To the Top of Nicaragua – Part 1

Nicaragua is sometimes known as ‘The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’. And looking at a map of the country, it’s easy to understand why. There are numerous lagoons and lakes (including the two largest ones in Central America), and a chain of over 20 volcanoes, including 6 active ones. Some of them have huge, smoking craters; while others erupted centuries ago, leaving behind tranquil crater lakes. Like Guatemala, Nicaragua is perfect for volcano bagging, with activities like hiking, swimming, jungle-trekking, wildlife-watching, and just gawping at the views (when there are no clouds, that is). You don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the power and beauty of these natural beasts, and the fertile volcanic soil around them is one of the reasons for all the diverse flora and fauna here. And like Guatemala, the convergence of all these tectonic plates causes plenty of instability (there are 10 seismic fault lines under Managua alone, which probably accounts for all the earthquake-ruined buildings in the capital). Continue reading

Getting Lost in Managua

While waiting for the lovely people in the UK Consulate, and in the British Embassy in Costa Rica, to produce my emergency passport, back in June, I had very little to do (and very little money to do it with). So wandering the (safer) streets of Managua became my daily little ritual. Which was often followed by getting hopelessly lost in the city’s shambles of anonymous neighbourhoods and unmarked roads. Continue reading

An Unexpected Hiatus

Some of you may be wondering why there were no photos in my last post, no visual record of the cigar makers of Estelí. Well, that’s because my camera was stolen just a few days after my visit to the cigar factory. And although that might be nothing more than a minor hiccup in anyone’s holiday (unless the tourist is a professional photographer and all their pictures were on the camera), for me it was more than a hiccup. Not because of the camera, but because the bag that the camera was in (the bag that was stolen) also contained my passport and bank cards. Oops. Continue reading

The Cigar Makers of Estelí

The highlands of north-west Nicaragua have the perfect climate for growing two plants that have become massively important to the country’s economy – coffee and tobacco. Whereas the mountainous departments of Jinotega and Matagalpa are in coffee country, Estelí department is famous for its tobacco fields and cigars. And having missed out on seeing a cigar factory in Honduras (due to it being closed for Easter), Estelí presents the perfect opportunity to see how these famous stogies are made. Continue reading

Scuba Diving in the Bay Islands

Along with the Maya ruins at Copán in western Honduras, the only other tourist site in the country that seems remotely popular with foreigners is the Bay Islands. Strung out at the south-eastern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the islands are world-famous for diving, snorkelling, and relaxing on the beach. Roatán is the largest and most developed (and therefore the most expensive); while to the west, Utila is cheaper and more ‘rustic’. Continue reading

William Walker, King of the Filibusters

The history of US interventions in Central America is a long one, as the self-styled champion of freedom and democracy has conspired against, invaded, and occupied just about every country in the region, from declaring war with Mexico in 1846 to invading Panama in 1989. It’s also overthrown numerous democratically-elected governments (because apparently, foreign democracy looks a lot like Communism!). While many Americans might think that all the immigrants from places like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are a bunch of job-stealing illegal aliens, many of those people are fleeing problems in their own countries that have been caused (or exacerbated) by previous US governments. From arming paramilitary death squads to supporting some of history’s worst dictators, the USA’s blood-stained fingerprints are all over Central America. Continue reading

Semana Santa in Honduras

The pre-Columbian peoples of Honduras (the Maya and the Lenca of the mountainous western part of the country, near Guatemala and El Salvador) were polytheistic (i.e., they worshipped lots of gods), and animistic (i.e., they had gods in the sky, the ground, the sea, and so forth, and they believed in spirits in trees, rocks, rivers, etc.). But four centuries of Catholicism have had an effect on everyone, and now, like most of Latin America, almost the entire population is Christian (there’s one mosque and one synagogue in the whole country); and the majority of those Christians are Catholic (because it’s so much more obvious and sensible to have one big God rather than lots of little gods!). Like the rest of Latin America, various evangelical groups, from the Seventh Day Adventists to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, operate in Honduras; and every town and village seems to have a church of Everlasting Love, or Holy Spirit, or Living God, or some such thing. And of course, there are the Mormons, cycling around in twos, with their shirts, ties, and name tags, and their spectacularly-unbelievable religion (which is so obviously made-up that it makes Christianity look plausible). Continue reading