Friday, June 27, 2014

Granada, Nicaragua

Honduras was a beautiful country, but we couldn't wait to get to Nicaragua (and it was such a long journey from the Bay Islands to Nicaragua that it made the anticipation even worse). We decided to spend the majority of our time around Granada, which is one of the cutest little towns I've ever seen. There was so much history and culture in the tiny area that I couldn't soak it all up. 
We walked all over the place just so we could see as much as we could. There were multiple churches to visit, a cemetery, bustling markets, and beautiful artwork. Can I just stop for a second and say that Nicaragua has, by far, the best artwork in all of Central America. Fact. Guatemala has some great tapestries, and Honduras had some cool woodwork, but Nicaragua had beautiful paintings and pottery. We could've spent days in the numerous art galleries in Granada - but the sun was shining and we really needed to soak that up as well. 

Anyway, back to what I was originally saying, we walked all over Granada. The churches here were, of course, breathtaking. But the market is what I was really intrigued by. It is built out of a historic building that I think was burned or something... I don't really remember. But I remember that it had to be reinforced on the inside in order to house the market. The facade is slowly decaying, and it is ultra hot on the inside, but it was such a cool looking way to house a market. 

We spent quite a bit of time in the city center for a few reasons. One, it was our point of reference for all other destinations. Two, it housed some of our destinations. Three, it had an ice cream shop. And four, it had a lot of street vendors who sold traditional foods that we wanted to try. But we really enjoyed it out there. Actually, there wasn't much about Nicaragua that we didn't like.  

The people in Nicaragua were probably the nicest, most helpful people we have ever encountered in all of our travels. They really want to help you, and they don't want your money. They also want to share their culture with you. That was one thing I loved. We always want to try new foods, and we ate quesillos our first night, which is like a quesadilla, but with sauteed onions and cream in them. And we told the street vendor that we had just gotten to Nicaragua. They got really excited and told us about a bunch of other foods we should try and where we could get them. They also told us what landmarks were within walking distance so we could check some of those out. After we finished, they wanted to make sure we enjoyed our fist experience with Nicaraguan food and they were so excited that we did. It was a lot of fun that first night. 

We also had a great experience with some Nicaraguans when we kayaked Lake Nicaragua and were attacked by monkeys. Yes, you read that right, we were attacked by monkeys. Nicaragua is beautiful and has very friendly people, but it is not without its dangers. :)

On a beautiful morning, we set out on a kayak tour of Lake Nicaragua. It was a day just as any other day. It was super hot, a little humid, and we were ready for an adventure. We had read about these islands off the coast of Granada, and there are supposedly 365 of them. We didn't get that far. One of the islands is called, Monkey Island. It is the only island to have monkeys on it. Our book mentioned how the monkeys would eat food out of your had. Great! I am so excited to feed a monkey. I had never seen one in the wild before. 

So we set off on our adventure thinking that it was going to be eventful - but not really understanding what lay ahead. It took about an hour to paddle out to the islands, and along the way I would ask the local fisherman where we could find Monkey Island. They kept giving us directions like, "Go around this island and you'll see two islands close to each other and it is three islands away from those ones." Not very helpful, since all the islands are pretty evenly spaced, and it is nearly impossible to find the exact ones they identify. But eventually we find a fisherman who tells us that the island is on the other side of the one we are at. We get excited, and he tells us to be careful, since the monkeys are really aggressive. Cute little monkeys? There is no way those things could be aggressive. We pressed on.

We finally caught our first glimpse of Monkey Island, and I was thrilled to see the branches of the trees swaying as the monkeys jumped back and forth. Seriously, I was more excited than a child at the zoo. And as we approached, we snapped a few pictures of our would-be attackers. 

Here are the pictures of the devil monkeys. 

As we went around the island, I was craning my neck to get a good view of the monkeys, when Caitlin starts yelling that we are going to run into the trees. There were a handful of branches that bent over the lake, and we were on a crash course for the branches. Too late. In that instant, monkeys embarked our kayak and began plundering all they could get their paws on. A monkey jumped in my lap, one behind Caitlin, and others swung around in the trees grabbing for anything they could reach. One grabbed my water bottle, and the one in my lap grabbed my backpack. Did you know that monkeys are surprisingly heavy? Did you also know that they are freakishly strong? Seriously strong. 

As I'm fighting with the monkey over the backpack, Caitlin is wielding her oar as though it were a sword, hitting the monkeys in the trees to make sure they didn't jump onto our already swarming kayak. I end up jumping out of the kayak at some point in time, still holding onto our backpack (which stayed dry somehow), and with me tugging on the boat, and Caitlin wielding her oar, we somehow escape the evil clutches of the monkeys. Unfortunately, once I'm back in the kayak I realize that my oar is missing. One of those little devils was actually trying to carry the oar into the tree. Luckily it was big and awkward so he couldn't lug it through the branches. He eventually drops it into the water, just below the branches... and it sinks. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure kayak oars aren't supposed to sink. But we were in Nicaragua, and the rules are different there. 

We start formulating a plan of how to get out of this mess. We really wanted to get the oar, but we were scared out of our minds, shaking, and not wanting to go anywhere near those monkeys ever again. A tour boat came around and the guide had no interest in helping. He knew how evil those little creatures were. So Caitlin and I devise a plan of how we'll get the oar and she says a prayer to help calm our nerves and she asks for help. As we open our eyes a canoe crosses in front of our kayak with two locals in it. They ask me if we lost something and I told them that Satan's imps took our oar. They said nothing, but immediately started helping. One of them jumped fully clothed into the water. The other used a bucket to splash the monkeys. Turns out they don't like water. The guy in the water dives in and retrieves the oar and brings it over to us. Then he goes back. We're totally confused until he returns to the boat with my newly mangled water bottle. I told him thanks, and he laughed with how unusable the bottle was. We try to tip them, and they refuse (seriously the nicest people in the world), but instead invite us to their island restaurant for a drink so we can calm down for a bit. 
Caitlin had the camera on her wrist as the attacked happened. This is the only shot she managed. :)

The island restaurant was really cute, and we enjoyed a couple of sodas at 9:30 in the morning. Not really something we did normally, but we felt it was polite to order something. 

On the island we assessed our battle wounds. Caitlin came away unscathed, but the monkey in my lap left his mark on my arm. One small scratch. Although it is barely visible in this shot, it does exist and I can still see it on my arm. If you look behind me in the picture, that is the infamous Monkey Island. Looks peaceful, doesn't it? 

After our time at the restaurant, I tipped the guy as much as he would allow me (which was only like 2 US dollars, but he was much too nice to allow me to tip him for helping us), and we made our way back to shore. 
We loved our kayaking adventure, so we didn't want to end our time at the lake. Instead, we spent some time on the beach and splashing around in the warmest fresh water we have ever experienced. 

We always have to take a jumping picture. 

Then we have a photo shoot. 

We are amazing models. 

We walked along the beach for a long time. I found some super cool sunglasses along the way. Then we had a picnic and decided to get home so I could clean out my battle wound. 

The rest of the time we spent in Granada was not nearly as eventful. We went to the cemetery in town, since hanging out with dead people makes you grateful to be alive, even more than a near death experience. That, and the cemeteries in Latin America are so cool to see. 

Caitlin thought this was a cool idea. Just build a house instead of having plots, and you can bury all your family in the same place. 

I love how many of the crypts have the pope or the Virgin Mary on them. Quite a few have Christ as well. 

This cemetery hosts many of the former presidents of Nicaragua. 

This guy had some unique sculptures on his crypt. They symbolized freedom, law, work, and religion. 

And of course, you have to lighten the mood of a cemetery by taking a crazy selfie with a statue. 

Like I said earlier, the artwork in Granada is spectacular. We went to a gallery that had this tile mosaic on the fist floor, but you could only make out the image from the second floor balcony. Impressive. 

This is the mosaic from the fist floor. 

One other great thing we did while in Granada was Blind Massages. Did you know that they train blind people how to do massages so they can earn an income? Well, they do. We got 15 minute massages, and after 3 weeks of traveling, we definitely needed them. If you're ever in Granada, go get a blind massage, you will not regret it. 
While we were in Granada, we also made a few day trips to some nearby places. I'll blog about those soon. 

And just in case you're in the giving mood, the school we used to work at in Mexico is raising money to try and build a new building since the one they are in is falling apart. Check it out here if you would like to donate a few dollars to the project. We only need $2,500 to finish the building. Until next time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Bay Islands, Honduras

My version of paradise would include the Bay Islands in Honduras. This is one of the most relaxing and beautiful places I have ever experienced. The Bay Islands are set in the Caribbean coast of Honduras, and it takes about two hours to get from the mainland to the islands, and from there it is pure paradise.
We went to Roatan, the largest of the 3 islands and we stayed at the West End, which is basically home to every dive school on Roatan. Our hostel was right next to Half Moon Bay which was crystal clear warm water. We basically spent many hours laying on the beach and soaking up the sun in our larger than life bathtub. 
I hope that you are not here to read today, since mainly I am basically just posting a ton of pictures from our time in Paradise. Since we really spent the majority of our time on the beach, there isn't a whole lot to say. :) 

On our first day on the beach, a local lady came up to me and asked me if I wanted a massage (this was fairly common, so it wasn't a strange offer). I told her no, but she persisted and started giving me a massage anyway. I told her I had no money, but she insisted it was a free sample of a massage. Well, it lasted about 15 minutes, and I gave her like $2 for the massage. And it was great. I've never had a massage on the beach, but it was definitely a nice way to relax while in the sun. 
Sometimes we have a problem of taking way too many pictures. Normally I don't post all of them, cause that would look like we are crazy and super into ourselves. But these ones were so much fun, I couldn't help but post them all. Kind of ridiculous, I know, but this is what you do while you relax in paradise. 

We didn't have a waterproof camera, so we had to make sure to keep at least one hand dry and keep the camera above the water. Kind of impressive all the amazing selfies we were able to take under such high pressure circumstances. 

On our beach (and literally, it was our beach for the first few days since we were some of the only ones there) there was this cool boat that I wanted to take a picture with. I'm not sure how long it had been sitting there, but I wouldn't trust it in the water. 

And of course, we are addicted to ice cream, so we had to make a stop at the local ice cream shop every day in order to cool off a little bit. We especially loved the pistachio ice cream, even if it was bright green. 

One day while we were at the ice cream shop, this little girl would not leave us alone. Eventually she crawled up into my lap and had a great time talking to herself and playing with her toes and giggling. She didn't want to talk to me, but anytime I wasn't paying attention to her she would grab my face and turn my head so I was looking at her. 

For dinners at night we always like to eat at local places. In an area like Roatan, you can basically find any type of tourist food you could possibly imagine. There were tons of bars, and tons of American type restaurants, but we prefer local food. We can get American food in the States. We found a cute place where we would go and get baleadas every night, which are handmade flour tortillas filled with beans, cheese, and other stuff. I preferred mine with scrambled eggs and avocado. The lady that made these made them really well. We had met a group of guys earlier that had served their missions in Honduras and when we said that baleadas weren't our favorite food they were super offended. After having them a few times, however, we came to truly love them. 

One of the most exciting things we saw while we were in Roatan was our friend Julie Larson. She just happened to be on a cruise that docked on Roatan. What a small world. We went over to the cruise dock and took her and her family with us to the beach to go snorkeling. So much fun to have a BYU-Idaho reunion in Central America! 

While we were on the beach, Caitlin found a sun dress that she could wear with her swimsuit, so we bought it. Just a little souvenir from Honduras. 

This island is pretty big, so we had to take a water taxi to get around. It was a lot of fun being on the water taxi, and there are so many of them that you actually have a private boat that you get to ride in. Not a bad way to travel compared to some of the other places we visited. 

And of course, you cannot go to the Caribbean without snorkeling. I would have loved to go diving, but I don't know how to, and the schools are super expensive. But we spent a few hours with our faces in the water exploring.

We snorkeled in the reef off of West End, and also in West Bay with Julie. Caitlin and I were able to see a sunken submarine, a couple of sea turtles, and millions of fish. It is so cool, so you actually swim in the swarms of fish. I really love snorkeling, even if it kind of scares Caitlin a little bit. And I love being able to breath underwater, and the flippers make me feel like I'm a real good swimmer. 

We rented our snorkel gear from the Roatan Marine Park so that our money goes to conserving the reef. There are a ton of lionfish in the Caribbean, and they allow you to hunt for them since they are not native to the area, are destroying everything, and have no natural enemies. It is thought that they escaped from an aquarium in Florida. But we didn't have things to hunt them with, nor did we really know how to hunt lionfish, but we really wanted to eat one... but we forgot until after we left. We were too busy eating baleadas. 

One of the best parts about being on the beach is getting to experience the sunrises and sunsets. We absolutely love sitting on the beach while the sunsets, taking in the majesty of the world. 

But unfortunately, we only had 4 days to be in Roatan. Not nearly enough, but we are so glad we made the trip to the Caribbean coast as part of our backpacking adventures.