Countries Visited

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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Managua and more virgins in Nicaragua

Managua doesn't feel very urban. Maybe it is spread out, but it barely feels like a city. We arrived in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, on a religious festival day honoring the conception of Christ. Not many people were around until we found the center of the celebration (including tons of street food). Apparently, this holiday began in Leon, Nicaragua, and has become a lot like Christmas carolling. People go door to door with giant virgin Marys singing a song that sounds to me a lot like "It's a Small World". Also, Virgin Marys get set up all over the city and people can instead come to her to sing. So, here are some pictures.

One of the Marys on the street with people singing. The line to sing to her was about a block long and later it got even longer.
Daniel in this message is Daniel Ortega, president of the country and strong socialist. He is very, very popular and messages like this are scrawled nearly everywhere. It may be that those of other parties are removed while his are not, but my bet is that he wins reelection in 2011.
Our first night in Managua, we got sucked into the big performance outside the old cathedral (the interior was destroyed by earthquakes and is not open, but it still looks nice). They repeatedly sang two songs about the Virgin Mary and were apparently awaiting the arrival of one of the traveling statues of her. However, after two hours we gave up and left. What we realized only at that point was that no one cared about the staute. They had only come because they were giving away free buckets of staple foods like corn, rice, and beans. As soon as people got their buckets, they were running for the exits.
They had built a lovely Christmas tree out of lights and had a lot of fireworks all night long. They also had the fireworks that simply explode with no pretty lights that went off about every 10 seconds for the whole two hours. Apparently that is how they honor Mary.
In Nicaragua, Tara and I both got haircuts. For $1.50 each. Here is Tara's, which looks good for $1.50.
The Honduras coup is covered a lot in the news here. We saw a few signs on the topic. (Zelaya is the ousted president of Honduras.)
This is the new cathedral in Managua, paid for by the founder of Domino's Pizza, who now devotes his fortune to Catholic causes. Inside, it feels like a cross of a high school gym and a bomb shelter. Outside, it at least looks cool.
From Managua, we went to Leon. Leon is the other major colonial center and is most famous because it has nearly a one-to-one colonial church to person ratio. Here is one such church. Because I don't remember the names, I'll call this the pink one.
Leon is near the Cerro Negro Volcano, which is one of the most active in the world. However, when it erupts, it just spews out lava bombs (small bits of lava that harden in the air and are rock before they hit the ground). They have tours here in which you hike to the top with a piece of plywood nailed to a piece of metal and then sled down the volcano on it. We first read about this in the New York Times about a year ago and have known we had to do it ever since. Here is the truck to take us to the volcano.
Here is the volcano. We climbed up the right side in this picture and then slid down at almost the left side.
Looking down from the top, you can clearly see where the small lava flow and rocks from previous eruptions stop. Lots of volcanoes in the area, but this is the only active one.
Looking down into the crater of the volcano. We actually got to hike around in the crater as the guide was telling us about how they are really bad at predicting when it will erupt.
Now, for the main event. Here we are in our jump suites getting ready for the sledding. On the ground in the background, you can see a couple of the sleds.

This isn't either of us, but here is roughly what you look like sledding down. The incline is 41 degrees, which may not sound like a lot, but is really steep. While you are sledding down, these tiny black rocks are flying at your face. And they have a radar gun to clock your speed. It was great! We have video of Tara going down.
Here is Tara upon completion of her run. She fell a couple times, but did a great job. In the end, I was clocked at 65km/hour (40mph) and Tara was clocked at a slightly slower 20km/h (though she was going faster at one point before the radar gun). The record is 50mph, so I wasn't even close to that.
Back in town, we ran into this woman. Not sure who she was supposed to be, but I'll guess that it has something to do with the Virgin Mary.
We'll call this the Yellow Colonial Church of Leon.
This one is the main cathedral of Leon. It is huge for a city this size. Apparently, there are stories that the plans for Lima were accidentally sent here instead, so now they have a huge cathedral.
We don't know what kind of store this is, but we have seen it in two different cities and we like the logo. I think they sell clothing. Or maybe execution equipment.
That ends our travels in Nicaragua. After this, we head to El Salvador, passing through Honduras on the way. Nicaragua has been a good experience. To any thinking about visiting, it is worth the trip and definitely go volcano boarding.


  1. volcano what now? That's definitely awesome. Glad to see you're finding new and interesting semi-dangerous activities to do together!

  2. You guys are crazy!

  3. Wow, volcano sledding. So awesome. Also awesome, your haircut, Tara! :)

  4. "He is very, very popular and messages like this are scrawled nearly everywhere. It may be that those of other parties are removed while his are not, but my bet is that he wins reelection in 2011."

    Daniel is very unpopular. He won the election in 2006 with only 38% of the vote aided by a corrupt pact with ex-president Aleman who stole hundreds of millions of dollars when he ran the country and needed Ortega's to scratch his back and grant him immunity from his crimes. His popularity has declined ever since. He has illegally changed the constitution to allow himself to run again in 2011 and has systematically trashed every democratic institution in Nicaragua since he's been in power, most notably suppressing international observers while he fraudulently stole last Novembers municipal elections despite losing hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid when the international community took note.

    He's used paid off street thugs to oppress any opposition or protest and has attacked the press at every turn creating an environment of fear and distrust amongst the majority.

    They only way he will get elected in 2011, is if he steals the elections again and ignores the people will.

    Meanwhile the US and the world condemns Honduras for following it's constitution and removing Zelaya for trying to illegally change the constitution to allow himself to run again.

  5. So Nicaraguans sing to the Madonna, and Americans sing Madonna songs at karaoke. I think we have the basis for cross-cultural understanding here.

    Inquiring minds want to know: Was Tara independently excited about volcano sledding, or did she have to be cajoled? Also, who even thinks to do that?!

  6. First, thanks to the poster with a more informed view of Nicaragua than us. All we can do is give our impression, and I would say that if Daniel Ortega is that unpopular, he has an excellent propaganda campaign. We saw very little signs of opposition, unlike every other country we visited with leaders that were unpopular.

    Second, Tara definitely wasn't sure about the whole volcano sledding and she wasn't happy for much of the hike to the top with the big sled, but she ended up having a good time. I was definitely worried when she fell off a few times that she would divorce me when she reached the bottom...