Almost time to trade sandals for parkas

Friday, February 15.

I’m generally not a photo person. I don’t really like to look at the world through a little screen. But today was different. Today I took photos until I drained the battery in my camera.

From a tile factory in downtown Granada to a Samoza run prison high in the hills overlooking the town of Masaya, from the giant market in Masaya to a whole town specializing in pottery, from Catrina mirador (lookout) over Laguna de Apoyo, to a New Orleans style cemetery across from the grocery store in Granada, and witnessing a horse and buggy funeral procession, yesterday was a feast for the eyes.

The tile factory in Granada is a wonder — they hand make and hand dye/paint each floor tile individually. The work is incredibly physical and labour intensive. Watching the 5 or 6 guys work at lightening speed is like watching a well choreographed dance. There is absolutely no question in my mind why Spanish style tiles are so expensive.

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Coyotepe Prison was first a fort, then turned into a prison for political prisoners by the Somoza government. Unlike other historical landmarks of its kind, there are hardly any people walking through. Dark, cramped and, according to the locals, haunted, it’s a place I can’t imagine being held for months or years. It’s utterly horrifying the ways in which we have come up with to hurt, humiliate and kill one another. The guide was telling me that after the prisoners died, their bodies were loaded into a helicopter and dumped into the mouth of Masaya volcano. No evidence, no atrocities. Coyotepe Prision is now run, interestingly, by the Boy Scouts. Perhaps an odd marriage, but when you think about it, the Boy Scouts are an internationally recognized and respected, and most importantly, non-political organization. It’s a terrible place, but as Renee my guide said, we have to have this here as a reminder that it can never happen again.

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216Masaya market is huge. Filled with stalls selling everything imaginable (except food), it’s where Nicaragua comes to stock up on gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc. I dive in and spot a red scarf I think I might like. C$180. ($7.50). I say, how about C$150? He shakes his head and shows me what he’s willing to part with for that. Gaudy. I fold like a house of cards and hand over the C$180. I am not good at haggling. Not good at all.

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After a quick trip to San Juan del Oriente, a whole town that specializes in making pottery and a jaunt to Catarina to look out over Laguna de Apoyo, where they have just recently found a new species of fish (!),

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we head back to Granada to check out the cemetery. It’s so unusual that I take massive numbers of photos.

Unlike our graveyards, these are family crypts, some so large and ornate it’s hard to believe they could even exist here. There are walls too that hold caskets, these less ornate, some of them with the names just hand painted on, but it’s like a Vietnam War Memorial kind of thing with the FLSN flag (Sandanista) flag painted beside their name to show they fought for their country. The birth and death dates also give it away. So many young men.

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It’s interesting that just about every Nica I ask about the war didn’t want to talk about it. It’s in the past, they say. We’re thinking about the future. And with a stable Sandinista government currently running the country, and infrastructure and wages and standard of living increasing, I can understand why they would be reluctant to dwell in the past.

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Nicaraguan funeral procession

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As my last stop of the day and my contribution to a growing Nicaraguan economy, I go to “liberate” the handbag I’ve decided should come home with me to Canada…

Saturday, February 16.
Last day in paradise. Last day of flip flops and Spanish immersion and hair that can’t be controlled in the humidity (and this is MY hair, imagine what would happen to someone who actually had bounce or wave in their hair!!).

My return trip to Nicaragua didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautiful country, filled with kind and generous people — people who have overcome and are still overcoming incredible challenges both as a country and as individuals. People who want to know more about me, and are willing to open themselves up to a stranger. People who managed to figure out what I needed or wanted despite my broken Spanish and who looked at my confused face, then led me exactly where I needed to go.

Have things always run smoothly or efficiently? Heck no, but that’s part of the fun, of the letting go and realizing you have to fit into their life and their way of operating, not the other way around. And truly, every experience has a funny side if you look hard enough.

Travelling solo means every day putting your faith and trust in strangers and hoping for the best. And you know what? I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Adios, Nicaragua. And thank you.

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