Arriving in Managua's center for the first time, a visitor is left thinking of the remark Gertrude Stein made of Oakland, Calif.,: "There is no there there."
The Nicaraguan capital's old, colonial-style center collapsed in a 1972 earthquake, and since the rubble was cleared little has been built in its place. A huge billboard outside the centrally located Intercontinental Hotel boasts an artist's rendering of a promised futuristic commercial center, but so far no bulldozers are troubling the defiantly waving weeds.
That doesn't mean visitors here need sit in their hotel room and lament the absence of anything to do. With just a few spare hours, one can head to nearby Lake Nicaragua for a boat ride, fresh fish lunch, and peek at colonial Nicaragua that add up to a memorable afternoon.
At the lake's shore, located about a 1-1/2 hour drive from Managua, covered boats await visitors to take them on a rides through swampy inlets to small islands where families prepare the day's catch. Most of the "restaurants" consist of two or three tables under thatched roofs, with views of the volcanic mountains that ring the lake. After the boat ride back, a stop in lakeside Granada is worthwhile to take in the colonial architecture. It offers a glimpse of what Managua once looked like - and how, if that billboard rendering is translated into reality, it will never look again.