Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nicaragua Photos


Here are links to the Nicaragua photo albums. You can find the Panama and all other countries in the blog

Nicaragua - Masaya

Nicaragua - León

Nicaragua - Granada

Nicaragua - Managua

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So Incredibly Delightful Masaya


Masaya is so conveniently situated, few take advantage of staying here more than one night. I was glad we had the time we did, spending 4 nights there. It is approximately 14 km west of Granada and 31 km southeast from Managua, a bit longer from León.

What sets Masaya apart is the El Mercado Viejo, a market that looks like it was once a castle, but indeed was built for the soul purpose of being a market. It was built at the end of the 19th century and is the greatest tourist attraction of the area. Some tour guides tout that one could shop for every holiday and birthday present needs for everyone on your list for an entire year of gift giving and not purchase the same thing twice. This could possibly be true if you have not been to Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, and Panama in the past – either recent or distant. Yes, this market is flooded with handicrafts of all types that are supposedly made in the country, but many of the wood products are identical to the wood projects ubiquitous in Costa Rica. Hundreds of the woven napkins, placemats, some clothes and pottery are indistinguishable from those of Guatemala or Belize.

Once again, I think of the airline regulations that curb my appetite for shopping. As much as I loved some of the pottery pieces, the weight was significant and would require being hand carried. Sorry, but my carry-on is limited to a backpack that has a laptop, convertors, digital camera, lens, mobile phone and book for the plane. Taint no more room for other goodies and the weight is back straining as it is. Due to the restrictions on weight of checked luggage and the number or pieces, it is impossible to bring these things back. There were some enchanting hand woven baskets that I had not seen anywhere else, so would have been a real find. I wanted them for gifts, but then the weight factor and fitting them into our small suitcases ruled out those purchases. My shopping has really been restricted due to the airlines.

We had B and B guests who were charged $150 extra for being 3 pounds over the limit. I would have thrown stuff away, but they paid it. That story reverberates in my mind when I consider airport check-in.

Regardless, the market is a place to spend time looking. Each vendor will try to get you into his or her booth, but none become aggressive beyond that. Behind the market is an appealing, but small Museum of Folk Legends. At first one may balk at the cost of $2 per adult. What so expensive? This is Nicaragua after all, isn’t it. Consisting of one large room, it is cleverly spaced to make you feel like there is more that there is. Regardless, the mannequins are 1st class as are the costumes and other displays. They are art pieces as well as displays. Though everything is in Spanish, we were able to piece together enough information to make sense of various displays. Even without the language, just the colors and outfits could have entertained us.
When the sun is warming the air to 86 degrees or beyond, one doesn’t feel like sprinting around a city. Yet, we did venture out to visit El Malecón. On the way, we accidentally came across 7 Esquinas, a place where 7 corners converge; this is unique in Masaya.

El Malecón open area resembles a park. There are a number of wooden booths scattered along one side of the park, but none were operational. There seems to be a school there too, but this being summer vacation, the students will not return until mid-February. I was never able to find out if they get a winter vacation come July or August. Anyway, El Malecón offers some awesome views of the Masaya Lagoon and the Masaya Volcano. What really disturbed me was the litter. One end of the walkway was literally like a garbage dump filled high with trash rolling down into a pristine lagoon. Very sad!

On the other end of El Malecón is the baseball stadium named for the famed baseball player Roberto Clemente. According to “…the Roberto Clemente Stadium is a baseball stadium named in honor of Puerto Rican baseball hero, Roberto Clemente, who was killed in a plane crash traveling from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua with relief supplies for victims of the devastating earthquake that wrought havoc in Managua in 1972.”

Ron would have loved to attend a game here, but the season is over.

Another day, we walked to the ‘other market’. This is always a cultural experience if there ever is one. When I walk into places like this with sandals on, ten minutes in, I feel like I need to wash my feet. Heaven forbid a sandal slipped off causing my foot to touch the floor, I would have to have it amputated. Cleaning it would not be sufficient. These types of markets are all over the world; great labyrinths that seem to go on forever. There are times when a feeling of needing to call the rescue squad comes to mind, thinking you may never see daylight again. The further in your go, the dimmer the light. One can buy anything from school supplies to meat for the night’s dinner. When we leave, I need a sanitizing rinse.

One day we paid a driver to take us to Hostal Paradiso, the place where we went to the lagoon. Ron wanted another day swimming and kayaking. I had different motives. I knew they had WiFi there, so I took the laptop with me. The day was January 22nd and it was very significant. This was the day that I had intended to send out our wedding invitations with the video link. January 22nd would have been my father’s birthday had he lived. Had he lived and were well enough, he would have attended our wedding with bells on. I wanted the invitations to go out on his birthday to honor him. With the crappy connection at the hotel, I could not be assured of this, so I spent 4 hours at the lagoon sending out over 150 invitations. As it turned out, the connection at the hostel was no better than our hotel, but they went out as planned regardless.

Our hotel was close to the Museo de Heróes y Mártires. It is a museum located inside the Alcaldía de Masaya (Town Hall). This is a museum dedicated to the heroes and martyrs of Nicaraguan Revolution in 1979. Each time we passed by, there was a long line of locals waiting outside. I kept thinking how great that they are so interested in their history. It was not until Ron visited the museum that we realized the museum itself only took up a couple of small rooms in the city hall.

At the end of Masaya, our same driver for the Laguna adventure drove us the airport in Managua. What I learned about Nicaragua was that there are some places I could live happily IF. Life always comes with conditions. In order to live here I would need super-fast Internet. Then I would need some assurances that no government agency is going to sweep into our lives and take what we own. See article below about presidential terms. Neither is going to happen, so Nicaragua will continue to be a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to live here.

We flew back to Panama City where we are now and will be until this Thursday.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

León to Masaya


Getting from León to Masaya meant booking a shuttle, which we did with Terra Tours. For a 2 hour ride, the trip cost us $12 each. We were lucky that the front seats were vacant, so we didn’t have to squeeze in the back, but we were still a bit cramped. Having the A/C blasting on us was a bonus.

We were told the shuttle would not take us directly to the hotel, but to a gas station from which we would need to take a taxi. Uncertain of the logistics of this, we held our breath. As luck would have it, we arrived at the gas station at the precise moment a taxi was dropping off passengers. The driver ran out to grab him for us and gave him directions. The ride was $2.

Our accommodation, Casa Robleto was fantastic. As one enters, a large salon runs the horizontal length of the building. The high ceilings and great depth allow the heavy wooden furniture pieces to envelop the space without making the room feel crowded. Rocking chairs, being a cultural custom of the country were present. They and another loveseat that did not rock were created in an amazing fashion combining hand carved wood with intricate caning designs.

Beyond this room is an immense space. The perimeter is covered, but the center holds a garden that is open to the sky. One section holds a pool table and more rockers. Along the right hand wall are the doors to the bedrooms, while at the back of the area, there is the open dining room to the right and the kitchen to the left. This sense of openness has been the most exciting feature of the Nicaraguan home architecture. When you don’t need to worry about hail, snow, or sleet, or freezing temperatures, there is a great freedom in design.
Our room had a bed that was beyond king sized. It could have slept a party of four and still had room to roam. The rest of the room still had plenty of floor space, relieving any sense of potential claustrophobia. The staff was more than friendly. Then it was time to see what the town was like.

Walking to the central square, we were thrilled to see the streets were well maintained, as were the sidewalks. There were no gaps or huge holes to lose a foot in if not paying attention. In addition, the square, though housing the mandated Catholic Church that had seen better days, there were hundreds of families utilizing the park for social activities. Temporary and permanent amusements were filling children’s dreams and helping to deplete their energy. Vendors were selling a variety of foods, drinks, and shaved ices.

Restaurants and other businesses placed around the square seemed to be flourishing. The word charming kept creeping into my mind. I was happy we were here and joyful it was better than León.

What did not get my vote for best of anything category was the Internet connection throughout Nicaragua, but it seemed to get progressively worse as we traveled. I had concerns it was my laptop that was the problem, but hence it was not. In Masaya, it took a good 20-30 minutes to download my e-mails. Uploading anything like my photos or blog was impossible. In León, I had complained so much they had someone come to check the wiring on the router to no avail. Here they just apologized profusely, but I was getting the idea it was a country issue.

Highlights of Masaya next.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

León the Tattered Lion


There is a TV show in the US called Pretty Little Liars. This is what I call travel writers who try to make a city sound appealing when in fact, it really is like putting lipstick on a pig. This is close to my take on León, Nicaragua.

However, our story begins with the morning of leaving Granada. Gerry our host knew I was ill, really, really ill. There wasn’t a single orifice on my body that was not leaking, spilling, spurting, or blasting out some type of fluid. All of this fun was yet to be enhanced with a 2 hour ride in an overcrowded shuttle meant for 12 people, but which had 15. The only redeeming feature was that it was air-conditioned or I would never have survived. My thoughts were leading back to last night’s dinner. Ron was fine, but had a different menu item. Regardless, Gerry offered some stomach pill and a large plastic bag. Unfortunately, it was clear and not black. Let’s just say I learned new skills in covert operations if filling the bag.

The shuttle left us off right at the front door of our accommodations - Posada Fuente Castalia. This was a lovely place run by a wife and her husband, both former educators. She was the local Minister for Special Education and he was a Professor of Literature at the local university. Typical of homes here, after passing the living room area, you walk into an extensive garden area open to the sky with rooms on one side sheltered by an overhang. Our room was named colibri, which I thought was interesting since it is kolibri in Hungarian and hummingbird in English.

Once in the room, I did not flutter my wings, but set out for a long nap with intermittent sets of jogging to and from the bathroom. We were not able to do much the first day since I was restricted to public conveniences. Somehow we managed to make it to the center square where one of the churches is located, but that is a given in these countries. Every square has to have a church, a Catholic church. Now the Lonely Planet guide suggests that León is a charming city with some faded eloquence of its colonial past still visible in the architecture. To this I say “Liar, liar, pants on fire”.

León is the 2nd largest city in Nicaragua after Managua the capital. It boasts having the Basílica de la Asunción, the largest cathedral in Central America. Highlights are listed as the Stations of the Cross by Antonio Sarria, which are considered to be masterpieces along with the black Jesus: El Cristo Negro de Pedrarias. It is thought to possibly be the oldest Catholic image in the Americas having arrived in 1528. The stations were huge, but not exceptional in my view. This could be my prejudice in the subject matter. The black Jesus was interesting, but what struck me the most was the outside of the building. It was decrepit. Perhaps the top 1/16 of the building was looking clean and fresh with a bright white luster, but the rest of it looked in dire need of a makeover.

Cattycorner to the church is an excessively oversized woman dressed in Spanish attire. She is La Gigantona, the giant woman who represents the original Spanish colonists and continues to be mocked today during folk festivals. Indigenous people thought the Spaniards were oversized humans who also happened to be ugly. The male representative does not fare well either, but he is not a giant, just severely unattractive.

As in most Central and South American cities, the central squares are bustling with activities in various forms. This is the heart of a town or city. It is where socialization happens, gossip is exchanged and cultural traditions are maintained.

There are few museums in the city, but one that was listed as a ‘not to be missed’ was the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones (Museum of Myths & Traditions). We had difficulty finding it as it is housed in La XXI (the 21st Garrison), a former prison during the political revolution. It seems like a strange setting for a quirky collection of life-sized papier-mâché figures that evolved from the history and legends of the city. Most of the figures were handmade by the museum’s founder Señora Toruña. There is a life-sized replica of her also on display. She lived to be 95 years old, but wanted to live on so had the realistic looking statue made.  Intermixed in these representations of fun and legend are the murals which graphically portray the methods of torture that the Guardia Nacional used on prisoners. At one moment you want to laugh at some legend, while the next you need to shed tears for man’s inhumanity to man.

We were led from room to room by our guide who spoke English well enough to understand, but at the same time make us have to hold in laughter at some of his mistakes. Each room is dedicated to a diverse aspect of local folklore. It is here where we discovered La Gigantona from the center square who is ridiculed still in a popular folklórico ballet. Another room has La Carreta Nagua (Chariot of Death), which picks up the souls of those foolish enough to cross intersections cater-corner.

When in a room, our guide would explain the local legends; outside the rooms he solemnly explained the cruelties used here such as stretching prisoners on racks, beatings, water tortures and other abuses that were regularly employed here until June 13, 1979, when Commander Dora María Téllez successfully breached Somoza’s defenses. He secured La XXI for the Sandinistas, releasing all prisoners.

The other museum we visited was on particularly no interest to me, but Ron enjoyed it. It was the home and archives of the poet Rubén Darío. I had not heard of him, but I am not a lover of poetry. I found this on the web “…initiated the Spanish-American literary movement known as modernismo that flourished at the end of the 19th century.” Everything within was in Spanish, increasing my disinterest.

The Nicaraguans say that there is fierce competition between León and Granada as to which city in the best. I cannot imagine it is a competition at all. Granada has intact roads and sidewalks, even in the outer areas. In León, if you aren’t continually vigilant, you are putting your life or at least your ankles at major risk with the broken cement, gaping holes, and irregular pavement. The architecture in Granada is charming, even the run down areas, you can find weathered allure. León just looks rundown and in need of a major renovation. There are 19 Catholic churches in León, but not one of them is in decent shape.

We did find two bright spots, both coffee cafés. One was Pan y Paz French bakery, the other was Casa de Café where the coffee was excellent and the bread, and desserts were worth writing home about.

We did spend a day visiting Just Hope. Last year, one of our B and B guests was associated with a woman minister who set out to create a charity where women could develop sustainable forms of income. That was over 20 years ago and it has expanded exponentially. Through our guest, we started writing to the minister who is based in Tulsa, OK. We took a taxi to the various projects accompanied by the Nicaraguan director Julio Delgado. It was a delightful day filled with admiration for all they have accomplished. This outing was postponed three times due to my being sick.

Basically, if I weren’t sick for almost the entire week we were there, I would have been bored out of my mind in the time spent in León.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Granada - Home Potential Indicator Part 2


In the center of the city, there is an extensive park vibrating with activity. People are selling foods of all kinds, cigarettes, toys, sunglasses and other items. Some people are just milling around while others are relaxing or napping under the shade of the trees. Granada is a safe city as was Managua. There are no concerns about being attacked, mugged or otherwise. Well, actually, there is a ‘zone’ that one does not venture to after dark, but it is well beyond the tourist needs and not all that attractive even in the daylight.

One of the highlights of the city, especially around this park is the horse and carriages. All along one side of the park, there are about 20 carriages waiting to be your taxi wherever you want to go. These are not just for tourists as they function as taxis as well as the taxi automobiles do, so locals use them as often as foreigners use them.

One day as we were returning from the grocery store, one of the young carriage operators stopped us to chat. His name is Giovanni. Yes, he has an Italian name; it is not really Juan and I am not trying to pull a fast one. Giovanni owns carriage number 34. His English is great. Part of me really wanted to take a carriage ride, but the other part of me had reservations. As we witnessed these horses as they passed us on the streets, some look so malnourished it made my heart bleed. I could not support the presumed cruelty to these animals making them slaves, while some may say if I did pay for the ride; the owner may have more money for feeding them. It is a vicious cycle. Telling Giovanni we may take a ride ‘someday’ since we were here for a week, kept him satisfied, but he insisted we remember his carriage number to find him when we changed our minds.

The next day, a tap on the shoulder alerted me to find Giovanni standing behind me. He offered a different type of tour if we weren’t into his horse and carriage ride. He could provide us with a tour of the islands in Lake Nicaragua. The lake covers 8,264 km² and is the largest lake in Central America, 19th in the world. It boasts 365 islands as Giovanni likes to say, there is one for every day of the year. For $25 each, he would pick us up at the hotel, drive us to the lake and spend 2 hours touring the lake with us to give an education. We accepted with arrangements for the next morning.

We told one of the women staying at the B and B with us and she decided to join in. We spent over 2 hours touring the lake viewing the different islands and were blown away. A number of them are privately owned, a few by US Americans, one by a Canadian, a couple by Europeans and the others are either Nicaraguan owned or for sale. Not all of the islands are large enough to inhabit, but there are plenty to go around. Those that are large enough have mansions on them, complete with swimming pools. As divine as they looked, the thought of needing to motor boat to shore for all your other needs, seemed too inconvenient for me. I would get island fever in a week’s time. Just think, when you had houseguests, you could not get away from them or they from you either.

On another day, we took a shuttle to Laguna de Apoyo. Imagine a giant volcano imploding on itself and then filling with water, which gives you the general history of the Laguna de Apoyo. Sitting on the rim are various hostels, but we booked a day trip with Hostel Paradiso for $12 each transportation fee and then $7 each usage fee once there. The ride was about 40 minutes to reach the place. Like its name suggests, this is a bit of paradise. At the top of the property, there is the hostel itself with common bathrooms. As you descend, the entire property is landscaped with flowering shrub plants and bougainvillea. At the next level is a restaurant and small bar. Further down is yet another small restaurant where footlockers are available for locking up your valuables. There are hammocks, rockers and lounge chairs all over the property, with the majority placed near this lower restaurant and along the shoreline. There are kayaks and inner tubes for guests to use. Since the ‘beach’ is not sand, but volcanic rocks, I did not swim. I was not particularly interested in swimming, but I had a book, so I was more than happy to sit in a lounge chair, relax and read. There were two reasons I avoided the water. 1. I have Princess and the Pea feet. The rocks would have been insufferable. 2. Finding out I am diabetic, I do all I can to protect my feet at all cost. The shuttle was there to return us to town by 4:30 pm, so I did not suffer in the least. The views are spectacular and I did some bird watching, snapping a number of photos.

Granada is a gorgeous little city when you stay in the center. As you expand out, you leave some of the quaint architecture behind and get into the reality of poverty. Regardless of how poor the people are, they are friendly. There was rare a moment when we passed someone on the street who did not say “Buenos”. They frequently abbreviate it leaving off the day, afternoon, or evening.

Why I would not live here is simple. The government still borders on the crazy. One American who has lived here for 4 years told us she knew of people who did things the government did not like (no details provided other than they were foreigners) so they had their building expropriated. Vroom, now you own it – now you don’t. It is government property and you have no recourse. It turned out not to be an isolated incident. I happened to mention to Gerry our host that if he were comfortable with gay people, he should advertise on Purple Roofs and EBAB. He said that although he has a no discrimination policy, down the street from him, a couple opened a gay hostel. Within a year, the government closed them down and seized the property. Okay, this is not as friendly a place as I had hoped. Nix Nic.

Other reasons are the smokers. They can smoke anywhere here. In restaurants, some have designated smoking sections, others don’t. I hate being a ‘reformed smoker’ and I still really enjoy the smell of tobacco, but not when I am eating or trying to enjoy an espresso. Then there is the dog problem. Homeless dogs are a major issue. There are more emaciated dogs roaming the streets than there are dogs at a Westminster dog show

The government approved monthly salary is C$4,753.02 Cordoba  = $190.12 (US Dollars). If anyone dares to say, “Well the cost of living is so cheap there…” I will smack you silly. As cheap as it is to live here, this is still extreme poverty. If you live in the US, try living independently on $12,000 a year and see what it feels like. This one issue really fries me. 

When guests come to Budapest and they hear what I earn as a full-time university instructor responsible for 9 classes a semester, they often comment “Well the cost of living is so much less expensive here…” I go into a slow burn. It barely covers basic living costs; living in Budapest is not cheap.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Granada - Home Potential Indicator Part 1


You may not read this until I am dead and dust, the Internet speed is so frustratingly slow. If I were sitting any closer to the Internet router, they would need to give me a colonoscopy to reset it. So it goes and some of the reasons that Nicaragua has fallen from grace as a potential place to live. Honestly, there is more to life than Internet speed, so here is a recap of our time in Granada.

It was spectacular! Recap concluded.

That was cheating right? Well here are some of the highlights. One way I approached each city we went to was to think in terms of what services specifically for ex-pats was lacking that the locals could also benefit from. One idea I had in Panama was to open a waffle restaurant, just a small one to fill a need for those North Americans needing a fix. Kathy’s Waffle House is a booming business in Granada. We ate there two different mornings, being thoroughly satisfied with the offerings. I did photograph the menu for future reference, perhaps for somewhere else. We also had breakfast at the Chocolate Museum where they offer an all you can eat breakfast for $6. They are smart in that they serve omelettes, pancakes and waffles. You choose the ingredients for each; however, the pancakes and waffles have the fruit or chocolate on top, not in the batter. They also only serve one at a time, reducing waste. Their omelettes were exceptional. Why Kathy’s is so busy when this place is a better bargain is a mystery. Other mornings, we ate our own cooking prepared at the guesthouse. Gerry always has fresh coffee ready each morning for guest consumption. These two places nixed my idea for any type of small eatery. 

There are relatively few museums in the city, but we went to them all: all three of them. Some had unusual mixes of modern art with artifacts from centuries ago. Nevertheless, the architecture of the interiors were worthy of the visit and the admission of $1-$2 could not be beat. Churches fit into the museum category, as this is an ultra-Catholic country, there are plenty of them to visit. The most famous is Convento y Museo San Francisco, the oldest church in Central America. Another church worthy of a visit was Iglesia de La Merced. So what is a nice atheist boy doing visiting churches? This is where the treasures of a culture are stored. People will give all they have to get God’s indulgences, so the churches prey on this mentality and adorn the church for the glory of God. Some of the best artwork you find in primitive countries is in their churches. If we were to live here, what would we do with ourselves. That question was answered later through observations. 

We continually encountered groups of men, who without too much eavesdropping were obviously ex-pats who had settled here. Some of the faces changed from day to day, while others were repeaters. They seemed aimless and from their conversations, if they did not meet with others here or there at some watering hole, they had no life whatsoever. Interestingly, we encountered only male groups. Were the women folk occupied with real activities or did they die from boredom early on in the move here?

Culturally, there is little to be engaged in. The movie theater still has posters from the first Harry Potter movie, yet we never saw the doors unchained. There are no theaters for plays, no stadiums for concerts or sports (not that I am complaining, but just saying). What the locals do is ‘hang out’. As cliché as it sounds, there are an abundance of rocking chairs in this country. Most of them are wooden framed with caned backs and seats. The workmanship of each rocking chair is impeccable and having had to do caning for a Boy Scouts merit badge, I can attest to the rigorous nature of caning. Children start rocking from early years, almost before they are off the nipple, rocking themselves in little chairs in that hypnotic embryotic contentment motion. This is how they spend their free time. You walk around the city any time of the day or night, especially in the night if the house is still warm; people are decked out in front of their abode rocking away. If they could be wired, they could be generating massive amounts of electricity, making the movements productive. This is the national pastime.

What we did for entertainment was desperate, but enjoyable in the end and fit our social work mentalities. A gentleman from Venezuela who had moved here over 30 years ago, opened the Escuela de Comedie and Mime: The school of comedy and mime. He wanted to do something for the children of the city. They generally never complete school beyond the 6th grade. Education is free, but they have to buy their own supplies, books, and pay for transportation if there is no school in their district. There are also a number of children, who are orphans for various reasons, so become street beggars. This man wanted to change their fate. 

Through his school, children come to learn drama, clowning, and mime to provide performances for the public. This in turn enhances their self-esteem. Over the years, Mr. Venezuela was able to fund a home to house these children, get them medical care and now they have a school. He has had multitudes of ‘graduates’ who now have fulfilling careers after receiving an education, and are contributors back to the organization for the next generations.  

One of the nights we were there, the school has a puppetry performance. A puppeteer from Mexico had come to the city to perform as a charity benefit for this school. There was no admission, but they passed the hat at the end. Through a variety of puppets of varying sizes, the entertainer told stories. Although they were all in Spanish and beyond our comprehension at the speed of his telling, we still enjoyed the evening.
The next night was another performance, this time by the students of the school. A North American director from Los Angeles came to Granada and volunteered to direct a play. It was a mix of the stories about the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg and Jack and the Beanstalk. There was no dialogue spoken. Intermittently, there was story line projected onto the wall, which was perfect for us to be able to read. These children from 4 to 19 years old, performed amazing feats of juggling, gymnastics, and unicycle riding. We left there feeling like we were walking on air, the feelings it left us with were so incredible. I hope that we will be able to aid the founder with finding some funding sources to continue his work. If we lived here, this is where I would direct my energy. He did share his observation that in his 30 years, he has found that Nicaraguans are not into culture, so he has difficult getting them engaged in the productions they produce.

Prior to attending this show, we went to an opening of an art exposition. One of the women staying at our bed and breakfast is an artist from Germany. There is some sister city connection between her home city and Granada. Six German artists came to Granada with their art pieces for a joint exhibition with their Granada counterparts. We had chatted a few times over morning coffee, so we felt some pressure to see what this was about. Besides, the Casa de Los Tres Mundos Building was the hosting location, a cultural center that normally charges admission. For the art opening, there were no fees. Most of it was modern art – ultra modern. This is not my cup of tea, but we went, we saw, we explored the inside of Casa de Los Tres Mundos.  

Other highlights coming are the islet tour and the day at the volcano crater lake.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Drowning in My Own Sweat


Okay, I feel guilty over not writing sooner. Honest, I do! There are reasons, not excuses for the absence,
which I will go into short detail about and then hopefully we can move on from there.

We were in Granada. Were the past tense as in we left there…over a week ago. What happened? Well, it is summer in this region of the world. It is hot out. No, change that to blistering hot out. Unlike Panama City where every store has air conditioning blasting and the front doors wide open, here they have the front doors wide open, but no air conditioning. Even our accommodation charges $10 a night extra for A/C with the expectation that it is nighttime use only. That said, the room did have a heavy-duty floor fan as well as a ceiling fan. Neither really met the match of A/C, but we didn’t realize how much we really needed artificially cooled air streams blowing over our sheets causing us a nighttime chill.

The room was not totally uncomfortable, but we toyed with the idea of wrecking our budget for a night or two splurging on the remote control needed to turn on the A/C unit, but it never won the battle. Add to this that Nicaraguan beds and pillows are like sleeping on marble slabs. I truly believe the pillows are made of straw that has been soaked in concrete before being formed into a shape that will never know what fluffing means. This led to lack of sleep. Lack of sleep led to apathy.

Days were moderately busy, but honestly, there would have been plenty of time to write IF it were not so damned hot. The heat melted away any incentive I had at being creative, sharing, or moving away from the poolside, though I did not even go in the one here.

Finally, the Internet connection is worse than when I had a 56K dial up modem, two centuries ago. The bed and breakfast has “high speed” Internet with a heavyweight router, but the upload speed is as fast as a mule in mud. One day, I thought I would be progressive and upload my photos. It took me 2 full days of letting the computer run non-stop to upload 36 photos. I could have delivered them to Picasa in person faster.

Even typing my notes in Word and then copying and pasting into Blogger has not solved the issue. Blogger times out before any saves have been made due to the Internet speed.

So that said, this is why I have not created a comprehensive overview of Granada and now León has past. I will write up a quick overview of each for my memory in the future as well as for your ‘reading’ pleasure. Hopefully, it will get uploaded.

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Granada – Love at First Site


Mike, the owner from our Managua accommodation, drove us to Granada about 40 miles away. After the hot, dusty, litter filled places we had seen, I had great hopes for Granada. As we drove through the beginnings of a town, which was rundown, littered, and dusty dirty looking, Mike announced “Welcome to Granada!” My heart fell, but I held out hope. 

My faith was not misplaced. A few blocks later, we were surrounded by the colonial architecture we had seen on the Internet and in books. Just off the square was our place to live for the next seven nights, Casa del Agua. Mike went to the gate, but could not find the bell. The “Sorry, we are full” was not promising that anyone would be around to let us in. Eventually, this big bear of an Irishman came to open the gate. Gerry is the owner of the inn, with a huff and a puff, showed us where the bell is located and then on to our room. 

As one enters Casa del Agua, there is a foyer with two rooms off of it, but directly in front on you, there is a swimming pool. Our room is one of the four to the sides of the pool. More than enough room to spread out, the bathroom alone is larger than some apartments I have seen. Lovely! The wall mounted TV has a USB port, so I can download our movies to USB and watch them in bed. What more could we ask for? The pool is 24/7, though not nearly as large as Mike’s in Managua, it is a place to cool off.

We set out to explore the city and fell in love within minutes. The center square is dotted with one glorious building after another, while the center park area is swarming with people selling various food items, jewelry, candy, cigarettes, hammocks, and more. 

Today is my birthday, so we decided to follow Gerry’s suggestion and go to El Camello’s restaurant. What a great idea. I had fried avocado sticks with creamy garlic sauce as an appetizer. My main dish was chicken satay served with rice and a salad. There must have been two chicken breasts of meat. It was more than plentiful; I love satay sauce. Ron had pea soup with chucks of ham and a special of the day salad with red leaf lettuce, beets, tomatoes, and coca nibs. I tasted both and they were incredible. 

As it turned out, Gerry is a bear with a marshmallow center. He is really a sweetheart, funny, and helpful.

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Tree Grows in Managua


Finally dragging ourselves away from the pool and views of the volcano, we asked Mike our host to tour us around Managua. We covered a few miles of highways and roundabouts where my heart did the jug handles around my chest as we navigated traffic. This is definitely not a place I would want to drive. Even in retrospect, it is not clear what the rules of the road happen to be. That aside, there were some sites to see.

Just as we noticed this coming from the airport, the medians in the streets and especially the highways are littered with these ‘golden trees’. At night, they light up. What we found out was that they were installed by President Daniel Ortega’s wife as a way to beautiful the city. She has done this at a cost of $20,000 each tree. It is only when you see a forest of them from the hilltop that you fully understand the waste of money which could have had vented into infrastructural improvements.

On said hilltop, we as foreigners had to pay to enter the park. It cost us $1 each, but Mike is a resident, allowing him to get in free. Just a side note here the official currency is the Nicaraguan córdoba, but many places will take US dollars. Currently the exchange rate is 25 córdoba (C$) to $1. We viewed the city on one side and a volcanic crater lake on the other. There was an extensive photo exhibit dedicated to Augusto César Sandino. Sandino was the half-pint general who lead the rebellion against the US military domination of Nicaragua. He battled the US from 1927-1933, when the Marines finally vacated, due to the depression at home. He is considered a national hero here and throughout the region.

As we traveled on highway in particular, we viewed dozens upon dozens of life-sized nativity scenes on both sides of the highway. A government organization, ministry, or a business is the sponsor for one. They are quite a sight and seem to continue for over a mile.

Mike dropped us off at the 'Plaza de la Revolución' (Revolution Square) for an hour and half on our own to explore. The Nicaraguan Institute of Culture is the main draw here after taking a look-see at the old cathedral that was ruined in the last big earthquake. It is still closed due to instability. To enter the main square you can walk through a lovely park and then past three eternal flames for various heroes. There isn’t one for Ortega yet, but give it time. 

Entry to the culture center was $4 each. The first few rooms were rather bizarre and poorly displayed exhibits of natural history of the area, though the last of the rooms had some interesting prehistoric bones. The rest of the ground floor had room after room of artwork from various Central American countries. Our free time evaporated as we explored these treasures, but when it seemed we were ten minutes late for meeting Mike already, Ron realized he no longer had his expensive sunglasses on his head.

Each of us going in different directions, we combed the floors of the center room by room, but did not find what we had hoped. We did the same with the square, retracing our steps proved futile. Feeling a bit downtrodden, we went to meet Mike. I casually said to Ron, while we walk over there, say a quick prayer to St. Anthony and see if he comes to your rescue. St. Anthony is the Patron on Lost Things. What we should have prayed for was Mike. We were fifteen minutes late to meet him, but he showed up an additional forty minutes later. 

While we were waiting, I was standing on the edge of the park staring into traffic, willing Mike to appear. Opposite me on the curb of the sidewalk was a tall, very good-looking, well-dressed young man with a little girl who must have been about 4 years old. He was pointing a camera toward the park behind me, but it looked like I was in his field of view, so I moved to the left. He moved simultaneously, so I moved to the right just as he again moved. He smiled, laughed and said no problem. I smiled and then smiled admiringly at the little girl dressed in a frilly frock. The shaved iceman had just delivered to her her sweet treat. So much for the pretty dress! Right after that the young man took the little girl’s hand, started to walk away, but not before handing me a card.

I was shocked when I looked at it. One side was a black silhouette of a she-devil in spiked heels complete with pitchfork. On the other side there was ample information in very explicit English to be certain this was a whore house, without mincing words. 

When Mike finally arrived, he had his girlfriend with him. They took us to a recreational park where we as
foreigners had to pay $4 each to enter. It sits on Lake Managua. There are multiple dozens of little food places catering to the populace with a range of snacks to full-blown meals. Ron and I each ordered pupusa with cheese and bacon at Mike’s suggestion. We had never had one, but he said they are typical Nicaraguan. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, or beans and cheese, but in our case cheese and bacon. Delicious and a nice snack! They are about the size of a saucer. From what I read, they originated in Salvadoran cuisine

Back to the pool to work off the pupusa from the hips.

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

D is for Desperation and It Isn't Pretty


English: Plane of Taca Airlines. Español: Avió...
English: Plane of Taca Airlines. Español: Avión de Taca Airlines. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Desperation is begging either the Diners Club lounge or Dunkin Donuts to open early. This is what happened this morning at the Panama City Tocumen International Airport. We were up by 3:30 am and Monica, our Columbian hostess who is married to the American David, drove us to the airport. As we are driving, I am thinking, I don’t think I would want to do this drive for $30. That was until we arrived at the airport 15 minutes later and recalculated. Another 15 minutes, she will be home again, so that is $60 an hour. Now that is not bad money at all. 

BUT, who are the sadists that design these flights at such early hours, now of the stores, cafeterias, or airline lounges are even open. Our flight was scheduled for 6:47 am, but we had to be there by 4:47 am. Even then, we were earlier than we needed to be. TACA Airlines was right on the ball, the counters were already open when we arrived. With boarding passes already printed out, it was a breeze checking in. Then the hunt started.

We walked all over the terminal looking and sniffing for freshly brewed coffee. As we walked past coffee bars, cafes, snack bars, espresso bars, we only sniffed our tears, but no aroma of caffeine brewing; they were all closed. We found the Diners Club lounge and rang the bell repeatedly like some magic would occur, but no one appeared behind the door where magic could happen. 

As we roamed, we noticed a restaurant on the 2nd level and it had people walking around in it. Standing back farther, we could make out the fluorescent sign that showed Open 24 Hours. What eluded us was the way to get to it. There were no escalators or elevators visible. There were no signs showing the way to one or the other either. Finally, I asked someone working near security. He told me we had to go downstairs, through Immigration and then back up the stairs on the other side. This seems like a treasure hunt, but without others to confirm his story, we tried. Down we went and directly ahead were the sleepy surly looking women of Immigration. Yes, only women were working this shift and they put their nasty faces on as soon as they saw our confused white faces. 

Rather than provide helpful information, they only said “You don’t have enough time to go to the restaurant.” What do you mean? We have over an hour before the boarding even begins. They refused to let us through; the Panama version of the Berlin Wall. Back to wandering the halls. 

People were starting to arrive to work; there was some fluttering going on behind the cage screens that protect these establishments from wary tourists making their own coffee. Ron asked each what time they would open, but every response was a discouraging 6:30 am. This only gave us 15 minutes.

I spotted a man unlock and then walk into the Diners Club lounge so we leaped on him like a couple of hunting lions with a wildebeest. With sad eyes, he turned his head and said “Just give me five minutes.” It was the least we could do. He was prey to his word; the door opened five minutes later. We swallowed a cup of coffee in two gulps and returned to the gate for our flight. 

We are doing a farm stay with an American ex-pat. Mark was gracious enough to take us grocery shopping on the way to his place. He has a lovely four room accommodation that he built on acres of land that host sweet lemons, mangos, tangerines, pineapples, bananas, avocados and other fruits I cannot recall. We have the apartment with a bedroom, kitchen and dinette area. Right out our door is the swimming pool, where we indulged an hour after arrival. From our balcony, we can see the Mount Masaya, an inactive volcano. I never thought I would be the relaxing type, but I am starting to get the hang of it.

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Ending the Year With a Smash


The year 2013 ended with these numbers of pageviews and actually 2314 posts, since I posted today.

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A Peaceful, Joyous, Prosperous 2014


As festive as the picture may look, our New Year celebration was almost non-existent. We returned to Panama City yesterday afternoon, because we fly to Nicaragua tomorrow morning early. Being told that there are no municipal celebrations, so no fireworks to hunt down, no best viewing place, we decided to stay put. Whether this information was accurate or not, if there were something happening, the dangers of sidestepping individuals with wayward firecrackers would not have been worth the risk.

It has been decades since New Year’s Eve has been an rousing holiday for me. We have had some memorable New Year’s celebrations in the past such our dinner cruise in Sydney, Australia; gathering in Lisbon, Portugal where a young couple gave us glasses of champagne because we had none; and Guayaquil, Ecuador where they burn effigies to rid the future of unwanted things or people. Every year for the last nineteen, we have watched the calendar turn over in some city and country other than the one we called home at the time. Having a visual feast of fireworks is not as important to me as feasting on the love and friendship of those around me. Even when others were absent, for the last twenty years, I have had Ron by my side to welcome in the New Year, anticipating what may unfold in the next twelve months.

This year was no different; we were together in embracing the New Year as it unfolded, except we did not leave our room. We watched movies, shared a bottle of wine and snacked on cheese and olives. It was all we needed this time, this year, shedding the past and welcoming the new.

There are planned life changes already in the forecast for 2014. Our wedding is 3 months and 18 days away. By the time we return to Budapest, it will be even closer. That is a thrilling, but scary thought considering all that needs to be accomplished still. Other ideas and life changes are percolating.

Regardless of how you have welcomed in the New Year, I wish all of us good health, abundant prosperity, and a fulfilling life.

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