Nicaragua: A Polarity in Culture

Log: 30th July 2016 – 9th August 2016

• When I started blogging I always held in mind that I wanted to write honestly about my experiences, all the good and bad and the bits in between. I want to be clear in expressing that I had always perceived long term travelling to be expensive, unadaptable and inaccessible to me. It wasn’t until I accepted that I would never experience any form of failure or success unless I tried that I found courage to seek it out for myself. I soon realised life on the road is easier than I originally imagined but what took something a little longer to understand was the power and privilege that comes from travelling and how this can taint our perspective on the places we visit if we are not willing to open our eyes to everything that occurs. I’ve stated before that I don’t want to be just another tourist, taking only pleasure from my travels, but educating myself about all aspects of the countries I visit and understanding fully the impact I have.

Matagalpa + the Mountains

After climbing Volcano Concepción, I was forced into recovery for about four days. I’d lost complete normality of my legs, basically having to drag my sorry ass around because I couldn’t lift my feet! (I have no regrets though, climbing that volcano was bloody awesome) I think Neven took pity on me so we stayed in Granada at the House of Bottles again and I got some cat therapy. Soon enough we were ready to move on and the mountains were calling us again.

I always enjoy the journey through the mountain terrain. The weather is cool and fresh, the air is crisp and clean and I never tire admiring the mountainous views. Our first night found us in a village on the outskirts of Matagalpa. We decided to keep to our budget and camp but as the night fell we had a little trouble finding a safe place to set up. After much searching we settled on a road we assumed to be less used. How wrong we were, all night villages continued to pass by on the way home from the Sunday fiestas. Talking and shining there lights on us, they seemed to be absolutely confused by our presence and vocalised how we were utterly crazy. In the morning some villages approached us and questioned our purpose, after clearing the air and advising them when had no ill intentions, we quickly left before anything else could arise.

Next stop was Cascada Blanca – a gorgeous waterfall flowing over a sneaky cave. I took the chance to have a much needed nap and Neven practiced his Spanish.

Following we made a quick food pit stop in the city of Matagalpa and enjoyed a local meal. Güirilas – a tortilla made from young corn with cuajada – a type of cheese. Although tasty, I struggled with the heaviness of the meal and was ready for another nap. We also made a stop to Él Castillo del Cacao, selling locally made and by far the best chocolate I have ever tasted. Naturally I got every flavour. That night we stayed in a hostel in preparation for the next day of travel.

The Old Boy of Peñas Blanca

Peñas Blanca was by far my favourite experience in Nicaragua. It had been suggested to us by a local so we made the lengthy drive to the high rise wall of white rocks. Just in front of the formation was a property owned by a 76 year old man named Don Chico – translating to Mr Small/Old Boy. It became immediately clear as to why he was given this name. He was of very small build and had an undeniable essences of fruitful youth. On arrival Don Chico greeted us with the most genuine and benevolent smile and was very excited to have us as guests.

The following morning, with Don Chico as our guide, we began to climb Peñas Blanca. The climb was no volcano but it was still strenuous and Don Chico put both Neven and I to shame as he gracefully kept a steady pace as we scaled our way up and down. I only had admiration for this man who knew the mountain inside out, from the animals, to the properties and qualities of the plants. He shared stories of the history of the rocks and the politics and rebels that he had experienced during his 73 years on the farm.

Don Chico’s wife prepared every meal for us while we stayed and I have never experienced food made with such love and detail. On our last night Don Chico asked if we liked music and came out with an instrument the size of a ukulele but with four double strings. He played for us with incredibly enthusiasm and passion. Soon finding out he had only been playing for the last few months and that he practiced every Sunday. He had never had a teacher and only tried to replicate the songs he heard on the radio. I was utterly stunned! Not only was this man young in mind and physically fitness, his spirit, passion and curiosity bloomed strongly like that of a child constantly discovering the joys of the world. I felt so inspired by him and realised there is no limit to age when you’re on the journey of learning, exploration, and developing. My desire of learning the ukulele only grew stronger and with a burst of inspiration, I sketched out our host while he played.

La Biosfera

Saying goodbye to the mountains we left on a high note, which quickly turned sour as I experienced explosive sickness on our way out. Im honestly starting to think that there’s something with me and an sort of elevation. I was not surprised to find myself sick again! Neven convinced me a visit to the doctor was necessary. As I recovered we decided to stay at a self sustainable property, growing their own vegetables and making fertiliser from human poop. The host was a quiet and shy local who hadn’t seen guests in a very long time. He was really appreciative of our company as it got a little lonely sometimes. I worked through my nerves and practiced some Spanish with him. He was gentle and understanding and I was glad we decide to spend some time there.

Granada’s Raging Bull

Granada welcomed us back with a stinky, sweaty, humid hug. During our previous stay, a server advised us of a bull festival being held on the 7th of August. It was a huge cultural event and drew people from all over Nicaragua and surrounding countries. Realising soon after, to my deepest regret, we were in the right place at the right time to attend. I’ve never participated in something so degrading and inhumane in my life.

The event kicked off around noon and locals started to fill the streets. As the minutes ticked over until the major event started I watched as people progressively became intoxicated. Cowboys with rein in one hand, beer in the other, were trotting around aimlessly. Teenagers gathered in groups, underaged and chain smoking cigarettes, dressed and acting like they belonged in gangs. Vendors coasting away drunkards with more alcohol. Sure. It wasn’t an uncommon sight to me. I’ve seen and been a part of plenty drunken celebrations. What I struggled to digest was what came when I finally saw the bull. I didn’t know the origin of the festival but if there was supposedly some greater intention behind it I still would never have accepted it.

The bull was roped up and dragged onto the street. People began to gather around the animal to provoke and torture it every possible way. Hitting it, throwing rocks, pulling on its tail, stomping and kicking and screaming at it. The fire and rage that was being eluded came only from the tormentors and I witnessed firsthand the dangerous and monstrous nature of man. Amongst the horror, I saw tears in the eyes of the bull and I felt pain like I’ve never understood before. I could barely see straight as a burning fury grew inside of me. I had intense hate for the humans who felt their existence surpassed those of others beings. That this aspect of their culture was purely for their entertainment and that they felt that they deserved that privilege. I don’t believe that just because something exists within a culture or tradition that it makes it acceptable or right. I was one small person amongst a scene I had no power or control over and I felt pathetic being a witness, with my only available effort in contributing to change was to walk away. I have relief in walking away when I did, knowing only now, the bull was to be slaughtered in front of everyone at the end of the day.

I have little confidence that my expression of this experience will promote significant change in something deeply ingrained. But I believe in the underlying power of awareness and hopes that if we are truly touched that we will strive in ourselves to create change even if our efforts seem small and less significant. It always pays to be active in some way, as passivity and inactivity are equivalent to accepting the ideas that go against positive change.

San Carlos + Castillo on the San Juan River

After a quick dash from Granada with my heart a little worn, we found ourselves searching for another place to camp as night approached us. Finding a small restaurant we were welcomed by a young guy named Daniel who happily offered the restaurant area for us to camp. It just happened to be his birthday. With intense curiosity he took time out from his party to sit with us and pick our brains about our origins and culture. He offered us local food, beer and birthday cake and the anger I had been harbouring from the Granada event began to dissolve as I was reminded of the unsolicited kindness of strangers. My faith in humanity had not been completely lost.

As our journey took us closer to the Costa Rican border, Neven and I stopped to spend a quick night in Castillo, a fishing village on the San Juan River. The San Juan River is the biggest river in Nicaragua and runs out into the Caribbean Sea. We nervously left Rocinante (the car) in the town of San Carlos as we took a four hour boat trip down the river to Castillo. I questioned the sturdiness of our small and narrow boat as people began to piled in and the boat sunk lower and lower into the water. My mind soon wondered from that thought as we speed through the water, admiring the thick and lush dense forest that cradled both sides of the river. With much peace and tranquility radiating, I lost myself on that ride.

Unfortunately we only spent a short evening in Castillo but I thoroughly enjoyed the little village. Children played in the streets until dark and it held a strong sense of safety and community.

The End in Sight

The following day we were back on the road heading towards the border. The border is relatively new and is yet to attract many people. This was distinctively noticeable when we completed all the necessary paperwork and found the staff in the car park kicking a ball around. Of course Neven decided to join in and I found myself giggling on the sidelines. A nice lighthearted end to our time in Nicaragua and the realisation that the next few weeks in Costs Rica would be the last on Neven’s trip. Soon we would be parting ways and it was time to make the most of our remaining time together.

Extra photos:

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