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Nagarote is a tidy (literally, they’ve won awards for it) little town whose violent past is still a point of some pride.

In the 16th century, the Spanish were still sweeping through Nicaragua, subduing the natives and establishing trade routes to their newly formed capital LeĂłn (now LeĂłn Viejo). Upon arriving in Naragote, the new conquerors decided on the not-so-subtle gesture of hanging the local leader Cacique Nagrandano from a huge genĂ­zaro tree in the indigenous marketplace.

The Chorotega chief died, but the tree survived and, in 1964, was declared a national monument. El GenĂ­zaro is now estimated to be over 1,000 years old.

The tree is so well loved that, after a giant limb crashed down a decade ago, residents carved the wood into faces, bowls, signs and Nargrandano sculptures. The largest of these works, Indito de Naragote, was installed in a pavilion near the tree. You can find the other pieces scattered chaotically around the Casa Cultura y Sala Museo El Genízaro.(505-2-313-0991, open from 8 to noon and from 2 to 5 p.m., weekdays), which claims to be the country’s only wood museum.

Two more branches have fallen from El GenĂ­zaro in recent years, but the others were considered too rotted to carve and have been left in the park. After a millennium, you might find the massive trunk looking a bit worse for wear, but the resilient tree has already started sprouting thin green limbs to replace the ones that fell.

Located on the edge of town, Mirador La Concordia is another not-to-be-missed stop, especially now that the local government has opened the tower walkway to foreign visitors (but not, disturbingly, to Nicaraguans).

Visit during his working hours of (weekdays from 6 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m.; Satudays from 6 to 11 a.m.) and park manager Alvaro José Espinoza Perez (505-8-867-0374) will unlock the tower. A circular stairwell brings you to breathtaking views of Naragote and the distant volcanoes. Momotombo and Momotombito are particularly clear on the horizon. Mototaxis can take you up to the mirador and back for C$10. For a small additional fee, you can hire a mototaxi to take you on a tour around the city. Sights are sure to include the refurbished old train station, with a 1887 bell, and El Templo Parroquial Santiago, whose construction in the 1600s makes it one of the oldest churches in Nicaragua.

Your guide might also tell you about how Nagarote was named “Cleanest City in Nicaragua” for four years straight (they placed second in 2002) until the national government finally declared that the city to be exemplary and stopped awarding the title.

Naragote is one of two (the other being La Paz Centro) that has staked a claim as the birthplace of the quesillo, a corn tortilla filled with cheese, cream and onion chutney. There are small, white quesillo stands parked around the city. You can buy either the C$10 sensillo version, with a flat slice of cheese, or $13 trensas, with the cheese molded into a braid.

For an upscale version, and peek into how the cheese wraps are created, head to Quesillos Gourmet “Mi Finca,” (505-2-313-0431, open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.), located in a cement pavilion along the highway. Quesillos Gourmet (which has a logo strangely reminiscent of Quizno’s), processes their cheese right on the premises every morning. Ask for a tour if you’re there between 7 a.m. and noon.

Cheese not your thing? Grab lunch at the homey Comedor Nimia (Mains: C$35 to C$40; 505-2-313-2642; open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) or head to Bar-Comedor Larry (Mains: C$45 to C$150; 505-2-313-0354; Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight) for a larger meal. Locals say Comedor Larry serves up some of the best food around, but even if you’re not hungry the vine-shaded courtyard is a pleasant place to sip a cool drink.

Closer to the city center is where you’ll find Hotel Jerusalem, the city’s first and only guesthouse. The rusty car parts outside can be a little off-putting, but the hotel is actually spacious and clean, if a little stark. You have the choice of either a fan (single $16) or air conditioning (single $32), with prices increasing roughly US$5 for every additional person, up to four. The 10 rooms have wireless internet, cable TV and private bathrooms. Hotel Jerusalem (505-2-313-2318) accepts credit cards and, as a strange bonus, has a lavandaria (C$7 per pound) amid the junk outside.


Other places nearby Naragote: Chichigalpa, Miramar, Playa Jiquilillo, El Sauce, Las Penitas, Jiquilillo, El Viejo, Poneloya, Playa Aserradores and Puerto Sandino.

28 May 2009

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