I am cycling to raise money for the fantastic UK based chaity Macmillan Cancer Support. Big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far! Justgiving is a quick, easy and secure way to donate online. See my other fundraising page, specific to the Macmillan organized part of the trip

Saturday, 6 March 2010

El Viejo & Sela

I love the web of links of links between friends of friends that I´m being passed along out here. I´d followed up one of Liz´s suggestions earlier this week by heading up north to El Viejo towards Selva, what Liz had described to me as a ranch hospedaje where I should be able to camp if I mentioned her name and a friend of hers Martin who she´d worked with up there some years ago. When I got to the area though I was disappointed to hear from a local taxi driver that there was nothing there anymore and then at the very dilapidated entrance was about to turn round and head back towards Chinandega with the pressure of impending nightfall and not wanting to cycle round after dark. but gladly I had a final change of thought and checked a little further up the path, so glad I did because I ended up being welcomed as though I was family and staying in the area the next couple of days.
As I made my way up the earth and stone track I was met by an aggressively barking pack of dogs, which were shooed off by a little half naked toddler and his slightly older brother who led me to a little cluster of thatched cabins where I met Jose Julio and Jose Alberto. Their initial confusion at me asking for camping turned to huge smiles when Liz and Martin´s names came up, and we´d cleared up that the lack of electricity didn´t matter cause I had a torch. Currently Jose Jullio and his family are the only ones living on the land at Selva, and Julio proudly showed me a beautiful hand-drawn map of the plans for the land to be developed into a reservation area, with forest, water channels, animals, vegetation and cabins which would be opened up to the public who could come to learn Spanish, work on the construction and land and use Selva as a base to go off exploring the many surrounding reserves, beaches and mountains. Sadly at the moment the reality at Selva is pretty harsh. A few years ago changes in Nicaraguan administration meant Selva´s funding was withdrawn so Julio left the site and the project was put on hold, but when he returned the land, cabins and forest had been ransacked and robbed and the tortoises and their eggs been eaten, hence the reason now for the intimidating pack of guard dogs that met me. Martin is due back in July when reconstruction is due to start, and they were keen for anyone interested to go and stay with them and help out, exchange language classes and learn to cook nicaraguan style. I have their e-mail so if anyone is in that area and willing to give them a hand, they would really appreciate it so get in touch.
Hearing that I´d been an art student Jose Alberto took me on the back of his moto into the town to show me an incredible weaving of local artist, who it turned out was a really good friend of his Salvador Aguilar. We sat in the beautiful handmade rocking chairs that many familes move out onto the pavement in the warmth of evenings... I had a good view of the surreal weaving just inside the doorway. It reminded me of paterns of neurones or crystals, and Hieronymous Bosh´s paintings, and was scattered with pirhanas which Salvador explained was how he seems humanity, as greedy and destructive as those vicious fish. I can see his point.
Salvador brought out a bundle of letters, papers and photos from a dusty old chest, and showed me leaf by leaf the documentation of his career as an artist, a huge privilege. As I read the newspaper clippings and looked at the photos of his scultures in progress and came across references to one I had seen already in Managua, it dawned on me just how famous an artist he is, and how signifcant his work has been for Nicaragua and the FSLN as commerative pieces in significant public spaces. I saw certificates he had received in recognition of his work and old photos from his student days of his first ever sculpture and his first big scale piece, and he even allowed me to look at letters refering to international exhibitions he had been a part of, I felt really honoured and in a very peaceful way in awe, because Salvador was a very calm and humble person, with a familiar cheeky twinkle in his eye. I felt I wanted to give Salvador something, as a sort of offering or thanks so went back the following night with a simple drawing I spent the afternoon making, of the shell the little boy at Las Peñitas had given me. Very amateur, but Salvador seemed happy, sitting me back in the rocking chair and showing me even more of his work. He and his great nephew would disappear further into the house and bring out more and more incredibly intricate graphite drawings and small clay models for larger scale scultpture, dusting them off and handling them with such pride, Salvador seemed to really enjoy showing them to me and I again felt very reverent. Since his formal study at Art School he has worked in many materials, wood, stone, clay, metal and soldering, graphite, watercolour, and had taught himself the technique for the weaving later in life. One sculpture I particularly likes, and that was dusted and on display in the front room was of his Papa, as they say in Spanish, Salvador´s father, with a radio pressed to his ear, as he was apparently a huge fan of baseball so would listen for hours to commentary. Mirta Nuñez, Jose´s wife, and I spent hours at Salvador´s house that second evening, managing to chat through the language barriers, and coming round to the subject of music. Salvador loved Janis Joplin, the Who, the Beatles and after eating at a street comedor (though in true artist stlye Salvador only had a drink and cigarettes and later !) we ended up watching a dvd of Jimi Hnedrix live at Woodstock late into the night, total pleasure.
Mirta Nuñez, having seen the Fatima card from Tamara on my bike took me to see the local church, the Immaculada Concepcion de El Viejo, where I paid my respects in the Bascilica. In saying a prayer for my grandparents I was set off on a moving train of thought of friends and family, feeling very thankful to the forces in the world that seem to be surrounding and protecting me out here. I felt very respectful to be able to find that spiritual spce within my head by being in the physical space of the Basilica, and to have time to think through my feelings about spiritulal questions which I suppose most of my day to day life I ignore to an extent. As someone who was raised Catholic and confirmed, but spent all of adult life being opposed to organised relgion and often passionatel arguing against it, I´m finding in recent years that I´m struggling like many of my generation to define for myself my understanding of the spiritual and emotional worlds we move within, often very little degree of awareness. I think travelling so far from family I am finding now, as I have before that open places of worship can be very peaceful and contemplative, whether it be the pagan Fortingale yew or the Catholic basilica.
The whole church was indeed very beautiful, with an icon of the Virgin Mary from 1562 dressed in elaborately embroidered robes that had been gifted to the church by Mother Teresa, and a relic of Jesus on a wooden crucifix dating from 1626, made by Peruvian Indians and called `Tata Icha` (Padre Jesus) and one of the few where Jesus is depicted black.Mirta´s tour of El Viejo also took me to see two of Salvador´s large scale sculpture in situ in the local park. In amongst his paper´s I´d seen an article about their installation and the divide in public opinion they brough. As with all new and unfamiliar art, there was a lot of opposition and disgust, and a statue of the Virgin Mary had to be installed shortly after in front of his work to placate the public. Sign of good art when it provokes such a strong emotional response.Mirta Nuñez and Jose Alberto were incredibly generous to me both with their time and in inviting me to stay at their home for my second night in the area. Their lovely 3 year old grandaughter was delightful, and enjoyed listening to the sounds of the sea in the conch as I was drawing it for Salvador. Their living room was filled with the same style handmade rocking chairs, or silla abuelitas (´grandparent chair?`) or silla mesadoras that I so love... they are even made in small sizes for the little ones.

Mirta is also the Principle of the local Secondary College CCE Inmaculada Concepcion de Maria, whose mission is to equip pupils with trade specific skills, so when I visited I saw typing class for secretarial training and a computer class for administraion and office vocational training. It was very smart and clean, and the pupils were clearly hard working. Due to underfunding of education in Nicaragua, teachers are paid appalingly low wages, and as a result apparently a lot of teachers have left ther profession. For those like Mirta and her small staff force, who all have double functions within the school, it is a struggle to source enough equiptment for their pupils. So if anybody knows of any potential sources of Spanish-language textbooks at secondary school level, perhaps through book recycling programs, that information would be very useful forMirta. They also need to upgrade their computers, as their machines are very old, so again, if anyone knows of either funding or computer recycling initiatives within the UK or elsewhere that could be directed towards the school then I´d really appreciate it if you could get in touch with me so I can pass the information along.
After heading off from the school and a very motherly hug from Mirta, I stopped off briefly in Chinandega, the home of the Flor de Caña distillery. As the ´special´rum of choice back in London at Phil´s I thought it was a bit of a duty to buy a bottle Flor de CAña home territory, but being 5 cordobas short for even the smallest bottle, had to settle on taking a photo of a billboard instead.... anyway since reaching León have had my fair share of the stuff and with the added bonus of endless free limes from the tree in the hostel courtyard!
Oh, and have heard from Horatio, remember the cycle tourer going south who´d had enough of the heat of Nicaragua? ell he´s been interviewed by the local press in Matagalpa, who compared his travels to the Motorcycle Diaries; here´s a link to the article that came out in la Prensa about him.

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