Painting Nicaragua

Emolyn’s Travel Snapshots

Our boat on the tour of Las Isletas

The sun rises slowly but the noises of morning come suddenly. I’m used to hearing roosters alarm sleepers that morning has risen, but here a large community (or so it sounds) is quacking and twittering “get up, get up.” As I stand in the yard a parade of animals make their debut, one at a time. A pig is scoffing his nose in the dirt and in seconds a chicken and her chicks come shuffling through in a line. They flip leaves over to see if a worm or bean lays underneath. A dog who has seen better days wanders through looking for any resemblance of breakfast. It dawns on me, poor dogs, that they don’t have it as easy as the other animals because they don’t eat grass or leaves. Minutes later, a sheep makes an appearance. Her fleece is short almost like a cow, not soft like the wool my mother uses to spin and knit. A woolly sheep would be miserable in this ninety degree heat. A minute later I compare her fiber with a goat’s that is chewing its way through the yard. Taking no notice of me, it eats down the path like a lawn mower, out to the trees. It’s only 6 a.m. and already I have been given a tour of domesticated animals in Arenal, Nicaragua.

Today we are going to Granada, on the northwestern side of Lago de Nicaragua, and I wait for the sound of Donald’s truck. Donald is a produce farmer and coordinator of sorts for other farmers in his community. He is also the driver for the village. He honks and I take the dirt path down from Patti’s house, where I am staying with her and her five year-old daughter. We pick up others and by the time we leave Masatepe, we are three in the front and six in the back. I speak with Marta, the school teacher, while we head down the road, but soon the wind carries away my words and I seek refuge on the bed of the truck behind the cab.

art in Granada

I am excited to see the colonial city, one of Nicaragua’s most affluent, and still one of the most popular. Over the years, the city has been redeveloped, old homes renovated, historic buildings restored, thus becoming a tourism model for the rest to the country. As we park the camioneta in the city center, I can see Volcan Mombacho, the highest point in the distance with its crumbled top. I am not used to seeing volcanoes, being from southeastern US, and they continue to fascinate me. Nearby the vibrant yellow Cathedral of Granada is full and still filling with people dressed in white for el Purisima on December 8th. Inside the massive building, rows of people hold hands with family members to sing and celebrate the Virgin Mary. Outside in the plaza others are watching the scurry of people, eating platano or slippery papaya, or catching up with friends. Our group takes a seat at a bench and Donald passes a bag of salty platano around for us too. The thin fried vegetable is more than addictive. I may just have to eat it…all the time.

My friend and I walk around the streets, wandering to comfortable coffee shops and cafes, that are well established here for the constant flow of travelers. At a book store with over-priced novels in English, we purchase the guide book “Moon Nicaragua”, again, because ours was stolen. A little spiteful, we spend the money anyway, but at $20? Used? Fuming a little about robbery and why…WHY!, my gaze falls on an open building with paintings inside. The walls are covered with images; to the right, left, on the tables, on the shelves. I flip through some dry heavy canvases and I can’t stop looking at the brilliant oil colors. I wander to the courtyard in the back and watch two painters leaning in over their easels in concentration.

Later, we pile into the back of the truck again and I’m buckled in by hope that we won’t have a road accident. When we get to the shore of Lago de Nicaragua, I can’t help but stand, belly up to the back of the cab, and watch Las Isletas de Granada wisp by. “How fortunate we are,” I think with wind in my face “to have hosts show us around instead of being a tourist.” Do they know how much they are giving us just by being in our company?

In a motor boat, we venture out into the lake. The three hundred or so small islands were once the top of the towering Mombacho, until it exploded and formed the archipelago. I read in my new guide book that it happened twenty-thousand years ago. Now it is home to families who row a boat to church and school. If I’d grown up here, instead of wanting a car when I turned sixteen, I would have begged and pleaded with my dad, “Pleeeease can I have a row boat? I’m old enough now!” We cross the lake and the driver idles the boat by a shore. Then I hear him say, “Mira, los arboles!” I look up wondering what he’s talking about. Finally I see the small furry face looking at us through the leaves. The monkey poses childlike, curious about yet another boat cruising past his limited habitat.

After a long day we leave Granada for the countryside. On the way home, I am cuddled behind the cab again while most everyone is dozing. While I sit there, the events of the day come back to mind. The ceremony in the cathedral, the plaza, and the boat tour of the islands. Then I remember the painting workspace. I can still see the colors, remember sifting through the images, and the mere quantity of it all. The more I think about it, I realize it wasn’t the artwork that attracted me inside the building. It was the feeling of comfort to see people working out of interest, not solely for income. The painters were absorbed in something stronger than any chaotic surrounding, any place of haggling, or uncertainty outside in the streets, inside homes, and neighborhoods, where the next meal may not be laid on the table, and people often go without help. The canvases displayed a people who had found support from somewhere, monetary or not, and a tranquil place to work. A small particle can flourish and people will pursue their interests, if let alone to do it.

Posted by Emolyn Liden, Dec. 2009

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3 thoughts on “Painting Nicaragua”

  1. Wow Emolyn!!!! How beautifuly you write and think!!!! This takes me back to growing up in Brazil and to our more recent trip to Puerto Rico. Everything is so lush and colorful…and yet there is an underlying constant need for the necessities of life.

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