It’s the desire for adventure but the need to do it on a budget that takes us to places like Nicaragua. I’ve shared over the past few weeks about our experience on Corn Island. The most westerly island in the Caribbean, Corn Island was really everything we hoped for. There are beautiful beaches. Breakfast overlooking the water followed by a swim. Beach days. Glorious scenery. But there are also beaches covered in trash. The electricity goes out–a lot. It’s 3rd World.
In the very early morning hours about two weeks into our Corn Island stay we awoke to rain. Lots of rain. And wind. As I laid there in a half-awake, half-asleep state I actually began to wonder if a hurricane was coming in. Or a tropical storm of some kind. I was half asleep so these weren’t well thought out theories. But it was raining and now island fever was setting in. As soon as the weather cleared we were on our way back to Managua.
A few days earlier while walking along Picnic Beach we ran into a family on a long weekend from Managua. They were staying at the Picnic Center Hotel–a very cool place I would highly recommend. Their basic rooms wouldn’t work well for families but they have cabanas that would be incredible. Sitting down with this family from Managua was like sitting down with long lost friends.
They invited us to join them for drinks and food and conversation. And we did.
Monica and I had been contemplating whether upon our return to the mainland we would spend the rest of our time before flying back to the States in Leon (about an hour north or Managua) or Granada (about an hour south of Managua) or split our time between the two. Our new friends helped us weight the pros and cons and in the end we decided on Granada. Our new friend then told us, “when you’re flying back to Managua please give me a call. I’ll have my driver come pick you up and drive you to Granada.”
With the weather clear and our seats confirmed I called our new friend in Managua. I was thinking how crazy my parents would probably think we were. Perhaps there was a chance we would end up on one of those travel channel shows about tourists being held hostage.
We landed at the airport and were greeted by a smiling face holding a sign that read: “Mr. Clark.” About an hour later we safely arrived at The Colonial, our hotel in Granada.
Leaving a hotel with a good sleeping arrangement for your kids for an unknown hotel carries some risk. Jackson was sleeping perfectly on Corn Island. What would our place in Granada be like?
As we pulled into town I knew that we were going to love Granada. The oldest Colonial town in Nicaragua, there’s still a colonial feel. And I could finally have all the cigars I wanted with two great shops right on the main town square. There was an energy in the town square. Street vendors, flags, and dancers. Action.
When arriving in a new place Monica and I often like to take a carriage ride around town to get a survey course. We’ve always liked doing this. But once we had kids the carriage rides became a must because kids love horses!
The young man guiding our carriage had a “brother” who did everything we could want to do in Granada. A boat tour of Lake Nicaragua? He had a brother with a boat. Did we want to tour one of the areas active volcanos? He had a brother who could arrange that. Did we want to see Nicaragua’s magnificent Laguna De Apoyo/Crater Lake? Again, he had a brother. Go to el mercado in Masaya. You guessed it. A brother.
I’ll admit that after a few days in Granada the pan-handling was starting to get to me. It just becomes exhausting. Our hotel became an oasis in many ways. We’d walk through the doors and know that we could let our guard down. Just outside the door to our room was the hotel bar and when you’re traveling with a little one that can be quite convenient. Not that we’re getting liquored up–but a public space becomes part of your personal space while your kids are in the room asleep.
Speaking of little ones sleeping. We left a fantastic scenario on Corn Island for a less than fantastic scenario in Granada. In Granada Jackson slept in the shower. We put cushions and towels down on the floor and closed the curtain. It was far from ideal. It didn’t work great. But it worked. Sort of.
Going out on Lake Nicaragua was okay. I can’t say it was a highlight but I’m not going to stand on the banks of the 19th largest lake in the world and not take a closer look. Looking into an active volcano was fascinating. The market in Masaya was a really neat experience. When we arrived a guide or sort of personal attendant hopped on us. He helped make deals for us and works on tips. We bought a couple of little things but were especially happy to leave with a painting by a local artist which we love.
But three experiences stand out in my mind from Granada.
- A few doors down from our hotel was the Euro Cafe. At fist I wasn’t sure about being at a “European” place in Central America. But the Euro Cafe had the perfect feel for this colonial town. We’d start out our days here. Get some coffee or a smoothie. Read some of the local newspapers and periodicals. And there was great food too. We had a lot of family time here.
- Then there was the Pure Natural Health & Fitness Center. For $30 I received a 90 minute massage in a very clean, tranquil environment. It was a cool place. Not in an upscale kind of way but in the sense that you walked through the doors and felt like you were a part of nature. While I splurged on a 90 minute massage my wife went for the $8 pedicure.
- And last there is El Zaguan. This was by far one of my all-time favorite restaurant experiences. While we’d been having a blast in Nicaragua, fine dining, up to this point, had not been part of our experience. A more upscale place, we were not entirely sure about taking our 18 month old son. But we weren’t going to miss experiencing this place which had come highly recommended by our friends on Corn Island. We got our table at El Zguan, which was almost miraculously positioned right next to a very nice looking kids play house. I started with a shot of white tequila and then we ordered some sangria for the table. Our food was fantastic. Monica had steak. I had fish cooked in parchment paper. We didn’t hold back. Ordered whatever we wanted. Desert and coffee. And when the bill came we were set back about $40. A few nights later we were back again.
There was yet one more part of Granada that I almost forgot. Just before leaving Corn Island I started to develop a rash on both of my feet. By the time we were in Granada I needed the carriage ride not only as a survey course for the city but also because I found walking so painful. The rash began to overwhelm my feet and ankles and was looking worse and worse. Monica began doing research online (never a good idea as she became convinced I could have any number of terrible diseases). I even called a doctor back in the States.
In the end we asked the Hotel Concierge if they could help us find a local doctor. For a small fee (I can’t remember the exact amount but I think it was in the $20 range) a doctor came to our hotel. Carrying his doctors bag and all! He was American educated, diagnosed the problem and wrote a prescription. I had been exposed to a poisonous plant while wearing sandals and hiking to the summit of Corn Island. While I was initially hesitant to see a local doctor, a local doctor was actually far more equipped to know what was wrong with me than one in the States as he would see the type of thing I was dealing with all the time.
When we were on Corn Island I can’t say I felt like we were in Nicaragua. We were on an island in the Caribbean that happened to be part of Nicaragua. But now we were in Nicaragua. Walking the streets. Interacting with people and shop-keepers. Going through the markets and the street fairs.
And we were doing all of this with our toddler. And we were doing it on a budget. No nanny’s. No babysitters. We did all the exploring together as a family. And we loved it.
Adventurous travel doesn’t have to stop when you have kids. As parents, if we can get over thinking that everything has to be perfect, we can explore and create memories that will last a lifetime as we chart out on family treks.
And when it was time to find a ride to Managua for our flight back to the states, our carriage driver from our fist day in Granada had a brother.