Next Stop: Nicaragua 2009

Introduction | Los Guatuzos | Los Sabalos and the Rio San Juan | Isla Ometepe | Corn Islands | Granada



Three Weeks in Nicaragua:  Feb 9th, 2009 to March 3rd, 2009.
Last year I passed through this great country on a road trip that I took down the Pan American highway to Tierra del Fuego.  My short time here left me wanting to come back and take some more time to check out this small Central American country....the life, the land, the food, the people, the music, the wildlife.    So I'm going back and I'll do my best to share with you what I can.


First a few basic facts:
-  Nicaragua is largest Central American country...about the size of
   New York state.
-  With a population just under 6 million, Nicaragua is Central America's
   least populated country BUT it is the fastest growing (3% annually).
-  Nicaragua borders Honduras to the north, Costa Rica to the
   south and has both Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
-  The official language of Nicaragua is Spanish, but there also are
   indigenous languages spoken here -such as Miskito, Mayangna and
   Rama- and languages of African origin -such as Criollo and Garifuna.
-  The official currency (since 1912) is the cordoba.  Last I checked
   (a couple days ago), the exchange rate was about 20 cordoba to
   one US dollar- a nice fringe benefit, when working out conversions
   in your head (drop the last digit and divide in half...approx.)

I'll be flying Boston > Ft. Lauderdale > Managua.
So...Let me begin.....

Feb 9th  2008:  Greeting from The Boat House Dockside Bar.  I am happy to hop online and start this site up with a pre-arrival, between-flights, update...because this is an airport bar... if you were to seek out this particular hot spot, you needn't look for a boat nor a dock.  There may be, perhaps, a beacon of light to draw you into these safe harbors, but it does not shimmer off the ripple of little waves.  No, this boat house is very strategically located between 'Nathan's Famous Hotdogs' and the men's lavatory of the Ft. Lauderdale international airport.  And at this hour, I can think of no better spot to be, because in a matter of moments, I am going to take down one of those hot dogs.  And in a matter of moments I am going to stroll into that men's room....again.  Yea, sure it wouldn't kill me to walk a gate or two for relief and if the hotdogs were infamous, I think I'd still have one ...with sauerkraut...but the sheer juxtaposition of this locale- the momentous convenience of having it all immediately on either side-can only mean one thing...that I have been pulled into the vortex of fortunate coincidence and that this shall be a true vacation of leisure. 

Justin and Jen

On this particular journey I am traveling with the beautiful and couragous, Jennifer Anne Zuhr.  She is no stranger to rugged travel and I will need to pull all my stops to keep up.
In a hour we will board a plane to Managua, Nicargua.  We will be away for three weeks.  We have a couple ideas, but are pretty much winging it.
So, on that ...we.... go.....>>>>

Our airline choice for the ’to and from Nicaragua’ portion of our journey has been ‘Spirit’ airlines because Spirit airlines gave us the best price. And in the true spirit of saving you money, Spirit Air has cut out many of the frills we have all grown accustomed to in air travel…like cushion in the seats and room for one’s legs, complimentary water and a seat that reclines. Three bucks will get you a water and, even better, three bucks, will buy you a cup’o’noodle soup, hot water included. I choose to have a cup’o’noodle soup (chicken flavor was their offering) because my Nathan’s Famous hotdog dream had been shattered by the premature closing up of Nathan’s Famous shop. One moment they were slapping dogs into buns with reckless abandon, the next moment they were replacing their hairnets with gansta wraps. Everything was suddenly gleaming stainless steel…not so much as a kraut strand or chili chunk in sight. I felt betrayed…I was betrayed by the Boat House bartender, whose professional demeanor I mistook for friendliness from the get go. He had told me that the dog shack was open until eleven. It was ten and even he was now flipping on his lights. “Last Call,” he added to the injury. Last call, indeed. At least he had the nerve to shout it. I am rather new to fast food, but I think they should have to give a last call too. Two simple words, two syllables even, and I’d know the feeling of famous hotdog juice running down my chin, instead of Oodles of Noodles chicken flavored noodle soup …which brings me full circle and back to Spirit airlines. I had a soup and Jen had a coffee. Some things, if you buy in combination with others, will get you a discounted price. Like if you buy a six dollar vodka nip and a three dollar can of Mrs. T’s bloody Mary mix, they will sell it to you for eight dollars. They call it a ‘Value Combination‘. There are ‘Better Value’ combinations as well, like if you buy two four dollars muffins and two two dollar coffees, you’ll save two dollars. Then there is the ‘Best Value’ deal. For instance if you buy four six dollar beers, you pay only twenty dollars, saving you four dollars. I thought about buying a beer, but four beers was more than I was willing to commit to in one foul swoop (or is it fowl, like the bird? I guess birds swoop, but I could also picture a soccer player swooping in on the goal, only to get caught off sides.) (while we are on this topic, is a foul smell foul or fowl? Both would have their merits, I suppose. Ever been near a chicken farm? But making a really bad smell could also be consider less than fair play…on an airplane, for instance) …Anyway, a coffee and a noodle soup is a no-value combination, but that is exactly what we had on Spirit airlines. And as we ate soup and sipped coffee, we watched a large island.…perhaps Cuba, perhaps Jamaica… pass beneath us and a huge full moon, close enough to touch, share our sky off the starboard side.

But I am all for the ‘no pillows, no movies, no first class, no bag of nuts, any checked luggage costs 25US’ flight. It cost us $380 RT to Managua, NIC from Logan, BOS. (switching in Ft. Lauderdale) and the stewardess on the second leg was as friendly as they come, as she plied the aisles between rambunctious Nicaraguan children, blinged-out, and boobed-up Nicaraguan ladies and men, a quartet of gringo surfers -the two boys clad head to toe in brand-plastered rapper/surfer garb with gigantic headphones and one trucker cap worn on top of another- the two girls, more mildly costumed but suffering from a little silliness all the same by sheer association with the overly fashion conscious male company that they kept. There was a Christian boy, our age, reading a leather bound bible, that I first mistook for really nice dictionary. There was a elderly couple, the skinny little frail woman overly made-up and heavily tranquilized, the man more robust but with an air of sadness. Yes, air travel is great for studying humankind. And I don’t imagine for a moment that I don’t fit into some horrendous stereotype as well…possibly ten times worse. I’m sure I have been written unflatteringly into more than one journal of other airplane passengers. I am just too ignorant to know what it is about me that might amuse. But being written about and my writing about others, no matter how colorful the descriptions might be, is, in the long run perhaps a better fate than not being worthy of mention at all. Because characters enrich life. Without characters the world becomes a dimmer place. Without characters, I‘d be forced to come up with fiction, instead of sitting back and reporting on the wonderful people, places and events that everyday life just spits out for me to record. Writing non-fiction should be illegal, because I didn’t come up with this stuff on my own, but rather I am plagiarizing a story that has been written not in words but in that upside-down film that is projected onto the walls of the back of my eyes. And the only factor that makes it any sort of a challenge at all, is the fact that in every moment the material which life provides is endless. Trying to capture the details in writing of any one instant is like being caught in a perpetual riptide. The harder you swim forward -the harder you try to catch up to where you want to be- the deeper and deeper you get pulled out to sea. I am already falling behind, yet I have missed so much. So I must skip ahead now, cut bait and run forward…to Managua.

Flor de Cana -Ron Gran Reserva

We arrived in Managua at close to one in the morning. We had combined a number of our things into one backpack to be check onto the plane ($25US) and much to our pleasure, the backpack was circling the conveyor belt by the time we cleared immigration. The woman at customs snatched our forms and waved us through without even looking up to see our excited, if tired, faces, and in a moment we were outside the airport, declining a few remarkably pacified taxi ride offers. Knowing in advance the late hour that we were to arrive, I had booked a room at the Best Western, Managua, which was strategically located just across the street from the small airport. We crossed the quiet street, located the entrance to the one-story hotel, woke up the night clerk and were soon tucking ourselves in to the comfortable bed of room 95.


Tuesday, Feb.10th. Upon waking up Tuesday morning, we set out for the included breakfast, which consisted of quite a trek through the beautifully designed hotel grounds. Each room was like a little cabana, with tropical frondy shrubs and palms scattered throughout. There were a couple swimming pools at least, and little fountains with exotic little birds swimming and chirping and splashing around. I had heard that Managua was not a pleasant city, and if this was the case, their airport hotel hid the fact well. Last year Eli and I had driven through the outskirts of Managua on our way south, but we hadn’t stopped to check it out. Later in this trip I hope to spend a night or two there and see what it is all about, because I tend to like cities -like Bangkok, and Mexico City, Yangoon and Bogota- that other people despise. If you can look past the smog and the touts, hand a beggar a meager coin or two and keep one hand on your wallet as you dive into the markets, there are treasures and secrets to be discovered in cities that not many tourists will ever see.

Breakfast was admittedly tired at the Best Western Managua. The refried black beans were crusty and the fruit was no ripe. There was an omelet guy, who was engrossed with the television mounted up into one corner of the room, but I don’t eat eggs and Jen opted for the pre-scrambled ones from the stainless steel hot pan. I tried a piece of bacon and it was tasty, the little breakfast hotdogs, not so much. (They would not be garnering any fame, I’m afraid.)

After breakfast we journeyed back to our room where Jen gave me a long over due haircut in a corner of the room that seemed almost made for the purpose…a large white-tiled expanse, void of furniture or function. This hair cut had been the last detail of preparation for the trip, and we had run out of time to see it through.

We finished the haircut and post-haircut showers exactly at checkout time and quickly gathered up our things. Back across the street, slightly more busy at this midday hour, we found the airport’s ATM machines and amassed a huge wad of Cordobas (Nicaraguan currency), then we searched out our terminal, which turned out to be in a building of its own, outside the main building. The terminal for La Constena Airlines, a small national carrier, was chaotic and hot…a far cry from the gleaming white main airport terminal. There was a sack clucking and twitching on the floor with a rooster’s head poking out a slit in one side and a box beside it that was making a similar sound. An old semi-conscious lady on a stretcher was wheeled through the tight ‘lobby’ by two men in red cross smocks. The line to the counter snaked this direction and that. There were a few other gringos and a bunch of Nicas ahead of us and we were forced to listen to the haggard warnings of one late middle aged American woman, as she tried to instill fear into the minds of a group of three young and notably short female backpackers. “These people can’t be trusted”, she said, “They will rob you in a heartbeat. The crime is terrible. I bought a property here and now I am trying to sell it and get out.” I strongly dislike it when I hear visitors to another country, speak down about the culture they are a guest of.. This lady in her flowing white sun dress belonged in ‘the other’ Caribbean. The Caribbean of golf courses and all-inclusive resorts, jet skis and $12 sour-apple martinis that you can swim up to receive. Let me back up and say that I find nothing wrong with this lifestyle…what’s not to love about cocktails in the pool? I can roll like that for a short time as well, but please don’t come rain on my parade when I want to escape those first world charms and feel like I have truly gotten away from it all. Because fear breeds misunderstanding and now these impressionable young things might likely turn away when a local asks them a question. They might turn down the opportunity of a lifetime, because the person extending the invitation has a different color skin or a tatter in their shorts. They might answer ’no, gracias’ before the question is even asked. There is danger in the world, don’t get me wrong. First world, second world, third world. But we need to learn this through our own experiences, not second hand through a person that perhaps had brought misfortune upon their self, through arrogance and a failure to treat others, no matter how different, like equals. I have also been robbed, it is true. These are the risks of living out side of the shell.