by Isabel, Tufts 1+4 Participant
My Semana Santa was split between some Caribbean islands and León. The one a tranquil blue and green paradise, the other a vibrant colorful city, bursting with culture and traditions.
I spent five days in the Corn Islands with five other volunteers, from Saturday to Wednesday, although the first and last days were taken up with travel, which looked something like this: Taxi to the bus station in León (20 cordobas) bus to Managua (54 cordobas, make sure you tell the driver to let you off at UCA, because that’s not the last stop), taxi to the airport (shouldn’t be more than 100 cords), flight to Big Corn Island ($197 round trip), taxi to the docks (20 cords), panga to little corn ($6), and finally a short walk to the hostel. We stayed at The Green House, a nice little hostel close to everything. When we had revived somewhat we went out to dinner and thus began our Caribbean adventure. The next few days were a whirlwind of relaxation. A contradiction in terms, but an accurate description. We hiked around the tiny island, swam in the clear blue tropical water, went snorkeling, and drank and ate everything coconut. We also got very thoroughly sunburnt, despite applying what felt like gallons of sunscreen, but it was worth it.
I also got to experience a little bit of the backpacker life – cooking my own food, completely creating my own schedule – and it was nice. But definitely takes some getting used to. Something else that took getting used to was the English/Spanish dilemma. Most islanders are bilingual, and some actually prefer English, it being their first language. If I was spoken to I would respond in the same language, but when initiating a conversation I never knew which language to choose. Often I would try Spanish, only to get a response in English. But between the two we all managed to cobble together an understanding. The whole trip was an amazing experience, filled with friends and laughter, and, like all good vacations, it felt far too short.
If you go:
• Get coconut bread from Esther’s – the sign saying best coconut bread on the island doesn’t lie.
• Electricity only works between 1pm and 6 am, so get internet things done then.
• Make the hike to Yamaya beach – the little slice of paradise connected to the $400 a night hotel. Don’t worry, it’s free.
But what I came back to was amazing in its own way. Semana Santa in León is full of processions. Long events where people walk the streets carrying ‘floats’ with depictions of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, and are accompanied by a very somber band. These processions can last for hours, and in my opinion are best witnessed as they pass by rather than as an active participant. The main event, however, are the sawdust carpets – intricate drawings on the streets made entirely of colored sawdust. While you can find the carpets on different streets every day of the week, the biggest turnout is on Friday, and it just so happens to be in my neighborhood! I took a walk around with the Tufts fellows first during the day while the carpets were still being constructed. We got to see the amazing intricate work in action. I was amazed at how detailed some of the carpets were. And so many colors! Later in the evening I went with my family, by which time all the carpets were finished. It felt like a carnival – half of León must have come out to witness the spectacle. I was surrounded by people talking and laughing, the smell of cotton candy or soda, and the brilliant sawdust carpets drawing everyone’s eyes. We all ooh-ed and aah-ed appropriately, the works of art made all the more impressive by the fact that they were made in a day to be destroyed by the procession that night.
My two halves of Semana Santa were probably as unalike as two experiences in the same small country could be. One was filled with foreigners, the other with my Nicaraguan family. One with the sea the other with sawdust. One with an island, the other with a city. And one with blue, green, and white, and the other with plentiful reds, yellows, oranges, and purples. Yet both came overflowing with friends and laughter. And really, what more could I ask for?