Wednesday 6 to Friday 8 May, Thursday 14 and Friday 15 May
We started our journey in Nicaragua in the capital Managua. Not many tourists stop in Managua, it is a big sprawling city of low rise buildings which houses half of Nicaragua’s population. The houses are tiny, either concrete or more commonly corrugated iron and black plastic, a sad way to live.
We were in Managua to pick up a replacement Visa card, after mine had been compromised. For this reason we stayed at the Holiday Inn, where we were sure DHL would make the delivery. The hotel, like all other business-like buildings was miles from everything else. The staff did however suggest we go to the upmarket shopping centre, Galerias Santo Domingo, to find restaurants. Actually, although a small mall, there was a very decent array of restaurants and probably the more up market Managűenses.
The sights suggested were quite spaced out in the city so we took a private tour. It was very hot, so we made short stops between the comfort of the car’s air conditioning.
Our first stop was to one of the most unusual churches I have ever seen. It replaces the old cathedral. This new cathedral is very square looking but with a flat roof that contains more than 60 small domes. These perhaps represent the states of Nicaragua but may also be an engineering feat to withstand earthquakes. Nicaragua is a very catholic country and there was a mass in progress. As in all Central American churches, some of the statues were lavishly dressed, even Christ during the crucifixion, with blood dripping from his face. I imagine that images tell a stronger story than words.
The next stop was Tiscapa Lagoon, the volcanic lake in the centre of the city. This is a high point and gives a good view over the city. At its peak is a silhouette statue of Augusto Sandino, the national hero and a golden tree – the same tree that lines the major thoroughfares of the city. Our guide told us each golden tree had cost 20,000 Nicaraguan Cordoba (approximately $1000), far too extravagant for such a poor country. I must say they were a pretty sight, as we took our first drive out of the airport.
A devastating earthquake in 1972 killed more than 19,120 people and destroyed 90% of the city, that was at that time located next to Lake Managua. This area was subsequently abandoned and the city was rebuilt further inland and behind the volcanic lake.
The shell of the old cathedral is still standing in the original city area, and there are some plans to rebuild it, which one day may materialise. The municipal offices are also on the same square. There are statues to Nicaragua’s favourite heroes, the poet Rubén Dario and the guerrilla Augusto Sandino, and eternal flames for other heroes. The square was the gathering place for parades and demonstrations, however it is now considered too small for today’s population and another area nearby has been set aside.
Following the 1972 earthquake the city was quickly rebuilt without consideration for waste and sewerage. The lake, which has no outlet, was used and it is now dangerously polluted. There are discussions about cleaning up part of the lake, but like many other projects in Nicaragua, it is yet to start.
Our next visit was to Puerto Salvadore Allende. This port area is more like a family fun park with some play equipment and a lot of kiosks selling food and drinks. There is also a jetty from which you can take tours of the lake. We enjoyed a coffee and an ice cream, before creeping back into the air conditioned comfort of the car. It would be far nicer to visit the port in the cool of the evening.
Our last stop was the Mercado Oriental (market). We were directed to the craft stalls but meandered further to see some of the produce and more local goods on sale. We always enjoy visiting a local market to see the local produce and goods on offer.
After touring Leon and Granada we returned to Managua for our last night in Nicaragua. This time we chose to stay close to the airport as we had an early morning flight. Google maps provided some alternate routes from Granada to our hotel. What seemed to be the most direct route tuned out to be a drive through dirt tracks and extremely poor housing areas. The squalor of life there was distressing.