2015 Nicaragua post 4 – February 13 – 17 – Somoto, Ocotal, Leon
Deni Posting – This entire trip has been interesting because we’ve been comparing Nicaragua to Colombia – and poor Nicaragua hasn’t been doing well in comparison. The biggest difference has been in the attitude of the people. The Colombians were just so happy to have us visiting their country – I’ve spoken before about people coming up to us on the street and thanking us for visiting their country. That generally has not been the response here. People have not been actively rude, but most have not been very welcoming. That changed once we got to Somoto, and here in Leon things seem a bit better. But other travelers we’ve spoken with agree that the Nica do not seem happy that tourists are here. And oh my gosh, the service in restaurants is so slow. When Coop remarked to his server that 45 minutes seemed a long time to wait for lunch, she shrugged and said, “It’s Nicaragua.” I’m sorry, that just seems a really poor excuse. Oh well, things have improved, so I’ll bring you up to date.
We left Maltagalpa on the 12th. On the way out of town we stopped at the grave of Benjamin Linder. I was very saddened – tears were shed, which surprised me. But I remember when he was killed, and I remember when his mother testified before Congress and was so poorly treated. And here was his grave, in a foreign country – not in the Foreigners’ Cemetary but in the National Cemetary. And there were weeds on his grave, and it all just seemed so sad and pointless. So, of course, I cried.
On our way to Somoto, we came down from the mountains, through coffee coutry and into tobacco country in the valley and back up again into the mountains and more coffee. When we got to Somoto we were pleasantly surprised. It’s a small town with a lovely central square and lots of quiet. Quiet is something we had been craving – everyplace we’d been to that point was so darn noisy with traffic, horns, blaring music, and loud conversations. Somoto has a population of 37,000, and would not be a place for tourists to go if it were not for the nearby canyon, which was “discovered” by two Czech scientists in 2003. Of course, the locals knew it was there; it was no surprise to them! Huge granite cliffs rise from source of the Rio Coco. We spent three nights in Somoto. The second day we went with a wonderful guide into the canyon. He described the trip as “walk, boat, walk, iswim, walk, swim.” Coop explained that the broken rib issue would make swimming a problem. No big deal – instead of swimming when we came to that part of the hike, we were plopped onto innertubes and pulled along by a young man. It was great fun and very beautiful. I was able to do some swimming, which I enjoyed a lot. Our guide said that his favorite people to guide are Canadians and Americans because they are so easy going. He said the Germans are too intense and the Nica complain all the time. Very interesting observation. The whole trip was only $20 each – the taxi from town to the canyon, the boat, the innertube journey, and back to town. What a bargain.
The next day we drove north to several towns to see what we could see. Ocotal was fun because the church was having a festival to celebrate something or other. There was a bounce house for the kids, and church members and nuns were selling tacos and such. Very cool. Ocotal has a place in history that had implications for the US and Nicaragua. In 1927 Sandino began his guerrilla war, attracting mostly farmers and indiginous prople. This came to the attention of the US and raised concern. So more than 2,000 US marines arrived with a treaty and demanded the surrender of the Liberal and Sandino forces. The Liberals gave up, but not Sandino. His forces attacked the marines in Ocotal. The US responded with aerial bombing, making Ocotal the first city in history to be bombed by fighter planes. Gosh!
We went further north to Ciudad Antigua, which as the name implies, is an old town. It was founded by an Englishman in 1536 and suffered attacks from indigenous groups for a century. In 1654 it was sacked by pirate Henry Morgan. It has a famous church and not much else. By this time I was feeling a bit wonky. We headed back to Somoto and stopped for a not very good lunch in Ocotal. By the time we got back to our hotel I was super sick – much throwing up all night. I was well enough on Monday for our drive to Leon, but still feeling a little punk. I feel much better now.
Leon – oh my goodness. We love it. It’s freakin’ hot – coming down into the heat from the mountains was a real shock. But the city is beautiful, there are many things to see (churches, museums, a botanical garden), and the people seem a little friendlier. We are in a wonderful hostel with a swimming pool. It was great to go out exploring the city today and come back and take a welcome swim. Very refreshing. Tomorrow we plan to crank up the toaster and head to the beach, about 20 minutes from town. Our current plan is to stay here in Leon until the 20th and then spend the rest of time in Nicaragua out at the beach – if we can find a good place to stay there, which is part of our goal for tomorrow.
Time for bed – more later.