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Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes

The RoadsWellTraveled exploratory journey began in Central America. After traveling through the Guatemalan Highlands (read about my Guatemalan sojourn here), I made my way to Nicaragua. Compared to Guatemala, Nicaragua was going to be a gentler destination, primarily because both Sebastian and I have a strong association with the country. INCAE Business School, our alma mater has a campus in the outskirts of Managua. While we graduated from the INCAE campus in Costa Rica, we have ties with the Nicaraguan campus since many of our professors (including the very kind Dean) call Managua their home. So when I included Nicaragua to my Central American itinerary, the INCAE Dean extended a very warm welcome and gave me the opportunity to stay on campus and experience my memorable INCAE life again. There was no way I would let that offer pass!

My guide during the time in Nicaragua was Luis, a young 18 year old who not only drove me around Nicaragua but also showed me the world of a young, proud Nicaraguan who is as passionate about famous Nicaraguan poets as he is about fast German automobiles. Luis talked at length about Nicaragua’s many lakes, it’s abundance of volcanoes, and the past struggles that he never got to see firsthand but still felt in his life and the lives of his family.

During my time in Nicaragua, I visited Managua, Masaya, San Juan de Oriente, Rivas, Isla Ometepe and Granada. Granada, named after the breathtaking Andalusian city in Spain, is a beautiful colonial town on the banks of Lake Nicaragua/Cocibolca. Since I chose a Sunday to roam the town’s streets, I was met not with touristy Granada but one where the locals return to peaceful life with family. I was lucky enough to find almost the entire town congregate at Cathedral de Granada and Iglesia de Guadalupe for the Sunday service. It’s well known that Latin Americans are devout Catholics, and rarely miss their time with God every Sunday.

I was introduced to Juanita Bermudez, the owner of Galeria Codice. The one name synonymous with Nicaraguan Art, Juanita has spent years championing Nicaraguan artisan traditions, and has aided in their recognition the world over. On a personal level, I have never felt more welcomed in someone’s home as I did in Juanita’s. Juanita’s warmth and hospitality reminded me of how similar Nicaraguans are to Indians.

After preliminary research and Juanita’s guidance, I decided to focus my time in Nicaragua in a small part of the country- Masaya and the neighboring town of San Juan Oriente. What the town misses in size, it more than makes up in a grand tradition of ceramics, that Nicaragua is so proud of. San Juan de Oriente, has been at the center of the cultural revival which has endured not only the Spanish Conquests but also a civil war.

Masaya and San Juan de Oriente are blessed with fertile lands. The most significant resource of the area is Laguna de Apoyo (Lagoon of Protection) which Luis and other Nicaraguans pride themselves in for its purity, cleanliness and beauty. Luis told me how the Laguna today is one of the few water resources free of contamination.

San Juan Oriente’s history starts with indigenous groups of people- the Chorotega and the Nicarao people. It is said that the Chorotega and Nicarao are descendants of Mexican Nahuatl tribe, contemporary of the Olmecs. Rather than fight with the Aztecs, they fled south from Mexico after consulting a wise woman who spoke of their promised land- a place that had a lake with two volcanoes. The place was Lake Cocibolca and the Island of Ometepe. The Nicarao people are said to have settled around Masaya while the Chorotega on the other side of the lake, in Costa Rica’s Nicoya peninsula.

Following a day in Masaya’s famous market ‘Mercado Central’, I made my way to San Juan de Oriente. The Nicaraguan summers are unforgiving, especially to someone used to San Francisco’s almost-frigid summer days. However, San Juan de Oriente lives up to its name of Pueblo Namotiva (a Nahuatl-Spanish phrase that means ‘Village of Brothers’) representing the hospitality and friendliness of the people.

After meeting with many artisans, I came across Roger. I met Roger and his family over many days, traveling daily from the INCAE campus to Managua to Masaya to San Juan de Oriente. He showed me his workshop, as well as the spectrum of work that he and his team did. From garish neon colored vases which he lamented were ‘popular’ to the finest reproductions of Pre-Columbian ceramics excavated at Ometepe, Roger’s repertoire is broad. Where it mattered, his work was some of the best I had seen. It wasn’t just the quality of his work that urged me to feature it on RoadsWellTraveled. Roger’s modesty, gentle demeanor and selfless dedication to his craft makes him a rich person, and his craft even richer. Though Roger and his daughter spoke no English, and I not enough Spanish, our interaction was a pleasure, even if not easy. Like all artisans that we have met, Roger and his family live in modest conditions, unaware of the wealth that their craft and their traditions hold. It is for people like Roger and their families that their craft needs to be recognized. It is imperative that they be given due credit and encouragement so that their future generations see the value in continuing these beautiful traditions.

I invite you to look at Roger’s work for RoadsWellTraveled and admire his dedication to the craft. If you look close enough, you just might see the heart and soul that an artisan has poured into his work.

Love and peace, Minu

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