Nicaragua Study Tour: Managua to Matagalpa

James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D
Bridgewater State College

Day 2: January 4, 2006
Revised January 12, 2006
Click to enlarge

January 3
Overnight Managua
January 4
January 5
January 6
January 7
La Corona
January 8
La Corona
January 9
January 10
January 11
Finca Esperanza Verde
January 12
Finca Esperanza Verde
January 13
Highlights of our first full day in Nicaragua included beautiful views, fascinating and vivid history lessons, a pickup game of kickball on a darkened side street, and a chance meeting with the president of the country!
El Grupo
I was proud to be leading a group of energetic, consdirate, and curious students on this study tour. The National Palace was a great location for our first group photo. Left to right, we are Pam, James, Adrienne, Krystel, Brandon, Casey, Roberto (our guide), Amy, Alex, Brooks, Kaitlyn, Ben, and Holly. The photo was taken in a room with a very important history. It was in this room in 1979 that the Sandinista rebels held members of Congress hostage in a successful bid to ransom them for $500,000 and free passage to Panama, from which they launched the overthrow of the government, using weapons purchased from the United States with the ransom money.

Pam and I began our day with an early-morning walk, exploring what turns out to be quite an affluent part of the city. Houses throughout Latin America are traditionally surrounded by walls; razor wire is now apparently a favored way to emphasize security, even when enclosing the family playground. Our guide explained that in this neighborhood, many residents were still away for the holiday, explaining the presence of guards in front of many houses. In the case of one house undergoing extensive reconstruction, three or four dogs were standing guard. The Doberman was an impressive jumper -- the photo below was taken at eye level!

Guide The National Palace -- which survived the 1972 earthquake -- has become a major cultural center for the country. It houses the national library, archives, historical and geographic agency, and many national treasures. Our very graceful guide interpreted the holdings for us with great sophistication. In a short time, we had a very thorough introduction to the history, natural environment, arts, and complex political reality of Nicaragua. She even agreed to sing the national anthem for us!
Great painting Violin 

As a gift to Nicaragua, the Government of Mexico commissioned a massive mural -- in the style of Diego Riveira -- that dominates the main entrance to the Palacio Nacional. One side features a stylized image of Emiliano Zapata, who was the leader of Mexico's 1910 revolution, while the other features Sandino, who led Nicaragua's effort to expel the U.S. Marines when they occupied Nicaragua in the 1930s. Each of these revolutionary figures became the namesake of late-20th century movements, the Zapatistas and the Sandinistas, respectively.
The Sandino detail shows a coffee worker among those whom Sandino liberated.
Zapata - Managua Sandino

September 11 - Nicaragua
Our group was quite moved by two murals, completed by an Italian artist in December 2001 as a memorial to the worldwide victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11 of that year.

This detail from the second mural reads, "Live and let live, as you want to live."


The students were impressed by the presence of such a moving tribute in a place of national importance, and by the fact that it was completed so soon after the attacks. Two lessons were clear: it was not just the United States that suffered in the attacks, and sympathy elsewhere in the world is more widespread and genuine than most people in the United States realize.

MemorialThe commemoration of revolution and reconciliation is an important part of the landscape in downtown Managua.
At far left is a statue honoring worker-revolutionaries who overthrew the Samoza regime. This view of recent history is contested: notice the missing left foot, the result of a bomb placed on this statue.
Nearby is a park commemorating the loss of 300,000 Nicaraguan lives in the violence of the twentieth century. At the center of the park, created by President Violetta Chamoro, is a lighthouse. It is surrounded by an earthen berm containing 27,000 decommissioned rifles.
In the background is the Central American Bank, built in 1971, and the only tall building to survive the devestating 1972 earthquake.
Below, Casey examines a cutout in the berm, which exposes some of the weapons that were purchased from both the Sandinistas and the Contras in 1991. As part of the reconcilation process following the war, President Chamorro arranged to pay fighters on each side to give up their weapons.
Buried weaponsArma

The shadow of Sandino overlooks Nicaragua from the site of his 1934 assassination.
Sandino had been leading a guerrilla movement against the U.S. Marines, who had occupied the country since 1909. In a treacherous plot, the president invited Sandino to a ceremony to sign a peace agreement. They posed together for photographs, and then Sandino was shot. The movement continued, and the Marines withdrew in 1937. Sandino is still considered a national hero, for whom the revolution against Anastacio Samoza, Jr. was named.
Alex takes a photo of a small tank - a gift from Mussolini to Samoza Sr., a fellow member of the small fraternity of notorious dictators. When the younger Samoza was overthrown on May 27, 1984, jubilant crowds destroyed a statue he had built to himself in the center of the city. The rear of the horse was brought to this site as a "memorial" to the fallen general.
Tank Samosa

While enjoying an excellent dinner this evening, four well-dressed men entered the room, two of whom sat near a corner, while the other two went to different parts of the room. Our guide Roberto said, "That's the president!" but we did not believe him. He kept insisting, and the earpiece one of the men wore led me to think he might be telling the truth. Eventually, he got a waiter to make introductions for us, and President Henrique Bolaños agreed to have his photograph taken with our group (unfortunately, Pam got cropped by accident). His dinner partner, it turns out, is one of many high-level government officials who happens to own a large coffee farm. As one person later explained to me, the roads to the farms of these officials are always well-paved.

Later that night, I agreed to accompany a couple of students on a brief outing in search of some basic supplies. It turned out that all of the students went along, and on our way back to the hotel, we joined a pick-up game of kickball!
Kickin KaitlynBrandon plays
Following four or five energetic innings, players and neighbors posed for photos with two of the visitors (Kaitlyn in green and Krystel in blue).
The players

Proceed to January 5

If this page interests you, you may wish to visit my other international travel pages or the international section of my home page.