Travel Diary Nicaragua - On The Road from Mukul to Granada
Even the most ardent Socialist amongst us would find it difficult to leave after spending three days at Mukul in Nicaragua.
The 1670-acre resort, radiating out from a glamorous central palapa facing the Pacific Ocean, offers everything one could want in a vacation getaway; over the top spa therapies, golf, yoga, private beaches, surfing, or the ultimate indulgence, doing nothing at all.
Built by Carlos Pellas (Nicaragua’s first billionaire), every element is designed to cocoon one in a state of laid-back luxury.
While Brendan would have been happy to stay for the entire week, I had other ideas. Restless by nature and irrevocably imbued with overwhelming guilt when enjoying too much relaxation by my Puritan forbearers, I was determined to see some of the “real” Nicaragua. The staff at Mukul, while not quite sure what I meant by that, suggested a couple towns to stop at en route to Granada, our next destination. When the morning of our departure came, however, and I wistfully said goodbye to our Bohia with its private plunge pool,
ocean view shower, and friendly white-throated jay that greeted me every morning along with the coffee and cookies that magically appeared
I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to see reality anymore.
After twenty minutes on the road, we approached the outskirts of Tola. I had noticed it previously on a map as appearing to be the only town of any size within an hour’s drive of Mukul. When I asked if there was anything to see there, no one could think of something that merited stopping for. How wrong they were! Its bright colors and a bustling atmosphere immediately caught my eye. As we drove by the Parque Central, I asked our driver Alejandro to stop the car. Hopping out to take pictures, he followed close behind. From the fruit vendor
to trees that might have been trimmed by an apprentice of Edward Scissorhands and freshly painted benches
I felt as if I had suddenly been dropped into a Technicolor movie set.
After recovering from his initial shock at my enthusiasm, Alejandro was soon happily guiding me around. He explained how the federal government installed free Wi-Fi in the central square of every town throughout the country for the people. He pointed out City Hall, a pale two-story building approached by a curving multi-colored pathway. Lined with statues of smurfs and classic Disney characters, it put Oz’s yellow brick road to shame.
How could anything bad ever happen in such a place? Well, apparently something did. When Alejandro noticed me observing a statue of a white-robed woman I assumed to be a saint, he acquainted me with the legend of la Novia de Tola (Bride of Tola).
Sometime around 1870 a beautiful virtuous young woman named Hilaria was engaged to a young man named Juan. Unbeknownst to her, he had also been involved with a local hussy named Juanita. On the day of their wedding, while the whole town was happily preparing for the celebration, Juan and Juanita ran off and poor Hilaria was left waiting, and waiting and waiting at the altar. It gave rise to the Nicaraguan expression, “Left waiting like the Bride of Tola”. I think she might have gone back to the church and cried every day, hoping for his return for a while, if not the rest of her life, seeing as she earned a statue, but I might have been imagining that part.
We joined the main highway outside of Rivas – although we didn’t stop in the city center,
a glimpse of the circus that had come to town and the local vendors along the road added to the kaleidoscopic quality of the “real Nicaragua”.
Once we got on the open highway, small subsistence farms and hamlets gave way to ranches and larger agricultural operations.
In addition to cars, buses, and trucks piled high with produce, the highway is shared with animals pulling carts and wagons, or simply meandering along on their own pace.
Our next stops were the two towns suggested by the staff at Mukul. San Juan Oriente is known for its pottery, its narrow streets lined with small manufacturers that often display their wares out front
from practical, artistic, contemporary to kitschy (naturally I was drawn to the latter).
While San Juan Oriente’s central square was not as colorful and lively as Tola’s, I was curious about this somewhat provocative looking statue gracing its fountain.
Even though the odds are against it, I like to think it me a depiction of that jezebel, Juanita? We next went to the neighboring town of Catarina, with its market geared towards the tourist trade and restaurants overlooking la Laguna de Apoyo, a large lake formed in the caldera of an extinct volcano.
From there we could get a great view of Granada in the distance, where we were to spend the next three nights.