MANAGUA – On the garbage-caked shores of LakeXolotlan, workers slap new paint on an old boat that will soon be the vanguard in a fleet that aims to awaken the tourism potential of this capital city.
Nicaragua’s National Port Company (EPN) is putting up $1.1 million for a ferry and wharf in hopes of attracting investment to the shores of this polluted, 1,600-squarekilometer lake that laps the shores of the northern edge of Managua.
With the wharf ’s grand opening scheduled for May, workers here are scrambling to refurbish the 150-passenger ferry boat that will ship tourists across LakeXolotlan, also known as LakeManagua.
The new dock, the state-owned company hopes, will inspire a makeover of the longforgotten Malecón, which used to be part of the historic center of the city until being reduced to a barren, windswept lakeshore ever since the 1972 earthquake.
Tourism Minister Mario Salinas says plans are in the making to restore the whole area.
“We want to put a locale there where artisans can sell their handicrafts, with a tourist information center and maps,” Salinas told The Nica Times. “It has tourism potential, and it will help Managua face up to the lake, which has been forgotten.”
For about $2, the ferry will take travelers across the lake to lakeshore communities that could see big changes if the project is successful. On the list of stops are San Francisco Libre, Chitepe, Momotombo, León Viejo and the tiny Isla del Amor.
“We want to get private investment coming in – San Francisco Libre is a place with tourism possibilities for canopy tours, and in León Viejo there’s an archaeological site,” said Nery Sánchez, director of the EPN’s port assistance unit.
Salinas says INTUR is also studying how it can support tourism initiatives around the lake.
The push to boost lake transportation will also benefit from an $80 million wastewater treatment plant that promises to clean up the heavily polluted lake waters as well as its filthy image (NT,March 21).
The idea of a wharf and ferry project has been talked about here for years, but was given new importance in 2007 after heavy rains caused destructive flooding that washed away parts of the highway connecting Managua to San Francisco Libre, on the other side of the lake to the north.
The ferry was reintroduced not only to establish an alternative transportation route, but also to serve as an emergency response vessel in a city whose history has been defined by natural disasters. The boat will have removable seats so it can house emergency cargo, according to EPN engineer Lester Quintero.
The boat project is already helping to change the lakefront’s image.
“This boat is being modernized – with a new motor, and interior, salt-resistant paint,” said Quintero as workers on the 60-footlong, three-story ship slap on coats of paint.
Behind the boat, several hundred feet out in the water, a dredging machine sucks up and spits out debris and mud from the bottom of the lake to make way for the new wharf.
Once completed, the wharf project will feature a parking lot with security, a pier with an adjacent floating dock for loading, and new lighting to illuminate the Malecón.
The port authority bought the 22-year-old ferry in 1989. The aluminum boat was first used in the 1986 World Fair in Canada.
In Nicaragua, it has been used on Lake Nicaragua as well as on the TipitapaRiver, which connects Xolatlán with the larger LakeCocibolca. However, the ferry was rendered inoperable after being flooded during Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
The ferry was first named the “Evolution,” and has since been renamed “The Revolution,” the “Mark Twain” and – most recently – “La Novia de Xolotlán.” The threestory ferry is handicap accessible and is undergoing an interior makeover that will involve new lighting, seating and motors.
The bustle of dredgers and boat painters at the Managua lakefront is a promising sign of progress on a lake where most big plans never make it off the drawing board – such as one Nicaraguan sculptor’s plan to build a giant, illuminated, bobbing head of national hero Ruben Dario (a plan that happily didn’t float).
“Many people are interested in (lake restoration),” Salinas said. “It takes time on the government’s part to support the businesses that have these initiatives.”
The wharf project, however, already appears to be a case of “if you build it, they will come.”
Ometepe businessman Milton Arcia, who owns the ferries that shuttle daily across LakeCocibolca from San Jorge to Moyogalpa, Ometepe, has recently restored two 70-passenger yachts that he’ll use to ship tourists around LakeXolotlán for a unique view of the city.
“They’re waiting there on the lakeshore,” he said of his two boats. “We’re just waiting for the dock to be finished.”