Esteli is a large, busy city with a population of over 100,000. It’s in the North East highlands, so cooler than the places we’ve been visiting, but still warm and sunny during the day. It’s on the Pan-American highway which is said to be the world’s longest road, running the length of North, Central and South America with a short break, the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia.
There was heavy fighting in Esteli during the civil war in the 1970s. Although a lot of rebuilding has taken place some buildings retain bullet holes from those times.
The old street pattern has been retained along with lots of the traditional old buildings but modern development is also taking place.
The shopping opportunities are endless! The traditional shops are small and carry a specific range of goods. Notable are the ones selling leather goods including saddles, belts, bridles and high quality cowboy boots, off the peg or made to measure.
But change is happening! Esteli now has a branch of Colonia, the Waitrose of Nicaragua. Very convenient and carrying a wide range of goods, the prices may deter some customers but, just like everywhere else, the arrival of supermarkets threatens the future of the small, local shops.
A wide range of clothing is available. ‘America fashion’ means second hand clothes imported from North America. These are available in big bales from wholesale outlets. Retail outlets range from smart boutique style shops to something more resembling a jumble sale. So Nicaraguan shoppers provide an important outlet for the excess of, so called, more developed societies. It occurs to me that the disappearance of this trade would greatly reduce the range of styles available – the chances of appearing in identical outfits at events is almost non-existent.
When we were here a year ago the Parque Central was boarded off, undergoing renovation. Now it’s reopened as a colourful playground, packed at the weekend. It makes you wonder where all these children went in the past!
The cigar trade is very important here. Tobacco is an important crop and is also imported from at least as far away as Equador. We visited a cigar factory where the working conditions seemed okay although the hours are long. That’s possibly because there are frequent visits from cigar buyers from all over the world. The situation for people who work in the fields and drying sheds looks very different! The cigars and boxes are all handmade, with great skill on the premises.
There a lots of murals in Esteli, we particularly liked this mosaic.