A stroll through the San Juan de Oriente reveals a charming village, one that has built its reputation on the production of decorative pottery. Just about everyone that lives here makes their living in some way from the pottery industry. The skilled artisans who have perfected their techniques have learned and passed on their artistic skills over many generations. Most have their workshops, and in some cases pottery schools, at their homes.
Along the entrance to the village there are many cooperative shops selling beautiful hand-made peices of pottery, such as vases, pots, plates, platters and ornamental earthenware in pre-Columbian styles and more modern designs. Exploring the narrow streets you will find people's houses filled with pottery and also some workshops, often located in their backyards, right behind the shop itself. At the workshops you can see people baking the clay or shaping the pottery. The production process is interesting to see and many of the potters will be glad to show you around and some will even offer to let you help make some pottery.
After visiting several pottery shops along the main street, leaning from the entrance to the village down a long hill, we decided to explore also the side streets to get an impression about people's life. Not far from the main street we noticed a house with a little backyard surrounded by tropical plants and trees. There were quite a lot of people and of course we were curious what was going on. Local women were making rellenitas on a big table and a young lady was baking them on a clay pot over an open fire. As a big lover of Colombian arepas I hoped we could buy some. We were immediately invited to join them. They brought us chairs and we started a conversation. They were such sweet people!
Rellenita is a Nicaraguan version of Salvadoran pupusa, Venezuelan and Colombian arepa or Mexican gordita, a small, flat round corn bread, usually grilled. I especially like rellenita de queso which comes with shredded cheese inside.
Favorite Dish: Other people were also waiting for rellenitas, but surprisingly, it did not take long until the delicious treats arrived. Rellenitas are normally eaten by hand but as they were very hot (they came directly from the fire) they were served to us on banana leave and on a plate, so it was much easier to eat them. Rellenita was nicely crisp on the outside and steamy-soft in the middle, so delicious that I had another one.
Rellenita de queso was 5 cordobas, and together with a coffee it was 8 cordobas (December 2010). What a bargain for such great snack!
One day Petra and I made a very nice trip from Granada to Pueblos Blancos and Laguna de Apoyo. We took a chicken bus that leaves from a block south of the market, across from the Shell station, and goes to San Juan de Oriente and Catarina. The bus was already full when we left. On the way it stopped on every corner so more and more people were coming in the bus. After about 40 minutes we arrived in San Juan de Oriente, a small village known for the production of pottery.
Another village that we wanted to visit was Catarina. We asked some local people about the bus. They told us it was very close so we decided to walk. Most people come here for the Mirador (viewpoint) which offers a spectacular view of Laguna de Apoyo. It's just a short walk from the village. From there we went by a three wheel taxi to Laguna de Apoyo where we spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach.
For going back we took a 4pm bus that runs from Laguna de Apoyo to Masaya and got out at the main road that connects Managua (and Masaya) with Granada. We did not have to wait long until the bus to Granada arrived. The journey was short, it only took about 15 minutes. The bus stopped at the bus station near the old hospital (some 8 blocks west from Parque Central) from where we walked to the city centre.
I took a bus from Granada to Catarina. It was one of those slow buses stopping everywhere, so it took one hour to reach Catarina, the first village I visited during my daytrip. The bus was 10 cordobas (July 2009). From where I was dropped there was a walk of about 1km through the village to the Mirador. After admiring the beautiful views over Laguna de Apoyo and drinking a Coke I walked back through the village to the big roundabout down at the main road. I cross the road and took the next bus heading for Masatepe. It took 15 minutes and it was 5 cordobas.
After eating lunch and an ice cream in Masatepe I took the bus to Niquinohomo, where I visited the Sandino Museum. On my way to Catarina and Masatepe I had noticed that the villages Niquinohomo, Catarina and San Juan de Oriente were all very close to each other. I asked at the museum how far it was to my next destination, San Juan de Oriente. And they told me it was only 2km, and they advised me to take one of the mototaxis standing by the plaza to San Juan de Oriente. It would cost 10 - 15 cordobas. But as the last mototaxi just left when I came there I decided to walk.
From Niquinohomo I walked along a smaller road, parallel to the main road, up to the roundabout by Catarina, and then I followed the main road to San Juan de Oriente. In San Juan de Oriente I visited a few pottery shops before heading back to Granada. Going back to Granada I had to wait 20 minutes for the bus. Dark rain clouds were approaching, but luckily the bus arrived just before the rain started to pour down.
Nicaraguan pottery and ceramics have a long tradition. Pottery making has been in San Juan de Oriente since pre-Columbian times but during the 1970's the village experienced a revival of this traditional craft. Thanks to workshop schools established with government support in the the 1990's, the potters have expanded their techniques and the variety of products. Master ceramists from Europe and other Latin America countries have been involved in projects here.
Not much has changed in the way of making pottery here. The potters still use local materials, including the local barro, or clay, from the shores of the nearby Laguna de Apoyo, and mineral oxides are used for the colours. Though nowadays they use more elaborate techniques and designs than 500 years ago, they still make each piece by hand. Most of the artisans use potter's wheel. Each artisan has his or her own style of decoration. Some work in the traditional pre-Columbian replicas while others prefer the modern, Escher-like designs.
The artisans of San Juan de Oriente carry on a long standing tradition. Their pieces vary in style and form, from beautiful vases, pots, plates, sculptures, wind chimes, little animals and unique ceramic necklaces.