Ruth and I were lucky to see a little of Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, before cruising through the Panama Canal. Since September 12, 2018, this country has been under a Level 3 (reconsider going there)Travel Advisory due to “crime, civil unrest, and limited healthcare availability”. I have greater understanding of the caravans moving north through Mexico after being there. The unemployment rate is high in Nicaragua as is poverty. The people, many quite young, are truly suffering. I saw active police with guns along the highway. Nicaragua has experienced fierce uprisings against the government of its President, Daniel Ortega, and his active wife. Now I understand why our tour guides watched out for us with great care and kept us away from trouble.
We were only in the city of León. Founded by Spanish conquistador Cordoba in 1524, Leon, city of lion sculptures, was the capital of this nation during its colonial period until Managua took over in the 19th century. Nicaragua’s 1st university is here as is a politically progressive and revolutionary population. León is Nicaragua’s culture center.
After visiting the home of writer Rubén Darío, this country’s national icon, Ruth & I went to its main art museum and a cathedral. Others went to a local institution, a 300-year-old horse farm. Darío was so important that he was buried next to the altar in Santa Maria de León Cathedral, where he is guarded by a sad lion. Santa Maria is Central America’s largest cathedral, and it’s on this city’s main plaza. The museum we went to was the Centro de Arte Fundación. Due to its Spanish architectural style, it’s not air-conditioned. It’s art works are mostly Central American with El Salvador highly represented, but there is a scattering of European works in it too with some contemporary art and one genuine Rembrandt.
We saw 3 cultural phenomena worth mentioning–gigantonas, chicken busses, and the cathedral’s roof. Gigantonas are tall folk figures that sway outside the cathedral. Chicken busses are retired US school busses that provide public transportation in some Central American countries. We saw them mostly in Guatemala. Santa Maria’s roof contains 34 domes. It takes a long, dark climb to see them. Once painted a glistening white during a restoration, the roof is now somewhat fading but still impressive with great views of the city.
In better times, tourists like to go sandboarding on Cerro Negro, one of 8 active and inactive volcanoes near the city of León. For the time being, that seems risky.