A sunrise I have a lasting impression of

12 07 2013

I have enjoyed catching the sunrise ever since I watch my first, one that was over the South China Sea from Kemaman along the East Coast of Malaysia, back in the early 1970s. It was across that same sea – and the ocean beyond it, that I was to catch on of which I also have a lasting impression of – a rather spectacular one in a faraway place I would prior to that, never dreamt of going to. That sunrise was one which greeted my arrival, one January morning in 1985, into the port of Corinto on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua – the gorgeously colours of the lightening sky revealing the volcanic silhouettes tracing the part of the Ring of Fire that runs along the west coast of the country on the isthmus which connects the two large American continents with the Volcán San Cristóbal, which at 1745 metres, is the highest volcano in Nicaragua, standing out.

Sunrise over the Volcán San Cristóbal as seen from the Pacific Ocean, December 1984

Sunrise over the Volcán San Cristóbal as seen from the Pacific Ocean, December 1984

The country was then still fresh from a revolution which freed it from the U.S. supported Samoza regime – the bullet holes that riddled the walls of many of its towns and village, decorated by the symbols of revolution, did seem like they had been made only yesterday. The country was brought to the brink by the effects of a stranglehold placed by the United States which cut-off access to finance as well as to a market where the bulk of the country’s produce were traditionally exported to. What did give hope was that not all in the free world did go along with the actions of the U.S. government – their European allies refusal to participate in the sanctions was to provide the hope which the sunrise was to perhaps symbolise.

Advertisements




The New Year

1 01 2010

The new year is usually brought in with a bang wherever we are – often in a boisterous and drunken celebration. My first New Year’s Day out of Singapore was spent on halfway around the world in a quiet little seaside hamlet on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur. Then Nicaragua was in revolutionary fervour – the communist Sandinista having ousted the American backed Samoza regime some 5 years before, with an economy in tatters with a US economic embargo in force. Still there was time for a simple celebration – a parade of the village’s young beating makeshift drums and cymbals of pots and pans through the main street of the village at the stroke of midnight. It was a celebration of gratitude and hope – gratitude for the peace that the passing year had brought and hope for a better year ahead.

Having spent two New Year’s Day in Scotland where the passing of the year is celebrated as Hogmanay, a celebration that starts on New Year’s eve and doesn’t end until the next day, accompanied by a generous amount of Aqua Vitae from the numerous distilleries that the Scots have gifted us, and the heartfelt renditions of another gift from the Scots – the Auld Lang Syne, I see why it isn’t hard for the Scots to celebrate the New Year with as much passion as only the Scots know how to.

Somehow, I prefer a quieter and sober celebration amongst family and friends as those I used to have, where we would reflect on the year that is passing and express our hope for the year to come … There was a time I would spend it with friends over at a friend’s home in Chestnut Drive, in the days where the Upper Bukit Timah Road and the Bukit Panjang areas were as though of a being remote for the city dwellers. The Standard Chartered Bank building at the end of Hillview Avenue would serve as a landmark for us to identify the bus stop to alight at … and once we were down we would have to take a dreaded walk past a cemetery to my friend’s house …. the bringing in of the New Year would always start with supper, and when the time approached, we would gather in a circle holding hands with our arms crossed as we counted down, and on the stroke of midnight, Auld Lang Syne was sung at the top of our voices …

New Year in Petaling Jaya, 2010





Como Tu

31 05 2009

Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los dias de enero.

También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.

Creo que el mundo es bello
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.

Y que mis venas no terminan en mi
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

– Roque Dalton

Written by Roque Dalton a revolutionary poet from El Salvador, “Como Tu’ was printed on a New Year’s greeting card that I received in Nicaragua. I felt then that it captured the mood perfectly of the “days of January” in San Juan del Sur. A rough translation of the poem …

I, like you,
love Love, Life, the sweet enchantment
of things, the celestial (sky blue) landscape of the days of January.

Also my blood boils up,
laughing through my eyes
which have known the budding of tears.

I believe the world is beautiful,
that poetry is, like bread, for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
love,
things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.





Corinto

9 05 2009

Corinto was the port of call on my second and subsequent visits to Nicaragua. The main port in Nicaragua, Corinto was the main entry point for imports. What was evident was the absence of trade of any kind, thanks to the US led embargo. Corinto was much larger and much less personal and friendly than San Juan del Sur. The only thing notable was the nice white beach, protected from the Pacific by a man made breakwater. I spent many a time both on the beach, and in the water, looking across the expense of the Pacific, pondering over how far I was from home.

Corinto Beach, 1985

Corinto Beach, 1985

Sunrise over Corinto, 1985

Sunrise over Corinto, 1985

Volcán San Cristóbal

Volcán San Cristóbal





Rivas, Nicaragua

9 05 2009

Early one Sunday morning, two others and myself decided to venture inland to Rivas, although technically, our movement within Nicaragua was restricted to San Juan del Sur. Catching a rickety bus, complete with the paraphernalia of live chickens and farm produce being transported to the market in Rivas. Crawling up through the rolling hills which up to then, only made an impression as the back drop to the inland view of San Juan del Sur from the bay.  A magnificent sight greeted the approach to the part of the road which ran along Lake Nicaragua – that of the two volcanoes of Ometepe Island rising in the lake, a large freshwater body, which was home to a few active volcanoes and what was once thought to be a freshwater species of sharks.  The sharks were found to be bull sharks that could cross the rapids of San Juan river in making their way from the Caribbean.

Located within reach of Lake Nicaragua, Rivas struck me as a large market town. An old Spanish colonial church dominated the town. A large dusty clearing served as the bus station as well as a meeting point of sorts. I don’t quite remember where the makeshift bull ring was in relation to the bus station, but make it there we did. A large crowd had gathered in the stands surrounding the bull ring for the weekly event. Touted as a bull fight, it seem more of a rodeo, than my impressions of bullfights influenced by what I had seen and read of the colourful mainstream version of the land of the Conquistadors. The highlight of the event, was the rodeo like riding of bulls, amidst the loud cheers of the spectators, punctured by the youthful shouts of “Enchiladas” , “Bebidas” and I can’t really remember what else. We stayed until the evening, absorbing the carnival like atmosphere, which seemed so surreal in the midst of the dire situation that the country was in.

The Clearing that served as the Bus Station, Rivas, 23 Dec 1984.

The Clearing that served as the Bus Station, Rivas, 23 Dec 1984.

Iglesia Parroquial de Rivas.

Iglesia Parroquial de Rivas.





San Juan del Sur

9 05 2009

There is an idyllic bay in some far flung corner of the world I spent some three weeks at, which had some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Clear blue waters and a wide sandy beach lined with wooden beach side cafes, San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua seemed like paradise, particularly with the exchange rate on got on the black market for the US Dollar which was controlled by a leftist leaning government that came to power on the back of a bloody revolution fueled by a intense resentment excesses of the US supported dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza (Jr). As a result, the locally brewed Cerveza Victoria cost something like 10 cents a bottle, a bottle of the local rum went for something that translated to maybe $2, and a plate of Langostino grilled to perfection and served with a generous serving of plantain prepared as we would french fries, and fresh salad, cost maybe $1.50.

Las Lugos Restaurant Receipt, Dec 1984.

Las Lugos Restaurant Receipt, Dec 1984.

Evidence of the Revolution was everywhere … the uniformed soldiers, the murals of the revolutionary figurehead, an Augusto César Sandino, who had led an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Somoza’s father, the senior Anastasio Somoza in the early 20th century, and the black and red flags of the FSLN, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation, named after Sandino, and numerous walls scarred with bullet holes.

The Beach, San Juan del Sur

The Beach, San Juan del Sur

The hardship caused by the economic sanctions imposed by the Ronald Reagan led Presidency was also very evident. Even basic neccessities such as soap and toothpaste was in short supply. Shelves of the few shops I found would seem like how Mother Hubbard’s  cupboard would have appeared to her poor dog. What made up for the dire situation the people were in was the warmth they exhibited. Somehow, admidst the hardship and poverty, there was also hope for a brighter future promised by the Revolution. Also, for the first time, I witnessed how, with so little in life (from a material standpoint), people were happier – thankful for the little that they have. The local beverage, referred to as Refresco, made from pureed melons, sweetened and served with ice, was a nice discovery I made, particularly refreshing in the muggy climes of the tropics.

Sunset over the Bay, San Juan del Sur

Sunset over the Bay, San Juan del Sur, 22 Dec 1984

Sunset over the Bay, San Juan del Sur, Christmas 1984

Sunset over the Bay, San Juan del Sur, 5 Jan 1985