Northern Nicaragua – trip of contrasts

Having rarely left the yellow Mariposa gates in the past 5 years (through choice I must point out in case anyone feels sorry for me!), I finally got to see some of northern Nicaragua with my UK friend Teresa. I combined the trip with work, visiting a number of small organic veggie plots to get inspiration and ideas for our finca. Plus spreading Mariposa leaflets everywhere we went to try and drum up a bit of custom to get us through our current quiet patch!

Started in Esteli with Jane, also from the UK, who has been running a hostel (Hostel Luna) and cafe for the last 6 years, good old chinwag with her as she faces many of the same issues as us. She also works as a non-profit and does a lot to support very poor rural families producing organic veggies, many of which she then buys for the cafe. Then off to Miraflor – a very beautiful nature reserve just outside Esteli. Families farm there to make a basic living but are not allowed to cut trees etc and are encouraged to find work in eco-tourist activities. The roads were super muddy, it is after all the green season – we in tourism are not supposed to say wet as it sounds too negative – so green it is! Actually, it was bloody wet but great fun hammering along in a 4 by 4. I had to visit one of the farms by horseback as it was impossible to get there any other way. The views are spectacular…..but don’t come out so well in photos in the green season!

The next day was a second nature reserve and more bumpy roads, Tisney, higher up so there are lots of pine and oak trees – well, they are called oak here but do not remotely resemble the oaks I recall in the Penines. The amazing farm we visited up there is pictured below – loads of lettuce, brocoli, beets, carrots etc etc and I learnt a new and complicated way to make compost which I am not sure I can remember. This particular community, La Gavancha, is big on goats cheese which is based on a Swiss variety and very yummy.

The views from la Gavancha would have been stunning – on a clear day (this was not it) you can see right over the Pacific plain to Leon, including the line of live volcanos which crosses Nicaragua roughly north to south. But even the little we could see was breathtaking…….

We also dropped by to say hi to Dave – a guy I first met in 1988, or thereabouts. He had the unenviable task of being the tour guide to a group of pretty ignorant Brits, including myself, who had come to gaze at the Revolution. Dave, by then, had been working here for 5 years with young soldiers (known as cachoros – which literally means puppies) disabled in the Contra war. He stayed on to build a wonderful little cafe and garden park next to a stream – pretty enough whilst we were there but devastating when it floods. I can’t remember if the bridge Dave built has been washed away two or three times in the last decade. Below, him and me catching up and below that a shot of his extraordinary cactus garden. Teresa and I both commented on how much tidier and more ordered it is than the Mariposa jungle!

A complete change of scene followed as we then went to Leon – distinctly on the hot and sticky side after the cool uplands. two of the Mariposa interns (Ruth and Venice) brought Guillermina to Leon so went out for a very upmarket vegetarian lunch which may have been one of the biggest meals I have eaten since I arrived in Nicaragua.

Teresa and I took in a museum – a curious and very moving exposition of ancient legends, such as the gigatona which is a giant female figure, supposed to represent womanly beauty as brought to Nicaragua by the Spanish ie tall, white, fair and in contrast to the short darker indigenous folk, from then on perceived as distinctly less attractive. A bit like how everyone thinks (blond) Barbie is where it’s at these days, I guess. Then there is the headless priest. This story refers to a Spanish priest who tried to stop the cruelest excesses which the conquistatoes perpetrated against the indigenous peoples. He was murdered by two conqistator brothers, who did not appreciate his efforts, through decapitation and is said to still haunt the ruins of Old Leon to one day get his vengence.  As an aside, it was odd reading this story in the museum at this time as just a month ago the catholic priest of La Concha was murdered. La Concha has, not surprisingly, become rather infamous on this account and I was asked for the inside story whereever we went as no-one believes the official version of robbery – the truth, in my view and that of many others, is likely to be much closer to the rumour that the murderer was actually raped by the priest as a boy. But back to the museum – its second aspect was some graphic mural drawings of imprisonment and toture during the Somoza regime. The building was then a prison where uncountable political prisoners died. Come to think of it, I can now see the link with the legends although walking around the museum at first it seemed like  a strange combination.

Last day of the trip – Guillermina having fun body surfing at the beach. Quite the trip of contrasts

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