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!