When we arrived in Granada, Mindy perused the various brochures of activities in and around Granada, and she pulled out a thin slip that said “Ride a Painted Pony”.
“Here,” she gave it to me, laughing. “You should do this.” I laughed too, and then looked a little closer at what it offered. Because what really is a “painted pony ride”? It had nothing to do with painted ponies but was rather a horseback ride through “Los Pueblos Blancos” (the White Towns). We signed up for a morning of horses and backcountry.
Ride a Painted Pony – Horseback Ride
Janice, the American who runs the company, picked us up at the hotel and drove us to her home in Diriomo. She and her husband John Mark moved to Nicaragua from Dallas by way of Costa Rica and have a number of businesses in the area: property management, farming, pastry catering, and – at one time – a restaurant near our hotel. They live on a lovely home with 2 acres of land, countless fruit trees, and multiple horses.
Big old tree in their yard
Warming up the horses
My horse was Gallana, a lovely white horse with black peppered spots along her neck and mane and a very comfortable temperament. She liked to be up front, so as soon as we all started going (Mindy on Medicine Man, Shannon on Coco, Janice and her two vets – Javier and Francisco) Gallana quickly rushed to be the first in line. I had to reign her in a few times because she wanted to lead the group, but I didn’t think that was so wise since I had no idea where we were going.
Mindy and Medicine Man
View from Gallana’s saddle
We walked through the town of Diriomo and Janice explained to me why they were called “The White Towns”. The government used to come through and white wash all the houses so they looked bright and clean, but years ago people began to paint them the current bright Caribbean colors of blue, pink, purple, yellow, orange, and green. “Now,” Janice said, “They’ll sometimes white wash the curbs when a parade is scheduled to come through. You can always tell the parade route from the white curbs. And as soon as it rains, all the white washes away.” Despite the lack of white, they are still known as “The White Towns”.
Janice, Mindy, and Shannon in Diriomo
Janice and me
(pic by Mindy)
We passed a small road (one might call it a highway) from Diriomo into Diria, which was much the same. There was a truck ahead of us blaring a loud announcement through its speakers. I assumed it had something to do recently maligned elections of Daniel Ortega of the PLC, which have been riddled with conspiracy and claims of falsified votes. But Janice said the truck was announcing the death of someone in the area. People hire the truck to spread the word of various pieces of news or important information. “It’s the most effective form of communication in these parts. I once hired it to make an announcement, but in English. You should have seen the locals come out of their homes with odd looks on their faces.”
Our ride took us out of Diria and through a dirt road that was washed out by water and covered on both sides with walls of green. It was an uphill climb that Gallana handled well, and at the top of the hill we passed a beautiful view of the Laguna de Apoyo. My camera battery died so I don’t have much to share about this except it was beautiful.
(pic by Mindy)
(pic by Mindy)
We continued along the rim of the Laguna and eventually turned into a little restaurant where we parked our horses (does one “park” a horse?) and had some drinks overlooking the laguna. It was a really lovely view, and the restaurant served us a plate of “traditional Nicaraguan” fare which was fried plantains, fried sausage, and fried cheese. Very salty fried cheese.
Shannon and Mindy on their horses
(Pic from Mindy’s camera)
Mindy, Heidi, and Shannon
(pic by Janice on Mindy’s camera)
Snacktime over the Laguna
Back on the horses again, we headed back to the White Towns through the green alley. Though the scenery was the same, the ride was completely different because Mindy asked if we could get the horses up to a run. So Janice found a straight stretch where it would be safe, and we let the horses go. Gallana adjusted quickly and stretched her legs out, and I – who has never galloped – wooohoooed with the thrill of it. The run wasn’t longer than 10 or 20 seconds, and it was probably more of a really fast trot, but it felt wonderful. I was grinning from ear to ear when it was done.
Back at Janice’s farm we let the horses go to the stables and Janice took us on a walking tour of her farm to see “the babies” – a few young colts that were out playing in the fields. While we walked she talked about the various ventures they have on their land as well as the land they lease next door: a red bean coop, a soon-to-be equestrian center, a corn field. With all the things she and John Mark have going on it’s a wonder they can keep it all straight in their heads. After the tour we stretched out in some rocking chairs on her front porch with some of their homemade orange juice. I can see why they love being there, despite the difficulties of living in a country that is less than developed.
(pic by Mindy)
Janice’s really lovely cow
(pic by Mindy)
Change in Plans
We had originally scheduled an afternoon kayak trip around Les Isletas just south of Granada, but we cancelled that in favor of a leisurely lunch and a night tour of the Volcan Masaya. We ate lunch at Janice’s favorite restaurant, El Garaje, and had a delicious meal of quesadillas and a burrito. Though run by Americans, they moved at Nicaraguan speed for service, but it was worth the wait since the food was so delicious and – what a treat – they had salad specially washed so we could actually eat it.
The girls at lunch
(pic by Mindy)
And diving… we’re such rebels
(pic by Mindy)
Night Tour of the Masaya Volcano
Our night tour included a bus trip up the Masaya Volcano with just the three of us and a couple from London, as well as an interesting change of scenery from the lush rain forests of Nicaragua to the arid volcanic sparseness of the top of Masaya. Our driver dropped us off at the sulfuric cloud of Santiago Crater “one of the most significant natural sources of pollution in the world”, and we ran up the stairs of the nearby hill – Bobadilla Cross – to get a full view from the cross that overlooked the crater.
By the crater
The girls on the stairs to Bobadilla Cross
And a 360 View of Masaya Volcano:
Our guide (whose name we never did get, but we’ll call her Marena because that’s what her shirt said) told some history of the volcano and its most recent eruptions in 1670 and 1772. And when she learned we had already been up to the Bobadilla, she said, “Okay then we go to a prohibited area where there is much gas. Is that okay?”
Okay? Doesn’t she realize who she’s talking to? OF COURSE we want to go to the prohibited areas. Duh.
Marena the guide
She walked around the cross hill to one of the plateaus formed by the crater. “Okay,” said Marena, “Stay close together because it is very dangerous. If you start to feel sick or uncomfortable then walk back to the start. Okay. We go. Try not to breathe.” Inside we were all scoffing at the idea that the gas would be so unpleasant, but after a few minutes on the plateau – long enough to feel a steam vent and take some pictures – we were all coughing and feeling itchy eyes.
Mindy, “choking” from the fumes
Christine, getting warm from a thermal vent
Funny Mindy quote: “If I say anything stupid for the rest of the night, I’m blaming it on the gas.”
Interesting fact: birds live in the little holes on the side of the crater. They have some sort of filter in their windpipe that makes them immune to the toxic gases. These birds weren’t there now – they’ve migrated elsewhere for the winter – but they come back to live in their toxic caves that are safe from any predators.
Sunset over the craters
For this we donned hard hats and flashlights and walked down a long path around the side of the crater. Our first cave we didn’t enter but crouched outside, flashlights off, feeling and hearing the sounds of bats as they flew out of the caves. Oh, and we studiously avoided the boa constrictor that positioned itself above the cave – in prime position for its dinner of bat.
Bats coming out of cave
Cave two was bat-free since we were running a bit late. But it was full of interesting stalactites, roots, and history. It was a lava tube – smooth but uneven – and it took us a few minutes to reach the very end where we found ourselves in slippery mud. Marena said it was wet mud from the water dripping through the cave, and I don’t doubt her. But I think it was also wet because it was bat guano. Or poo. Shannon, Mindy, and I are queens of guano. We’re not shy. It’s nature – what are you going to do?
At the end of the cave is where the local Indians gathered when it was time to choose a sacrifice to the gods of the crater. Marena did a little exercise where Mindy was the chief and it was time to select a sacrifice, which had to be either a virgin or a small child. We’re still not sure if these attributes were mutually exclusive, or if Marena’s English just needed a different conjunction.
Mindy as the Chief
We desperately needed to shower after our day of horses, volcanic gases, and bat poo, but instead we had an early, easy dinner at the Roadhouse which was a safe walking distance down the street from our hotel. We had beers and chicken with, essentially, cheese whiz. But the waffle fries were great.
Mindy and her tall, cool Tona