hill, with the gases from the volcano giving us beautiful oranges, purples and blues.

After sunset, we went to the mouth of a cave after sunset, where tons of bats flying out to do their thing for the evening. It's amazing how fast they fly and yet how rarely they collide with anything.

We put on safety hats and got torches, and went 180M down into another tunnel which was formed by lava flow "recently" (800 years?). Pretty cool to see all the blue volcanic stone and bubbles. Tree roots were creeping in from the ceiling giving it a fantastical sort of feeling. When we reached the deepest point in the cave that we would visit, we all turned off our torches briefly to experience total darkness. Spoiler: it was black.

La Boquita ==========

One Saturday we went to visit a beach down on the Pacific coast named La Boquita. It was a blistering hot day, which mostly consisted of sitting around chatting with people in the shade, lying in hammocks reading, having a swim in the waves, and eating seafood for lunch.

There were quite large and powerful waves with a fair bit of current. It was loads of fun to bodysurf in, although it was pretty hard to keep your head up when riding a wave and I did get tumbled over in somersaults involuntarily a number of times.

I went out in the water with Kimberly and her son, Finn, a few times to put Kim's mind at ease about having an 8 year old in the water. Finn was determined that he wanted to go out further, much to Kim's dismay. We took him out pretty far (for an 8 year old) and he seemed to be having a great time.

I feel like I'm finally starting to come around to kids a bit. I still don't think I'll ever want one, but I think I'm reaching a point where it won't grate on me to spend time around them once they're past the screaming poo factory stages. Maybe being an uncle some day would be cool.

I had delicious ceviche for lunch (raw fish which is "cooked" using the acidity of lemon juice, no heat involved), then was fed leftover fish from everyone else's enormous lunches. Thanks guys!

Horseback Riding ================

One Sunday morning I went horseback riding with two other students, Nicole and Caitlin, on some of the horses that live on the school's farm.

The horses looked to be well cared for, we climbed on and were given zero instructions, so Nicole (an experienced rider) and one of the guides were off out in front while the rest of us trotted along quite slowly, but still at a much more consistent pace than the poor pony I rode in Thailand years ago that only wanted to stop.

After a while we regrouped and took a break, and Nicole gave me a brief rundown of how to tell the horse what I wanted it to do, and I suddenly found that the horse was actually very good at doing what it was told. I was much more able to keep up and even led for a bit.

On a open flat patch I got the horse up to a decent speed, maybe a canter? It was novel to see how suddenly the ride became much smoother than when we'd been moving at a slower pace.

At this new faster pace I was a little scared at first, until I remembered being told I could wrap my legs around the horses belly to secure myself a little better, after which it stopped feeling like I was going to bounce off.

All up we rode for a bit over an hour, and after getting the hang of it it was lots of fun.

When we were done we went into the stables and saw a baby foal, barely a few months old. Tiny horses are very cute!

Around this point I started to sneeze quite violently and repeatedly. My nose has been a bit twichy before then, but being the in stables seemed to put me over the edge and into a sneezing fit. Pretty sure I have an allergy to horses as the sneezing lessened when I went away, but my ichy eyes and a blocked nose were barely helped by antihistamines later. It kind of sucks to find a new activity you enjoy, only to find it causes you a lot of other discomfort.

Managua =======

On another afternoon excursion I visited the Capital of Nicaragua, Managua, with Debra, Caitlin and Amanda. There's a lot of concrete in the capital, and as such it feel like it's a billion degrees even though it's only an hour away from the relatively cool school.

We visited a museum with fossilised footprints, some of the oldest known footprints on earth, thought to have been created by people evacuating from an erupting volcano through the mud, with the volcanic ash promptly filling them, preserving them for centuries.

We went to the National Museum, which fronted onto a big square next to a leafy park and the skeleton of a cathedral, made structurally unsound in the big earthquake in 1979.

We also visited the site of Samoza's palace site, which has a lookout over the city, and on the other side into a laguna, which is apparently still suffering the pollution from dumping sewerage into it during Samoza's reign.

The only thing left of Samoza's palace was the basement, although the other walls are opened up now and it is now home to a Sandinista museum.

We went capped off the day going out for dinner at a restaurant by the lake. The wind coming of the lake made the heat fade away, and it was a lovely evening of nice food, good rum, and great company.

León ====

Another weekend trip, a visit to León required an early start to the day, getting up at 5:30 to head to the Mariposa to start the long bus ride to León.

We stopped along the way next to lake Managua to have a look at the view of Momotombo, one of the many volcanoes across Nicaragua.

We made another stop just outside of León to buy quesillos for breakfast. They basically a tortilla wrapped around a hunk of cheese (kind of like feta), put in a little plastic bag and drowned in runny cheese liquid. I ended up having two because they were so good.

First stop in León was at a family weaving co op, which uses hand operated table looms to make woven fabrics. We were shown how they make some of the detailed patterned fabrics using a more complicated loom with four pedals pressed in different orders. Quite clever stuff!

Next we went to León cathedral, a huge big building currently in the process of being repainted white. We were able to pay and go up to the roof but it was not your normal bell tower climb. We went up some narrow stairs next to a 2 story drop with no hand railing, then out onto the big cylindrical rooftop with no visible railings to stop you falling off the side of the building if you slipped. We got a nice view of the city, but I was more surprised/impressed by the fact we were allowed up there at all. No liability issues here I guess!

Outside the church was big mural that graphically covers the history of Nicaragua. By this point I was starting to actually feel like I knew a lot of the important bits of the story, although I suck at remembering specific names and dates.

After lunch we went to the museum of Myths and Legends. It is hosted in a building than used to be an old jail, opened in 1921 and closed in 1979. It contained lots of mannequins of famous Nicaraguans, which if believed to be anatomically accurate tell us that the famous poet Ruben Dario had a tiny little head.

Lots of the myths sounded like they were made up to scare children and husbands into behaving themselves. Nicaraguans seem to be very superstitious. A golden crab seemed to show up a lot, with various versions of the tale saying if you caught him you'd either have something great happen to you, or something terrible, depending on which story you believed. Nice and consistent.

Laguna Apoyo =============

The last excursion, which I actually stayed an extra few days to go along on, was to Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic crater, now filled with water forming a lake.

It was a very chilled day of relaxing in the sun. I spent quite a while out floating on the lake in a tire tube, which was more effort than you'd expect since wind blowing over the surface of the lake was causing waves to form and take me back towards the shore.

It was nice to spend a last day together with my Mariposa friends, chatting, eating lunch, and resting in the sun. A perfect way to end of month of fairly intense learning.