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San Juan de Oriente

Population: 5,325 habitantes

Altitude: 500 meters

45 kilometers from Managua

San Juan de Oriente is a city so small that has no central square – or guesthouses or proper restaurant, for that matter. But, as the common expression goes, size can be deceiving, and the tiny city makes up for any deficiencies with an inordinately large number of pottery makers. The bright wares – wind chimes, vases, pots in animal shapes, decorative pieces – are as colorful and inexpensive as they are plentiful.

Locals celebrate their storied history of ceramics (and their ongoing love affair with the art form) in the shape of a giant vase mounted just up the street from the cream-colored Iglesia de San Juan.

A vast majority of workshops are clustered on the main entrance into the city, with the Cooperativa Quesacual being the most well-known, but venture further into San Juan de Oriente and you’ll discover that almost every home has their own display. Stop inside and ask if you can see the pottery production at work; the artists are usually willing to show off their techniques as they shape the wet clay and then fire it hard in their kilns. (Most of the area kilns were rebuilt after a crushing 2000 earthquake).

They might also tell you about how San Juan de Oriente’s history of pottery making traces back to before the Spanish conquest.

City officials have recently tried to unite the disparate workshops in a new Mercado Artesania (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., daily), which opened in 2008 at the edge of San Juan de Oriente. So far, the market seems to attract more goats than visitors, but the dozen small stands do sell souvenirs that are much more portable than the platter-sized wall hangings or three-foot pigs closer to the highway.

On your way back out, you can stop at San Juan de Oriente’s only attempt at a restaurant, the extremely limited Bar El Quelite (open from noon to 10 p.m.) where the owners can fix you a plate of chicken or beef, but where you might want to stick to soda and beer.


Other places nearby San Juan de Oriente: Diriamba, Nindirí, Masatepe, Catarina, Jinotepe, Casares, Diriomo, Masaya, San Marcos and La Boquita.

02 Jun 2009

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