Thursday, February 23, 2012

Granada and San Juan del Sur

Good afternoon, dear readers!  When you last heard from Matt, I was wrist deep in my chocolate-making class!  I got to see a raw cacao pod, which is bigger than a soft ball but not as big as a football and usually has up to 60 cacoa beans inside.  I ate a raw bean, which is covered in a sweet white fluff that tastes like mango, the raw bean itself is purple and VERY bitter!  The raw beans are usually fermented about 5 days then dried in the sun another 2-5 days until they are completely dry - I didn't do this, obviously.  We did get to toast/roast the dried beans in a traditional clay bowl over open heat, stirring constantly and then we de-husked each bean for a pound of cacao.  At this point, the beans were a deep brown, still bitter, and extrmely aromatic.  Then, we hand ground the beans with a mortar and pestle into a fine paste to be used in three traditonal chocolate drinks: the Mayan, which was made of cacao, hot water, and cinnamon, the Aztec, which added honey and hot chilli to the Mayan drink, and the Spanish, which was cacao, hot milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.  We then got to make our own chocolate bars out of 70% chocolate (meaning 70% chocolate, 30% sugar in the mix) which had already been mixed and refined (a process called conching).  I made an almond-coffee chocolate bar.  Unfortunately, we did not temper our own chocolate, so we had to return in two hours to get our refridgerated bar.  Of course, since it wasn't tempered and León is extremely hot, we just HAD to eat the whole bar right away so it wouldn't melt.  It was delish!

The next day we took a boat tour of Laka Nicaragua, locally known as Cocibolca.  We had met a lovely British couple on their honeymoon at the chocolate class and we decided to go together with them, which proved a useful bargaining tool in price.  The tour took us past several of the small islands, many of which are privately owned and home to beautiful houses.  We stopped at the island that housed the former Spanish fort which protected the city of Granada from French and British Pirates, who could access the lake from the river which connects to the Carribean.  That's right, the fort protected the city from the Pirates of the Carribean.  After the fort, we visited Monkey Island, home to Spider Monkeys and white faced Cappuchino Monkeys.  One monkey, Lola, is well known by the tour guides and spoiled with crackers as a treat for coming to say hello to tourists.  Lola scavenged for bugs in one woman's hair, gave Matt a little lap dance, then decided to cozy up on my lap before returning to her island.  We finished up at another island where we did some bird-watching.

On Sunday, the poetry festival ended and all the artisans that had made the central park so festive packed up; we decided it was time for us to head out as well.  We grabbed a chicken bus to Rivas, which was overcrowded as usual, then from Rivas another chicken bus to San Juan del Sur, a famed beach attraction.  While the scenery is quite idyllic, the water here is surprisingly cold, especially since Poneloya up the coast was so warm.  It has also been quite windy, so while it's nice to have a cool breeze on a hot day, the sand gets everywhere and even a tree branch or two falls over daily.  Today, we took a walk to the top of a cliff that over looks the cove.  

We've had a lovely time hanging out and enjoying the warm weather, but haven't spent as much time on the beach as we'd like.  We did make friends with some Canadians, one French-Canadian from Quebec who made an amazing Nicaraguan spin on a classic French dish, Poutin, with yucca fries, quesillo, and a gravy of onions, beer, and aunt jemima!  The other Canadians were a couple from Toronto, one of Indian heritage and the other of Pakistani, who had just eloped and were on their honeymoon!  We had a fun night, drinking Cabellito, the local aguardiente we learned to love in León, and Shaler Kola, a local and delicious cream soda.  

Due to the adverse weather, we've decided to head to Costa Rica a little early, that is, tomorrow.  While our first planned destination was Puntarenas, we're going to head to Playa Tamarindo, on the Nicoya Penninsula, to make up some beach time.  We are a little ahead of schedule, almost two weeks, so we figure we have some time.  Costa Rica is looking like it will be the most expensive place yet.  The hostels in Tamarindo, and all the beaches, are $15 a person, making costs $30 and up for us.  The most expensive place we've stayed to date was $24 at the Tica Bus Hotel in San Salvador, and that was for necessity.  However, the hostels all appear to have kitchens, so we should be able to save some money by preparing out own food, which means I may get to practice some of my newly learned recipes as well as some old favorites!

Nicaragua has been great, very vibrant, artistic, and friendly, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a Central American destination.  

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