Quilalí: Off the Beaten Track
The municipality of Quilalí is located in the mountainous region of the Nueva Segovia Department of Nicaragua. Nestled in a lush valley, the town of Quilalí, with its population of around 13,000, serves as the administrative center of the municipality of Quilalí. The town is located around 264 kilometers north of Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua, and 80 kilometers east of Ocotal, the capital city of the Nueva Segovia Department. The layout of the town includes seventeen barrios, or neighborhoods, built around a central park. Along with the fifty-four rural communities, the municipality is home to more than 30,000 people.
The mild climate and fertile soil provide perfect conditions for agriculture, and the majority of the people living in and around Quilalí make a living from farming, growing mostly beans and corn, as well as cultivating coffee – one of Nicaragua’s most popular products, and its biggest export commodity. Although the land and climate is conducive to crop growing, getting products to the markets in other towns is made very difficult by the mountainous terrain and the numerous fast-flowing rivers. During the rainy season it is common for these rivers to swell and flood the bridges, effectively cutting the community off from the outside world. But locals are accustomed to these conditions and make plans accordingly.
The American volunteer program, Peace Corps, has been active in Quilalí for a number of decades with projects aiming at sustainable social development and overcoming obstacles presented by the town’s isolation. The programs the Peace Corps continue to be involved in focus on agriculture, business development, education, environment and health. Anyone interested in becoming a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua should contact the organization directly.
In addition to celebrating all the Nicaraguan holidays, the people of Quilalí observe some festivals and celebrations unique to the town. These include celebrations on March 19 each year in honor of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the town. Festivities start up to a week before March 19 and continue after the main event, including pilgrimages, a horse parade, bull rings, funfair and refreshment stands, keeping the festive atmosphere going. In the community of San Bartolo in the municipal area of Quilalí they celebrate the annual Corn Festival, which, as the name suggests, celebrates corn in all its many forms, including corn-based alcohol.
While it may be that Quilalí is cut off from the outside world at times, clearly the people living in this lush, fertile valley share a community spirit and embrace the concept of traditional hospitality.