Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nicaragua: Managua and Coyotepe

Coyotepe Prison, NicaraguaLast December, I arrived in Managua in the early afternoon after an overnight flight from Buenos Aires via Miami after 3 weeks in South America. The Miami connection allowed me to call home on my cell phone without the international charges. The flight was less than 3 hours from Miami.

I wish had a camera handy to take pictures as I flew into Managua, but it was stowed in the overhead compartment. This was one of the most scenic approaches I have seen anywhere. I had a seat on the right side of the plane, and got an excellent view of Lake Managua, the volcanic craters and lakes on Peninsula de Chiltepe, and a string of additional volcanoes that went off in the distance north west as far as the eye could see. There was a noticeable difference due to pollution in the color of the waters between the volcanic crater lakes and Lake Nicaragua. The plane had to circle the city once because as the pilot so clearly explained, “we got an indicator light that required we execute an additional checklist,” so I got to see this excellent view one more time.

Most people I have talked to since had no hassles getting out of the Managua airport, but I must have come at an unusually a busy time. A combination factors including two planes landing at once filling the small baggage claim area, an unusual number of people needing wheelchair assistance, crowds and paparazzi gathered to greet a local celebrity, and my luggage being last of the plane, it took me forever to get my bags and get through customs. Jessica, my guide from Un Buen Viage!, was waiting for me in the crowd that gathered just outside baggage claim, pressed up against the window to the building with a sign bearing my name. Despite her obvious position, I still managed to miss her but after a quick phone call we met up.

Christmas tree in Managua, Nicaragua

We took a short taxi to the hotel, Hotel Mozonte. A nice quiet place that was convenient to the city attractions. After I got cleaned up and took a short nap, we took a taxi out for a nearby dinner. I was reminded that it was Christmas time as we drove past the Christmas tree lights hung in the big traffic circle.

People lined up for La Griteria festival in Managua, Nicaragua

The next morning a taxi and a local guide picked us up for the city tour. The main road to downtown had several shrines build as part of the local holiday festivals of La Purisima and La Griteria. It was explained that during this festival people come to these shrines, often built in private homes, and the hosts typically give out small household items, toys or treats to those who come to visit, similar to Halloween trick-or-treating. As we neared the main square people were lined up for many blocks waiting for a government sponsored shrine event to start where lots of swag was expected to be handed out.

Nicaragua National Museum in Managua

We came to the National Museum located in the National Palace of Culture. This building gained some notoriety in 1978 as the site where Sandinistas took some government officials hostage. The museum was closed since the area was blocked off due to the preparations for the festival. Our local guide must have had some connections, because he went in and talked the administrators into opening up the museum for us (that is myself, the local guide for the city tour, and my Nicaragua guide). Someone came into the ticket window, and opened it just long enough to buy tickets. We then got to walk around unescorted, although the meuseum administrator kept checking in to see how things were going. The museum was not huge, with only a few rooms for historical artifacts. Still, it was probably the largest collection of re-Columbian artifacts from the country.

Statue in Nicaragua National Museum in Managua

Painting in Nicaragua National Museum in Managua

Painting in Nicaragua National Museum in ManaguaSeveral rooms housed contemporary art, and despite the museum being closed, several teenage attendants were on duty and eager to explain (in Spanish, translated by my guides) about the various paintings and sculptures. In fact, when we weren’t in an exhibition room, we saw these attendants sitting around looking rather board with no other visitors around. There was so much symploism in each piece of art the explanation was helpful. Above is one example, showing several faces of Nicaragua: the poet, traditional mother, commando, and the national pastime baseball. The statement with this piece of art was not just in the image, but the materials It was created from. As seen from the side, it was made form materials which could have been trash picked up from the side of a road.

There was a landscape photo of a sign that said in Spanish, No se Verde! (Not for sale). This was a statement against the sellout of many places to foreign investors. Had I not seen this at the beginning of my Nicaragua trip, I might not have realized the significance of all the Se Verde signs all over the place during my next two weeks in Nicaragua.

We had entered from a side entrance, but were able to step out on the front balcony to look out over the main square which was being prepared for the big event everyone was lining up for. Chairs were lined in rows filling the square and trucks were unloading many bags of gifts to be handed out. Next to the museum, the old national cathedral stands, still in ruins since the 1971 earthquake. A new cathedral has since been build outside of downtown, but it uses modern architecture and, well, looks a bit industrial. There are very few buildings more than a couple of stories left in Nicaragua after the quake.

Preparations for  La Purisima and La Griteria festivals in main square of downtown Managua, Nicaragua

Across the square from the museum is the relatively new Nicaraguan Presidential Palace build with donated money from Taiwan. The building has not yet been occupied. The current President Ortega would have been the first to occupy, but he chose choose to reside in his original neighborhood. I had been told by locals this was in an attempt to appear closer to the people, though I have since read he kept the presidential office at the headquarters of the FSLN political party which he ran under.

We left the main square area and went for a quick stop at a government funded family-safe entertainment district on the edge of the lake. The gated facility has several buildings housing restaurants along the waterfront. The area requires an entrance fee, making it only accessible by middle and upper class residents, but has plenty of security.

Kids playing Soccer in Managua, Nicaragua

Next we went to the Huellas de Acahualinca (Footprints of Acahualinca). This is an archaeological site surrounded by one of the roughest looking neighborhoods. Not really dangerous rough but maybe not a an area to go waling at night alone. Kids were playing a refereed soccer game in the street as we drove up, and we interrupted the game as our car stopped at the curb to let me out. Inside this site, excavated 50 feet below the surface are several lines of 6000 year old human and deer footprints. There was a locked room used for an office. Peering into the window, we could see an exhumed cadaver boxed up next to the office desk. Imagine working all day with that next to your desk.

Huellas de Acahualinca (Footprints of Acahualinca) in Managua, Nicaragua

Huellas de Acahualinca (Footprints of Acahualinca) in Managua, Nicaragua

Next, we drove by President Ortega’s home/office/compound. My guides requested I not have my camera visible to avoid problems with the guards. The compound is surrounded by what appears to be an average poor neighborhood. As we drove along the first side of the compound, which was shielded by a tall wall, I could see a guard watching us intently through the small observation window. We turned a corner and saw the local TV station, controlled by the government, with its studios adjacent to the compound. Driving by the entrance gate allowed a brief glimpse of the compounds interior. It appeared much better off than the surrounding neighborhood. We also stopped outside an old apartment One of the tallest structures to survive the 1972 earthquake in Managua, Nicaraguacomplex. It was significant as one of very few muti-story building that had survived the 1972 earthquake. Due to the memories of the earthquake, there have been either none or at least very few multi-story buildings build in the time since.

For the last stop in Managua, we went to the top of Loma de Tiscapa, which is a park on the tallest hill within the city of Managua. There was a volcanic crater filled in as a lake on the backside. On the front side, there were excellent views of Lake Managua and downtown Managua. Along the top of a crater, easy to miss, were the ruins of a former prison at this site. The largest landmark, visible for miles around on the top of the hil, is the Sandino's Silhouette, a monument to the rebel leader from the 1930's. The park has a bunch of rusted tanks parked on display, relicts from the revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in the late '70's. There was also a museum for Sandino, but it was closed that day.

Sandino's Silhouette in Managua, Nicaragua

View from Loma de Tiscapa in Managua, Nicaragua

We drove from Managua toward my next stop in the city of Granada. Along the road, all the telephone poles and some trees were painted with the ruling FSLN policital party's initials in white with a red background. We stopped for lunch halfway and I tried some local food and one of the national drinks involving ground cacao and corn mixed with water.

Coyotepe Prison, Nicaragua

Half-way to Granada we turned off the main highway, and went up a short steep hill, The taxi struggled and I was not sure for a moment if the old car would make it. At the top, we arrived at the Coyotepe Fortress. This facility is perched on the top of a hill with views from all sides looking out over the surrounding land. It gave good views of the city of Masaya, its lagoon, the Masaya volcano, Lake Managua, Lake Nicaragua, and the Mombacho volcano. I did not completely realize it at the time, but I would be visiting each of these locations over the next several days.

Built in 1893 as a fortress to defend the area, Coyotepe had more recently been used as a prison by both the Somoza dictatorship and the Sandinistas, where it housed (and tortured) as many as 800 prisoners underground in poor conditions. When it was decommissioned, it was handed over to the Boy Scouts who held their annual jamborees there for a few years until someone realized that might not be the best playground for young people.

Dungeon in Coyotepe Prison, Nicaragua

Coyotepe Prison, Nicaragua

From the outside it looks like a small fort with only one story wall. But inside, underground, there are several levels of dungeons. I was given a tour of some of the underground sections. Vandals have painted graffiti all over the place. Scavengers have since stripped the interior of all the Iron bars and electrical wiring to sell for scrap. But the locations of the bars were still visible as metal stubs poking out of the concrete floor. Many cells were barely large enough for one person to lie down. There were also rooms which apparently housed larger groups of prisoners. Bats were found in several rooms hanging from the ceilings. The guide pointed out the torture rooms and pointed to the red stains that he claimed were blood stains. I bet this was a fun and spooky place for the Boy Scouts overnight camping Jamboree.

View from Coyotepe Prison, Nicaragua

More pictures from my first couple of days in Nicaragua can be found HERE.

Editor Note: This is the first in a series of posts about my trip through South America and Nicaragua at the end of 2009, which I am publishing as I get pictures organized– but not necessarily in the order I traveled. This post covers my first and second days in Nicaragua (trip days 24-25).

I came to Nicaragua to run the Ultramaraton Fyego y Agua 50k trail run, and spent a week before and after touring elsewhere in the country. My travels outside the race was excellently arranged in a custom tour by Un Buen Viaje! Tours to Nicaragua. Check out both these organizations.
- Un Buen Viaje! Tours to Nicaragua
- Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua

- Google Map of the places visited in this Nicaragua Trip
- More Blog Posts or Photo Albums from this Nicaragua Trip

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1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year, and Thanks John, and keep it up.


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