Katy and Suzie in bunk beds.

Katy on the top bunk and Suzie on the bottom bunk in a room at our hostel in Matagalpa.

We have arrived in Matagalpa, had lunch and are getting settled into our hostel, Buena Onda (translation: “You’re cool,” or literally “the good way”).

During our quick break before visiting Casa Materna, a ProNica partner here in Matagalpa, students are napping, resting or logging on. We’ve got WiFi here so look for posts over the next two days for sure.

Wyatt’s taking a nap in a hammock in the lobby. He’s pretty passed out, but there are a bunch of us nearby.

Wyatt sleeping in hammock, face down.

Wyatt, completely passed out in a hammock at the hostel.

Our bellies are full from the six pizzas we devoured — two veggies, two margarita and two Hawaiian. The consensus was it was very similar to genuine Italian pizza, from a quality pizza shop at home.

The picky eaters (more about them in a get to know you post later) were thrilled. Some were a bit bummed that we missed out on an authentic Nicaraguan meal. But we’re all pleased with our accommodations. This is the first hostel experience for most in the group. It is comfortable sharing rooms here because we know each other now. Here, the guys are in one room and the girls are split between two rooms.

There is another group of American students at the hostel, too. They arrived yesterday from Rice University and will work in a nearby community on a water distribution system. Each of them are engineering students.

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After the intense activity of the morning we enjoyed a buffet lunch and a visit to the artisan market in Masaya. After the market we got a nice surprise.

Inside Masaya Market

Inside Masaya Market

The Masaya Market has more than 120 different booths and is known throughout Central America for its artisan wares. Shoppers were predominately tourists — very few residents of Masaya shop there — and in some cases, similar or identical items were available at multiple stands.

Some of us bargained for deals, some didn’t buy anything, but everyone seemed to enjoy the place. There were children and old women who held out their hands for money, and about a dozen children who followed us offering “gifts” of palm, in the form of a flower, a cricket or a heart, for example. They hoped for money in exchange for their “gifts.”

It was hard to say no.

Next stop: Catarina. This community had more souvenirs and an AMAZING VIEW. But when we arrived it was raining and we couldn’t see a thing.

Several of us opted to sit and have a coffee at a restaurant, while others browsed in shops and tried again to catch a glimpse of the view.

It worked. We waited long enough to see Laguna de Apoyo, where we swam Jan. 2, the colonial city of Granada, where we will visit next week, and the huge Lake Nicaragua. It was truly stunning.

Our surprise view of Laguna de Apoyo and Lake Nicaragua.

The view of Laguna de Apoyo and beyond it, Lake Nicaragua.

The bus ride back to Quaker House — a little more than 40 minutes total — turned into an impromptu nap time for about half of the group.

The backs of heads of napping travelers.

Nap time after a full day.

After dinner today it was time to pack and prepare to leave Quaker House for the community of Matagalpa, then Esteli, El Limon and Granada.

I’m uncertain about when we will again have a reliable Internet connection but rest assured, posts will appear as often as possible.

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The Nindiri Volcano and protective rock wall.

The Nindiri Volcano and protective rock wall, with the Bobadilla Cross on the right.

We arrived at the Masaya Volcano National Park filled with anticipation. What will it be like to look into a crater? (And, in Jenna’s case: What happens if it erupts?)

The visitors’ center explained how volcanos are formed, the spiritual significance of the place through the years and to different faiths and taught us about the animal and plant life in the area.

In 1529 the Catholic Friar Francisco de Bobidilla ordered that a cross be placed on the crater. It was considered then, “the mouth of hell.” Today, the cross that overlooks all three craters, is a replica. We were unable to climb stairs up to it because of rock slides and other activity in the last year. Eventually, it is expected that the hill will collapse.

It is said that centuries ago, local indigenous communities made sacrifices into the crater. And there is a theory that Somoza’s regime dumped the bodies of “the disappeared” into the crater as well.

Lately, the Nindiri crater has been letting go of a lot of sulfur gas. We were advised to stand at that crater for no more than five minutes. Although we couldn’t smell sulfur and no one experienced skin or eye irritation, we heeded the warning.

Our guide Aldo, who is from the community of Esteli, has seen from the road at night lava emitting light from the volcano, but we saw no lava today. Most of our time was spent enjoying the view — and contemplating the destruction that occurred before the San Fernando crater valley was a valley at all.

The group, looking toward the valley in a former crater.

The group overlooking the old crater at Masaya Volcano.

The crater valley

The San Fernando Crater valley is one of the three craters of Masaya volcano.

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Coyotepe prison, dark with a narrow strip of window with bars

Inside the first level of Coyotepe prison.

This afternoon we visited a former political prison — El Coyotepe. Some of us fought back tears. Some of us felt shame at the new-found knowledge that the United States government supported the dictatorship that tortured an unknown number of Nicaraguans right where we stood. All of us were moved.

Today, Coyotepe is preserved and operated by Nicaraguan Boy Scouts. Our guide, who works as a volunteer for tips, (again, with Lucy as our interpreter) took us through the two levels of dark cells, explaining what is known about what happened in the place unknown to even most Nicaraguans for many years.

Coyotepe, which means “coyote caves” in a local indigenous language, was originally built originally as a fortress to protect the community of Masaya.

In 1944, the Somoza government began using it as a political prison. That continued until the Revolution in 1979, when the Sandonista prisoners were liberated and the guards and other Somoza supporters were jailed there.

The Sandonista government improved conditions in the prison, adding bathroom facilities and electricity. But they continued to use it as a prison until 1983.

During the Somoza dictatorship, three levels of prison cells were used at Coyotepe. The bottom level collapsed in the 1970s. Our guide said there are theories that Somoza had it destroyed to hide an unknown number of dead prisoners. Another theory suggests dead prisoners were dumped into the nearby Masaya Volcano. Many believe the place in haunted.

It is believed that more than 600 people were held at Coyotepe at a time, 90 percent of them men.

In one of the cells on the second level, used for more “serious suspects” — likely suspected to assassination plots or other efforts to overthrow the government — we could see markings on the wall likely made by the prisoners.

“Mi quiera morir!!!” or “I want to die” is scrawled into the wall in one place. In another, the Spanish for “only Christ saves” is scratched with the date 1978.

“Aldo was my best friend because he held my hand the whole time,” Tara said. “I hung on to my St. Christopher (medal) the whole time.”

It was hard to be there, to know what happened so recently, and to confront the reality that it may be happening somewhere else in the world right now.

Reflecting as a group later on, Deanna said: “People talk about what Hitler did. This is kinda the same. I’d never even heard about all of this until now. This affected their entire country.”

Kata reminded us of the prison we learned of yesterday, in the lower levels of the Somoza palace.

Wyatt spoke of how “Medieval” it all was, but occurring as recently as 34 years ago.

“I’m glad we know that history,” Meghan said. “I can’t believe it was this recent.”

And the questions poured from us. What did the tour guide think of us? What else does our government not want us to know? How can we get the information we deserve as concerned global citizens?

Coyotepe fortress

Coyotepe was originally a fort built to protect Masaya. It was later used as a political prison by both the Somoza regime and the Sandonistas.

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Jenna Frick, posing with the evacuation route sign at the Masaya volcano

Jenna Frick, our unofficial safety officer, posing with the evacuation route sign at the Masaya volcano.

Jenna Frick is our unofficial safety officer.

In our meetings, she was the one asking questions about travelers’ stomach trouble, risk of parasites from local water and risk of botflies. (Answers: Possible, but easily treatable as long as medicine is taken early. None. All water we are drinking is filtered. Extremely unlikely. No participant in any previous trip has contracted any sort of illness from any sort of bite.)

Before takeoff on each airplane, the 21-year-old Zeta Tau Alpha member from Kansas City, Kan. carefully read the safety information in the seat pocket. And she listened with rapt attention to the flight attendants explaining safety procedures.

Today, entering the Parque National Volcan Masaya, each of us was given a sheet explaining the security regulations for the crater areas. Jenna read them to herself, but aloud, pointing out the following:

  • This volcano may erupt without notice since its activity is frequent.
  • Don’t worry guys, we’ll get helmets. (We didn’t actually get helmets, but a portion of the park was closed because of the level of recent activity related to volcanic gasses.

Helmets were mentioned third on the list and she may have been the only one to read about it.

Frick attributes her safety-consciousness to being the second-oldest of six children. She’s used other skills gained in that role while on the trip, too. For example, this morning, she French braided our guide Lucy’s hair in record time.

Frick is a senior majoring in biochemistry and education. She plans to work as a chemistry teacher. She serves on the Washburn Student Government Association and recently tied for first place in the bi-annual Nall Speak Off public speaking competition at Washburn.

Profiles of the Ichabods and their unique roles on the trip will continue.

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