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Chapter 14 – Central America - Nicaragua

By Neil

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The Revolution and Ronnie.

“La revolución comenzó en 1978 aquí en León”, said Benito, a fighter in the Nicaraguan civil war and our guide at the Museo de la Revolucion in Leon.

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Nikki and Benito on the roof of the Museum of the Revolution, used as the headquarters for communications during the revolution and a surprising addition to our tour. As you can see, it is in perfect condition!

Nikki and I had travelled up from Panama City to Managua, Nicaragua, via San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, the previous morning.

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And then jumped on a ‘Chicken Bus’ for the last 100km’s to Leon. It was our first ride on a truly local bus and it was hot, crowded (standing room only for many) and cost less than $2.

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The old American School Bus used ubiquitously throughout Central America and dubbed ‘Chicken Buses’ because you were just as likely to meet a chicken as a person in your travels...

“Why did the revolution start?” I asked Benito.

“The Somoza Regime, backed by the Americans, was murdering the people. We had to rise up”.

The Somoza’s had ruled the country since 1937, having been placed there by the Americans following the US occupation of Nicaragua in 1912; part of the series of US occupations, invasions and control that are now referred to as the “Banana Wars”.

The FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front was formed in 1961 inspired by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and, as its activities increased in the 1970’s, the violent suppression of the people by the Somoza regime increased, supported by the USA.

Benito took us through (in Spanish) the murals, photos and propaganda material in the museum, which detailed the struggles they faced during the revolution, including a photo of a 22 year old Benito celebrating the liberation of Leon.

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A mural honouring the Nicaraguan heroes of the revolution.

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The kind of art work that pervades countries touched by conflict and revolution.

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Us on the roof of the Communications Centre with the Leon Cathedral in the background.

Uncle Ronnie

I am referring to the highly respected “B” rate movie actor and former President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

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One of the most critically acclaimed films of the former President of the United States, “Bedtime for Bonzo”

When Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, his administration supported the “Contras”, a mix of right wing groups organised to fight the Sandanistas (the abovementioned FLSN who were pushing for revolution in Nicaragua). The Russian’s were supporting the Sandanistas. A proxy war was being fought by the superpowers. Sound familiar?

As the war dragged on the US congress wanted to limit, and later stop, US support for the Contras.

Reagan believed that support for the Contras should continue and so began the Iran Contra Affair where the Reagan administration illegally took money from arms sales to Iran and funnelled it to the Contras. Below are a couple of cartoons about the Affair.

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As you can see it ended in a great scandal for Reagan and did not stop the revolution. Daniel Ortega became the president and has been in power, in one form or another, almost continuously since 1979.

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Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Nik and I have met lots of fantastic people on the trip. Smart people. Funny people. Interesting people. People with great insights on the world.

One of these people was an American bloke whom we met in the Posada Fuente Castalia, our hostel in Leon. First of all, you’ve got to love a bloke who has a PhD in writing. That’s cool. If one wants to have one’s thinking challenged it’s good to meet people with different experience and backgrounds. Our new American friend threw in a great thought.

I’ve been thinking, and going on about America’s involvement in South American and Central American politics, society, and government. Our American friend pointed out that his parents worked for a period in Venezuela, prior to Hugo Chavez getting into power. He pointed out that when a countries currency becomes so worthless that citizens start weighing their money when they want to but something, something has seriously turned to custard. America didn’t get involved in Venezuelan politics and Chavez managed to turn the country into a “failed” state.

The older I’ve got, the more I realise that, whilst in most situations it is easy to do what is right, there are some where the best solution is not good, it is actually the least worst solution. Maybe sitting back and handing influence and power to people backed by Russia (30 million murdered in the Gulags), or Castro (great if you want to live in the 1950’s), might not the best solution.

Something to think about……

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So, Nicaragua. First of all the highlight. Hiking up to the smouldering caldera of the Telica Volcano.

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Note the sulphur clouds drifting from the volcano…

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Joe, our guide told us that the last eruption was in May 2016, but it’s ok because it was only a small one.

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Looking at the top of the Caldera.

It was a steep hike in the sun (38 degrees) but the view of the caldera at the top made it all worthwhile! The scenery was very picturesque and the sunset was awesome!

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After watching the sunset and visiting a cave full of bats, we hiked back up to the caldera to see if we could spot any lava in the bottom of the caldera. I know it doesn’t look like much, but the circle of lava you can see was quite bright and it sounded like an airplane taking off!

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Photo looking down 124 metres at the lava at the bottom of the caldera

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Leon itself is a pretty colonial city. It is home to the largest Cathedral in Central America, built in 1747, 30 years before Captain Cook arrived in Australia. It is cool. And big.

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Our Lady of Grace Cathedral in Leon, Nicaragua.

Easter week in South and Central America is called the Semana Santa. Numerous floats are made up and carried through the streets, depicting various scenes from Easter, including Jesus carrying the cross:

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Float of Jesus carrying the Cross in Leon, Nicaragua. The float is about 2.5 metres wide and about 5 metres long. It is hand carried by about 20 devotees.

The local community set up shrines outside their houses:

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A shrine to the Virgin Mary outside of a house in Leon, Nicaragua.

The emotion in the crowd was palpable. For the crucifixion, there were tears, for the resurrection, applause. Below are some scenes from Semana Santa in Leon.

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The form of Jesus after being taken down off the cross being carried through the streets.

Leon was a fascinating introduction to Semana Santa, but we had heard that the Easter celebrations in Antigua, Guatemala were not to be missed. So, whilst it meant that we had to travel straight through Honduras and El Salvador, we left Leon at 2am on Easter Sunday morning to ensure that we arrived in Antigua in time for Easter Sunday evening.

Honduras, I’m sure, is a really nice place but with a murder rate of 1 in 1,000 per year, the bus driver basically kept his foot to the floor for the 3 hour crossing of the country. We also waved our way through El Salvador, creating a new record of three countries in one day!

And then there was Guatemala….

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Posted by capetocape2017 20:10 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged volcano santa semana roses n revolution guns

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Comments

As an unreformed Sandinista, I salute u comrades. Down with El Diablo Reagan and Oliver North.
And I am proud of the vegetarian Comrade Nikita for riding in a Chicken Bus!

by Geoff Silagy

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