What? We get to sleep in one extra hour? That’s how this weekend started. Some even went for a jog this morning (kudos for them). We all got a little extra sleep, energized ourselves with some coffee and breakfast and then started on our busy day. Our first stop after breakfast was the Masaya Volcano Park. In the park there are three volcanoes, one of which is active and releases sulfur into the air. That volcano last erupted in 2012; there was no lava that came out, only rock that was shot out of the mouth of the volcano. So, because of the sulfur being released into the air by the middle volcano we went for a hike around the dormant volcano. The hike up to the mouth of the volcano from the parking lot was tiring and lasted a good 15-20 minutes. Though some didn’t do the hike around the volcano, most of the group did. The path was up and down, rocky, slippery (due to little pebbles), and extremely windy for most of hike around the mouth. All in all it was a fun experience for a hike.
After the fun little adventure of a hike, we went to the museum on the park grounds. There we got a better idea of the layout of Nicaragua in terms of the placing of the volcanoes and we got a refresher on tectonic plates.
The second stop: the microfinance fair. We arrived in the Nindiri community and walked into the usual Micro-Finance site. Tables were set up with various crafts and homemade items. I (Emily Kaiser) immediately was filled with joy. Seeing the ladies that I had been working with this week standing by their own personal homemade items made me really see how SI’s Micro-Finance site was working. I greeted the ladies who smiled back, showing so much compassion. I just wanted to buy everything and support everyone I could. Even though there were only a few tables full of items, many people took this opportunity to buy souvenirs. These included handmade hammocks, aprons, baskets, bracelets, headbands, and more. I absolutely loved standing in line for once. It meant that people were helping the ladies I had gotten to briefly know and would get to spend another week with. It meant that these ladies could keep their businesses going and pay back any microloans they had. I know our group was just excited about the items they were getting, but to me, it had a much deeper meaning. I am so grateful for everyone who purchased any item today. These ladies put in so much love into their hard work and it’s great to see that they have a brighter future with our small purchases.
Our most sobering experience so far happened today. We visited a historical site that for most of its use was employed as a prison for political prisoners. Initially built in 1893 by Liberal-Nationalist President, José Santos Zelaya to protect the city of Masaya from their Conservative party opponents in Granada (20 miles away), the fort established a reputation for impregnability, until 1912, when aided by an invading force of 600 U.S. Marines, the Conservatives took possession of it and routed the Liberals. That same year, the Marines helped depose Nicaragua’s president and install a U.S.-backed puppet. Inn 1937, another U.S. puppet, Anastasio Somoza, turned the fort into a secret prison for political prisoners, which would give Coyotepe its notoriety. He also expanded the installations by adding three underground levels. By the 1970s, when the third in the dynastic line of Somoza presidents began to face a growing insurgency bent on his ouster, the prison took on ominous proportions.
Most of the tour of the lower levels of the prison took place in utter darkness, guided by flashlights. Political prisoners were kept on the level that corresponded to the seriousness of their political opposition. Protesting students and demonstrators occupied the top level. Higher-value political prisoners were kept in the lower levels. There was no running water or electricity. Holes in the ground were the only sanitary provisions. Prisoners were held in extremely crowded conditions, clothed only in their underwear. Most of the writing on the walls is graffiti by vandals. But we saw in one cell, a message attributed to a prisoner, traced with charcoal, that said “I want to die.” Another message, scratched into the concrete said, “Only Jesus saves, 1978.” Our guide took us to special areas of the prison where high-value political prisoners were subjected to some of the most barbarous tortures, without elaborating any details. Survivor testimonies are the only evidence that remains. These survivors were liberated when the Sandinistas toppled the Somoza government in 1979. The Sandinistas themselves held political prisoners there, until pressure from international human rights agencies led to its permanent closure in 1983.
Today, the one-time prison/fort is administered by the Boy Scouts. According to our guide, it is maintained for the purpose of reminding Nicaraguans of the inhumanity of which humans are capable, so that its conditions might never be repeated.
- Dr. Richard Huston
Our final stop: the Artisan Market. This was a place that we were able to get souvenirs of our stay here in Nicaragua. I (Jeanie May) personally went around and viewed all of the shops with Dr. Huston as my guide. He taught me the art of bargaining prices with different shop owners. With his help I was able to find and purchase different interesting items in the market today. After everyone had shopped till they dropped, we all met up at one of the few restaurants in the market. We had a feast for Kings tonight: rice, beans, steamed veggies, pork, chicken, French fries, and fried plantains. After the lovely dinner, we all walked to a local ice cream place for dessert. I got a banana split while others got cones or bowls. Going for a walk again we ventured over to the central park Masaya where all of the Saturday night crowds go for a good time. It usually consists of the lower and middle class. Now we all get to party till 11 instead of 10 tonight.
Photos by Kat Kelley, Fallyn Paruleski, and Professor Jessa Wilcoxen