Tag Archives: bats

“Maybe This Will Work…”

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“I feel like Bob the Builder.”  This was Sara’s take on our very stylish hard hats as we traipsed around the crater taking pictures.  It was a more accurate description that I really want to admit.

At a distance, the resemblance is indisputable.

Back in the car, we continued up the volcano, stopping at a gate to pick up our English-speaking guide named Joel (pronounced Joy-el) who relieved me of the surprisingly exhausting responsibility of translating  (this is not meant to imply that I wasn’t IMMENSELY PROUD of myself).

lava rock path & half of Joel

Joel was going to be our guide through the caves, so we drove a little further up the volcano and stopped at one of the shelters (in the event of an expulsion, hide under this if you don’t have a car).  The shelters strongly resembled bus stops so I’m not sure how effective they would be in the event of a true emergency…  Joel led us (including Roberto – I loved that he came with us!) along a lava rock path to a point where he stopped and showed us a cave.  He explained that 100 meters in, this cave reached the crater, close to the center of the volcano.  I was under the rather worrying impression that this was the cave we’d be venturing into, at least until Joel closed his explanation by saying, “…but we’re not going in there.”  Not that it wouldn’t have been seriously cool, but I left my gas mask at home and wasn’t feeling breathing all the toxic gas.

“This is not the cave you’re looking for…”

We followed Joel a little further to an irregular set of stairs set into an embankment.  As we stepped carefully down the stairs (it was raining and they were slippery), Sara asked whether all this (meaning the caves) had been created by lava flows.  Joel answered, “the cave, yes.  The stairs, no.  We made the stairs.”  We ventured into the cave and I became acutely aware of how dinky and weak our flashlights were.  Their beams didn’t really have much of an impact in the all-encompassing darkness of the cave.   It’s a good thing I’m not afraid of the dark or claustrophobic because there might have been an issue.  Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, however, the flashlights became a bit more effective.   I attempted to take some pictures within the cave, but, really, they kind of all end up looking the same because I was essentially just pointing and clicking.  Roberto was bringing up the rear and every so often he would say, “tsst, tsst!” and tap me on the arm to call my attention to a truly adorable little bat (or cluster of bats) blinking (do bats blink?) in the sudden light of his flashlight.  Invariably, they would fly away before I could get my camera in gear for a picture.  According to Joel, there were both fruit and vampire bats in the cave (plus another type that I can’t quite remember).  The vampire bats need to drink blood at least once a day or they will die, so they frequently snack on the poor little fruit bats.  I tried very  hard to get a picture of any bat, but failed miserably.

Absolutely one of the dweebier pictures of me, but that’s our guide (who I don’t think knew he was in the picture) on the right.

looking back at the entrance to the cave

At the end of the path, we found ourselves facing a wall of rocks.  Joel instructed us to turn our flashlights off, which we did after exchanging dubious looks.  He then pointed his flashlight at a rock at the top of the pile and told us to look at the spot after he turned off his flashlight.

He shut it off.

I have never experienced such a pressing darkness before.  It was the total absence of light.  To borrow the cliche, you could not even see your hand in front of your face (I tried).  Furthermore, aside from the distant dripping of water somewhere in the cave, there was no sound.  It was eerie.  Even more eerie was that when we looked at the spot where Joel had indicated, we saw a faintly glowing face.

After a few moments, we turned all our lights back on, took a picture, and began trekking back to the entrance of the cave.  Joel was very chivalrous, helping Sara and I step down when the terrain was rougher.  While I was aware that I was perfectly capable of getting myself safely through the cave (minus the couple times I hit my head on the ceiling), I appreciated the consideration.  You would absolutely have to sign a few waivers before going into this kind of cave in America.   On the way back, we asked Joel how he’d become a park ranger  He’d studied a relevant subject in university and then had been working at Volcan Masaya for three years since.  When we complimented his English, he said that it was harder to learn when he was a student because English lessons were much more expensive than they currently were.

alligator (or crocodile) (or T-Rex) shaped rock

Outside the cave, Joel showed us a positively ENORMOUS wasps’ nest with HUGE wasps buzzing in and out of it.  RUN AWAY.

When we were all back into the little red car, Roberto turned it around to face the way we came and then… reversed?  I had heard Roberto and Joel talking about how little and economical the car was, albeit lacking in power, but what Roberto was doing still didn’t click in my head, even after Joel turned and said to us, “maybe this will work!”  Maybe what will work?  WHAT IS GOING ON??  It finally made sense when Roberto suddenly accelerated up the hill we’d come down previously.    Of course.  The car didn’t have the power or the 4-wheel drive to get up the hill normally, hence the running start.  It was a tiny bit nerve-wracking, whipping around hairpin turns at the edge of an active crater, but we survived, so it’s all good.

Next: What is Atole?

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Nicaraguan Mallrats

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Let me begin by saying that we were a little intimidated by Managua.  We had heard a lot about what not to do there and were feeling less than encouraged by guidebook quotes like, “tourists tend to land in Managua and leave.  Quickly.”  We’d also heard a lot about how unsafe and discombobulated the public transportation was (everything from it being impossible to figure out to the great likelihood of being robbed at knifepoint while on it).  Our hostel had a list of warnings on the wall, right next to a map that clearly outlined “safe” and “unsafe” neighborhoods.

However, we’re not the kind of people to sit in a hostel all day because we’re afraid to venture outside.  We didn’t do anything really extraordinary, but we did end up sharing what is a pretty common pastime with a certain class of people in Managua.

the mall.

We went to the mall.

Stop.  I hear you judging (I’d be judging).  Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m a mallrat or start heckling me for going to a mall when I’m in a freaking foreign country and could be doing ANYTHING else, let me explain.  I hate malls with a burning fire-and-brimstones passion.  If I go to hell when I die, hell will be a shopping mall around Christmas.  Commercialism and chaos.  I did have a brief mallrat phase when I was about 12 (I lived in South Jersey – there really isn’t much else to do), but I got over that fast.

So, obviously I was a little annoyed to be in a shopping mall in a foreign country, even though our options were limited.  However, as I looked around and slowly noticed that we were the only tourists there, I realized that we were, in fact, sharing an experience with the residents of Managua.  I decided to enjoy it.

Having spent little time inside malls since before India, I was overwhelmed and occasionally found myself casting my gaze around for a nice quiet space with minimal sensory stimulation.  However, I persevered and we wandered aimlessly around for a bit, before deciding the ultimate experience would be to see a movie in Spanish (well, subtitled in Spanish).  Sombros Tenebrosas (or, Dark Shadows) was the movie of choice.  Ticket buying was in and of itself an experience:  apparently going to the movies on a Saturday night is THE thing to do in Managua.  Everyone was seeing either Ice Age 4 or Madagascar 3.  Tickets were less than four dollars.  That alone made the entire experience worth it.

Since we had about an hour or so of extra time before the movie, we decided to complete our Nicaraguan mall-going adventure by venturing down to the food court to see what we could find for dinner.  It. Was. Insanity.  Absolutely packed.  I briefly contemplated the fact that if I was doing this in America, I would be seriously cranky.  But, it was Nicaragua, so I rolled with it.  The sheer number of people packed into the space was overwhelming.  There were also a concerning number of fried chicken places.  In a feeble attempt to be somewhat healthy, we ended up at a place called GoGreen! that did paninis, salads, etc.  I got a quesadilla that sounded good on paper, but in practice was so bad I gave up after half.  Courtney’s panini was likewise.  I decided it would be a better choice for me to have gelato instead of eating any more nasty, uncooked, limp, cold quesadilla, so I bravely navigated my way across the food court to the gelato place, where I stood in line behind two teenagers who were clearly on a date for what seemed like an eternity.   My length of time waiting on line was increased when two people casually stepped in front of me.  There’s the very real possibility that I was allowing for too much personal space between myself and the two teens.

the food court. Ignore the watermark, I swiped this from Google. Bizarrely, none of us thought to take pictures while in the mall…

As I learned, the way this gelato place worked was that you paid first, then ordered your ice cream.  I successfully managed the first piece, then waited for another period of time to place my order.  Clearly, I wanted gelato pretty badly.  I learned quickly that I was not allowed to order two flavors together and that the flavor I wanted more was a “different price.”  Okay.  So, as I was debating my options, the guy scooping the ice cream said (in Spanish), “Reese’s! You’ll like it, here, try!” and pushed a sample into my hand.  Never one to say no to free ice cream samples, I tried it.  I felt bad ordering hazelnut instead because he clearly wanted me to like the Reese’s.  However, as he handed me the hazelnut, he said, “disfruta!”  This means “enjoy!” except he said it quickly and I wasn’t fully paying attention (ice cream can be quite the distraction), so I said, “que?”  He repeated it in English and said, “you can enjoy!”  It was the highlight of my day.  I promised I would and returned through the sea of tables, chairs, and people to Courtney and Sara, who’d been wondering what on earth had happened to me.

We learned the hard way that the staff will not allow you into your theatre until the exact time printed on your ticket.  Our movie started at 4:10 and we were not allowed past the ticket stand until 4:10.  Also, our seats were assigned, which was actually kind of awesome.  We got to choose the seats at the ticket booth.  America should pick up this habit, because arriving late to a movie and getting crappy seats is never fun.

After the movie, we stopped by the supermarket to get some stuff to nosh on for dinner.  For some reason, I wanted tortilla more than anything else, so I bought a small pack of those (mistake: they were terrible).  We also found Nica chocolate (previously mentioned in the “Coffee, Volcano, & Where Almonds Come From” post on the former Blogger-hosted blog.).  I bought a bar of the 75% cacao chocolate, which was so rich that it took me two days to get through half the bar.  It was so gloriously wonderful though.  I’m devastated that it’s gone.

Leaving the store (foreign grocery stores are always fascinating, by the way), we realized it had gotten dark.  As we’d been repeatedly warned against wandering around after dark in Managua, this was not ideal.  Fortunately, the walk was not long and we made it back safely, where we met Roberto, a 19-year-old native who worked in the hostel.  He was hysterical and I’ll be talking more about him in the next post.

We decided to hang out on the patio behind the hostel, where I planned to do some writing in my journal.  However, we met John, an older American, and Malcolm, a 20-something from Toronto, instead.  We chatted a lot about traveling and where everyone had been. We also had a nice, healthy conversation about politics, which is always interesting, if one-sided.  I meet very few travellers who tend to be more conservative, which I’m inclined to believe is because traveling opens your mind to the point where it’s hard to accept certain policies or conservative belief systems.  (Obviously, I’m speaking in generalizations here and as we all know, there are exceptions to every rule)  Regardless, conversations and nights like that are the reason I really enjoy the hostel lifestyle.  The people are always interesting and everyone has fantastic travel stories.  Malcolm mentioned that he’d been in San Juan for a night and had stayed at the Naked Tiger hostel.  His review of the place made us exceptionally glad that we’d opted out.  Apparently, although the location was beautiful, the owners weren’t very hospitable, the other visitors acted as though they were above everyone, the nights were madness, and therefore, it was predictably weird during the day.

patio & pool, by daylight, minus the bat

As we sat and chatted, there was a bat that repeatedly swooped low over the backyard pool, occasionally skimming the surface.  It did it a few times before I realized it was drinking the water.  Very cool.

Next time:  Taking Courtney to the airport & Robertos 1 and 2