I first read Omar Cabezas’s book, Fire from the Mountain, on the plane from London to Managua. (The English title is much less evocative, though shorter, than the Spanish, which translates literally as The Mountain is something more than a great expanse of green.) Now, on the road to Matagalpa, travelling towards the mountains about which he’d written, I dipped into it again. Even in English, without any of the ‘Nica’ slang that had helped make it the most successful book in the new Nicaragua (its sales were close to 70,000 copies), it was an enjoyable and evocative memoir of ‘Skinny’ Cabezas’s recruitment by the FSLN, his early work for the Frente in León, and his journey up into the mountains to become one of the early guerrillas. Cabezas managed to communicate the terrible difficulty of life in the mountains, which were a hell of mud, jungle and disease (although one of his fans, a young Nicaraguan soldier, thought he had failed to make it sound bad enough because he had made it too funny). But for Cabezas the mountains were something more than a great expanse of unpleasantness. He turned them into a mythic, archetypal force, The Mountain, because during the Somoza period hope lay there. The Mountain was where the Frente guerrillas were; it was the source from which, one day, the revolution would come. And it did.

Nowadays, when it was the Contra that emerged from the Mountain to terrorize the campesinos, it must have felt like a violation; like, perhaps, the desecration of a shrine.

Forested mesas flanked the road to Matagalpa; ahead, the multiform mountains, conical, twisted, sinuous, closed the horizon. Cattle and dogs shared the road with cars, refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of the automobile. When the trucks came, however, everybody got out of the way fast.

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