Tag Archives: Nicaragua

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)

View from the bell tower of the Church of the Ascension, in Leon, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon is a beautifully restored historic town, once the capital of Nicaragua. It was so hot that I found myself persevering to stay focused on why I had come here to learn about the city. My physical and mental state reminded me of only one other place: of being at the site of ancient Troy while my guide sat, and my daughter and I stood, under a small olive tree and he told me about Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in 113 degree heat, and oh did I seem distracted!

Leon was built in 1610, after the old city was ruined by a nearby volcano. My guide Patricio and I walked the clean narrow streets, passing though a tiny new plaza honoring national poets and heroes, to the central market beautifully restored from a grand historic block of buildings. The market was well maintained, and the produce was fresh and clean.

We went to the Church of Ascension, which is still the center of daily services and activities. It is also the tallest building in the region. Patricio and I went around the block-sized grand edifice and found a side door to the basement, and there a woman was selling tickets to go to the roof of the building. We walked around the block to the opposite side of the building where a man sat by a tiny door. We gave him our tickets and he opened the door where a walled-in, narrow stone staircase went up in front of us, going three levels to the bell tower.

There we were, alone on the bell tower, and able to look out on Leon below us. An attendant soon appeared and told us the history of the Basilica. It took 113 years to complete it. In the 1700s, a French pirate burned it for the gold. The local people built 7 tunnels to connect underground to the other churches in the plaza, since there were 16 Roman Catholic churches in Leon.

View from the roof of the Church of the Ascension, in Leon, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

View from the roof of the Church of the Ascension, in Leon, Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The attendant asked us if we would like to go out onto the roof, and we agreed and removed our shoes as requested. The roof was whitewashed to a pristine white. There were 36 medium-sized domes on the roof, and we had to carefully walk around them to focus on the spectacular view of Leon and 11 volcanoes in the distance. It was a beautiful clear sky and we had visibility for many miles.

We left the basilica and walked across the central plaza to a shell of a large granite building, surely grand at one time, but now in disrepair. There were no signs for public entry but Patricio, my faithful guide across Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, said we could go inside. It was the Museum of The Revolution. This turned out to be quite an experience! A few men were sitting on a bench placed on the bare ground of what would have been beautiful inner gardens. As we walked up the wide interior granite steps, a man sat at a small table facing us. Patricio asked if we could look around.

The man had no tickets and no change, but he still charged us a fee. We stood by the desk and in a few minutes, a man took us to a large empty room with 10 – 12 framed newspaper photos, which were not matted or labeled, but just leaning against the walls of the room. The man began by pointing out one newspaper photo from the 1920s of Augusto Sandino, a great hero of the people of Central America. He had worked for the United Fruit Company and traveled to several countries including Mexico. There he met the revolutionaries, Chi Guevara, and the Castro brothers from Cuba. Sandino was in power 20 years and assassinated by General Somoza (supported by the US) later killed by Ernesto Lopez. General Somoza’s son became President and fighting continued until 1979—the last revolution. The US was involved in this revolution, with William Samson being the US and Marines’ involvement.

Learning about the Revolution in Nicaragua from a former guerrilla fighter. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Our man took us to another room with very high ceilings—at one time this was a grand place, but not even wallpaper or paint or a stick of furniture remains. Again, leaning against the walls were a few framed newspaper photos. As the man was talking about one of the photos, the man from the rickety table came in and told the man he had spent enough time with us—now it was time to go. The man ignored him and continued to tell Patricio and me about the revolutionary history of Nicaragua. The last photo he showed us was of him and four other men, including Daniel Ortega.

They were the Sandinista guerrilla fighters of the revolution, and I was now talking with one of them. The photo was from the 1970s, when they were all young men; he was 19. Now he is in his 50’s and Ortega is President of Nicaragua. Leon was the first place to start the revolution, and it is still a place where liberals and poets gather today. The former Sandinista guerrilla fighter shook my hand, and Patricio took a photo of us together. It was a different museum experience—one that I will remember.

In the plaza, I passed a large bell that is rung only on Independence Day in September of each year. It was mid-day and over 100 degrees. I stopped at El Cabararo, then San Francisco Church (the oldest church in Leon), and then back to the former nunnery, to my air-conditioned room for a short reprieve before exploring further. Early mornings and evenings are best for outside adventures in this heat!

(posted October 31, 2017)