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Nicaragua 3. - 15.2.2005

3.2.   10.2.   15.2.  

The counties in Central America are small.
Nicaragua has only 135 miles of coastline on the Pacific side.

Nicaragua has about 5 million inhabitants. The land area is 131.000 sq km, which makes it the largest of Central American countries. It has the lowest population density, some 33 inhabitants per sq km.

Statistically, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in world after Haiti. Income differencies are huge. There is a rich minority, but 70 % of the people live in poverty. 20 % of the children under 5 years suffer chronic malnourishment.

Nicaragua gained independence in 1838. The Somoza dictator family, father and two sons, were in power 1936-79. They were supported by USA. After that FSLN, the leftist Sandinista party got power with the leader Daniel Ortega Saavedra, who was supported by the Soviet Union. USA began to support rightwing groups. The Contra War ended in 1990, and the last contragroup gave up weapons in 1997. After the war economy has slowly recovered. In 1998, hurricane Mitch caused big economical losses, 3000 people died and left 760.000 without home.
(Source: Wsoy Facta 2001.)

3.2.2005 Marina Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua 12 °36 N  87°22 W
The 600 mile sail from Huatulco, Mexico, to Nicaragua was easy except the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Previously we wrote to go along the shoreline, but of course we didn't follow that advice ourselves. We headed straight across, being 60 miles from the shore. The forecasted 25 knots of north wind was 30-35 in reality, gusting 40-50 knots. We had a beam reach and autopilot was keeping the course. The gale lasted for 12 hours, over night. Waves were about 3 metres (9 ft) and crazy. They poured over the boat, and water came inside from dorate ventils which can usually be kept open. Cocpit was soaking and watch had to hold with two hands when the biggest waves hit. First time small items on the open lockers by the navigation table flew around. Some waves were like giant hands slamming Kristiina. Especially if the boat was already leaning from the previous wave, the slam hit somewhere between the bottom and side, and then items inside got speed like from a gun mouth. And bang was loud. It was very hot inside because all the hatches and ventilators had to be closed. Good experience, we haven't had rough weather since the Aleuts. A nice reminder what sailing really is! In the morning the wind started to decrease and the waves died as soon as they had rosen.

The most unpleasant wasn't the sea, however, but a lonely, big fishing vessel in the middle of the bay. Auli saw the lights on her watch about 3 am. The radar showed that the boat was not moving. Our course was ok, it took us by the vessel on north side. About three miles before passing I saw a vague blink in sea. It was a buyo. Then I saw another. Longline! Hannu came up to deck to discuss what to do. The fishing vessel had a longline out and it was hanging on the other end of the line (or probably a metal wire) three miles south. So we had to go around, even it meant a long sideway. Once we almost run on buoys, which were dark kanisters without lights. Fortunately we had moonlight. We also had to thank Miss Sophie, who had crossed Tehuantepec eralier. Harald and Verena warned us about the fishing boats and longlines. They got a line in the propeller and Harald had to go into the water to cut it. Now it was so bad weather that all the small boats were ashore and only this one big vessel was fishing. Probably the crew was sleeping, not aware of us.

The rest of the passage was variable, mostly sea and land breeze. Time to time we had to motor. We got a yellowfin tuna, a small dorado and a couple of read meat tunas. We also catch an enourmous sailfish or swordfish, but a few gigantic jumps and it was gone with the lure. We saw a lot of turtles, these sandy beaches seem to be their nestling grounds. Sometimes a seagull was sitting on turtle. For a while we got a gannet as a passanger.

After the huge Mexico, it felt funny to pass three countries on so short distance. We sailed by Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. On Tuesday, the second of Februry, we motored in to Marina Puesta del Sol close to Chinandega. It is the only marina on the Nicaragua. We leave the boat here and make a trip to inland starting tomorrow.

10.2.2005 Marina Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua
Five days were too short time for our trip. We had time only for two cities, Estelí and Granada, as well as hurry trough León. Along the road we saw Nicaraguan life, but sitting on the soft seat in an airconditioned four wheel was same than browsing a magazine on your own sofa.
The roads were partly in bad shape, full of huge holes which made cars wind from side to side and slow the speed. There was remarkably less cars than in Mexico, and more bicycles, horse riders, horse and ox carts. The horse and ox traffic didn't limit to countryside roads, there were animals also on the paved streets of cities. A couple of ox carts had wooden wheels. There are a lot of buses, and most of them similar to American school buses, aluminium with long noses. On the roof travels sacks, baskets, bundles - sometimes passangers. Leaving the sea, land is low, fields or treeless plains. Coming closer to Estelí the terrain rose, we climbed over hills. Estelí is located on 800 m, which makes the climate a bit cooler than on the sea level. No, during the dry season, the scenery was brownish yellow, spotted occasionally by green fields or riverside trees.

Ox tarffic on the road.

In Estelí we met Jukka Pakkala (Auli's and Jukka's mothers are colleagues) and visited two Finnish development projects, tourist centre Casa Esteli and sciencepark Estelimar. Jukka has been working in Nicaragua for 20 years for the Finnish developmet foundation Kansainvälisen Solidaarisuussäätiö (
Estelí (pop. 80.000) has a negative imagage being a bit dangerous place, and that of course doesn't draw tourisists to town. The aim is to change the image and get especially local travellers into area. It takes two hours (on a good road) to drive from Managua, and the cooler climate is also attractive. Estelí was a fiercy battelfield during the revolution as well as during the contra war.
The yellow building of Casa Esteli was easy to find. After four hours travel, we left the busy city centre traffic and parked under the eyes of a guard. Casa Estelí houses a small café, public internet, a classroom with 20 new computers, and arts and crafts store. We saw how pictures were made of small pieces of coloured maiz leaves. Original and symbolic technic.

Casa Estelí is located by the Pan American Highway.

Just round the corner of Casa Esteli is the science and education centre Estelimar. The foundation bought seven hectares land in 1988. During the war, vegetables were grown to feed kids in daycare. Vegetables are still grown, but presently the main purpose is to demonstrate different watering systems, increase the productivity of small farms, and rise the living standard of rural families. On other words, they try to get food on the plates of poor families, because there are villages where people are not eating every day. Rather a shocking news for a Finn struggling with overweight. In some villages the harvest has been five times bigger after people have learned about the watering. That figure tells maybe more about the modest starting level than super farming, but also that with education you can make essential changes.
Jukka told about the challenges in development work, how sometimes people are resisting improvements. It's almost impossible to improve the conditions if people themselves are not ready for changes. Partly the reason is magical conception of world. Catholic religion and all kind of beliefs have still a firm grip. People think that poverty is a destiny, which cannot be changed by themselves. People live like they have lived 100 years, because they are afraid of changing anything. They live from hand to mouth, just trying to survive and bear it.

Carrots growing in Estelimar. The watering system
is build of used plastic bottles.

Very usual well type. We saw plenty of these on our trip.

An other problem Jukka mentioned is the modest level of education. That's why the science centre illustrates - with prehistoric animals - the basics of technology and physics, how a well pump, a jack, and a lever arm are working, how a solar panel is producing power. There is a wide collection of education videos, I glimpse through the labels and see one on the history of painting, another on sexual education. Also here is a computer class and internet access.
The area is nice. There are two long white buildings with red brick roofs, surrounded by lush bushes, trees and flowers. They are accommodation quarters. The view is beautiful. There is also a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, billiard and meeting rooms. In the dinner we are joined by 14 teenage Danish girls - didn't ask why they were in Estelimar.

Next day we made a trip to small coffee plantation. First we were shaking and rattling a bumpy road by car up to mountains, then we walked down to a lush valley along a dusty trail. Visiting a coffee farm was interesting as such, you never think from where your morning drink comes. But meeting the farmer, Alberto, was definetely the best experience. To avoid alcohol, Alberto has put his energy to stone carvings. The steep hillside cliff was full of figures along tens of metres. Every picture was a story, either made up by Alberto himself or taken from the Nicaraguan history. He has made the stories for 15 years, so the wall was really impressive. The artist was eagerly telling the stories and showing his work.

Later Alberto demonstrated how the coffee beans are pealed with a small hand mill. After that beans are spread into sun to dry. We got some beans with us. 

Coffee beans are handpicked from the bushes. 
Then they are pealed by a mill, which is often 
located by a river, because the process needs water. 
Pealed beans are spread into sun to dry.

From Estelí we drove four hours to Granada, to another world. Granada is the oldest colonial city of Nicaragua, established by the Spaniard Fransisco Ferdández de Córdoba in 1524. It's by the Nicaragua Lake, from where there is a connection to Atlantic along River San Juan. That made Granada an important merchandise town.
The beautiful city temptates tourists. Paved streets in the centre are not dusty, colourful and well kept houses are tidy, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants. The same year, 1524, Spanish had established also the town of León, but it's more shabby and therefore not so favoured by tourists than Granada. León was the capital from 1524 until 1857, when Managua - located between Granada and León - became the capital. This was a compromise, because the liberal León and conservative Granada were against each other. Even on such level, that in 1855 the people of León asked the help of American William Walker. Walker ruled Granada for a couple of years and set the town in flames when fleeing.

The story of William Walker is unbelievable. In 1853, he marched to Mexico with his small group and declared himself as the president of Baja California. When Walker got the task from leonese, he didn't leave it just to Granada, but he got himself elected as the president of Nicaragua. He instituted slavery and declared English as the official language. Walker's next aim was to conquest the whole Central America. It didn't take long when we was running away. He was ingredible persistent: twice he surrended to US Navy to avoid enemy, and twice he continued his efforts. Third time Walker was captured by the British who gave him over to Honduras. He was executed in 1860.

Top left: the town square is dominated by the cathedral. On the background is the Mombacho volcano (1345 m), where we made a trip. The vegetation zone in one kilometre hight is called cloudforest. Not quite like rainforest, but close.

Bottom left: the houses in Granada looked like this before William Walker burned the town. Reconstructed house, La Gran Francia, is a classy hotel and restaurant.

15.2.2005 San Juan de Sur, Nicaragua
The whole Nicaraguan coast is weatherwise similar than Tehuantepec. Wind called Papagallo is connceted to Caribbean weather systems and wind strengthens when blowing over the low land. However, the Papagallo area is much wider than Tehuantec, about 200-300 miles from El Salvador to northern Costa Rica. When there is a cold front on the Atlantic side, papagallo winds are blowing strong. Advice is same than in Tehuantepec: it's wise to keep close (about 5 miles) to shore.
We were ready to leave marina Puesta del Sol, but weather fax showed a cold front coming, so we waited.

Marina Puesta del Sol was opened a year ago,
and it's the only marina in Nicaragua.
Service is friendly and the place luxorious.
Marina employs about 100 people.

We had a pleasant evening with
Roberto and Maria Laura, the owners of marina. 

On Saturday, 12.2., the weather had passed and we were leaving. Although we were heading to another Nicaraguan port, all the three officials came to boat. They made a pile of papers and we paid 15 dollars to get a national zarpe - a cruising license. It was valid only 24 hours and only for one destination, San Juan de Sur. (Clearing in to Nicaragua costed 29 dollars, 15 for the boat and 7 each person. That had to be paid in dollars, country's own currency cordobas didn't do.)  

On Friday we made a trip to El Viejo and...

...Chinandega, near towns.

First the wind was perfect, 10-15 knots, but a nasty swell coming towards told that there was something else to expect. Soon the northeasterly started to gain force. Again we did against the advice: didn't keep close to the shore, but sailed with locked rudder so high up into the wind we could. That course kept us 10-15 miles out of the land. Wind increased, and the sailing started to be as wet as in Tehuantepec, but fortunately not quite as bumpy. Enough, though, Auli was seasick. The speed was good and by the sunrise at six o'clock, we had sailed 100 miles in 18 hours (5.6 knots average). We had only 30 miles to go. But that 30 miles took 10 hours!! San Juan de Sur was exactly there where it was blowing 30-40 knots. We tacked and tacked... If we would have had an international zarpe, we would have sailed to Costa Rica or even Panama. But San Juan de Sur was where we were suppose to go, so there we sailed. Covered with salt, wet, and muscles aching from balancing in the bouncing boat. 
The wind didn't give up in the harbour, it was still blowing 25, gusting 35 knots. Horseshoe bay was full of boats, mainly local fishing vessels, but also one sailyacht (US), one trimaran (UK) and one motoryacht (Panama). We put 40 metres (130 feet) chain out and watched closely if the anchor held. The bottom was good, no dragging, but it was unpleasant to be in that wind among so many boats. We were tired and after a chicken dinner ready for bed at 7 pm. Sleep wasn't very sound when Kristiina was leaning and wind was howling. Auli was constantly worrying if we are dragging or if the big motorboat in front of is coming on us.
Next day the officials came to boat to make their paperwork and then we were ready to visit the town. San Juan de Sur (pop. 6000) is favoured by locals as a holiday spot, as well as by tourists, especially backpackers. On Monday two cruising ship visited, they were smaller size however. The town is tidy and wealthy looking. Long sandy beach is borded by restaurants and cafes. The village is full of internet places, craft shops and hostels.

The next cold front is coming, so we cannot stay long. When we sail around Cabo Elena (10º 50' N 86º W) in Costa Rica, the weather should be lighter and proceeding is not so dependent on forecast. The next nasty place is Cabo Mala (7º 30'N 80º W) in Panama.

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