Today is my last day in Nicaragua. It’s been a crazy year, but it’s good to be going back home too. Thank you to all the wonderful new friends I made – I’ll be back to visit!

In addition to visiting friends though, there are some places I still very much intend to see:

1. Rio San Juan

2. Peñas Blancas (near Matagalpa, not Costa Rica)

3. The caves and bats and lava at Volcan Masaya

4. Volcan Cosiguina

Nicaragua, I’ll be back!

My dad suggested I check out Juigalpa. I wanted to go away for a weekend, and I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t gone before, so, Juigalpa. My dad used to pass through on his way to Rama every once in a while, and he went on a school trip to the zoo there once. So, Christine and I went. We met up at Mercado Mayoreo, and caught a bus going all the way to Nueva Guinea, but we could get off at Juigalpa. Juigalpa is almost due east of Managua, on the opposite side of Cocibolca from Granada. It’s hilly cattle country.

Hotel Casa Country

Hotel Casa Country

The bus took about 3 hours, and we had to get a taxi (C$12 each) from the side of the highway to our hotel, Casa Country. I know, another English name. I don’t really get it, but I suppose it’s to attract the anglophone tourists. The attractions of Juigalpa are scant, to put it mildly. I’m glad I went, but I’m not all that interested in going back (except for one reason, which I will get to). We had a mediocre lunch at the restaurant in Parque Palo Solo. The small park had some great views of the Amerrique Mountains. Juigalpa was built high up on a hill in order to be better able to defend it, so the views are pretty. I had expected open fields of cattle grazing, but it was much more treed than I had anticipated, and far fewer visible cattle. From Palo Solo, we walked over to another hotel, Las Miradas. In the middle of a barrio, this large, relatively luxurious hotel looked out over a spectacular view. I think we were the only people at the hotel, but the manager let us relax in rocking chairs with some te de Jamaica.

From the bus on the way to Juigalpa. Where are the cows?!

From the bus on the way to Juigalpa. Where are the cows?!

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Next, we checked out the mirador, which features a giant silhouette of Sandino that matches the one in Managua by the Laguna Tiscapa. A friend who has a young daughter told me a story about her daughter and these images of Sandino. When she could barely speak, the little girl learned that these silhouettes were called Sandino, and every time she saw one she would call out “Sandino!” According to my friend, she pointed out images of Sandino in Managua that her mom had never noticed before. She jokingly explained that people probably thought they were hard-core Sandinistas, with the baby exclaiming his name all the time.

Sandino!

Sandino!

Edit: I forgot about the parade! It seems that there’s some kind of event every weekend, no matter where I am. I have no idea what the purpose of this parade was, but it was loud and colourful, and there were some pretty intricate, well-rehearsed and synchronized moves happening, not to mention some excellent band music. There was also a little girl rising a decked-out bull. My google search yielded nothing on the subject.

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We went back to the hotel and napped. Juigalpa was very humid, and it sapped our strength and enthusiasm for anything. As it cooled down, we regained our strength and decided to go on an adventure.

The Moon and Lonely Planet guidebooks had a couple sentences in them about a woman who makes delicious meat at a place called La Embajada. It was even marked on the map. It looked like it wasn’t far from the hotel, so we started walking. We only got a couple blocks away, before the street lighting was gone and the people sparse. We decided to take a taxi. When we finally hailed one (there are more taxis in Managua than Juigalpa), the driver explained that it was not where we thought it was, and it was, actually, a bar. I started to get nervous, but we got in the taxi. Christine started up a friendly conversation, and he seemed pretty nice. The streets were dark, we had no idea where we were, and we picked up another passenger along the way. Finally, we stop seemingly nowhere in particular, and the driver says we’re there. Christine and I are like, “Um, where?” He points down an alley-type space. “Okaaay.” We get out of the car, after getting the taxi’s phone number, to go back to the hotel, and the taxi drives away. We stand awkwardly on the side of the street, and we are not feeling comfortable. We decide to try to get another taxi and get out of there. As we start to walk away, a boy calls out to us and asks if we’re looking for La Embajada. He leads us down the alley-like thing and sure enough, there are tables, a grill, and people, even a family, sitting down. Our relief is palpable. We ordered some Tonas, and a pound of meat to share.

The meat was incredible. It was served with cuajada and tortillas. It was so Nica, and so perfect. When I return to Nicaragua, and I go to San Carlos or El Rama, I will stop for lunch in Juigalpa for La Embajada. No other reason.

We stopped for some Eskimo ice cream on the way home, and went to bed. The hotel had great wifi, so I called home, and caught up on emails.

The next morning, we struggled to find breakfast. It was Sunday, so the few restaurants Juigalpa has were closed. Casa del Queso does not exist anymore (the guidebooks are outdated). We ended up getting a typical breakfast in the main park, but the flies were awful, and the coffee, as is the Nica habit, was black and very very sweet. People seem to have a hard time dealing with the fact that I don’t want sugar in my coffee. “You mean Splenda then?” “No. Nothing.” “Nothing?” “Nothing.”

Getting a bus back to Managua was a hassle. We started walking towards the bus station, but we didn’t know exactly where it was, so we kept asking for directions, and everyone seemed to have a different idea of where it was. We found it, eventually (across from the LDS church, before the Pali), but the seats for the express bus were sold out. We ended up waiting about an hour and a half for the regular bus, and I had to stand half of the time. But we made it, and I got a guirila on the way. Guirilas are sweet corn tortillas served with cuajada cheese. And it was hot. Delicious.

Despite that I owe so much of who I am to my mother, I am probably more like my father. As long as I can remember, I’ve been told “you look just like your dad!” While this may have worried me for a while in my childhood (I look like a boy…?) I’ve since come to be proud of it. I have his high-arched feet, his myopic, hooded eyes, his curly hair, and his need to know. My curiosity and fascination with the world, above all else, is the gift I most value from my dad.

My dad is a scientist. As I mentioned before, I grew up with anatomy books, cookies shaped like unexpected anatomical features (once, from a conference), and endless other conference swag (most of my pens in high school had something to do with cancer or reproductive biology. Sometimes they were even shaped like syringes!). One of my earliest science memories is of my dad sitting me on a stool in front of a microscope, with a paper and pencil, and being asked to draw what I saw. I can’t remember what kind of cell was under the microscope lens, but I drew it faithfully, and was thus inducted into the world of biology.

He didn’t just give me his looks and his science love, though. Dad, I know you know this, but your movie recommendations have always ended up as lifetime favourites. I took your appreciation for science fiction and ran with it. Just like real science, it’s so much fun! But it can also shake our assumptions about the universe, and give us chills like no other genre can. He also taught me that I needed to do things on my own, because they’re worth more that way. He encouraged my running, and has often run with me in races or just for exercise. Whenever we get to the end of a run, we always sprint to the finish, and you never let me win – I always had to do things on my own merit. Living in Nicaragua (because of our roots and curiosity), one of your implicit lessons has helped me get through this year – it’s important to take risks. If it doesn’t work out, you learn something from it. From this little bit of wisdom, all of my optimism is derived.

I also learned not to judge people from my dad. He is one of the most patient and unjudgemental people I have ever met. Sometimes he talks about his childhood as if it was yesterday, and I realise that he’s one of those few, rare people that managed to hang on to the wonder and optimism and belief that people are good, from childhood. He’s certainly not naive, though; philosophy, after all, begins in wonder, as Aristotle said. Too often people become cynical and jaded as they learn more, and it takes wisdom to overcome that. This reconciliation of knowledge and wonder is something I hope to have someday, too. Curiosity and fascination are important, but if I can exercise them with compassion and understanding, that’s much better.

So thank you, Dad, for teaching me how amazing the world is, and how to be patient with it. Thank you for running with me, and never letting me win. Thank you for showing me that it is very possible to be full of wonder, knowledge, and compassion. You taught me about myself. You’ve taught me by example how to be a good person, and to never stop wondering.

Before May, my only experience of Matagalpa was limited to a radius of 500m around the bus station. I was not impressed, and quickly and unfairly wrote off Matagalpa as a weekend destination. In the last few weeks before the rainy season started, the heat was unbearable, so Amy and I decided to head north for a respite. For some reason, we decided to go to Matagalpa instead of Esteli.

Amy had to go to customs near the airport to pick up a package that her friend had sent from the States. This in itself was an ordeal (of course), which involved multiple payments, waiting in lines, forms to complete, and several destinations to travel to. The airport though, is very close to Mercado Mayoreo, where buses leave for Matagalpa. So Amy and I met up at the bus station and took an expreso to Matagalpa (C$75, 2.5 hours). I had made a reservation at Royal Marinas Hostel that morning, so we were prepared. Bonus: her care package was full of junk food that is unattainable in Nicaragua (THANK YOU JO!), so we enjoyed the bus ride quite a lot.

When we arrived in Matagalpa, we walked to Royal Marinas, which is in the northern part of the city, which is much much nicer than the area around the bus station in the south. There are several large catherdrals, parks, and wonderful opportunities for used clothing shopping. One my favourite things about these little Nica cities is the clothing. You can get amazing (often expensive brand) items for only a few dollars. We found the hotel pretty easily, but not before we were caught in a huge downpour. We found shelter and waited it out, which didn’t take very long. Most rain events don’t last very long. The hotel was gorgeous. It opened fairly recently, and the room we got had two double beds, privte bathroom, air conditioning (not necessary, but appreciated), and cable TV. For US$30, it was heaven. The best part of all though, was the temperature. I have a whole new level of love for being able to get under sheets and blankets and feel a cool, fresh breeze coming through an open window. Omar, the hotel manager, speaks perfect English (he’s lived most of his life in the US), and he told us the sheets and towels were shipped from Macy’s. They were glorious.

We spent that afternoon drinking coffee, reading, and grading essays. We did some shopping too, and picked up some hiking maps from Centro Girasol Cafe. That night, Omar directed us to a great restaurant (with lovely, non-Managua prices), where we had fajitas (which, by the way, do not involve tortillas – just grilled meat, vegetables, rice, and some plantain).

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The next morning, we followed a map up out of the city to the north west, through some rural areas with kids playing soccer in the streets. The map was only text, but it was accurate. We eventually found a tiny little home with a big kiln to the side where an old woman makes ceramic pots. She showed us some little pots, and when we asked how much they cost, she said “ten.” There was a palpabla moment in which I could sense both Amy and I thinking “ten what?” Anywhere else I’ve been, it would have been ten dollars, but no, she meant ten cords. As in, 50 cents. We bought some pots.

The kiln in the middle of nowhere, outside of the city

The kiln in the middle of nowhere, outside of the city

It was a mild, relaxing weekend, but two weeks later we went back to the same hotel, with our friend Katie and her two kids. We got a bigger room this time, with 4 beds and a large balcony. We walked around the city and had some food near the main square at a place called Monkey Bar (?). It had a small play area in front for Rosie to play in while the adults chatted. We spent a lot of time in the hotel room, too, changing diapers, playing with the kids, drinking wine, and singing Disney songs on the balcony.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel (gallo pinto, eggs, fresh juice, toast), and went off to find Parque de los Monos (Monkey Park – there was a theme) towards the north of the city. It took a little over half an hour to get there, pushing the strollers along the narrow, cracked, and potholed sidewalks, and then through a bit of gravel road. When we arrived, we had to pay C$10 to get in, but it was completely worth it. It was a surprisingly nice park! It’s a large green space with trees and paths, and lots of swings and slides and seesaws. Rosie gamboled happily, and we enjoyed the quiet sun-dappled space. There were a few athletes doing some drills in front of the swings – hopping over pylons with one foot! I was duly impressed. Monkey Park, it turned out, was aptly named. There are many monkeys in cages, as well as birds and tapirs and foxes, in one corner of the park. Apparently, they used to roam free in the trees, but now they’re in tiny, unembellished cages, hanging by their tails from the wire walls. They seemed healthy enough, but it was still not a happy sight.

Monkey in a cage at Parque los Monos

Monkey in a cage at Parque los Monos

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I’m glad I discovered Matagalpa. As much as I love Esteli, Matagalpa definitely has more to offer in terms of hiking, food, and parks. I won’t be going back to Matagalpa before I head back to Canada, but I’m sure I’ll be back when I come for a visit.

Because “digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; – they are the life, the soul of reading” (Laurence Sterne). 

Living in Nicaragua has provided me with many interesting and fun experiences, but one thing that I have not talked about is what this year has taught me. I am twenty four years old, and several people have commented that I am confident, composed, and have a healthy ego and self-esteem for someone my age. I know what I am capable of, and I am not afraid to challenge myself. Being these things has helped me this year, and being here has made them stronger. As Mother’s Day approaches, I have truly begun to realise just how much I owe all of these strengths to my mother.

My mother is a strong, assured, confident woman who has been through her share of battles and upheavals (I should know, I caused some of them), and come through it all with pragmatism, selflessness, and a sense of humour. Many Canadian parents put their children through piano lessons, but my mother taught me herself, and didn’t let me stop learning even when the drama between us made her seem like the WORST MOM IN THE WORLD to ten year old me. When I sat down at my friend’s keyboard a few days ago and played a Chopin piece, I couldn’t help but feel grateful, and remember those days when I would dance on my rollerblades to my mom playing a grande waltz brillante. Even though being required to learn an instrument may have seemed like a terrible injustice, I was also being taught how happy music can make me. This is the root of so much self-discipline.

She, with my father, provided me with the greatest childhood a person could ask for. They’re adventurous, determined, and realistic parents, who made sure their children were exposed to many perspectives, experiences, and worldly subjects. My father is a scientist/teacher, and my mother is a musician/teacher. I grew up surrounded by literature, Gray’s Anatomy, musical instruments, microscopes, and real, interesting conversation. I cannot stress the importance of that last one enough. We traveled across Canada in a tent trailer and a van with no air conditioning in July, and trained across Europe, learning that quality luggage is worth the price when you’re rattling along cobblestone streets for three weeks. These things made me curious, and willing to try things for the sake of knowledge and self-improvement.

Some lessons are learned in gentle, story-book fashion, but the best lessons are the harder, simpler or decidedly not glamorous ones. She has taught me patience, persistence, and practicality (remember when we had to saw the padlock off the trailer in the pouring rain because we had put it on backwards? Or when we gleefully played Wizard on our open hands because we didn’t have a table on those long train rides?), personal and financial responsibility (don’t buy things on credit if you don’t have the cash, kids), and tolerance and inter-personal insight (teaching and talking about the experience is a great way to introduce a person to the wide variety of cultures, neuroses, and beliefs that are out there). I learned to try to take discomfort or inconvenience in stride or to see the fun in it. I learned the value or money and how to balance security and comfort. I learned about the many and often mystifying ways that people learn, and the way that children (and adults) view their world and the people around them.

I have had an incredibly privileged childhood (and young adulthood), and I am incredibly grateful for and awed by my mother’s strength, wisdom, support, and darn good parenting skills. I can only hope that someday I can be as inspiring a mom. No matter how bad things get, how challenging or pointless or slow or frustrating or confusing or bafflingly Nica a situation may feel, I know I can learn something from it, and become a better person from it, because that’s what my mom told me with her words, showed me with her strength, and taught me with her love and personality. I hope you are proud, mom, not of me, but of you, because you made me, and continue to make me, me.

We stayed in Granada most of the next day. We started with French toast and coffee at Art Cafe, then made our way down to the beach. A taxi took us as far as he could, and then we were on foot. It was exciting to be surrounded by so many happy, partying people. There were very, very few gringos. The beach was crawling with people just relaxing, cooking meals, playing soccer, and swimming. Ocassionally a couple cows would walk by us, or a horse. We were trying to find an economically suitable option for kayaking Las Isletas, after having turned down a tour option in town. It turned out that the tour was cheapest option we could find, so we never did end up kayaking. Instead, we took the less environmentally sound vehicle: a motorboat. This was my third time in Las Isletas, but it was still nice to relax and be away from the crowds.

The beach in Granada

The beach in Granada

Momobacho seen from las isletas

Momobacho seen from las isletas

It is, essentially, a real estate tour. The guide told us who lived where and how wealthy they are, and which properties were for sale. We also saw an old 15th century Spanish fort that used to protect Granada from pirate raids. The highlight of the trip, however, is the monkeys. There is an island with some relocated spider monkeys on it. The island is tiny (it is, after all, an “isleta”), and the 4 monkeys have one tree in which to cavort and fail to maintain distance from tourists. It´s a little sad for the monkeys (so unatural), but awesome for the boaters. We got some great pictures. Kelly tried to feed a monkey some mango. It took it right out of her hand, but immediately threw it into the water upon finding out that it was mango and not some delicious junk food. According to our guide, the monkeys are notoriously spoiled.

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Post-Isletas, we walked back along the beach and went to Terraza La Playa for some guapote (a fish from Lake Nicaragua). It is one of my favourite meals in Nicaragua. Guapote and churrasco probably tie for first place, for Nica food. I will miss these foods when I return to Canada. Anyway, Kelly fell in love with the guapote, as I predicted. A quick wiki search reveals that guapote is a cichlid, it is native to Central America, and is named after Managua (Parachromis managuensis)! It is tough, predatory fish: it likes eutrophic, hot, alkaline waters, and will eat anything. They are delicious, and traditionally eaten with rice, tomato, onion, lime, and a salad. I posted a picture of this dish on my Ometepe post.

Fish demolished, we checked out of Granada and stopped at Laguna de Apoyo on the way home. The laguna was very brown and hazy, in contrast to the green, cloud shrouded hills that greeted us the first time I was there in August (or September?). The bus dropped us off at the road leading to Apoyo, and we got a taxi to take us the rest of the way, to Monkey Hut. Monkey Hut is probably the most popular hotel on the Laguna, and they offer a day pass, which includes the use of their kayaks. One of my favourite things about Monket Hut was that they run a tab for you, and you just pay when you leave. We went for a swim, then nabbed a couple kayaks as soon as we could. It was very busy, and the kayaks were popular, so we were lucky to get a chance. We paddled around until we couldn´t handle the pressure of knowing we hadn´t sunscreened in several hours. We returned to the shade, got some Toñas, and read for a while, before we went out to the road to get a bus.

Monkey Hut

Ah, buses. This was my first experience with one of the cattle-transporter type trucks. We crammed onto the back of a large truck that was carrying lots of Semana Santa partyers. A good number of them were drunk. One was so drunk he was passed out at my feet and threw up all over himself. I maintained my distance as much as possible and remained unsullied. We had been told that we would be dropped off at the road. That didn´t happen. They told us to get off and that we would have to walk a little ways to the highway. We paid the exorbitant sum of C$20 and disembarked. We started walking. It was nice, the sun was setting, but we were also tired. We kept walking. Eventually we asked someone about the distance, and were told it was 4km. Agh. We got on the next bus that went by – another very happy bus – and they took us to the highway. On the highway, we waited for a bus to Managua with a couple of boys, one of whom spoke English. we chatted for a while, until we realised that every bus that was going by was packed and not going to stop. We waited hopefully for almost an hour, getting increasingly worried. The sun was rapidly disappearing, and I did NOT want to be stranded on the side of Carratera a Masaya in the dark. Kelly and I resolved to try for a taxi to Masaya, and try to get a bus in Masaya to Managua. Eventually we got one, and he offered to take us all the way to Managua for C$100 each! Wooo! Relief all around. We left the boys waiting for a bus, and I hope they made out okay.

After a short detour in Masaya (not sure what we were doing there), we went home. On the way into Managua, Momotombo was brilliantly silhouetted against the setting sun. When the taxi dropped us off, he told us that he was actually the mayor. I was a little confused for a moment. Then he pulled out his ID, which clearly stated “mayor”, but I didn´t catch the city name. I´m still confused. Was he moonlighting as a taxi driver for fun? Is that why he charged so little? We got some food at a Casa del Cafe, and walked the rest of the way home. It felt great to be home after that particular adventure.

The next morning, we took a taxi to Mercado Mayoreo, where we got a bus to Esteli. When we arrived, we immediately took a taxi (C$20) to Luz y Luna Hostel. We got a GREAT room in behind Cafe Luz (US$25/night). It was huge and cool, with two beds, private bathroom, fans, and cozy blankets. It felt great to appreciate the presence of blankets once again. Similarly, every once in a while I miss the feel of carpet beneath my feet. Even putting on socks is sometimes nice. Anyway, we got some food at the Cafe, then inquired about the Salto Estanzuela (the waterfall that we failed to find the last time we hiked through Tisey).

We were instructed to take a bus, which was leaving in 30 minutes, so that is exactly what we did.

The bus through Tisey Reserve

The bus through Tisey Reserve

We made sure the bus driver knew where we were going so we wouldn´t miss it. After a pleasant but very bumpy 45 minute ride (ish), we were dropped off. The bus goes off the main highway right beside the hospital in Esteli, then continues on that road for about 5 kilometers. So, one could ostensibly walk to the salto. We had to walk a little bit further to get to the waterfall anyway, from where the bus dropped us. The waterfall itself was beautiful.

El Salto Estanzuela

El Salto Estanzuela

It was bigger than I though it would be, and dropped into a gorgeous pool where a few people were swimming. You could stand right under the falling water. Kelly and I dipped out feet in from the rocks and fiercely entertained the temptation to jump in sans bathing suits, since we hadn´t brought them. We didn´t though. Rather, we lived vicariously through the boys that were swimming in front of us. We relaxed, took pictures, walked around a bit, then went back up to the main road. The bus had left Esteli at 1:30pm, and would pass by the salto at 4pm, going back. By this time it was about 3:30, so we decided to walk back toward the town and enjoy the views. I´m so glad we did, because the views were pretty spectacular. The road was very rocky, and I did not have appropriate footwear, so my feet got a bit sore after a while. I was a little disappointed when the bus passed us and didn´t wait to see if we wanted a ride, and then very relieved when we made it to the road. Still worth it though.

Walking back into town

Walking back into town

Post-showers, we went food hunting. We wanted steak. Pullasos Ole is a fancy-looking place, but I wasn´t very impressed with their menu, so we went to another place (I can´t remember the name of the place!). If you´re looking for good Nicaraguan churrasco, I recommend El Zaguan, in Granada, Porterhouse (Managua), or the best and most expensive: Los Ranchos (Managua). We spent an hour or so afterwards trying to find a place that would serve a macua (national Nicaraguan drink), to no avail.

Kelly decided she didn´t want to go to the canyon, we we just toured Esteli the next day. We checked out some murals, did some shopping, looked at leather boots, graded some papers (it never ends), drank a LOT of coffee (it´s unlimited if you stay at Luna), and finally had some Nica food at El Zaguan de Doña Milagros: salpicon de carne with semilla de jicaro! Salpicon is a shredded meat affair with lime juice, and semilla (translation, seed) de jicaro is a drink made with ground jicaro (a fruit) seeds in milk. It´s like a milkshake, but with a very unique but not unpleasant taste and texture. We headed back to Managua and Kelly packed up to leave the next day. I called one of my taxi friends to pick her up at 5am. Thus ended my Semana Santa. It was a hectic, not very relaxing week, and although I loved having Kelly around, I was also glad to get back to my routine.

With only a couple months left, I´ve started my countdown in earnest. I have a few weekend trips left, including a return, hopefully, to Miraflor.

Kelly (my other Canadian friend, passport intact) and I arrived in Granada. We checked into a cute little new hostel called Entre Amigos, then explored Granada. We also got some drinks at an interesting cafe called Sonrisas, where a large proportion of the staff are deaf. It took me a while to figure this out, embarrassingly, and there were helpful sign language signs all over the place. We did the city tour, including a climb up one of the cathedrals, where we got some nice pictures.

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We walked down to the water, got a coconut from the people with the two parakeets, and walked back, where we scouted out a dinner place. Since I had missed celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (climbing Momotombo), Kelly and I went to an Irish restaurant in Granada called O’Shea’s, where we ate shepherd’s pie (with cheese on top!!), stew, and Guiness. It was a good night, with a beautiful sunset.

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I witnessed a fascinating Semana Santa ritual that night – a procession of Jesus and the Virgin Mary through the streets. It was very strange to my Canadian eyes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wqVV87avxk&feature=youtu.be

The next day, we left early. The plan was to go home quickly to drop Kelly’s delicious cacao liquor from Granada’s chocolate museum off at my house, then catch a bus from UCA to Leon. It was a crazy day. We left Granada, arrived in Managua, got to my house, dropped off dirty clothes and alcohol, then went right back out the door after 5 minutes and went to Leon. We had to wait at UCA for a while because (Semana Santa) so many people were travelling. We got to Leon in good time though; just enough time to revisit Pan y Paz and get to Tierra Tours for our trip to Cerro Negro. That’s right, I finally did it. Kelly convinced me to go volcano boarding. With Tierra, we were only a group of about 8 people, all foreigners. The climb up only took about 45 minutes, but the wind was insane, and we were carrying boards, which kept getting caught in the wind. If we weren’t careful, we could have been blown off the side of the volcano. It looked a lot like Momotombo – black and suphury.

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Cerro Negro

Cerro Negro

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At the top, we took lots of pictures and tried to stay on our feet. Then we suited up (full body suits with knee pads, elbow pads, and goggles). I happened to be closest to the edge, so I went first. I put my board down, sat on it, and… nothing happened. I had to really push to get going, and even then, I must have been doing something wrong because I made my way slowly down that volcano. It was cool though. When I got to the bottom, I watched everyone else come down – much faster than I had. Apparently it’s all about how you angle the front of the board. Some of the people coming down clocked in at 70kph! I think I maybe managed 25.

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That same day, we went all the way back to Managua in a shuttle from Tierra. Pricey (about $20 each, I think), but a great way to get home. It’s money that we would have spent on a hostel, anyway. We were dropped off at Galerias, the local swanky mall, where we got some food (Rosti Pollos), and a VIP movie (G.I. Joe), which entertained me far more than I had anticipated.

The next morning we went back to Granada and relatively promptly caught a shuttle to Poste Rojo – a treehouse hostel on the side of Mombacho. We really did spend a lot of time in buses…

Note on the shuttle: it was a truck with a cage over the bed so it could carry 20 20-somethings up a volcano.

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Note on my friend Kelly: a 5’9”-ish blonde Dutch woman who makes me look like a local. Sometimes Kelly felt uncomfortable with how much she stood out. On one of the buses there were two young boys sitting in front of us who would occasionally turn around to stare at our freakish chela faces. It was a little disconcerting, but also a little cute.

Poste Rojo is remote, quaint, and relaxing. There are more hammocks than chairs. People are there to party because there’s not much else to do there, so Kelly and I only stayed one night. While there, we managed to find the canopy tour zip line ($27 per person, but it consists of several kilometers of cable, and we had fun with the guides who got us to zip along with our arms outstretched – it feels like flying – and upside down – it feels really uncomfortable). We also saw howler monkeys in a tree when we got back to the bottom. The walk there from Poste Rojo was a couple kilometers, but it was a nice walk, and on the way back we a group of locals playing football in a very dusty field.

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Also staying at Poste Rojo was a group of young expats who live in Leon. We chatted that night, and collectively decided that we wanted to find this place called Aguas Agrias the next day. It took all morning to figure that one out. The hostel advertised it, but nobody seemed to know anything about it. We ended up asking the guard, who arranged for a couple of caponera drivers to take the 8 of us. We got cozy, 4 to a caponera, and took off. It took about an hour to get there, on rough dirt roads, but with great views of Mombacho along the way.

The Aguas Agrias itself was gorgeous. We were so glad we had put the effort into getting there. It’s clearly not a tourist hotspot, but it was crawling with locals. Since it was Semana Santa, I would guess that it’s not normally as crowded as it was that day. It’s a spring-fed little river at the base of Mombacho that’s an oasis of green in the middle of the dry season in Nicaragua. It was lush and watery and very paradisiacal. We swam, read, walked around, and took pictures.

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We rallied our caponera drivers and headed back towards Poste Rojo. Because it was Semana Santa, the buses weren´t running as frequently, as to get back to Granada, Kelly and I had resloved to hitch a ride or hope for a bus. Instead, our caponera took as all the way. We were probably sitting in that thing for about an hour and a half. When we got to Granada, we had difficulty finding a hostel. Semana Santa strikes again. We checked out about 4 different hostels before we finally found one that only had two beds available. We snatched them up but quickly offered one of the beds to another girl who arrived minutes after we did. That night we got pizza and went straight to bed. The hostel we stayed at was called Casita, and despite being lucky to have a bed, I wouldn´t stay there again. Every hostel hosts the occasional inappropriately aged hostel visitor, but this one had more than its fair share, and it´s not a comfortable atmosphere. We only stayed one night so it was okay.

TBC

It was a travel-ful Easter week here in Nicaragua. With a whole week off and friends visiting from Canada, we took off for the tourist hotspots and found some less touristy things along the way. The first stop was Selva Negra again, which was just as lovely as the first time I went, but we didn’t get lost in the woods, so we did manage to get a horseride in.

Horses in Selva Negra

Horses in Selva Negra

Me, climbing a tree (Ficus tree?) in Selva Negra

Me, climbing a tree (Ficus tree?) in Selva Negra

On the way from Selva Negra to Leon, one of my companions had her pack sanctity violated. Her passport, bank cards, and $200 cash was stolen. We discovered this when we arrived at our hostel in Leon (Via Via, which was nice enough, but rather tainted by our unfortunate discovery). We arrived in Leon as the sun was setting, and we took a bike-propelled caponera to Pan y Paz, the greatest bakery in Nicaragua. We enjoyed croissants and fresh juice before we checked into the hostel. So, passport stolen and only a few days before my friend’s scheduled departure, we got down to the unpleasant business of Getting Important Documents. First, we cancelled cards. Second, we went to the police station to get an official police report that would help us get a new passport.

The police station in Leon was an experience. We had to ask for directions several times, and even when we were standing right in front of it, we weren’t completely sure about where it was. It’s set back from the street with very little signage, and generally elicits feelings of discomfort for those lucky enough to need the place. Nevertheless, we were appropriately and efficiently directed to an officer who actually helped us. This is less surprising once I mention that there were only about three people visibly present at this office, but it felt like a triumph. We explained the situation to the officer, who promptly pulled out a typewriter. If I had been less distracted at the time, I would have asked if I could take a picture of the contraption. Despite some awkward language barrier moments, we got the police report (and we didn’t have to pay anyone!!) and headed back to Managua.

We relaxed that evening, and took a taxi the next morning to the consulate in Barrio Bolonia, very close to the Ticabus terminal. We received about 10 forms to fill out for an emergency passport application, and thankfully my friend had a copy of her passport, so it was easy to fill out most of the forms. Note to travellers: photocopy your passport and keep it somewhere safe. The one major hurdle we had was finding guarantors. This involved multiple phone calls and emails. My friend’s mom scanned and emailed copies of other pieces of ID from home. We went to a photo place a few blocks away to get passport photos taken. She needed to pay for all of this, so she borrowed money from me; but we needed cash, so we went on an ATM-finding mission. It was a walking-intensive operation and took from 9:00am to about 1:30pm.

Huellas (footprints) of Acauhalinca

Huellas (footprints) of Acauhalinca

That afternoon, we checked out the footprints in Acahualinca, near the lake. These footprints are 6000 years old. It was kind of cool to see, and reminded me of the body casts from Pompeii. Post-footprints, we went shopping at Plaza Inter, walked to a Pali supermarket for Gatorade and toilet paper, and went home.

At home, we discovered that the consulate had been trying to contact us all afternoon. Apparently, they needed a letter explaining that, even though she was flying into the US, she would be quickly thereafter cross the border into Canada. We spent a while writing the letter, taking a picture of it, and converting the JPG into a PDF file. This was not the end of the saga, however.

The next morning, we dropped our departing friend off at Managua Hills to relax before her flight the next morning. We could only hope that the consulate would pull through in time. My other friend and I went to Granada. On the way there, I received a call from the consulate saying that she would need to go to immigration to get a visa for her new passport. This meant that she would have to pick up her passport (which was ready) and get to immigration before 3pm (a new closing time – used to be noon). Everything went relatively smoothly, passport and visa were obtained, and my friend made it home safe but not in love with Nicaragua.

Wow, it has been amazing to have people visit us here in sleepy Managua. Amy had two friends visit, and I have one friend here now, and another arriving tomorrow. We have returned to several favourite haunts, and a couple new ones too. We finally made it to another beach, at Las Peñitas, which is just outside of Leon. I liked it better than Pochomil. We stayed at a hostel called The Lazy Turtle, run by a lovely Canadian couple. They made some great cocktails (Val’s Sunset!) and Mexican food. It was great to just hang out, play games (Cards Against Humanity), lounge on the beach with a bottle of Flor de Caña, and tour Isla Juan Venado. We also spent a morning in Leon and went up to the top of the cathedral to see the view and take pictures. We also returned to that hallowed ground, Cafe Pan y Paz. It’s a French bakery in Leon that makes the most wonderful sandwiches. I had a salami and veggie on a fresh croissant.

Las Penitas

Las Penitas

 

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The top of the cathedral in Leon

The top of the cathedral in Leon

 

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The next weekend, we hit up San Juan del Sur for some partying, and checked out another beach – Playa Marsella. It was great to relax for a few hours on the beach doing absolutely nothing, and I explored the rocks a bit and saw lots of crabs, barnacles, snails, and anemones (?).

Sunset on the beach at SJDS

Sunset on the beach at SJDS

Anemones (?) at Playa Marsella

Anemones (?) at Playa Marsella

 

Today was a long, tiring, but normal day. As I was walking from one job to another, I realised that I should probably say something here about daily life in Managua.

Work

After I left my first school, my job search allowed me to explore the world of private education in Managua. Within a couple of weeks of unemployment, I had distributed my resume to several prominent schools (Notre Dame – an IB school, Lincoln Academy, Saint Dominic, Marie et Pierre Curie, Montessori). By the power of Managua’s insane social interconnectedness, I ended up with an interview for a tutoring centre. One hour later, I was tutoring. I loved tutoring. These kids were in grades 1 to 8, and they were much better for me to tutor than high school students were for me to teach in a classroom. There were several students there that were interested in learning, and we would get distracted from the actual homework they had to do, and would talk about origami, particle physics, and lizards that shoot blood out of their eyes. We would have a great time, and I like to think that we all learned something. Unfortunately, it was only part time, so I was constantly on the lookout for a more practical situation.

I met a teacher at another elementary-high school at a social function, and once again, quickly ended up with an interview and a job as a substitute teacher. Unfortunately, it was only a one-time thing, so I was sent out into the job-hunt world once more. Another tutor at the tutoring centre was a student at a university and mentioned to me that her school was looking for a new English teacher. So I dropped off my resume there, and also to a few other universities. Finally, I managed to hook a real job teaching English. The university has been pretty great. I love it because the students are somewhat more mature, no parents are involved, and I only have to teach my classes, then I can leave. It doesn’t pay very much (about $10 an hour), but it also doesn’t cost much to live here.

Food

Speaking of the cost of living, food doesn’t have to cost too much, but it can also be more expensive than it is in Canada. It really depends on where and what you buy. The multitudes of people selling fruit on the side of the roads sell cheap. I can buy a watermelon, a bag of mangoes, or a large bunch of bananas for about a dollar. There are also conveniently abundant fritangas: street-side fire-in -a-can setups with delicious fried foods sizzling above the flames. These are cheap but tremendously unhealthy. The Nicaraguan people love their fried tortillas with enough cheese and salt to satisfy the recommended daily intake and then some. These lovely foods include buñuelos (yucca and cheese fried with sugar and soaked in honey syrup – amazing), quesillo (tortilla with cheese, runny sour cream, and fried onions – not my thing, but go to Nagarote or La Paz Centro for the best), various meats, and gallo pinto.

However, the supermarkets are different. Big bags of beans and rice to make gallo pinto are cheap. The prospect of soaking and cooking and frying beans and rice every day does not appeal to me though. And as a Canadian, there are certain foods that I would just rather eat. Such as apples, cereal, yogurt, chicken, salads, and mac and cheese. I learned a hard lesson my first few forays into La Colonia: if it’s not sold on the street and produced within a 4 hour drive, it’s going to be expensive. Apples are about a dollar a piece, and imported cheese (i.e. not the dry, tasteless but of course very salty cuajada or queso seco) costs even more than it does in Ontario. Grapes are also very expensive, and berries just don’t happen here, unless they’re frozen (and US$10 a bag). Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a nice, fresh peach, too. Or plum, nectarine, Florida orange, honeydew, or cherries! Even though the papaya, watermelon, and pineapples are ubiquitous, I can only eat so much. Even the mangoes and jocote are only available when they’re in season. They’re in season now, and I have to avoid stepping on the fallen mangoes at school. Nicaraguans make wonderful juices out of their fruit – even the fruits that aren’t so great to eat on their own. I’ve had juice made with tamarind, orange, pineapple, passionfruit (maracuya or calala), dragonfruit (pitaya), starfruit (melocoton), oatmeal, rice, mango, watermelon, and hibiscus and I’m probably missing lots.

Banking

This is probably not very interesting to people just visiting. Although I will say, Visa is accepted pretty much everywhere, and you can withdraw US dollars or Cordobas from ATMs. I’m used to banks that are rarely visited. I go to the bank in Canada if I have to get a new debit card or open a new account. That’s about it – special occasions only. Here, I have to go to the bank to pay rent and deposit cheques. This wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if going to the bank only took 2 minutes like it does in Canada. I generally budget about an hour to deposit a cheque from work, as I did today. Everyone is paid on the same day, so everyone flocks to the bank on the same day too. Even on a non-payday, the line is huge and slow. Everything takes longer in Nicaragua, I get that, and I have accepted it in almost every way. The bank ordeal is still a difficult one for me.

Transportation

Amy caved, as I mentioned before, and is currently renting a car. It’s certainly not cheap, but the convenience is probably worth it. I, on the other hand, can’t afford such a luxury. I use taxis and buses and caponeras. I’ve had good luck with all three, in that I haven’t been harmed or robbed, and it’s marvellously inexpensive. To get from my house to school, I walk to the main highway, catch a bus part way(C$5), and get a taxi the rest of the way (C$45). On the way home, I walk back to the bus stop (I have more time after work for walking, though less energy), catch a bus (C$5), and then take a caponera (because I am exhausted by this point, and probably carrying groceries) to my house (C$20). The caponeras are tiny little three-wheeled taxis with no doors, most of them are red, and they will take me places for far less money than a taxi will accept. They also love to blast reggaeton from speakers so considerately placed directly behind my head. They’re feisty drivers that annoy the full-sized vehicle drivers, but they’re very appreciated by the people who hire them. 

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