Sunday, May 22, 2016

Nicaragua, Part 2: March 1 – May 19, 2016

And now . . . more about out-n-about in Nicaragua:

Managua (March 24 & 25)

Any international flight from Nicaragua requires a trip to Managua so when we scheduled a trip to Los Angeles, CA we decided we might as well stop for a couple of days in Managua and see what there is to see.

Background: We traveled to Los Angeles to provide post-operative assistance to Molly’s brother Robert following his hip replacement. Happily for all concerned he needed very little assistance and we spent most of our ten day visit walking Bravo the family poodle; seeing friends; ordering in a delicious variety of Asian foods; and picking up some internet shopping (new bathing suit, a shower pump rebuild kit – the usual). [Related Though Unsolicited Medical Advice: If you need a hip replacement ask your surgeon if she uses the anterior approach. Robert’s first week of recovery from anterior approach surgery seemed much easier than Bryce’s first week following his posterior approach replacement.]

Back to our visit to Managua.

Sandino's Shadow

On our first evening we hired a taxi through our hotel to take us to El Malecón (The Waterfront). On our ride we were introduced to Managua’s latest controversial attraction: Los Arboles de Vida (Trees of Life).

Los Arboles de Vida along El Malecón

Each of these 134 metal behemoths  (13 meters high) are lit with as many as 17,000 LED bulbs and, according to a story in La Prensa, each cost about $25,000. And that’s before the lights were turned on. We grew to like them and thought they brought some much needed sparkle to the city’s night-scape (it’s a pretty drab and abandoned looking city on the whole), but we’re not sure that Managua’s current, most pressing need is whimsical public art. Nicaragua is by most measures the poorest country in Central America.

The trees aren’t the only big, lavishly lit sculpture in Managua. To honor the support the socialist government of Nicaragua has received from Venezuela (at least until the latest oil crash) a central roundabout is graced by a giant, lighted metal sculpture of . . . Hugo Chavez.

Hugo By Daylight

“Bread and Circuses.” Jovenal, Roman satirist, circ. 100 AD.

Back to El Malecón: This area along the shore of Lago Xolotlán (which most residents still call Lago de Managua) was crowded with restaurants, bars, trinket and food stalls and strolling families. The restaurant we chose was underwhelming and overpriced; Molly’s mojito was apparently made in a Slurpee machine. But it was a good place to watch kids playing in a neighboring open plaza.

We’ve made it our practice when visiting one of the big, hot, confusing, dirty and purportedly dangerous capital cities of Central America to stay in a U.S. style hotel – a little oasis of air-conditioned calm at the end of a day navigating a big, hot, confusing, dirty and purportedly dangerous city. On our first trip through Managua we stayed at The Crowne Plaza, a magnificent example of 70's architecture with reasonably priced rooms. 

The Crowne Plaza, Managua

Because it was Semana Santa (Holy Week) when a large portion of the population of any Latin-American city decamps for the beach, we expected the hotel would be quiet. Well, apparently not everyone gets the whole week off and many of those who lose the office vacation lottery compensate by “staycationing” -- purchasing a hotel day package which allows a family to hang by the pool and enjoy the lunch buffet. The Crowne Plaza restaurant and pool were jammed with bathing-suited parents, grandparents and wet and wriggly children. So much for the relaxing-by-the-pool portion of our hotel experience!

We fled to the steaming outdoors and walked to the nearby Parque Historico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa. The road to the park passes a large army installation (making the hotel the safest one in Nicaragua, joked the doorman . . . ) and the Roosevelt Monument. This monument was originally constructed in 1933 when the otherwise isolationist U.S. government was busy running Nicaragua’s military training program; today it is a memorial to those killed in the revolution that overthrew the 40-year long Somoza dictatorship. Governments change, monuments are re-purposed.

Today, It's All About The Revolution

The park is the site of the landmark statue honoring Augusto Sandino, a rebel leader whose name is invoked by the currently ruling Frente Sandanista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). Sandino was murdered by Somoza supporters on his way home from a peace treaty celebration in 1933 (the old "get them to come to a peace accord meeting" trick). This minimalist, but moving statue of Sandino's silhouette can be seen from most places in Managua and it was impressive to see up close.

Sandino - Up Close

The park is also the site of what was once one of Nicaragua’s most notorious prisons – which was not open for visitors; a crater lake that was much in need of some rain; a children’s playground that could use some care . . . . ;

Eeew - Don't Look Kiddies

and the rusting remains of a gift to the original Samoza dictator from a like-minded man of the people: Benito Mussolini.

Why, Thanks, Bro!

Between our late checkout and leaving for the airport for our 00:30 flight (yes, that’s 12:30 a.m.) we hired a driver for a tour of the city’s monuments area. This might be a good time to explain why we decided to hire a driver in Managua:

Navigating Managua is confusing and not just because it’s busy and there are very few street signs (common sources of confusion for North-American drivers in Central America). In Managua and much of Nicaragua there are no addresses -- at least not in the sense that term is used in North America. Nicaraguan addresses are often just directions given from a point of reference – which isn’t terribly helpful for those who don’t know the point of reference! For example the address listed on the website of La Terraza Peruana restaurant (The Peruvian Terrace) is:

          Pasteleria Sampson 100vrs al Norte 14 Ave. SO 

which we think means something like:

          . . . from the Sampson Pastry Shop go 100 “varas” (a vara turns out to be
          an obscure Spanish measurement of about .84 meters) north towards 14th
          Avenue Southwest . . .

Or maybe you get to 14th and then go southwest?  Since we didn’t even know where the Pasteleria Sampson was, we decided to hire a cab . . . which got us to the restaurant where we had a very nice meal.

Back to our Tour: We went to the monuments area where the majority of the Big Public Buildings of Managua are located. One particularly moving Big Public Building was the ruin of the city’s cathedral, left a shell since the devastating earthquake that flattened most of the City's major buildings in 1972. 

Gutted Cathedral

December 23, 1972, 12:29 a.m.
(Potent Symbol - Just 5 Minutes Off . . . )

Another interesting building is the Centro Cultural Managua (which was closed during our visit). It’s interesting in large part because of the huge banners hanging outside signed “Daniel, '07” –  Daniel Ortega, the President of Nicaragua

[Some Highly Condensed Context: In 1984, shortly after the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship, Daniel Ortega, head of the democratic socialist FSLN was elected president of Nicaragua in an election that was boycotted by many of the other political parties in Nicaragua. In 1990, in what international observers called the country's first free elections in over 50 years, he was voted out of power. He was re-elected in 2006 with 38% of the vote and was inaugurated in 2007. In 2009 the Supreme Court of Justice of Nicaragua issued a decision which had the effect of permitting Ortega to run for a third term as president. He was elected again in 2011. Another general election is scheduled for this November.]

Sandino: We Are Fulfilled!
Daniel, '07

The Central Cultural Managua

We wandered through several other plazas, watching national tourists take pictures of statues honoring Sandino, the poet Rubén Darío and other heroes and martyrs and poets. Then we were driven to the city's current bunker-like and presumably earthquake-resistant cathedral where preparations for Pasqua (Easter) were in full swing.

Trust In God . . . 
. . . But Prepare For An Earthquake

A Saint Waiting A Pasqua Unveiling

And thus ended our short tour of Managua.

Our stay following our return from Los Angeles in April was equally short but less touristic; we spent most of our time picking up a rental car and getting out of town. See above re: the mysteries of driving in Nicaragua.

In sum: We won’t rush back to Managua, but there are things to see/do if you find yourself there. But really, we mean it: it's worth it to hire a cab.

In Between

After we got our tiny rental car out of Managua we drove back to Puesta del Sol to confirm that Abracadabra had been okay in our absence. After a few days of boat cleaning we drove back to Managua to take an international bus to Costa Rica. There we met Bryce's sister Brenda and her daughter Susan for a two week vacation (blog posts to come). We also spent about a week touring on our own, doing some land-based marina and anchorage recon. Three weeks after arriving in Costa Rica we bused back to Nicaragua and stopped to visit  . . .

 Granada (April 30 – May 4)

Granada is home to many Spanish schools, restaurants, bars and expatriated Americans and Canadians seeking a comfortable, low-cost lifestyle. One can hardly blame them – Granada seems like a nice place to live. 

But it is Nicaragua – which means that not everything will be fully operational at all times . . .

We visited the Convento y Museo San Francisco to see, among other things, the black-basalt ritual statues moved from Isla Zapatera in Lago Cocibolca (also known as Lago Nicaragua). We found a mostly empty museum under restoration that still held a few pots and one of the Zapatera statues. The statue we saw was impressive . . . so perhaps we’ll return someday to see the rest.

Bryce and Humanoid/Alligator Statute
Circa 800 - 1350 C.E. 
One of The Few Remaining Rooms of Artifacts

Not Clear Why This Saint's Oxen Got
Replaced By Pigs . . . ?

Renovation is Needed

When we asked our hotel desk how to get to the Fortaleza La Polvora, a former Spanish fort at the edge of town we were told it was closed.

We went to the Fundación Casa de los Tres Mundos, reportedly the site of cultural events in Granada. No performances were scheduled. There was a small photography exhibit in the courtyard and we got to see some of the architectural details of the building (built 1720).

Spanish Heritage Writ Large
Not From Home Depot . . . 

And inside the doorway were a couple of wonderfully strange murals – one depicting the capture of Granada by Tennessean William Walker (see Stars and Bars lower left):

In Nicaragua It Wasn't About State's Rights

A Highly Condensed Bizarre Historical Aside: William Walker started his international political career by invading Mexico and proclaiming himself president of the Republic of Lower California for a short period in 1856 before getting chased back across the border. This expedition brought him to the attention of the Democratic Party in León, Nicaragua which was locked in a dispute with the Legitimist Party headquartered in Granada. The Democratic Party hired Walker to raise an army and attack Granada. Walker took the job, took Granada and then refused to turn the defeated city over to the control of his employers. He eventually set himself up as President of Nicaragua and brought all kinds of 19th Century American cultural advancements to Nicaragua – like legalizing slavery (see above Stars and Bars). Much political back and forth later (including an unwise attempt to double-deal Cornelius Vanderbilt) Walker felt it was time to travel on. On his way out the door he burned Granada to the ground and left a famous note behind: “Aqui fue Granada” (Here was Granada). He made a clean getaway but then pressed his luck and returned to Central America where he was executed by firing squad in Honduras in 1860. He was 36 years old. Walker is remembered in Granada.

Feeling somewhat let down by the tourist infrastructure of Granada, we turned our energies to just hanging out. We enjoyed fruit drinks in the central plaza and coffee at several of the coffee shops in town. We walked through the market. We took pictures.

The central plaza has some busy restaurants and hours of people watching opportunities.


Our random observations suggested that most Granadans don’t hold either William Walker‘s invasion or Ronald Reagan’s embargo (the U.S. still hasn’t paid reparations ordered by the International Court of Justice for that . . . ) against U.S. visitors. They seem to embrace much about U.S. culture with enthusiasm.

Go Giants!

American Fashion Is Popular, Too

We visited the market - it's always a great place to see people going about daily life.

Need Fruit, Ice-Cream or Furniture?

So Many Kinds of Rice!

Delivery Service Nicaragua

Storage Facilities

Not everyone was disappointed with the Tourist Trail; we spotted one large group Watching Traditional Dancers In A Plaza. 

Cameras, Tags, A Leader With A Clipboard - Our People!

We decided we would take one more stab at having things explained to us by someone with local knowledge. Through our wonderful hotel we hired a guide and boat for a tour of a few of the 365 isletas in Lago Cocibolca. 

The lake level was very low. Many rocks which are usually hidden and marked for safety are now visible.

A Formerly Hidden Hazard To Navigation
[Not A Surfacing Submarine]

It was a very nice afternoon. With our guide's assistance we saw:

Spider Monkeys
Rescued and Placed In An Island Reserve by a Veterinarian

A Motmot - The National Bird of Nicaragua 

Some Visitors Touring By Kayak

Many Luxurious Homes

And Islands and Homes For Sale
You, Too, Can Own An Island!

Our launcha captain picked a water hyacinth for Molly.


Our isletas tour was only one of the many reasons we highly recommend Hotel Con Corazón. The hotel is well located - close to the center of town, but not too close to the noisy restaurant/bar area. The rooms are small but very nice; the bathrooms are new and sparkling clean; the courtyards are lovely;

Small But Very Nice Pool

Courtyard and Breezy Balcony

there are breeze-catching balconies where on a couple of evenings we enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail; the staff is delightful and well informed about what's going on (or not) in the area; the (included) breakfasts are huge; and the hotel's profits support local educational programs. If you get a chance to go to Granada consider staying there -- we think you will enjoy it and maybe even feel good about it. The hotel's owners are opening a second hotel in Oaxaca, Mexico soon, so you might see if that hotel meets your needs if Oaxaca is part of your travel plan. 

In sum: We enjoyed Granada once we got over the fact that all the "must sees" seemed to be closed. It's a very nice place to hang out and just . . . be and see (and drink fruit drinks and coffee!).

Onward and . . . 

Southeastward. After a couple of weeks back on Abracadabra, we now think we will be ready to sail to Costa Rica next week. Once we find an internet connection we will tell you about our land-based family trip in April and our sea-based return trip.  

In the meantime . . . let us know how you are doing!

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