My Nicaragua

The bay of San Juan del Sur
Sunset on the bay of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. (Richard Leonardi - Tours Nicaragua)
By Sandy M. Fernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 29, 2005

Maybe it was the too-quickly setting sun.

Or the unusual, almost hushed silence that surrounded us as we hurried down the narrow forest trail, trying to make the half-hour trek back to the hotel grounds before dusk turned into complete darkness.

Or the strange, guttural hoots that echoed around my boyfriend, Rob, and me, then faded away.

But clambering past thick-trunked trees and plant leaves as broad as coffee tables, I couldn't keep it out of my head that, 20 years ago, these mountains had been filled with guerrillas.

Rob and I were in Nicaragua, where I grew up until my parents, in 1979, sent me north to the United States to escape the civil war. At the time I left, sunset signaled curfew -- going outside, where the National Guard and the leftist Sandinistas were shooting it out, was too dangerous. And among the most troubled regions of the country was the mountainous central district of Jinotega, where Rob and I now found ourselves scrambling through a patch of cloud forest 26 years later, climbing over gnarled roots, balancing on wooden planks spanning creek beds.

Feeling, all the while, as if we were being watched.

"Maybe I should find a stick," Rob said nervously, as we came down a small rise and into a clearing. Overhead, a branch snapped, and we looked up.

About 20 feet above us were six or seven sets of dark eyes.

It was a troupe, all right. And yes, they looked a little miffed.

Howler monkeys, hanging onto swaying branches and checking us out.

My Nicaragua, 26 years later.

Slow Road Back

When most Americans think about Nicaragua, they tend to remember it as it first entered their consciousness in the late 1970s -- as TV news footage of a bloody civil war. The conflict ended with the Sandinistas' 1979 overthrow of the Somoza family's corrupt, four-decades-long regime. Then came the 12 or so years of postwar fighting as the American-backed contra rebels -- with the help of a U.S. embargo -- tried to push the Sandinista Front of National Liberation out of power.

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