Saturday, March 3, 2012

Catching up on the first 4 days and commentary on "tourists" : Nicaragua


I really do not like stereotypical tourists. You may say, "Please elaborate Drew. Aren't you a tourist as well?" and to that I'd say, based on my observations, "Not really". Yes, I enjoy sightseeing and cultural immersion, but that's where the similarity ends. I don't necessarily travel for pleasure, since that entails comfort and is usually boring and exceptionally expensive. San Diego is my home, and thus, my comfort zone. Everything outside the U.S. is an adventure. The "tourists" I speak of are more geared towards the following: guided package tours, nice hotels, walking around like they're incredibly lost, barely able to speak the language and unwilling to learn, limited contact with real locals, dressing outlandishly foreign, travelling in packs, following tourbooks to a tee... you catch my drift. In Granada, these "tourists" are everywhere. And they leave a foul taste in my mouth everytime I pass them, because of their general insensitivity towards locals. I understand not everyone has the time or courage to travel solo, perhaps for fear of physical harm or awkwardness conversing, but that's a.) part of the fun and b.) how you learn the most out of your travels. To each their own, it is merely my observation of personal character.

As far as I am aware, I'm doing pretty well dressing like, speaking like, and interacting extensively with the local Nicas. I've run into some pretty incredible people who live and work here, and they have commented positively on my clothing and mostly well on my bushy beard. As far as local customs go, I fit in fine. But in no way do I physically look anything less than a 1. gringo 2. crazy person 3.older gentleman. Apparently beards are for older men only seeing as, yet again in Latin America, they are absent completely, so I still get stared down by most people. My method of travelling is I usually wander into a place, strike up a conversation, and enjoy. I ask locals for their own eating, drinking, and sightseeing reccomendations. I have Lonely Planet, Nicaragua, for all the practical transport info, store hours, and brief history of stuff, and maps. I recommend Lonely Planet to everyone.

Anyway, now on to the summary of my last few days here in Nicaragua. Just after posting the last blog entry, I caught a cab to the bus terminal across town, which is literally the ONLY safe way to cross Managuan streets as a solo traveller. There are limitless shanty towns, aimless wanderers (who I like to call "zombies"), and shady-looking characters.

I arrived at the terminal, whisked into an old American school bus already packed with locals. They were bound for Masaya, a city one hour to the south of Managua. Whilst waiting for the bus to leave, the typical activity common throughout Latin America happens; vendors enter the bus from the back and front, food and drink in hand trying to hock to every single passenger. Even when the busses start leaving, the drivers do not wait for them to exit--they're on their own, sometimes jumping out at 5-10 mph. This was my first encounter with a street surveyor who lives in Masaya and works in the Capital (Managua) during the week. He bought a small bag of water from the vendor, costing only 1 cordoba (5 cents). They come in plastic bags that are very similar in nature to those squishy gel bag toys that you can put your finger in, whose use in the United States is still unknown to me. Anyway, I made some notes in my journal, including the gas prices per liter, amounting to $5+ per gallon. And also, the security guards that frequent gas stations and banks don't carry tasers--they carry 12-gauge shotguns. A little more intimidating to robbers, I should think.

Slightly bothered by the toxic gases.
As soon as I exited the bus in Masaya, I went by cab to Volcan Masaya, driving up to the top and peeking into its fuming crater. I tried as hard as possible to spot lava, which DOES frequent the bottom, but after several attempts, couldn't see it. I was immediately immersed in searing, toxic fumes emitted by the volcano, which gave me asthmatic attack instantaneously. Now I see how many more people die from volcanic gasses than by the lava itself. Brutal. Here are some pictures.

Looking into the massive crater. The uploaded photos don't do it justice.

I arrived back in Masaya, checked into Hostal La Casita, a mere $7/night for a secure room, albeit stifling and dull. I got a licuado (fruit and ice cream shake) from a heladeria nearby, and strolled about the city with a Korean girl showing me the common areas. She speaks Japanese, Korean, and only a smattering of English. It was also the first time I tried a "quesillo", which is essentially a lukewarm burrito made of a thick corn tortilla, a slab of mozarella,  sauteed onions and rolled, finally being "injected" with crema, or sour cream. Not bad. I was skeptical to eat anything at first, since I was still recovering from the food reaction earlier.

That night, we met up with a local Masayan named Nuno, who has a crippled gait and hands following a car accident. He is a really nice person, and took us out to a locals-only bar a few blocks North of the hostal, where we split not one, but two "servicio completos", which comprises roughly a wine-bottle-amount of white Flor de Cana rum, a cup of limes, a bucket of ice, and a single Coca Cola bottle. I must have had a copious amount of cocktails, seeing as I was hammered. I met a few other friends of Nuno, who were trying to score with some foreign girls. After the drinking ended, we drifted back to my hostal, Nuno got in a scuffle with our hostal night-watch, which I broke up. I put the Korean girl to bed, and the night passed well.

Daniel Ortega, the very controversial dictator of Nicaragua, in wall form.

The next day I spent wandering with, believe it or not, a 70 year old dude from Michigan, who retired from storyboard art following the subsequent introduction of computers to the process, and was living out his dream from 40 years ago, to spend time in Nicaragua. We walked all around the city, I tried some "baho", which is simmered pork (I think) with yucca and a few miscellaneously odd things. Washed down with delicious "cacao".


LOL @ Horse hats.
Giant bloody hole in the sidewalk. Common in Latin America.

I so far have had the most overall enjoyment in Masaya, as it feels like a small town, despite its large population. Very laid back. That night, I met up with a French dude who is 100% Spanish fluent, and we in turn explored more of the city and sat to watch a few games of futbol in a local court next to a super-old cathedral. We met another Nica named, Ivan, who suggested a bar called "Atticos" across town that blasts rock and (hopefully) metal. Perfect. We had to ask several locals for more accurate directions, which I notice is considerably harder here than anywhere else, since most streets are unnamed or unknown. We ran into a group of Nicas with some of their respective girlfriends, also headed to Atticos. Again, perfect. We shared some beers, despite my mental rejection of all alcohol following the night previous. One guy works for a religious-based employee's rights organization for Nicaraguans, and his friend is a lawyer who helps out with the legal side. They were super cool, and again, made me realize how good we have it in the U.S.

The next day, Frenchie and I went to Laguna de Apoyo, a 20,000 year old crater lake surrounded by howler-monkey-owned subtropical jungle. Pretty awesome. We walked a total of about 6 km or so on foot, first to a mirador (lookout point), then down a super-long road to the lake shore and subsequent mini-village, frequently being passed by busses and motorbikes. Brutal, but not that bad with the gear I brought, which was everything. We had a swim in the pool-like fresh water, whipped clean by the wind and warmed by undersea volcanic vents, then settled down for a delicious fish dish. What I thought would be filet was not at all. It was an entire tilapia, fins and all, covered in roasted garlic, and sided by rice and fried plantains.

We hitched a ride back up to the "careterra", or freeway, and we parted ways. I caught a Granada-bound bus, took a cab to a general hostal neighborhood, and walked around as the evening set in. And I tried my first nacatamale last night! I bought it from a bicycling vendor. It's essentially like a Mexican tamale, but with tomatoes, potatoes, and meat, wrapped instead in a washed plantain leaf. Good! I had some good conversation with a few vendors, then went back to the hostel to recover from my general lack of sleep.

Granada, for the better!
I still have not recovered sleep-wise. This morning I tried "bun~uelos", which are fried balls of cheese swathed in honey or something sticky, that I spilled everywhere. Greasy, but not bad. I washed those down with a 50 cent bag of mixed fruit - watermelon, banana and papaya. Normally that would cost $5.00 in San Diego! I then went to a barberia this morning to have my hair cut, since it was getting a little out of control. Now I'm heading out for more exploring of the colonial churches, the multi-colored buildings, and street food.

I'd like to spend through tomorrow and Monday morning in Granada, then take a 5-hr ferry to Isla de Ometepe, a giant island comprised of two volcanoes, planted in the middle of an ocean-sized Lago de Nicaragua. After horsing around for a few days (literally), and perhaps following a volcano hike, I'll take the same ferry, this time bound for a 9-hour-away location of San Carlos, at the Southeast corner of the Lago, and the town at the head of Rio San Juan, where jungle exploration awaits. Will try to post again next week, assuming the Internet isn't too dodgy. And no guarantee I'll have good enough computers to upload my photos--some still use floppy disks!

All for now, more for later. Until then, this is Drew Peters.

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