We feel so very fortunate. Over a delicious cup of coffee, Heather and I had a conversation with Jose Rizo Castellon. He’s the owner of the Hotel Museo La Casa De Los Rizo where we’re staying in Jinotega. He was also Vice President of Nicaragua from 2002 to 2005. Really. While VP, he was nominated as the PLC Constitutionalist Liberal Party (an opposition political party in Nicaragua) presidential candidate for the 2006 election. Unfortunately, he finished in third place behind Daniel Ortega and Eduardo Montealegre receiving 25.1% of the vote. After speaking with him, I have a better idea of how things are in Nicaragua… today.
As you can see from this newspaper cartoon, he was fully aware of corruption in government and proposed a “New Era”.
He was sitting in the foyer of his quaint little hotel and knowing a little of his background, I couldn’t resist the urge approach and ask him directly, “How is Nicaragua today?” He paused, smiled and his reply was direct and somewhat disconsolate. “Not well my friend.” When I pursued my question, he responded with a familiar theme. “Both healthcare and education are seriously lacking in Nicaragua.” He told us that universities are now mainly privatized and students generally attend 1 day per week. “It’s impossible” he said. “How can our country progress?” Good question – apparently, it can’t. Healthcare became a personal matter for him when he chose to travel to Chile for urgent surgery. He had no confidence in the level of care he’d receive here. He’s recovering now and spending a lot of time in his birthplace – Jinotega.
Here’s some photos of his home – our hotel.
With that question aside, our conversation became a two-way chat about our countries and why we would choose to spend 3 ½ months in Nicaragua. “To see the beautiful country and meet the wonderful people” we replied. It’s true. He smiled and looked heartened. He then showed us some photos of his lovely finca where… he grows the coffee we were drinking! Delicious! What a good feeling to meet such a bueno hombre!
And… breakfast with a Nicaraguan diplomat’s family
After a stormy and very windy night, the morning broke sunny and breezy. A nice combo. As it was Sunday, the breakfast at the hotel included nacatamales. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll remember we had them last in Granada when our homestay Mum Rosita presented them… also on a Sunday. They were super good today!
We had breakfast with a family that lives near Managua. They had come north to ‘escape the heat’. Really. Their son Alejandro who was 12, spoke VERY good English and wanted to have conversations with us. We learned he was athletic and loved to run. He wants to go to university to study ‘technology’. Unlike many other children in this country, we’re sure he’ll do just that – maybe not in Nicaragua though. His Dad Antonio was a fascinating fellow. He was a diplomat for the Nicaraguan government and his current posting is in El Salvador. We asked about the country and he shared some stories of the two vicious opposing national ‘gangs’ who are in control. They dominate and hold sway over 90% of everything that happens in the country. As such, the place is VERY dangerous for residents. Not so for tourists he added. “They want nothing to do with you.”
The two gangs are responsible for over 6000 deaths in the past year. He also added that Nicaragua is very strict about keeping conflict out of the country. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala form a triangle of hostility not welcome here and the northern border is ‘where it stops’. Antonio has quite the job. No wonder he was taking the time off for a holiday with his family in this Nicaraguan paradise.
Another beautiful hike
The day’s activity was to walk up to “La Pena de la Cruz”. Like other towns, it’s a cross placed high on a hill – to signify God watching over everyone.
Looking at the mountain from downtown, it looks like a heck of a trek. In the end, it was a lovely walk on a well-built pathway consisting of 557 stairs and a bunch of concrete sloped parts. Worth the trip.
When we arrived at the top, we saw lots of folks were spending their Sunday with the family walking up here as well. And the regional authority’s guards were up there… listening intently to the radio broadcasting the first major baseball game of the season!
A Common Thread in Nicaraguan towns
The feeling of community and family fun continued when we arrived back in town. The central park was jammed with families and their kids playing on the swings and even in the skateboard BMX park.
Here’s a young boy we met while having a coffee in town. He was hanging around the door begging for money. Heather chose a more direct approach. She bought him juice and some cookies from the café and they shook hands on it.
We really enjoyed our short stay in Jinotega. Like San Rafael del Norte, there is a rural feel to this town and as we’ve come to realize, Nicaraguan people are very free with their smiles. We’re collecting them and we’re getting rich!
Now we’re off to Aquas de Arenal. It’s a small finca run by a German fellow and his Nicaraguan wife. Way up high in the mountains between here and Matagalpa, it will definitely be a retreat. After that… we don’t like to think too far ahead… we’re off to the Corn Islands after brief stays in Matagalpa and Managua. We realize our good fortune every day…