Wandering Around: Granada, Nicaragua

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It’s hard to imagine that Granada, Nicaragua was ever a blank canvas. Between vivid local banter and rainbow-lined streets, there’s nothing dull about this UNESCO World Heritage site. However, after several invasions and a civil war, locals were left each time with a chance to start over.

Because of its location on Lake Nicaragua, pirates including Henry Morgan invaded the town several times in the 17th century. Trading bright-colored paint for local gold, the pirates sailed away rich and Nicaraguans, thinking the paint was valuable, got busy covering their homes with it.

The result is a dizzying array of hues along cobblestoned streets where shoes are rare and stray dogs rule.

Doors are almost never closed, and men and women choose to lounge in front room rocking chairs or the stoops outside. Some homes double as fruit stands and clothing stalls, while others are full on marketplaces filled with topless children buying marbles to entertain themselves through the humid afternoons.

Public transportation is a spectacle of its own. The local bus doesn't need a horn, as the brakes do an adequate job of letting pedestrians know it's close. It's not unusual for commuters to stand on top of the unmarked vehicles due to overcrowding. Needless to say, balance is a must.

Donkey carriages are lined adjacent to the bus stop and surround the central marketplace. They transport smiling locals, ready to fish for their dinner in Lake Nicaragua.

The country is now one of the safest in Latin America, a stark contrast to less than 20 years ago when Nicaragua was in the midst of civil war.

Ronaldo Castillo, who I was visiting, grew up in Granada. When he was 11, troops broke into his private school, gave the boys guns and told them to fight. That night, Ronaldo’s mother had him smuggled on a mattress truck through Mexico and into the U.S. where Ronaldo lived with his aunt in Miami until his mother could join him... five years later. One of Ronaldo’s friends from school hid in and out of a meat locker for nearly a year until troops dismantled.

What was left after the shots were fired and the money was gone was indeed a blank canvas. One that Nicaraguans have filled with vibrant culture, a gritty work ethic and loving local pride.


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