March 21 – 28: Pacific Region of Nicaragua: Politics and Playas

This blog focuses on our time in the Pacific side of Nicaragua, colonized by the Spanish and the Catholic Church, dominant in national politics, and so very different in image, sound, and taste from the Caribbean coast of the previous blog.

Mural in Masaya of colonial history (1 of 1)

For Deborah, the return to Managua was very emotional – evoking memories of the hopes experienced in the early 1980s with the historic literacy crusade (she wrote about in To Change This House: Popular Education under the Sandinistas), as well as the heartbreaks from two Daniels – one the former husband she met here, and the other, Daniel Ortega, who had been a major Sandinista leader in that era but as the current president has betrayed so many of the ideals of that revolution.

Daniel and deception (1 of 1)

All the good friends she reconnected with here left the Sandinista party long ago and concur that the country is now ruled from above by both Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo (whose daughter he was publically accused of molesting over years), and that, contrary to their mantra, their government is neither “socialist” nor “Christian” nor “solidary.” They appear everywhere on billboards and in Rosario’s efforts to beautify Managua with streets lined with lit-up stylized yellow ‘trees,’ trellaces of flowers, and colourful benches with positive mantras.

Malecon 1 (1 of 1)  Con Daniel (1 of 1)

John and Elizabeth visited Managua in 1974, just two years after the earthquake; when they asked for the centre, they were told there was no longer any centre. Deborah experienced the still-devastated city ten years later. It is now a more liveable but sprawling city, with a miniature model of its reconstruction plan suggesting it’s moved into the capitalist market. We spent an evening on the ‘malecon’, which memorializes socialist hero Sandino and Chilean martyr Allende with statues, while offering a new waterfront park on Lake Managua with restaurants and play spaces for children and adults alike, . Another evening, for nostalgia sake, we ate at the café of Luis Enrique and Carlos Mejia Godoy, the best known troubadours of the revolution (Luis Enrique toured Canada in 1982 and partied at Deborah’s house). We heard Carlos in concert, singing (for a gringo tourist audience and enthusiastic older Nicaraguans) the same songs of 40 years ago.


Managua malecon


We were very lucky to be hosted in Managua by Deborah’s friend from those days, Malena de Montis, an educator and women’s leader, and her partner, Eduardo Baumeister, a researcher of agrarian issues in Central America.

Malena's living room from above  John and Eduardo talking (1 of 1)

Their lovely and breezy home on a hillside overlooking the city provided a comfortable base for our visit.

Malena's house


One evening John cooked a dinner for Padre Fernando Cardenal, the Jesuit priest who had been Minister of Education when Deborah worked there in the 1980s. He was expelled from the order when Pope Juan Pablo II made him choose between the government and the church; and after the Sandinista defeat in the 1990s, he had to repeat a year-long novitiate away in El Salvador to re-enter the order – the only Jesuit ever to leave and return! Deborah had hosted him at a Quebec cabin in 1991, and her son Joshua bears Fernando as a middle name. At 81, Fernando continues to work for a Jesuit youth organization, Fe y Alegria, and exhibits both great humility and drive.

Fernando and Deb (1 of 1)  John and Fernando (1 of 1)

Having been fully rested from our beach holiday, we decided to become tourists again on Friday. Navigating out of town (there are no street signs anywhere in Managua, and directions are up and down, toward the lake, etc) with the help of locals,  we headed south out of town to the spectacular Masaya Volcano National Park, driving right up to the edge of the smoking caldera.

volanoe spewing

They advise no more than three minutes at the edge due to the sulphurous fumes, and having admired the views for too long, our lungs  found the climb up the adjacent extinct cone a bit taxing. Deborah went part of the way up and John continued on, allowing each of us to photograph the other at great distance along the edge of the cone (see if you can spot John in the slide show below).

We then carried on further south to the beautiful colonial town of Granada. It was was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, ostensibly the first European city in mainland America. It had all of the architectural charm we have been soaking up on the trip, unlike the rather pedestrian spread out Managua which was founded in 1852 as a compromise location for the capital as Granada and another city, Leon, had gone to war over who got to be the seat of government. (Sort of like the decision to make Ottawa Canada’s capital in 1855).

Granada cathedral  Granada square

We had lunch (probably the source of Deborah’s tourista problems that arose and lingered on later) overlooking the large central square filled with people, trees and flowering plants and surrounded by horse drawn carriages. Later we had a look at a very well done small ceramic museum located in an old historic house donated by the last owner. It combined wonderful examples of pre-columbian pottery, with a large collection of funerary pots, combined with excellent modern pottery art pieces by Nicaraguan artists. We then walked down the pedestrian street that led to sunset views over Lake Managua (the 19th largest lake in the world – it has a connection by river to the Atlantic and the only shark that lives in both fresh and salt waters!)


Masaya volcano and Granada


A special treat of our visit on the Pacific side of Nicaraguaa was a 5-day rest at the beach house of Malena and Eduardo in Playa El Coco.

boat on beach  eating on the beach

Deb on beach  JOhn in sunset

You can get the idea of that delicious holiday in the video we made for them:

And consider the possibility of renting their house yourselves for a perfect holiday; see

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