Headed off to Parque National Volcan Masaya today, for a wander around the volcano. Was just me and a Belgian couple (Stephanie and Kristof), so we had the undivided attention of our tour guide Roberto. Although Masaya is a fairly small (I think it´s only about 700m high, but I´ll check that) hill, they have a road built all the way up to the active crater, with a very large car park, so you don´t have to expend any energy getting there (once you´re there being a totally different matter). As you enter the park, they give you a slip of paper with safety instructions, one of which is in the event of an eruption from the Santiago crater, take shelter under your car. Given that the car part hangs over the crater, I think it might be more true to state, in the event of an eruption falling lumps of smoking magma will cause you and your car to fuse into one entity unless you vacate the area immediately.
Although there´s nothing like the moving, fiery lava field that made Pacaya so spectacular, the sheer amount of smoke belching out of Masaya is impressive. The crater looks to have collapsed in on itself a few tims, as the ´walls´of the volcano above it are striated with landslips and rockfalls. Roberto told us that if you come on a night trip, and lean riiiggghhht over then you can sometimes glimpse the red centre of the volcano. If the smoke thins.
There are 5 craters to Masaya, but only Santiago is now active. Several trails take you above and around the inactive ones. Just above Santiago and two of the other dead craters is a large cross, erected in memory of one placed there in the sixteenth century by Father Francisco de Bobadilla in an attempt to stop Masaya´s eruptions (known to the Spanish as the ´boca del infierno´ or mouth of hell). Prior to this, the Chorotega tribe native to the area used to offer human sacrifices to the volcano, believing it would appease whatever gods lived inside. The human sacrifices didn´t stop with the arrival of the Spanish and the placing of crosses though. Roberto told us of Sandinista rebels regularly using the volcano as a place to execute their enemies.
After wandering the trails for a couple of hours, we headed into Masaya market, according to all our respective guide books on the tour one of the best in Nica. It was really disappointing! Totally geared towards tourist tat, with a lot of frog pornography (please don´t ask, I´m trying to wipe it from my memory) and very little craftwork. Roberto did procure us three of the local national drink though (the name is escaping me at the moment). It was like drinking a glass of rose coloured mucus. I was brave enough (okay, polite enough) to manage about 1/4 of it before discreetly sliding my glass over to Stephanie, who had already polished hers off. Kristof was likewise struggling, and I´m fairly sure muttering the Dutch for ´snot´ under his breath.
After the disappointment of Masaya, Roberto took us very quickly to San Juan de Oriente, which was much more like it. Beautful pottery. Probably just as well that there is no way for me to get it home safely, or I would have happily spent peanuts on pottery and a small fortune DHLíng it all home. Beautiful carved and painted pots and vases, and squat little women that you just want to hug.
In the early evening back in Granada I wandered around the cathedral, which seemed strangely bare and empty for such a bright and colourful facade. Like a lot of the churches here, the high altar actually has a statue of Our Lady, not Jesus. The only other visitors where the pigeons who seem to be nesting inside. Outside, games of football had started in the park, and the nighttime food stalls where starting to cook pork skins and yucca leaves for the local dish. Me, I went back to the hotel for more of the owner Victor´s cooking!