Friday, 17 January 2014

Cycling In Granada - Nicaragua Part 2 - Bells, Butterflies & Burials

With my trip to Puerto Asese under my belt I felt confident about tackling some more of Granada's sights by bike. I got hold of a flyer from Bicimaximo about a little known Butterfly Reserve that they said would make a good little day trip.

Before heading west out of town in the direction of the cemetery I made a quick pit-stop at the crumbling Iglesia De La Merced. I asked the caretaker at reception how old the church was but he looked a little flustered as he wracked his brain for an answer.

"Don't worry amigo, this is not a test"

Turns out it was built in 1534 and has been ransacked by pirates, bombarded by armies and shaken by earthquakes. Yet here it still stands in all its faded glory. Think of La Merced as the charming old sister, wrinkled and wise, to the flirtatious Catedral showing her knickers just down the road. The interior of the church itself is fairly plain by Latin standards (although I did notice this rather unfortunate tile work on the floor)

For a measly dollar you climb up the bell tower where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city and the magnificence of Mombacho. Early morning or sunset is best time for photographers but you will be fighting for space with the tourists or in my case the bell ringer who must surely be deaf by now.

After the quick pit stop I headed west, out of town, to where the old cemetery is located. Latin cemeteries have a certain faded charm and Granada's is reportedly the oldest in Central America with a wide variety of tombs, mausoleums and large monuments. It’s well maintained with many of the tombs made from expensive marble and embellished with photos of the deceased. I thought it was rather a nice idea to have photos adorning the tombs, a visual reminder of their occupants in better times.

I did notice a few sketchy people just hanging about in some of the alcoves so I didn't linger for too long. It’s a pretty big place and you can easily become cornered in the less visited outskirts so best to keep your wits about you.

Stepping out of the cemetery entrance I took a right down Calle de las Comedias where the houses start a take a turn for the shanty. I was beginning to think this ride might not be the best idea when I stopped to ask directions for "el mariposario" from a local lady who looked at me stony-faced like I'd asked to have sex with her daughter.

With only my rudimentary map to guide me it was a case of continuing along the paved road further into the suburbs or taking a dirt road into the wilderness. I took the latter. It turns out this dirt road is the same one that goes all the way to Laguna de Apoyo and you will see real poverty on its margins, a world away from the posh restaurants in the tourist quarter.

Tin roof shacks with mud floors, no electricity and a coterie of raggedly dressed children are commonplace. A man in the street is aggressively slashing at some wood with a machete as chickens run about his feet. I give him my biggest, warmest and most respectful smile.

Despite the grinding poverty many of the kids are lovely and wave at the weird gringo passing by on his bike. A trio of little footballers decked out in fluorescent green Barcelona tops show me their skills as they practice their shooting between two decapitated tree trunks.

After about 45 minutes and a few wrong turns I finally make it to the butterfly sanctuary. It is currently run by a couple of cheery volunteers from the Midwest who are keen to know how I made it all the way out here. Their passion for nature is instantly apparent and they tell me how they quit their jobs and are trying to spread the word about this corner of the world.

They are in the process of improving the sanctuary's online presence whilst erecting a few more signs on the road to make the place easier to find offline. It might look like paradise but the couple tell me there are challenges to living in a log cabin in the middle of a Nicaraguan forest

"Every time I think I miss a home comfort I think about how cold it gets in Michigan in the winter"

The grounds are privately owned and rely on admission fees to survive. A bargain $5 gets you a personalised tour of a large netted area in front of their cabin where all the butterflies are fed, protected and encouraged to breed. The air is alive with a multitude of different species. Huge blue Morphos lazily fly about the enclosure and drunkenly sip on fermenting banana as they becoming steadily drowsier as the day progresses. There is also a 1km interpretive trail that you can wander which is pretty relaxing (you are literally in the middle of no-where). What it lacks in nature it makes up for with its tranquillity.

One my way back to Granada I am crawling along in some terrible traffic.

I really shouldn't have made my return journey during rush-hour.

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