At the end of May we took a 4-day field trip to the northern part of Nicaragua, specifically the towns of Esteli and Matagalpa.  We focused our time in Esteli on learning more about the Contra war, and visiting a women’s paper-making cooperative.  Many parts of the war to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s and the Contra War in the 1980s, (supported by the US against the Sandinista government), were in the hills around Esteli and Matagalpa.  Many young men and women joined the fight, some supporting the FSLN (Sandinistas) and some supporting the Contras.  Many of these soldiers died in the fighting.  A group of mothers decided to find a way to remember them and keep their stories alive by founding La Galeria de Heroes y Martires (The Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs).  A mother of one of the sons that was killed shared her personal story with us, which included her learning that her son had been killed, deciding to join the army herself, leaving her three daughters with her sister, and seeing many awful, awful things that were hard for us to hear and think about.  The students had read a lot about the wars and conflicts in Nicaragua’s history, but this helped make the war more real and personal.  We spent a little bit of time looking around the museum, seeing pictures of those who had died, and other articles and memorabilia about the war.

After lunch we traveled to Mujeres Ambientalistas, a women’s papermaking coop on the edge of town.  The woman of the coop spent two years cleaning up a garbage dump, saving organic materials that they could use to make paper, recycling some, and selling what they could.   Their buildings now sit on the site of this former dump.  Now they are a small coop making paper from banana leaves, recycled paper, vegetables, and other natural materials.  We learned the process of making paper, which includes mixing, screening, pressing and drying.  During the dry season, paper can dry in several hours.  During the rainy season, it can take several weeks.  Several students tried their hand at making their own screen of paper.  Our bus driver also gave it a try, but I think he decided to stick to driving.  Unfortunately, there is not much market for their products in Nicaragua, so most of their sales are to visitors like us.  Students enjoyed purchasing a variety of bookmarks, cards and journals.

Our brief stop at La Casita, a café and garden, was mostly rained out, so instead of exploring the grounds we enjoyed coffee, hot chocolate, and wonderful breads, jams and cheese at covered tables amidst the beautiful plants and small stream.

We took over Hotel Luna for a night with our large group.  Soon after we checked in the electricity went out.  We ate dinner at a restaurant by candlelight and returned to the hotel for an evening of talking, journaling and relaxing by candlelight.  The lights finally came on just in time for all of us to go to bed, ready for a good night’s sleep in anticipation of our next day’s travels to Matagalpa.