Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nicaragua... the land of poets and volcanos

On my recent ( 9-11 May 2009) visit to Nicaragua I took a travel companion with me. Guess.. a book on Nicaragua written by Salman Rushdie with the title¨The jaguar smile¨. Rushdie quoted someone´s saying that there are poets and writers in every street of Nicaragua and that everybody is considered to be a poet until proved to the contrary¨. Incidentally this was the first non-fiction written by Rushdie.

Daniel Ortega, the President himself writes poetry. When he was a political prisoner at the age of 23 from 1967 to 1974 , he wrote many poems, one of which is titled ¨I Never Saw Managua When Miniskirts Were in Fashion¨. While in jail he received visits from Rosario Murillo, a poet. The prisoner and visitor fell in love; Murillo became Ortega's wife. She has published several books of poems. One of them is called as ¨Amar es combatir ¨- to love is to combat. She is now the President of the Foundation for Promotion of Love (FUNDAMOR).

One of Daniel Ortega´s brothers Humborto Ortega was a published writer. Many ministers in his cabinet now and during his previous presidency and Sandinista leaders are poets and writers. Notable among these is Sergio Ramirez, Gioconda Belli and Ernesto Cardinal.The revolutionaries and common people found solace and expression in poetry for survival and inspiration during the volcanic eruptions of revolutions, war and struggles.

Ruben Dario, the poet and writer of Nicaragua is the most well-known in the world. He is considered as the father of the Modernist Movement in spanish literature in the twentieth century. His book Azul (1888) is said to be the inaugural book of Hispanic-American modernism. He was a precocious poet and published his poem in a newspaper at the age of thirteen. He was precocious in love too. He fell in love with a eleven year-old girl, when he was fifteen. Thereafter he fell in love frequently with different women in later life and married some of them. In San Salvador, he was married to Rafaela Contreras, daughter of a famous Honduran orator, Álvaro Contreras, on June 21, 1890. One day after the wedding there was a coup d'état in which his wife died. The coup was engineered by general Carlos Ezeta, who had been a guest at Dario's wedding.

Dario had lived in several central and south american countries and worked in the newspapers of these countries including the Argentine daily La Nacion for a long time. He wrote a book Canto a la Argentina. Interestingly he was appointed as the Colombian honorary consul in Buenos Aires by the Colombian president Miguel Antonio Caro in the period 1893 - 1895.

Dario is remembered for the following prophetic poem in which he anticipated US as a invader.

Eres los Estados Unidos,
eres el futuro invasor

You are the United States
you are the future invader

Nicaragua was one of the worst victims of American invasion and the infamous Contra war.
An American mercenary adventurer William Walker maneuvered to appoint himself as President of Nicaragua in 1856 and ruled for a year and even made English as the official language. Walker recruited about a thousand American and European mercenaries to invade the other four Central American nations: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica. This was supported by the American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt who had business interests in the region. Fortunately the invasion failed and Walker was later executed.

Here is the iron plate statue (in Managua, the capital) of Sandino, the father of the nation who raised a rebellion against US presence in Nicaragua in the peiod 1927-33. He was assasinated by Somoza whose cruel dynastic dictatorship was brought down by Sandinistas in 1979.

Nicaragua is a land of lakes too. May be it is Nature´s compensation to cool the volcanic heat. The largest, Lake Nicaragua is spread over 8000 sq kms. I visited Granada, the former capital and a picturesque city, on the shore of the lake and took a boat tour of the small islands called as islets. There are over 350 of them in varying sizes ranging from an acre to dozens of acres. These can be bought and used for private purposes. Rich people have built attractive holiday homes. The islets, although rocky, have dense vegetation and many of them have large and tall trees.

Here is an island house:

I asked the boatman what did he know of India. He replied that he associated India with two things: motos and high economic growth. Nicaragua is full of Bajaj motorcycles and three wheelers. While the three wheelers are for the poor people, Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle has become a status symbol among the young Nicaraguans.

The landscape and people of Nicaragua reminded me of Kerala. The countryside of Nicaragua is like the Kerala villages with palm and banana trees, yukka and beans, mountains and waterbodies, literacy and marxism.

I wanted to play golf in Nicaragua. But I was not sure if golf courses existed in the land of Sandinistas. To my surprise, I found a world-class course called as Nejapa golf club. I played with India´s honorary consul Alejandro Lacaya, who is a golf fanatic with a handicap of nine. He told me that the original golf course in Managua was taken over by the first Sandinista government, which converted it into a housing colony for the poor. Later, the Chamorros government, paid a compensation to the golfers who supplemented it with their funds to acquire land and build the new Nejapa golf course, which is dotted with neem trees from India.

I found an interesting Indian business executive too in Managua. Mr Ashwani Dhingra, the Latin America regional head of Tablets India Ltd, Chennai ,runs his 6 million dollar business from his residence in Managua. He is at home there with his family and a passion for Latin America.

The government of Nicaragua, in an unusual but welcome move, have authorised their honorary consul in Mumbai Paresh Mehta tel 022-40479444 to issue visas.

Volcanoes are part of the geology of Nicaraguan land and they erupt from time to time , like the politics of the country. Here is a volcano poem of Gioconda Belli with the title,

Yo, la que te quiere - I am the Woman Who Loves You.

Yo caliento tus noches,
encendiendo volcanes en mis manos,
mojándote los ojos con el humo de mis

I warm your nights,
lighting volcanoes with my hands,
making you cry with the smoke from my

Here is the picture I took at the Masaya volcano, between Managua and Grenada

To me the whole country of Nicaragua looked like a political crater, having suffered so many eruptions of wars, invasion and violence in the past. I hope the country will erupt in the future with more poetry instead of volcanos and wars.

Here is the answer to the question in the previous blog on Costa Rica. Why did I choose to visit these two countries?

They were the only two countries missing from my Latin American curriculum. I can, now claim, that I have kissed the land and breathed the air of every Latin American country. My Latin American Karma is complete now...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm a young Nicaraguan female now living in the US. I'm glad you enjoyed your stay.

Kumar said...

Fascinating! I've always wanted to explore this part of the world. Visas are a pain, carrying an Indian Passport :)

Maybe some day...