By Kara Szathmàry
On the Way: Wednesday, Feb 14 2007 – Valentine’s Day
I awoke at 3:49 AM to get ready to go to the airport by 5:00. My flight from Panama City, FL would leave to Atlanta, GA at 6:05, but first I had to get my e-ticket and head to security where it meant taking off shoes, belt, watch, bracelet, necklace, empty pockets of coins, keys, metal pens, et cetera, a general ordeal. After boarding the aircraft, we headed off in the morning dawn, flying northeast to Atlanta. Once above the ever increasing mounds of clouds, due to a major storm system that was sweeping across from the mid west and up through to the northeastern seaboard, gradually the stars faded from sight in the twilight sky, giving way to the sun majestically rising in the east.
Our flight arrived in Atlanta around 8:25 AM local time. I still had another hour and a half of waiting time before the next flight, so I’d enjoy a cappuccino. Finally it was time to go, and I boarded a 737 jet to Managua. Leaving my knapsack in the overhead, I headed to the back to find my seat and along the way I met, shook hands and talked a bit with Bill Hartmann and his wife Gayle. I didn’t see Bettina Forget, nor did I see Mitch Bentley and his wife Cathie. I assumed my seat and waited for take off.
At 9:55 our jet rumbled onto the loading lanes joining eight other Delta aircraft in taxi formation towards the run way on this overcast cloudy Atlanta morning. Eventually we were off, thrusters roaring, pushing us deep into our seats as the aircraft ascended. Once through the clouds, barely fifty or so feet above, I saw the shadow of our airplane with a rainbow glory ring around it. The sun with the clear blue sky held a promise of excitement as we circled around Atlanta and headed south. We would be flying at 36,000 feet, along the western edge of Florida, past Tampa, St Petersburg, and Fort Myers before leaving the coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. We would eventually be flying between Cuba and Belize over the Caribbean Sea before reaching the northeastern airspace of Nicaragua and the autonomous Miskito indigenous nation near the Honduran border.
Neither the earlier conquering Spaniards of the 16th century nor the previous early 20th century dictators had ever conquered the Columbian Indian tribe that settled this region 700 years before Columbus. The first Spanish expedition arrived and made landfall about 1500 in search of a route to the great ocean on the west coast. However, this region fell in favor to English and Dutch speaking pirates as they were not interested in conquering the Miskitos as the Spaniards were, but rather the pirates preferred to rely instead on trade for food and water. Centuries in the future, the current Sandanista Luminatos FSLN (The Shining Path Party) also tried to convert the locals into speaking Spanish and submit to Communist rule. Instead the Miskito Nation once again turned to English help by training in southern Honduran mountains with the US military. Fortunately, the fighting has ended, with the public preferring to normalize their society with constructive humanitarianism for all.
From the sights above through my 737 jet window, jungle and a network of rivers appear to be the only means of getting trade with the western Spanish-speaking. Dugout boats and other river crafts meander up the snaking like rivers to towns 50 miles inland. Otherwise airports connected the east and west coasts. The greenery of the eastern coast jungle changed into rolling hills and semi desert landscape within 100 miles from the Caribbean and remained this way westward.
We arrived at Managua International Airport at 12:30 CST into a city filled with corrugated roof tops. Several missionary groups from the US were on this flight who would head northwest and central east to some very poor regions of Nicaragua to help construct churches, schools and other infrastructures. At customs everyone had to pay a $5 visa to enter the country. As I entered the airport, I was greeted by Bettina and one of the hotel employees. She had arrived on an earlier flight so as to avoid being stuck by bad winter weather in Montreal via Atlanta. We talked briefly about when others would be coming. Mitch and Cathie were said to be arriving at 1:30, whereas Betsy Smith had caught an earlier UPS flight the previous day from Louisville, KY instead of returning home to Manchester, NH during the snow storm in the east. As a pilot, Betsy carried her workshop gear with her during her working shift; sensible, no?
A few minutes later I ran into her as I marched off to the washroom to take off some of my clothes. Even with a Floridian wardrobe, I was OVER dressed with my black sports coat, black jeans, tee-shirt, shirt and black vest clothing that was my staple back in Quebec, minus a winter coat, gloves and boots. After returning to Bettina and Betsy, Bill and Gayle had arrived with their Peruvian friends, Maria and Samuel. They spoke a level of English I wish I could in Spanish; but, alas I would have to fudge with the slang French Quebecoise I still knew. However, I would have to remember to an “o” to almost every ending or so my naïve mind insisted. While waiting for Mitch and Cathie’s flight, I discussed ‘Cosmic Expressionism – The Land of the Swirlies’ Chapter for our 25th Anniversary Art Book with Bettina and Betsy.
Then we learned that Mitch and Cathie’s flight was delayed until 9:00 PM, so the rest of us gathered our gear and headed out into the humid hot 96F afternoon air to the parking lot to load the hotel bus to Granada, 60 kilometers to the south. The 45-minute bus ride took us part of the way down the Pan-American Highway, past single story buildings with corrugated tin roofs that often resembled sheds, storage area, meager business garage, cantina or run down, poorly maintained family dwellings. Court yards were often surrounded with barb wire fencing, cast iron gates and pilings, and/or stone walls with broken glass bottles at the top as deterrents for trespassers and separate properties for neighborhoods. The streets and ditches as well as the landscape outside of the cities and towns we drove through were littered with plastic bags and debris of all sorts, including bottles, used tires, and broken furniture. Talk filled the bus in route to Granada with what each of us had done since the DV3 workshop to current projects. After our arrival and settling into our rooms at the Hotel Patio de Malinche, we would gather for our first meeting at 5:00 PM to help usher in our itinerary for the next ten days.
Erik Viktor and Dave Hardy greeted our arrival at our hotel in Granada. Dave, while wearing his Icelandic Soviet-American/UK/Canada IAAA tee shirt, arrived a day earlier from his flight from Birmingham, UK, via New York and Houston. Erik took a bus up from Costa Rica where he lives to pursue several business opportunities in Central America. We were told not to convert our currency at the airport for better rates in Granada, we could now do this once we walked up to the center city plaza area three blocks north of our hotel. Along the way we could go to visit our host gallery, the Casa de los Tres Mundos, where our exhibition and art workshops would be hosted. Welcome to Nicaragua!
Day 2, Feb 16 – Nicaragua
Morning came with voices in the court yard heard from the balcony of the second floor. I peeked through the curtains to find out what was going on. Dave was introducing himself to two other people. I quickly dressed and stepped out to also introduce myself, presumably to Mitch and Cathie Bentley who must have arrived late last night. It was indeed them, but minus their luggage which did not arrive with them. They would have to return to the airport and customs later that morning to get their luggage containing clothes and another suitcase full of art–paintings, six 16 by 20 inches original digital words. After breakfast they got Lydia, our hotel matron, to call Customs to clear the luggage over to the airline they had flown with. Customs doesn’t remain open all day; therefore, being in the hands of the airline would make them assessable more easily upon their arrival anytime during the day.
At breakfast we sat down to discuss the day’s itinerary. Dieter Stadler, the Director of the Casa de los Tres Mundos, happened to leave to Europe on some business without notifying Erik that he couldn’t complete his obligations regarding the creation of tags for the paintings, banner production, and the framing of artworks brought by Erik from Costa Rica where he had them printed onto one square meter vinyl canvases including three for Dave and one for Kara. So the obligation to organize the exhibition for its due opening on Friday fell to us for all certainty. This implied that we would first and foremost walk to the gallery this morning after breakfast, so that we could be certain that the framing would begin.
Several artists, namely Bettina, Betsy and Bill, had their artwork to carry over to the gallery; and rather than go off to our first overnight trek to a distant volcano, it was decided to let them select where they would hang their artworks. Of course the show needed to be set up in such a way that it would be aesthetically pleasing within a unity of differing painting styles. While Bettina, Betsy and Bill caroused the inner court yard and inner available rooms of the galley space, Erik and I would attend to other details.
Erik introduced us to Ivan, Christoff, Florin, Anya, Nora, Sandra and a few other gallery workers who were from Austria and Germany fulfilling their military service obligations as civil-servants in various countries throughout the world. They were stationed here in Nicaragua for their 18-month stints. It turns out that Germany in particular has sister city relationships between the two countries. At any rate, Ivan et al would be manning the computers and the technology during our stay, this included creating a radio announcement in both Spanish and English to be played every two hours during our week’s exhibition stay. Fernando Lopez, the Cultural Director, was also introduced to each of us once he arrived to the center. He was left in charge during Dieter’s surprise absence to oversee the success of our exhibition.
The Casa was now abuzz with activity. Betsy and Bettina discovered the Internet café next door to the gallery and utilized both the internet telephone and e-mail facilities as they needed. Once the radio text was drafted, Ivan, Florin and Christoff asked me to verify the message and/or include or omit what I deemed unclear. Bettina in the meantime was selected by the gallery workers as the English voice for the commercial. Yes indeed, she was in her element, not just with her artist comrades, but also with her fluency of German. The Spanish version would be recorded by another staff gallery employee. The plan was to release and air the commercial every half hour initially for a 24-hour period until the exhibition’s 7:00 PM opening on Friday night. Meanwhile Fernando informed us that there would be a press conference planned with the local media for 3 PM later this afternoon with Erik (Workshop Coordinator), Kara (President/Chair), Dave (Euro-VP, artist & writer, Rudaux recipient) and Bill (Senior scientist, artist & writer, Rudaux recipient) to round out the composition of this IAAA panel.
The work proceeded all morning. At some point I learned from Eirk about the hardship that the gallery was experiencing regarding funding. Dieter had gone unexpectedly to a board meeting in Europe where he would request more educational funding for the 80-year old institute for various programs, the staff and the services that the Casa de los Mundos provided for the impoverished culturally deprived community in and about region of Granada. The staff, including the resident artists, didn’t know whether they would be paid for their work in the coming weeks, nor whether the programs would continue on track as they had been working feverishly in support to provide. The Casa provided art lessons, music training both singing and instruments, and performance art programs to street kids. They also helped rebuild projects after last year’s hurricanes that led to mud slides in nearby villages. Erik asked whether we would consider the idea of making a donation for the help being provided for us during our stay.
I broached the subject with our IAAA artists and collectively we discussed the pros and cons of the idea. The consensus we felt was that it would be for a very good cause and we agreed to pitch in to donate $500 to the educational programs to Fernando Lopez, the Cultural Director of the Casa de los Tres Mundos, who was currently funding his staff out of his own pocket. I suggested that we would announce the presentation of this donation from the IAAA at the opening on Friday night. Bettina accepted to volunteer to type up the document while I would raise the funds. I also approached Gayle Hartmann’s Peruvian friends, Maria and Samuel, to help with Spanish translations for the formal text expressing our appreciation and gratitude for the hosting of our group exhibition and the symbolic check on the back of my painting, “Surprize – In the Realm of Infinity.”
Our first lunch took 15 of us, as an entire group including friends and staff of the Casa, through the streets of Granada to their favorite eatery. It was quite the third world village street scene that we experienced. Some carts with wooden wheels, others with bald tires, pulled wagons with various sorts of items including branches from trees, sacks of grains, bricks, and various other things to the street market place. The water flowing down the street curbs often had algae and moss mixed in with discarded trash of various sorts. Skeletal dogs lay sleeping on the roads next to the curbs and moved only when a honking horn of a car raced down upon them.
After lunch at the staff’s local favorite restaurant, we arrived back at the gallery for further planning. Name tags would be needed. The night before, while Erik, Bettina and I designed the banner selecting text, font, style and color, Dave agreed to let us use one of his paintings. Meanwhile, I sent an urgent e-mail to BJ whether he could provide us with a large high-res IAAA logo. What was available at the iaaa.org website was way too small. This arrived in quick order which delighted me immensely. Ivan e-mailed the pdf file to a Managua printing shop and the banner would be ready for tomorrow.
At 3:00 PM the press conference began with Erik, Dave, Bill and I sitting at the front central table. The media sat in the front row facing the head table, while interested listeners including guests, artists, gallery staff and the general public sat in behind in extra rows. Fernando Lopez called everyone to order and introduced Erik as the workshop organizer and coordinator. After I brief overview as to our mission and exhibition, he introduced me as the president/chair of the IAAA. I spoke about our early beginnings from 1983, in that we had grown to approximately 160 members from 23 countries, and what we as artists in the genre did as to our raison d’etre, then introduced Dave as our Euro-VP to speak about our philosophy and the space art historical roots. Speaking about how the genre initially formed and how our organization held workshops throughout the world at various geological locations that were analogues of extra terrestrial worlds, Dave introduced Bill as a senior scientist, writer and artist. Bill then talked about how we did our art through stories he had successfully used at previous venues of how to visualize what we don’t see as scientists, despite making scientific measurements. Its one thing to measure some geological features and gather data via satellite and space crafts, BUT, what does it mean and what does look like? This introduction for the press and media then followed a question and answer session.
In the closing moments of the press conference, I invited the media, guests and the public to come to our opening and later to an evening power point presentation I would give on Sunday about our ‘Cosmic Vision’. In the plaza, the images of my talk would be projected onto a while wall while I would speak and an interpreter would relate my story as well as another presentation that would follow by Mitch. Sunday evening could include other opportunities of going to various website locations Bill had spoken about where data and extra terrestrial landscapes we use and interpret come from, for local and national artists. With so many questions and hopeful expectations from the media, I would have the opportunity to introduce Bettina to speak about her art form; Mitch to speak about art history, the genre of space art as initially rendered by Vatican Jesuits in the 17th century and graphic art in general as introduced by Dave as a new medium instrument; and finally Betsy, the grand prize recipient of the EuroMIR’s First International Space Art Exhibition in orbit. Her artwork remained onboard the MIR Space Station for an entire year. In this fashion, all seven IAAA artists would be recognized, acknowledged and have the opportunity to explain and interpret the intentions of their artwork.
In the very late afternoon, we all went back to the hotel to regroup and go out for supper at a pizzeria a couple of blocks away. After supper, those of us who were still feeling jet lag, or still missing their luggage as was the case for Mitch and Cathie, went back to the hotel. Meanwhile, Erik, Bettina, Bill, Gayle, Maria, Samuel and I headed off to a latino club for some salsa music. No sooner did we get there, sit and order a round of drinks, Bettina was swooped up to dance a sultry tune by a local caballero. What a trooper! The music was loud and the evening humidly hot. An hour or so of this, everyone else decided to call it a night and headed off. Meanwhile, Erik and I stayed on as Ivan, Christof, Florin, Sandra and Anya arrived. By midnight Erik and I decided to pack it in, so we left and made our way back to the hotel.
Day 3, Feb 16 – Exhibition Opening and Vernisage
The morning began early with breakfast at 7:30 and off to the gallery by 9:00. Mitch and Cathie had finally received their paintings from Customs as well as their clothes. The morning was spent organizing the layout of the art in the court yard. Bettina was busy making art labels and printing text of which I asked her added help to organize. We agreed to give “Cosmic Vision” as the title to our group exhibition and to have the gallery staff type out English and Spanish announcement of the exhibition at the Casa de los Tres Mundos entrance. Meanwhile, the radio announcements continued playing every half hour on a local music channel. Betsy was busy drawing and creating watercolor sketches in the surrounding territory but checking in to see whether her immediate help was needed anywhere. It was good to know where everyone was at all times.
The afternoon work continued for the final countdown. Amy Hartmann and husband Joe Gordon had finally arrived to Nicaragua and taxied over from Managua, and joined Gayle and their party for some sight seeing in and about Granada. Bill in the meantime had decided to take a siesta and had gone back to his hotel room with a continued sore throat and general fatigue. Cathie and I had gone over to a near by bank a few blocks north of the Casa, leaving Mitch to finalize his paintings and text. Cathie wanted to buy a tape recorder to capture the general sounds of the country during our stay as part of her college project. She also needed some more cash, which was deposited into her account the day after their departure. I too needed a bit more Cordoba, but more so, I was looking for name tag holders in some hopeful stationary shop for our delegation. The afternoon siesta begins after lunch, about 2:00 and lasts ‘til about 4:00. The heat of the day with the 95F temperature, strong sun and coupled with stifling humidity was wreaking havoc on all of us. We all agreed that we would return to the gallery by 5:00 to finalize out evening plans. I went back to the hotel for an afternoon swim, change of clothes, to rehearse my presentation and to think about what I would say at the exhibition evening opening.
Around 5:00 all the artists had returned from their perspective side trips and reassembled at the gallery. Everything was finally in place. This lead time gave us all a chance to attend to our personal needs as well as get cleaned up for the evening. Bill had also returned from his siesta, but sat elsewhere within the gallery to finish up some e-mail regarding his research and to wait for his party to return from their outing.
Before re-joining the group, I spoke to Fernando Lopez with Erik to inform him that the IAAA would like to make a donation to the education program of the institute. I mentioned that it was my intent to announce this tonight but that the actual physical presentation would be made on Sunday before the media after my presentation. This would provide further opportunity to have a photo opt available. He agreed that this would be ideal for Sunday and would see to it that the press did come to this event as well.
By 7:00 PM we had all returned to the gallery having discussed our plans for tomorrow and the week ahead. Erik had confirmed that he would be leaving to return to Costa Rica for his appointment with his surgeon in San Jose. Not long after our arrival, the public continued to come and go into the gallery to view the exhibition. The 3 by 12 feet IAAA banner was spectacular and hung outside the gallery announcing the exhibition venue. The press began to arrive, seeking out Erik as our Spanish speaking spokes person. I listened to their questions and answers then asked the journalist that he make the opportunity to speak directly to Bettina Forget about her art form; Betsy Smith who had received the first place EuroMIR ’95 art award; and then Mitch Bentley who was an art historian who could give an explanation of the rise of this genre as well as view his digital work he had brought with him to Granada. Several artists were now enveloped with media people and interest groups about their artwork. Hand signaling, facial gestures and stranger still, vain attempts in Spanish, circled the constant trials to converse in English, until an interpreter would arrive. Erik and a few of the gallery staff included Armand, a resident Nicaragua artist, managed to salvage the opportunities to be understood by the press.
The four walls of the inner court yard of the gallery had the public milling about, looking at the art works, discussing the various concepts they were seeing and reading of the artists’ biographies and enjoying the drinks and snacks available at the service bar.
Around 8:00 PM, Señor Fernando Lopez drew the crowd’s attention, summoned Erik and I to the podium, then asked me to round up all the IAAA artists to the front. Fernando announced opening of the week long exhibit and introduced Erik as the Workshop Coordinator. Erik spoke for a while about the genre of space art and the impact of this art upon the community. I was introduced as the president and after a brief comment on the privilege of exhibiting at the Casa, I pointed out that on Sunday there would be further media presentations in the evening by way of a presentation by me and Mitch Bentley. I invited them to that opportunity to see how we as artists pursue this legacy of space art. At that point I introduced each and every artist with a little summary background of their accomplishments.
Finally, I drew the audience’s attention, on Sunday, the IAAA would formerly present a donation of $500 to the education program of the Casa de los Tres Mundos via the Cultural Director, Fernando Lopez, to continue their superb work in providing and stimulating the cultural activities of the Granada. Fernando then thanked the IAAA artists and asked the audience to enjoy the balance of the evening.
With this formality behind us, we all left for supper around the corner passing a Thai restaurant called the Third Eye. The initial plan would take us down a street that was severely run down and filled with dilapidated structures and houses. Even this street was riddled with pot holes, telephone poles and wire that were more from the 1930s and 1940s than what we see outside in the first nations. People, families sat outside socializing while young toddlers played street games in the dark and sometimes unsupervised, or so it often appeared. The little travel eatery that we first went to was full, so we turned around and headed back up the street to the Third Eye. How wonderful it felt to sit at long last, converse and reminisce about the successful events leading up to the opening. Tomorrow our first exploratory venture into the countryside would begin.
By 10:45 we were all back at the hotel, as we would be having breakfast early at 7:30 in order to catch a bus to go to Masaya Volcano National Park for our first extreme adventure outside of Granada.
Day 4, Feb 17 – The Masaya Excursion
We gathered after breakfast to board our tour bus to our first excursion 30 km north of Granada—Masaya Volcano National Park. We asked Ivan and several of the Casa staff to come and join us and share our adventure together for the day.
The ride over gave us another opportunity to see the rural region leading up to Managua International Airport. Once again the countryside revealed the pointed third world poverty of Nicaragua, yet there was charm in the difficult lifestyle of the people. People were milling about, waiting in lines for a bus, many making there way to work, to markets, either with ox carts pulling enormous piles of tree branches, bricks, grain et cetera, donkey, mule or horse led wagons delivering lumber, clay tiles, or trucks over loaded with laborers and/or fellow travelers. School children, in white and navy blue uniforms, headed to near by schools. The morning bustle was seen everywhere including people tending to their yards, sweeping walkways, pruning trees and/or hedges or burning garbage at the side of the road. Husbandry animals roamed somewhat freely about homes, courtyards, entrance ways and ditches in search of grass during this winter dry season. The horizontal red & black bands of FSLN flags were everywhere: in trees, on telephone poles, billboards, and even outside entrances to buildings including outhouses all celebrating Daniel Ortega’s re-election in November 2006.
Even the traffic was frenetic, passing on curves, columns of slow moving vehicles whether leading or on-coming without a worry of colliding. The rule appeared to be to never hesitate or else let dozen vehicles over take you at anytime or place on the road! Occasionally, we might see a policeman standing off side discretely at a major traffic circle, eyeing potential gringo drivers – a local and/or national money machine. Otherwise, drivers did as they pleased or so it seemed – keep moving, ever faster, honking their horns at pedestrians angling across the road, some running in desperation, others traumatized not knowing which direction to look out for. The ‘ALTO’ signs only stopped foreigners; otherwise any hesitation by a driver to slow was a sign of timid weakness of character and was taken advantage of as a dozen other vehicles would fill the vacant asphalt in nanoseconds. Amazingly the speed limit was 50 km/per on the rollercoaster by way in towns and ‘blur’ km/hr elsewhere. Fortunately, our bus driver kept to the established international rules, yet even he, a native Costa Rican, knew hesitation special relativity rules.
We arrived at the park entrance with the Masaya Crater looking down at us in the distance. The entrance fee per person was 70 Cordoba, ~$4. Within a mile we had stopped at our first lava flow field – a large expanse of lava from a large eruption from 1772. After taking time to stretch, photo shoot and general grounding, we set our minds to the task of eventually doing some art in the area, but first, some sight seeing. We proceeded to the visitor center welcoming the curious to Masaya Volcano National Park, one of Nicaragua’s most interesting and beautiful natural phenomena. Established in 1979 as the country’s second national park, it comprises an area of 54 km² with more that 20 km of scenic roads and trails, leading to and around the two impressive volcanoes and formidable craters. The Masaya Volcano, called by Indians ‘Popogatepe’ meaning “mountain that burns,” emerges from the center of the Park. One of its craters, Santiago, shows gaseous activity and incandescent lava in its interior.
A brief history states that during the pre-Columbian age, Masaya Volcano was an object of veneration by the indigenous people. They believed the eruptions were signs of anger from the gods and to appease them they offered sacrifices, which often included small children and maidens. Later, during the Conquest of 1522, the Spaniards baptized the active volcano “La Boca del Inferno” – the Mouth of Hell. They then planted a cross, “La Cruz de Bobadilla,” named in honor of Father Francisode Bobadilla. It was placed on the crater lip in the 16th century in order to exorcise the Devil. The volcano was visited by a number of Spaniards in search of “the gold of the volcano.” Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo in 1529 and Friar Blas del Castillo in 1538 were among the unsuccessful excavators, lowering themselves 800 meters into the carter by rope. (Oh my, what greed can inspire in fools!) In 1670, the Nindiri volcano made its last eruption followed by the Masaya volcano in 1772. The lava formed by this eruption spilled out and over the rim and advanced like a river of fire to the area now known as Piedra Quemada or burned rock. In 1852, a new crater, Santiago was formed between the existing volcanoes.
Watercolor study of Nidiri by Bettina Forget
The displays within the welcome center included paintings involving the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, Indian legends of survival, ancient native burial pottery that were placed in caves within the craters, geological models with explanation of how Nicaragua formed with the subduction of the Cocos oceanic plate beneath the Caribbean tectonic plate, and the flora, fauna, birds and stuffed animals in the territories.
After this viewing, we all climbed back onto the bus and continued another five or so miles of winding paved road way to the parking lot a the base of the crater lip and the foot of Bobadilla’s 1522 cross. A danger sign at the edge of the crater informed everyone to hide beneath any cars and vehicles as a warning should an eruption happen. Camera clicking and video clips churned as the spectacular view of the Santiago volcano opened before us from the eastern crescent edge, steam vents and magna below. To get a better view and to find a spot from where to begin a plein-air rendition we all headed up the slopes of the 1772 Masaya Crater.
Once up there, the panorama of the multi carter zone took relevance. Located in a geodynamic environment dominated by the convergence of the Cocos and the Caribbean plates and the production of calc-alkaline magma, the caldera of Masaya has basaltic magma of a tholeitic composition. Equally unusual for basaltic magma is the explosive activity, with the formation of Plinian columns and pyroclastic flows. This activity coexists in the Masaya caldera along with the effusive eruptions more typical of basaltic magma. Because of the presence of the caldera, created by repeated collapses of the magma dome from the rapid emissions of large quantities of magma, Masaya is considered a kind of basaltic equivalent of Indonesia’s Krakatau. The Santiago crater occasionally fills with a lava lake, which is active for periods that run from weeks to years. In 1989 a lava lake about 165 feet in diameter appeared following the collapse of the rocks that formed the floor of the crater. The lake formed 985 feet below the rim of the crater. The activity, including the formation of small lava fountains, indicated the process of degassing and lasted only five weeks. The most recent activity began in June 1993 with the formation of a new lava lake, by now solidified, the surface of which was located about 165 feet lower than the 1989 lake. The southern section of the caldera, some three miles, is occupied by a lake with a sandy beach, Masaya Lagoon, called Venecia where you can go swimming and which supplies drinking water to the city of Masaya. The Masaya caldera is also home to an enormous colony of green parrots.
The Masaya Crater is no longer active and the sterile interior has begun to fill with dwarf trees and vegetation. It is a bit smaller than the Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley, but no entry into the valley floor is permitted. I decided to join Betsy and Bettina to attempt my first sketch of the excursion. I decidedly focused on the western wall of the crater, where I happened to notice a cave. Despite the strong winds, I stood in defiance on the rim, and began to sketch, wondering whether this cave was once the resting place of a local shaman? My scale was defined by four marks descending from the southwest peak on the distant western crater rim where some people had walked to have a look over the horizon at the Masaya Lagoon. Aaaahhh, the cave was about six feet in diameter. The twenty minute sketch gave an idea of the enormity while enduring strong winds, fleeting clouds and merciless sun as I got burned on the face and the arms.
By noon, it was agreed that all the artists and Casa staff employees needed to be rounded up to go off to lunch. I found Bill, sitting silently painting, beneath a canopy of a large tree, the savanna grass and the northern view of Santiago volcano amid clouds of sulfuric gas. Later that afternoon, we’d travel to San Jose de Oriente near Catrina, just south of the city of Mayasa, to a village where 90% of the population were potters; and, to take in a tour of one of the studios of a master potter of the area. We boarded the bus and headed off to the central market of the village of Masaya. The revolution begun in 1979 was won in this town where the Sandanistas executed the former presidential ‘pig.’ The red & black flags of the rebels waved in the wind and littered tree tops from every direction.
After lunch we headed off to the artisan village of San Jose de Oriente, and to the studio of a master potter who explained the pottery business. His son, Luis, demonstrated their technology on a old manual pottery wheel with mud/clay transported from a nearby volcanic source in batches of 100 kg loads by mules. Once made, each piece, pots and plates, were air dried in cotton cloth to absorb water until 70% of the moisture was removed, then placed into a hearth that was fired and fueled with a special hardwood. The wood itself required additional drying once collected so as to not have any additional moisture. These items would then go into the hearth at high temperatures for overnight baking. Cathie and Bettina both were offered an opportunity to give a try at making a pot using this set up. Eventually we all headed back to their front store to purchase items of interest.
By 4:30 PM we were back on the bus and heading back to the Masaya volcano for a special evening reservation. But first, a side trip to the Mayasa Lagoon for a ten minute stop was in order. The siesta time found the entire community, along with tourists, songsters, merchants and kids hawking for mutual handouts of any sorts. Amusement park atmosphere abound in the cooling air of sundown.
Back at the Masaya Volcano National Park entrance we found we were locked out, until we announced that we had an appointment, were late, and agreed to commit another 100 Cordoba a piece for a guided evening nocturnal tour that required a park ranger. Then and only then were we allowed to drive around the exit gate to the front office to pay our fees and pick up our guide, Gloria. Well, the tour stars with a visit to the crater wall, up the staircase to Bobadilla’s cross planted in 1522 to note the Gateway to Hell and then as it got dark, we were taken down to the Santiago volcano rim edge to watch the green parakeets, or chocoyos, coming home to roost within the vertical walls of the crater. To avoid vultures, these birds have adapted to the sulfur smoke from the volcano and actually live within the crater walls they burrow into, ten feet deep at night. During the day the birds are out finding food, but around sunset they return to their nests. As the parakeets roost, the second attraction is to watch a large number of bats massively depart from their caves, another great natural spectacle!
We got to see this by boarding the bus and having it drive us over to the western rim parking lot. From there, after each of us received a hard hat and head lamp, we descended into the savanna grass and shrubbery onto the western slope of the crater and into an iguana and snake spit to see a crack like crevice tunnel from which a zillion horde of bats were zooming in and out of the crawl space cave chamber. The smell was something else, with an uneasy feeling of being a ‘supermarket for predators’ we didn’t want to know. What followed next was a visit to an underground tunnel which was formed by lava streams. The entrance was about eight feet in diameter, snarled with tree roots meandering about the face walls seeking water and/or moisture of any sorts. The roots extended far into the cave, busting the walls here and there as they wiggled their way inside.
This cave too had bats flying out of it like horizontal rain. And there we stood, AMAZED, by the lack of any noise, collisions and general star streaming whizzing by, stopped momentarily in the flash of cameras clicking in the darkness. The cave descended into a moist cave ~200 feet deep and 18 feet below the surface. Once near the end, deep in the cave, Gloria asked us to shut off our lambs to save our power sources. She mentioned that shaman used to bring rituals to the cave to offer food and produce to the hag of the volcano. When her spirit came, she would reveal events of the future to the priests. In thanks and gratitude for the oracles, the worshippers would walk up and out of the cave and back to the western edge of the crater, from where they would sacrifice maidens and children by tossing them 1000 feet down into the lava hole entrance at the bottom of the active volcano.
The tour in fact ends with a visit to the rim edge and a small viewpoint from which we were allowed to see, while wearing a gas mask given by armed park rangers, the red glow of hot lava in the bottom of a recently formed crater. The light from the hot lava gave an eerie glow against the crater walls.
Everyone looked very much like the Sandpeople creatures of Star Wars. While this was going on, I was stunned by the majestic view of Orion, with sword and belt almost overhead in the sky, and the deep southern sky surrounding Canopus. Unfortunately, the lights of the villages to the west, sprawling to the Pacific Ocean horizon, cancelled any obvious viewing of the Large Magellanic Cloud, our nearest galactic neighbor.
We arrived back at the Hotel Patio del Malinche at 9:00 PM. Tired, but happy with our adventures.
Day 5, Feb 18 – Free time in Granada with Evening Presentations
At 6:00 AM morning was broken when there was a gentle knock at my door. Erik had risen, and had come to get his backpack, which I agreed to store in my room. You see, Erik had vacated his room two days earlier since the rooms were booked so very fast in late and early November. Rather than sacrifice one of the late IAAA bookings, Erik agreed to surrender his room! For two nights he slept where he could; first at the Casa staff residence, then in a hammock in the court yard of our hotel, where we talked long into the night while geckos watched us below. What a gentleman!
He related to me with no uncertain terms that he poked out his eye tightening a spring whilst changing the pads of his rear brake-drums. The subsequent operation revealed that the hit with his fists combined with the double 90 degree cut into his eye by the pliers blew the pupil lens and the retina out of the eye. His appointment wasn’t for a follow up but rather an emergency operation which he was urged to go to after an eye-scan had revealed that unlike what they had originally thought, the retina was completely dislodged. The knock at my door was to pass him his backpack and await his taxi to the bus station. I hugged him farewell, and promised to pray for his successful recovery, then tried to get back to sleep. Yet the graphic image of the night before, of his dilemma, still stirred deep within me.
Today was intentionally designed to be a free day. Roam the city, the region and/or work at the art studios of the Casa de los Tres Moundos as a participant in their workshops. Breakfast this morning was delayed to later than usual, in order to catch up on much needed sleep and share the news of Erik’s early morning departure and eminent surgery in San Jose on Monday. Out prayers went out to him. It was Sunday, so, the stores and businesses would be closed while people milled about in the central park, plazas or attending church services.
I arrived to the Casa a little after 10. Already Bill was working on one of his paintings in the gallery courtyard, when he approached me to introduce me to another member of the media wanting an interview. With that he left, and I went numb wondering how I would converse with him? Nor did he speak Hungarian! The best I could do was wave my hands about, and gesture; nor could the only Casa office helper there this morning, who barely spoke a smidgen of English. By then Dave had arrived and I asked him whether he could find someone more skilled in the back studios. Eventually he returned with Armand, a Granada artist. I explained through him how explorers often took artists with them in their tall ships to the new world to document the new continental worlds and islands. Images of buffalo, colorful wild turkeys and painted Indians in their primitive clothes pointed out a snippet of the new world. Or consider Albrect Durer, the Renaissance artist, who about 1520 had received a letter and a description of a rhinoceros from a friend while visiting the Royal Zoo in Lisbon. The creature hadn’t been seen by anyone in northern Germany. Durer’s image, a woodcut and a lined drawing, was based on scant information from the letter and for the next 200 years, it was all that Europeans would have to define this exotic beast. Today space artists are doing the same sort of thing, taking space data to show what these continental islands are like in the solar system.
I introduced Dave as the oldest space artist, a master of the genre, who had been painting since 1952. Dave spoke about his painting that depicted a space craft landing on a comet. Since the principals of geology are the same everywhere in the solar system, space artists use exotic Earth analogues to illustrate such occurrences. It wasn’t just fictitious imagination, but what people would expect to be out there. Aside from giving inspiration of other worlds and space travel to the people, space artists also provide “eyes” of these worlds where one cannot yet travel to; but spacecrafts do with sophisticated scientific instruments that send their digital images back to Earth. After guiding the journalist to other IAAA artists that began to arrive, I left to enjoy a few Victoria at the Internet Café next door and to check my e-mail, then go off to find some cardboard at the stationary.
A couple of hours later, the Casa was empty. The sky had clouded over, and an unexpected rain storm broke over the city. The interior of the gallery was drenched and the wind had sent several of Erik’s paintings off their hangers. Fortunately I was there and could quickly adjust them back into position. I took advantage of the quiet stillness of the gallery to craft a sign that I would use later in the evening after my presentation.
Once finished, and the rain had eased, I left to walk the streets, which was now ablaze with people socializing in the central park, some singing inside the cathedral during a church service, and/or others sitting in the street in front of their homes. A constant chatter and laughter could be heard from all directions, including megaphones from loudspeakers strapped onto vehicles rumbling through the streets with their announcements. Eventually I made my way back to the hotel to continue to rehearse my evening presentation. A rendezvous time was etched into everyone’s memory as to when we would reconvene.
About 6:30 PM we headed back up to the Casa de los Tres Mundos gallery. Christopher, Ivan and Florin were setting up a projection screen outside the plaza made of mesh cheese cloth, which was rolled onto two 10-foot rectangular boards. The mesh was unrolled then stretched around two vertical columns and pinned to the wall beneath the second floor veranda with two other boards, which helped to restrict access to the casual walker going by. From inside a gallery room, on a table, the computer projected an image of my White Dwarf Studio logo. The computer was arranged to reverse the power point presentation so the viewers would not see the images and artist’s name & credit backwards on the screen. The seats were placed outside in the plaza in four rows of ten chairs, which began to fill by people milling about.
By now darkness had swallowed the day and streetlights lit up the region surrounding plaza. Nora, my interpreter had arrived with a swarm of Casa staff and friends. Bill and Gayle with entourage had similarly arrived. The seats began to fill. Nora informed me that she was uncomfortably shy to provide interpretation alone and so would like to have another colleague join her. The two would together read sections of my text, which they had translated to Spanish over the past few days, once I signaled them to speak to an image on the screen. I agreed.
Finally Señor Fernando Lopez had arrived – Showtime! He welcomed the audience to the evening presentation and then introduced me to the crowd. Nora and friend joined me at the side. I positioned myself so as to see Christopher and Florin, whom I would cue inside the projection room to manually change to the next slide with a press of a computer key. While I rehearsed my presentation, I had made additional extra short notes to tidy the talk between slides, about specific artists or scientific concepts. These add-ons wouldn’t be known to the interpreters, nor did they feel competent to want to attempt to translate these words spontaneously. They also didn’t know when to pauses for effect, or to adlib my extra comments, so at these points they went ahead, with me trailing behind the original text and image. Certainly, the dance of words and images, interwoven with English and Spanish, then switching to streams of Spanish and English had to have captivated the audience, since the mesh screen didn’t do justice to the clarity, tonality and the color of the art images. Yet the presentation went well, despite the elements for the engagement. After a nice applause from the audience with the IAAA listening and cheering me on, I signaled to Fernando Lopez to come forward along with one of the two female interpreters.
Bettina had brought my painting, ‘Surprize’ forward from the gallery and now brought it up to me. On the backside, I had drawn a check with our IAAA logo, our full name in Spanish, for an amount of $500 and duly signed by me as the president. I did this earlier in the day during a rare early afternoon rain shower during the dry season when I couldn’t find a stationary opened to buy some poster board. In effect, I would be also donating my painting to the institute as well on this 80th anniversary of the Casa’s foundation. I presented the check and the painting to Fernando with the following words: “In gratitude and appreciation for their support of our exhibition at the institute, the International Association of Astronomical Artists would like to present a $500 donation for the educational program of Casa de los Tres Mundos to Mr. Fernando Lopez, Cultural Director.” This was read in Spanish to the audience while Fernando shook hands with camera flashes capturing the moment of exchange.
Mitch was then introduced as the next presenter. His work focused on the exploration of some alien landscape of an animation movie which he had created and wrote the music score in the background. Several other projects featured his artwork and themes he had on exhibition here at the gallery. His graphics expertise certainly revealed his mastery of the medium. Not having arranged for an interpreter, Mitch managed to deliver only three of four projects he brought with him but he ended his talk when he saw the crowd thinning and the lateness of the hour. The evening drew to a successful close, and in celebration we decided to feast on another Thai menu at the Third Eye in the Palm restaurant. During our supper, we voiced a boisterous toast to Erik with the hope for the successful operation on his eye in Costa Rica. To Erik, Salute!
Day 6, Feb 19 – Somoto Canyon Excursion
Sure enough, Lydia, our Hotel’s matron had remembered, as she had arranged to have someone knock gently on our doors at 5:00 AM. As we all struggled to get ourselves ready, coffee was being brewed for our early rise. The night before, Lydia had made sandwiches to take with us as our breakfast during the 150 mile journey. We waited the arrival of our bus and our Casa staff helpers Ivan, Florin, Christopher, Sandra and Anya who we’ve invited to join our adventure. Once everyone going assembled and the bus had arrived, we boarded and were off in the morning darkness. You would think that the streets and the little towns we would traveling to would be empty; but, not so. The morning bustle had already begun with people emerging to catch buses, pick up trucks, wagons, or simply hike to where they needed to get to. School buses would stop to pick up both children and workers at the side of the road which allowed anyone to board however possible, including climbing in through the back door that could only be reached by running from behind and lifting the latch by hand or with the assistance of a boarded passenger.
Our destination this morning was to see first-hand the Namancambre Canyon carved some 5 to 13 million years ago during the Late Miocene Era through a peak of pure volcanic rock by the Rio Coco River. The Río Coco, Central American’s longest river, starts just west of the canyon, born of the confluence of the Río Coimalí, which crosses over from neighboring Honduras, and the Tapacalí, which begins in Madriz itself. It then travels 500 miles all the way across the country to empty into the Caribbean Sea.
The Somoto Canyon (Cañón de Somoto) is an enormous geological formation that stretches for over three-quarters of a mile with steep walls that flank the Coco River and that reach at certain points over 650 feet in height. This impressive geological formation is located in the northwestern area of the country and it was not until 2004 that it enjoyed public attention, becoming declared a protected area that would soon become a National Monument. Located eight miles west of the sleepy little town of Somoto, the capital of the province of Madriz, the canyon is just 14 miles from the border with Honduras. The site had remained unexplored until two years ago when a group of national and international scientists, ‘discovered’ the canyon. As a national monument, Somoto Canyon encompasses an area of 170.31 hectares (1.7 km² or 0.67 square miles), according to the official surveys.
Madriz region is characterized by a cool climate, its small towns – with simple but nice houses made of adobe and roofed with tiles – as well as coffee plantations and mountains covered with pine and oak forests.
Or are they?… 😉
Photoshopping by Dave Hardy
Although the area has not been extensively explored by national or international tourists, nonetheless Somoto offers a variety of interesting attractions including extraordinary geological formations, petroglyphs, ancient settlements, and high-quality handicrafts made from different materials. Originally the area was inhabited by various indigenous tribes (mostly Chorotegas) who have mixed with the small Spanish settlements during colonial times. Madriz was also the setting for the patriotic war fought by Augusto C. Sandino and his army.
Access to the canyon depends on water level which depends on rains and the time of year. Often it is too dangerous to access in the rainy season due to high water level. We were lucky in February as the water level was plenty low during the dry season. We followed the Pan-American throughway from Managua to reach Somoto by about 9:30 in the morning. As we headed west and out of town, our bus driver caught the sight of a small sign, “CAÑON >>”, painted in white on barn wood and tagged to thin telephone pole at the side of the road. Uncertain of where we were going, we picked up a local young man sitting at the side of the road with two other men. Our bus driver asked for directions, but not being familiar with the territory, the dirt road we were to take and which fork to follow, he asked him to hop aboard.
The rocky dirt road meandered down and through a humble small shed-like series of farm village homes where the road began to narrow as it descended towards a river valley. The rocks in the road began to grow to boulder size as we got closer to the river valley floor. As we bounced around the ruts and large protruding rocks at the side of the narrow road, we eventually arrived at the river basin which we had to ford to get to the other side. Anyone still sleeping was jarred awake with the fright that we may very well blow a couple of tires. Our guide however was unconcerned and simply enjoyed the novelty of the paranoia of a bus load of gringos.
Once across the rocky river bed, the bus continued parallel to the river upon a sandy make shift that appeared more like a little used farmer’s path to another field. We stopped about a quarter mile further in, then got apprehensive whether the sand would swallow the bus. Mitch and Cathie at this point informed Ivan and I that they had brought walkie-talkies with a range of five miles. Ivan and I took one each. Periodically, as kids would with a new toy, we radioed each other to be certain the group was still together though stretched thin along the river’s rocky edge.
From the drop off point we walked about a half hour to a point where a small party of local native villagers were sitting under a canopy of palm leaves as shade and where you could board a row boat to go upstream another ¾ mile if you did not wish to hike along the paths winding along the walls of the canyon’s cliff. Betsy, Bettina, Cathie, Mitch and Dave elected to accept this transportation. Ivan gave the walkie-talkie to Dave in the boat and began to follow our guides on the north side with the rest of the Casa helpers into the canyon along the cliff wall “path.” I followed too taking up the flank and keeping my eyes on the boats making their way up the stream. This takes you to the mouth of the canyon which is very scenic. From this point you have the option of swimming up stream with the help of inner tubes supplied by the local guides. The artists decided to not go any further, instead it was time to find a spot from which to begin to sketch, paint and/or photograph the scene.
Meanwhile, Christopher lead Ivan and Florin further in with our Indian guides. Stripping down to their boxing shorts, they waded into the emerald mountain stream with their teeth chattering. Sandra and I followed as far as we could climb boulders and rocky obstacles, lead by a dozen locals who had emerged from where ever. Were we in trouble in paradise, with an eminent ambush of some sorts? Would we ever see Ivan, Florin and Christopher again who had disappeared into the narrowing walls of the canyon. The least I could do was to find an appropriate seat on the cliff wall from where I could draw the view back towards my colleagues where I had left them with the boats. There are no facilities in the canyon. Had we not brought any water for ourselves we would have been in dire straits. This outing was definitely a wilderness day trip.
Currently, the canyon is private property. The people rowing the boats and providing the inner tubes are the owners or their relatives. There is a move afoot however to make it into a national park of some sort, but that will include buying out the owners and probably granting them concessions to continue with the tourist facilities. After an hour or so, I was finished my drawing and returned to the group near the boats. Once Ivan, Christopher and Florin had returned from their exploration of the interior of the narrow canyon where the sun did not shine and the river water was bitterly cold, we eventually made our way back, offered and gave our guide 60$ Cordoba for his services then prayed that our bus would make it out of the river canyon valley onto the Pan-Am highway without incidents. With this greatest fear behind us, we asked the bus driver through Ivan and Christopher, our interpreters to take us to a restaurant in the village of Somoto.
We arrived to Somoto and we felt very comfortable in this town whose pace was much slower than it has been in many of the other cities and towns we have visited. The locals like to emphasize how safe the town is. Of course, we have felt safe everywhere where we have been in Nicaragua. Traveling the United States would be more frightening to a foreigner who did not know the language. The Nicaraguan people have been everywhere very welcoming to our visitation. So much so, that there was now a less general fear of walking the streets alone, or entering a place of business without speaking the language.
We couldn’t of course find an appropriate restaurant to seat all of us, so we were directed one just outside of town to a road side bar and eatery. I treated the bus driver to lunch, who was very thankful to the gesture. What I enjoyed the most was the $0.75 per 12-ounce bottle of Victoria pilsner beer. Now we were talking…
After lunch, about 3:30, we boarded the bus, and began the long trek back to Granada. Along the way, we had seen acres of watery rice fields, fields of coffee and tobacco plantations, and many small fires along the side of the roads where the locals were burning the garbage that accumulated along ditches, ravines and entrances to towns and villages. It was siesta time, and once again villagers, town folk, friends and families sat outside, chatting, laughing, watching their children play, and enjoying themselves quietly and/or in conversations with someone to fill their ears with detail about their day. As twilight began to take hold of the country side, Venus appeared and could be seen hovering just below the crescent of the new Moon.
Ivan wondered why the crescent itself appeared as if a grin of a Cheshire cat rather than the usual sideways as it is usually seen in books and magazines? I gave an explanation about the phases of the moon during its rotation around the earth, and our location at 12.5 degrees north latitude, but then I referred Ivan to ask Dave to give a more detailed answer by means of a diagram drawn out on paper. I passed along my notebook pad of paper, while I resumed watching the view outside the bus window and the general dusk taking hold. More and more stars appeared in the southwestern sky, as did the village and town lights of nearby homes and the distant city of Managua on the horizon.
The bus finally arrived at the Hotel Patio by 8:00 PM. We agreed to refresh our clothes, enjoy a few brews before regrouping with those wanted to head off to supper at a near by Mexican restaurant. I invited Ivan, Christopher and our Casa friends to come and join us later. They too needed to tidy up after an intense day which began before 5:30 AM. While they did, Betsy and I headed off to the restaurant sporting a portrait and paintings by Freda Kahlo. We reserved seats for Bettina, Cathie and Mitch, who had gone to the Internet Café to check their e-mails, or as in Cathie’s case, to arrange a meeting with a journalist the next day. After supper, returned to the Hotel where we found Lydia proposing that we consider visiting Cerro Negro, a relatively young volcano near Leon, rather than visiting the city itself. She and her husband showed us images of their several trips to the moonscape of this site.
By this time, Ivan, Christopher and Sandra had returned. I invited them to join us for another outing tomorrow, this time to the hot springs and hopefully to Cerro Negro. In addition I asked them to come early as I would treat them for breakfast, for which I had already made arrangements with Lydia to put this charge on my bill.
Gayle by now had returned with Amy and Joe from their outing. Bill had already retired as his throat and general fatigue was still giving him concern; but, as Gayle pointed out, he was anxious to be ready and fit for tomorrow, so he’d gone to sleep. In the meantime we shared our adventures with them and theirs with us as they toured the area about Granada including another taxi ride back to the lagoon lake near Masaya. In addition, she too agreed that Cerro Negro would be a better fit for our art inspirations, though the city of Leon itself could be fun. By now, I was getting sleepy, so I bit farewell to the few remaining night hawks and headed for bed.
Day 7, Feb 20 – Hervideros de San Jacinto, Santa Clara, and Leon
This morning began early, as they all seem to, at 6:55 AM when I met Dave for coffee before anyone else surfaced. It was important to me that our Casa host staff workers participate with us, beginning with breakfast with us as we discussed our plans for the day. Anaya also arrived as would Clara, a Casa puppeteer whom I’d not seen before. Bill’s entire entourage also decided that they too would be joining us today on our excursion to Leon, and possibly Cerro Negro volcano in the afternoon as suggested by Lidia the night before.
This volcano was not specified on Erik’s itinerary for our workshop consideration, but loomed brightly as an alternative and possible drawing/painting integration, rather than roam the streets of Leon. I would ask the bus driver through Ivan that he take us there rather than follow the tour arranged by Oro Travel Service.
We left about 8:00 AM with 17 passengers plus our bus driver of the previous day. Once again we followed the Granada-Masaya highway towards Managua to catch the Pan-American Highway, this time going around the western side of Lake Managua (Xolotlan) to Leon. The northwestern plains of Nicaragua comprise the most populated, agriculturally fertile, and swelteringly hot corner of the country. The centerpiece of the landscape – a massive chain of active volcanoes that stretches northwest from Lake Xolotlán all the way to the Gulf of Fonseca – is striking, especially when one or more of them is trailing gases and ash into the white-hot sky.
Along the way we got a telephone call from the tourist agency saying that we couldn’t go to Cerro Negro – wrong vehicle and wrong location. I was emboldened by our previous IAAA workshops to have Ivan let them know that we rented the vehicles to travel were we wanted to go on our outings and not specific arranged tours that the Travel Agency offered to foreign tourists. So they suggested that we would need another vehicle to take us there and we would be shuttled in groups of two parties. Another $100 (1,000 $C) would be required, which everyone had agreed to pool at 100$C per person… so the question of money wasn’t a problem. The issue was time, valuable sitting time to draw and paint on plein-air. When did we want to rendezvous with the bus at Cerro Negro? We considered 2:30 PM. However, this would cut seriously into our visit to the mud pots if we wanted to draw and paint there. We wouldn’t be arriving to that vicinity until about 11:20 or so and rather than not render some work on location, split the group into two parties to get to Cerro Negro volcano, I made the decision that we couldn’t do both successfully. So it came to just do the original plan that Erik had arranged for us with the Travel Agency.
Our trip would go no further than Leon. This territory was once occupied by different indigenous tribes for hundred of years before colonialization. The early towns in the region were Subtiava and Imabite. The bus eventually stopped on the extreme western edge of Lake Managua so that we could take stretch. Majestic Mount Momotombo volcano sat beyond the lake north of us. The stop offered a photo-op of the area, as we mused about all the litter and roadside fires we had seen around the countryside.
Returning to the bus, we continued towards Leon, surrounded by rustic farms and tropical dry forest. As we made our way, I continued to read about our destinations. As we neared Leon, I read that the original city, with origins dating from the colonization of Nicaragua, was founded on the region of Imabite, contiguous northeast end of Lake Xolotlan, now called Lake Managua. Leon’s founder was Francisco Hernandez de Cordova. However, the original city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1610; and was also threatened by the possibility of the eruption of Mount Momotombo. Therefore old Leon was abandoned and the new city of Leon was established in its present location. This city was the capital of the province of Nicaragua for many years.
Once entering into the city, the bustle in the streets certainly testifies to a different vibrancy from other regions. Leon is said to be a charming place for its unique history, and colonial architecture whose narrow streets are lined with cathedrals and universities, and whose coffee shops and cafés are filled with the buzz of politics. It is also home of the University of Leon, the oldest university in the Americas, and not surprisingly, Gayle and I noted the shear number of political murals littering the external campus walls of the university. Leon’s 500 years of political history have been punctuated throughout the centuries with the staccato call of uprising, resistance, and war—and confrontations with Mother Nature date back to the city’s founding. Tension seeps out of the land here in the form of boiling mud pits, geothermal vents, and the occasional trembling of a volcano. The populous knows very well that life can be short and violent, and it should thus be lived intensely.
Our drive through Leon takes us to the northern route towards the village of Telica. There we discover that the paved road was currently under construction for the next eight miles, almost all the way to Los Hervideros de San Jacinto. The dust from the slow moving traffic consumed our sightseeing from our windows. We followed a local bus into the region which periodically stopped to pick up passengers chocking in the cloud of dust. As per usual, getting onto the bus was available through any opening, either the front door, the side or the back, should the bus leave before one manages to board. Meanwhile other locals in the area either rode their tired looking horses that suffered some degree of malnutrition, or their bicycles, often vanishing and reappearing in the clouds of dust enveloping their ride. The ride through country farms over the shoulder of an extinct cone and past the silent Santa Clara volcano finally arrived to the smoking and bubbling fumaroles of San Jacinto. This area is actually a magma vein for the Telica volcano, exposed to the surface through vents smoke and bubble, truly an unforgettable experience.
On this southeast flank of 1,060-meter volcano Telica, which steamed in the background view of Santa Clara volcano, the Hervideros de San Jacinto are a nest of boiling mud pits and thermal vents fueled by the underground geothermal activity. The entrance is marked by an enormous arch and a posse of women and children selling “artifacts” from the hot springs. There are plenty of young boys and girls that will offer to guide you around for a few Cordoba, a good deal considering the danger of falling into a scalding mud bath. The area is very volcanic. Hervideros in Spanish means hot bubbling spring and it is very beautiful! But can you imagine living around here? The smell of sulfur and the hot steam coming out of the earth, then hearing of bubbles all day and night. I suppose this is one way to see Hell. Poverty is everywhere; and, if you did live here, you however would not be able to see poverty either, simply because you would be in the same daily circumstance all around you. Everyone who visits would be hard pressed to find someone who has a clean shirt. Trying to find a hut that is “liveable” by average health standards must also be a challenge. Once again, because poverty is all around you, your eyes get used to it and it doesn’t bother you in the same way you must get used to sulfur smell. Horrible as it may appear, you get used to it when you breathe it all day and all night long. Yet the community survives here, like the parakeets of the Santiago volcano in Masaya.
The entrance way to the theatre of mud pots and thermal fields is run by locals who host a $1 per person fee. Upon entering, one begins to feel as if one were a Higgs particle, gaining mass with each child running up beside you to offer their service to guide you through to the geothermal landscape. As we all did, I checked out the mud pots, took pictures and left the lower thermal to go and draw with Bill who had assigned himself in the shade of a building to paint an acrylic rendition of the Santa Clara dormant volcano. I too selected this view and completed a drawing in 45 or so minutes with Telica volcano poking its head over the northeast shoulder of Santa Clara. Telica is easily recognizable for its bald eroding west face and lightly smoking crater. It is an active volcano with its last significant eruption occurring in 1999.
By 1:45 PM we were all accounted for and had boarded the bus to leave the thermal arena and to return to Leon for lunch. It was back to the dust bowl of the road construction. As we got out of the village, our bus driver slowed the bus due to a peculiar noise from the engine. Not sure what it was, decided to continue; but then, the noise became worrisome. He stopped and checked the engine from the inside compartment to discover that the AC and the serpentine belt about the engine was malfunctioning. If we were to continue, then the AC would have to be turned off. Worse, if we were to make it back to Granada without losing the engine entirely, something needed to be done. It was at this point that Amy’s husband of three months, Joe Gordon, donned with a Swiss army knife and mechanical knowledge of the type of engine in the tour bus, asked to look into the engine compartment. From his experience he advised the bus driver, via Ivan, that if the AC and the serpentine belt were separate, then and only then would he recommend cutting the AC belt off. Otherwise we wouldn’t get back to Granada. Or, if the belts were indeed separate, then, we may have to forfeit air-conditioning in exchange to continue our transportation, but at least we would have an engine to get to Leon, and ultimately and eventually to Granada. Cerro Negro was now definitely out of any decision making choices even if I made that choice earlier. God does indeed have a sense of humor!
The cloud of dust ahead of us for the next eight miles to Leon was now our nightmare in the making without AC. With Joe’s Swiss knife in hand the bus driver and I got out of the bus while he maneuvered under the front end to reach and cut the broken AC belt. With the belt in hand, we climbed aboard, turned the key in the ignition and silently prayed for deliverance. With the roar of the engine, we headed off, all the while wondering whether the bus would eventually over heat. But for now, the mission was to get as close to Leon as possible along the road construction. Like a symphony, the orchestra on board the bus opened and closed windows in unison as the clouds of dust billowed about from the outside and the vehicles ahead. After descending the hilly volcanic farm lands, we arrived in Leon a couple of blocks down from the center of town around 1:45 PM. We agreed that we’d meet at 3:30 nearby the cathedral in the center square to catch the bus.
The IAAA artists with Hartmann’s nation that including Joe, our mechanical hero, went off to a famous Hotel Colonial restaurant nearby the central Leon Cathedral. I choose to stay with the bus driver and the Casa workers beside the bus with all of our possessions. Our restaurant was a typical working class buffet with cold inexpensive Victoria beer to numb the worry and concern temporarily from our minds. After lunch, we agreed to relocate the bus in front of the courtyard beside the Lion statues guarding Cathedral. I entered the restaurant where the rest of my colleagues eat earlier and ordered myself a beer while I waited for all to return after a bit of sight seeing. Oh my, the beer at this upscale establishment was the costliest of all in Nicaragua at $1.40 a 12-ounce bottle.
Across the street, beside where the bus was parked, was the square Mausoleo de los Héroes y Mártires, a small plaza with a powerful mural dedicated to those who gave their lives to “the cause of revolution.” There’s also Galería de Heroes y Mártires on 1a Calle which is run by mothers of FSLN veterans and “fallen heroes.” It is a very powerful memorial with the names of hundreds of revolutionaries killed while fighting the Somoza dictatorship. Leon was and still is a Sandanista stronghold. It’s far more radical than its political rival Granada and this radicalism is often abruptly evident. On a wall facing parque central (the main square) was the painted ruminants in huge letters, “Bush genocidio enemigo de la humanidad. Muerte [death], al invasor imperial.” Does this need translation any further? They’ve got some serious attitude in this town!
After lunch and a bit of sightseeing, we were off again by 4:00 PM, with uncertainty as to the consequence without AC and/or belt, but this time, on the paved Pan-American roadway. The rush hour return traffic to Managua, then Masaya and on to Granada got back to our hotel by 6:30. Night was falling on the republic. Once again the streets everywhere were alive with activity as people resumed their socializing in the and cool evening air.
After arriving, I was handed two e-mail messages from Erik, the first communication since parting for his appointment in Costa Rica. I planned to read the messages later that evening, after refreshing. We gathered once again, this time at 7:00 to go off to supper at the Mona Lisa Pizzeria, which was closed for two days of renovations, three days ago. Bill, his family and friends, decided to go elsewhere for supper. Meanwhile we reunited with Cathie, who hadn’t accompanied us to the Leon region.
She informed us that she did indeed meet with her associate media journalist for an interview at 12:30 PM, and had been asked why the IAAA had come to Nicaragua, whether we liked the country, et cetera. So she managed to speak on our behalf after having had heard on several occasions our replies to similar questions during the past week. Her interview would be televised at 9:00 PM that evening on channel 48. During the course of our supper, I read Erik’s e-mail where he recounted with grim sadness that the operation did not go well. His eye inside was damaged beyond recognition and could not be fixed. Our hearts sank with his words. The damage was due to the original trauma, but not the delay of return, nonetheless he would eventually end up losing his left eye. For now he is taking a massive amount of anti-biotics and is scheduled for several check-ups to monitor his right eye for any possible infection.
After supper, the rest of the artists had headed back to the hotel to take in the televised interview. Meanwhile, I selected to go up to the Internet Café before its 10 PM closing to send my deepest condolences to Erik from all of us.
Day 8, Feb 21 – The Genesis of a Group Project at the Casa’s Studios with a Free Day in Granada
We all met for breakfast, but this time just after 8:00 AM, having agreed the night before that we would all sleep. We planned our day to be spent at the studio and gallery of the Casa de los Tres Mundos to work on a group project – a strip painting for our workshop organizer. We agreed to gather at the Casa studio around 10:00 AM.
Once there, we discussed what sort of group effort we wanted to create and paint as a thank you to Erik who organized our escapade to Nicaragua. Those of us who had drawn or painted in the field laid out our work for all to see as a mini exhibition of sorts as we would have done at previous workshop for private critiquing. These works included watercolors, pen and inks, acrylics and graphite line drawings Bettina, Betsy, Bill and I. Several suggestions were bounced around, including the proposal of creating a sector division view rather than the traditional horizontal strip panel. This sparked a rough thumb draft drawing from Bill of his acrylic painting of Santa Clara volcano with mud pits. Always ready for a creative challenge, Dave rose to the occasion as he took Bill’s single view suggestion and built upon it, forging a panorama that included all three excursions through the country. We agreed to his proposal, and asked that he prepare the drawing.
This was Dave’s third such modeling for IAAA workshop attendees, having previously designed the Yellowstone and Death Valley 3 strip paintings as well. At last we were on a roll. The initial canvas that was prepared by Bettina the day before was now dry as Dave sketched out the panoramic landscape onto the horizontal strip, approximately 15 by 40 inches in dimensions. He then split the terrain into six vertical panels and let Bill loose to launch the group project.
I checked my e-mail and received another message from Erik. He was pleased to hear that Ivan et al continued to be part of our adventures throughout our travels. Today he announced that he was leaving the hospital in San Jose, Costa Rica, and returning to his there to convalesce. While writing in my journal and enjoying another Victoria, Ivan, Nora and Dave had dropped by to ask me to go off to lunch with them. We returned to that first restaurant the Casa employees took us to lunch on our first day in the City. There we were joined by a former Casa employee Felix and his Granada girlfriend, Maria. Felix is another German citizen, doing his civil service duty rather than going off to the military. Currently he is at San Jose University taking another semester of study on digital photography before heading back to Europe.
After lunch, I caught up with Betsy at the Casa and decided to join her on an outing to shop for some tee-shirts, near central park; but first, I wanted to see the progress of the project. Bill had completed his panel with the Santa Clara and the mud pits. On the extreme right, I noticed the cliff edge from the Somoto Canyon with the Rio Coco. With the moon positioned the way we had seen it at dusk a few days ago from the bus window, I wanted to add the location of Venus and the constellation of Orion as the prime signature of the evening sky here at the zenith. Mind you, I would take artistic and poetic license to exaggerate Orion’s location slightly above the waxing new moon. As I was about to begin, Mitch had pointed out that Bettina had stenciled here name beside the panel. After a brief discussion, and my rationale that Dave used my line drawing to model the cliff, she graciously allowed me to have it, but only after I teased her about arm wrestling her for it. How embarrassing it would have been for me had she agreed and slammed dunked my 62 year ol’ arm? So, it is with humble appreciation that I owe her my thanks for her generous gesture of sparing me of such fate.
With that, Betsy and I were off, into the early afternoon heat of the day. Directly across the plaza, I found a Ché Geuverra tee-shirt I had hoped to find, with a short political philosophic statement stenciled in Spanish. Betsy got one herself for one of two family members. With a couple hundred Cordoba still left, we were off find other treasurers in the immediate town square, with the hope of finding the shop Gayle had talked about earlier in the week. Unfortunately, we never did find the shop despite walking around several streets in the neighborhood with heat rays radiating off walls, and from the tiled brick roads. So, we dragged ourselves back to the shaded central park, where vendors had set up tables and booths beneath the canopy of palm and oak trees. Betsy spied some ceramic pots… if only she could get them into her back pack to carry home? Not being able to communicate in Spanish, I asked our vendor to write down the price by offering a pen and paper. She scribbled down 180$C (~ ten dollars). Not sure whether to smile or not, Betsy was about to leave, when my pen and paper was whisked from my hand suggesting 150 $C instead. An immediate “Si” came out Betsy’s lips and with that the exchange of goods – paper for ceramic pot. The afternoon was slipping by. My Old Spice was no longer working, so I decide to return to the studio to begin painting my panel.
Back at the studio, behind the Casa interior courtyards, it was 145F in the shade, and not a single fly fluttered its wings to generate a molecule of a breeze. The work space was empty, save for me and the dripping sweat beneath my clothes, and on my brow. Oh, there was an industrial sized fan, but nowhere a sight of an electric plug. It’s sculptures like these that I don’t fully appreciate. I looked at Bill’s finish piece and then recalled having stared at the canyon wall for 45 minutes while getting sunburned on my face, arms and chest. Even the scene was also burned into my memory. Dave had penciled in the crescent moon, and I reasoned that could paint as fast as lightning, before becoming dehydrated, so I began by looking for a paint brush, a pallet, paint and some water… any amount, just so as to clean my brushes between colors. I considered wringing my sweat loaded shirt, the scarf around my neck, and the sweat on my brow, but I was worried what this would do to the pigments of the new brand of acrylics we were provided to product test from Costa Rica. I finally stumbled upon three different types of brushes, buried beneath a pile of student copper plate etchings on the upper shelf: a blistered flibert, a mangled flat shader, and something that resembled a stippler brush. As for paint, like I said we were product testing a new line of liquid acrylics, hence there stood three primary colors with black and white in plastic jars. Great, I didn’t need to grind any minerals in this heat. As for water, I finally managed to find some dripping from a water line in the courtyard. I filled a small plastic cup, and set to work.
In order to ‘feel’ cooler, I decided it would be helpful to imagine a night view. Immediately I washed in a setting twilight to dusk sky transition, with an emerging cool darkness of night. The constellation Orion needed to be anchored to the panel, but I needed the sky to dry. The cliff was next, in strong dark shades, with a cool blue-green Rio Coco river that flowed reflecting skylight onto the hills, the base desert sand and rocky shore where some boulders and vegetation lurked. With some additional scrub brush along the river’s edge and dwarf trees clinging to the cliff, I was now positioning the crescent moon in earthlight, Venus below and finally Orion in the blackened sky above. And presto, I was done!
During the 20 minute painting spree, Mitch and Cathie arrived to discuss our evening plans. Shortly after that Bettina and Betsy returned from the Internet Café, as did Dave. We agreed to have a late supper as is the custom in Nicaragua. This way Betsy could be sure to get her panel completed of the Santiago volcano with bats emerging while green parakeets flew home to roost for the night. Dave and Bettina could then follow with their rim section where they could continue the next day. While Bill took his own set of tubes of acrylics paints back to the hotel with him, the rest of us would use the new Catalina basic primary set that Fernando Lopez had negotiated and secured from Costa Rica. Although Bettina had already experimented with them earlier in the week on several of her color abstractions, the color properties weren’t as good a quality as their professional set. That being the case, the company had promised Fernando to send a professional sample set to each artist. Bettina had taken down our names and physical addresses in order for the company to keep to their promise to ship such a professional set to us to test in our home studios.
Just after 7:00, once the English class was finished, Christoff and Florian set up the computer, screen and DVD projector. Dave proceeded to show his video of Death Valley 3 Workshop. The colors of Death Valley were enchanting, even better than I remembered. Dave had tagged every participant’s name and location in order to identify the artist as they came into view. My encounter with a massive raven was included, as was my wife, Judy, discussing the scenic view with several artists around Ubehebe Crater. Several different locations, including different permutations of various artists in the field as well as the group photo session on Mars Hill were included along with beautiful desert scenery in bloom because of a strange and rare wet season. After the review, Dave received a very nice round of applause from the gracious house viewers.
I called on Bill next and asked if he would like to give us some insight and review of his latest research on Mars. He began by giving a brief background history of his schooling, his interest in the geology of Mars and how the precision of the scientific methods used in crater size counting has evolved over time as a new geological instrument on the aging process of various features, both ancient and recent. Bill drew a graph that compared the saturation level for the number of craters per square kilometers against a logarithmic scale of crater sizes from one meter to 10,000 meters. With each improved satellite innovation, optical exploration of Mars has continued to achieve better resolutions of various observed more recent features on Mars, hence providing a technique he and his community of researchers believe might be a very resourceful geological tool to estimate time periods on other celestial bodies, or something like that. To illustrate how this would work he drew graphs using data from the Moon and different locations on Mars by various Mars probes. The family of lines supported this hunch. Following another round of applause in appreciation, the stage was set for a group photo shoot.
Dave had several members of the audience take various poses of the artists up front in front of a giant white screen. First he asked that we look left, then right and finally any which direction. These photos were for a special secret project Dave and I conjured up as a spoof to commemorate this IAAA Nicaraguan workshop. Before leaving the Casa for our final supper together, as Betsy prepared to leave tomorrow after breakfast, we proceeded outside and beneath our large banner in front of the gallery for another series of group photos, with Amy and Cathie doing the honors. From there we bid our Casa staff workers goodnight ‘til tomorrow, and headed off to another Amy restaurant suggestion, this time, the El Zaguan. It was located on a side street, a couple of blocks from our hotel. Besides an exquisite late supper, the entertainment here included an unexpected electric element exploding behind Amy and Gayle. A couple of wine glasses later, we were fit to be tied with fatigue and proceeded back to the hotel by 11:00 PM. Our last get together would be breakfast, after which Betsy would get her ride back to Managua to the airport.
Day 9, Feb 22 – Last Full Day in Granada and the Final
Like magic, all of us convened for breakfast around 7:45 AM. We were getting comfortable and adjusted to the daily routine of gathering for morning coffee, while our orders for breakfast were being prepared. Betsy began to take some last minute photographs. During breakfast, I had promised her that I would go to the Casa gallery/studios to make certain that Ivan arranges her transportation to Managua.
At the Casa, I discussed the transportation with Ivan for the rest of us at 10:00 AM the following morning. Bill, Gayle, Maria and Samuel, Mitch, Cathie, Bettina and I leave on the same flight at 1:35 PM to our connecting flight in Atlanta, GA. On the other hand, Dave, Amy and Joe would already be gone by taxi at 5:00 AM. This morning however, Bettina, Dave and Mitch had to finish painting their panel section at the studio, with the hope that they would be finished by early afternoon; after all, the canvas needed to dry and be photographed in direct sunlight.
Dave wasted no, finishing and passing his brushes off to Bettina by 11:00. Meanwhile I had staked out at the Internet Café next door to check my e-mail, write to my wife, then to Erik so that he is kept abreast of our activities while he convalesces at his home in Costa Rica.
At some point, Fernando arrived with his promised letter of acknowledgement for our donation of $500 for the institute’s education program. I thanked him, and added that I appreciated the return of my painting yesterday to its former spot for the balance of the exhibition.
Speaking of my misplaced painting, the one that I used to present an oversized check to the institute on Sunday; well, when I pointed out that fact to Ivan yesterday, that it was still missing and that I could not be find it anywhere at the institute, he set off to find out what happened to it? Just before Dave, Nora, Ivan and I went off to lunch together yesterday; he informed me when he arrived that he had both good and bad news. First, the good news; he found the painting. Now the bad; the check part had been cut out! I’m still laughing at my initial bewilderment!
Ivan and his Casa crew took Dave and me to another local favorite restaurant. It too was a commodore, one where a house meal was prepared leaving little choice to select alternatives as one could from a menu offering different meals. Mitch took over from Bettina, who had finished her piece. By the time Dave and I got back from our lunch around 1:45, the studio doors were locked. Fortunately we had agreed earlier that we would reconvene around 3:30 for our final presentations from Bettina and Mitch, but this time in the front gallery dark room. In all likelihood, Bill, Bettina and Mitch had gone back to the Hotel Patio to get their art carrying luggage to dismantle and repackage their art display in the gallery. It must be noted that Mitch was the only artist during of exhibition who managed to successfully sell an original work of art earlier in the week. Dave and I donated our works to the gallery in celebration of their 80th anniversary; after all, it was the “los Tres Mundos” – the three worlds’ gallery, so why not leave our digitalized pieces as examples of our genre?
The presentations began close to 4:30, as set up time was required. Once again our host Casa staff employees were invited to join our ranks. Dave was supposed to begin this afternoon session showing a video of the Tenerife Canary Island workshop organized by Erik in the mid 1990s but the video projector in the computer didn’t work. Instead I invited Bettina to take us to her Montreal studio. Her presentation focused on different theme projects moving from the most recent then backwards towards earlier time to 2000 when she began her professional career. Bettina likes to include the use of various elements of nature in her work. For example, to have sunlight burn the surface of her art paper thus becoming an integral element of the composition, or have rain drops crash onto wet acrylic paint leaving various patterns of craters, as she did during a typhoon while in Indonesia. Another time she buried a set of acrylic paintings into ice on a lake in Quebec over winter, then salvaged them during Spring without any harm to their surface.
Bettina’s recent project, her Amelia Earhart series, tried to capture metaphorically the noble and courageous aviator’s spirit by an empty presence as is matter within an atom, light in space and duration in time. I found her swirlie concepts fascinating, though I suspect, she may have wondered why my head kept nodding back and forth while she spoke? Was it sleep that I was struggling with? No my dear Watson, I was duly impressed by her imagination. I’m glad that she shared the range of her creativity, especially what she had perceived, considered and used as objects and elements of nature in her art projects. Earlier in the workshop she mentioned she had partitioned the hard drive of an old Macintosh computer she planned to use to do data analysis of x-ray sources from the Chandra Space Telescope. I’m sure that we’ll someday see these objects as elements in her future space art projects.
Florian eventually brought in a DVD player and David’s Tenerife Canary Island workshop video began. This was appropriate to see not just because of the landscape, but also because Erik was also at this 1996 IAAA workshop, as was Betsy, Bill, Dave, Gayle, Amy, and others.
Seeing Erik got a resounding cheer, as we did miss his camaraderie and charismatic nature. With every day we hope his condition improves, despite the sad circumstance of having lost an eye. With the presentations coming to a close, once again the discussion shifted to supper. Where should we go? Once again Amy rose to the occasion and suggested a quaint newly renovated restaurant with a great reputation called Café Dec Arte at lunch time but as Pasta Pasta during supper, and which happened to be on a street not very far from our hotel.
Our final supper together had come, sans Erik and now Betsy who left earlier in the day. Once again, the conversations spilt end to end of the table as we all agreed that the experience here was great! It was our first third world experience and although we’d seen poverty before, in Moscow in 1989, the Soviet veneer of aerospace technology and science however posed a higher standard of living.
During our meal, I rose to give thanks to all for making the journey here and especially a thank you to Bill for bringing his family and friends, without whom Erik would not been able to have the sufficient numbers to make this happen. In the very early morning, Dave, Amy and Joe will be taking a taxi to Managua airport at 5:00 AM, so with that I thanked them for their joyous company and wished them a safe trip home.
After supper about 9:00 PM, I called Christof to let him know that we had returned to our hotel. Bettina, Mitch and Cathie had wandered off to the Internet Café or other last photography session of the town at night. Meanwhile I waited for our Casa friends and helpers to join me for a beer. Florian and Nora arrived first, then Ivan and Anaya on bicycles. Soon many other people wandered in before Christof arrived… All together twelve people, a mix of Casa staff workers with artists, musicians and friends dropped by. I kept ordering beers for my guests and apologized to Lidia for the crowd. She didn’t mind at all that I invited the locals to join us here at the hotel. In fact she enjoyed this final opportunity for them to socialize with us. The one definite problem was that I was the only artist there to receive them. Nevertheless, the beers flowed and the conversation circled around, some in English, German, Spanish then back to English. Sometimes the conversations were awkward followed by silence but people milled about, clinked glasses, made toasts, asked questions and listened for my replies about our visit to Nicaragua, how it is different from other places where we’ve traveled to et cetera.
Some were curious whether we were marketing the space era for multinational companies and/or governments? I said no, not at all; in fact what we try to do is to inform artists of their rights. To not give away their art for free in exchange for the promotion of their names and careers blindly however tempting some proposals may appear. Investigate who gets your art, for what purpose, why, rights to reproduce your image etc.
After a while, we began to talk about traveling to nearby planets like Mars; how long it would take, getting to travel in close quarters; problems with relationships in space should partners cheat, sex in space, food, bone loss, death – what to do with the body?
At about midnight, I was drained. Thought Bettina, Mitch and Cathie had returned at various points of the general conversations, they didn’t stay and said goodnight. So now too my time had come. I thanked them for their company, friendship and help during our stay and in particular for their genuine interest in our genre of space art. Tomorrow we may be leaving but never forgetting our wonderful experience here in Granada and the country. I shook hands with Ivan and that I would see him in the morning. Meanwhile, I gave a hug to the girls and a farewell handshake to fellas that helped us during our stay; then, bid them goodnight.
Day 10, Feb 23 – Los Estimados Amigos de Despedida y le Agradecen
I awoke early, despite getting myself to bed so late, and began about 6:30 the task of organizing my backpack. By 7:30 I was downstairs where I found Bill working on his Mars-crater paper and getting it read for publication. After a brief exchange I went off in search of Lidia to give her Erik’s strip painting for safe keeping. I’m sure that he would return at some point to get it once he learned that we had left it here for him. Once found, she informed me that Dave, Amy and Joe had successfully left earlier in the morning, then ooo-ed and aaah-ed with enchantment and delight at our completed project. How wonderful for Erik to have this commemorative.
After a short while Ivan had arrived by bicycle. I teased him whether this was his/our modus operandi to get us to the airport this morning? “But of course” our Bosnian friend joked, “This is Nicaragua after all. Nine more are coming! What did you expect, amigo gringo?”
Our bus arrived at 10:00, and Ivan climbed aboard the roof to help load the over sized luggage while smaller ones filled places inside. Finally with Lidia, Romano, and Florian looking on, we boarded the bus with Ivan assuming the front seat next to the driver. Meanwhile, “Pedro” the Hotel Patio boarder collie climbed inside next to Cathie whom he befriended during our stay and was ready to immigrate to America to a new life of perpetual food and leisure. We all laughed one final time together, then watched Pedro leave with a “just kidding” look about his face. Florian closed our door, and the bus lurched forward into the narrow streets of Granada that would take us to the Masaya-Granada highway and ultimately to the airport, where the volcano Santiago lingered on the horizon lazily in the morning sun with sulfuric gas and steam rising from its cone.
With our arrival at the airport, unloading of our luggage, we bid farewell to Ivan, shook his hand and left him with a series of thank you and hugs to him and the Casa staff whom we shall surely miss. The last remaining step was to get our tickets, pass through the appropriate security and get ready at the departure gate for the 1:35 PM flight to Atlanta, GA and from there to our connecting flights back home and to our studio.
Farewell dear friends and thank you Nicaragua.