Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From Costa Rica to the Campo!

I had about two weeks of crazy.

It all started back around the 16th, I think, of November. I had to go to Costa Rica to renew my visa and that trip happened to coincide with my friend Andy's vacation to Costa Rica. His lady part was down their "surfing" and she decided that the best thing to do was break up with him after he'd bought his plane ticket and shortly before his birthday. What was there for me to do other than go down there and force him to go zip lining with me?

Costa Rica is freezing f-ing cold. After the warmness of Nicaragua, I just assumed Costa Rica was the same. I was drastically unprepared. My first night in San Jose, I was warm. I stayed at my friend Carlos's house and he has blankets on his bed! I hadn't seen a blanket in about 6 months. And his mom is a Christmas freak. She had the most beautifully decorated tree I have ever seen in real life. I wish I'd taken a photo, but I didn't.

Andy came in the next day and we spent the night in downtown San Jose at Hostel Pangea. Dorms are a bit pricy for me (US$12) but the hostel has everything. If you are only in San jose for the night and looking to motor pronto to Monte Verde or another part of the country without worrying about where to go for cocktails or whatevs, Pangea is THE place. You can have tons of fun and make new friends without even leaving the grounds! And there's an ATM about a block away! Hostel Pangea has a swimming pool, free internet, 24 hour tourist information and a bar and restaurant upstairs. The only real downside to the hostel is that Imperial, the beer of Costa Rica, sucks. But you can't really blame Hostel Pangea for that.

We met up with a kiwi in the bar at the hostel and he bussed it with us up to Monte Verde where we met a couple of Germans who were super fun to drink with and zip line with, too! Unfortunately, Monte Verde was just as cold (if not colder!) than San Jose, so I continued freezing my balls off.

We did our canopy tour through 100% Aventura. It was awesome and the staff was awesome (and bilingual for those of you that care) and yeah. They have 11 different zip lines, a tarzan swing and a 15 meter drop. One of the longest cables was called the Superman. They strap you to the cable so you're facing the ground and it's like flying! It was super awesome. I got really good at zip lining after the first 3 or 4 lines. On the Tarzan swing, they hook you to the swing and you step off the edge of a platform. After I stepped off Jody, one of the guides, said, "Wait! Come back!" How do you come back when you're swinging through the jungle on an f-ing bungee cord rope?

After the canopy tour, we ate dinner and drank entirely too much rum. And we danced.

At 6am Friday morning, I forced Andy into a bus and dragged his ass to Nicaragua so he could get a second stamp in his fancy new passport and experience a part of Central America where people don't really speak English and where the weather is not the exact same as Seattle.

After we got to Managua, I realized we were trapped. There were big demonstrations being held on Saturday by the two main political parties of Nicaragua. (The FSLN (pro ortega) and the PLC (pro human rights and democracy)).

Speaking of Ortega, he needs to be bitch slapped. Last time I checked, Nicaraguans weren't looking for a dictator and his Supreme Court okaying him to run for an illegal third term is bullshit. It's just going to cause problems. I'm pretty sure those problems won't come about until I'm somewhere else, though. But still. Can you go to jail for bitch-slapping the president of a developing nation? What about his wife? She has it coming, too.

We spent Friday and Saturday nights in Managua at the discos and bars, drinking Toña and Flor de Caña and making new friends. Andy was a hit with the gays at Tabú. He got a phone number. I think he should've gone for it. And, on Sunday, we parted ways. Andy went back to Costa Rica to finish out his holiday and I went back to Rìo Blanco where I was surprised with the information that I would be going to Telpaneca for an entire week to do survey work in a small community!

The bus ride home was pretty uneventful. I slept for a bit and, around Matiguas, was awoken by "Eye of the Tiger" playing full blast on the bus. Not the best way to wake up, but it got me in kung fu mode. I was back in my Pueblo by two and was finally able to wash all that Costa Rica out of hair. I called my friend Mike, who is in the Peace Corps here and is the only other English speaker I know in my pueblo, and I went to his house and watched some weird Mexican movie called Japón. I didn't get it. At all. And neither did Mike.

I got back to my house around 7 and found it full of French people! My roommate is French and I was expecting to see her, and there is the other French volunteer, but now there are two more French volunteers and another French girl who lives in Matagalpa! The French are taking over! I was frightened for a moment, then I remembered that I can say "carpet" in French and I relaxed a bit.

The French told me that there was a trip to the campo near Telpaneca in the morning and we were leaving at 6a. I was so not prepared. I borrowed a hammock and a rain coat from my roommate (the French girl, Amelie) and then I wandered around the house like a chicken with it's head off while I tried to figure out what the hell I needed to pack. I'm certain it was strange and exciting to watch. The last thing I really wanted to do after traveling for a week and riding a bus all day was pack to go traveling again. This time it was an 8 hour ride in the back of a pick up truck. Luckily it was a great opportunity to break in my fancy new rubber boots! They were $6!

Have you ever slept in a hammock before? I mean, like, for real? Like, for a week? Sleeping in a hammock can be very difficult. Especially when you're fat and in the cold highlands of a tropical country. We hung my hammock at what seemed to be a resonable height, but after placing a good 1800 pounds or so of yours truly in there, my ass was on the floor. On the cold, stone floor. And there I remained, not sleeping much, and rotating regularly to prevent different parts of my body from freezing. I had no blanket and was curled into a ball, wearing a hoodie and a beanie and was covered by my towel in a feeble attempt to stay warm. It can be hard to stay warm when your ass is heating the cement.

Following my night of glorious rest, I woke up early where I was awarded with the opportunity to take a cold bucket shower while children and people going to work gathered around to watch! After the show, my compañeros de trabajo and I went to have breakfast (gallo pinto, eggs, and sardines! I'd never had sardines for breakfast before!) And we went off to the community meeting.

After the meeting, Lilian (the head of health and sanitation) and I went out to houses to do potable water and latrine surveys. I now have an eye for latrines and am fairly confident the entire community thinks I'm insane. Can you imagine living in a small community of 60 houses in the middle of nowhere, where nobody really goes, and having some blue-eyed blonde girl come to your house, speaking with a thick accent, asking you if you have a latrine and, when you say yes, asking if she can see it? I probably looked at over 40 latrines last week.

Three little girls from the neighborhood decided to wander around with us and help us with our survey work. It was rad because they carried our paper work and our water... Free labor is awesome, especially when you're a free laborer, too!

Lilian and I were walking towards the house when one of our helpers told us we couldn't go their because the lady is "loca." I just assumed she was a cat lady or had a bunch of random statues or home made garbage sculptures in her yard or something. But no. She appeared to be mad in the traditional sense. She has 4 kids, the oldest being a 14 year old girl, and she was the one we talked to. The mother of the house had long, unkempt hair and her eyes were wide with crazy. Every time she saw us, she opened her mouth wide and laughed. And not a normal laugh, the laugh of insanity. It was a bit spooky. I felt like I was in a horror movie for a moment. Her daughter explained to us that, earlier this year, her mother had had another baby but the baby had parasites and, I think, the daughter said the parasites were coming out of the babies nose and it died. After the baby died, the mom cracked and all the crazy came leaking out. It seems like her family is trying really hard to keep the house operating normally and to clean up the crazy as it pours along, but it was really sad. That's the house I remember the best. It was the third one we went to.

That night we moved my hammock up higher and I had a blanket. It was much better. In the morning, we went back out to do more survey work and I noticed how incredibly dirty all the kids are. I had a shadow who really liked to follow me around and was really clingy and creepy. Her name is Rosa Elena. I had to draw the line in the morning when she followed me to take a shower. I asked her not to watch and to go home and take a shower herself. She pointed down the hill to a group of men standing around looking up towards us and said, "But they're watching!" Thank you, Rosa Elena. I wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't pointed that out.

All the babies and small children I see either cry when they see me or pee when I hold them. Apparently, I don't look Nicaraguan. Who'd have thought? On Wednesday, one peed on my arm. On Thursday, one peed on my leg. On Thursday night, Lilian and I were waiting for our compañeros at a church where the pastor lived and his family and a few neighborhood kids were all hanging out there. The boys there (all around 9-12 years old) told me I look like a muñeca (doll).

That's what I look like, apparently. I thought I was a bit cleaner than that, but I suppose after a week of bathing wth your clothes on and sleeping in the country, you're not as clean as you think you are.

I told the boys that I am, in fact, a muñeca and I am 2000 years old and belong to a witch. I also told them I eat children. Then I proceeded to say that all people with blue eyes eat children.

Lilian said it's no wonder the kids are afraid of me.

We said goodbye the next morning, had sardines for breakfast once again and started heading back toward civilization. Sylvain and I hopped off in some town that starts with a P so we could catch a bus to Somoto for the carnival that was going on that weekend. But that, my friends, is another blog.

Friday, October 23, 2009

If I had a fist...

... I'd punch you in the morning. I'd punch you in a car. All over this land!

Oh, wait. That's not how that song by the Mamas and the Papas goes. Maybe my head got a bit jarred yesterday if I can't even remember the lyrics properly.

I stayed up late on Wednesday night, watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on TMC (I love Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur and everything Frank Capra has ever directed). Because I didn't go to bed until far later than normal, I set my alarm for 7am instead of 6:30 and figured it was no big deal if I was late for work.

I left my house shortly after 8 and was walking to the bus stop, same as I always do, I passed the pulperia said good morning to some neighbors and turned onto the main road. It was about 8:15am by this point and there were lots of people walking around, going to work, waiting for the bus... you know, the usual Thursday morning city stuff. I was walking past the panaderia (bakery) and this short, Nicaraguan woman in a white blouse with a pony tail started talking to me.

"Do you like walking?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied. "I'm walking to the bus."
"The bus is dangerous. Where are you going."
"To work. And the bus is far less dangerous than the local taxistas."
"I'm going that way, do you want to share a cab with me? It will be far cheaper."
"Not as cheap as taking the bus, but thank you for asking."

I was not about to share a cab with this lady. I have heard stories since I got here of friends and friends of friends agreeing to share taxis with people and then having all their stuff stolen and driven around to every ATM until their daily limit has been taken from their accounts. So the idea of sharing cabs with strangers has always sketched me out a bit. And I normally only take cabs if I know the driver. Which is how I know half the cabbies in my neighborhood. Additionally, she was telling me a cab was only C$5, which is ridiculous because I can never get anywhere in the city for less than C$20. But I digress.

I talked to her for a moment or two longer, just standing there near the panaderia, and a green car pulled up in front of us. Next thing I know, the girl opened both the front and back doors of the car. She got in front and three men came from behind me (I didn't even notice them) and they dragged me into the car. I was screaming as loud as I could and I was throwing punches and kicks but they dragged me in the car. I had one foot holding the door open while I continued to scream. I had my thumbs in the eyes of one of my assailants. He kept punching me in the face, mouth and head. Then, the guy behind me put me in a choke hold. I could not breathe. I could not scream. The edges of my vision started to go black. The guy in the middle, who was sitting on me, punched me again after Chokey loosened his hold a bit. The guy that had punched me in the face kept punching me in the leg. In the same spot. I'm pretty sure he was mad that my thumbs had been so deep in his eyes. They looked a bit bloody when I looked at him.

I don't think Punchy likes blood all that much. He had punched me in the face so hard that my nose was gushing blood. I'd never had a bloody nose before. And I was surprised so much blood could come pouring out of my nose. My face was like a running tap of blood. And I was bleeding all over Chokey's arm and the back seat of the car. Punchy kept trying to cover my face. Every time he looked at me he started gagging and spit on the floor of the car. I think he didn't want to roll down the window in case I started screaming again. Finally, I told him I had a handkerchief in my pocket. He punched me in the leg, in the same spot he'd been punching me for a while at this point, then asked me which pocket. I told him, he handed it to me, I went to work trying to stop the blood.

They asked me my name, where I was going, what barrio I live in, what barrio I work in, what I do for work, how long I'm in Nicaragua for, where my money was, where my debit card was and all sorts of things. At first, when I responded to their questions, Punchy punched me again. Chokey was just hanging out, holding me in a loose chokehold. Though, at one point, shortly after I'd started bleeding all over everything and before I'd gotten my hanky from my pocket, Chokey pulled out a knife, showed it to me, and said, "Look. I have a knife." I looked at it, looked at him, and said, "Que bueno." Which I meant as like, "good for you, dude." But really means "How nice." It's comforting to know that, even in times of crisis and danger, my sarcasm does not fail.

Eventually, I started answering questions without getting punched, which was nice. I told them I'm a volunteer, what barrio I volunteer in, and that I'm here until next June doing clean drinking water work. I told them my name is Luna and that my debit card was stolen last week. Actually, I said, "Mi tarjeta fue robado proxima semana." Which means, "My card was stolen next week." But I think they understood. I told them where my money was and that all I had was C$110 (about US $5). I think that was when they realized they'd made a mistake. I told them where my money was, they asked if I had a phone. I told them where that was. I also told them they could take my bag if they just gave my my keys and my glasses. (I was wearing my sunglasses.) They didn't seem interested. They kept asking me about my debit card, I kept repeating that it had been stolen next week. (You try speaking sensical spanish when your face is gushing blood and there are five people holding you hostage in a car.) Then I told them, "Lo siento no tengo mucho para ustedes a robar." Which means, "Sorry I don't have much for y'all to steal." After that, the mood in the car lightened up a bit.

Punchy gave me my telephone. He put it in my hand and said, "Look. Here is your phone." Then he took my money and put it back in my bag and said, "Look. And your money is in your bag. We did not steal anything and there is no need for you to go to the police." There actually is no point in going to the police because, well, this is Managua and they are so busy taking bribes, they don't have the time to deal with issues of assault and attempted robbery. He also helped me remove my cardigan so I could use it to clean some of the blood off my face.

Chokey asked me, "Tienes miedo? Estàs nerviosa?" (Are you scared? Are you nervous?)
"No," I replied. "Si ustedes quieren matarme, pueden y no puedo hacer nada. Sola una y ustedes estan cinco." (No. If y'all want to kill me, you can and I can't do anything about it. I am only one and y'all are 5.) Chokey assured me they were not going to kill me.

Then, my assailants started joking with me. They told me I'm a boxer and asked me where I learned how to fight like that. I told them I have four brothers, so I got a lot of practice at a ayoung age in self-defense. They told me the color of my hair is crazy. I said, "Like me." And they started calling me Loca Lunita, or something like that.

After a little over an hour of being in the car, they pulled off onto an abandoned street in a residential part of Bello Horizonte and told me to get out of the car. I bent to pick up my sunglasses off the floor of the car and they told me to hurry. I got out of the car and began walking in the direction they pointed. I looked back to see the license plate number, but the trunk was open, so I waved, said, "Mucho gusto!" and I walked away. As I walked, I realized how strange it is to tell your captors it was nice to meet them. I suppose that, even under duress, I can have good manners. And that's nice to know.

I continued walking down the street, crying. I was this random white, blonde girl wandering through a barrio with a tear and blood streaked face, and I had blood in my hair. I saw three men sitting in chairs in front of a house, talking. I asked them where we were. They asked if I was lost. I said yes and that I was just robbed and assaulted. Then I started crying again. They gave me a chair and a glass of water and tried to get me to relax a bit so I could tell them what happened and make a phone call.

And make a phone call I did. I called my coworker, Wilbert, because he is normally driving around doing errands and he speaks some English. So I called him, told him where I was, what had happened and that I needed help. He told me he was at the bank. I asked if he understood. He said a little bit, so I repeated myself in Spanish and he told em to call the office. What the fuck. So I called the office, spoke with another coworker who called Wilbert and Wilbert eventually came to pick me up. While I was waiting, I talked to the fellas that had helped me out. One is Loiuse the Gardener. He started smoking and I thought, "a cigarette would be nice right now." So I went looking through my bag for the half pack I had put in there that morning. It was not there. Nor anywhere else in my bag.

Then I realized, I had been kidnapped and beaten to a bloody mess and all my assailants stole was half a pack of cigarettes.

The moral of this story is, never talk to strangers. And, that woman had better rethink the streets that she works on because I swear, if I see her again, I will kick her ass. Last time she had four fellas helping her out. Next time, it will be one on one, bitch. So you best be getting ready.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Go East, Young Man! Part II, The Journey to Puerto Cabezas

Leaving Río Blanco was a bit difficult. We'd had a late night the night before and I am completely enamored with Vicente (not Fernandez). But the Spirit of Adventure kept us going, or some shit.

We got to the bus terminal in Río Blanco (aka the Texaco Station) at 5:45am. And it was good we got there when we did. Five more minutes and we would've been without a bus. Siuna was a 6 hour bus ride from Río Blanco. Nothing really noteworthy happened on the bus. It was near full when we got on, so I sat in the back all alone (boo hoo hoo). The ride was scenic, but boring. The most exciting parts for me were buying juice from a blind man and watching some little boy holding a live chicken, upside down. Dan says that is how you hypnotize a chicken. I probably wouldn't move a whole lot if I was being held upside down, either.

We arrived in Siuna around noon and went looking for our hostel, Los Chinitos. I asked about 5 or 6 people where it was, because we didn't know, and I learned later that the Milliwolffs did not understand why I was asking several people for the same information. Later, they would learn that here, in Nicaragua, when people don't know something, they just make up an answer. That way you will receive information and they won't feel embarassed for not knowing. And, since they'll probably never see you again, they won't have to see how upset you are when you discover they were lying, or, I suppose, being creative with information.

But I digress. Our hostel was clean and pleasant with shared bathrooms downstairs and it only cost C$150 per person per night. A bit expensive for my taste (I like to find rooms for $5 or less) but the balcony was so nice. And there was a parade to welcome our arrival!

Or maybe they were just there because it was independence day. I think they were there for us, though.

We had shrimp for lunch at a small house down the street. It's technically closed on Sundays, but apparently they had made lots of food and were willing to feed three starving travellers. That shrimp was so, so good. And we made friends with a tiny fella whose name I don't recall. He taught us that, whereas we say "wow" in English, they say "tweny." Or something that sounds like that. So, all afternoon, our tiny new friend kept saying "Wow! Tweny!" It was hilarious. He also found a cab to take us to the river.

After lunch, I took a nap. Then our tiny friend came by with his taxi friend, we negotiated a price for a cab to the river, an hour or two wait, and a ride back, and we were on our way.

The river, clearly, was beautiful. And quite likely still is. Although Dan and I were a bit nervous that no one else was swimming. We quickly got over our fears and enjoyed the water. Until it started raining. We were already wet anyway, so at first it wasn't a big deal. Then it started monsooning. So, Dan and I got out of the water and stood around talking to our tiny friend and the taxista and Leslie, and we decided it was time to leave. Even the river chicken was heading for cover.

We tried to get to the car without getting too wet, which proved to be impossible. Especially since I'd just been in the river.

By the time we got back to town, the rain had stopped and it was getting hot again. So we decided to buy a bottle of rum. Unfortunately, the lady was out of fifths of rum. She only had tiny bottles and giant bottles. We wound up buying a half-full 1.75 liter bottle of rum. And we sat on the balcony and had a few drinks before we went to dinner. And after dinner, we had a few more. Flor de Caña is especially delicious when enjoyed with friends after a day of travelling and swimming.

Word on the street, according to 3 out of 5 people I had asked, was that there was a 4am express bus to Puerto Cabezas that took 10-12 hours. We decided we were going to try to catch this bus. And, since the bus from Río Blanco to Siuna had left a bit early, I decided it was best if we got to the bus station at 3:30am. So, we went to bed at 8pm and I set my alarm and woke everyone up at 2:30am. "I don't think I can travel today, Heather," were the first words that greeted me. I asked why, of course, and the answer I was greeted with was unpleasant. One of my friends was sick and the other was in pain. We had a meeting and decided we would go as far as Rosita and if they felt they could keep travelling, we would go on to Puerto.

So, we got our stuff together, used the bathroom, made sure no one felt like they were going to vom (at least not too much) and we left the hostel just after 3am to get to the bus stop.

We made it to the bus stop at 3:25am and we waited. Lelie and Daniel lied down on benches at the terminal and napped while waiting for the bus. 4am came and went. We waited some more because, well, in Nicaragua, things don't often happen on time, or according to a schedule. At 4:30am, music was playing. It sounded like a marching band. Leslie got up and we walked down to the street to see what was going on. And it was glorious. Maybe it's because I was tired, maybe it's because it was 4:30 in the morning, maybe there was something in the water I'd been drinking, but it was no marching band. It was a trucking band! It was like a marching band, but in the back of the truck! And, re-reading this, it doesn't sound quite as exciting as it actually was. Trust me. It was f-ing life-changing.

The band passed and we returned to our respective benches. And I started asking people about the 4am bus to Puerto. A few people denied such a thing existed and a few others seemed remotely surprised that it never came. Which still makes me wonder whether that bus actually exists. Like, I asked this guy if there was a bathroom. He said no. About an hour later, Leslie asked someone else and they directed her to the bathroom around the corner. You never know who knows what and that's why I like to ask several people where things are and what not.

This is what the beginnings of a sunrise look like at a Siuna bus station.

We wound up taking the 6am bus to Rosita (C$80). I asked several people how long the bus ride was. They all said two to three hours. This was not true. It was 4 1/2 hours on the roughest road imaginable. And, of course, I was sitting in the back so I got to feel every jolt and bounce a bit better than those lucky people in the front of the bus. Luckily, as the bus progressed along the road, more and more people got on. It was crowded, rough, hot and dusty. I was sweating dirt. It was incredibly sexy. Clearly.

At 10:30a, we were finally freed from the confines of that hellish bus ride. Immediately we heard a bus runner from another bus shouting "Puerto Cabezas! Puerto! Puerto!" We all looked at each other. Luckily, even though those poor kids felt like Jesus ran over them with a steam roller, we all had the same thought in mind. We all wanted to get on that bus and just ride out our journey. None of us wanted to have to wake up the following morning knowing we had to get on another bus.

I asked the bus runner what time the bus left. He said 11:45am. Perfect. We had time to 1) not be in a bus, 2) use a bathroom and 3) get some food and water.

Oh, the bathroom. Seriously. There was a board with a hole in it sitting over a latrine. I was going to photograph the inside, but there was a line behind me, so I figured the outside was good enough.

After using the restroom, we wandered around a bit. Bought some water and a few sodas and just had a good time at the bus station.

It's amazing how happy they look, considering how shitty they felt. Way to pull a smile for the team, kids!

We were hanging out at the bus stop for almost an hour when I realized I was starving. I think what made me especially hungry was watching the chickens being unloaded from the top of a bus.

So, I went wandering, looking for food. I was craving fried chicken and french fries. The Milliwolffs wandered with me for a bit before they decided to hop on the bus. At this point, it was around 11:35am and I decided it was necessary to eat food before getting on an (alleged) 6 hour bus ride.

The ladies I ordered food from didn't have potatoes, but they had fruta de pan (aka bread fruit) and they made bread fruit fries for me that were so, so good. I felt a bit bad because I was trying to rush them and I asked if they could set it up for me to go, like, to take on the bus with me. Then two fellas said to me, "Tranquila. El autobus no va a salir sin tí." Or something like that. It turns out I'd been chatting it up with the bus driver, Raul, and the bus runner, Alfonzo, while I was waiting for the ladies to make my food. They told me to sit down and eat and the bus would leave whenever I was ready.

Pictured here are the ladies who made my food. The guy in the white shirt is Alfonzo and the other guy is the bus driver, Raul. I finished eating, threw the rest of my fries in a bag and hopped on the bus. While I was eating, the seat I had reserved for myself with my pack had been filled with a family of four. So I moved my pack out of their way and found myself sitting in the last seat of the bus, near all the kids that were riding on bags of beans and buckets of grease. It was good times. And, I think, riding in the back of the bus made that trip a whole new experience.

While on the bus, flying over ridiculously huge bumps in the road and almost falling out of my seat several times, I made friends with a 9-year-old boy named Lenín. We talked, he told me all about the Nicaraguan flag (it was the 4 day independence day weekend, after all), he emptied out his pockets and told me about all the treasures he'd collected and told me about the town where he lives, called Sahsa.

This is Lenín. He tried to teach me to whistle. I still can't. But my efforts to learn thoroughly amused all the women and children sitting near us on the bus. For those of you that don't know, whistling is as important for communication here as facial expressions and words. Not being able to whistle is like having a speech impediment. There I go again with the digressions...

For several hours, Lenín spoke in weird voices and laughed like Woody Woodpecker. When I asked him where we were, he said "Breña." I repeated it. He said I was saying it wrong. I repeated it again. I still wasn't saying it right. This went on for about five minutes before either he was satisfied with my pronunciation or had given up on me as a lost cause. He got off the bus at Sahsa, which was about 3-4 hours into the trip. We still had another 3 to go.

When the bus runner came around to collect money, he didn't make me pay. Lenín had been surprised by that and tried to call the bus runner's attention to the fact, but yeah. I thought he'd just over looked me and I would have to pay later when he collected the tickets for the bus, but no. The bus ride from Rosita to Puerto Cabezas is normally C$180 (US $9) and, for me, it was free. I love free. Especially since I work for free. Right?

We got to a river on the bus with no bridge across. The only way to cross the river is on a cable barge, so that's what we did.

Dan was taking lots of photos and was stopped by an armed guard in fatigues. Dan doesn't really speak Spanish. Alfonzo speaks a little bit of English and translated a bit. The guard wanted to know where Dan is from and didn't seem to believe that Australia is actually a country. We believe the guard thought Dan was sent from a fake country to steal Nicaraguan cable barge secrets. Or something.

After this, the only other excitement was a bridge that was out, it was a small bridge and we managed to cross it somehow. We were supposed to get into Puerto around 6p. We got there at 7p. That last hour was the worst. You know when you're travelling a long distance and you're so close you can see the city lights in the distance... but you still have another hour to ride in a bus down a bumpy, dusty road? That was us.

We turned onto the main road to Puerto and saw this:

I think it was just Puerto Cabezas's way of welcoming us to the Caribbean.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Go East, Young Man! Part I, Río Blanco

I am such a slacker. I am so sorry to all three of you who read this blog and I promise, if you stop sending me emails, I will try to update more often. Keep in mind, however, that if I were to spend too much time writing about what I'm doing, I wouldn't be doing anything else!

The lovely and talented Leslie and Daniel Milliwolff recently visited me in Nicaragua for two whole weeks and we did some serious adventuring. They flew in on a Tuesday night and we spent Wednesday bumming around Managua hitting markets and museums then Thursday we went to Laguna de Apoyo for the day and Chamán for the night. The next morning is when the adventure started.

We awoke at 7am on Friday morning so we could pack our belongings and get a cab at 8am to Mercado Mayoreo, where we would take our first bus (allegedly scheduled to leave at 9am). For the three of us to take a cab across town (some people tend to be opposed to an hour ride on the city bus to a place you can get to by cab in 20 minutes) it cost us C$100.

We arrived at Mercado Mayoreo with a good 30 minutes to spare. We ate picos (sweet, triangle shaped bread) and drank some carrot juice out of a bag while watching kids put on clown make-up and then boarded the bus. We were lucky enough to find Dan a seat with some leg room (he is about twice as tall as the average Nicaraguan) and we rode the bus for 5 1/2 hours along a paved road for C$70 to the lovely, small town of Río Blanco.

About two hours before we got to Río Blanco, I asked a fella how much further it was. He told us 40 minutes. 45 minutes later, he got off the bus. I asked someone else "¿Cuanto falta a Río Blanco?" Once again, I received the answer 40 minutes. I think "40 minutes" is the answer for everything if people don't know. Either that or "bastante."

We got off the bus at the Texaco station in Río Blanco and went looking for the Fundanic office so we could arrange a hike up Cerro Musún. We wanted to stay in a cabin on the mountain. We went to some organization/business near the parque central and asked them if they knew who we needed to talk to. They directed us to another business where we were lead into a basement and directed to sit on a couch while one of the fellas went to go round up the boys from Fundanic to come talk to us.

By the time they got to the office, it was around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and the fellas from Fundanic said it was a 2 hour hike up the mountain and it was a bit too late to get started if we wanted to be there before dark. They offered to find us a place to stay in town for the night and they told us to meet them in the parque central, which prompted me to ask them if they are drug dealers. Vicente, one of the guides, assured me they were not and said they'd meet us in the park soon. And this is the parque central.

After about twenty minutes of sitting in a park in a strange new town, feeling sketchy, the fellas from Fundanic came back and said they found two different places we could stay. One of them was a school for a local NGO that happens to be a sister organization of the NGO I volunteer for. They let the three of us stay there for free. The room we were sharing had two small bunk beds and the fellas dug up a mattress for us to put on the floor. Because Leslie and Dan are married, they opted for the floor mattress.

Living in Nicaragua, the water often goes out. People get into the habit of storing water because in some areas they only get water twice a week and in others (like Managua) the water cuts out randomly for hours (or sometimes days) at a time. In Río Blanco, the water had been out for three days. Sometimes, when the water goes out, it's hard to remember if you left the taps open or shut. In Río Blanco that first night, when the water came back on, the taps had been left open. I was awoken from a dead sleep by noise and shouts of water on the floor and god knows what else. The lovely Mr. and Mrs. Milliwolff had awakened to find themselves an inch deep in water. They quickly took my pack off the floor and put it out of water's way, then climbed on to the tiny bunk above me. We all spent the rest of the night sleeping very poorly.

Luckily the next morning we had plans to wake up early and climb a mountain!

Vicente came to the school to pick us up at 7am. We stopped on our way to the trail to get some cookies and juice boxes for breakfast. So good. We ate them while we wandered through town to the trail head. The first part of the trail, leading to the forestry station, was hot, uphill and unpleasant. There were farms on both sides the whole way up and little to no tree coverage. I was sweating so much I almost died.

Or maybe not.

I hate hiking without tree coverage.

This is a view of Río Blanco from halfway up the mountain, near where the tree line starts.

After we got to the station, Vicente showed us the plants they were growing for the reforestation projects. They have orchids and coffee and other things that I don't remember the names of. There are over 75 different types of orchids that are native to Nicaragua. We took a little break at the station, drank some water, conversed, then proceeded to hike through mud and muck to a newly planted forest, where the trees are 10-15 years old. From there, we hiked through the old growth forest with trees over 150 years old. Then we hiked to a three-tier water fall which leads to a river, and that river is the primary source of drinking water for Río Blanco.

After hiking to each of the three tiers, we went back to the ranger station where we had lunch. We ate rice, beans, eggs, cheese and a thick, freshly ground, maize tortilla. To drink had a pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice. It was definitely worth the $2!

After lunch, we hung out and chatted for a while before hiking back down the mountain to go swimming in the Río Blanco. It was beautiful and the perfect way to spend a few hours of a hike on a hot day.

We got back to the school and chilled for a bit before heading off to dinner. While we were re-arranging our clothes and discussing the flood of the previous night, Dan noticed that the majority of our bottle of rum was gone. We assumed that whoever had cleaned up the watery mess got a bit thirsty. We were sleeping there for free, so we were more amused than concerned.

We continued to laugh about it on our way to dinner at the bar and restaurant around the corner. Leslie ordered the chicken in sauce and Dan ordered the chicken in wine, they both received chicken in ketchup. I just ordered the fried chicken and it came back so dry I almost choked. Good times.

While we were having beers and "enjoying" our dinner, one of the fellas from the school wandered in and sat at our table. He was incredibly drunk. So, so, so very drunk. Like, the kind of drunk you get after spending the day cleaning and drinking somebody else's rum. He ordered a beer and went to reach for my cigarettes. I stopped him. "¿Tienes un boca? ¿Tienes palabras? ¿Quieres tratar preguntando por un cigarillo?" I asked. (Do you have a mouth? Do you have words? Do you want to try asking for a cigarette?) He just looked at me, drunkenly confused. It's possible I said something entirely different or that it's harder to understand a foreigner after an afternoon of heavy drinking. So, I told him the story about our rum and asked him if he knew what happened. He said he'd been the only person there all day and he had no clue. We sat there drinking beers, talking and he kept trying to hold my hand. I kept moving my hand away from him. He told me, several times, that the songs playing on the radio were pretty, like me. It was also at this restaurant that we first discovered the amazingness of Vicente Fernandez. (Not to be confused with our guide from earlier in the day).

Images of this man were every where. It was out of control. From this point on, every time we saw Vicente Fernandez or heard his name on the radio, we felt good. He's from mexico, you know. And he rides every where on his horse. Except, when he comes to Managua, he normally takes a plane from mexico and rides a horse when he's in town.

After dinner we went back to the school, Leslie and Dan switched rooms and Vicente (not Fernandez) came by to see if I wanted to go to the club. It was, after all, Saturday night. I went to talk to the Milliwolffs to see if they were interested. They were not. I really really really wanted to go to the club. I also really like having my own way. I also don't like following strange men in strange towns to strange clubs I don't know. It was two against one. I lost and never got to see that club. But Vicente (not Fernandez) was quite understanding when I told him I didn't feel comfortable going too far from where we were staying. So, we went to a place way closer and had a few beers and talked. It was nice.

We then went back to the dry chicken and ketchup restaurant where we were quickly met by some friends of Vicente (not Fernandez). They asked why we weren't at the club and told us that the club was crazy because they were crowning Miss Independence Day. I was very sad I was not there to witness the insanity. Then the Milliwolff's came in and had beers with us, too and I wound up talking water quality issues with the Nica boys.

Vicente (not Fernandez) walked us back to the school, said goodnight and said he would come visit me soon in Managua (which he did).

The next morning we awoke at 5am to get ready and hop the 6am bus to Siuna. We got to hear a lovely version of "Happy Birthday" blaring out of someone's house at 5:30 in the morning. It was good stuff and good times.
Adíos, Río Blanco!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sperm Mural!

This is my favorite mural in Nicaragua. Located between my house and my favorite juice bar, I get to see it often. It's painted on the wall sorrounding the lady part clinic.

I just wanted to share.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Adventure! Excitement! Ometepe!

Ometepe. The holy grail of Nicaragua vacation spots for tourists. And I can see why. It's beautiful and has a very unique geology. Formed by two volcanoes and the small land bridge between them, Isla de Ometepe is a beautiful island. Located in Lago de Nicaragua, home of the only freshwater shark in the world, you can only get there by boat. And sometimes, the seas are a bit rough.

Friday morning I awoke at 6am to get ready for work. One of my friends from Spain told me to be back by noon so we could head out to catch one of the three buses we would be on that day.

After packing my bag rather quickly, we left the hostel around 1pm and caught route 262 from our hostel to the bus terminal at Mercado Roberto Huembes. The bus to San Jorge left at 2:30, so we had time to grab a quick lunch of gallo pinto, queso, tortilla and avocado. (C$35. What a bargain!)

Due to our lunch stop, we were a bit slow at getting on the bus. All the seats were taken and we ended up sitting on buckets in the back of the bus where Núria made friends with a fella from Ometepe. He talked to us for the entirety of the two and a half hour ride and invited us to a fiesta at his parent's house that Saturday.

We got off the bus at the boat dock in San Jorge and paid C$50 for passage on a rather janky looking boat. (We had missed the last proper ferry of the day).

This wasn't exactly our boat, but it was just as janky. And called Tilanic, which I found to be rather impressive based upon how unsinkable it looks.

We rode on the top of the boat. The sky was getting stormy and the waters were a bit rough. At first, it was kind of entertaining to be tossed around a bit in the middle of a giant, shark-filled lake. After about an hour and a half, though, it was less fun and more nauseating. I am pleased to say that none of us got sea sick.

We arrived at the dock on Ometepe after it was dark. Our new friend and guide, Ash, took us, by shuttle, all the way to the hostile in Altagracia. The shuttle was super crowded and I, at 5'7'', seem to be one of the tallest people in Nicaragua. I was standing on the shuttle and had to be hunched over so as to avoid rubbing my head to aggressively against the roof of the bus when we went over bumps on the rough dirt road.

Our hostel in Altagracia was C$70 a night, and I would say it is worth about that. The roof was tin with a few leaks in it, and it rained our first night. Actually, it monsooned. The grounds were flooding and, after having dinner and sharing a liter of Toña, we decided to go to bed.

Now, I read a lot and, as part of preparing for living a year in Nicaragua, I had to read all about the weird disease's I could potentially get. My personal favorite is Chagas Disease. It is incredibly rare, and I know this, but the idea of a Chagas bug dropping from the ceiling onto my face while I was sleeping was enough to keep me awake most of the night. Especially since every time a raindrop leaked through and landed on my face, I was convinced it was a bug.

For those of you who don't know, Chagas Disease is transmitted by a triatomine bug, commonly called the kissing bug. These bugs hang out, primarily, in poorly constructed ceilings and, at night, drop onto people's faces while they are sleeping, bite them near the mouth to drink some blood and, to add insult to injury, then defecate in the wound. Totally disgusting. And, as most people's initial instinct when bitten is to rub the wound, they are rubbing bug spit and feces into their faces. SO GROSS. And that is not all. After that, anywhere from 5 to 30 years later, about one third of people bitten develop Chagas Disease which can cause your heart to swell, then you die.

So, yeah. I had a hard time sleeping that first night.

The next morning we awoke at 7a, showered, breakfasted, and met up with Ash to go to the waterfall at San Ramón. This involved taking the bus from our hostel near Volcan Concepción to the other side of the island to the dormant Volcan Maderas, walking several kilometers, then hitching a ride in the back of a pickup. It was a 3 km hike from the trailhead, which sounds easy, but it was all uphill. I thought I would die.

But the waterfall was quite lovely, and incredibly tall. And the water was incredibly refreshing after the uphill hike.

After hanging out at the waterfall for a bit, we got our things together and headed back down so we could get lunch and work on hitching a ride back to Altagracia, or at least to the bus stop.

We got back to our hostel in Altagracia around 6p and had just enough time to shower and get ready for the fiesta! Ash came to pick us up at 7p (and by pick us up, I mean meet us and walk us to his sister's birthday party).

Ash's family lives in a small community outside Altagracia. We walked along dark dirt roads with no light to get there. Rather dangerous, considering all the potholes, but the stars were amazingñy beautiful. And I saw fireflies for the first time. One was down for the count and on the ground flickering. So sad. Yet so beautiful.

We walked for about 20 minutes in the dark before we heard music and started heading towards it. The girls and I were the only foreigners who weren't family members present. I was the only person not from either Nicaragua or España. And I had the best time ever.

There was food and drinks and really bad music from the late '80's and early '90's playing (think Bryan Adams) and, after dinner had been served and eaten and people had had a few cocktails, the dancing started.

I dance like I speak Spanish; it's awkward, not very pretty and half the time people are wondering what in the hell is going on. And I had so much fun. There was a fella there that dances so well. My friend, Fina, also dances quite amazingly, so the two of them dancing together was rather impressive. At one point in the night, there was a Nicaragua/España dance off. Fina vs. one of Ash's sisters. It was a sight to be scene. it was like the dance off scene in Grease, except way better. Later on Horacio, the fella that dances really well, offered to come to Managua and give me dancing lessons and Spanish lessons, too! For free. I respectfully declined.

When the dancing was dying down a bit and the oldest and youngest of the crowd were heading home, a group of us walked down to the beach and drank rum and chased the waves. It was really pretty. But eventually, we realized how late it was and how much we wanted to do the next morning before our afternoon ferry to the mainland, so we hitched a ride back into town in the back of a pickup, along with about 10 other people. I still had my cocktail in my hand and, surprisingly, did not spill it. I have discovered my hidden talent! Too bad it's illegal in the US.

We had a few more beers when we got back to the hostel and I went to bed around 3am. Imagine my dismay when, at 6:30am, the girls are knocking on my door demanding that I get up so we can go to Ojo de Agua and La Punta before our 4p ferry.

I did get up, rather grumpily, showered, dressed, packed my stuff and we met up with Christian, one of Ash's friends, and he took us to Ojo de Agua.

Ojo de Agua was nice. It was $2 to swim there and breakfast was a bit overpriced, but I could've easily lounged away my hangover there. But no.

Instead of spending my day by the cool, still waters of Ojo de Agua, we went and caught a bus. A bus that was ridiculously crowded. A bus where I could hardly breathe and people kept stepping on my feet. A bus that I was on for over 2 hours. I wanted to die.

But, eventually, we made it to La Punta. And, as I am constantly learning new words and phrases in Spanish, I learned the difference between "punta" (point) and "puta" (bitch). It's kind of similar to the English bitch and beach. Kind of difficult, because they sound so dang similar. But, now I know. Unfortunately, with that knowledge, there is the fact that every time I hear one of the words, I will think of the other and either forevermore confuse them or never more. Who knows?

We played in the water a bit, did not get eaten by sharks, ate some lunch and hitched a ride back to the main road where we parted ways with Christian and began the long walk/hitchike to the ferry dock.

We enjoyed some sodas, checked out the local hotties and caught the 4p ferry back to San Jorge.

From San Jorge, we caught the bus back to Managua, went back to our hostel and passed the F out.

It was really fun, but I wish I had been there longer than just a weekend.

I think the most important thing I learned during my weekend in Ometepe is to always be ready for a fiesta.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Date With a Man From Honduras

I have been living in Managua for a little over a month now, my Spanish isn't as good as it could be and it's a bit difficult making friends when you talk like a retarded three year old. It's always nice when people don't mind so much that you only understand a third of what they say and are tolerant of speech mistakes and poor sentence construction.

Sunday, I was recovering from a sore throat by drinking hot water with rum and fresh lemon. I was sitting in the main room, watching the Nicaragua-Mexico soccer match and Alvin, a dude from Honduras, turned to me and asked me if I like soccer.

"I'm from the US. I think it's against the law for me to like soccer," I replied, in my broken, non-sensical, Spanish.

He told me that if I understand the rules, then I will like it. So he started explaining to me what was going on. I learned what yellow cards and red cards mean. It was terribly exciting. And I don't think the Nicaraguan team was all that good. But that could just be my ignorance talking.

After the match, I went to my room and decided to listen to some music and read before I went to bed. But no. There was a knock at my door, I opened it, and there was Alvin, inviting me to a movie. I told him I wasn't feeling well, he told me it was only a movie. So, I agreed.

He bought tickets for Up, the Disney/Pixar movie. I don't think he knew what it was. We had about forty minutes to kill before the movie started, so we went to one of the bars in the food court and had a couple beers. We talked. Well, he talked and I tried to make sense of it and I tried to talk and he tried to make sense of it. Alvin is about 5'4 and loves heavy metal and black metal, dresses all in black, has long hair and one ear pierced. He kind of looks like a tiny pirate. And did I mention his name is Alvin?

So, we go in to the movie and as soon as it starts, he lifts up the armrest. I didn't know the armrests went up, so I put it back down. This happens about three times. He lifted it up again and put his hand on my leg. I took his hand off my leg, put it on his leg and put the armrest back down and held it down with my arm. Then he tried to put his hand between my legs. I moved his hand back on to his leg. He tried to put his hand on my breast. I put his hand back on his leg and moved over a seat. He followed me. And so on. Now, just so you know, there were only two other people in the theater and they were watching the movie. I think.

So, the entirety of the movie involved Alvin being all hands-y. And, apparently, he thought saying "beso" meant I would kiss him. I just shook my head and pointed at the movie. And he kept talking to me in Spanish, but super fast and I didn't understand him.

After the movie, we took a cab back to the hostel. I unlocked the gate, looked at him and said, "Gracias por la pelicula y buenas noches." And I left him at the door to his room. But he followed me to my room. I told him I needed to sleep. He kept following me. He seemed to think that saying the words, "condom" and "kiss" were a form of foreplay or something. I don't even know.

I get to my room with him still following me and I unlock the door and stand in the doorway facing him and say, again, "Buenas noches." He wouldn't let me close my door and tried to push it open so he could come inside. I think he thought that if he could make it into my room, I had to have sex with him or something. It was strange. So, I pushed him out of my room with both hands, again said good night, and closed and locked my door.

I am, like, three feet taller than this dude. Just because I am tall, blonde and have freakishly large breasts does not mean I am going to have grown up time with every tiny Central American man that says the word "condom" to me. Oh, and my tiny friend Alvin also had told me that he kind of has a child and a girlfriend. How do you kind of have a child? And, Mr. 22 year old Honduran metal head, I am not only 12 feet taller than you, I am also about thirty years older than you.

So I think I may need to avoid dating until my Spanish skills are much improved. Unfortunately, all the hot, respectable men in Nicaragua between the ages of 25 and 32 are all either married or living with their ladies and have kids. I suppose my blonde-ness and blue-eyed-ness are exotic and interesting and they want me for the same reason Teddy Roosevelt like to shoot elephants, for the exotic conquest.

I just need to sharpen my shank, sharpen my wit, and get fluent in Spanish shit-talking. Only then will I be prepared for the dating scene in Nicaragua!

Friday, June 26, 2009

25 Days Later...

Or, if you want to count when I left Seattle, 40 days later.

I've been living in Nicaragua for almost an entire month. I kind of love it. I just spent two days in the field outside El Sauce. Rob, the director of El Porvenir, Nicaragua, picked me up at my house at 7am Tuesday morning and we took the two and a half hour drive north and slightly east to El Sauce. We stopped in Nagarote on the way for quesillos, Rob's favorite food. It was like a heart
attack in a bag. They take a fresh, warm tortilla, place a circle of thick cheese on the tortilla, roll it up, place it in a bag and then pour an onion cream sauce over it. You then smoosh down the tortilla top to make sure it is immersed in the cream. Then you twist the top of the bag, tie it in a not and bite a hole in the bottom of the bag to gain access to your deliciously unhealthy snack. They're only a buck a piece (C$20) and Rob likes to eat at least three. He is insane.

I've learned over the past few weeks that you can eat or drink anything out of a plastic bag.

It's incredibly useful knowledge.

We left Nagarote after picking up a few quesillos and an orange Fanta, my current favorite beverage. (Sorry whisky! You've been replaced!) We arrived in El Sauce at about 10am and went to the field office to pick up the three staff there so they could guide us to the small comunidad a few hours hike to the north. So, we piled into the car and drove until the road ended. We then hiked, uphill, for three hours to get to this community to check on their wells. I thought I was going to die. Muscles in my legs I didn't know I had are still sore. It was so hot my sweat was sweating. Eric, my secret boyfriend, had to scare a few cows off one of the paths so we could pass. We met a few kids that hike an hour each way to go to school. They were wearing flip flops.

After three hours, we finally arrived at one of the houses near the well. They gave us chairs and the family put my chair in the very center of the room. Then they all stared at me. For a very long time. They let me know that I'm "gordita, blanca, habla español muy mal y hermosa." They laughed when one of the girls tried to teach me how to whistle. I told them I would practice my whistling skills and my Spanish and come back. They tried to get me to take their 12 year old daughter back to the States with me. I laughed and said maybe in a year. The other volunteer here told me I shouldn't have said that because they may take me seriously and ship me their daughter. I wish them luck. And I may be fat white and bad at Spanish, but I already knew that. I think that, because it's a million mile hike up a mountain to get to their house, they don't get a lot of visitors. Perhaps along with clean drinking water, we should bring them manners. Or something.

We climbed under some barbed wire, checked the well, then hiked back down the hill toward the car. We could hear the thunder and were hauling ass to get back before the rain hit. Rain in Seattle is nothing compared to the rain down here. One hour of rain and the roads are flooded. You could drown just by walking out of your house. We made it back down the trail in about two and a half hours and got under cover just as the first few raindrops began to fall. Then we hopped into the car and headed back to town for dinner.

The next morning I was, again, ready to go at 7am. A bit sore and not terribly well-rested, but ready none the less and armed with a giant bottle of water to combat the hiking that would happen after breakfast. Luckily, this hike was nowhere near as long or as uphill.

We again drove to the outskirts of town, not as far, parked and headed out on a trail that was pretty flat. The hike was a little over an hour and we checked out some of the plots that were being reforested. I wasn't feeling all that well and I totally vommed in the bushes.

Oneida, one of the ladies from the field office, asked me if I was all right and what I had eaten for breakfast. My response: "Gallo pinto y ojos." Then I realized I told her I had eaten eyes for breakfast and that was why she was looking at me funny, so I corrected myself and said "I mean, huevos." Or eggs, as they're commonly called in the US.

We continued wandering around looking at plots and hung out in this guy's house for a while. He had three barbie-like dolls hanging on his walls.

We checked out two more reforestation plots in the area, crossed two rivers on foot, climbed under some more barbed wire and then headed back to the car. I climbed down a ladder made of roots. It wasn't really a ladder, but it was really the only way to get down off the cliff. I successfully made it down without dying. That's important. Not dying can be pretty fun.

When we got back to town, we went to another community that is in El Sauce. It's the shanty town. A lot of the houses are made from tin and old plastic bags. There's a really nice river that runs by there. And it wasn't a hike to get there at all. It was just a five minute walk down a rock and garbage-filled road that was too rough to drive over. Then we left and went to a meeting with the mayor. I'd never met a mayor before.

We left El Sauce that evening around 5p and headed back to Managua for another meeting at 8p. We got caught in a crazy storm. There was thunder and lightning and rain. So much rain. The water was inches deep on the road and the rain was pouring down in sheets. Neither of us could see out the windshield and we were listening to music from the early 1950's. I felt kinda like I was in a David Lynch film. We made it back to Managua at about 8:30 and I told Rob I was too tired for another meeting. So he took me home where I drank some water and promptly passed the f out. The maid had cleaned my room while I was gone and put clean, ironed sheets on my bed. It was so nice.

I went to another meeting this morning and now have another friend from the States to go clubbing with, which is great. A girl can't spend too much time sorrounded by Germans without losing her pretty little mind.

Oh, and I saw Rachael. Twice this week! She is awesome, just so you are all aware. She is from the east coast, but I don't hold that against her. Her hilarity, sarcasm and wit make up for defects in where she was reared...

And that's what's been going on so far this week.

Here is a picture of a turkey standing on another turkey. Because I love it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Guidebooks Lie. Managua is Rad.

I love Managua.
There. I said it.
After three weeks of living here, I'm glad I don't hate it. It is ridiculously hot and humid and when it rains, it monsoons. I've always liked the rain, though and I'm getting used to the heat. I've begun experiencing the joy of feeling cold in 70ºF weather.
So many amazing and exciting things have happened since I arrived, and none of them involve me getting robbed! (Hopefully that trend continues!)

I arrived on the first of June, took a cab from the airport and found a hostel in Barrio Martha Quezada, a popular barrio for backpackers and international travellers. The rooms were clean and the people were nice and I befriended an 8 year old boy. We watched the Discovery channel together and traded words. He would tell me the name of bugs and animals in Spanish, and I would give him the English equivalent. It was fun. While staying at Casa Vanegas, I explored Managua a bit. By taxi. I found delicious restaurants and the best juice bar in the city (Licuados Ananda), I saw a sperm mural outside the lady part clinic (hilarious, to be photographed later) and I went to the cultural museum, the arboretum and saw Laguna de Tiscapa from the shadow of Sandino's silhouette. There are amazing revolutionary era murals and statues all over the city.
After three days at Casa Vanegas, I switched hostels to the cheaper Hospedaje Molinito. It was only $5 a night, but it was hella gnar. Now I'm not really sure why I stayed there. I feel dirty just thinking about it. The shared shower was rusty and had spiders in it. The shared bathroom looked like something out of a horror movie. My room was tiny and I had a small pad lock to put on the outside of it when I left. There were two men staying there that were fond of walking around in their underwear and one of them tried to hit on me and sell me perfume, at the same time. It was different. I stayed there one night then bailed early the next morning to a new barrio and paid $20 for one night in an incredibly clean and air conditioned room. It was worth it.
From Hotel Ideas D'Mama (the clean and expensive place) I walked up to Nuevo Catedral.

It's the newest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. It was built with money donated by the guy that owns Dominoes Pizza. (Speaking of pizza, there are at least two Papa John's in the Managua area. There is also a TGI Fridays. But no Starbucks! Is a city really a city without Starbucks?)
My first weekend in town I decided to get out of town. I went to Masaya where I planned to go up to the Santiago Crater and check out the nesting canaries or whatever they are, but I decided not to. Partially because I'm a huge chicken and partially because, well, I guess totally due to chicken-ness. But I made a new friend in Masaya. Her name is Rachael. She's a travel writer for a company based out of Quito, Ecuador. She's from Massachussettes. And she is hilarious. The hostel in Masaya was also really nice. It's called Hostel Mi Casa. The woman that owns it has 12 kids. Two of them live in Seattle! When her kids grew up and moved away, she decided to turn her house into a hostel. The cheapest rooms are $5 a night and it's a really comfortable spot. It's also pretty close to Granada.

I came back to Managua after the weekend and had a meeting with the volunteer coordinator from El Porvenir. We decided I would start Wednesday, so I did. I moved in to my current digs, Hospedaje Dulce Sueño. It's a nice place.

That's the view from my room! I have super cheap rent and I ride the bus to work every day. It is very exciting. And Alex, the guy that runs it, is awesome. We drank rum last night and I practiced talking shit in Spanish.
I've just been working and whatnot since I settled in at Dulce Sueño. My second weekend here I went clubbing with the Germans (did I mention Nicaragua is full of young people from Germany?). We went to a club called Chaman. It is shaped like a giant pyramid. The clubs here are awesome. You pay a cover and then drink for free all night. The standard cover is US $4 for the ladies and US $9 for the guys. And Thursday is ladies' night, so the girls pay US$1.50! Woo hoo! I'd never been drinking inside of a giant pyramid before. And now I kind of wish I had some of my fancier clothes and maybe a hat or two. I only have one nice dress and I can't wear it clubbing every weekend. How lame would that be?
My third weekend here (the one that just ended) I took Friday off and went back to Masaya to hang out with Rachael. We went to the witch village, Diriomo, and met with a Bruho (male witch)! Rachael used to live in Nicaragua when she was a teenager and lives in Quito now, so her Spanish is everything that mine is not. We asked the Bruho if he could make me speak fluent Spanish and he said he had to cut my upper arm in a certain way so the spirit could fly in there and that it would cost C$1500 (US $75). I respectfully declined but still had to pay him C$100 for the consultation. Rachael was worried he was going to curse us. But I think we are far too pretty to be cursed. Isn't that how it works?
Saturday we rode the bus to Laguna de Apoyo to go swimming. Laguna de Apoyo used to be a volcano that erupted, leaving a giant crater in it's place that filled with water. It was perfect. The water was a perfect temperature, the view was amazing, the sulfides in the lagoon made my skin so soft. The only downside to the area was that one restaurant had turtle eggs on the menu. Gross. And not exactly conservation friendly.

Other than that, I have started studying for my GRE and plan to take it at the US Embassy at the end of the summer. I am also almost working on my applications for grad school. I had a dream that I was going to grad school in Hawaii, so I checked it out. They don't have the program I want. Boo hoo hoo.
Oh, and tomorrow for work I am going to El Sauce, hiking into a small village a few hours north, and collecting water samples and spending the night in the village! Woo hoo!

I'm having a great time, learning Spanish and making friends. It gets a little lonely sometimes because I'm hilarious and Germans seem to have no sense of humor. And I'm lacking a bit in the Spanish department. But I'm really good at riding the bus!

The buses here are awesome. They're old schoolbuses that aren't up to code for usage in the states. It only costs C$2.50 to ride the bus (US 12.5 cents) and the bus driver makes change! If only the Seattle bus system were so cheap...

What I've learned so far is that I love Gallo Pinto, hate mosquitoes and other flying insects and I am one of few visitors to Managua that like it. Most people just spend a night or two here and get out as quick as they can. Those people are fools. And I would have been one of them if my boss hadn't given me an office here.

¡Viva Managua!