January 25th, 2017



I got back from vacation on Sunday, but am still not really caught up, either at work or home.

Anyway, the whole point of the vacation was to avoid being around DC during the inauguration. This is not a political statement. It has to do with avoiding crowds. Especially crowds of people who don't know how to ride the metro correctly. (Stand on the right, damn it! And let people off before you try to get on.) Even though I don't get off for MLK Day or Inauguration Day, the guvvies do, so I also knew nothing would be happening at work.

Why Nicaragua? Well, it's a reasonable distance to go for a shortish trip. It's relatively safe. And relatively cheap. Plus, of course, I had never been there before. I spent one night in Houston on the way, followed by three nights each in Leon and Granada. I'd have liked a couple of more days, which would have allowed me to get to Isla de Ometepe, which has petroglyphs and other pre-Columbian sites, but I couldn't bend the calendar to my will. I did manage to stop for part of a day in Masaya on the way back to the Managua airport.

Highlights, in brief:

Leon has a lot of interesting churches to look at. The Cathedral is the largest in Central America, allegedly having been intended for the far larger and more prosperous city of Lima, Peru. La Merced has the most elaborate interior. El Calvario had my favorite exterior, with brightly painted scenes.

There are also museums to visit. The Museum of Revolution was interesting, but difficult due to my limited Spanish. Leon was the center of the 1970's revolution that overthrew Somoza and there was a definite Sandinista propaganda aspect to the museum. Fortunately, one does not need language skills to deal with art museums and the Ortiz-Gurdian Foundation is quite a good one, with a lot of modern Latin American painting (and some older pieces). My favorite museum, however, was the Museum of Legends and Traditions, which had extensive descriptions in English of the folkloric papier-mache figures it depicted. Lots of familiar stories, e.g. La Llorona, were included, but there was others I hadn't encountered before, such as the woman who lost a child after being raped and gets revenge on unfaithful men by asphyxiating them with her engorged tit.

There was also a nice park and coffee house culture. I need a certain annual dose of sitting in plazas watching the world go by and was able to fulfill some of that requirement.

As for Granada, it is the more popular tourist destination, but I found it less appealing. There's an excellent museum in the Convent of San Francisco and some interesting archaeological exhibits at Mi Museo. The ChocoMuseo was less interesting than it should be, largely because it was too crowded. The churches are, in general, less extravagant than those in Leon, except for María Auxiliadora, which is simply lovely. The problem I had was that the whole vibe was just too touristy. Granada is a popular place for Americans to retire to, so it just didn't feel foreign enough. I don't really see much point in going to Central America and being surrounded by, say, Irish pubs. It probably didn't help that it was very very hot and humid. Leon was, technically, hotter, but was also breezier, so it was pleasanter to walk around.

As for Masya, the two main things to see there are the volcano and the crafts market. The former is erupting and I will have to say that standing at the crater watching the extensive smoke was quite something. The museum at the visitor center is, alas, not all that good. As for the crafts market, I'm not really a big shopper and I thought a lot of what there was for sale was much of a muchness. I did buy a doll for the collection I don't have (i.e. I don't collect dolls, but everyone in my family thinks I do), but didn't find anything else that was at all tempting.

Overall, I'd say the trip satisfied its purpose. I enjoyed myself, though I don't feel any particular need to go back.