We left in the morning with Bismar and the guests, transported by the senior driver Inocencio. Our first stop was about an hour and a half away: a town called San Juan de Oriente but known as La Cuña de los Artesanos, or “Artesans’ Cradle,” because literally everyone in town works with crafts for sale to tourists or hotels. We entered one of the pottery shops and went downstairs into the workshop, where a young man was waiting to give us a short presentation on pottery. He explained about his family’s business slowly in Spanish and Bismar translated for the guests. Then he took his seat at a wheel and started shaping a small bowl, using several homemade tools—a bicycle spoke, for example—to straighten its edges. The expression on his face showed how much he enjoyed the work, which certainly looked fun even should one have to shape clay all day, every day. After a couple minutes, a small and perfectly round pot was on the table in front of us. He talked some more about clay and then said, “At this moment in the process, the clay is still very fragile,” and demonstrated by plunging his fingers into the side of the vessel, leaving a deep impression in it.
Leaving the wheel, he led us to a larger table where wall lampshades were being made. Tools like a polished beach pebble and a child’s plastic spinning top were used to spread and smooth the paint that was applied with a brush made of a hollow pen and the hair of the girls in the family. A small kiln sat smoking in the corner, baking about twenty of the lampshades. Once the guests asked a couple questions, we thanked the young man, whose unbefitting name it turns out was Stalin, and went up to, of course, the pottery store.
Our next stop was the market of Masaya, where within a huge walled square is a grid of shops selling ceramic, leather, wood, and textile crafts. Dozens of vendors ask you to come and see their wares, explaining that their prices are lowered for you as you browse. The quantity and diversity of objects for sale is overwhelming, and the similarity of the merchandise is a puzzling reinforcement of the mimicry one sees at these sorts of shops around the world. After maybe half an hour of wandering the aisles, examining traditional leatherwork and other craftsmanship, we returned to the van and set out for Masaya Volcano.
The Masaya Volcano National Park includes the live volcano as well as several extinct craters. For miles around, the ground is covered in old lava floes, which provide a rough and dry environment for only a few species of bushes and grass. A museum near the entrance to the park explains the volcano ecosystem, tectonic plates’ effects on geography, and magma dynamics, providing a detailed history to the area during Spanish colonial times, when Masaya volcano was considered a mouth of hell (hence the cross raised at the top of a hill overlooking the smoldering crater). Despite the sulfurous fumes rising from below, parrots, bats, and vultures live on the stone cliffs of the crater. We climbed to the replica cross above the Masaya crater and then ascended a hill that led to an extinct crater full of vegetation. Then we ate our packed lunch and continued to Las Isletas.
Las Isletas are hundreds of islets formed by an eruption of Mombacho Volcano into Lake Cocibolca (aka Lake Nicaragua). This tour quickly made it clear that Nicaragua is aptly known as the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” Many of the islets are available for sale or rent, since some are big enough for a large house and a yard. We went on a boat tour that wound through the islets and saw some egrets and monkeys, mostly just taking a relaxing cruise on the calm waters. Once it was done, we headed for Granada.
In this colonial city, considered by many as the oldest in the hemisphere, we stopped at Tower La Merced Church, an ancient building whose external walls look as if they have suffered through a few fires. We climbed the spiral staircase up the belltower and saw three immense bells connected to one rope with different lengths tied to each clapper. This way, when the bell ringer pulls on the main rope, the three bells would ring at slightly delayed times. Our next visit was to the Tio Antonio Centro Social, or “Uncle Antonio’s Social Center,” where teenagers were weaving colorful hammocks as part of the handicraft social employment project.
Finally, we reached the central park of Granada, where many horse buggies were parked around the square, decked out to give tourists rides through the city.
The tour complete, we got back in the van and Inocencio drove us back to Morgan’s Rock in less than two hours.