Other Shit To Do In Granada

Granada is the oldest city in Central America and the only reason it’s not the capital of Nicaragua is on account of the fact it was basically at war with León about who should have that honour so eventually they were like, fuck it, Managua can be the capital, now stop your arguing. We liked it a lot. It’s got some great architecture, it felt pretty safe, and with Volcán Mombacho looming over it it’s pretty fucking photogenic. You can’t turn a corner without being descended on by tour guides or taxi drivers but that’s fine, we survived Egypt, we can cope with this for a few days.

This was happening at the Parque Central at the weekend we were there. No clue as to what it was all about but it was fun to watch.

We also treated ourselves to a Selina hostel. Oh my gosh! We’ve seen them all over Central America but they’ve always been a bit out of our price range and it most certainly wasn’t the cheapest place to stay in Granada but y’know what? We were here for six nights and damn right we wanted AC, warm showers and a swimming pool. Predominantly AC. Granada was stinking hot so it was nice to pop back in between stints of sweating to death to sit in a cold room for twenty minutes.

The European obsession with foreign markets. Why do we like them so much?

Anyway. Please accept this poorly thrown together post about things to do in Granada which don’t involve large lumps of explosive rocks that could fuck your shit up at any given moment.

Go Up A Bell Tower

If you’re mincing around the Parque Central politely declining the fifteenth offer of a taxi that day you can’t help but notice the fuck off great big orange cathedral on the eastern side of the square. It’s not always open and even if it is you can’t always go up the tower but sometimes they’ll let you for some cracking views over the city. They’ll ask you to please not ring the bells. They’re actually properly and manually rung by hand at the appropriate moments and your Instagram story is not considered an appropriate moment, I don’t care how many followers you have.

It’s not hard to spot is it?
I’m very impressed with the artwork on the ceiling in the cathedral.

For even better views you should definitely head to Iglesia de la Merced, you can actually see Volcán Mombacho from that bad boy beyond single story colonial buildings with the characteristic gardens in the middle. It’s pretty good. It’s the done thing to go up it for sunset but you need to get there in good time because it’s not an infinite space and you’ll not be allowed up if there already an immovable mass of flesh and hair up there gawping at the city.

Mombacho views from Iglesia de la Merced.

I’m not judging (I am) but aside from some impressive and modern looking murals on the ceiling of the cathedral at the square the interiors of these buildings were… uninspiring. Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Asuncion is way more ornate and fitting for an international cult that has way more money than it should have. You can go up the tower here too but that was closed when we visited so we contented ourselves with staring at the excellent paintings on the ceiling which is impossible to do without looking utterly gormless.

Make A Chocolate Bar

On our first day in Granada we were having a wander as you do and we ended up at the Chocolate Museum & Workshop. We knew it existed, it was a deliberate meander, but we were just going to enquire about the workshop and ended up booking ourselves onto the 2pm workshop which we were 45 minutes too early for but not to worry, they have a café selling absolutely delicious albeit London priced beverages. They do a vegan cold chocolate drink. I repeat, they do a vegan cold chocolate drink. Tarrant was so pleased and what’s even better the vessel it arrives in is almost as big as your fucking head.

It cost US$5.50 but it made her happy so it’s money well spent.

So they show you around the museum which consists of actual cocoa trees in the garden which is one of those traditional colonial ones, a big square thing in the middle of the building. Turns out that cocoa pods just grow directly out of the trunks of the tree wherever they damn well please. They grow big enough to house up to 40 beans, and the nibs that you use to make the chocolate are inside a shell which is inside a white pulp and seriously, Mayans, how much trial and error did it take before you worked out how to turn this shit into something delightful?

All these little buds will flower then cocoa pods will sprout.
Tiny cocoa pod. They don’t confine themselves to branches, they just pop out wherever they damn well please.

To be fair they consumed it as a frothy, bitter drink rather than the sugar laden, endorphin pumping, plastic wrapped chocolate we know and worship today. They’d spice it with chilli and sweeten it with honey. It was a part of rituals including marriage but it transcended class. Everyone from gods and kings to Dave next door could enjoy a chocolate drink. Whilst the Maya grew it themselves the Aztecs couldn’t so they traded for it. It was so valuable to the Aztecs that they used the beans as currency. Only the elite amongst the Aztecs could drink chocolate because it was so bastard expensive.

The Aztecs called him Quetzalcoatl and the Maya called him Kukulkan. He stole the cocoa plant from the gods and brought it to man and taught us how to make a drink from cocoa. So chocolate really is the food of the gods.

Anyway. The beans have to be fermented and dried then shit got all interactive when we got to grind the nibs the traditional way. You can’t just crush the nibs though, we had to clap and chant and all whilst dressed in a bright orange apron and a daft hat. This was the very definition of self conscious. Tarrant and our guide clapped faster and faster as we all chanted, “Bate bate chocolate” (pronounced “batty batty choco-latty”) and I ground the nibs to a messy pulp. Then it was Tarrant’s turn. It’s all good fun though.

Bate bate chocolate.

Our guide took us through the rest of the chocolate making process, explained how cocoa butter was extracted and told us the breakdown of different chocolates. 50% is obviously half cacao half sugar. 70% is more cacao than sugar. Milk chocolate contains milk powder and white chocolate is made with cocoa butter. “It’s not real chocolate though,” she told us. It’s really interesting, I’m not going to write it all here because it’d take days to wade through all those words but the museum is very much worth a look and we finished off with some tasting.

So then we were going to make a bar of chocolate. They advertise it as “bean to bar” which isn’t strictly true as she’s already prepared the chocolate you’ll be using but she does take you through the scaled down steps. We roasted the beans on the stove, you can hear them popping like corn. But then the nibs we shelled and ground in a pestle and mortar (obviously whilst chanting “Bate bate chocolate“)
were not the ones we’d roasted. She did stir the ones we crushed into a hot milk drink for us but Tarrant didn’t want to risk drinking that given the detrimental effect dairy has on her digestive system. As the human who has to share a room with her I was pleased at her abstinence.

A bit of bean roasting.

Before we started she’d asked us if we wanted to make 70% chocolate, 50% chocolate, or something sweeter and we’d opted for 50% so this is what she’d prepared for us. All we were doing was adding extra shit. I went for chilli, Tarrant plumped for nuts, we poured it into a mold and that went in the freezer. So yeah, it was really fun and informative. Realistically you’re not really making chocolate but I would imagine that process is far too time consuming and they’d probably have to charge more for it. It’s a laugh though and even if you don’t want to make your own the museum is very much worth a look.

Your chocolate will be ready for shovelling into your facehole after 45 minutes.

Roll A Cigar

There’s a small cigar factory called Dona Elba which you can visit. They’ll show you the rolling process and explain it all to you in English and it’s pretty interesting. They use large tobacco leaves to roll the cigars then they press them between two pieces of wood with cigar sized grooves cut in them. They rolled one, handed it to Tarrant so it was still fresh and loose and lit it. Tarrant does like a cigar but I think she prefers it with a whiskey. Tarrant is an old man trapped in the body of a lesbian.

Cigar rolling work station.
Cigars are rolled by hand here.
They’re put in these presses which are held shut by a vice but the cigars have to be turned every now and then.

Kayaking The Isletas De Granada

I’m not sure what I was expecting with this but it wasn’t what we got. You can kayak for a couple of hours or you can take a panga (small boat with a motor) out so obviously we went for the former because fuck you, shoulders. I think our problem was the fact we booked through the hostel. We were told that you can go to places the pangas can’t go in the kayaks which sounded fun and for the obnoxious money we paid we assumed our guide would speak English. Weellll you know what “assume” does, right?

So the poor kid didn’t speak a word of English, our Spanish doesn’t stretch far beyond ordering chicken and rice, and we more or less followed the same route as the pangas which meant doing battle with some ridiculous chop against the wind. Tarrant was having to paddle like a mad woman whilst I was trying to steer the fucking thing and it just absolutely refused to go where I asked it too. We were already fucked and we hadn’t seen anything yet.

Fancy house on a tiny island.

So the Isletas were vomited out by Volcán Mombacho thousands of years ago and they’re mostly owned by the wealthy so the tour consisted of our guide pointing at elaborate homes on chunks of volcanic rock and telling us the names of the families that lived there which meant exactly fuck all to us. I think we thought it would be a nature spotting type thing in the backwaters but we were basically looking at rich people’s houses.

There’s also this fort but we didn’t go in.

The only nature we saw was on Monkey Island which seems to contain exactly two very angry monkeys who came down from the trees to scream at tourists who were feeding them, and I wish I was shitting you, blue candies. They were unwrapping sweets and putting them on the floor for the monkeys to come and eat. No wonder they’re irritable, they’re fucking high on sugar. It was a horrible thing to watch so we just went back to the kayak and followed our guide through more islands with single mansions on them.

This poor fucking money. You probably can’t see it but there’s a bright blue sweet wrapper at its feet that some fed it.

Eventually we turned around which we were pleased about. We’d spent an hour trying to paddle out of the way of pangas blasting loud music on a craft which refused to obey commands due to the conditions. We were fucked. I don’t know how far we were from the end before he stopped and said we were too early and did we want to wait in the shade? Well no, mate. We don’t want to spend 50 minutes floating around underneath a tree. Take us home, please. But he didn’t want to and instead led us to the backwaters we thought we’d be exploring in the first place and started pointing out wildlife.

This from the start would have been great.

Guys, this is what we’d wanted all along. It was so peaceful, not a high speed panga in sight, but we were so tired and pissed off we just wanted to go home. He said this would be a problem and we couldn’t go back before midday, we honestly had to insist so hard, it was fucking ridiculous. Mates of ours did a sunset panga ride with an independent guy and they really enjoyed it so that’s probably a better option.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Granada, Granada Department, Nicaragua

Stayed at: Selina, Granada

Selina Granada. This pool was wonderful! As was the AC in the room and the warm showers. Maybe we held it to a higher standard than other hostels due to the brand but not a lot of care was taken to keep the bathroom cleaned and stocked. There was hair in the shower plughole for three days and more than once the toilet ran out of paper. You really should be asking for these things to be addressed at a place with Selina’s reputation. The bar was also incredibly overpriced, C$100 for a beer, and you’re not allowed to bring your own! There aren’t many nice places to chill either. The pool is good when they’ve not sold day passes to families with kids that like to bomb into the pool and splash. The area out front is comfortable but you’re constantly being bothered by tour guide, taxi driver and buskers (one of which aggressively demanded money when we’d really rather he didn’t play the flute in our faces anyway) so you can’t just zone out and doom scroll. I’m glad we stayed for the AC, that was a god send, but I don’t think I’d stay at another Selina hostel after this one.

Useful shit to know…

  • We booked the kayak tour through Selina as it was actually cheaper than Abdalah.
  • We paid US$32 each.
  • If you can make your own way to coordinates 11.911984, -85.929622 you could probably just book directly with the guys there.
  • Plenty of people hanging around the plaza will offer you panga or kayak tours around the Isletas. Hindsight is 20/20 of course and if we were to do it again we’d take a panga.
  • Both the cathedral at the plaza and Iglesia de La Merced will let you climb up the bell tower for C$35.
  • It’s the done thing to go up the latter for the sunset.
  • The chocolate museum is free to enter, they’ll show you around for a tip.
  • The chocolate workshop is two hours and costs C$913 (US$25).
  • You can visit the museum and café any time but the workshops are at 11am, 2pm and 4pm.
  • The first hour is a detailed museum tour and an explanation of the history and processes of chocolate. The second hour is more hands on and you’ll make a chocolate bar.
  • Your chocolate will be ready for collection after 45 minutes.
  • The cigar factory is free to look around, tips are appreciated.
  • If you want to roll your own cigar it costs US$8.

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