León, Nicaragua, December
I left Comayagua, Honduras
in the morning, headed for the capital Tegucigalpa. The
Christmas tree in the park had a giant Coke sign on top
for a star. The war against Pepsi still rages and it looks
like Coke won this battle.
Tegus sprawls out across the valley in a conglomerate nightmare of cars, pollution and a constant din of business. The maze of streets seem to have no order as they snake through neighbourhoods to the city centre. There is no peace in Tegus. I want to leave as soon as possible but I have to stay one night to make a bus connection.
I notice I am very tense and do not feel safe on the streets, even in the day. Even the hotel room feels like a jail cell, painted grey concrete and cement floors. The doors are locked at sundown. The day before I arrived a botched bank robbery, a block from my hotel, took the lives of 2 guards and a young boy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I leave early tomorrow.
Fortunately there is a bright little haven just a
block from the hotel. Café Paradiso is a place
where artists, musicians and poets gather to share their
works. I arrived on a night when the poet Saul Toro
was reading some of his favourite writings. Even in
such harsh conditions the spirit of culture boldly continues.
The influence of economic and social conditions was
very evident in his poems. Those few hours in that café
made all the difference how I viewed Tegus. Yes there
is a lot wrong with the city. People make the difference.
Without culture, art or music life here would be impossible
or anywhere else for that matter.
The bus ride out was pretty much standard except for
the rattlesnakes. A man got on the bus with a sack.
Sound familiar? If you read my entry for San
Cristobal de Las Casas you will know what I mean.
As he walked down the isle I noticed 2 snake tails sticking
out of the bag but they seemed rather stiff. On closer
inspection I noticed they were skewered on a pair of
sticks. I asked him about them and he told me he used
them for medicine for arthritis - just 3 teaspoons of
ground, smoked rattlesnake a day. He also said the rattles
were not used; they were given back to God for insurance
of more snakes. I asked him if he was a shaman and he
said no that he just worked for one collecting the medicines.
We arrived at the border of Nicaragua just before
noon. Good thing too cause they close for lunch. The
border was expensive at 7 dollars U.S. and only payable
in dollars. So if you are coming this way make sure
you bring the bucks. On to the small village of Estelí,
one of the strongholds of the Sandinistas during the
Estelí is surprisingly similar to any little
town in North America. The highway runs straight through
with sidewalk shops and restaurants lining both sides.
Further in towards the town center Latin American culture
becomes more noticeable with street vendors, shoe shines
and people gathered in the park. Estelí was one
of the strongholds for the Sandinista freedom fighters
and one of last battles was fought in the streets here.
holes serve as grim reminders of the devastation
that Nicaragua has suffered as recently as 1990. There
are still reports of continued fighting in the northeast.
of Heroes and Martyrs pays tribute to the thousands
who died in the 1979 FSLN uprising. It is maintained
by some of the mothers of the deceased. A profound sense
of loss washed over me when I entered the Gallery. Row
after row of photos of men, women and children who died
line the walls. Not just names but pictures as well
darkly resembling a high school yearbook.
There is also a sense of fierce idealism displayed in the murals and paintings displayed in the Gallery as well as all over town. At one point one of the mothers of a fallen hero approached me. She did not speak of loss but rather with pride of her son's accomplishments for Nicaraguan freedom. Apathy is not a word in their dictionary. Everywhere there is pride of heritage and independence. Freedom is not given to a people - it is fiercely fought for and always will be.
I left Estelí with a deep respect and strong first impression of Nicaragua. Oddly I already feel very safe and comfortable here. People are very outgoing and genuinely interested in what you are doing. They do not hard-sell as in Mexico and Guatemala. They ask where you are from and what are you doing here. There are few gringos here so tourism is almost nonexistent. They are keen to know you.
I went to Matagalpa next. This is a town high in the
mountains in the north central part of the country.
This too was an eye opener. The town is built on the
side of a hill with the streets running up and down
similar to San Francisco only in that respect. It is
the birthplace of Carlos
Fonseco Amador, one the prominent figures of the
FSLN along with Rigoberto
Lopez Perez and the well known General
Augustus Cesar Sandino.
The town is very dry and has been under a water rationing program for as long as most middle-aged residents can remember. They only have water 3 days a week. The big draw for this area is the Selva Negra or Black Forest, a privately owned forest reserve and coffee plantation, but the town is quite lively itself especially during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Hiking on private, foreign-owned land does not ring my bell so I did not go. I think it's because I am from Canada where we have so many great national parks.
Sunday was the one night I stayed in town. My hotel
room was right across from the park and the park was
the centre for the evening's performances
of singing and traditional dancing in the Christmas
theme. The place was packed with families and friends
and parents of the children who were performing. I really
like the tradition of gathering in the park in the evening
when the heat of the day has passed. Vendors cooking
delicious meals with the smells wafting through the
air, people strolling casually through the park, music
and fireworks for entertainment. Quality of life may
be relative but moments like these are truly unsurpassable.
So now on to León, the liberal university centre of
Nicaragua. Comfort is also relative. The last room was
more like a closet with walls that did not join with
the ceiling. The bed was thin and the street noise just
nasty. I got to my hotel and instantly knew this was
a good place to be. A protected inside courtyard with
a miniature jungle, no noise and nice beds - heaven.
León is a beautiful and relaxed city 30 minutes from the Pacific ocean. Even with this proximity the days are very hot and nights are warm. The mountain range lies to the east and blocks the rains from the Caribbean coast so days are mostly sunny with few clouds.
León is also the city of churches.
There are probably more churches here than there are
restaurants in Vancouver, Canada. Some have been damaged
by recent earthquakes but are being restored and is
a testament to the people's strength and faith.
Latin Americans have had a long and fiery love affair with fireworks and León is no exception. Any occasion is reason enough to light up the sky and that is not all that gets lit up.
In the early evening on Thursday, I walked to the park where festivities were beginning. There was a band complete with trumpets and snare drums playing in front of the Cathedral on the east side of the park. A large crowd had gathered to watch. Then the church bells began tolling and the music became more frenzied. Suddenly a few feet away from me (oblivious) rockets started going off with great clouds of sulfur and sparks. Everybody started to scatter and I realized why as glowing debris fell all around me. O.K. time to take cover.
This spectacle was repeated several times; frenzied band, tolling bells and blazing fireworks. At one point a young boy with a bull shaped box covered in fireworks began dancing back and forth in front of the crowd standing by the cathedral. Every now and then spiralling fireworks would flare out from his costume in every direction, into the crowd, into the trees and into the cathedral. People were laughing and running everywhere but nobody was leaving.
Another time they laid out a 35 foot string of giant firecrackers on the ground. After a huge bang a spiralling flare would shoot off in any direction. One after another they exploded sending the still exploding string further into the crowd. The final few increased in size and sound until the last one felt like it could have levelled a small building. No casualties yet but this is just the week leading up to Christmas.
León is great and another attraction are the
nearby beaches of the Pacific ocean. I woke up early
and walked for about 45 minutes across León to
the bus for Poneloya.
Walking along the streets in the early morning is very
peaceful. The heat of the day has not arrived and people
are just starting their days, greeting their neighbours,
washing down sidewalks and opening stores.
Got to the market and caught a bus right away it seemed.
The transport system is great in Central America. It
is all independent, inexpensive and a great variety.
Bikes, boats, horses, trucks vans and buses. How they
connect them is hard to believe but they do with little
or no waiting. If you need a ride just put your hand
out - something will stop.
The bus ride is maybe a half hour. The sun rises in
blue, cloudless sky. Volcano Momotombo is a steep, ominous,
grey silhouette in the north. Dry long grass range land
with grazing Brahma cattle oddly combined with orchards
of limes and oranges. The cattle strain to reach and
eat the lower fruit.
To the west the Pacific ocean suddenly tops the horizon.
The closeness heightens my anticipation. What a magnificent
of sparsely inhabited beach that is reminiscent
of Playa Azul, Mexico ten years ago. It feels like home.
The perfect place to chill.
Poneloya is the first stop of the twin beach communities with Las Penitas 3 kilometres south. Beachfront properties line the street and are mostly vacant during the week except for a few ex-patriots and the locals. The weekend is a different story with the owners coming down from León and Managua.
Pounding surf, miles of sand dunes and the occasional
lagoon for swimming greet you. I help 2 locals push
a beached launch into the water. Very difficult work
and they are grateful. Later I walked the coast to a
volcanic outcrop where the surf is crashing and sending
plumes of salt water froth in all directions. It was
like a symphony
of waves with the huge sprays being the symbol crashes.
Claude Debussey definitely did not use this place for
his tranquil symphony 'Le Mer'.
Later I retreated to a beachside restaurant overlooking the ocean where a few local college kids are eating and relaxing in the shade of the veranda. A cold drink, something to eat followed by some wave tackling and body surfing. All in all a great day of unwinding from the hustle and bustle of León. I slept very deep and long that night.
So tomorrow I say goodbye to León but I might be back
soon. I like this place and Christmas is coming. I will
be in Nicaragua still so maybe this will be the place.
I have met some really nice people here. People young
and old just come up to you and start talking, especially
in the park in the early evening. Well I hear another
street performance starting up so I am off to see it.
Next stop Granada and the volcanic island of Ometepe
with its twin volcanoes. Get the burgers honey we are
going to a barbecue. If you are in the area drop by
and we will play a tune or two.
Oh by the way the music is great, playing a lot of
music and learning a few new songs. Some new links on
and a new page for original music that makes its debut
very soon. Thanks to all the people for the uploads
of your songs and keep
them coming we are going to have a concert performance
very soon. Follow your spirit where ever it goes.
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