Thursday, May 19, 2016

Nicaragua, On and Off The Dock: March 1 – May 19, 2016

For the two/+ months since our last post Abracadabra has been tied to the (sturdy, clean, well-protected) dock at Marina Puesta del Sol near Playa Aserradores, Nicaragua (near Chinandega, Nicaragua for anyone looking for a geographic reference . . . ). The crew, on the other hand, has been out-n-about, out-n-about and out-n-about again. Here is a time-line of our comings and goings:
  • 03/01-24:               Boating life at Puesta del Sol
  • 03/17-20:               Long weekend in León, Nicaragua
  • 03/24 - 04/07:        Family time in California (via Managua, Nicaragua)
  • 04/07-10:               Touching base with Abracadabra
  • 04/10 -- 05/04:       Costa Rica with family and on our own
  • 05/04-06:               Short stop in León
  • 05/06 to date:         Boating life at Puesta del Sol
Fear not – we won’t attempt to detail all of this in one post. We will stick to our time in Nicaragua.

On The Dock at Puesta del Sol

Approaching At Dawn

Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua’s only marina, is relatively small (28 slips and some side-ties) and, except during an annual sport-fishing tournament (in August this year) only about half of the slips are occupied. The sailboats here have either been left for seasonal storage or are in transit; it’s a great location for either.

[Sailor Note: The first two nights at the dock are very expensive because the marina builds in a cost for arranging national and international check-in/out services. Once we experienced the complexity of Nicaragua’s bureaucracy we concluded that this charge is imminently reasonable. Checking into or out of the country requires meeting with representatives of five different government agencies.  The marina arranges a one-stop shop in their office with all of these officials, so our check-in took about half an hour. Without this courtesy arrangement we would have spent an unknown amount in taxi fares and time to accomplish all of these meetings. We can only hope next week’s check-out will be as easy as our entry!]

Because this is primarily a storage and/or short-stop marina there have been days when we were the only live-aboard at the dock. The marina owners, a charming Nicaraguan-American/Mexican couple, Robert and Maria-Laura, live on their trawler, Cariña, but they travel to the States frequently. We have also had company – at various times: five young (and handsome – Molly’s input) Frenchmen on a mission to distribute drinking water filters in third-world countries; an American/French couple and their delightful trilingual three-year-old daughter; Canadians in transit to Mexico; Americans in transit to Panama; and an Austrian family of eight (or maybe only seven -- a couple of the youngest are very energetic so it is hard to tell . . . ). This is a place to meet other sailors, hear their stories and wish them luck. Sailors who enjoy the longer-term social life of, say, Bahía del Sol, El Salvador or La Paz, Mexico may be lonely at times.

In addition to interviewing those who have shared “our” dock we have enjoyed evenings swimming laps in the marina hotel’s pool and morning walks along the beach. Some mornings we make our walk a (tiny) public service project by picking up abandoned plastic water bottles and putting them in the trash bins at the marina.

Walking The Beach

A Fellow Traveler

We have also enjoyed watching and hearing the local, highly vocal bird population. Though we can't say we have maintained good relationships with all our avian neighbors. When we returned from Costa Rica we realized we had failed to swallow-proof the jib-furler drum, and that a nest was being constructed there. Molly decided to clean out the furler drum because it would be cruel to let the swallows complete a nest that we would have to destroy on our departure. Sadly, during the cleaning process Molly pulled out a perfect little completed nest with four perfect little eggs – raining destruction on a swallow family. Bryce’s offered consolation: swallows here are far, far from an endangered species. But it was still heartbreaking to watch the tiny swallow parents sit on Abracadabra's rail and scan right and left / left and right -- trying to figure out where their nest had gone.


While not busy cruelly interrupting the life cycle of swallows, we have undertaken boat-related chores (a few pump repairs and filing our taxes) and, on a more enjoyable note, made weekly shopping forays into Chinandega, the nearest large town. Our first shopping trip was by public bus, which for 25 Cordoba (less than $1) offered an inexpensive and culturally informative commute option. 

Bus Stop

But the public bus is scheduled for busy shoppers and commuters and the last bus to town departs at 06:45. Ugh. We are lazy-ass-retiree-sailors and just can’t enjoy getting up that early. Plus the bus stop is a goodly distance from the boat for those hauling groceries. So on our first trip to town we introduced ourselves to a taxista named Roger Garcia (Spanish pron: Roehehr) who has become Our Man In Chinandega. We have relied on Roger and his little rattle-trap taxi for transportation, local information and informal cultural exchange ever since ($40 round-trip, including wait time and occasionally looking for the right store – priceless). As an added bonus, Roger’s youngest son, Dionisio (English: Dennis) has accompanied us on some post-school trips. At eleven, his career goal is to be a taxista like his father and he has the charming personality to succeed in that career.  

Although a district capital and Nicaragua’s 5th largest city Chinandega is a working town and doesn’t offer a lot of tourist activities. But Roger made sure we saw the parroquia (parish church)

Keep Your Feet Off The Seats!

and the power plant where sugar cane chaff is turned into electricity.

Electricity From Sugar Cane Trash

Sugar Cane – It’s Not Just For Generating Electricity! 

Before the sugar cane remains are used to power the Chinandega electrical plant, the cane is used to create Flor de Caña, Nicaragua’s national rum. We took a tour of the Flor de Caña distillery with some sailing compadres because, well, it’s the thing to do here. And it was fun, even if expensive ($18 per tourist).

Wine Casks To Age and Flavor Rum
Mmmmm - Slow Aged Rum

It reminded us of tours we have taken of some of the many corporate wineries in the Napa Valley; better tour than wine. And this tour did include a taste of Flor de Caña’s 18-year-old Centenario which was pretty great. If you are a rum fan you should give Flor de Caña a try. Or, if you want to see how to put together a nice distillery website – take a look at theirs.

The other bonus of the tour was that it made us feel a little bit better about the rain of cane ash that periodically showers down on the marina and poor Cinder-Abracadabra. We may be suffering and scrubbing, but the end result is good rum.

León / León Viejo

Nicaragua’s second largest city, León, proudly self-identifies as the birthplace of the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship. It’s a great place to begin learning about present-day Nicaragua’s story of that conflict. There are street-side murals of students being murdered by the Guardia Nacional.

Yesterday's Heroes / Today's Bicycle Stand

There are remains of churches bombed during the war.

León Suffered Heavy
Bombardment in 1979

And in the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones (Museum of Legends and Traditions) there are mosaics and wall art depicting the brutality of the Guardia Nacional.


Wall Art

The museum also has a less moving papier-mâché sculpture of a FSLN fighter.

FSLN - In Pink?

This quirky museum is worth a visit because – well, it’s just plain odd. It is located in a building used by the Guardia Nacional as a prison, and contains murals and pictures of the tortures undergone by the prisoners there. But among these representations of the suffering that created modern Nicaragua – are giant papier-mâché figures depicting old legends of witches and broken-hearted lovers which were crafted by the founder of the museum, a Señora Toruna.

Street Art In Papier-Mâché

One of these works of art looked so much like a rather pinkish Will Smith that, well – we just had to laugh. Who knew papier-mâché could be so representative?

The Fresh Prince of León?

Our primary take-away was the question of how such an odd combination had come about . . .

León’s cathedral is a “must see”. It houses the tomb of Nicaragua’s favorite poet Rubén Darío (who literally waxed poetic about Nicaragua and is honored everywhere in the country) and one of Latin-America’s famous “black Jesus” statues. This dark-skinned representation of Jesus is reportedly the oldest image of Christ in the Americas. Local tour guides may also tell you it bears scars made by the sword of an English pirate, who hacked at it to determine if it was truly made of dark wood – or was just painted to hide gold . . .

The Black Jesus

But the real reason to visit the Cathedral is to climb to the roof (once you find the ticket office around the back of the church, buy a ticket and wait your turn). Above León is a spectacular Moorish fairy tale that visitors to Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo, Mexico will instantly identify.

Holding Up The Cathedral

Bryce Among the Hadas (Fairies)
Cathedral Roof

Visitors can also tour the crypts below the Cathedral on certain days . . . depending on the schedule of the man that gives the tours which we never managed to figure out. If you get there on the right day and take the tour, send us a picture!

Our big day tour from León was to the archaeological ruins at León Viejo, the location of an early capital city founded by the Spanish in 1524. The site is interesting, primarily because it was lost for almost 300 years after being covered by ashes from an eruption of the Momotombo volcano in 1610. The ruins were forgotten, and not relocated until 1967; the site has recently been made a UNESCO World Heritage site. Probably because someone at the U.N. likes to say Momotombo as much as we do.

Tour Side Note: We find local guides often like to describe gruesome or eerie events at an historical site – it sells better than pure history, apparently. But at León Viejo even the official government signs for the area recount the cruelties that were inflicted on the indigenous people by the Spaniards (beheadings, dragging through the street by horses – etc.). It seems that the Spaniards that settled this area were particularly cruel even by 16th century standards.

León Viejo

Archaeology = Hard Work

Bryce, Molly and Momotombo

Some other suggestions/thoughts for those interested in visiting León:
  • Look up! Cultural events are often advertised on banners strung across the streets in the old part of town. We looked up just in time to make it to a free outdoor performance by the Camille Thurman Quartet (from New York) in León as part of the 9th Annual International Jazz Festival of Nicaragua.
  • If you are interested in Latin-American art, visit the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián, an art museum operated by a Nicaraguan foundation focused on both cultural and health issues. Our visit coincided with the foundation-sponsored biennial art show. FYI, don’t be disappointed with the small display when you first enter the museum – there’s much more in the house across the street.
  • Don’t miss a dinner at El Bodegón. You’re sure to enjoy your Spanish-themed meal and even if the charming Cuban-Nicaraguan owner up-sells you . . . your only regret will be that you ate too much.
  • Don’t choose a dentist for a teeth cleaning based on tourist literature . . . Clinica Dental Milagros . . . just saying.
  • The Hotel La Perla is lovely – small rooms, minuscule pool, but lovely courtyards. And they often have good rates on

One Of The Many Lions of León -
At Hotel La Perla

So, those are our thoughts about León – and we’ve spent way too much time and space to be able to talk about Granada or Managua here. That will have to be our next blog post, we suppose.

Thanks for joining us!.


  1. Thanks for the tour of Nicaragua! It looks fascinating, and I enjoyed your photos and perspectives. Sorry about those swallows.

    1. My second thought on tipping the nest into the water was "How will I ever explain this to Wendy?!" You are one of our voices of environmental conscience. Thank you for that. [First thought: "Oh I am so sorry!"]

    2. My second thought on tipping the nest into the water was "How will I ever explain this to Wendy?!" You are one of our voices of environmental conscience. Thank you for that. [First thought: "Oh I am so sorry!"]