Last week in Nicaragua (all over the world, I suppose) was Semana Santa, and I got a little time to do some of my last travels through Nicaragua. I took the occasion to visit a small community outside of Matagalpa called El Chile.
During the Somoza dictatorship, the Somoza family basically turned Nicaragua into their own personal colony. Relevant to El Chile, the Somozas banned the purchasing of textiles and cotton, outside of their plantations and factories. The families of El Chile (their are roughly 250 today) used to grow cotton and make clothing and other textiles, but the Somozas literally burned the last crops.
By 1985 only four women were left in the community who remembered the old ways. However, Padre Ernesto Cardenal, the Sandinista Culture Minister at the time, discovered El Chile and wanted to revive its cultural history. He invited an Argentinian woman, Martha Ruíz, through OXFAM – Belgium, to work with the women to revive the art.
Until recently, Martha worked and lived in the community and the traditional weaving and textiles tradition was revived. Only one of the four original women is still alive, but El Chile is now home to a thriving all-women traditional textiles company: Telares Indígenas Nicaragua. The mill was open for business when I visited, and the ladies were happy to have us watch their work and answer our questions. Weaving, mixing colors, and creating threads and fabrics is no simple business. The women operate large wooden looms, and they spend hours weaving spools of fabrics, then cutting and sewing.
The work seems to have paid off, because it is a profitable business, and the women operate it on their own, including all bookkeeping, sales, and production, without outside help. That leaves me very impressed with Ms. Ruíz.
The artistic and feminine aspects of El Chile reminded me very much of ETCA. In the next month I will be visiting them for the last time and I may mention El Chile as motivation. They can increase their sales and their income if they work on marketing more.
The telares were rich grounds for photography, and I took many photos. Rather than rambling on any further I will just let the colors and the pictures do the talking:
Getting to El Chile is a cinch from Matagalpa and can be done as a half day trip. If you plan ahead you can also go with Matagalpa Tours in private transportation or plan an overnight home-stay.
On all occasions, it is best to call ahead to make sure the mill will be open. Otherwise your visit will be quite brief and uneventful:
+505 8473-4417 (Francisca)
She may also be able to organize a home-stay and/or food for you, although Matagalpa Tours may be a better bet for those services, especially if you do not speak Spanish well over the phone.
The mill has its own website as well:
How to Get There?
All public buses leave from COTRAN Norte bus station in Matagalpa (also known as Guanuca). There is a 1:30 PM bus every day that goes direct to El Chile. That bus is best for anyone who wants to stay overnight. If not, take a bus to San Dionisio – Esquipulas. Ask to get off at El Chile. The ride takes about an hour and costs C$ 23. Departures are at 5:40 AM, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 12:00 PM, 1:30, 3:00, 4:30, and 5:30. When you get off at El Chile there is a dirt road up a hill. Follow it for about 2 km and you will see the telares on your left. Just walk right in and greet the ladies with a customary “Buenas!”
There is a plethora of the ladies’ products on display and for sale at the mill. If you get hungry, the next house down the road offers traditional lunch (C$ 90 for a plate with meat). I loved her homemade tortillas with fresh sour cream.
To head back to Matagalpa just head down the hill and wait for a bus to pass. I would try to be waiting before 4:00 PM just to be on the safe side.