Thursday, December 27, 2012

Corinto, Nicaragua and the volcano that just keeps spewing

I´m in Corinto, Nicaragua right now, sitting in an internet ¨cafe´¨ at the end of the row of 5 computers with a fan blowing on me periodically, but it isn´t beginning to make a dent in the 110 degree heat and 90% humidity. We went to Leon today to see that city. The most interesting sight by far was the volcano, San Cristobal, spouting off ashes about 10 km off the road. I´ll post pictures later. They don´t know if it´ll blow its top today or tomorrow or not. People aren't leaving their homes because they don´t want them to get looted like they did the last time this happened. It was a bit distracting to have it billowing serious clouds of ashes all day to the east. We leave this evening for Guatemala tomorrow.

The one hour ride to Leon provided a lot of opportunities to gain insight into the lives of the Nicaraguans.  Along the side of the road we saw horses and cows grazing, untethered, wandering freely, enjoying the grass and other foliage growing there.  We also saw many, many people – men and boys almost exclusively – riding skinny horses.  It seemed to be one of the primary forms of transportation.  Sometimes the horse was pulling a cart, but more often it was just being ridden by a single person. 
Many of the semis, perhaps all, were guarded by an armed guard who rode on the back of the truck, standing up, holding his semi-automatic gun as the truck barreled down the highway.  Apparently there is enough robbery of trucked goods to make that a necessary accoutrement to goods transportation.
We saw a lot of agriculture along the road – sugar cane and peanuts are the two I remember best.  There was one plantation which continued for quite some time – perhaps ½ mile.  Out guide, Reggie, said it belongs to one of the richest men in Nicaragua.  On our ride back, I saw a young boy squatting on his fence looking through his mail lot, trying to get a look at what was behind it.  I wonder about the disparity between rich and poor which seems to be as extreme in Nicaragua as in other countries we’ve visited.
We saw the home of a baseball player who has earned his riches in the US.  Reggie said it’s a shame that he has such a huge house down here but is hardly ever here to enjoy it.  He seemed to worry more about that disparity than the others he pointed out.

Reggie had lived in Nicaragua as a baby until 1979 when he was 4 and his mother took him to the US where his father was already living.  Reggie doesn’t remember the war in Nicaragua but said that boys of 13 or so would be stolen from schools if they looked big enough to be able to fight.  His parents moved because of the war.  He lived in the US until a few years ago.  Apparently he got into some kind of trouble – a car wreck which he said wasn’t his fault or something like that.  He was offered the option of going to jail for 10 years for it or being deported.  He chose deportation.  He has made a life for himself here and said that if you work hard, you can make a living but that most people choose not to work hard.  He and his wife buy hogs, slaughter them, then make tamales and other food to sell from them.  He also does the occasional tour guide stint, but boats only come into Corinto 1-2 times/month, so he can’t rely on that, even though he and the driver made $150 for the day yesterday.  It doesn’t feed the family sufficiently.  He also does construction work though he says that people are offered one month’s work now rather than 6-7 months’ work as in the past – signs of the slower economy.  But he’s not unhappy or unsatisfied.  He seems Ok with being back in Nicaragua even though he didn’t come back voluntarily.
On the way to Leon, we stopped by some Hot Pits – I think that’s what they were called.  One of the many, many volcanoes (did he say 67, or which 22 are active?) has run its tendrils through the land to an area where it is bubbling up to the surface and is causing the mud to literally boil.  There are various colors of mud in this several hundred square yard area – brown, black, red, white.  Some of the earth is dried out and cracked.  Some of it has crackled white granules of sulfur dried on the ground.  In other places, there is steam arising – I made a video I’ll post later because I wanted to record the sound of it, eerie and uncanny as it was.  The dirt is boiling in those areas.  The kids who took us through the area told me about the different colors.  They collected the mud in plastic bags for us and gave it to us as gifts, telling us we could use it on our faces as a beauty regimen.  They also made little animals and candle holders out of the mud into which they incised patterns and designs.  They used their childish wiles to get us to purchase them.  One little girl walked with Gerlinde the whole way then cast her eyes down as Gerlinde told her she was pretty and sweet and Gerlinde had to go.  The kids stood by our minivan waiting for us to give them our dollars as we left.  The whole scenario made me quite uncomfortable.  I didn’t see adults anywhere except at the entrance where we paid our $2 entry fee, and standing at the table where they tried to sell us supposedly pre-Colombian pottery shards which they’d found in the hot pits.  They looked surprisingly much like the things the kids were making.  It was difficult for me to be confronted with the level of poverty which would bring the kids there to hang out with us and to try to get us to purchase things from them and to give them money just because they are cute.  I understand their need to do it.  I hate it that the world is made so that people have to work so hard, especially as children, to make a go of it.  I felt very uncomfortable being confronted with their reality.  And I don’t have any idea what to do about it.  My $3-4 won’t make a difference for their lives really.  And I don’t have a clue what sort of real offerings I could extend that would help them get out of their poverty.  Education, of course, could help.  But would it make them happier?  Are they already happy?  I don’t have any idea.

Another interesting sight we saw along the way to Leon were trees which had painted trunks.  Some were painted red and black, others red and white.  The red and black ones indicated supporters of Daniel Ortega – yes, the same Daniel Ortega from the 70’s.  He’s back in power, but apparently his politics are quite different than they used to be.  The red and white tree trucks indicated support for the liberals. 
Leon was an interesting city.  It’s very crowded in the area around the cathedral which is where we headed.  The cathedral was built in the early 1800´s and took 150 years to build, so it doesn´t have the age on it that so many we´ve seen do.  It was mildly interesting.

What was much more interesting was the indoor market our guide took us to.  Oh my goodness.  I´ll post pictures when I have a chance - they´ll be worth checking back for.  First we walked through the fruit and vegetable part.  It was interesting seeing the different kinds of things available here that we don´t have in the US.  They were laid out on ancient tables throughout the hall.  We saw things like packs of banana leaves being sold for wrapping tamales and other purposes.  Freshly squeezed juices are sold in plastic bags which are tied up to hold them safely.  At least two vendors sold piggy banks of differing sizes made out of red clay.  

Then we went into the hall where meat was sold.  Wow.  The US health department would have some issues there.  Serious issues.  Meat was cut and spread out on filthy counters with no hint of refrigeration.  Pig´s feet, cow´s hooves, iguanas tied up, bound and gagged, but not yet dead.  Seafood in bowls with flies having a feast on their decomposing bodies.  Children sleeping in cradles next to their mothers who were doing the selling.  Women selling their goods, dressed in frilly white aprons, surprisingly pristine for the most part, staring me down when I dared to take pictures.  I definitely dared to take pictures.  It was a festival for the eyes even if my stomach was complaining about what I was seeing.

We chose to eat at a restaurant near the cathedral which we´d learned about during our Pre Port talk.  Almost all the people there were from the ship.  I didn´t want to take a chance to eat somewhere else given the conditions of the meat for sale.  I don´t know that it was different there at the restaurant, but at least I know that other folks with bodies and microbes in their bodies similar to mine have eaten there before.  I don´t like to be picky or all that careful with where I eat usually - I figure if the inhabitants eat there, it´s probably fine, but that market made me feel otherwise for at least this city.  Yikes!  I don´t think my vegan daughter would have had any pleasure there whatsoever.  I said prayers for the animals and went on through.  AND I realize that these animals are just as dead as the ones I eat - it certainly doesn´t make any difference to them, so my distaste is a bit absurd for their sake, but so it is...

Around the cathedral where we went to the market, there were 100´s of merchants selling other goods as well.  Most were apparently for the inhabitants of the city and appeared to have come straight from China.  Cheap plastic toys, Barbie doll rip offs, plastic cars and trucks, 1000´s upon 1000´s of bras of all colors and patterns, zillions of pairs of women´s panties all in the same style, but of many different colors.  Mixed in were a few craftspeople plying their wares for tourists.  One young man with plaintive eyes came up to us at least 5 different times to try to sell us some ceramic pieces which were actually quite lovely and inexpensive, but I just can´t bring myself to get something like that to bring back to the States.  My bags have already reached their weight and size limit!  Exceeded it, more likely.  I just hope I won´t have to pay for two extra bags for the flight back.

OK - time to get going - I have to be back to the ship fairly soon.  I’m looking forward to a nice shower.  I´m sitting here dripping all over my pretty white overblouse, the lightest loosest thing I own.  I´ll have to wash it tonight so I can wear it again tomorrow.  I assume it´ll be just as hot in Guatemala tomorrow.
I hope you all are having a wonderful week between Christmas and New Years.  It´s been bizarre knowing intellectually that the holidays are happening but having very little external indication of it.  Strange!

boy at the hot pit

boy at the hot pits making a clay animal

Leon the lion in Leon the city in front of the cathedral

fruit at the market

hoofs at the market

Iguanas, not quite dead, bound and gagged, for sale at the market

seafood for sale

bags of ?? for sale

cheese for sale

Learn Spanish and Salsa

Manikins in wigs and fancy children's dresses

blanket on display

Christmas pinatas

San Cristobal volcano

the volcano - and me, happy that it isn't spewing lava at me!

Our crew

horse and cart on the highway


common conveyance in Nicaragua


more color

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