Day Eleven: Crossing the Border into Nicaragua, Learning About Cigars and Hanging Out With Belgians!


Crossing the border into Nicaragua was an event!

We dropped off our rental car at the airport in Liberia, then took the Tica Bus to Granada, Nicaragua. The bus cost only $27 round trip, but while we could reserve a ticket from the US on the Internet, we had to wait to buy the ticket in Costa Rica. And, while we had assigned seats, people were already sitting in them when we arrived.

Taking the Tica Bus, “supposedly” sped up the border crossing process, which still took over 2 hours. It was very nerve racking when the driver collected all of our passports and kept them for several hours. We got off the bus and waited in line at the passport station, where men with Nicaraguan currency (cordobas), waved money in our faces and yelled “cambio!” Kathy found the exchange rate a little less than great when changing Costa Rican colones to Nicaraguan cordobas. Chris was one of the last people through the line and nearly missed the bus. Nina stood outside the bus door, refusing to get on the bus, yelling, “uno mas persona, mi esposo!”

Then, we were shuffled back onto the bus, driven a few yards and then herded back off the bus, to wait in line again for our bags and the bus to be searched. The entire time, we had NO idea what was going on and simply stood as close to the bus as we could get to ensure that it didn't leave without us and with our passports! It cost $8 each to enter Nicaragua.

While waiting in line at the bag check station, a woman went around selling hammocks. When each of us got to the front, we had to push a button and a traffic signal gave us a red or green light at random. Chris got the red light and went inside with his bag for “further investigation,” however, they took one look at him and simply waved him through.

Chris waits in line with his bag, but after all that waiting, unzipping and re-stuffing, the guard merely glances at the bag.

Women with bright colored, plastic baskets (incidentally all wearing the same kind of frilly lace apron) sold snacks and cookies. In addition, people sold watches, metal chain necklaces, plastic cups of cut mixed fruit and cotton candy.

At various tables throughout the bus station, people sold complete “plate” lunches. Brave snackers were handed a paper plate pilled high with rice and some sort of meat, covered in saran wrap and ready to go! Meanwhile, men in camouflage with machine guns wandered around through the crowds and chaos.

One woman was selling something called a “quesillos,” which consisted of a tortilla, a slice of white cheese (taken from a Tupperware container full of cheese slices in liquid) and white goo shot out of a squirt bottle that looked like mayonnaise but turned out to be liquid cheese. The woman could be heard throughout the bus station yelling, “K..... seeeeeeeeee..... yo!”

Some local girls added a bit of cheer to the bus by buying a piñata at the border and hanging it over their seats.

The long and difficult journey to Granada was very much worth the effort. The oldest colonial city in Central America is incredible.... full of color, old world charm and wonderful, friendly people! Plus, our hotel was wonderful. This is a picture of the gorgeous entry way to our hotel, Hotel Kekoldi de Granada.

The hotel was beautiful and had a strong focus on local art. A local artist created a different tile mosaic for each room in the hotel. This one was in our room.


The patio was filled with rocking chairs and digital copies of each mosaic printed on canvas, so guests could see all of the wonderful works of art.

The tile mosaics depict stories from an Aboriginal tribe, called the Kekoldi, from the south Caribbean area of Costa Rica, that speak the Bribri language. Kekoldi means “holy tree of water.”



This is the incredible wrought iron and stained glass entry way to the Hotel Kekoldi. The gate was locked every night and a 24 hour staff watched the gate.

In addition to the lovely tile mosaics, the hotel was also filled with statues, paintings, stone work and other incredible art. Nina was in heaven!

The courtyard was simply lovely. Hotel Kekoldi was a really charming hotel. We loved it!


For our first afternoon in Granada, we took a “get to know you” stroll around the city center and visited our first (of many) cigar manufacturing stores.

Every building and home in Granada is painted a bright color... red, pink, yellow, blue, green, purple, turquoise... It was wonderfully cheerful and fun!

Horses were everywhere... pulling work carts and fancy tourist carriages.


Granada is a bustling, friendly place with residents who seem to really love their home and take great pride in it (and for good reason).

The owner of this colorful, little cart sold fake flowers, nuts, spices, candy and hot sauce. What an interesting variety of stuff!

This is a particularly colorful row of buildings with fancy trim work.

This church appears to have combined the old and the new. The bright white and pastel pink tower doesn't seem to fit with the old, dirty and blackened church attached to it!

But it gets even more interesting.... attached to the old, dirty, blackened church is a cheerful, bright yellow building!? How strange....

On the opposite side is what appears to be a newer, cleaner addition of the church, also attached to a yellow building with a completely different architecture and topped with a baroque dome and another tower with a statue of the Virgin Mary. What a bizarre yet beautiful hodgepodge of architecture!!

Across the street from this dynamic church, is a bright blue house with charming balconies, old carved wood doors and wrought iron lanterns. The architecture and colors of Granada are simply fascinating!

Not only are the buildings in Granada a sight to see, the sidewalks also have their own beauty, character and stories to tell!

Horse drawn carts are still a popular mode of transportation in Granada.

One of our guides told us that when buses are too old for American standards, they get shipped to Nicaragua. First, they are used for inter-country transport, next, they are used for inner-city transport, and lastly, when they are really starting to fall apart, they are used as school buses!

Nina loves this photo. She blew it up and framed it. It's wonderful to see the brightly colored houses with the steeples of multiple churches towering over head.

Many of the church steeples and domes of Granada could be seen from virtually anywhere in the city.

These horse drawn carriages where everywhere and were often decorated with flowers. The carriages were used by tourists and locals alike.

The beautiful, yellow, twin steeples of “The Cathedral,” strangely named “La Iglesia de Catedral,” which as far was we know, means the church of the cathedral!?

Horse drawn carriages line up in front of the Parque Central.

The cathedral is truly lovely and is the anchor of the downtown area. It is surrounded by the central park, luxurious old world hotels, high class restaurants and other official buildings.



This lovely pink gazebo is in the center of Parque Central. A man with a Winnie the Pooh cart sells hot dogs and coffee!


The Nicaraguan flag flies proudly in front of the cathedral and the central park.

What a lovely, cheerful, yellow church.

This charming and once again colorful street has a great view of Volcan Mombacho.

Why is it that no matter where you go in the world, people get a kick out of throwing old shoes over telephone wires?

Another popular mode of transportation, pilling into the back of pick up trucks.

We were trying to find Sultan's Cigars, which we learned about through Globe Trekkers, and randomly came across Doña Elba's Cigars. A Finnish guy, who now lives in Canada, named Marcus gave us a fascinating tour.

Doña Elba's produces a wide variety of cigars with cool names like Torpedo.

Even though the tobacco is grown in Nicaragua, some businesses can call them Cuban Cigars, because the tobacco is grown from Cuban tobacco seeds.

Manuel showed us how to roll a perfect cigar.

Manuel made it look really easy...

Doña Elba's uses five different kinds of tobacco; some for their flavor, some for their strength, some for their aroma and some for their good wrapping capability.


In addition to the matriarch, Doña Elba, the family run company includes brothers Don Armando and Don Silvio. Which brother do you think does all the work (and which ones sits back and smokes the profits)!?


This tiny woman was cutting the ends off the cigars and putting them in molds to be pressed after rolling them.

They use vegetable glue to seal the cigars tightly.

The cigar factory and shop was also within the family home. This is their giant dinning room table with a painting of The Last Supper.

Chris had a very difficult time deciding which cigars to purchase, but finally settled on some torpedoes, lights and mediums in a beautiful wooden box with a painting of the cathedral of Granada. Later, he also bought a few cigars from Sultan's. The cigars were $2 to $5 each, plus we got an invitation to their one year anniversary party.

That night, we dinned at El Zaguán, per Marcus' suggestion. We had very few bad meals while in Central America!

They brought us this lovely tray of toppings with nothing to put them on! They bring steak and seafood to your table and cook it in front of you. (Unfortunately, we all had boring chicken).

We thought mariachi bands were a product of Mexico, but apparently, they are very popular in Nicaragua as well!

These guys appear to do very well, since they charge $5 for two songs!

Nina requested traditional songs from Nicaragua. They sang two songs, with words in Spanish we hardly recognized, except for “bonita Nicaragua, mi corazón and gracias a Dios.”

We spotted three different geckos crawling around the walls and ceiling of the restaurant.

We spent a lot of time hanging out on this street, located directly behind the cathedral and lined with restaurants and bars with outdoor seating.

Chris kicks back and enjoys the lovely Nicaraguan evening...

Chris enjoying an ice cold Victoria, one of Nicaragua's national beers.

Chris and Nina greatly enjoying the beautiful evening.

Chris and Kathy kicking back in front of the Nectar bar. Kathy definitely liked the Mojitos.

The same mariachis from the restaurant patrolled the streets.

We made some new friends.... We overheard these guys speaking some strange language and had guessed Czech, Hungarian, Polish.... Turns out they were speaking Dutch! We spent several hours hanging out with these guys, both of which are named Geert, and their other friend Tom. So... the one in the tank top is called Bruno. His friends tease him by calling him Bruno because it is the name of a childhood bully that he hates (not to mention he doesn't like the name). But for us, Bruno is a hell of a lot easier to pronounce than Geert!!

Upon hearing that our new friends speak Dutch, Nina assumed they were from the Netherlands. However, they are all from Antwerp, Belgium. Nina, who has traveled in both the Netherlands and Belgium, was very confused, because she thought people speak French, German and Flemish in Belgium. She thought Flemish was similar to German, never realizing that Flemish is actually the same thing as Dutch, just a different name. Our new Dutch speaking, Belgian friends were very drunk and friendly! We ended up sharing a bottle of Flor de Caña, a local rum, with them! Bruno and Nina had a “heated” conversation about American politics!

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