As promised, while on la isla, I took lots of photos. Life on the Island of Ometepe is much more tranquillo and laid back then life in Granada. One of the first differences I noticed is that Ometepe and many of the towns I traveled through to get there are much more Sandinista than conservative Granada. This is evidenced by the familiar negro y rojo of the Sandinista flag tagging telephone poles, park benches, casas, and tiendas.
This makes perfect sense given that Granada is and has traditionally been a city of concentrated wealth, and those wealthy people preferred the Somozo government with it’s penchant for sharing the government spoils (read taxes and foreign aid) to friends and familie members. The Sandinista revolution made tangible changes in the lives of rural people like introducing free schools and healthcare. Flying the Sandinista flag also makes sense because now that the Sandinista government is in power, with Daniel Ortega serving his fifth term as president, it behooves families and stores to show their loyalty to the party that currently holds power. This can make a big difference when one has to deal with anything that touches on government affairs.
It was amazing to be surrounded by such a verdant landscape. Peering closer between the leaves of trees and bushes revealed a bounty of food – from papayas, mangos, dragon fruits, coffee, and oranges – and animals! I wasn’t lucky enough to spot a monkey in the time I spent on the island, but I did hear their distinctive calls echoing through the rain forest. Horses and ponies, ducks, pigs, chickens, and geckos all made their appearances. In fact, horses and bicycles appeared to be the preferred method of transportation for the locals. I was tickled pink one day to walk past a man leisurely riding a horse, holding a mango in one hand, and using the machete in his other hand to methodically peel and eat the mango as his horse guided him knowingly up the mountain road.
I had to stifle giggles every time I saw chickens cross the road as the silly childhood riddle came back to me. I tried in vain several times to catch a photo, but those chickens run fast. Chickens weren’t the only animals running. This poor horse in the photo below was set upon by several neighborhood dogs. In response, he lowered his head and galloped faster until he outran them. Pobre caballo!
While snapping more pictures of a lone yellow flower growing in a bush of beautiful orange ones, a branch was blown out of a nearby palm. This sound startled some pigs who had been foraging for food all morning on the other side of the bush. Hearing the branch, one pig rounded the bush in a panic, saw me, squealed and back tracked and ran off in the other direction. I didn’t hear from him again until morning, when I heard a soft grunting outside my bedroom door.
While laid back for me, this rural life certainly isn’t laid back for the Nicaraguense who live and work here every day. Below are some photos of a typical Nicaraguan kitchen. Note the pila – a large, concrete structure with one faucet for running water. This is used as the sink. The cook fire is literally a fire, as evidenced by the large pile of chopped firewood beneath it. The final picture is a pile of beans on the counter, gone through by hand. The beans are grown on the island as well, and are so fresh that you can bite one in half before it’s been cooked. I was recently schooled by my Nica friends that one shouldn’t buy beans that one can’t bite in half before cooked – the hard, dry ones are really just old and stale.
When they’re not busy shelling beans or cooking large Nicaraguan meals, the island women are in the lake up to their knees scrubbing their laundrey, or hauling that laundry back in buckets stoutly balanced on heads to be wrung out and hung to dry on fences or wires.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition that the lake that serves as water for cleaning clothes and bodies also serves up the tilapia and other local fish served at all lakeside restaurants, in the Island of Omotepe, las isletas de Granada, and I assume others as well. I overheard a conversation between two locals discussing the “dead zone” of the lake, with fish floating dead on the surface and chemicals running so thick and rampant that the agua was actually black. This, they surmised, must be because of the many factories in Granada with run off leading directly into the lake. This is the same lake that looks crystal clear in some places, with the water running clean and smooth, bordered on all sides by montanas, volcanoes, and palm trees.