JINOTEGA – The Oldies Bar seemed like a good bet to unwind with a beer and listen to some recognizable oldies music.
But in Jinotega, a cool respite hidden between mountaintops above which vultures circle like airborne sharks, the Oldies Bar doesn’t play oldies music. In fact, from what I could tell when I poked my head in one Saturday evening, they don’t play music at all.
Luckily, across the street is La Taverna, one of the most inviting bars in Nicaragua – in a place not known for its bar scene.
La Taverna has good prices and a cavernous atmosphere that seems to fit in with Jinotega’s wild-west feel.
I immediately straddled the saddle stool and ordered a cold Toña.
The bartender, Jariska Numbi, is a local rancher who says her family now makes more income selling shots of Flor de Caña Rum and cold bottles of Heineken than from the few heads of cattle they have left at the ranch. Her daughter helped bring the feel of the ranch to the bar by designing the place with cow hides, saddle barstools and exotic wood detail.
Not long after I walked in, the other bartender, Alvin Centeno, asked if I like “Los Bigi.” I nodded to be polite, without understanding, until I heard “Stayin’ Alive” blasting on the speakers. Eat your heart out, Oldies Bar.
Jinotega, the capital of Nicaragua’s biggest coffee-growing region, isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of nightlife in Nicaragua. But what’s said to be the highest city in Nicaragua is replete with nooks and crannies like La Taverna.
Jinotega is also developing a bit of a coffee- bar culture. For instance, Sopexxca, the coffee shop owned by the local coffee cooperative, offers a strong cappuccino for only 50 U.S. cents and a locally made ceramic coffee cup for $2. Coffee lovers are sure to enjoy the unique atmosphere of Jinotega. But be warned, you have to ask for milk in your coffee because in this high, hidden valley of the grano de oro, they like it black.
There’s also an international offering in the form of Jinocuba, the Cuban-owned dive bar with a broken juke box and the best lechon, or roasted pig, in the world.
I never got around to stepping into the Simpson’s Sport Bar, which has giant paintings of Homer and Bart Simpson out front and looks like an abandoned building. But I imagine it is about as charming as Moe’s Tavern.
The Jinotega bar scene is a far cry from the hip, Hollister-wearing Managua urbanite crowd. It’s full of dusty campesinos who look like they just fell down from the dry mountains like tumbling tumbleweeds. Dug out of the dirt like Jinotegan pre-Columbian ceramics. And everyone has a war story to tell.
As rich as Jinotega’s coffee and culture are the tales of its local history.
This is where U.S. Marines were stationed in their botched attempt to capture revolutionary icon and national hero,Gen.Augusto C. Sandino; and 50 years later, the city was an epicenter of battle during the Contra war.
Others tell tales of the 300-year-old cross on top of the Cerro La Peña Cruz, put up originally to protect the city from either flooding or witches, depending on whom you ask.
Also known as the “city of mist,” for the fog that covers this town much of the year, Jinotega has a surreal feel to it, especially when coming from the oppressive heat of the Pacific basin.
Half of the fun is getting there. The hazy highway between Matagalpa and Jinotega is said to be Nicaragua’s most scenic drive. It also may be the most nauseating, with 32 kilometers of jolting, potholed roadway winding through the mountains.
But it’s nothing that a cold Toña and a couple “Bigis” songs can’t fix.
How to Get There
Express buses, which take between 3-4 hours, leave from Managua’s Mayoreo bus station almost every hour Monday-Saturday, starting at 4 a.m. until 5 p.m. From Jinotega, the buses leave the Cotran Sur station, starting at 4 a.m. and the last bus leaving at 5 p.m. There are no early morning buses on Sundays. Call the Jinotega station at 782-3809 Or the Managua station at 233-0961 Tickets cost around $4