Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Museum Day Leon, Nicaragua, Thursday, 02 January 2014 10:00pm

The city has started opening up after the New Year's holiday (though a lot of restaurants seem to still be closed). I ended up spending most of the morning at the Centro de Arte Fundación Fundacion Ortiz - Gurdián, which houses several collections that focus on Central American art, particularly contemporary art. (I was their first visitor of the year!) There's some art from the colonial period, but apart from a few pieces (an elaborate golden pachamama image from the Cuzco school and a Mexican piece with a striking gold and black striped dress), it was more interesting historically than aesthetically.

I really enjoyed the contemporary collections. The foundation is active in organizing the Nicaraguan Art Biennial, and has a lot of the winning pieces from over the years. In addition to painting and sculpture, there were a lot of video pieces, and some interesting mixed media. There was also an interactive piece by Patricia Belli that used three pendulums and a pen to create spirograph-like images. You could manipulate what was being drawn by pushing on the pendulums.

After lunch, I headed over to the Museo Entomológico de León, where I got to look at a lot of interesting insects and heard a lot about the canal.

There's a plan in the works to build a canal through Nicaragua. Most people seem to think it will go through Lake Nicaragua. It seems to be financed by Chinese business interests, and to be proceeding alarmingly rapidly through the planning process. One of the entomologists, Jean-Michel, has been active in the attempt to do a biological survey of the areas likely to be affected by the canal. Not an impact study, just a survey to see what's even there. In theory the biological study might have some influence over where (but not if) the canal will be built, but given that the government rammed the legislation for the canal through the legislature before it could even really be read and it includes a bunch of sketchy features (It was in English, in a country where all laws are required to be in Spanish! It gives the canal corporation the right to buy any land in Nicaragua at the lesser of its market value or the value at which it was last assessed for taxes! It declares that it is on the same legal level as the national constitution!), who knows. Apparently the developers have been doing surveying work with Army units as "translators".

It sounds like the survey suggests that the canal won't necessarily be a complete disaster for biodiversity on land... mainly because many of the regions affected have already been devastated by Nicaragua's expansion since the end of the civil war. But if the route goes through Lake Nicaragua, it will surely be a disaster for that ecosystem (including the unusual lake sharks), and will probably severely impact both drinking water and ecotourism. It's not even clear that it would be easier to use the lake, because it's not deep enough in most places for container ships and excavating a muddy lakebed poses its own problems.