Nicaragua is about as guácala as it gets.
The Sandinista revolution of the 70s, the Contra revolution of the 80s, the Managua earthquake in the 70s, Hurricane Mitch in the 90s all did their respective numbers on the country, leaving it in ruins. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (Haiti will remain stably ensconced in position #1 unless Wyclef suddenly gives up on shitforbrains notions of presidency and gets on with sending substantial aid), which means that once something is broke, it can take a while to get fixed.
Managua is particularly guácala. The entire earthquake-riven downtown is still a wasteland almost forty years on. Only the cracked shell of the cathedral, for example, is still standing. Some lonely and battered statues survived and remain to haunt the wreck, waiting for someone to come along and clean up the mess.
Grumbling about the country on the guácala old school buses, I watched countless abandoned or never-completed buildings pass me by. They stand in the long grass, impertinent trees heaving the floors up and the roofs down. No fences and no locks; just crumble and decay. They would make very easy sites to poke about in, if only there was time. Private transport may be the key to serious investigations of the Guácala.
There are plenty of guácala historical sites scattered throughout the country too. Most of these have some connection to the Somoza regime. On the Loma de Tiscapa overlooking Managua is the former palace of the Somozas. Almost nothing remains of it now, but some of the cells used to ‘hold’ political prisoners are still intact, in a ruinous sort of way.
Outside of Masaya is another Somoza fortress now under the care of the Boys Scouts of Nicaragua. This probably more than anything else I regret not having a chance to explore, for the awkward contrast between the fallen tyrants and the helpful youths if nothing else.
And of course outside of León, through the municipal dump that lonely figures pick absently through, is El Fortín, another Somoza stronghold. It cannot be torn down – there is too much tragic history there. Nor is it the sort of place that many people want to invest any time (or anything else) in. The usual awkward existence of the historical ruin.
The best of Nicaragua, from a guácala perspective, turned out to be Granada. I had expected it to be all done up in fresh paint and straight edges by the growing expat population. This is true, to an extent, but there are still a lot of places with broken roofs, their doors and windows sealed up with rotting boards and barbed wire. Even the once-elegant market is a thicket of birds’ nests and broken shutters.
As the rejuvenation of Granada continues more and more of these places will disappear, but for now the city exists in a halfway state, the derelict old sites rubbing shoulders with the fresh coats of paint. Some buildings are stuck somewhere in the middle. This one had deranged parrots living under its broken eaves.
Easily the most impressive of Granada’s abandoned, decaying edifices is the Old Hospital. Located just outside of the centre, a lot of the buses into town pass by the site and then turn their backs on it. Despite its aloof size, this is by no means a lonely place. Teenagers hold arcane meetings in its labyrinthine rooms. Couples lose themselves in the broken courtyards. The back of the complex is being used for parking cars. The place has been abandoned for a long time. It has been thoroughly stripped and rather poorly graffitied. Still, the former grandeur of the place is evident. The stately entrance, the idle columns, the desolate chapel.
There is always something a little sad about these abandoned places. As much as I like mucking about in such messes, all this guácala is also just a heavy reminder of Nicaragua’s terrible twentieth century. It might be time for a counter-guácala insurgency.