Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nicaragua – Estelí, A graffiti paradise

Nicaragua or Japan?
Before traveling to Estelí and Miraflor we did the usual research: reading guide books, travel sites and Blogs. The opinions varied greatly: from boring and not worth stopping by, to must see typical Nicaraguan town. That much for helping us to decide whether to visit Estelí or not. Julane actually later found a really informative website for the area that also seems to include the entire region of Central America called Viva Guides

We were drawn to come to Estelí because we wanted to see a less touristy side of Nicaragua and also desperately longed for a place that is cooler than the sweltering low lands. It is in a nice basin with an elevation of 850m or 2790ft surrounded by rolling, fertile hills.

Estelí is the country's third largest city and was a heated spot in fighting against the Somoza government in the late 70's. Estelí also claimed fame in year 2005 when it was entered into the Guinness book of records for the largest mural in the world. Talking about murals: all over town you can see scenes of Jungles, youth defending their nations, an eagle clawing planet earth.... And surprisingly many Asian/Manga inspired scenes.

Garage door or artist's canvas?
There are over 150 murals that decorate the walls of Estelí which was also the home to many mural workshops during the Sandinista Revolution. So if you are a passionate Graffiti artist you might be able to keep (legally) busy in Estelí, although blank walls are hard to find here and even metal garage doors are incorporated into the paintings.

Art without limits
We found the city to be very lively and surprisingly attractive. Now it's by far not Granada, but that's exactly what we liked about it. This is the real Nicaragua where tourists are welcome but do not affect the daily routines of the locals. Estelí's hotels and restaurants are full of locals and business people (Estelí is on the Trans-Americana highway). Only at one place did we see a relative high number of tourist Gringo's was inside – a Restaurant and the only Hostel in town which is run by a long-term British woman.

Is Estelí Nicaragua's little Tokyo? ...
or little Kenya?

There are also a lot of aid agencies working here since just about the entire area was flattened by the war. Not to mention that the people survive by agriculture means and were also badly affected by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Mitch is the 7th largest hurricane on record to date from the Atlantic and the most deadly since 1780 with 11,000 confirmed deaths and probably double that that went missing. So you can imagine the amount of rebuilding and foreign aid work necessary to help an already very poor region. There are also a number of Spanish schools to cater to those helpers, and we considered to take another week of language school but that plan dissolved when another more exciting option surfaced (the next blog will reveal this).

Time to swap the leather shoes for
rainy season footwear.
We arrived in pouring rain on a Saturday afternoon, rainy season has officially started a few days ago. But despite the liquid sunshine, we found the town to be alive, even after dark. Again, this is no Granada or Leon, but compared to what we've seen in Guatemala's and Hondura's cities, Estelí seemed to be a nightlife hot spot.

Even our hotel has nicely painted walls
What impressed us most was the incredible hospitality and friendliness of the people. From the owners of out guesthouse (Hostal Tomabu, which we highly recommend), to restaurant employees, store keepers and the ordinary man on the street, all made us feel very welcome.

Cuba? Don't worry: we are still in Nicaragua
Just lovin' that Cuban food!

If you like Cuban food then you'll love Estelí, we got our fill of Cuban Sandwiches and Ropa Vieja ... Yummy. It seems there are a few families that immigrated here to create competing restaurants even.

This is much better than Gallo Pinto

Estelí is also a great base to explore some other highland regions too. The choice is unlimited and you might be tempted to extend your trip and do some aid work, help in a coffee plantation or teach English to the enthusiastic locals. Hindsight we wish we would have started our Nicaraguan trip here in Estelí!

Yes sir, of course we will highly recommend Estelí on our Blog
... I promise!