Monday, August 18, 2014

Standing at the Mouth of Hell---Nicaragua Adventure Part 3

Looking into the crater at Masaya volcano!
So, I stood on the edge of an active volcano, and all I had to do was drive up to the rim of the crater. That's right, Masaya volcano is apparently the only active volcano in the Western Hemisphere that you can just drive right up to the smoking crater edge.

I think that white van is the van we rode in

See that cross in the background? Apparently, those virtuous (ha!) Spanish conquistadors erected a cross (I'm not sure that one is the original) there in the 16th century to exorcize the Devil because they thought he hung out at Masaya volcano (which they called The Mouth Of Hell). More recently, we were told, the Somoza regime (dictators of Nicaragua from the 30s to the 70s, I believe) was purportedly fond of dropping dissenters into the crater.  At any rate, the cross made for some awesome atmospheric pictures:

Ye gods, this picture practically belongs on a religious pamphlet. And what the hell is that blue dot?

And look at this! You can practically hear the angel's trumpets!
Religious ribbing aside, the conquistadors and the devil got the last laugh on me because as I leaned over the stone wall to look into the crater, a great gust of sulfur gas rose up and set me and my companions to violently coughing! Yes, the crater is belching sulfur dioxide gas most regularly.
In addition, our guide said he had never seen the crater this smoky....I had visions of the headlines:
"tourists killed in volcanic eruption!" Fortunately that didn't happen, but I checked ye old internet and apparently the last eruption of Masaya volcano was in...2003! That's recent history, folks. Nicaragua has an impressive belt of active volcanos going north to south on its eastern flank.

Inside the crater. I think this picture is the one I took before having a sulfur coughing fit.

Pretty spectacular and so easily accessible. Apparently there are some awesome night tours you can take at this volcano and see the parakeets who have adapted to the sulfur gas returning to roost in the crater. There is also a tunnel that you can go in and see the lava. We had to content ourselves with a daytime visit, but it was impressive enough.

The countryside around the volcano
Think I am done posting Nicaragua pictures? Nope! Got at least two more posts in me :) I will take a break for Thrift Store Therapy next time, though. See you then!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dos Semanas---Nicaragua Part 2---Convento San Francisco, Indigenous Art

Architectural detail of the Convento San Francisco, Granada.
More Nicaragua pictures! I spent the bulk of my time in Granada, a Spanish colonial town that has been there since the 1500s. My understanding is that Spain colonized the western half of the country and England had control of the eastern half. I did not get to the eastern side---apparently that has more jungle and indigenous peoples and culturally, overall, more of a Carribean influence. The side I was on has a drier climate and obvious Spanish influences, not the least of which are the preponderance of Catholic churches. Convento San Francisco (above picture) is the oldest church in Central America and has the distinction of having been completely burned down by pirates in the late 1800s, and also by William Walker, a totally crazy American guy who tried to set himself up as President of Nicaragua in the 1850s. He managed to rule for one miserable year before Central America banded against him and he was executed by the government of Honduras.  At any rate, in 1989, a complete restoration project was undertaken to rebuild and refurbish the Convento.

Courtyard of Convento San Francisco. Soooo tranquil. I wanted to take a nap in the grass.

Imposing outer facade of the church.

Mural depicting the history of Granada inside the church
Plaza in front of the church. That is Mombacho in the background, an extinct volcano.

I can appreciate churches from an architectural standpoint, so I am always happy to visit them for that reason, but the main reason I wanted to visit Convento San Francisco was because they house a gallery of Pre-Columbian indigenous art comprised mainly of large stone statues. These were apparently carved somewhere between C.E. (A.D.) 800---1200 and once resided on the sacred island of Zapatera, located in Lake Nicaragua, which is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world.

The hall of Pre-Columbian statues.

I was totally taken with the statue exhibit, and have always enjoyed the juxtapostion of "pagan" art in a Christian setting (Notre Dame and Rosslyn Chapel being two of my other favorite examples). Its a little disconcerting that the Zapatera statues were removed from their island home (apparently in the 20s), but here in the church they are in a relatively safe setting and under cover from the elements, the effects of which can be seen on many of the pieces.  Lots of the statues feature animal heads on human bodies. Some of the carving is exquisite:


In addition to the statues there is also a small exhibit of pottery:

These guys are my faves!


The Convento was my one museum geek-out of the trip. A couple of days after that I stood on the edge of an active of that next time!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dos Semanas---My Nicaraguan Adventure---Part 1

Hola amigos! I made it back from 2 weeks in Nicaragua! I know that in previous posts I said I was going to "South America". That was not entirely accurate---Nicaragua is in Central America, between Honduras and Costa Rica, and it is somewhat of a faux pas to call the country a "South American" country. My apologies. At any rate, I had quite the amazing time down there and have a bunch of pictures to share with you. I'm just going to let it roll, and probably take up a couple of posts in my effort to share what I saw. I spent two weeks in an immersion Spanish school, Nicaragua Mia, in the town of Granada, and it was amazing. Every day, when I sat down at the table with my one-on-one instructor (kudos to my ridiculously patient instructor, Johanna) I saw the star in the photo above. I had 4 hours of school 5 days a week for two weeks! Leave it to me to take a vacation that involved heavy duty study...but it was well worth it. I was able to converse with the average Nicaraguan about everything from politics to that all-important subject, my cats. So without further delay, here are some photos:

Inside the Spanish school

Many houses are painted lovely, bright colors

Mamones fruit. Tangy and sweet with a large pit. One of my faves.

These guys came walking down the street everyday.
It wasn't all study and no play--I also partook of the national beer, Tona. They are very serious about it down there! Its a great beer for the hot, hot climate. Did I mention it was hot there? Ridiculously hot.
Everything is gated and there are bars on most windows.
Nicaraguan street break dancers!
Doing laundry Nica style. Some people have washing machines, many hand launder their clothes. The benefit of the hot climate is that you don't need a dryer, and most everyone hangs clothing on lines. The downside of this method is that all the "grey water" from laundry, showers, cleaning, etc, is diverted into the street where it runs down the side of the street and empties directly into the creek that runs through town. At least it did on the street I was staying on.
Laundry hanging outside of a typical family dwelling, just outside the city.

A "pulperia" which is a small roadside stand that sells small amounts of daily-use goods, drinks, candy, etc. There are tons of them everywhere.

Geckos get in all the houses. They chirp, like birds. I had no idea!

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