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The Spanish may have conquered it, the Somozas may have ruled it but its forty volcanoes continue to dominate it.  Nicaragua is a marvelous Central American amalgam of natural wonders, colonial splendors and political survival.

Skipping Managua entirely, we made a beeline for the colonial city of Leon. Catching the last few days of its Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivities, we often found ourselves ambushed by one of Leon's many neighborhood religious processions.  But the highlight was watching the day-long creation of the Good Friday sawdust "carpets" (alfombras).  Thoroughly capitvating.  Heady political murals and dozens of colonial churches added to the conversation in this intellectually-charged, university town.

Granada, our next stop, is Nicaragua’s other, more restored colonial city.  Yes, it is more "gringoized" than Leon but it is a beautiful, comfortable and convenient base for exploring nearby attractions. For example, from Granada, with Lake Nicaragua lapping at its shores, Isla Ometepe, the lake’s mythic twin volcano island, is an easy and essential excursion.

But the no trip would be complete without checking out conditions at Volcan Masaya.  A night time tour is the most dramatic.  Just remain calm and “duck and cover” under a nearby car if the volcano decides to spew a few rocks in your direction.  Remember, you were warned.
Date(s): April 2009. Album by David Kohl. Photos by David Kohl & Ross Rosenberg. 1 - 80 of 80 Total. 1543 Visits.
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Nicaragua Map

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Granada – ostensibly Nicaragua’s most picturesque city – sits of the shores of Lake Nicaragua
(also known as Lago Colcibolca
– “Sweet Lake”).

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La Merced facade
The Iglesia La Merced was built in 1781 but only the facade is original.  Like most of the other buildings in Granda, it was destroyed in 1863 and then later rebuilt.

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La Merced bell tower
The church’s bell tower (accessed by a narrow spiral staircase) affords stunning panoramic views of the city.

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Cathedral (viewed from La Merced)
Granada, founded in 1524 – but then destroyed (courtesy of American renegade William Walker) and rebuilt – the city serves as the tourist hub for the surrounding region.

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Mombacho View
Looming just south of Granada is Volcan Mombacho.  Mombacho contains a cloud forest reserve with two world-class “zip lines” that whir tourists through its jungle-carpeted hillside.

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Granada waterfront
A view of the malecon –
waterfront – of Granada
along Lake Nicaragua.  A
popular spot of Sunday
outings and boat trips
along the lake.

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Monkey on Las Isletas
Las Isletas are a collection of 300 tiny islands conveniently grouped close to the Granada shoreline.

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Heron on Las Isletas
Some of the islands are privately owned – adorned with elaborate mansions.  Others, are public.

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Las Isletas weaver bird nests
The islands were created when a massive explosion of Volcan Mombacho spewed these balsalt isletas into the lake.

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Granada Cathedral
The Parque Colon is the
heart of Granada.  The plaza
is flanked on one side by the
brilliantly painted Cathedral.
The Cathedral was burnt
down in 1857 but then
rebuilt in 1915.

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Horse-drawn carriages linger
around the Parque Colon. Tourists hire them for a leisurely ride around the city. Front view of the Hotel Plaza Colon - the most desirable place to stay in the city.

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Carriage Close-Up
Horses with silly ribbons.

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San Francisco Museum
The museum of the Iglesia de San Francisco contains several pre-Columbian sculptures dating from AD 800-1200. They were taken from the Zapatera Island in Lake Nicaragua.

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Laguna de Apoyo
Laguna de Apoyo is a 918-foot deep crater lake – the deepest geological point in Central America.  This ancient volcano last erupted 20,000 years ago.  The water’s sulphur content makes it a soothing skin tonic as well as an effective mosquito repellent.

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Laguna de Apoyo
View of Laguna de Apoyo from the Catarina mirador.

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San Simian at Laguna de Apoyo
San Simian is a small
bungalow-style hotel on
the shores of the Laguna
de Apoyo.

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San Simian
All the rooms have
mosquito netting – no ac.
One bungalow has an
outdoor bathtub.

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Good Friday Procession
During Semana Santa (Holy Week), there are numerous processions throughout the city of Leon.  Stations of the Cross processions take place every Friday during Semana Santa.  The parishioners march through the streets stopping fourteen times - for the fourteen Stations of the Cross (the fourteen stops made by Jesus on his way to Calvary).

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Semana Santa Procession
On Easter Sunday, local churches sponsor a “reunion” procession.  From one church, a procession starts carrying a statue of Jesus; from another church a group heads out with a status of Mary.  Both processions meet – thus symbolizing the reuniting of Mary and Jesus after his resurrection – and then return to their respective churches.

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The Judea
The Judea – a theatrical show portraying the life of Jesus – is another Semana Santa tradition.

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The Judea
Here, on Good Friday morning on a street corner in the Subtiava neighborhood, actors dramatize a scene from the trial of Christ.

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The Judea
The actors are church members
who often play the same role year after year.

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The Judea
Actors dress in period costumes and try to accurately recreate the last days of Christ’s life.

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The Street of Carpets
More than a century ago, in the indigenous Subtiava suburb of Leon, a family created a colorful religious image of sawdust and other materials on the street in front of their home.  That street was traditionally crossed by the Service of Darkness Procession every Good Friday.

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Street of Carpets
Other neighbors began to imitate this family’s creation: more and more carpets (alfombras) began to fill the street.  This tradition became so well know that the Subtiava street is now known as “Carpet Street”  (La Calle de las Alfombras).

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Street of Carpets
The process begins early Good Friday morning.  Carpet streets are closed to all vehicular traffic for the day.  The “carpets” begin with a handmade, temporary wooden frame (varying in size) filled with plain sawdust and then moistened. The sawdust is then smoothed down – as above – with a large, flat piece of wood.

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Street of Carpets
Unlike the more famous “carpets” of Antigua, Guatemala, these carpets use no molds.  They are created freehand. Watch a creation in progress.

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Street of Carpets
Bags of pre-colored sawdust are used to make the carpets.  The sawdust is sculpted by hand.

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Street of Carpets
Most of the carpets depict religious figures or scenes.

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Street of Carpets
Wood planks are often used (as seen above) to reach areas in the center of the carpets.

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Street of Carpets
The process continues throughout the day on Good Friday. We visited the street three times that day – morning, afternoon and evening.

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More material

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Street of Carpets
Carpet creators often try to reproduce drawings or illustrations.  This photo shows a woman referring to a book illustration for guidance.

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Street of Carpets
Carpet "in process" in the afternoon.

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Street of Carpets
Finished carpet viewed in the early evening.

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Street of Carpets
Evening photo shows the completed "carpet".  The wooden frame has been removed.

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Carpet detail
Later on Good Friday evening, the procession marches down the "Street of Carpets" - trampling and destroying all the carpets created during the day.

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Carpet detail
Sometimes materials other than sawdust are incorporated into the carpet.  Notice the wood shavings used as the curls in Christ's hair.

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Home Altar
Many people set up altars in front of their homes to be a stop for the procession.  The priest selects the houses that will function as one of the “stations”.

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Leon – Nicaragua’s second largest city –served as Nicaragua’s capital for over 200 years.  Founded at its present site in 1610, it is known as Nicaragua’s intellectual and political center.  It is the home to UNAN (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua), the country’s first university and the city’s lifeblood.

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The cathedral, which dominates the east side of the Parque Central, was begun in 1747 but was not completed until 1860.  It is the largest church in Central America and a UNESCO world heritage site.  A mural – representing the tumultuous history of Nicaragua – can be glimpsed to left

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Lion in front of the Cathedral
Two boys captured “riding” one on the two free-standing lion sculptures in front of the cathedral.  The lion (leon) is the omnipresent symbol of the city of Leon.

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Raspados for sale
Raspados are a popular street sweet made with shaved ice and topped with thick fruit syrups or condensed milk.

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Raspado toppings
A street vendor in the Parque Central tops the shaved ice with one of a variety of toppings.

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Parque Central vendor
Another of the numerous street vendors in the park.

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Iglesia de San Francisco
The Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco was built in 1639 but had its exterior renovated in the 1980s to restore the damage done during the revolution.

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Detail of the bells
Iglesia de San Francisco

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Revolution mural
Mural on a street in Leon depicting scenes from the revolution.

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Detail of revolution mural

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CIA mural
The mural portrays the CIA as a serpent, emerging from a volcano and uncoiling around a ballot box.

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Arcade of the Hotel La Perla, Leon
The second floor covered arcade of the Hotel La Perla.  It was once a private residence, a Chinese resturant and now a beautifully restored boutique hotel.

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Iglesia La Recoleccion
The Iglesia La Recoleccion – a
beautiful yellow-painted baroque church built in 1786 – as viewed from the covered arcade at the Hotel La Perla.

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Iglesia La Recoleccion
Close-up of the top of the church.

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Entrance to the Museo de Leyendas
The Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones is housed in a building that once served as a jail and torture center during the revolution.  The black-and-white murals at the entrance to the building depict explicit torture scenes.

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No Mas Somozas
This mosaic, in the courtyard outside the Mueso de Leyendas
y Tradiciones, is entitled “No Mas Somozas” – “No
More Somozas” - after the notorious multi-generataional dictatorial family of Nicaragaua.

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Courtyard Mosaic

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Los Hervideros de San Jacinto
Los Hervideros de San Jacinto are large mud puddles formed as the result of the water table leaking onto the magma vein of the nearby Volcan Telica (viewed in the background).

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Bubbling mud puddle
The mud micro-craters can change in size and location after rainfall. The sulphuric gases released by these craters can quickly asphyxiate the casual visitor. Watch the mud bubble

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Volcan Telica
View of a puff of smoke being emitted from nearby Volcan Telica.

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Our Guide
Local boys and girls serve as guides to safely navigate you through the warren of bubbling hot mud pits.

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David with "guide"

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Isla de Ometepe is the largest in Lake Nicaragua – the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world. Access is via a one-hour boat ride from San Jorge to the Isla’s port of Moyagalpa.

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Chaco Verde Inn
The island is dominated by two volcanoes – Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas. Volcan Concepcion
(the highest at 5,280 feet) can be seen in the background behind our small hotel- Chaco Verde Inn.

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Volcan Concepcion
The islands name – Ometepe – is from the Nahuatl words for two (ome) and peaks(tepetl).

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Volcan Concepcion
The climb to the top of Volcan Concepcion is a 10-12 hour hike up loose volcanic stone.

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Volcan Concepcion
The volcano last threw out rocks and fire in 1957.

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Volcan Concepcion close-up

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Chaco Verde bird

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Beach at Chaco Verde
Sunset view

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Sunset at Chaco Verde

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Sunset at Chaco Verde
That night at the Chaco Verde Inn we were treated to some local post-drinking tabletop top dancing. Check out this video

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As outlined in the precautions above, visitors must park their cars facing away from the lip of the crater – to ensure a quick escape – and they must remember to take cover under their cars in case of a volcanic explosion.

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Volcan Masaya National Park encompasses a massive caldera containing several craters.  The three most notable are: Volcan Nindiri, which last erupted in 1670; Volcan San Fernando, which blew its top off in 1772; and the Santiago Crater (wedged between the two), formed in 1852.

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The Masaya complex is only one of two active volcanoes in the world where visitors can drive and park at the rim. Watch it smoke.

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The Santiago Crater continuesto emit a generous amount ofulphuric gases. It last burped up on explosion of rocks in 2000.

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A short climb up the nearby hill from the parking lot rewards hikers with views of across the valley of the San Fernando Crater and Lake Masaya.

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Cruz de Bobadilla
In the early 1500s, Father Francisco Bobadilla placed a cross on a hilltop overlooking the crater. He believed the cross would exorcise the devil from the depths of the crater.

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A short climb up the nearby hill from the parking lot rewards hikers with views of across the valley of the San Fernando Crater and Lake Masaya.

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At night, visitors have the best chance of seeing the red glow of lava in the depths of the steamy Santiago Crater.

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