Having lived in the desert for quite a few years before this trip, I knew the humidity was going to be an adjustment. The air was so thick you could see it.
My first look at Nicaraguan air.
is a school for children, a Spanish language school, and cultural exchange center in Granada
, founded around 20 years ago by a professor at UNM. For us, it served as our home base in Nicaragua. Casa Xalteva has opportunities to volunteer and inculcate the children of Granada with subversive liberal values such as sharing, free and artistic expression, enjoying your blessings however small, and being nice to others. I have to say they're doing a bang-up job of it too. If you ever want to visit Nicaragua on a shoestring budget, Casa Xalteva is a good place to start figuring out how to do it. And the kids are even more terrific than I could adequately describe here. They do good work at Casa Xalteva, and the kids are an unambiguous testament to that.
Courtyard garden, Casa Xalteva, Granada, Nicaragua
Political commentary, Granada
Playa Maderas, San Juan del Sur. This is one of the most famous surfing beaches in the world and the site of one of my favorite Zen moments on my second trip
Playa Maderas is considered to have the best surfing in the Western Hemisphere other than Hawaii, and it's a swell place for bodysurfing too. Even getting the blade of an errant surfboard in the eye couldn't deter me. Previous incident notwithstanding (it was a complete accident), I've never been anywhere where surfers and swimmers co-existed so peacefully. Anyone who has surfed in California knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Sign outside a local liquor store in Granada: "Licoreria Colacho, for the very macho man. Touch the door, touch it, touch it..." We all thought this was hysterical
Flor de Cana (flower of cane, referring to cane sugar) rum is one of the divine pleasures of Nicaragua. It's cheap <$20 for a half gallon, even for the good stuff, and it doesn't need a thing besides a little sugar, fresh lime, and ice. Word to the wise though, make sure you get your ice from a reputable source.
Dragonfly on Bird of Paradise, near Granada
Leon is considered the rival city to Granada, and due to a long political history, to this day they still feud like the Hatfields and the McCoys. Some of the nicest people I met in Granada insisted that I didn't need to see Leon, Granada had all the goodities and niceties I could ever want, that Leon couldn't hold a candle to it, and it was just too hot up there anyway. I found Leon to be a fine and unique city well worth visiting in its own right, despite my Granada friends' protestations to the contrary. Leon had the best street food I had in Nicaragua, and fortunately, we spent the weekend there during what passes for a cold front in Central America.
Porthole view of Catedral Asuncion. Leon, Nicaragua. Built from 1747 to 1814, Asuncion is the most famous cathedral in Leon
A view of the inside of Asuncion
Jousting at the Festival of San Juan de Oriente. The swords represent bull penises. I didn't see any evidence that any real bull penises were harmed during the festival, but apparently time was that's what they used to flog each other in the purification ritual. In between jousting matches, we had lots of fireworks and chicha, a weak alcoholic drink made of corn and served in sandwich bags with a straw sticking out of it. The festival was the most fun I had in Nicaragua with my clothes on. The picture only begins to do it justice. A good time was had by all, especially me. Jousting, booze, and gunpowder, what could go wrong?
The patron saint festival in San Juan de Oriente celebrates the birth of John the Baptist on the week of June 24. The celebration consists of many processions with statues of John the Baptist, fireworks, and most famous of all "chilillo" a dance/sport where two "chinegros" use dried bovine penises fashioned in the form of a saber complete with leather handguard to whip their opponent. After a few seconds somebody in the costume of a yegüita (mare) enters between the two people ending the bout. While no winners or losers are declared, the hard whipping does leave marks or scars.
More information on the patron saint festival of San Juan de Oriente here.
San Juan de Oriente, aside from the festival, has an interesting and tragic history. It was destroyed by Contra bombs during the war, and rebuilt by the Sandinistas as an art community, specializing in pre-Columbian pottery.
Red-eyed tree frog, on top of Volcan Mombacho (iconic volcano near Granada). The elevation here is about 4400 feet. These little frogs were extraordinarily cooperative in letting me take pictures of them. This is one of many pretty good shots of them that I took that day.
Hello, gorgeous! Las Isletas, Granada. This is part of what I refer to as the Nicaraguan dog and pony show. They take these monkeys and put them out on a tiny island in the lake, and tourists come and feed them and think it's all swell. Needless to say, I wasn't immune to their charms either, and my friend wasn't quite ready for such an intimate encounter
The tour guide on my first trip to Las Isletas said that the locals drank out of the lake using nothing but a T-shirt (I hope the T-shirt was clean, at least) to filter the water. Having seen the water in the lake itself and remembering watching the grey water flow downhill toward the lake from Granada a day or two before, I didn't have any inclination to swim in the water, much less drink it. I found out later that Nicaragua sends 70,000 gallons of raw sewage into the lake, 365 days a year. I did relent on the swimming part on my second trip when we went to Ometepe. And two years later, I'm still me. So far, so good.
Evening falls in paradise, Las Isletas, Granada
Sign in what we gringos affectionately call a chicken bus, an old school bus converted to public transit. It isn't spelled correctly, but the sign says: "please, if you throw up, pay 20 Cordovas" (the equivalent of about $.90). Local rides on the chicken bus in Nica are 5 Cordovas for a Nica and 10 for a gringo. I don't know if the fine is an incentive to make it out the window or to pay the poor guy who gets to clean it up if you don't
Night photo of Hotel Alhambra, Granada. This hotel is on the opposite side of the park from the yellow cathedral.
The author making banana leaf tamales in a coffee cooperative near Matagalpa
, birthplace of Carlos Fonseca
, one of the founding fathers of the Sandinistas
The fruit of my labor. And yes, it was as good as it looks.
More food porn. This dish is called Vigoron
Vigoron is a recent tradition in Nicaragua, and it's very common to serve to distinguished guests. You start out with a banana leaf, a layer of steamed yuca, then some pork, then top it with some very vinegar-y slaw with lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, and some sorta hot pepper. Ours turned out great with the help of one of the teachers from Casa Xalteva, his wife, and their adventurous tot, who by wanting to be picked up and loved on a frequent basis kept us all from getting a swelled head about making vigoron entirely in Spanish, which we in the beginner Spanish class all thought made us pretty damn cool.
Maracuya (Passionfruit) on the vine, near Matagalpa in Nicaraguan coffee country. Nicaraguan passionfruit is one of the most divine flavors ever, IMHO. If anyone figures out how to infuse THAT flavor into chewing gum, they'll become very rich. I love so many things about Brazil, but their passionfruit (maracuja in Portuguese) doesn't hold a candle to Nicaragua's
The Corn Islands
Sunrise over the Caribbean, Isla Pequena de Maiz (Little Corn Island)
are a little corner of tropical paradise about 40 miles or so out into the Caribbean Sea from Bluefields, and if you keep going east toward Africa another 60 miles or so, you'll find the Colombian island of San Andres. We flew from Bluefields to Corn Island, and then took a panga boat about 30 minutes or so across choppy seas to Little Corn.
View of the rainforest from the observation tower, Kahka Creek Nature Reserve, eastern Nicaragua. Nicaragua is home of the second largest rainforest in the Americas. Much of it, like in Brazil, has been lost to beef production and the other usual culprits of deforestation. This picture was taken about an hour before sunset, and the forest was alight with a symphonic cacophony of animal sounds. Must experience to truly appreciate it;amazing...
If the kids don't steal your heart, you'd better check to make sure you still have one. Pueblo Nuevo, eastern Nicaragua on the Wawashang River
Old boat, Rio Escondido near Bluefields
, the largest city in eastern Nicaragua
Eastern Nicaragua is geographically and infra-structurally truncated from the much more heavily populated and wealthier western part (the eastern part has 60% of the land area and 10% of the population). Outside of Bluefields, the eastern part of Nicaragua has very few roads, so when we traveled through that part of the country, it was usually by panga boat. The final leg of the trip from Granada to Bluefields began in Rama and consisted of an hour and 45 minute boat ride down the Rio Escondido, with the jungle flying by either side of us at 40mph. When the river opened up to the lagoon, shortly before I took the picture above, we knew Bluefields was close.
An interesting piece of trivia about Bluefields, it receives, on average, 170 inches (inches, not cm) of rain per year.
Yellow cathedral from the bell tower of Iglesia la Merced. This bell tower provides the best views of the city of Granada. Lake Nicaragua is in the background
The author, Alajuela, Costa Rica. Clowning with the locals before returning home...
Required pootie pic. This is Pierre, my consiglieri.
Back home in Albuquerque. Of all the places and things I've seen in the world, there are few better than a sunset in the American West. Every time I come home, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to live here, and how much I'll miss it when I leave.
Looking back over the pictures, I realized how much of my experience was left out. I think about Laguna de Apoyo
, the indigenous communities such as the Garifuna in Laguna de Perlas and Blue Energy, the Bluefields based engineering group working to bring clean water and electricity to these small communities in the east. This diary did more than scratch the surface, but there is so much more. Wherever I go in the world, there will always be a big place in my heart for Nicaragua, its places and people. I met and grew to hold dear people on both sides of the recent civil war who lost loved ones, and yet it was very rare to ever see resentment of the American role in the war. The people in San Juan de Oriente opened their hearts and homes, fed us and showed us a rip-roaring good time with what would be modest resources by any American measure. Nicaragua reminded me that for all of our differences, we have a hell of a lot more in common. And that brotherhood still is the best soul food.
Thanks to everyone for stopping in to enjoy the pictures...