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Isla Mancarrón

Mancarrón is the largest, most populated island, and also the one where Ernesto Cardenal established the original community. As you reach the main pier, you can already catch sight of the whitewashed church where the Padre’s famous masses were celebrated. The original building was partly destroyed in 1977, but subsequently rebuilt, and the islanders keep on taking good care of it. Inside, simple paintings of birds, boats and flowers adorn the walls lined with bold blue paint.

Nowadays, mass is said when the islanders can get a Catholic priest to come all the way to the islands, which only happens every couple of months (prompting some to turn to Protestantism). Ernesto Cardenal himself has not celebrated any ritual ever since the Pope forbade him to do so in 1982; when he does visit the island, staying in his house up behind the library a few times a year, he sits down for poetry sessions with the youth.

Between the church and the pier are red, blue and yellow swings and slides for the children. A short walk uphill, eastwards, leads you to the local library. Its shelves are jammed full with the works of Ernesto Cardenal (of course), lots of revolutionary literature and some general reference books for first- and secondary-school children. It is also the only place on the island that offers Internet, thanks to a generator and router, to which you can connect your laptop. The building opposite, still undergoing work at the time of writing, is due to open in December of 2009 as an archeological museum, showcasing ceramics, reproductions of petroglyphs and other artifacts by the pre-Columbian islanders.

Doña Esperanza Guevara, who lives just up from the library, is the president of the APDS (Association for the development of Solentiname, founded by Padre Cardenal) and an excellent source of stories about the days of the community. Going back down the hill, you can swim by the pier, where the water is pleasantly deep, if you don’t mind sharing your bathing area with turtles and cormorants, or perhaps see a pure-white ibis glide overhead. Heading up the hill in the other direction, westwards, past the football field, is El Refugio, the only official village in the archipelago. People here get few visits and will greet you from the comfort of their hammocks, or beckon you into their crafts shops – usually just a room in their house marked by a “se vende artesanía” sign.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Islas Solentiname: Isla San Fernando,

By Andrea Davoust
After more than two years of working and living out of a suitcase in Eastern Europe and in various improbable African countries that no-one has ever...
08 Dec 2009

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