Villa Sandino and Cowboy Country

After visiting the Caribbean coast most people return to Bluefields and hop straight on the bus for the capital, Managua, several hours away.
We spent another night in Bluefields (different, brand new hotel, everything working, hot showers, $24 a night) then went by boat to El Rama and on by bus to the small town of Villa Sandino.
This is the Chontales region, landlocked, between the Caribbean coastal area and the shores of the huge Lake Cocibolca, the largest lake in Central America. We knew it was cowboy country with wide open skies and more cattle than people. What we hadn’t expected was the wonderful scenery!

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We stayed in the homely Hotel Santa Clara where nothing was too much trouble for our friendly hosts Maria and Roy.
Very few tourists stop here; our main reason was to see the fantastic petroglyphs nearby. Yesenia was our guide and gave us a terrific tour of these pre-columbian remains. We saw more than 100 carved in the rock, depicting recognisable animals, mythical beasts, men and women, the cycle of life and accurate compasses. The plumed serpent which we have seen as far away as Mexico also appears.

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Yesenia explained that this was a sacred place, not regularly inhabited but at times used for ritual sacrifice. Sadly a major interpretation and preservation project supported by funding from Holland and Finland had to end prematurely in 2008 as a result of the financial crisis. It has left a clear route of concrete paths around the site and protective roofs over the main areas but most of the information signs are missing.
We subsequently read on a Nicaraguan website that the latest thinking is that this was a place where trainee masons practised their craft – certainly many of the motifs are repeated several times and there are smaller collections in other regions.
Next morning we were up before 5am to milk the cows! Yesenia and Maria came with us to a small, family run finca nearby. What a lovely experience! Around 40 cows waited in the compound, their calves were held behind a gate in the corner. Each of the 7 or 8 workers had a one legged stool tied to his seat and this is what happened. A calf was released to find it’s mother and began to suckle, meanwhile the cow’s hind legs were loosely tied together. The calf was gently removed and tied to it’s mother’s front leg. The cow was milked, the calf released and the leg restraint removed. The skill of the workers meant there was always milk left for the calf. Meanwhile the large black bull wandered peacefully amongst his family.

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We held out our cups and drank milk straight from the udder (mixed with a Nicaraguan chocolate powder!). The was plenty of milk for the dogs and cats too!

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    Once milking was finished we all sat down to an excellent, typical Nicaraguan breakfast of eggs, cheese, rice and beans plus tortillas. It was all washed down with black coffee – no milk was offered! After a tour of the finca – pigs, free range chickens, vegetables and a small pineapple plantation – we were all given a pineapple to take home!
  • This was the highlight of an excursion which also included visits to an organic plant nursery and a small cheese factory where high standards of hygiene were maintained.

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