We awoke late in Juigalpa and started the day slowly, still exhausted from a long day of travel. After a breakfast of beans and rice with salty cheese, eggs and picante sauce (the same breakfast we’d had every day in Nicaragua), we decided to venture out into the city and see if it was more inviting than the previous evening. We needed to arrange our onward travel to San Carlos, gateway to the magical Rio San Juan, but first a walk around town.
Juigalpa is a prosperous agricultural centre, famous in Nicaragua for cattle ranching and cowboys. While you still see people wearing stetsons, the horse seems to be giving way to large 4×4 Toyotas – in fact I saw more cars in Juigalpa than anywhere else in Nicaragua. The central plaza was abuzz with activity – street stalls selling clothes, shoes and food, school children by the dozen and people passing the time-of-day.
Juigalpa lays claim to an odd looking cathedral, which feels like it is part barn and part 1970s architectural experiment, and to a locally famous statue of a shoe shine boy in homage to all those who do physical labour.
One thing is certain, Juigalpa doesn’t see many gringoes. Our guidebook claimed this makes it ‘authentic’, whatever that means; in reality this translates as people staring at you as you walk down the street as if you had two heads. Not that people are unfriendly, just that you feel like you might be part of a freak show without knowing it.
Talking of two heads and freak shows, the one thing to do in Juigalpa is visit the museum. Our guidebook stated that it had an important collection of pre-Columbian petroglyphs and stelae. It has a great collection of pre-Columbian petroglyphs and stelae but, unbelievably, what the guidebook failed to mention was that it also contains some of the most bizarre genetic specimens I have ever seen – and I’ve been to Gunter Von Hagen’s Body Worlds exhibition.
There are two headed cows, cows with six legs, a cow with one eye in the centre of its head (this is cattle country) and a mutated human fetus. Nestling amongst all this weirdness is the rest of the collection, which includes rusting typewriters, clocks, cash registers, paintings of the locally famous and a wide selection of pre-Hispanic stone tools.
Look away now if you are squeamish…
It is the strangest museum I’ve ever visited, and possibly the strangest museum on planet earth. That said, it really does have an excellent selection of pre-Columbian petroglyphs and stelae, although whether that makes Juigalpa worth a special visit is debatable.