Independent Photography

La Segunda Vez: Nicaragua


Ok, I wanna start this post with a picture, pulled from near the end of this very wordy post, of a red-eyed tree frog.  Why?  It’s cute.

The red-eyed tree frog is native to the rain forests of Central America, it’s not poisonous nor endangered though it is considered threatened. They come out at night to hunt and in this case wandered into the hostel reception area.

What a week it’s been.  When I posted last it was the eve of my tri-monthly departure from Nosara, colloquially referred to as a ‘visa-run.’  Basically every three months Costa Rica demands those here on tourist visas leave for 72 hours, I assume to ponder whether you want to return or not…

I left Nosara on June 1st for Nicoya, the capital of the canton, similar to a municipality, which Nosara is in.  I briefly stopped at the bank, if you call an hour to get a cheque cashed ‘brief,’ and then was on my way to Liberia, capital of the province of Guanacaste where Nosara and Nicoya are located.  It was my stopping point for the night.

My hotel in Liberia, also where the bus to Nicaragua met me. No, not an Instagram photo, rather a Blackberry rip off called ‘Pixtrix.’ What’s more hipster than Instagram? Not-Instagram, that does the same thing.

The last time I went to Nicaragua to renew my visa I had trouble re-entering Costa Rica.  The Tico’s required proof of onward travel in the next three months or they refused to grant a visa.  Trapped in limbo between Nicaragua and Costa Rica I had no choice but to buy and international bus ticket from one of the reps wandering around, likely for this exact situation, I purchased a direct bus from San Jose to Managua good for one year.

I had this ticket lying around so I figured I would use it, but meeting the bus en route in Liberia is easier then going all the way to San Jose.  Leaving from the country’s capital would require six hours busing to San Jose, an overnight then it would be five more hours before the bus passed through Liberia, or I could travel the four hours from Nosara to Liberia, stay over night and meet the bus there, saving at least seven hours of my life.

My bus to Nicaragua parked at the border. I love the rainbow, although it’s missing a unicorn.

Crossing the border was a bigger pain in the ass on an international bus than using local buses and walking across, as everyone’s visa has to be processed then everyone’s bag had to be searched by a border guard who put no effort into it.  After two hours of slowly stepping over an invisible dotted line in the sand we were on our way.

However, I didn’t want to go to Managua, I wanted to return to the pueblo of Poste Rojo and the little treehouse hostel near it.  The route from the border to the capital of Nicaragua doesn’t bring me to Poste Rojo, it splits and one road goes to Granada, the other Managua.  The bus stopped and I jumped out and it drove off.  I found myself in a little town called Nandaime on the side of the Pan-American Highway.  I waited at the side of a dusty road, soliciting stares from the people waiting for a bus with me.

After about ten minutes a local bus, occasionally called a chicken bus because in Honduras campesinos are known to transport chickens in them, arrived.  It was in reality a brightly painted recycled school bus from North America, mine was a Bluebird, with the logo painted acid green and the bus painted black.

The bus was headed to Granada, on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, I asked it to drop me at Poste Rojo and began the exhausting 200 metre climb to reception, it’s almost completely vertical.  An hour later I was watching the sun dip over the jungle while tree frogs and howler monkey’s made noise, sipping a beer, reading whilst swinging in a hammock.  I did that all next day too, lazy Sunday.

Monday I realized I was leaving Tuesday so I figured I would head into town, I hadn’t yet been to Granada.  It’s the capital of the province of Granada in Nicaragua’s southeast; it’s on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the biggest lake in Central America.  The lake was of strategic importance for the Spanish colonizers because of a small navigable river that connects Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean.  It made for an excellent inland bay to load up treasure ships safely with stolen gold from the Maya and Aztec in the north and the Inca in the south.

Main st. Granada. Although a little tired looking now, Granada was once a jewel in Spanish Central America. It was modelled after the city of Granada in southern Spain, as a result Granada, Nicaragua is an odd combination of Spanish architecture with Ottoman influences, and materials and tweaks from local influence. It’s a busy, busy place too.

~~~ here comes a political-historical deviation ~~~~

As a result of this historical strategic importance Granada is full of beautiful architecture.  Most big cities in Central America are somewhat devoid of ornate colonial architecture because it wasn’t a source of administrative importance or power for the Spanish unlike Lima, Buenos Aries or Caracas, which are littered with ornate architecture.  However, Granada’s relative importance warranted it a greater level of fancy buildings then I have seen elsewhere so far.

The irony of course is that the city is in terrible disrepair after decades of internecine war fueled by foreign powers.  The Somoza dictatorship and the successful Sandinista (FSLN) revolution was a proxy war for the cold war powers.  The FSLN is Marxist in its ideology although post-Somoza Nicaragua has found it’s own mix of socialism and religion.  One election poster I saw a lot read, “Nicaragua: Christianity, Socialism, Solidarity,” strange combination indeed.

The Cathedral of Granada looks out over a neighbourhood with Sandinista graffiti on the telephone poles. Granada was founded in the 1526 by Francisco Hern‡ndez de Co—rdoba, and is the oldest European city in Central America. It has been a major site in all of Nicaragua’s big historical events.

The FSLN is currently in power and they’ve steered Nicaragua in an interesting direction.  One could argue that the tired looking architecture in Granada is symptomatic of a lack of focus on development.  That’s just not true.  The fact is political leaders in Nicaragua are tasked with reversing a century of privilege and their priorities are elsewhere.

In the early 1900’s the US intervened in most Central American countries, as per their manifest destiny belief the US wanted a canal through Central America, originally they proposed building it in Nicaragua.  That plan failed and instead they supported Panamanian independence movements seeking separation from Colombia, the cost was a sovereign American strip through the country to build a canal and then they proceeded to pacify Panama’s neighboors.

One of the churches I wandered by, Iglesia Guadeloupe, is at the entrance to Granada from the lake. Construction began in 1626 and it was periodically used as fort to defend against pirate attacks. In 1856 William Walker, an American who tried to make himself president of Central America, and 18 troops were cornered inside by Nicaraguan troops, the encounter left pot marks in the church which weren’t fixed until the 1940’s.

In Costa Rica, it was political which lead to revolution in the 40’s and in Nicaragua it was political with a little direct military intervention to assist it.  Then in the 30’s they assisted in establishing Anastasio Somoza García as a ‘king’ of sorts.  Until 1979 he and his sons used Nicaragua as a personal bank account.  They pillaged all the public services, assassinated and tortured dissidents and pushed the campesinos into civil war.  The Sandinista’s, named for Augusto César Sandino a general who led a guerilla war against the US marines occupying Nicaragua in the 30’s and the government they were backing, beat out the Somoza dynasty in 1979.

For the next decade the US carried out a covert war using black ops ‘Contra’s,’ short for ‘contrarevolution’ or ‘counterrevolution’ in English.  Most of them were Nica’s trained by the US, although the Green Berets were also evident.  By 1987, after almost a century without democratic rule Nicaragua began the transition back, in 1990 Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was the first female elected head of government in the America’s.

Nicaragua is still recovering from decades of war, and whilst Costa Rica was allowed to spend all the time marketing themselves as a Central American heaven, Nicaragua was busy fighting for basic human rights.  Now Nicaragua is finally at a point where Costa Rica was in the 1950’s, but the Nica’s have big dreams.  The Sandinista government recently outlawed misogyny, while it is a hard law to enforce; especially with a poorly trained corrupt national police force (see earlier post) it’s a lofty goal.  One the rest of America could perhaps consider looking at.

A man walking by the municipal library, a much more modest looking building than the churches.

There are more concrete measures on the ground too.  However, restoring colonial edifices falls somewhere behind education for all, equality amongst class and sex, access to universal healthcare etc.  I would argue Granada is still beautiful, and more so when you realize that the tired old colonial buildings, actually means Nicaragua has their development priorities sorted out

~~~ and back to the regular post ~~~

Iglesia Merced, was built in the mid-1700’s. During independence from Spain it was burnt badly and the inside was gutted during the revolution. It’s dramatic on the outside though.

A brightly coloured barbershop in Granada.

My lunch in Granada, Gallo Pinto, a Central American staple or rice, beans, tortilla and meat, in this case chicken. This was Nica style with the rice and beans premixed. As well as a Ton–a, Nicaragua’s national beer, a fairly bland pilsner.

Buses waiting to depart from a bus station in Granada. In the background is Mt. Mombacho, a volcano and cloud forest on the edge of town.

I wandered around Granada, snapped some photos of the churches and city etc.  The cool thing was a photo that came about while I was waiting for my bus back to Poste Rojo.  I was taking a photo of a busy main street, afterwards I saw a guy rushing towards me shouting, “Chele! Chele! Sacar una foto de mi!” I confirmed with him that he wanted his picture taken, told him it was digital though so I couldn’t give it to him, he didn’t seem to mind.  I took the picture, showed him the back of the camera, he nodded saying it was good, I just had enough time to get his name before he ran off back to his day.

Jorge, I forget the rest of his name, I was unprepared to really get info out of him. But as mentioned a series of similar photos would be kind of cool.

It wasn’t the first guy who yelled at me to take a picture of them.  At first I didn’t know what to make of it, and I worried that maybe my camera was attracting some unwanted attention, so I spent most of the walking around time with it in my bag, only taking it out for a picture.  I now realize it was likely harmless.

When I got back to the hostel some Americans had checked in.  As the evening set in we were all chatting and I relayed my story, one of the girls, a fine arts student from California, suggested it might make a good project.  I suddenly wished I had a week or more to be in Granada, just walk around with a camera all day, wait till someone yells at you then take a portrait Sartorialist style and add in some basic personal info, name, age, occupation, dreams?

That night a red eye tree frog popped by in the hostel reception.  There was a little photo shoot.

One of the American’s I was hanging out with on the final night. Striking a fighting stance with a red-eyed tree frog on his hand…

The next morning I headed out, local bus to Rivas, then another to the border at Peñas Blancas, no border issues (I had my proof of onward travel this time), local bus to Liberia, local bus to Nicoya, wait for an hour and then local bus to Nosara.  All in: 12 hours travel time, four stopping points, two countries and five buses.

Since I returned back I have been settling back into things.  My final day of work is July 18, so that leaves me with a month and 11 days.  My successor is all but confirmed, once it is I’ll post here and link to their blog

I spent most of this morning dealing with the quad, now there are tire issues and battery issues, I wanna take a sledgehammer to it sometimes, but then I would be without transport.

Oh and my new (hahaha ‘new’) med format camera is working great.  I dragged it to Nicaragua and processed a few shots, I scanned them using a little DIY scanner I made a few weeks back.  I posted about the process here.  So yeah here are some pictures shot on Kodak Tmax film, some of us still buy Kodak products…

A photo of the bridge at the hostel which connects the main reception treehouse to the yoga platform.

Me, chilling in a hammock with some morning coffee before heading to Granada.

The Church of Nicoya in Nicoya, Costa Rica en route to Nicaragua. This church is the oldest in the province of Guanacaste having been built around 1644.

This month is shaping up to be good, so hopefully some interesting posts will happen down the road.

Until later,

Paz siempre

Adam Dietrich

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