Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Tree Grows in Managua

Finally dragging ourselves away from the pool and views of the volcano, we asked Mike our host to tour us around Managua. We covered a few miles of highways and roundabouts where my heart did the jug handles around my chest as we navigated traffic. This is definitely not a place I would want to drive. Even in retrospect, it is not clear what the rules of the road happen to be. That aside, there were some sites to see.

Just as we noticed this coming from the airport, the medians in the streets and especially the highways are littered with these ‘golden trees’. At night, they light up. What we found out was that they were installed by President Daniel Ortega’s wife as a way to beautiful the city. She has done this at a cost of $20,000 each tree. It is only when you see a forest of them from the hilltop that you fully understand the waste of money which could have had vented into infrastructural improvements.

On said hilltop, we as foreigners had to pay to enter the park. It cost us $1 each, but Mike is a resident, allowing him to get in free. Just a side note here the official currency is the Nicaraguan córdoba, but many places will take US dollars. Currently the exchange rate is 25 córdoba (C$) to $1. We viewed the city on one side and a volcanic crater lake on the other. There was an extensive photo exhibit dedicated to Augusto César Sandino. Sandino was the half-pint general who lead the rebellion against the US military domination of Nicaragua. He battled the US from 1927-1933, when the Marines finally vacated, due to the depression at home. He is considered a national hero here and throughout the region.

As we traveled on highway in particular, we viewed dozens upon dozens of life-sized nativity scenes on both sides of the highway. A government organization, ministry, or a business is the sponsor for one. They are quite a sight and seem to continue for over a mile.

Mike dropped us off at the 'Plaza de la Revolución' (Revolution Square) for an hour and half on our own to explore. The Nicaraguan Institute of Culture is the main draw here after taking a look-see at the old cathedral that was ruined in the last big earthquake. It is still closed due to instability. To enter the main square you can walk through a lovely park and then past three eternal flames for various heroes. There isn’t one for Ortega yet, but give it time. 

Entry to the culture center was $4 each. The first few rooms were rather bizarre and poorly displayed exhibits of natural history of the area, though the last of the rooms had some interesting prehistoric bones. The rest of the ground floor had room after room of artwork from various Central American countries. Our free time evaporated as we explored these treasures, but when it seemed we were ten minutes late for meeting Mike already, Ron realized he no longer had his expensive sunglasses on his head.

Each of us going in different directions, we combed the floors of the center room by room, but did not find what we had hoped. We did the same with the square, retracing our steps proved futile. Feeling a bit downtrodden, we went to meet Mike. I casually said to Ron, while we walk over there, say a quick prayer to St. Anthony and see if he comes to your rescue. St. Anthony is the Patron on Lost Things. What we should have prayed for was Mike. We were fifteen minutes late to meet him, but he showed up an additional forty minutes later. 

While we were waiting, I was standing on the edge of the park staring into traffic, willing Mike to appear. Opposite me on the curb of the sidewalk was a tall, very good-looking, well-dressed young man with a little girl who must have been about 4 years old. He was pointing a camera toward the park behind me, but it looked like I was in his field of view, so I moved to the left. He moved simultaneously, so I moved to the right just as he again moved. He smiled, laughed and said no problem. I smiled and then smiled admiringly at the little girl dressed in a frilly frock. The shaved iceman had just delivered to her her sweet treat. So much for the pretty dress! Right after that the young man took the little girl’s hand, started to walk away, but not before handing me a card.

I was shocked when I looked at it. One side was a black silhouette of a she-devil in spiked heels complete with pitchfork. On the other side there was ample information in very explicit English to be certain this was a whore house, without mincing words. 

When Mike finally arrived, he had his girlfriend with him. They took us to a recreational park where we as
foreigners had to pay $4 each to enter. It sits on Lake Managua. There are multiple dozens of little food places catering to the populace with a range of snacks to full-blown meals. Ron and I each ordered pupusa with cheese and bacon at Mike’s suggestion. We had never had one, but he said they are typical Nicaraguan. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, or beans and cheese, but in our case cheese and bacon. Delicious and a nice snack! They are about the size of a saucer. From what I read, they originated in Salvadoran cuisine

Back to the pool to work off the pupusa from the hips.

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