From Costa rica, the next stop on the central American odyssey was Nicaragua, and the first stop was the beautiful and historic town of Granada. Granada was previously settled by the indigenous people of the area, but the 1500s the conquistadors had arrived and Granada was founded in 1524 - making it the oldest Spanish town in central America. It has survived many invasions (mainly from Caribbean pirates - a real menace in 16th century Nicaragua) and is now a lovely lakeside town with stunning views of the nearby volcanoes.
After looking around the town a bit, I went to see the Museo San Francisco, which covered a lot of Nicaraguan history. It also had an exhibition of 'naive' or folk art. Many of the scenes were peaceful, scenes of farmland, orchards, and lush flowering forests that seem to take over human settlements, but others were about wartime - revolutions, battles.
Nicaragua has had some tumultuous times which included a regime that I was told was quite draconian (even traditional weaving was banned!?). A successful revolution followed this, followed by contra wars, and so on. Luckily now peace and democracy reign across Nicaragua (and weaving is now a totally legitimate activity).
I bought some Nicaraguan weaving while I was there. Nicaragua has a very artistic streak - they also revere poetry, and host an international poetry festival every year.
In Monteverde I visited an orchid farm to see some local varieties, one of the orchids was a native to Costa rica and the smallest orchid in the world. NZ has the second smallest orchid (I managed to see it once). As some of you will know, I have been a card holding member of the NZ Native Orchid Society, so I was happy to see some more!
I also got some photos of tropical butterflies. My favourites are the large metallic blue butterflies that glide through the rainforest. They aren't too hard to see in the forest, but they are not the easiest to photograph! They open and close their wings pretty rapidly, so I had to take a lot of photos before I was able to see the blue wings, but I got there in the end!
From San Jose, Paul and I went up to Monteverde, about 5 hours north. It's higher up and a bit cooler, which is nice for a tropical climate! The cloud forest lived up to its name, it was very damp and cloudy, but that was very atmospheric as well. It was a bit too rainy to see many birds or animals, but we did see a few pretty ones. My favourite plant was a white orchid that smelt AMAZING!
Back in San Jose, we went to some of the museums. These were the national Museum and the Museo de Jade, which has a lot of pre Columbian history. It was interesting to find out about Costa rican indigenous cultures, and see art works that are up to thousands of years old. Shamanism was an important part of their cultures, and they believed that Shamans could take the form of animals, and go on quests to assist the spirits of the dead on their journey to other worlds.
The first museum Paul and I went to see was the national Museum. The first series of exhibits were of pottery, stone sculptures and jade carvings.
The national museum also had an exhibit on gold artifacts, this included jewelry, but also ceremonial objects used in shamanic rites.
A lot of the gold artifacts made by indigenous people in pre-Columbian times was taken by the Spanish, so its good to see the artifacts that escaped the conquistadors!
After the National Museum, we went over to the Jade Museum. It had been hard to find at first, as it had been relocated, and it seems very modern and fancy, with interactive exhibits. This provided an even more detailed glimpse into the lives of indigenous Costa rican people.