Friday, April 22, 2016

Jinotega-Matagalpa: A Drive, a Climb, a Drive Again

I headed south out of San Rafael del Norte yesterday morning, heading to Matagalpa, about an hour and half away. I stopped in the town of Jinotega, about halfway, to check out the town, get some exercise and have lunch.

Jinotega is a nice small-medium town nestled in valley, pretty clean, bustling commercially, several good restaurants and surrounded by beautiful hills. I hiked up the Cerro de Cruz, a rocky peak with a cross on it about 1,000 feet above the city. The trail leads though the town's cemetery and then it's a good, strenuous climb up many, many concrete steps, followed by a short climb up the rocks. I got the workout I wanted. From the peak you can see the entire town and an almost 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. It is noticeably greener here, which I welcomed after traveling through a much drier, brown landscape.

I like the town cemetery. It's a bright, pleasant place with many of the plots decorated with bright colors and flowering trees in bloom.

After my walk, I enjoyed lunch at typical but higher quality Nicaraguan restaurant where you pick the meat, rice, beans, vegetables that you want from a steam table, cafeteria style.  I had stuffed chicken breast in a mushroom sauce, rice with vegetables, a cold pickled vegetable salad and an ice cold Victoria Classica beer for less than $6.  For desert, I walked to a really good bakery cafe and had a really good cup of coffee and a nice pineapple cake. I picked up a few pastries for the road, too.

Exercised, fed, beered, caffeinated and caked, I resumed my drive to Matagalpa in beautiful sunny weather along a twisty road that winds through some really pretty countryside; forest, coffee farms and nice views of the surrounding mountainous landscape. Again, I welcomed the greenery and figure figure that land that I had travelled previously was not only barren due to drought, but also due to deforestation. Much the land around Jinotega and Matagalpa is protected as nature reserves and the coffee plantations keep the tall trees to shade the low lying coffee plants, so the vegetation is quite dense. I believe the land around Somoto was extensively logged, not reforested and thus with a lot of consequential environmental damage.

I arrived in Matagalpa late yesterday afternoon and had a decent calzone for dinner at an Italian restaurant near to my hotel. This morning, I walked around the city, a bigger and busier version of Jinotega, and visited the Casa Museo Comandante Carlos Fonseca. Fonseca was a founder of the Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN), a rather bookish revolutionary with thick glasses who fought a long battle to overthrow the Somoza government. He reveled in his visit to Moscow as youth, spent a fair amount of time in Cuba, vilified the imperialistic USA, and lived most of his adult life on the run until he was killed by the National Guard in 1976, three years before the Sandinistas prevailed. He is a national hero, his remains reburied with honors in Managua in 1979.

What I found interesting was, if you strip away all the communist revolutionary dogma, Fonseca was fighting for basic rights Nicaraguans which included rights to health care, education, equality for women, and redistribution of income. His words on these subjects sound very similar to Bernie Sanders. What I find amazing is that 40 years ago, Fonseca was hunted down and killed for essentially pursuing policies for which a US presidential candidate is receiving a lot of popular support.  I guess it's matter of time, place and the friends one keeps.

I visited Centro Girasol around lunchtime to pick up some maps for self-guided day hikes. Centro Girasol helps people with disabilities and families with special needs and selling these maps in their cafe is a unique way of raising money. I gladly parted with 100 Cordovas ($4) for four detailed maps and 6 Cordovas for good cup of coffee.  I'm going to go on one fo the hikes tomorrow.

While I was at Girasol, I received an email from the hotel I stayed at in San Rafael del Norte. They forgot to give me back my credit card and I left without checking that I had it after paying for my stay. So this afternoon, I drove back up to San Rafael and back, enjoying the scenery again and giving a hitchhiking woman and young son a lift from Jinotega to a church event in a town along the way to Matagalpa.
Panorama from the top of Cerro de Cruz, Jinotega

At the top of Cerro de Cruz

The cruz atop the cerro

Lots of concrete steps to get up to Cerro de Cruz.

Cerro de Cruz. You can see the cross at the center of the picture.

Jinotega's town cemetery

Greenery along the road to Matagalpa 
View along the road to Matagalpa

Statue of Carlos Fonseca (right) and his fellow Sandanista founder, Tomás Borge