visit nicaragua - with hotel rates of $2 a day i can live forever


Impoverished Nicaragua rich in hospitality

By Reasa Haggard

Special for The Republic

Nov. 17, 2002

If you want to escape the throngs of American tourists that populate the beaches and cities of Mexico and Costa Rica, head to Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, where tourism is not an established industry, locals are welcoming and eager to show off their country and its wonders: active volcanoes, colonial cities, beautiful beaches and the Miskito Indians.

My time in Nicaragua was spent exploring Granada, a lovely colonial town that sits on Lago de Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America, with the striking Mombacho Volcano serving as a backdrop.

Strolling through Granada, one is constantly reminded that little has changed in the town since the Spanish colonized it. The streets are still dirt or cobblestone, horse and buggy is a popular form of transportation, and the Catholic Church is the center of social and cultural events.

The lack of development is a result of poverty, not choice. In the 1970s, the economy of Nicaragua was fairly stable. However, after the Marxist Sandinistas gained power, the United States supported a civil war waged by ousted right-wing insurgents. This damaged the country, leaving it the poorest nation in Central America.

Despite the poverty, the people are incredibly friendly, and the atmosphere is rustic and romantic. My first night in Granada, a few friends and I enjoyed a festival in the central plaza. With nuns singing in the background and guitar players searching for someone to serenade, we dined on typical Nicaraguan food sold by vendors. We ate gallo pinto, a bean-and-rice combination fried with onions, garlic, pepper and guacamole, salted tortillas and salsa - all served on banana leaves. After a few cervezas, we retired to our humble lodging, the Bearded Monkey (a meager $2 U.S. charged per night), an eccentric hostel where one can converse with young travelers from all corners of the globe.

The next day, we took a four-wheel-drive vehicle three-fourths of the way to the summit of Mombacho Volcano and hiked the rest of the way. When we reached the summit, we took in the beautiful views of Lago de Nicaragua and the surrounding countryside. After our hike, we hired a boat to explore the lake and the isletas, 350 small islands created by an ancient volcanic eruption. On one island, we stopped to dance and have lunch with a merry family celebrating a birthday.

Our last day in Nicaragua, we rode a retired U.S. school bus to the small village of Masaya, where we bargain-hunted in the labyrinth of a market. From the outside, the market looks like a cluster of ramshackle huts, but the inside holds a treasure of hand-carved wooden objects, intricately woven tapestries and hammocks, as well as paintings and pottery. Needless to say, we did not leave Nicaragua empty-handed. Yet we did leave empty-hearted, knowing it will be a long time before we can return.

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