The Nicaraguan flag flying at the Malecon on the edge of Lake Managua

The Nicaraguan flag flying at the Malecon on the edge of Lake Managua

Tuesday I caught a ride with two officers from CEPRODEL back to Managua, the capital.  My papers for my temporary residence Visa were ready at the Embassy, and I needed to sign them and give up my passport for a week (when I have to return again…).  Don Carlos and Don Fran, who work in the Managua office, live in Chinandega and Leon respectively, and commute regularly over an hour one way.  This time, I figured, I would take the day to see the sites in Managua.  My first few days in Managua were filled with meetings, and also I had been nervous about taking cabs and sightseeing alone.  This time, I was more confident, and had spent the night before reading about the different historical sights, plazas, and monuments.   When I explained my plan to Don Carlos, he immediately offered my the services of Michael, who had picked me up at the airport two weeks ago.  So I ended up with a private chauffeur and guide for the day.

Concha Acustica, and Plaza de la Fe

Concha Acustica, and Plaza de la Fe

First we went to the malecon and Concha Acustica, a huge gleaming white stage for concerts, and plaza de Fe, a huge circular expanse of concrete around a monument commemorating the second visit  of Pope John Paul II to Nicaragua.  First observation – it was empty.  We were the only people, except for the construction crew building a government sponsored low income housing project next to the plaza.  Second observation – Sandinista propaganda covers the city like confetti after a party, more obtrusively in some parts than others. Note the gigantic pink billboards.

The ruins of the Cathedral next to the Presidents House

The ruins of the old Cathedral

The presidents house (which is really where he works, not lives) is a modern brightly colored house, and makes the ruins of the incredibly ornate cathedral that stands next to it seem even more run down and gray than it is.  The cathedral was destroyed in the 1972 earthquake that leveled the center of the city, killing over 5,000 people and displacing two thirds of the population.  It has never been renovated, but it is clear from the incredible detail on what is still standing that it was once a gleaming architectural wonder.

The plaza in front of the cathedral once held a fountain lit with an elaborate light show, built by Jose Aleman, an anti-Sandinista presidident who until three weeks ago faced charges of millions of dollars of corruption and a 20 year prison sentence.  The fountain, which Aleman was criticized for spending so much money on in a faltering economy, has since been paved over by the current Sandinista government.

We also visited the lake Tiscapa, which is a crater lake with a high bank that gives you a view over the whole city.  My impression from the top – what alot of trees!  Its the greenest capital city I can image, maybe because it is sprawling but most buildings are one or two stories, allowing the trees to grow unobstructed.

Weapons prodruding from the concrete at Parque de Paz

Weapons prodruding from the concrete at Parque de Paz

The last place we went was a place Michael hadn’t thought to include in the tour, but I had read about it and wanted to see it.  It is called Parque de Paz – Park of Peace.  Doña Violeta de Chamorro, who was the first woman president of Central America and Nicaragua and marked the end of the Sandinista era after the revolution, designed this park.  In the center there is a huge lighthouse, meant to invoke a feeling of being guided safely to peace after decades of war against the Somozas and then the Contras.  Off to the side is a monument constructed of cement and destroyed weapons that were collected after the election.  The message is ‘never again’ will Nicaragua experience such violence.  Peices of tanks and hundreds of guns stick out of the concrete in the oddly grave-like pit of concrete.

I felt an hint of sadness in all the places we went to.  Partially it was the lack of people.  Granted it was a Tuesday morning, but the plazas and the parks were literally deserted.  But maybe more powerful was that somehow I got the feeling that the government, the people, needed to prove something to themselves and to the world with these plazas and parks, and then weren’t really sure afterward if that was what they wanted to prove.  Or maybe it was that these places, commemorating important events, felt very unappreciated.  Besides being absolutely completely deserted, Michael noted ironically that Parque de Paz is surrounded by a dangerous neighborhood and red light zone.

Coming back to Leon in the evening was like returning to a place where I could breathe.  This city is living, colorfull, I haven’t felt such sadness or weight of a violent history here, even though this city too is filled with monuments and murals commemorating so many lives lost.  I walked the full 15 blocks from the bus station to the residencia, wandering a bit through the market to buy some fruit and marveling at how a place where I know so few people, where I don’t understand what everyone is shouting around me and don’t recognize the fruit they are selling can feel like home so quickly.

Street in Leon looking at the Iglesia del Calvario

Street in Leon looking at the Iglesia del Calvario

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