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3 posts from January 2014

January 27, 2014

It's official: Granada has become our new El Hatillo...

El Hatillo was our go-to place in Caracas. Whether we had guests in town and wanted to get out without too much driving or we simply had a free Sunday and wanted to get out of the apartment, it was our place.  Maybe a 30 minute drive from Caracas, it was easily accessible and the drive was not so long that Cait's sensitive belly would get too upset.

You see, Cait used to have motion-sickness issues. Now the dear child can read The Lord of the Rings upside down and sideways in a rapidly moving vehicles. Back then? Not so much. Due to this issue, we just didn't travel too much. Even a trip to Colonia Tovar, just over 1.5 hours away, was a recipe for trouble, and trips were kept to under 45 minutes one way. I should also explain it wasn't just the ride in the car, but that the roads were not always in the best shape, side roads were very bumpy, and the roads were both curvy and hilly. Not ideal conditions for anyone, much less one prone to such illness.

So, on lazy Sundays, we would head to El Hatillo. There was a little parking lot off to the right at the entrance of the town. Really a packed dirt lot, but organized and always someone keeping an eye on the cars.  We stroll about the town, enjoy the level walking area (our neighborhood in Caracas was very hilly), walk through Bolivar park and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. We'd admire the artistry on display on the buildings and the brightly colored businesses.  No trip was complete without a stop in Hannsi.

Hannsi could be compared to the artistans market in Masaya here, but perhaps  on a slightly smaller scale. It was one shop within itself, not a compilation of many vendors under a shared roof as you will find in Masaya. Hannsi had all of the local crafts, and one could find anything within their travel trinket price range. Closing my eyes now I can still see the shop, watch a 2 year old Cait toddle around and admire the handicrafts and remind myself of the slew of guests we took the little town to enjoy a quiet day.

We are finding ourselves again having those occasional lazy Sundays. With our weeks being so hectic, and even most weekends filled with activities, we are embracing those days that we can completely call our own. We knew that we would have a whole day of free time today, and with having only Nick in the house, we figured it was time for another trip to Granada.

I'm usually too involved watching the scenery to time the trip, but I'd say it runs anywhere from 30-45 minutes one way. Traffic usually is not too much, one might only get slowed down by the occasional horse and wagon or moto taxi chugging along in front of use. The trip has us pass by Masaya (the volcano) and lots of small shops and restaurants that we note for future visits.

We eventually pull into Granada and each and every time are awed by the Colonial architecture.The colors are bright and cheerful, and even the hospital that appears to be falling apart has its own mystique while in disrepair. It is slated for rehabilitation, though I find it to be fascinating as is, covered with vines and seemingly open to the public, at least for photos, until the work begins.

Our destination depends on the day. Last Monday, an Embassy holiday, found us unable to go to our new favorite cafe, so we ended up back at Nectar, a couple of blocks from the cathedral in the center of town. We followed that up with a trip to Coco Berry Spa. I had a massage on hold from October, and combined it with a manicure and pedicure.  I normally don't stress those sort of beauty treatments but when one's entire shoe wardrobe consist of sandals and flip-flops (and the occasional running shoe), it's a nice occasional treat.

Love the interior design of every building I've seen in Granada.

Today was just a lunch and a trip to a new bakery. The cafe we wanted to visit on Monday is closed Monday and Tuesday, so we headed there for lunch today. I had heard of the cafe in the fall, but didn't have a chance to taste a sampling until the holiday fair at the Embassy. The proprietor stopped by with a few sandwiches and desserts. Peter and I shared the Mombacho ham and brie sandwich that day for lunch. The ham was so tender and slightly smoky and melded just perfectly with the brie. The bread, if memory serves, was a sundried tomato (which is only improved by being freshly out of the oven). We had visited the cafe in December before a day of last-minute Christmas shopping, and had been waiting for a day to get back.

Hanging outside Expressionista...

Today was the day. We snagged a parking space out front and entered the Expressionista  and were promptly greeted by the owner, Andres. We had the place to ourselves and set up in the rear of the cafe with a comfy couch/chair arrangement just next to the open air garden. Much of Granada is styled like this and it gives a very spacious feel to the restaurants, shops and museums. One thinks they are entering a small restaurant, and the reality is a large open space in the middle, usually filled with impressive gardens, such as in the Choco Museo, which we visited briefly in December.

Nick next to a cacao tree in the interior garden at the Choco Museo in December.

The furniture set-up in Expressionista is ecletic and comfy. Menus are written on chalkboards and include fresh organic options from Eggs Benedict to a garlic soup with scoops of fresh watermelon (there is a set menu and one that changes daily). Handcrafted brews (hard to find here) are always on the menu and today I simply had to try the vanilla ale. It went perfectly with the garlic soup, and my half of the mombacho ham and brie sandwich on freshly baked raisin and nut bread. Nick had the other half of my sandwich, and when hearing that Nick was not fond of brie, Andres styled his half with a manchego on the side (which Nick just gobbled up). Peter opted for the Boeuf Bourguignon which was amazing (at least according to my palate). Freshly-squeezed orange juice (likely from a nearby tree) accompanied their meals and I finished mine up with a latte.

While we would have loved to spend the whole day there, the girls had errands to run and would need to be picked up from their friends' house soon thereafter. We had just enough time to stop by a new bakery, Pan de Vida. We first heard about its existence when a friend mentioned that a location would be opening up soon in Managua. We only heard that there was a location in San Juan Del Sur, and didn't realize there are actually several, to include one in Granada.  We tested a few of their cookies last Monday on a brief visit, and were hooked.

Today is their "Cinnamon Bun Sunday" and one has to hope they make it into the bakery in time.  Tucked away in a small storefront on Calle de Arsenal, the bakery appears to be small on the outside, but is in fact cozy and light-filled on the inside. There is a large wood-fired stove to the left and a simple glass-fronted cabinet on the right with the day's wares. While we ended up just missing out on the cinnamon rolls, we were able to snag the last three oatmeal cookies. The baker had just taken out a few pieces of focaccia bread, so we quickly asked for two to accompany our dinner. We also learned that since they are continually baking, one can put in a request, wander around Granada for a bit and return for their baked good of choice. A whole wheat roll had just been placed in the oven, and had we had a bit more time, we would have taken that home with us.


The best news? The new Managua location is not terribly far from us here. If the store follows suit of the Granada location, there will be baking classes for children and a cinnamon roll Sunday that we will have no excuse for missing. Crusty breads will be available on a daily basis and who doesn't need a good peanut butter cookie after a long day at work?

Regardless of the closer bakery, we will still enjoy our trips to Granada. While we have seen quite a bit, we realize that we have in all likelihood merely scratched the surface on the offerings. Here's hoping we use our time wisely over the next 2.5 years and enjoy many more days there before we head out for good....


A larger than life Nativity (well, for Nick) that we happened upon in December. Notice an extra little face in there?


January 18, 2014

Today was a volcano day...

though unlike our trip to Volcan Masaya in November, we actually planned today's outing several days in advance.  We also didn't just peer into this volcano, we dove right in.

Well, waded in, jumped in, you get the picture.  Today was our first complete trip to Laguna de Apoyo.  We had visited before for the purposes of scoping it out, but hadn't actually spent an entire day there.  Oh, what we have been missing.

Today's trip was spurred on by the opening of a new beach club, Laguna Beach Club.  The owner is a friend of a friend and had a grand opening special.  For just $5 apiece (including a free drink), we could spend the day lounging in a chaise, hanging on the beach (a bit rocky, but nice shady spots), swimming in the cools waters of the lagoon, enjoying a fresh and healthy lunch courtesy of the nearby comedora or kayaking in the sizable freshwater-filled volcanic crater.  Naturally, we chose all of the above.  

We arrived just before 11 a.m. and were the first ones there.  We had no trouble finding the beach club and were impressed by the ample parking (often hard to find around the lagoon).  We were immediately greeted by the owner, and she gave us a tour of the club.  The scent of the freshly cut wood floors permeated the air as we walked.  Plenty of changing rooms, hotel rooms if one wanted to stay overnight, showers, very modern bathrooms but with local touches, such as stone sinks hand-carved and brought down from Esteli.  As one walks out of the hostel, there is a Zen garden designed by internationally recognized Japanese Feng Shui practitioner (and scientist) with a bridge over the garden that leads to the amazing view of the lagoon.

Further down the path and to the left is a small, but spacious bar where one can order breakfast, lunch or dinner from the comedora.  There is a bar for everything from Coca cola normal to caipirinas.  We each enjoyed a good-sized (but not overwhelming) meal and our tab for food came to just under $22.00.  Our bar tab for several sodas and a couple of dacquiris (virgin for the kids upon request) was just about $10.  Though of course we did not spend most of the day in the tiki hut, but in the water.

The sun was quite brilliant when we arrived, and we slathered ourselves with lotion before heading down to the water.  The beach club provides everything from kayaks to life jackets and it's all included in the entry fee.  The attendants were just that, and made sure we had all of the water toys we could use.  The kayaks were by far the best feature and although the winds were high and the waves strong, the kids were not stopped from spending hours splashing about and boating about our portion of the lagoon.  

Cait had a babysitting job waiting for her tonight, and we all have to be up early tomorrow for another local trip with friends.  We hated to do it, but finally had to drag the kids out of the water at 4 p.m. I'll not name names, but at least one parental unit in our car was so exhausted from hours of kayaking fun that she could not keep her eyes open on the ride home.


Cost for entry, food, and bar?  $51.65 plus about $2 for the entry fee to the lagoon itself.  Exhaustingly fun time had by all?  Priceless.


Did I mention the lush tropical greenery?



January 13, 2014

One of the frustrations

I have been reintroduced to lately is that of blogging overseas.  Clearly, I want to relay our experiences, however, I want to be careful to portray a balanced viewpoint. I was a bit overwhelmed when we first arrived in Managua, and constantly have to remind myself that my idea of a situation is simply that: my opinion. My viewpoint isn't necessarily shared by the person in that situation.  

Needless to say, discussions on Facebook such as who wore what to the Golden Globes or keeping your child in a rear facing car seat til age 5, are almost laughable to me.  My visions every day are so incredibly far away from that sort of world that it's really hard to balance all of my worlds sometimes and I find myself stuck and quiet.

I end up not writing as much online lest I put too much of my Stateside thinking into a post.  I've realized if I try to understand the nuances of every cultural difference, I might drive myself crazy. Instead I have to step back, observe, and simply try to figure out where I might be able to make a difference in helping and where I am just interfering by foisting my cultural mores where they don't belong. It's a very fine line.

I've decided that I will blog observations without trying to make inferences. I am not judging good or bad, merely trying to reflect what I see on a daily basis.  Otherwise, if I don't write these down, I will forget.  I will just have the glossy photos I took, but not every single image of what life is like outside of the States.  To not have that would do a tour injustice.

Yesterday we were driving to the airport in a car that was not our own.  After leaving our neighborhood, we turned onto the highway.  Almost immediately, we stopped for a red light.  Now, this is not true at all intersections, but at many here, there might be a form of entertainment, whether it be the fire juggler or a 6 year old boy tossing limes in the air.  A show of a local's talent or skill.  It is, in my opinion, risky at best, but as I wrote, I'm a visitor, not a rule maker.

The show yesterday was a variation on one I have seen before.  A mother is in the middle of the highway.  As traffic stops, she quickly runs out into the lane.  Her child, maybe age 9, nimbly climbs up her back.  A 3 or 4 year old then climbs up atop of that child, and settles upon her shoulders.  She takes two oranges and claps them together.  She smacks them in her face, upon her body, and back together again.  They are all three a bit dirt-smeared, but happy while entertaining.  Quickly, before the light changes, the children scamper down their mother's back.  They hang with the mother and run from car to car, hoping for payment for the show.

I would not have been able to open the window, had they stopped by.  However, they don't, they continue down the one lane of traffic, hoping to collect before they return to the middle of the highway to prepare for their next show.  The light changes, and we drive away, knowing it is but one of many shows we shall see during our time here.