It was a happy mistake.
I bought my plane tickets to come to Nicaragua for my annual school supplies and repair trip a month later than usual this year, due to an unusually busy early spring.
What I didn’t realize when I got here was that the second week of my stay wasn’t going to be productive at all.
It’s Holy Week, or Semana Santa, in Nicaragua, and in this mostly Catholic country (there are 16 giant centuries-old churches in this city alone), that brings everything to a complete halt.
Businesses are closed. School is out. Hotels are booked up. Everyone with means is headed for the beach.
I’ve never before been aware of Holy Week. My parents are sufficiently religious that it wasn’t a lack of faith around the place that led to my ignorance of the observance.
It’s just that I, like many Americans, don’t really notice its passage unless involved with an observant church.
Even then, it’s a thing for after work and on the weekend.
Here, even if you do choose to go to work during Holy Week, chances are you will be late.
I was in the car last Friday, winding through the narrow cobblestone streets of León when the driver, my young ex-pat friend Nick, suddenly huffed impatiently and geared down. Ahead a line of cars sat silently, very atypical of a traffic jam in the city, which is usually brazen with horns in mere seconds.
“Procesión,” pronounced Nick. Ahead, just past the cars, I could see a small group of people walking slowly down the street, crosses and a figurine, presumably of Mary, nodding overhead.
It turns out Holy Week isn’t even a week here. It starts a good 10 days out with the Friday of Sorrows, and the procession that night was to honor Mary for her grief.
Ever since then, every day I’ve been here has been marked with processions, some sepulchral, some less serious, and a couple featuring giant puppets that are positively Mardi Gras-spirited.
Up in the mountain city of Granada Sunday, I saw an enormous parade of people leaving a huge basilica carrying fresh palm branches, one of the perks of being a believer in a tropical nation. I’d never seen Palm Sunday observed so literally before, or, frankly, at all.
Earlier tonight there were small bombs.
That’s another way Nicaraguans celebrate religious holidays. I’m not sure what the efficacy of bombs is in producing atmospheres of sanctity, but people here are devoted to the practice.
For me, Nicaragua doesn’t need bombs to induce a proper sense of reflection on the meaning of life.
It has earthquakes.
Three times this week, the last not three hours ago, I’ve sat through earthquakes. The first, on Thursday, was a 6.4. It was only the second earthquake I’d felt in my life and, unlike the Nisqually Quake of 2011, this violently rattled the whole ancient city. It felt as if I was standing in a pan while my dad made popcorn in it. Friday, as I worked on the paper in a little internet cafe downtown, the floor started shaking again, then began a strong rolling ripple that seemed endless. That one was a 6.6.
Tonight there was a rattling in the floor, and then a short, sharp shock, as if something had jerked the ground. The ground then rolled a while before settling.
If that doesn’t give one pause for reflection on one’s eternal destiny, I don’t know how many bombs, services and precessions possibly could.
Nicaragua is truly a great place to experience Holy Week.