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Travel Story : A Nicaraguan Rifle in the Ribs : Traveller / Traveler in Nicaragua, Central America :: From the Planet Pilgrim World Traveller Series

A Nicaraguan Rifle in the Ribs
( A legacy of the 1978-79 civil war )

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Granada, Nicaragua, Central America - Nicaraguan folk musician
Folk Musician in Granada, Nicaragua

On the second last day of 1980 I awoke with bizarre memories of riding a ferris wheel overlooking Comayaguela and drinking beer in a cantina with red bulbs hanging from the awnings out the front. It was near pitiful slums with houses made of cardboard, galvanized iron and mud. We made a quick exit from the premises when it was loudly raided by a gang of wild colonial mestizo louts. At that time, Honduras had the lowest standard of living of any Central American country. I was drinking with a Scottish gypsy who spent six months of every year working in a Norwegian fish cannery and the other half of the year wandering through remote and exotic regions. Comayaguela is the tragically poor sister city of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras in Central America.

The memories were displaced by our morning visit to the Nicaraguan Embassy for a visa and then negotiating our way to the border with Nicaragua on the Pan-American Highway. We took a jalopy of a bus to San Marcos de Colon, followed by a badly lopsided taxi to El Espino just north of the frontier crossing. A late lunch of beans and rice (of course) at El Oasis Comedor preceded our walk to the border.

On arrival at the border we were surprised to find a chain draped between posts on each side of the road. It was only 5.20pm ! Most land border posts closed at 6.00pm in this part of the world. However, its closure for that day was definitely confirmed when a soldier cum border guard stepped up to the chain where we were standing and presented me with a surprising Nicaraguan rifle in the ribs. He then affirmed our suspicions by exclaiming, "Cerrado! Mañana ! " (Closed! Tomorrow!) . After the initial shock, I felt thankful to be walking away with my life..

The charm of the incident was reinforced when we had to spend the night in a corn field by the border, with full knowledge that this frontier region was crawling with anti-Marxist Contra rebel guerrillas. They used this border area of Honduras as a base for armed and bloody incursions into Nicaragua, which was then under the political control of the Marxist Sandinista Party.

After a nervous night under the stars, we rose to meet the last day of the year with some beans and rice for breakfast at a roadside cantina. We were then subjected to an intense baggage check (including the loss of a film that a guard tore out of the camera) at the El Espino border crossing. A local bus took us through Somoto to the town of Esteli. I took the photo at the top of the page in Esteli where the buildings were riddled with bullet holes from the civil war which ended in December of the previous year (1979). At that time, the Sandinistas overthrew the regime of President Somoza.

On arrival in the capital city, Managua, a five-hour bus ride from the border, we were assailed by hustlers, taxi drivers, money changers and even people selling fireworks who infested the streets. A little capitalist boy (due for re-education school) showed us around the pensiones. There were about 1000 Cuban teachers in Nicaragua at the time and more than 2000 Nicaraguense students in Cuba.

Since Managua was totally devastated by the December, 1972 earthquake, no reconstruction had taken place in the centre of the city. The downtown district had been razed and almost completely cleared away. At one end of the centre there stood the Intercontinental Hotel, with the Bank Of America still upright at the other end. In between them, there was nothing but vacant land punctuated by occasional skeletons of destroyed buildings ........... nothing but the emptiness of the deserted ghost of the city's heart.

This certainly explained the laughter I was met with at the bus station when I asked, "Donde esta el centro?" (Where is the centre of town?)

Managua, Nicaragua, Central America - Old Cathedral
Old Cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua

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