North To The Hill Country Of Nicaragua

Sebaco MarketWe branched off the Pan-American Highway at the Masaya exchange and headed north on Route 2, beginning a slow ascent through arid country seared from the long, hot, dry season. After an hour we made our first stop in Sebaco; the fruit and vegetable stalls beckoning us to pause and sample their offerings.Fruit and Veggies This was not a grand market in scale; no more than a dozen stands lined the west side of the highway. However, the vibrant colors, with fruits and vegetables carefully and artfully arranged in baskets, piles and stacks and hanging from posts overhead made a visual appeal. The vendors repeatedly sprinkled water from large barrels nearby over their goods which made the produce sparkle and glisten in the sunlight. We purchased a bag of mandarin oranges and, after settling in to our journey again, alternated between savoring sections of the aromatic fruit and gazing out the windows.Smiling woman We elected to take a walking tour of Matagalpa, our next stop and the second most populous city of Nicaragua. The city sits at roughly 5,000 feet and so enjoys a climate quite dissimilar to the one found in the lowlands housing Leon, Managua and Granada. Here, the air was cooler, the streets more sharply inclined and pine trees scented the breezes along with the bougainvillea. Here, the people moved more quickly and with purpose which lent the city an energetic vibe.Cathedral San Pedro Matagalpa The Cathedral, San Pedro Matagalpa, near the Parque Central, gleamed whitely against the vibrant blue sky. The region of Matagalpa is the center of coffee production for the country; at the Museo de Café, the museum of coffee, we read about the art of growing and producing coffee from bean to cup. Following our urban hike and a bite to eat, we embarked again on our tour into the north-country.  Hill Country - Northern Nic The mini-bus climbed out of the city along narrow, winding roads.  We gazed down into valleys and eventually we reached our lodging for the next couple of days, a tranquil mountain paradise called Selva Negra, the Black Forest, which deserves a post of its own. Arranging flowersCarrying firewoodCome the dawn of the next appointed travel day, we set off for Jinotega and the guarantee of a unique mercado. Once we stopped at a beautiful little flower stand at the road’s edge with a young woman arranging great bunches of calla lilies.  As we drove on, scattered along the road were other women, bent under the burden of the wood they carried for their fires. When we arrived at the Jinotega mercado it was indeed as advertised: colorful, fascinating and a sideways step into another time and place. However, on that morning, we were the exceptions in this crowded market; we were the looky-loos, the tourists, the gringos to be ogled and remarked about with smiles shyly directed our way.  We, not the wares for sale, were the oddities. Fruits & VegetablesA family outingPick of the litter!We searched diligently for our next venue, El Valle de Tomatoya, where the black pottery of Nicaragua is made. Again, we drew surprised stares from the locals as our mini-bus wended its way through the one-lane, rural, rutted dirt roads where pedestrians, rusty bicycles and small, battered trucks are more the norm.Black pottery Electricity is the luxury; wells were found in front of some of the homes with outhouses in the back and free range hogs and chickens wandered about and scratched for food in the bare dirt yards. The craftswomen who create the distinctive pottery all live in this narrow, remote valley in the north of the country. After a warm welcome and a short tour they explained how their exceptional ceramics are created by twice firing each pot using wood shavings and slow heating in the second firing to infuse the native clays with the deep black color which is made nowhere else in Nicaragua.Hauling water from the well We made our last stop a brief visit to San Rafael del Norte, a small town just a stone’s throw from the end of the paved road.  It, along with many of its neighboring cities, including Jinotega, comprised the section of the nation which had borne much of the brunt of the fighting during the Contra counterinsurgency following the Sandinista revolution. The museum dedicated to the Sandinistas and the revolution was under renovation and closed but there was a church which housed a set of murals. In the first, Christ is depicted as being tempted by the devil who, despite the region’s loyalty to the Sandinista party, wears the visage of Daniel Ortega.  It is indeed strange what you will see in the north-country near the end of the road.  Our journey thus completed, our mini-bus pointed southward and began the long descent back to the hot, dry flat lands and the city of Granada.Iglesia San Rafael ArchangelBy Anita and Richard, May, 2014

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