Tag Archives: Managua

Departing Nicaragua: A Short Rant

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On the plane from Managua to Texas, I was unhappy.  I was not ready to leave the country and was even further annoyed by our traveling companions on the flight.  Being the mature twenty-something that I am, I plugged in my headphones and scrawled a two page rant in my journal:

taking off from Boston at the beginning of the trip. We’ve come full circle.

Ugh, I can’t believe we’re leaving already.  I could definitely stay for at least another month – we’ve seen such a tiny piece of the coutnry and I’d love to see the Caribbean coast.  Part of me thinks that if I didn’t have obligations for work next week, I’d absolutely arrange for a longer stay.  Sara and I are already trying to plan our next trip.

There was a security check before we boarded the plane.  The person who searched my bag was perplexed at first by the overall style of my backpack, so I had to help him get it unclasped enough to open it – and even then it was so tightly packed that he could barely get a hand in.  Re-closing it was another struggle.  I handed him my purse and told him I’d take care of the backpack.  He opened and dug through my purse, pulling out my copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  He flipped through it, looked at the cover, looked at me, and looked back at the book as if I was weird for having such a thing in my possession.  I felt judged but, it’s all good, I read what I want.

Let’s be real here for a second. How could you not want to read this?

Something I noticed about Nicaragua is that it seems to get a lot of missionary groups.  Sara and I aren’t together on this flight and I am surrounded by one such group with t-shirts that say “Involving People to Inspire Nations for Christ.”  Consistering the missionary spirit is part (there were many factors) of what turned me off to Catholicism, Christianity, and organized religions in general, you can probably imagine how I felt about this turn of events.  I realize Nicaragua is a Christian country, so it’s not as though they’re telling the people that their native religion and traditions are worthless and wrong (that damage was done when the first conquistadors arrived centuries ago.  Admittedly, it was not all bad, as the natives stopped sacrificing their daughters to volcanoes, but still.).

The issue I have with such missionary groups is that it appears they go into the situation with (conscious or subconscious) feelings  of superiority, maybe even a degree of white supremecy and definitely a ton of privilege.   This is theoretically made more harmful by the fact that they believe they’re being humble and helpful to the natives because, in the U.S., we do things the right way.   I am not at all saying that I’ve never been guilty of this.  In fact, I’m fairly certain I had a similar self-concept on the alternative spring break trips I participated on in college and even perhaps when I first arrived in India – that self-confident, self-assured idea that could change the world and make things better for peopel in these places where the society was not like our own.  How naive it was to believe that a week’s trip to a place can make any kind of lasting difference!  One cannot possibly make any change until he or she has learned the culture and understands what motivates people in the area and how society functions.  Learning takes years and committment and dedication to your chosen task.  As I’ve said before, it is so easy to flit in and out of a country.  You “live like the natives” for a week or a month or a year, but then it’s back to what you’re used to.  One week provides barely a peek at a culture that has been a millenia in the making.  When I left India after a year of working and living with the people in the area, I barely felt like I had a handle on the culture.  I was more comfortable, to be sure, but I was still just learning.

It is wildly selfish and conceited and irresponsible of us to walk into a situation with which we are unfamiliar and uneducated (because no matter how many books one reads on the subject, experience is infinitely more important (if you, like me, are a Harry Potter fan, then you might be thinking of Hermione’s disagreement with Umbridge’s claim that reading about defensive spells will be more than enough to get them through their practical exams.  Geek moment over.).

No, but really.

Without being intimately familiar with a culture and a people, attempting to stir up any kind of change in a limited period of time is nearly impossible.  Factor in your imminent departure and all your good intentions are even less likely to succeed.  Think about how you might feel if someone from South America, Asia, or Africa walked into your neighborhood, started making changes, and then left.  Attempting to impart change without being aware of one’s own biases and using strategies based in one’s home culture is ineffective, unsustainable, and inconsiderate.  It is so much more important to first learn the culture and then to give the people themselves the tools and skills to be their own agents of change.  Don’t go in as a savior, go in and empower.

I don’t know how to stress all that enough.  Nor was I anticipating going on such a tangent.  Essentially, the traveler, the potential do-gooder, must accept that they travel for themselves alone – to experience new cultures and to allow themselves to grow, to be changed by the people and cultures they experience – rather than to change what they see.  Accept that you are but a temporary, fleeting moment in the daily routine of the people you meet.  They may even remember you years from now, but if you’re in a touristy area, they’ve probably seen many like you.  The best thing the traveler can do is to meet each person as a fellow human, regardless of language or station, learn their story if possible, and remember that they, themselves, represent an entire country.

Appropriately, Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” is playing right now.

I hate that we’re taking off right now.  I also hate having an aisle seat.  I can’t help wondering when I’ll be back (I refuse to think “if”) and how this beautiful country will have changed in the interim.  I hate leaving new places and I dislike returning to regular routines.

Also, the flight attendant just suggested over the intercom that people shut their shades if not enjoying the view so that others can better see the TV monitors.  Gross.  That isn’t what this is about!

Final thought:  I should not wear white because I will inevitably draw on myself.

 

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Musings on Graffiti

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Sandinistas

On our way back from Masaya with Roberto, we passed a group of people wearing shirts in support of Daniel Ortega, the current president, and riding motorcycles.  Roberto informed us that they were Sandinistas, a political party named for Augusto Cesar Sandino who fought against U.S. occupation of Nicaragua back in the 30s (I feel rather hypocritical linking to Wikipedia, as I once told my students that if they cited Wikipedia as a source, “they would make me cry.”).  I believe the current Sandinistas are supporters of the Ortega, who was also a member of this group.

As we drove by the Sandinista biker gang, I couldn’t help but notice that they were all pretty young, roughly around my age.  This observation made me think of something David, our Granada tour guide, had said.  He was of the belief that this govenrment, these politicians, create evenets that suck in the youth and use them to make it appear as though they  have a lot of support.  More often than not, the youth aren’t aware they’re being used in this sense.  (On a related note: I just finished Game Change, a fascinating book about the 2008 election, that alluded to similar strategies used at conventions and rallies to make it seem as though the candidate is extremely popular.  Perception is everything, but that’s another rant.)  I also noticed that there was a black and red flag on the back of each bike.  After that, I started noticing that there were red and black swatches painted on walls and around telephone poles.  I’d seen them before, but now I started connecting the two as being Sandinista symbols.  Further (Wikipedia-based) research revealed that the red and black colors come from a Mexican anarchist movement that Sandino was involved with in the 1930s.  Additionally, there were many slogans painted on the cement walls that lined the main road into Managua such as “Viva Daniel!” “Viva la revolucion!” “Sandinistas” and “FSNL.”

Sandinista graffiti in Managua

What was interesting about all this, however, was that as we got closer to Managua, more black swatches appeared on the walls, as if someone had attempted to paint over the pro-government phrases.  On the city line was a phrase, “menos propaganda, mas informacion” that remains imprinted on my memory.  I feel as though we’re in a similar situation in America – most of what we hear is essentially propaganda, paid for by those with the money and power.  It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to separate what’s real from what’s contrived.  This makes it even more important to pay attention to what the media is saying and to attempt to read between the lines.  Critical thinking and reading skills are more essential than ever (I’m not just saying that because I’m an English teacher).  We can’t peacefully accept what the media and the politicians spoonfeed us, because everything they say is a means to an end.

That being said, make sure you’re registered to vote!!

In Case of Rock Expulsions, Protect Yourself Under Your Car

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On Saturday, Sara and I had found ourselves with the pressing question of what to do on our last day in Nicaragua (there was also the ever present question of,  “WHY did we think one week would be enough time!?”).   We ultimately decided to hire a driver and leave Managua to go see the market and the volcano in Masaya (this is the same one that had an “expulsion” a month prior), a nearby town.

We had been expecting something along the lines of a tourist vehicle, so when our driver pulled up in a beat-up little red taxi with Korean writing all over it, we were a little surprised.  We also learned quickly that he spoke Spanish and only Spanish.  Challenge accepted.  As previously mentioned, Sara speaks no Spanish and I have sad, caveman Spanish (my speech is wrought with grammatical errors and it kills me).  However, I managed to translate the rundown of the day for Sara.  He gave us the list of options for what we could see and informed us that if we went over on time (we had 3.5 hours), then we would have to pay 7$/hr.

hanging out at the volcano museum

As we neared Masaya, he seemed to warm up to us.  We bonded over the fact that  none of us wanted it to rain (so, obviously, it did).  We stopped at a museum halfway up the volcano, where he helped us to arrange for an English-speaking tour guide to show us around the craters and cave, then gave us his personal tour of the museum.  This was unexpectedly hysterical because my Spanish vocabulary is lacking in the area of volcanoes, plate tectonics and animal species.   Therefore, situations arose such as when he was explaining how the parakeets who lived in the volcano survived the toxic fumes.  I didn’t grasp what he said the first time around but, as I’m a little proud, I was unwilling to admit that I had no clue what he just said.  After his speech on birds, I turned to Sara and said, “Parakeets.  Birds.”  Clearly she was on to me.  There were many mistranslations on my part, but somehow they all got sorted out.  He was a very funny tour guide.  He took a piece of lava from one of the displays (ignoring the rope placed in front of the display that implied visitors were not supposed to touch the exhibits) and pretended to steal it by hiding it in Sara’s purse.  I really can’t do justice to his character, especially since he became progressively more awesome as the day went on.

This. Is. Terrifying.
Also terrifying is the mark on the glass that appears to be a large spider.

Also, did you know there is something called “Aa” Lava?  I kid you not – it is the original Hawaiian name.  Apparently, aside from the fact that if lava is coming, you should yell “AA! LAVA!” and run away (makes sense to me), it’s so named because when it hardens, it becomes spiny and sharp.  If you step on it with your bare feet, you would then exclaim, “Aaa!”  Kind of like stepping on Legos, I’d imagine.

I’m not making this up.

By the time the three of us left the museum, we’d learned that he was quite the photographer, hence the many pictures of Sara and I attempting to look cool while wearing what appeared to be the equivalent of a child’s hard hat.  The hard hats were required because Masaya is still a very active volcano that, as previously mentioned, had a minor explosion on April 30, which closed it for a month thereafter.   Our driver stopped every so often to point out how far the lava had come down the volcano (remnants of an explosion in the 1600s).  It was seriously cool – much cooler than Volcan Mombacho, which has been nearly dormant for so long that you can’t see the lava anywhere).  He had also learned about our fear of bugs back at the museum (imagine, a whole display devoted solely to the nasty crawly things), so he kindly stopped to point out where we might find certain key insects.

because this will save you in the event of an actual explosion.

Up at the crater there was a parking lot with painted yellow curbs that warned all visitors to “park your car facing the exit.”  Comforting.  The only advice the park pamphlet gave us in terms of safety and survival was, “in case of rock expulsions, you can protect yourself under your car.”  But… what if you drive a motorcycle?  What if your family of ten squeezed into your tiny car and came to visit the volcano?  What if your car is really close to the ground?  WHAT THEN?!  Fortunately, however,  nothing was expulsed while we were there, so we may never know.

if you look at the fog in the center of the picture, you can just see the curve of the deepest part of the crater

We went over to the crater (wearing our super-safe hard hats, obviously) and peered down into the depths, which was seriously cool.  It had just rained, so the crater was steaming profusely and you could just barely make out where the gaping hole to the center of the earth was.  We could also see the previously mentioned parakeets, who’ve adapted to the toxic gasses spewed forth by the volcano, flying in and out.  Humans, on the other hand, are not supposed to breathe in said gasses for too long, so we took a few pictures and wandered over to a point on the other side from which we could see all of Managua and Masaya spread before us.

pretty, isn’t it?

While soaking in the view of the countryside, we realized, rather shamefully, that we didn’t know his name!  So I asked and he informed us that his name was Roberto.  Somewhere in all the excitement of going to a volcano, we’d missed out on common courtesies.  Once he’d learned our names as well, he said, “After all this time, now we learn our names!”  There’s an important lesson to be learned here, but I’ll let it be implied.

delightfully noobtastic.

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

From San Juan to Managua

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Shame we had to leave, I was becoming accustomed to the view…

Saturday, June 30 was our day of transition from San Juan del Sur to Managua, due to a scheduling conflict that had arranged Courtney’s flight home to be the day before Sara’s & mine.

The packing situation in my backpack had deteriorated rather considerably since our arrival, thereby necessitating that I take everything out and start over.  Good times.  The souvenirs and gifts I’d purchased took up a large percentage of space.  I suspect that had something to do with the two pounds of coffee I’d bought from Cafe del Flores.

Once we were all re-packed, we decided to take one more stroll through San Juan, picking up some last minute souvenirs and making a pit-stop at a bakery that we’d driven by on our way home from the beach every day.  We may have been too successful in terms of souvenir shopping (yes, that’s possible).  The bakery, or panaderia, was called Pan de Vida (“Bread of Life,” I like it).  It had a brightly painted storefront with subtle wooden sign and a single door.  Walking in, I had a moment of confusion because it appeared we had walked right into the kitchen, instead of the bakery itself.  There was one woman, wearing a Survivor: Nicaragua  headscarf, kneading bread on a long counter, who looked up as we entered.  She washed her hands and came over to greet us.  The kitchen itself was yellow, clean, and felt friendly, with a brick oven in the back.  The woman showed us a small selection of fresh bread: aceituna (olive), sourdough, multigrain, regular, banana, and carrot.  Courtney bought a loaf of the regular and I bought some sourdough, figuring that would be enough to get us through the next day or so.

Swiped from a TripAdvisor post, this is the bakery

We returned Hotel Estrella after this, thanked the manager for everything and walked down the street to Casa Oro to await the shuttle to Managua.  While we waited in the reception, we watched part of a video on scuba diving in Nicaragua.  It seemed to focus predominantly on some bizarre creature with no clearly discernable eyes, legs, or mouth and with no real way of moving about, short of being buffeted by the current.  It looked rather like a sea cucumber or an overlarge slug with a duster around its bottom side.  For the record, I just Googled “sea cucumber Nicaragua” and, whatever this creature was, it was not a sea cucumber.  It was, however, gross.

We shared the shuttle to Managua with three girls from Canada who were on their way to Leon.  I really wish we’d been able to see Leon because I’ve heard many great things about it, including the fact that it’s less touristy than the other places we’ve been.

Two hours later, we arrived in Managua.  It was not entirely what I was expecting, not that I could articulate what that was exactly.  There were many American chains.  I’m always disheartened when I see Burger King and McDonald’s in foreign countries.  They are so gross.  Managua was cleaner than I expected, plus it had the first traffic lights I’d seen in Nicaragua.  We hit traffic almost instantly upon our arrival, which worked in our favor a little bit because the driver wasn’t entirely sure where our hostel was.  The road the driver wanted to take to the hostel ended up being cordoned off due to what appeared to be a block party.  Fortunately, another taxi driver offered to lead us in the direction of the hostel and all was well.

Taking a little siesta in our dorm room

We were staying in the Managua Backpackers’ Inn, a clean and well-kept hostel located in a safe neighborhood, just off the main road and a five minute’s walk from a shopping mall (y’know, in case you’re into that sort of thing).  We checked in and found that we were only paying $12/person for two nights.  Amazing.  We left our stuff in the 6-person female dorm we would be sharing with two other girls who happened to be deaf and wandered around the hostel a little.  I was thrilled to see that there were hammocks in the backyard, next to the pool. I swear, one day I will live in a place where I can install a hammock.  That may be all I want out of life.

Next time: Movies in Managua