Nicaragua may rank as the 2nd poorest country in the Americas behind Haiti but one of the side effects of having no cash is that Nicas certainly do make best use of their resources.
This frugality permeates all aspects of life. Be that sustainable eating (outside urban centres Nicas tend to grow their own veggies/keep chickens & pigs and supermarkets stock far less imports than the UK), recycling (certain plastic and cans are worth money so they are not left lying around)or transport(ubiquitous ramshackle US school buses are imported, pimped-out and always full to the brim).
In the UK you can hardly see the stars for light population but when you fly over Nicaragua at night it looks like the place has shut for the day. Nicaragua may well take the prize for the most eco-friendly country I've ever been to.
Five gear mountain bikes of indeterminate make seem to be the most popular. On my way back from the baseball I saw a man riding an a bike on a busy road in near darkness with his other half riding side saddle on the crossbar whilst holding a two year old. I wonder what Boris Johnson would make of that? Despite the apparent lack of traffic lights & road rules (no one indicates so you have to slow at junctions and watch what other people are doing) cycling in Granada is excellent way of assimilating with the locals and getting a feel of this lovely town.
In Granada there a few place on La Calzada (the main tourist drag) to hire bikes. They aren't all in great nick so it's definitely worth testing them out first before setting off. I got mine from Bicimaximo which is based in the Parque Central just to the right of the custard coloured picture book Cathedral. You can hire a decent if unspectacular 5 speed for $5 (about 5 hours), $7 the full day or $22 a week. You can hire bikes with better spec but no one rides around on these so forget it unless you plan on doing some serious offroad.
They also do guided tours of the area if you feel the need for back up as there are certain areas where it may be sensible to exercise caution. The area between the lakeside and the start of La Calzada is fine during the day but a bit sketchy at night with reports of muggings and I have read anecdotal evidence that the 2hr ride up to Laguna de Apoyo has its share of problems.
Irrespective of the potential risks I love cycling and always hire a bike on my travels so I ventured along the coast past the unspectacular "tourist area", through fields and jungle and onto the Marina Cocibloca. Its an easy 4km ride on tarmac that can be easily in an hour or so. I like to do things at my own pace so I skipped the tour. In the end it all worked out OK but not before I got a lucky break.
Cycling on my own and into an area known for robberies might not win me the Einstein Award but there can be much to be said for just travelling minimally and trying to blend in. One way to do that is not to carry a gaudy back pack around like some travelling North Face turtle. This will mark you out as a gringo with something worth stealing. Keep it light, take a few cordobas and there will always a corner store selling something to eat and drink.
Although there have been reports of muggings in this area the journey on the main road to the marina seems to be OK in daylight as there are now tourist police stationed at the half way point to dissuade any would be assailants (although I'm told they are less than useless if you do get into trouble). I passed locals on horse and cart transporting their wares from the fields, cattle grazing on the shoreline and farmers chopping grass with machetes. It looks pretty idyllic and a world away form the hustle and bustle of Granada.
WARNING:DO NOT take the dirt road down to Astillero Diamante (at a junction you'll see a big sign with a diamond) as I now know many people have been mugged and even had their bikes stolen on this trail. I only learned about this particular pitfall from the caretaker at Marina Cocibloca AFTER bumbling down this pretty path bordered by fields, farms and the odd shack for about 30 mins. I was on my guard but only doubled back to the main road when I saw some dubious types up ahead. That was a wise move.
"You were lucky my friend. That area is notorious"
The caretaker started to tell me a story about how growing up in "el campo" was paradise. He and his friends used to climb trees and sleep out in the countryside at night and walk wherever he wanted without any fuss. Now even the locals have to choose their routes with caution especially at night or risk bumping into an opportunistic "pandilla".
"Kids don't want to work these days. They want the easy life so they just take nice things from other people"
It was interesting to chat to the old chap as he lamented about the ills of modern day Nicaragua and the changes it was going through. In that respect Nicaragua is no different from the rest of the western world with old school values replaced by a preoccupation towards get-rich-quick materialism. I blame 50 Cent.
Part 2 - Bells, Butterflies and Burials