Tag Archives: Central America 2017

A "tree" in memory of Hugo Chavez, in Managua, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Managua, Nicaragua

The time came to leave Granada, with the old Central Plaza, and my hotel with lovely tropical trees and flowering gardens. On the outskirts of Granada I could see Mombacho, a volcano that had erupted in Granada 2,000 years ago, creating this area and the largest lake in Central America.

Patricio had hired a local guide for the day. Henri (Tiki) had a deep, rough voice, and he directed us to a high hill outside Mayasa. It had been an old fortress, but during the revolution of 1979 it became a political prison and place of torture. Tiki took a flashlight and we went inside down into the center of this hill. The prison was all underground.

We went down a ramp and stairs, several stories in the dark, and encountered several bats. There was solitary confinement, torture chambers, and cells where as many as 200 men were confined in a single cell. When the dictator was gone, they released the prisoners and burned the area to cover up evidence. Nevertheless, to this day blood remains on the walls, and the deepest level is still too unhealthy to go there. It was an education to see some of these places. I was glad to leave; outside, I could see Mayasa, the active volcano, with a red river of lava belching smoke and fumes.

My guide mentioned the gas prices when we stopped for gas at $3.70 a gallon. It is now being piped from Mexico.

Giant "trees" lining the roadway in memory of Hugo Chavez, in Managua, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Giant “trees” lining the roadway in memory of Hugo Chavez, in Managua, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The Nicaraguan government was very friendly with Hugo Chavez; when he died, President Daniel Ortega’s wife, an artist and appointed Vice President of Nicaragua, dedicated a memorial in his honor. In bright colors are lines of modernistic sculptured trees, huge and lit up at night, in blue, green, red, yellow and purple. As we entered the capital, we saw the trees that lined the median along the central boulevard.

We went up to Tiscapa, a major viewpoint overlooking Managua, at one time the residence for the President of Nicaragua. Here in 1927, General Sandino met with the President, and as he departed the steep hill, the general was assassinated by the National Military. They never found his body. A large black shadow monument of Sandino is on the hill. He is a national hero, and there are monuments everywhere in his memory. The national airport is named after him.

Monument to General Sandino on Tiscapa, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Monument to General Sandino on Tiscapa, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

In 1972, a huge earthquake destroyed the President’s mansion and the entire old city. Ten thousand people died and 100,000 were homeless.

F.D. Roosevelt Avenue is seen from this hill. We went to the Monument of the Sandinistas and the ruins of the cathedral. A modernistic edifice has been built on the new side of Managua. We passed the new baseball stadium; Dennis Martinez, a former pitcher for the Montreal Expos, came from here. We dropped off Tiki at a public bus stop and he went back to Granada. Patricio and I followed several walking paths, took time to go to a book store, and found several books by a Nicaraguan author.

Patricio met me the next morning to take me to the Sandino International Airport and say our farewell. Managua was my last stop in visiting Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. I was treated well by the locals and learned a lot from my guides. Travel is a great education and lifetime experience. There are highs and lows on an adventure—that is part of the experience. Central America is an amazing area of the world to visit, and I am happy to have come here.

(posted January 31, 2018)

A monkey in Granada, Nicaragua.

Central America 2017: Granada

I met Patricio, my guide, early the next day after his police encounter the afternoon before. Patricio was resigned to the way things are here in Nicaragua, and neither of us discussed it. We spent the morning walking around the old historic city and central plaza. Next, we met our city guide in a horse drawn carriage and continued to see other historic sites. Then she met up with her teenage son, who replaced her, and he took us several miles out along a boulevard running along the shoreline of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. I soon learned it is the only lake in the world with sharks. That is easy to understand, as the continents we know came from a narrow strip of land mass, and millions of years ago there was an open ocean, teeming with sharks, when volcanoes began creating a connection between North and South America.

We saw a small boat with a captain waiting for us on a small dock, and off we went in his long, narrow motor boat. After the hot, humid weather in Leon and Granada, being on the water was refreshing. We passed small tropical islands, most privately owned, with luxury homes. Our captain pointed out one owned by the ex-president of Honduras (a woman), then another island where the largest coffee grower in Nicaragua lived. Around these islands, a few men were diving for fish. We went to another nearby island that was home to spider and cappuccino monkeys. They were used to people feeding them, and they would swing far out on low branches, waiting for treats which they took from your hand. Another island had many moetazuma oropendula, yellow tailed tropical birds. They build sock-like nests in ceiba trees. This tree has a fruit like a date, and it is used in a drink to aid the stomach.

We walked back to town, which was about five miles. It was like walking in a desert, and we were delighted to find a place in town selling cokes. Some places in Nicaragua are very warm.

I found a tiny store with a couple of hand painted postcards. I bought them, and next I set out to find a post office. Several cobble streets closer to the central plaza was the tiniest post office, with one woman sitting down, and no customers. She got up and went behind the counter, and I wrote and mailed off the postcards. Postcard writing is a tradition that is almost extinct, and I was glad to help keep it alive a little longer.

The famous "tall woman" and "small man" of Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The famous “small man” and “tall woman” of Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

I was ready for a break and headed off to my air conditioned room for an hour’s rest. When I emerged, Patricio was ready to take me on another walk around Granada. We went to a cocoa museum, a hammock factory, and several churches, to study their interiors and history. That evening in particular was a fun time, as we chose an outside café for dinner, in a busy area lined with restaurants and entertainment. The musicians came to the people: there was a trumpet trio, a hip-hop group of four or five young performers, a Mariachi band, and finally, to Patricio’s delight, he was able to show me La Gigantnay and El Enano – the tall woman and small man. They are famous characters of Nicaragua, and the lady walks on stilts.

Later that evening, we stopped at the Central Plaza where a large crowd was listening to poets, and winners of the International Writers Conference were reading poetry and some music lyrics. It was a safe, well-mannered crowd.

Street music performers in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Street music performers in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Granada was an active, busy place for visitors, whether native or international. The resorts and hotels offered a great place to rest and relax in my free time. The cities were good places to stop and sightsee when not hiking in the mountains, which were much cooler. Diversity was good and a great educational opportunity. What a blessing it is to travel and explore new places!

(posted January 16, 2018)

Monotombo, the smoking volcano, with the volcanic lake Oxolotam in the foreground. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Monotombo, The Smoking Volcano

The hills and mountains of Nicaragua are beautiful and cool. Leon, where I was staying, is a lovely place, but too hot. Even Patricio, my guide and a native year-round resident of Honduras, found Leon too warm for him. We went to the ruins of the old colonial capital of Nicaragua, Leon, but there was little to see. A very small museum of early people from the Aztec were found here and a few artifacts from the Spanish conquistadors.

The Royal Road, remains of the government house, and the flat ground under the fort had been on a small knoll. The grand city collapsed because of the revolt of the indigenous people. They endured abuse; some were handcuffed and dragged down the Royal Road to keep all the others in line. Then 21 priests who complained to the leader Cordoba about the terrible treatment were killed while sleeping in their beds. Soon after, the volcano erupted and sent the people fleeing. We walked around the old site and up on to the knoll of the old fort. There was a great view of Monotombo, the smoking volcano, and the volcanic lake Oxolotam.

Thatched huts in Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Thatched huts in Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Patricio and I stopped for lunch at a local roadside café for fritos questo, made with homemade tortillas and filled fresh chopped tomatoes, onions, and mozzarella cheese. The café had a thatched roof. Many of the homes in this area have thatched huts, where the owners can sit under the shade. Thatch is sold at places along the highway.

We drove to Masaya National Park to see the active volcano Masaya. You can smell the sulfur fumes from quite a distance and see the smoke rising for miles away. As we approached, I could hear the raging river of red hot lava before I saw it. Far below, inside the large cauldron, was the bubbling river of lava. It is amazing to see the power and force of nature at work. When the wind changed direction and the fumes blew towards us, it stung our eyes and hurts our noses—not  a safe place to stay for very long. The warmth around the vast volcano is a snake’s paradise. There are road signs that say, “Watch out for snakes.”

We were on our way to Granada, Nicaragua, when Patricio was stopped by the police, our worst fear. One police officer came to the car. Patricio had everything in order: his driver’s license, registration, ID card, travel documents, insurance card. We both had our seat belts fastened and he was going below the speed limit. The police officer got in the car to see what we were carrying—only my bag and Patricio’s duffle bag. He could find nothing wrong and Patricio was quiet, polite, and patient. I just sat and watched.

The other police officer came up to the car and told Patricio to get out of the vehicle. They walked a few yards behind the car and stood under a tree by the road. They were there a long time talking. Finally Patricio came back and got in the car and was very mad.

He said, “I hope they get diarrhea!” I tried not to laugh, as I know he had all he could do to control himself. He had had to give them money. We know why he was stopped. He had a Honduras license plate, it was a nice new van, and it had all the marks of being a tourism vehicle. That meant easy money for bad police.

Patricio, a nice man, who was usually very polite and mild mannered, was not the same for the rest of the day. He had been so meticulous about doing a good job, never passing, never speeding, and following the laws. That was why he was so mad.  It was very near Granada and the end of another day. I hoped Patricio would calm down.

That night, after settling in to my room, I met him at a café in the main plaza and we had a native dinner. Patricio had his favorite vigorom, cooked papaya leaves on the bottom then layers of chopped cabbage, tomatoes, onions, fried pork skins, yucca, and squeezed lime juice. I had fresh vegetables and a stew with chicken and rice. Thankfully, our next day was a hiking day and Patricio didn’t have to drive.

(posted November 14, 2017)