“In Nicaragua, everybody is considered
to be a poet until he proves to the contrary.”
– Salman Rushdie, The Jaguar Smile
In November of 2013, I was renting my first apartment in Costa Rica, and I was restless. There was so much to see, not just in Costa Rica, but beyond its borders as well.
My friend Bill Holman wrote me from Pittsburgh and proposed a visit to Nicaragua. We have been travel-buddies since 1999, hiking and rock-climbing and rafting our way through Pennsylvania and its neighbors. Just as I had fantasized about spending time in Costa Rica, Bill had imagined opening a beachfront bar in Nicaragua, even though he had never visited. The time had finally come: He flew to San José, we celebrated his arrival at Stiefel Pub, and we plotted our journey northward.
We are both in our mid-30s, and our memories of the Nicaraguan Revolution are extremely hazy. I remembered seeing the Oliver North hearings on television, plus footage of olive-uniformed men in Jeeps and grisly executions, but I was too young to really understand what I was watching. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I tried to learn about the mission of the Sandinistas, the creation of the Contras, the roll of the U.S. military, and the savage fighting that tormented the Nicaraguan people for 30 years.
The war ended by the time we were in middle school, yet for North Americans, Nicaragua remains a mysterious place. We had seen pictures of the colonial city of Granada, read about the economical travel and wonderful people, and vaguely understood that the Nicaragua of today is nothing like that battlefield of 1990. We had heard about the poverty, but we had also heard about the breathtaking scenery and low incidence of street crime. Still, there is really no way to exaggerate how little a typical U.S. backpacker knows before entering Nicaragua. Aside from general guidebook summaries, we had no idea what we were walking into.
Fourteen months have passed since that fateful journey, and our long weekend in Nicaragua remains one of my favorite experiences in Central America. Bill and I filmed much of our journey, from the long bus ride to the border to our arrival in Granada, a 500-year-old colonial city that is among the most magical places I’ve ever visited. We planned to put together a longer video travelogue about our visit, a story of volcanoes, islands, Mayan sculptors, and well-rolled cigars. Our guide on this journey was a man named Jairo Tenorio, who had vivid memories of the war and was now attempting to rebuild his community through tourism, fine arts, and grassroots education.
This week, we present excerpts from our guerrilla documentary-in-progress. The first segment is about our visit to Masaya, a city crowded with visual artists – including the last Nicoya sculptor to use completely traditional techniques.