There are 22 of them – “Los Arboles de la Vida“- “The Trees of Life” – posing in Managua. The are the centre of the main roundabouts, they accompanied the celebrations of the 34th anniversary of the Revolution at Plaza de la Fe, and stand along Avenida Bolívar, which passes by the Parliament and ends by the Lake of Managua, the Lago Xolotlán.
The trees, supposedly inspired by the design of the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (although some say it ‘ s the Australian artist Timothy Parish), are about 14 metres high and have hundreds of yellow bulbs which are lit up four hours a day. The architect of the trees is by no doubt to anyone, Rosario Murillo, the First Lady.
Since the trees were raised, substituting the also polemic X-mas trees which for years have lit up the roundabouts, the protests have been loud.
Natural trees on the Avenida Bolívar have been sacrified to give place to these electric monsters of metal, and also to broaden the avenue, as far as I understand. It ´s estimated that it costs app. 20 000 USD to build a tree (hello, that sounds odd – shouldn´t trees be planted?). The trees are guarded by guards from a private company. In energy they cost more than 10 000 USD a month, according to El Confidencial. The costs of the installations have not been included in the National Budget and nobody really knows where the money comes from. From the Municipality, the functionaries of the institution claim, and from the Presidency.
And some people are obviously against the esthetics of the trees.
I can agree on most of the critics. When I first saw a watchman by the foot of a tree in a roundabout, it seemed like a contradiction: The Tree of Life guarded by armed guards? And the costs: How many houses could be lit up for 10 000 USD a year? And during the day the trees look like – metal monsters.
But. When the trees are lit up at night, the sight is quite stunning. They give a beautiful, warm light and compete with all the other bright X-mas colours (or are they all-year colours??) of the area around Avenida Bolívar and of many other parts of Managua. And I personally like the design of the tree.
You can say many things about the First Lady´s inventions, but somehow or other they always reflect creativity, quality, cheerfulness and originality: Did you ever see adoptions of Klimt´s Tree of Life in any other capital in the world? Or X-mas trees year around?
The Trees of Life are part of a bigger project called “Paseo Xolotlán” which is about giving new life to the lakeside of Lago Xolotlán, so neglected for almost a century, and finally, totally demolished by the earthquake of 1972.
Now it´s getting life again. From a newly built mole a ferry takes passengers on tours on the lake. A huge area with restaurants, playgrounds and huts are open to the public for only 10 córdobas – app. 40 cents – a person. The restaurants serve delicious-looking and -smelling dishes, mainly Nicaraguan. Everything is safe, clean and very welcoming. And the area is being enlarged.
Not far away, Chureca, the biggest garbage-dump of Central America has been levelled with the ground and within ten years it´s believed that you can swim in what used to be one of the most polluted lakes of Central America, again. Swimming in the Lago Xolotlán started to be a messy and unsafe business from the late 1920:ies, when they started to dump the garbage and sewage of Managua into the lake.
Now – this is a project! Why complain about some electric trees if they are part of an initiative which gives Lake Managua back to the Managuans – and others? Access to a nice hut by the lake to eat your lunch if you can´t afford eating at one of the restaurants? The kids access to clean, safe and fun playgrounds?
A privilege to anyone, also the ones without the pockets full of money – which is the majority of the Nicaraguans.
And everything illuminated with bright colours at night – some of it stemming from the somewhat dubious metal trees – which, I think, do give life to Managua.
But couldn´t the trees have been natural? Illuminated maroños or sacuanjoches, the national trees of Nicaragua?
And if Managua is opening towards the lake, why not also open the capital towards La Cuenca Sur , the southern basin of Managua, still with immense areas of forests and mountains, to which the public has no access?
That would be giving Managua life by the help of trees!