Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 23 Corinto, Nicaragua

Today we will be in Nicaragua, which is another country I never thought I would be visiting.  When I think of Nicaragua I think of revolutions, civil wars and violence, but that was in its past and it now enjoys peace, but unfortunately not prosperity.  We will be on another private tour today arranged by Barbara, another Cruise Critic roll call member.

We slept in this morning and Val is feeling a little better which is good news.  Before we docked we attended a talk by guest lecturer Tommie Sue Montgomery.  Today she talked about Nicaragua and Guatemala, which was very interesting.  After the lecture we went out on deck to watch our arrival in Corinto and found that it was very hot.  The prediction was for 100 degree F temperatures and it already felt that hot.  Combined with 90 percent humidity, this was going to be a miserable day as far as the weather goes.

We sail into the Corinto, Nicaragua harbor.  The statue in the middle of the picture is Ruben Dario, a Nicaraguan poet who had a lasting influence on Latin America literature.

Another industrial port, that's where we would be docking.
This was another industrial port, but it wasn’t as isolated as some we’ve been in as you can walk out of the port area and into the adjacent town of Corinto.  It was after 11:00 when we finally arrived and our departure time would be 5:00 PM so we had a very short day in Nicaragua, which meant we had to get our tour started as soon as possible.  As soon as we docked, Val and I went down to the deck where we would be leaving the ship and found a huge line of people winding its way down the corridor all waiting to get off the ship.  There was a delay in getting the ship cleared by Nicaraguan customs so we stood in that line for quite a while as it got longer and longer.  Finally the line started to move and we were quickly off the ship.  We had to walk outside the main gate to meet our tour guide and the rest of our group, but we were finally ready to go just before noon.  There were only eight in our group today and thank goodness the van had decent air conditioning as it really was very hot and humid.  We had plenty of room in the van to spread out, which made it all the more comfortable.

There was a marimba band to welcome us at the dock.
And dancers greeting us as we got off the ship.

The town of Corinto.
The tour today would take us to the colonial city of Leon, which is the second largest city in Nicaragua and is about an hour’s drive from Corinto.  As we drove through the countryside it was obvious that Nicaragua was a very poor country; our guide told us that only Haiti was poorer than Nicaragua.  Despite its poverty though, Nicaragua along with Costa Rica, has the lowest crime rate in Central America.  Besides cars (mostly old) we saw many people using small motorcycles, bicycles, pedicabs, horse drawn carts, horses and their own legs for transportation.  Public transportation consisted of old looking school buses (called “chicken buses” because people can, and do, bring anything and everything on the bus) and flatbed trucks with a metal framework crowded with people (mostly men it looked like) hanging on.  Our tour guide told us that the average salary in Nicaragua was $100 a month.  We asked him if there was a middle class and he said yes and they made $400 or $500 a month. It is obvious that most people in Nicaragua don’t have much.

It was quite flat near the coast, but Nicaragua is a country with many volcanoes so you could see the volcanic peaks off in the distance.  The drive through the countryside was quite interesting.  Most of the land looked like it was under agricultural use and we saw many large fields of sugar cane.  After an hour’s drive, we arrived in Leon.  Here are some views from the bus.

These pedicabs were all over and seemed to be a popular
means of travel by both the locals and tourists.

One of the many volcanic peaks in Nicaragua.
Our tour of Leon would be a short because of the late arrival and early departure of the ship, which left us only about one and half to two hours of time in the city.  After exiting the van we were happy to find the temperature a little cooler than it was on the coast, but still very warm and humid.  The first place we went was an open market that seemed quite chaotic with stands selling everything imaginable and people everywhere.  The sanitary standards were not good by our standards, but again, this is a very poor country.  It was a very interesting experience walking around in the market and we found the people friendly although most were pretty indifferent to our presence.

It all seemed very chaotic to us, but it's all what you're used to.

Leon is called a colonial town because after the arrival of the Spanish they built the town using their own style and architecture.  Their influence was obvious in the architecture and especially in the Catholic Churches.  We walked around and visited a very old Catholic Church (built in the 1700’s), which was in the process of being restored.  After leaving the church we walked around the plaza area in the center of town, but we were running out of time.  By this time, Val and I were very hot and worn down from the humidity so we headed to an open air café and bought some water.  We also took a little time to check out some stands selling crafts and souvenirs along the plaza.  Our only purchase was a t-shirt I bought for $4.00; as I said, prices are very low here.

This is the tomb of Ruben Dario in the Leon Cathedral. 
He was obviously a very important and respected man in Nicaragua.

The Cathedral of Leon.

This is a memorial in the center of town called the of Heroes and
Martyrs Park.  There are murals on the surrounding walls depicting
important moments in their civil war and their struggle for democracy.

A bread delivery to a local restaurant

Our time in Leon was up and we climbed back into the van for the drive back to the ship.  We had asked our guide where the wealthier Nicaraguans lived so he drove us through a part of town with some of the nicer homes.  He told us they could cost as much as $50,000 to $100,000 US, maybe Nicaragua would be a good place to retire.  I guess there actually are a growing number of foreign retirees moving to Nicaragua because of the low prices.  Panama and Costa Rica are preferred, but prices have been going up there due to the presence of foreigners, so Nicaragua is looking more inviting.

Our Guide told us another sign of Nicaragua’s poor economy is the fact that many Nicaraguans cross the border into Guatemala illegally because there is more work there.

We were back at the ship by 4:00, which gave us a half hour before the final all aboard so we decided to walk around the area of Corinto nearest the ship.  It was interesting, but most of the vendors and shops were closing.  Val was a little disappointed as she was looking to be able to find something symbolic of the Nicaraguan life and culture, but our shopping opportunities were very limited today.

It was almost time for all aboard so Corinto was pretty dead by the time we got back.

The late arrivals getting back on board.

The marimba band was still there.  As you can see by Val's hair, it's a little windy.

We got back on the ship just before 4:30 and I have to say that after the heat and humidity of the day, the air conditioning felt very good.  Living in California we certainly have our share of 100 degree weather in the summer, but when you add in the high humidity, it just feels stifling.  When they say jokingly, “but it’s a dry heat” there is a lot of truth in it.  After we took showers we started to feel back to normal again. Tonight there was a sail-away party so I went out to that and listen to the music as we sailed out of the harbor at Corinto. 

The sun sets as we leave the harbor and sail on to Guatemala.
It was MIX Lounge with Chris, dinner and the casino as usual.  Val continued her winning ways, but I was quickly out of money and retired for the evening. 

Despite the heat, Val and I really enjoyed our visit to Nicaragua.  It felt like we had seen a part of Central America as it was many years ago.  I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not because a lot of what we saw was extreme poverty and a very low standard of living.  It does make you appreciate what we have and the opportunities available to us that are none existent in many countries.  All-in-all it was a very interesting day.  We learned a lot about the struggling country of Nicaragua.  About the civil wars that have torn it apart, about the role the Americans played in all of that, and that the people of Nicaragua are very eager, if not desperate, for better times.

Tomorrow we will be in Guatemala, our third port in three days.

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