Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nicaragua to El Salvador

Our last night in León was La Gritería festival, a Christian celebration of the Immaculate Conception. It´s celebrated all over Nicaragua, but particularly in León. At 6pm on the 7th December the fiesta is kicked off by the bishop in the cathedral, who shouts out "¿Quién causa tanta alegría?" - "Who causes so much happiness?", to which the crowds reply; "¡La concepción de María!" - The conception of Mary! Then everyone rushes out into the streets as the bells ring and fireworks explode. Throughout the town people set up small altars inside their home, which people visit and repeat the cry. As a reward, they are given sweets, biscuits and other small gifts. At one house, we were given a box of matches and a sachet of coffee! As you can imagine, the whole thing is pretty crazy and I was amazed by how much booty some people managed to get during the night; some children had huge sacks full of goodies!

Although this picture isn´t great (it was hard to capture the event in the dark), it does show the slightly manic atmosphere pretty well! You can see the women inside (always shielded by some sort of gate) calling back to the crowd and, if you look carefully through the clouds of incense, you may just about make out the Vigin Mary altar in the background.

On our way towards the Honduran border, we stopped off for a night in the city of Chinandega. The town itself is remarkable only for its proximity to the legendary Flor de Caña rum factory (and for being the hottest city in Nicaragua)! We both really enjoyed the fantastic national rum during our time in Nica and had heard rumours that a tour of the factory could possibly be arranged. "Worth a try", we thought!

Unfortunately, this front wall in the village of Chichigalpa is as far as we got. The guard informed us that visiting the factory was prohibido and we would need to speak to the big men in Managua before they would let us through the gates. He might have said it was "more than his job´s worth", but we didn´t catch it all.

Still, Chichigalpa is a pretty village with a pretty name and it wasn´t a totally wasted journey.

From Chinandega, with our bags strapped tightly to a mini-bus (see below!), we headed towards Honduras... and straight onto another bus through to El Salvador. It was a pretty mammoth journey, in 6 cramped, hot buses in total, until we arrived in the city of San Miguel, El Salvador.

El Salvador is now a peaceful, stable country, but, as recently as 1992, a bitter civil war raged. The country has a very sad history and, for a lot of people, it is still very much living memory. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the village of Perquín, Northeastern El Salvador. During the civil war it was a guerrilla stronghold and, tragically, also the site of some of the worst atrocities on innocent civilians. After the peace treaty was signed, ex-guerrillas set up a museum to document the area´s history. We spent a day there, visiting the museum, meeting the wonderful people and admiring the beautiful countryside.

On display are various relics, such as this helicopter wreckage, which was shot down near Perquín. There are also many photographs, testimonies from some of the massacre survivors and lots and lots of guns. They also have equipment from Radio Venceremos, the station that broadcast secretly from caves during the war.

Despite the horrors that people endured so recently, Salvadorans have emerged to be amongst the most friendly people we have met in Central America so far. They have an incredible optimism.

From San Miguel we also took a day trip to the beach at El Cuco, on the Pacific Coast. The waves were huge and the beach stretched for miles into the distance, but sadly it just wasn´t a great place to spend much time. The seafront was crowded with shops and there were lots of dead fish laid out to dry in the sun. I think we may have been a bit spoilt by the beaches in Costa Rica and Panama, so we didn´t stay long.

Oh well, you win some, you lose some!

Rachel x


Anonymous said...

Ahhhh, your pictures are stunning. Really enjoyed reading about your adventures. I always like a different spin on the same places we have been to. It was lovely to meet you a few days ago and enjoy your happy travels and have a grand festive time. Look forward to reading more. Paul And Andy xx

Anonymous said...

Last day at work before Christmas here at Analog today. I don't suppose you're missing the buffet lunch! Your pictures are amazing, hope you both have a fun Christmas. Denise