Was the refrain I heard over and over, from the moment we stepped into the local market in Managua. The kindly grinning vendor, garbed in the traditional Nica outfit, and not at all overwhelmed by the large basket balanced ever so delicately on her head, was sure she could help me. It was our second trip to the Roberto Huembes market and to say it dwarfs the Masaya market is an understatement. While I was really just looking (my common refrain), I couldn't help but be charmed by her insistance, even if I was well-stocked on cacao or rosquillas.
We investigated the Huembes market for the first time two weeks ago when we had a borrowed car and a need to escape our home. Our house is large and beautiful, but isolated and we are still adjusting to not having a wealth of neighbors or kids simply running around all hours of the day. We packed ourselves up and as Cait was busy snoozing, as teenagers are wont to do on weekends, we took our empleada instead.
I'd love to give directions to the market, but if you know Managua, you know that's a bit difficult. I'd say it's 20 minutes from our house, not in the direction of Masaya and that's about as close as I can get. The market itself stumbles around a large area of Managua and is not confined to one building. We had little trouble finding the turn for parking, but then did not know what the guard-like person was selling in the middle of the road when we turned in. Parking passes? Lottery tickets? We opted out and attempted parking in the first lot to the left. The spots just seemed odd, so we backed out, went back out to the left and found a larger, more spacious lot with lined spaces. After parking and declining the ever-popular car wash offer from the lot guards, we headed into the market.
The outer shops reminded me of Masaya. Cookies and other sugary treats were proffered constantly. Stopping to look or even check one's watch will have several people offering samples or pointing out the goods they have to offer. We had nothing in mind on the first trip, other than allowing our empleada to give us a brief tour. It was more intense and packed than we expected and this surprised the kids. They were a bit overwhelmed, and we ended up limiting our purchases to thread and doughnuts (well, at first glance they looked similar).
The thread was a happy surprise. Very inexpensive and a wide variety of colors. The "doughnuts" were actually a type of cookie that seemed to taste like corn. A bit crunchier and not as sweet as we expected, but now we can say that we've tried them. I've done a bit of searching, and if I've found the right recipe, they are called rosquillas and are a sort of doughnut-shaped cornbread cookie.
We left not long after the doughnut discovery, but ended up back at the market only a week later. The office in which I now work had thoughtfully created a city tour and several of us opted for the excursion that would give us an overview of some of the more historic areas. Many of the areas covered were on my previous trip, however, Peter had not had a chance to see any of the sights and the tour guide was able to offer interesting historical tidbits.
We began in the original downtown that has never really recovered from the earthquake in 1972. We were not able to visit the cathedral or see the eternal flame, as there was a rather large event taking place. However, we did get a chance to enter the waterfront park that we opted out of during our first tour a month prior, Puerto Salvador Allende.
It seems to be touted as sort of a boardwalk style entertainment area. There are several restaurants and had a festival with local dancers on the day we visited. While it was very different from the other areas of downtown Managua, there didn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of actual activities. There was an extremely clean and bright playground (actually, most play areas are very colorful), however, there was no shade and even past noon, the sun was shining brilliantly. We are not even to the really hot season, and we could not imagine staying there longer than half an hour or so. There was a walk out to the lake, but the fence surrounding it was a bit obstructive of the view and of course, there would not be any water activities due to the pollution.
After 30 minutes there, we were sufficiently sweaty and packed back into the air-conditioned bus. We continued through the city and even returned to Lome de Tiscapa. It was gorgeous, as usual, if not a wee bit warm. The final leg of the trip had us revisit the Huembes market. I was a bit weary after the long ride, and had nodded off several times on the bus, but figured I needed to give the market a go in case I missed something the first time. Did I ever...
Turn a corner and tables are magically filled with everything from potatoes to ginger, and corn to spices and flowers and....Vegetables seemed so ripe and recently picked, unlike much of what you find in the stores, and the selection was far larger than I had seen at any fruit stand. No idea if anything was remotely organic, but at least it looked fresh and had to be straight from the farm. To say it was a coup to find this place would be an understatement. The bag of tomatoes ran me 80 cents and the ginger...maybe 20 cents?
I can't say it's easy to find on one's own if you are only in town for a bit, but if you have a few days to explore or live here for any length of time, the market is worth a visit. If not for the fresh produce, perhaps for the local outfits (the children's traditional clothing is so bright and happy), then perhaps for a small wooden toy or other locally made treat. Be cautious with your belongings, but enjoy, as it is definitely a shopper's paradise for local goods.