In this photo reportage, the author explores part of Nicaragüa’s beauty.
For more on Nicaragüan politics follow this link: Quo Vadis, America?
By David J. Franco, 27 Jan, 2012
Few places have captivated me more than Nicaragüa, the largest country in Central America, famous for its Sandinista revolution, its colonial cities Granada and León, Rubén Darío’s poetry, and the twin volcanos, Maderas and Concepción, located in that tiny island called Isla de Ometepe, in the middle of the Lake Nicaragüa. True, not all in Nicaragüa is as mystic as I’ve just portrayed. Life and drama coexist in this Central American country: politics is a corrupt matter and poverty, drugs, and crime continue to force many Nicaraguans to cross the Southern border in search for a better life in Costa Rica. Two unfortunate recent events have brought Nicaragüa back to the international stage: its 2010 military incursion into the Río San Juan, and José Ortega’s victory in the 2011 presidential elections amidst claims of fraud.
Good thing though about sharing personal experiences is that one can choose which side of the story is worth telling, and which side of the story is better left untold. In this case, I will not share with you photographs of piles of litter in the roadsides, or photographs of that place where a young lady got kidnapped one night, or photographs of the chaos reigning in border posts. Instead, I will limit this series to show you some of the beauty of Nicaragüa. Because, unfortunately, it is her beauty that is often left untold.
I want to start this series of photographs by showing you the interior of one of the many old decommissioned yellow US school buses that populate Nicaragüan geography. These are usually packed and not very comfortable for long distance trips (they were initially meant for US kids with short legs, not for adults carrying luggage). There is however something unique about crossing the country in these buses: their decoration is colourful, and at every stop women take the opportunity to get on the bus to try and sell all sorts of produces: from water contained in small plastic bags, to fried plantains.
2. Granada, Iglesia de la Merced
Granada is beautiful, it is silent, it is lonely. It is like many of Spain’s old cities but without the buzz. From the top of this bell tower, I could see Nicaragüa’s lake. Still, quiet, paused. It felt good, it felt as if time had been put on hold.
3. Daily life in Granada
No traffic lights, no street names. Only coloured houses with the typical Spanish tyled-roof. When you ask for directions, don’t be surprised if you get the following answer: ‘walk a hundred meters down the road, then turn right, walk fifty meters and you will see the post-office. It’s ten meters after the post-office’. Skinny, hungry horses pulling old carts are a common sight.
4. Social Centre Tío Antonio
Located in the old colonial city of Granada, this social centre was founded in 2007 by Antonio Prieto, known locally as Tío Antonio. When I got there with a Costa Rican friend I was caught by the slogan of a sign governing the place: ‘Take a rest by helping others’. Though the most touristic city in Nicaragua, Granada has a large population living unde poverty line. In this photograph, impaired boys and girls knit hammocks that will later be sold to finance shelter, education, and other social programmes.
5. León, Museo de la Revolución
The city of León is fascinating. Compaired to Granada, it is much more chaotic and noisy. It is also more decadent and the home of the Sandinista revolution. In this photograph, two former guerrilla fighters pose at the Museum of the Revolution holding the flag of the Frente Sandinista, leaders of the 1979 revolution that ended more than four decades of ruling by the Somoza family. Upon entering the Museum I saw a big cardboard sign reading ‘No Weapons Allowed’. The gentlemen in the photograph treated me very well and even took me to the roof of the building from which we could see the Cathedral of León.
6. León, Casa Museo de Rubén Darío
Rubén Darío is one of the greatest Latin American poets of the nineteenth century, known for initiating the literary movement of modernism. Like the magnificient Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Darío combined his literary work and passion with a diplomatic career that took him to several posts outside his Nicaragüan borders. Poets are said to be solitary souls. If Darío was as solitary as the house where he died in 1916, surely poetry must have been his ultimate refuge.
7. San Juan del Sur
Very close to Costa Rica’s border of Peñas Blancas is San Juan del Sur, a town of fishermen that every year sees the arrival of hundreds of backpackers in search of sun, sea, and surf. Locals are very nice and usually very discreet, they mind their business yet are very friendly. After all, tourism is one of their main sources of income.
8. Beaches near San Juan del Sur
I stayed a few days in San Juan del Sur but instead of practising surf I spent every morning fishing when the tyde is low: I only caught two catfish and one of them sank its spine well into my finger. While not very tasty, catfish is good for making soup. The photograph above shows a beautiful, wild beach near San Juan del Sur where some friends and I spent the day surfing and fishing. It is also, with Playa Maderas, the scenery chosen by different TV programs to shoot reality shows.
9. Isla de Ometepe
I never thought there could be something like a twin volcano island in the middle of a lake. Until I saw Isla Ometepe, home to the twin volcanoes Concepción (1610 metres) and Maderas (1394 metres), right in the middle of Lake Nicaragüa.
10. Finca Magdalena
When arriving at Isla Ometepe, I suggest you take a local bus to Finca Magdalena, a 350-hectare organic farm and agricultural cooperative stretching along the foothills of Volcán Maderas. The place is fantastic and well kept. Wake up at dawn and hike up the volcano, When you get to the top after some three to four hours, enjoy the view as the crater is inundated with rain water. You can even take a swim, if you dare… Unfortunately for hiking lovers, Volcán Concepción (above) is currently active.
Little else needs be said, The above are only snapshots of some of Nicaragüa’s Eastern spots. Many more places are left unexplored by this series of photographs. As the kids in the opening photograph show us, Nicaragüa can also be all smiles.