Since we had only agreed to stay for one night, we appreciated their patience during our three night stay. We headed out on the Pan-American Highway toward Managua. We had been searching for a shop to get an oil change done for a while and we set that as the first priority of the morning. Not minutes after arriving in Managua, we came across Auto Servicios Nemio Aleman Frenic. The shop was at the corner of a busy intersection under the Pan-American Highway and it took us a few trips around the block to actually get 'Nilla up the steep driveway to the shop. The staff was friendly and we negotiated to get an oil change along with a tire balance and rotation. The work was completed in under an hour and we were back on the road cruising aimlessly around Managua. Managua is touted as one of the roughest and toughest cities in all of Central America due to large population most of which lives under the poverty level. We did not encounter any problems; however we kept our wits about us the entire time we toured.
Michael was anxious to find the park that included sculptures from surrendered weapons following the FSLN Revolution.
We did not have much information to go on and most locals had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for directions. Driving toward Area Monumental we blindly stumbled across a massive concrete Lighthouse, which we had read was close to the weapons landmark. Parking 'Nilla, we walked around the Lighthouse and came across Parque de la Paz, which was created to proclaim and end to the 1980's conflict. Violeta Barrio de Chamorro, the wife of an assassinated Sandinista leader, became President of Nicaragua under the FSLN regime and created the monument from collected weapons from the conflict era. The gathered weapons were destroyed and buried into the concrete walls of Parque de la Paz. In the center of the plaza is a burned out tank surrounded by twisted gun barrels emerging from every surrounding wall. There are other official looking buildings behind Parque de la Paz, however they now appear abandoned and occupied by squatters.
From Parque de la Paz, we drove over to Area Monumental and parked 'Nilla. The Catedral Viejo (Old Cathedral) is the focal point of the area. The church was originally constructed in 1929, however was hit hard by earthquakes in 1931 and 1970, leaving the building in its current statue of disrepair.
The Cathedral is still an impressive building and most of the carved statues situated on side pedestals around the outside walls are still in tact. The immediate grounds are heavily overgrown with trees and long grasses; however there is currently an influx of funds coming in to rejuvenate this once vibrant area. Catedral Viejo actually makes up part of Area Monumental which includes the park named Plaza de la Republica and a large fountain which was nearly all torn down at the time of our visit. Adjacent to Catedral Viejo is Palacio Nacional, which houses the national museum.
We also visited the malecon, which is a decent boardwalk littered with small restaurants specializing in seafood from the lake. Although some people venture into Lago de Managua for recreation, it is hazardous, as the lake has been heavily contaminated from years of pollution including the dumping of the entire City's waste matter. Needless to say, we did not dive in for a swim. The malecon includes an impressive statue of Simon Bolivar, the famous Venezuelan liberator along with a theatre named after famed Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario. Despite the filthy condition of the water, the shoreline is quite beautiful.
Leaving Area Monumental, we drove back toward town and stopped off to view Estatua al Soldado, which is a massive bronze statue of a revolutionary soldier. The political undertones of such a statue are front and centre and the plaque inscription reads "Workers and Campesinos Onward to the End." The statue is of a soldier carrying a pickaxe in his right hand and an assault rifle in his left. The soldier's head is titled back proudly viewing the Sandinista flag protruding from the gun barrel.
Crossing over Avenida Bolivar, we headed right into the heart of Managua and through one of the poorest and most dangerous zones known as Barrio Martha Quesada. The change in scenery was immediate. The most depressing sight was the town park come campground, which is home for thousands of impoverished citizens. We snapped a photograph as we drove, but it still does nothing to paint the sad picture we saw with our eyes. The guide book cautioned about stopping in this area as petty crime, even during daylight, is a common occurrence. We heeded the advice and drove straight on by. Within blocks of the crude park living, we passed by an elaborately decorated and massive resort / conference center. Separation among the classes could not have been more apparent. The Hilton Hotel was not far down the road either. Managua is a bustling city on the surface with a bubbling mass of impoverished citizens just trying to break the plane. We were saddened.
Our map of Managua was so confusing that we abandoned it and drove around on auto-pilot. Of course, the first blind choice we made took us directly into a waiting police checkpoint. The police officers were both rather young and again seemed curious with our means of travel. They both checked over our paperwork, which is usual and we were certain that in a few minutes we would be sent onward. Not this time. The officers had conferred with one another and came back to the vehicle indicating that Michael needed a permit sticker for his license in order to drive in Nicaragua and without it we were going to be given an infraction. We were not taking this crap sitting down. We explained that all our paperwork was in order and that we have never heard of this so called 'license sticker' being required or even existing for that matter. We were both aware that the police were simply looking for a quick payoff, but today was not the day we were in the mood open our wallets for no reason. Michael had an idea...and Geraldine quickly jumped into the back of the van in search of a solution...the International Drivers License. We had purchased them before leaving Canada, however thus far; we have not needed to use them. Now came the big challenge of finding them. We searched a few of the common stash spots in the van before finally finding them right in the open, where we left them to avoid having to search for them. Silly us. Michael handed over his International Drivers License that permits him, with a valid Canadian Drivers License to operate a motor vehicle in a long list of countries, which included Nicaragua. The officers were stumped. They packaged up all our paperwork and handed back to Michael before wishing us safe and happy travels. We thanked them and moved on.
We decided it best to again consult the map and worked our way over to Catedral Nuevo or New Cathedral, which is a modern landmark in Managua. A local owner of a chain of pizza restaurants, Tom Monaghan, provided most of the funds for the construction of the building. The building is constructed primarily of concrete aside from the colossal wooden doors along the front and sides of the building. We estimate the doors to be at least 10 metres tall. The building stands out along the baron surrounding landscape and most telling are the round globes that make up the structure of the roof and side prayer rooms. We read that some locals consider the small domes on the structure to resemble a mosque, while others say a nuclear reactor. Either way, the New Cathedral is a sight to see.
Finished sightseeing in Managua, we took directions from a pleasant older man in order to find our way out of the maze of major roads, heavy traffic and constantly confusing traffic circles. With luck on our side we made all the right turns, bends and semi-circular moves to get us onto Nicaragua Highway 4 headed for Masaya. It was still early in the day and we had time to stop off at the many artisan shops along the highway. Of interest on this highway were the multiple number of pewter workshops and gift stores. We had not heard not read anything about Nicaraguan pewter, however the quality was fair and the prices inflated. Most of the pieces were relatively large including salad bowls, serving trays, and huge picture frames, which was nothing we fancied. We continued to keep our wallet closed today and did not buy anything.
The highway lead us to our afternoon destination of Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya. The Spaniards that first visited this area called it the gates of hell given the fire that burned from within the earth. The local legend is that indigenous people would throw young women to the boiling lava at the bottom of the crater as sacrifice to their goddess of fire - Chaciutique. Researchers found skeletons of the human sacrifices in nearby lava tunnels. Sometime in the 16th Century, Spaniards placed a cross atop one of the volcanic ridges overlooking crater Santiago to ward off evil spirits and to exercise the demons that dwelled within. Today, a cross is still in place; however it is now a massive metal structure seen from miles around. The park is home to a pair of volcanoes named Masaya and Nindiri and the now five craters that have formed from subsequent eruptions. The last major eruption of Volcan Masaya was in 1772. In the 18th Century, the Santiago and San Pedro craters formed within the old crater of Volcan Nindiri. Santiago is still very active and spews smoke, steam and toxic gases daily. Interestingly, a parrot species called 'Chocoyos' nest next to crater Santiago unharmed by its toxic gases. It is said that this nesting spot keeps them out of predatory reach.
Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya provides the easiest access to live volcanoes in all of Nicaragua. There is a well paved road that leads right to the top of crater Santiago. The road passes through the valley which is filled with piles and piles of lava rock from previous eruptions. Vehicles are required to reverse into the parking stalls, in case a quick exit is required.
There are warning signs everywhere about remaining close to the vehicle in case the crater acts up as hiding underneath the car is the best area of protection. We chose to take a hike around the dormant crater San Pedro instead of waiting for airborne rocks to pelt us in the head. We received directions at the Visitor Information Center about a trail that walks the circumference of the crater. Intrigued, we set out uphill in search of the crater path. The trail was well kept and covered in crushed lava rock...how fitting. We hiked around to see the lava deposits in the valley below and the ridge that was created where lava flow stopped. It was a great view from above of the valley landscape below.
About a third of the way around crater San Pedro we met up with Park Ranger Carlos. Apparently the trail had been closed due to recent sighting of the venomous Mambo snake in the area. Good thing Geraldine was hiking in the ever fashionable summer dress and flip-flops. Carlos explained that for safety reasons he would act as our guide for the rest of the hike. It was great to learn more about volcanoes from our educated guide who was most passionate about nature, especially volcanoes. We reached the far side of crater San Pedro and from there we had amazing views of Laguna de Masaya and small town of Masaya in behind. It was dusk and the sky was starting to darken. Carlos guided us back to the parking area as it was not safe to continue with the poor lighting conditions. We exchanged contact information with Carlos and agreed to send him copies of our photographs. It was a great afternoon outdoors.
Back at 'Nilla we drove the few minutes down the road to the Visitor Information Centre. Here we were able to run an extension cord for power and set up camp in the parking lot. It was ideal. There was even running water for us to use for dishes and bathing. We had a pretty sweet set up, unfortunately it rained all night and we spent most of our time indoors.
We were all to eager to get back on the road and with the arrival of the morning of June 12, 2007, we jumped from bed to get showered, eat breakfast and pack up 'Nilla for the road. We paid our tab at Hospedaje Lazo and said farewell to the family that was hospitable to us during our time of need.