To honor Nicaragua’s mes de patria, a month-long celebration of national history, independence, culture, and pride, I thought I’d suggest a few gift and/or donation ideas. These are products either made in Nicaragua or spawned by someone’s travels there. Consider buying one of these for your Nicaphile friends, whether they are 100% Nicoyas or gringo wannabe-pinoleros (like me).
NOTE: This is an incomplete list! Please add your suggestions for Nica-themed gifts in the comments section below – gracias!
Bueno. Start with a copy of the latest edition of Moon Nicaragua. I wrote the first four editions of this Moon guide with my coauthor, Randy Wood, after the two of us had served in the Peace Corps there. The 5th edition was penned by Amber Dobrzensky and is useful both for traveling in the country or just reminding yourself of good times there. It breaks down the country by region, explaining the importance of each departemento, city, and pueblo; it lists bus schedules and hotel prices; it teaches you how to point with your lips and say fun words for “diarrhea.”
To keep the gallo pinto cooking, pair your travel guide with a cookbook: Nicaraguan Cooking: My Grandmother’s Recipes, an English language book by Trudy Espinoza-Abrams who grew up in Granada.
Next, how bout some handcrafted, travel-inspired, leather footwear? If the recipient of this gift is living in a wet climate, it’s definitely worth looking into protecting leather shoes for the rain so that this special gift isn’t ruined! Waltzing Matilda’s NICA Sandal, a simple but strong, thong-style sandal, is available with either a “veg leather” or Birkenstock sole. At $148 when converted from Swedish krona, it’s a bit of a luxury item, especially considering that rubber Nica shower chinelas go for about $2 at the nearest pulpería, but this is actually a damn sturdy sandal which should last quite a few years. The sandal’s origin myth dates back to Waltzing Matilda owner Mike Balitsaris’s surf trip to Nicaragua a few years back, when he and his crew were caught in a torrential rain storm and he lost his shoes in a rising river.
“Without a spare set of shoes,” Mike says, he improvised a pair of sandals “from an extra travel bag.” The NICA now for sale is “very similar aesthetically to the original design.” Made by hand in Maine with Horween leather.
Staying on the high end, you can shop for quality, original Nicaraguan ceramics at NICA Ceramic Art, “born out of the Peace Corps experience of founder Paul H. Devoti in the indigenous pottery pueblo of San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua. The mission of NICA Ceramic Art is to expose the world to the ceramic art work of the master artisans of the pueblo as well as the Nicoyan Indian heritage behind their craft.” Collections include contemporary, pre-Columbian, ecological, and geometric designs.
Shop for original Nicaraguan art in the form of posters, notecards, business cards, paintings, and crafts at the Nicaraguan Cultural Alliance website. (Fifty percent of your purchase is tax-deductible and all of your money goes to support the wonderful artists of Nicaragua.)
Feeling generous? Sponsor a child in Nicaragua to assist with the basic costs of attending school. You can do it in someone’s name as a gift, or just do it. Here are the donor levels, from the Empowerment International website: $30 per month will cover material costs for school (books, uniforms, shoes and socks), tutoring, home visits and monitoring, secondary school tuition, medicine, tutoring if needed, access to the education and resource center, and activities such as photography, biking, soccer, dancing and baseball. $50 per month will cover the items above plus help the college bound student attend a college preparatory school or technical school. $110 per month will cover tuition and stipend for an EI secondary school graduate attend the university.
OR you can help out the children in the Empowerment International program another way: by purchasing their incredible photography on SmugMug! These are also fantastic gifts: beautiful images taken by Nicaraguan youths, images of Nicaraguan children, cities, details, and landscapes, which you can order as various sized prints or even a large canvas.