Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Isn't travel glamorous?

I find that I don't generally write about travel unless it is to rant about terrible service or whine about buses. I am not alone; my friend ATK recently wrote a searing piece on the Frankfurt airport. But even though my trip home from Nicaragua was obviously booked by a sadist, and there will be no small amount of whining, I'd like to also celebrate the quirky, the cute, and the kind people I crossed paths with on my journey.

In booking my flight home I had to check with my parents to see how their schedule could coordinate with picking me up from the airport. (After a full year in Nicaragua I was not traveling particularly lightly and could not have managed public transit.) My parents informed me that they were leaving on vacation the week I was planning to come home and so I would have to leave the day after my birthday. Since my birthday ushered in a new level of ancientness it seemed only appropriate to go to bed at 9PM. I am mostly kidding; my flight was at 6AM and I wanted to be slightly coherent in the morning just in case something weird happened and I needed to be able to think. For example, on my trip to El Salvador my name was spelled wrong on the ticket and that caused a teensy bit of trouble at an ungodly hour.

As on all trips leaving a country for forever, I had carefully calculated my currency so that I would have minimal cordobas going home. In fact, I had slightly less than $20 which I thought would be enough to pay for my taxi (who last time had charged me $10). However, last time wasn't at three in the morning so the taxista charged me a full $20. Evidently I hadn't slept quite enough to be coherent because instead of just negotiating him down to the cordobas that I had, I handed him a $20...which meant that I was going to have to spend a bit on earrings and chocolates in the airport.

I hauled my luggage up to the counter where a man told me that not only did I have way too many bags but also that one of my bags was over 50lbs. (Note: Nicaraguans use pounds for some reason. Just so you know. Once my physical therapist asked me what I weighed and I was all proud of myself that I could do the conversion to kilograms in my head and he completely deflated me by asking, "Oh, but what's that in pounds?") Again, at 4:00 in the morning my logic escaped me and I blurted out something like, "ugh. credit card me." First note about lovely people: the man in line in front of me helped me heft my behemoth bags on the scale despite having two children and several bags to wrangle himself. It was very sweet. Second note: the man at the ticket counter booked me an exit row seat. I think he felt sorry for me having to lay down about $300 on luggage. Especially after I plaintively remarked, "That's like a whole 'nother flight home."

After being freed from my luggage I set off to liberate myself from my $17 in cordobas. First I bought a box of chocolates. I sadly didn't have quite enough money for two. So I bought a pair of super pretty earrings. The saleswoman looked me straight in the eye, smirked and handed me my change in all coins. If there's anything worse than having $3 left to spend, it's having it in the form of 40 heavy pieces of metal. I subjected the poor snack woman to my ire by buying a water with those coins. She actually did not react poorly, probably because I was using the Bolivian tactic of telling her that she would forgive me before I did something wrong. ("Me va a disculpar pero...") I'd never used it in Nicaragua before. They tend to rely on the opposite tactic of forgiving wrongdoing with a "No biggie." (No hay falla.) I wonder what their disparate methods for diffusing small conflicts implies?

Then I went through passport control where I had the same problem I have every time: describing my profession. In Bolivia, every professional is either a licenciado or ingeniero. I decided early on to say that I was an ingeniera forestal or forester. The Nicaraguan officers ALWAYS have a problem with this. I'm not sure if it's because the concept does not translate in Nicanol (I never hear anyone use the Lic. or Ing. title there) or if they know that the forestry trade is largely controlled by the Nica government so there's no way I could be involved, or because I'm a woman. Then the discussion reveals that I work in international development (another tricky concept) for a Catholic agency but no one can ever think of a job title for that, least of all me. Generally, they resort to writing down "missionary" which drives me nuts.

On the plane in my spacious exit row I was seated next to a Nicaraguan woman and her American boyfriend. As we took off, the Nica and I started crying. Me because it has been a weird year that didn't go very well and her because this had been her first time back in Nicaragua in 18 years and she was leaving her family behind again. This created a bond between us and she and her boyfriend shared with me some of the Nica treats they were carrying back. We ate corn cakes and rosquillas and drank terrible coffee. When we got our customs form the Nica wrote out a list of food items to declare that rivaled War and Peace for length. It made me seriously rethink my shopping choices; hibiscus flowers and chia and coconut oil would go way farther than rum and coffee. I also subtly cautionws her that she may not want to admit to everything.

We parted ways upon landing because I only had one hour between flights. An hour between flights is pretty standard except when you need to go through passport control and customs like we all did. Like I mentioned before, a sadist booked my flights. So I grabbed my three four-hundred pound bags and went to the customs line. At one point I must have looked confused (or been staring at someone blankly) because another traveler ahead of me in line asked me if I was ok. As I finally neared the customs official I noticed that I was behind the couple carrying every single Nicaraguan export. They, surprisingly, breezed through. Maybe they took my advice. I, however, found it very hard to describe my job without using words like farm, agriculture, and plants. As I saw the gleam in the officer's eyes that indicated that he had finally nabbed a dirty farm-going hippie and would subject me to a first-degree inspection and quarantine I blurted out in a last-ditch effort, "It's an office job! I've never even touched a cow!" Phew. He left me with a parting admonition not to hold my passport in my mouth because "Who knows what these officers have touched." Not a cow though. They haven't touched any cows.

The next officer started a friendly conversation and for some reason asked how many languages I spoke. He then gave me further directions in French. Luckily they were appropriate to my pidgin level. It is always so nice to have a friendly interaction with airport personnel. (I'm not being facetious or sarcastic. It really is the little things that can help you bear lugging 150 pounds of luggage around for hours.)

Next I dropped off my bags and got in line for security. At one point a TSA agent was shepherding a man through the line saying that his flight left in 30 minutes. I blurted out, "But mine leaves in 20!" She left him right behind me. I made it onto my plane and was immediately confronted by a shrieking three year old. Hysterical. And this another one of those friendly interactions: one of the flight attendants whisked the screaming banshee and his grandma away to the galley and fixed him a juice and somehow calmed the kidlet down. They returned to their seat where the little one sang the alphabet song for the entire flight. My favorite part was "vee, dubble-ubble, ex, why, zeeeeee."

Somehow the flight arrived 20 minutes early which was the only reason I had time to pee and get something to eat before my next flight. Because, yes, the sadist travel agent could not get me a direct flight from Miami to NY. Also let's take a moment to kvetch about how airlines don't provide food anymore. I mean I had prepared in advance but there are only so many linseed granola bars a girl can eat...especially without peanut butter.

And that's all. I made it home to NY safely with all my luggage and I send thank you to the guy who helped me lift my bags, the desk attendant who gave me an exit seat, the Nica couple who shared their food, the woman who worried about my mental state, the French-speaking customs agent, the child-whisperer flight attendant, and all the people who didn't stare at me as I stretched in the airport.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Little Corn Island -- bring on the fishes

After the trauma of the boatride, L and I split a gigantic, delicious but very, ahem, leisurely seafood dinner at Elsa's. I am used to the somewhat lax standard of customer service that exists in the Global South and it was brought to my attention that some Nicaragua restaurants serve gringo customers more slowly than Nicas because gringos are usually on vacation and less likely to complain but I don't think either of these factors was in play during our meal. Instead, it was an exaggerated introduction to "island time" which I think of as enforced leisure, a condition I do not enjoy when hungry. However, even though I whine, it is important to note that the food at Elsa's was fabulous: ample, simple, tasty, and full of coconut and garlic.

Some of the artwork at Elsa's
Then we retired to our leaky cabin. Although water could get in, air did not. After a hot, wet night (and not in a good way) I woke up at the crack of dawn and in my escape I discovered that I couldn't keep the door closed unless I locked it. Rather than walk along the beach to leave L to discover that she had been locked in, I was a good friend and read on the front porch. After paying for the room and checking out some less leaky hotel options we ate a delicious Nica style breakfast with a Caribbean twist. A typical Nica breakfast is rice and beans, cheese, tortilla, coffee, and maybe some egg. On the caribbean side, the tortilla is replaced with coconut bread and the rice is cooked in coconut oil (instead of vegetable oil). We worried only momentarily what the sudden influx of coconut might do to our digestive systems...totally worth it.

After switching to the lovely, tranquil, and dry Casa Iguana we dove right into vacation both literally and figuratively: swimming at the Casa's private beaches, drinking unlimited hot beverages and some cold ones, and reading and napping.
The view from our cabin's porch

A few highlights:
Island tour: Although a good portion of the island caters specifically to the comparatively rich, expat tourists, it is important to note that the maids and waiters and snorkel guides and shop owners and coconut bread makers also live on the island. One day we walked the entire island to check out the docks, the school,the baseball stadium, and some of the more hoity toity beaches.

Courtesy of LCBB. See: pina coladas.
Our taxi driver had informed us that the Bluefields team (from an Atlantic coast city) were in the baseball finals against Managua so I took a moment to check out the local talent. L was afraid that we were going to get beaned and die. (We didn't.) At the beach we practiced taking photos that minimized our bellies. I didn't know that this was a thing and was distressed to learn that for over thirty years I had not been using my other assets correctly on film. (Technically though I haven't had the assets or the belly for thirty years. Maybe 18 and 5 years respectively.)
Not getting the idea of a glamour shot

Piña coladas: to perfect our bellies we stopped for piña coladas at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow. They were the best piña coladas in the entire universe, and I don't even like piña coladas. We would have drunk more but we didn't have enough money. As it stood, L had to run to the hotel to get more cash...because I'm slow and was the teensiest bit drunk. BEST. EVER.

Massages: On one rainy day, L and I decided to treat ourselves to massages at the Karma Shack to get rid of the sore spots we still had from the boat ride. One gets surprisingly tense when hanging on for dear life in a panga. Not only did I get un-tensed but the lovely Leo filled me in on all the island gossip!

Patrick: One of the things that I talked over with Leo was travel reviews. I shared that I love to read the negative reviews on travel websites. The negative reviews, to me, truly reveal the character of the visitors. My favorites are the ones that criticize for ridiculous reasons: "None of the staff in this foreign country speak English" "There was a lizard in my room" "The sand was too sandy." In Nicaragua, I was lucky to live in a sweet two bedroom condo in a gated community...and I still had lizards in my house and scorpions in the laundry room and ants everywhere, and even sometimes cockroach visitors. So I was almost comforted to have a single "visitor" in our cabana who I named Patrick.

Ferguson: Since the island is so small we ran into our friend Rizdale everywhere. At first he introduced himself to us each time but eventually he figured out which of the blonde chicks we were. Although we recognized him at each appearance, we had some trouble remembering his name. I had recently read The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain in which he highlights the particular idiocy of Americans in foreign countries. A truly delightful satire, the characters decide to call every guide they hire by the same name: Ferguson. L, however, settled on the name Darwin.

Fishy fishy: Rizdale/Darwin invited us several times to go snorkeling and we jumped at the chance on the only sunny day of our trip. Evidently there is some competition between snorkel guides and they often stoop to poaching customers, particularly Rizdale's, so he was nervous that we would abandon him. Despite an attempt by a portly Ferguson we met up with Rizdale and some of the large ankled tourists and set out. We saw lobsters, coral, big fishes, little fishes, and stingrays. It was surprisingly wavy and the canckle ladies kept kicking me and I must have looked distressed because Rizdale swam with me for much of the outing, holding my hand and pointing to the exotic fauna. We saw three sharks! In the true spirit of competition, Rizdale inflated the number and size of the sharks that we had seen to every group that we encountered.

Our meeting place with Darwin
Post-snorkel, and post-dinner we gathered our courage and boarded the panga back to Big Corn. It was pretty painless except for one woman who fell out of the boat when disembarking. In the airport I wound up sitting next to a slightly drunk 50 year old expat who hinted very strongly that he would be willing to have some sort of friends with benefits relationship with me. He redeemed himself slightly when he said that he didn't think I could be older than 20 but ruined it all again when he voiced suspicion that I was a lesbian, citing that I was checking out some ladies. Honestly, I was looking at everyone trying to convey with my eyes that I needed to be rescued.

Vacation ended with a suspiciously cheap taxi ride home from the airport... it was inexpensive because we dropped off three other passengers before making it into Managua proper. I'm pretty sure the taxi ride took the same amount as the boat and flight home. And so ended my last vacation as an expat in Nicaragua.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Little Corn Island - "Terrifying boat rides, heavenly snorkeling, awesome storm, fishy fishy*"

When I was considering writing a post about my vacation to Little Corn Island I hesitated because I didn't think that it was a particularly interesting or outlandish trip. This just shows you that I've spent too much time in Latin America.

As my last week in Nicaragua snuck up on me I realized that I had three big trips that I wanted to go on: Somoto Canyon, Corn Island, and Rio San Juan. At first, I settled on Rio San Juan but the logistics were a little daunting, especially given my travel buddy's (L's) limited time frame. So L, who you may remember from our Matagalpa adventures, just went ahead and bought plane tickets to Corn Island. These are the types of friends you need: the kind that call and say, "Hey I just bought us tickets to a tropical island. Will you handle hotel reservations?"

Corn Island is actually two islands (Big and Little Corn) off the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, and in fact of much of Central America, was under British rule until the very late 1800s. Home to many indigenous groups and a haven for shipwrecked sailors and escaped Caribbean slaves, the area has evolved into an interesting amalgam of cultures and languages, a mixture that caused L and I a teensy bit of politically correct angst. Do we say "Buenas"? Or "Hello"? Or do we try to learn some Garifuna or Miskito? Should we racially profile or let someone else say "Hey there" first?**

But I get ahead of myself. Not only are the islands politically isolated but they are geographically remote. Arriving over land requires a 12 hour bus ride and an 8 hour boat ride, that was described to me as "only worth it so that you can say you've done it." So L and I found ourselves in the La Costena airport terminal. We had been told by the check-in guy that we couldn't go through security for another twenty minutes so we were leaning up against a wall near the check-in desk where it was sort-of air conditioned (instead of outside in the scorching heat with the other tourists) when a woman came up and asked why we didn't go through security. She said, with an unspoken "you idiots"  that there were seats and beer on the other side. So we went through to find seats and beer and some surprisingly thick-legged young tourists. (I am not trying to be mean. I have never seen such a concentration of cankles. It was fascinating!) An hour flight later we found ourselves sitting in a seaside restaurant on big Corn Island eating conch and waiting for our panga (motor boat) to Little Corn.

See the boat with all the people? That's the kind we took
I had read somewhere that the seats in the back of the boat were ideal for those who are prone to seasickness so L and I snagged seats in the way back row behind the driver. I'm not sure if you've ever been on a Latin American bus where they pack thousands of people on and just when you think someone will fall out of a window they add a few more people but evidently panga travel relies on the same basic principle. In the back row with us were two women with children, two men sitting on the edge of the boat, two huge barrels of gas, several packages,the driver and his two assistants. Just when I thought we were ready to go a 50 year old woman got on and stood behind the driver, hugging him for balance. And while the back wasn't too seasicky, my source failed to mention an important caveat: the wetness factor.

Every single wave that hit the boat doused us in salty wet goodness. And there were some big ass waves slapping us down. At one point there was a fish in the boat. The guys sitting on the side of the boat (and pretty much sitting on us) didn't seem too concerned and broke open a six pack. Later, L confessed that it was their nonchalance that convinced her that maybe this was normal and we would in fact survive. We arrived and dragged our sopping wet selves onto the dock where I noticed that no one who sat in front of the driver was wet at all. Lesson learned.

The view from the dock
On the dock several of the hotel proprietors were meeting their customers. While I am a spectacular person and a spiffy dresser I had sort of failed at holding up my end of the making hotel reservations bargain. So I latched onto this man who said that he could guide us to the other side of the island. He pointed out all of his relatives' hotels and restaurants and left us at a grouping of rasta-painted huts where he implored us to remember him if we wanted to go snorkeling. "My name is Rizdale. My mom is right next door. You want to snorkel you ask for Rizdale***."

And so began a rainy few days of stuffing ourselves on seafood, swimming, napping, and wandering around the tiny island. I'll get to it in a separate post...don't want to tax your brains with all the reading

*A direct quote from L
**If you want a prettier description read the damn Washington Post
***Not this guy

Friday, June 13, 2014

shake, rattle and escape to Matagalpa

As an East Coast kid, I haven't really dealt with earthquakes much. During the great DC Earthquake of August 2011 I fell off my bike but I did not attribute it to any sort of geological reshuffling.

My first earthquake in Nicaragua was a pretty mild, middle of the night situation. Generally at 0-dark-30 my most intelligent thoughts range somewhere around "faummmmmmphhhrggggouifwau" but in this case I somehow came to a conclusion that there was monster under my bed shaking it. I rolled over and went back to sleep. My second earthquake happened one hungover morning during a conference. Similarly, my most intelligent hangover thoughts range somewhere around "dhaummmmmmphhhrggggouifgh." This time, however, the Nica gentleman sitting next to me grabbed my arm and yelled "Was that an earthquake!?" It turns out that he too was an East Coast (of Nicaragua) kid. So we all walked out of the big cement building that might fall on us to stand in the sun right next to the big cement building that might fall on us.

Here I think it might be helpful to explain the different gradations of earthquakes. The English language doesn't really distinguish much between little tiny earthquakes and big destructive ones. Spanish is more specific: a temblor or sismo versus a terremoto. This is only important if, while living in a city that was destroyed in a giant earthquake, you tell your coworkers that you dreamt there was a terremoto and they begin to fear your wrath or predictive abilities.... when you really dreamt that like a couple of lawn chairs fell over in a giant field. The intensity of an earthquake is in fact determined by their strength on the Richter scale (a 3 is like a truck driving by), their depth, their proximity, and their duration. The two temblores I had experienced were pretty deep, pretty close 4s lasting about 5 seconds or less.

The fault lines under Managua. Scary no?

About two weeks letter I was chilling in French class (yes I'm learning French in a Spanish speaking country) when there was some significant shaking and all the lights went out. It was a pretty shallow, pretty close 6 lasting about 6 seconds. People in Managua are trained to run out of the building as soon as an earthquake happens. If you live in a place with pretty sturdy infrastructure this wouldn't be your first move, but we all went outside until everyone was accounted for and told to go home. Recognizing that a post-earthquake commute with no electricity would be difficult to say the least, I hunkered down, took a potty break, ate some oreos, and waited until the lights came back on. It still took me two hours to get home.

For the next week the earth shook from time to time, including two other 6s resulting in a sleep-deprived, antsy, and nauseated Lenni (earthquake motion sickness is a thing. really.) I was not alone in this condition. My boss called me to say that she was leaving town with her family and that I should either come with her or sleep at her one-story house instead of in my two-story deathtrap. I thought she was overreacting but after a night that just felt full of bad mojo (even though nothing shook) my friend L and I decided to kick out my couchsurfer (Sorry Ludwig!) and escape to Matagalpa.

In case you care, we had planned this trip earlier because during Semana Santa (Holy Week) everyone and their mother goes to the beach and we, being contrary, decided to head for the hills. We just left earlier than planned.

Anyhoo, Matagalpa is a town in the "highlands" where it is cool, walkable, and geologically stable. Because of the holiday everything was closed but L and I were really only there to read, sleep, and eat without shaking. We stayed in town at La Buena Onda for two nights and somehow lucked into the coolest roomies ever: an Irish volunteer, an American Fulbright scholar, and a Canadian long-term backpacker who all, like us, had decided to escape earthquakes and crazy beach tourists.

We rolled in a pack for a day having lengthy political and philisophical discussions and then headed up to Selva Negra where L and I had reservations for another two nights. Selva Negra is a coffee farm run by some 3rd generation German immigrants. It has lots of hiking trails, farm tours, and a restaurant serving up German beer, homemade cheese, and organic veggies. It was fabu. Again we didn't do much besides read, eat, sleep, and hike so I'll just share some pictures after this one story.

One evening it was pretty cold and I asked the waiter if he knew how to make a hot toddy. He said no, even after I explained the ingredients, and so I ordered a tea with lemon. Only after finishing the tea did I realize that I could have just ordered the tea and a whisky and made the darn thing myself.

All pictures courtesy of the lovely L. You steal them you die.
We're still not sure what this is. A Coffee dryer? But doesn't it look pretty?

The chapel on the grounds

Visitors from all over the world...including New Haven!

I have an interlude with a tree

The view of Matagalpa from the ridge

Friday, May 23, 2014

San Juan del Sur - lobstahs and all

I wrote this in March. Sorry about that.

I realize I have only lived in Nicaragua for six months but as an expatriate I often resent being treated as a moneybags or, worse, a gringa backpacker. Both of these stereotypes are in force in the beach town San Juan del Sur but I braved them to spend some time with a Peace Corps buddy down to do a practicum for her Master's program.

Some of the fun in any new place is figuring out transportation. In Managua I drive or use a taxi driver from a nearby hotel. "O" charges more than a normal taxi but he knows where I live (which, if you've ever given directions in Managua generally or to my house specifically, is super important) and he's friendly and super reliable. So I called him on Friday night to so that I could catch the one and only Saturday express bus to SJDS at 9:30. Even though O called me at 7:30AM to confirm he showed up late due to some location confusion and I missed the express bus. Instead, I had to take an express to Rivas and figure out the last leg when I arrived. (I still adore O. On one recent trip to the airport he answered all my nerdy questions about city government and neighborhood borders and Managuan history. In this instance, he made sure I had only the money necessary for the bus at the ready so that I could safely stow my wallet.)

Express is a bit of an exaggeration. Although it had no designated stops people still got off (and on) at random locations along the route. The getting on was particularly amusing. The bus had an attendant who would jump off, rustle up some people - usually backpackers - and basically push them running onto the bus as it sped up again. Several times I saw him actually grab a future passenger's ass for more purchase. I imagine this would be particularly disconcerting to unsuspecting tourists who are unfamiliar with Nicaragua's bus routes and rather lax ideas toward personal space. But I also imagine that if you turned around and slapped him you would miss your bus. Anyhoo, after about the fourth stop I looked at my Nica seat mate - a complete stranger - and we said at the exact same time "This is express?"

For some reason I was the only one to get off at the crossroads to San Juan del Sur instead of the Rivas bus station. I wasn't too pleased with this development because it meant that I had no leverage to bargain for a taxi. I was alone and stuck and the taxistas told me that there were NO collectivos (or mini buses) to get the rest of the way.  I did bargain them down $3 and hopped in a taxi with a guy with a twitch. That's really all I remember about him.

I arrived to San Juan del Sur, a party town/tourist trap on the Pacific coat at about lunch time. After dropping off my stuff at the hostel and seeing a text from my friend L that said "leave for Romanso at 10" I decided to get lunch and figure out what Romanso was and how to get there. At lunch I was sitting next to a couple of tourists from Germany and the Netherlands and after interrupting their conversation several times I asked to join them. They very much enjoyed their food while I thought that for an arm and a leg it relied too much on dressing. After the meal, the Dutch woman gave out toothpicks which I turned down politely. I am not a toothpick person and who knows where they were stowed in her bag*.

It turns out Remanso, spelled with an E. is a beach about 6k out of town and the only way to get there is a $10 taxi with no guarantee that I'd find my friends. I gambled on it. The taxi driver was a little startled when I told him I didn't need a ride back. I didn't see my friends at the bar so I assumed they were in the water surfing. I went to the shore and waved and yelled a bit at people who turned out not to be my friends and then decided to just go for a swim before worrying about how to get back into town. After about a half hour I thought I saw my buddy T. It was a little awkward because she was far away and in a bikini and I wasn't sure how to stare/get closer without creeping out this potential stranger. Anyhoo she seemed to shocked to see me just roll up on the beach by myself**.

It was all pretty tranquilo. I bought a beer so that I had access to the only bathroom for miles; read a bit; swam a bit more; and fell into a hole in the ocean and cut my foot open on what felt like a rusty shopping cart***.  Post-swimming/surfing we went back to the hotel for some cocktails and appetizers before venturing out for ridiculously cheap lobster tails and beer and ice cream.

The ice cream store was an experience. Filled with loud, semi-drunk Americans who didn't speak any Spanish the scooper guy was very plainly fed up with everyone. He slopped some chocolate ice  cream on my cone in a particularly precarious manner while rolling his eyes and cursing under his breath. I had to eat it leaning way over with legs spread wide to avoid spilling it all over my dress. It was delicious despite his scorn and derision.

Post-ice cream there was some drinking and dancing. I tried to get into the spirit of drunken party beach town but I went to bed around midnight. (This is not to say that I didn't enjoy myself. Just that I went to bed early****) The next morning I met the girls for breakfast, ie two for one margaritas on the beach before heading back to Managua.

I got some very conflicting reports on how to get back to Managua and even to Rivas so I decided to take a cab from San Juan to Rivas and catch the bus there. I bargained this guy down $5 and we set off. He asked me the normal questions like "Where you from? How old are you? Are you married? Have kids?" Knowing that this interrogation was coming I decided to lie about my age to make it seem slightly more acceptable that I'm single and childless. I decided to tell the taxista that I'm 25. Then he asked me how old I thought he was. Forgetting that I had lied about my age I said "Oh. About my age I guess." He was indeed 32. When he dropped me off at Rivas I asked some of the ladies selling refresco what time the bus would arrive and they told me that it would arrive from San Juan del Sur in about 15 minutes. I had basically just paid $10 to be propositioned... and to have a little extra time to pee and buy a candy bar.

The bus showed up right on time. I've written about bus travel in Bolivia but Nica buses are considerable more tightly packed and uncomfortable. Luckily the margarita breakfasts had primed me to fall asleep pretty much when my butt hit the ridiculously uncomfortable seat. I woke up just in time for a brief conversation with an attractive man who informed me that "Getting a tan is mind over matter, you wouldn't have to look like a lobster all the time if you really believed in yourself."

I should just believe!!!

That's all folks.


*later that afternoon my friend T pointed out some Spinach in my teeth. Dutch girl should have been less subtle.
**later that evening L drunkenly told me that one of things that she loved about me was that I could figure shit out.
***Don't worry Mom. Got a tetanus booster in September 2013.
****The current discussion with my group of girlfriends is how I want to be a little old man when I grow up. I will wear cardigans and sit in the plaza playing dominoes and drinking homemade rum before going to bed early. This isn't the first time I've expressed this in Lenni's blog.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Valentine's Day in a Nicaraguan jail

A slip of paper wedged into the door handle of the closed police station read"El taxero es numero uno." I, however, was number thirteen and jealous of the taxi driver's genius. While I stood on line in the sun, he went to buy breakfast and then sat in his cab eating while reading the newspaper and listening to classic baladas.

How did we get here you ask? I don't know about taxero numero uno but at 5PM on Valentine's Day I backed into a (different) taxi in a gas station. I was going at a glacial pace but since I was driving a tank and he a microwave there was a little damage to his car.

As the taxi driver ran around the gas station telling everyone "I honked!" I totally cried and called my office.

As far as I'm aware, in the States we would have just exchanged insurance information and maybe called the police for a report. The system in Nicaragua, I suppose, is somewhat similar. My office called the insurance guy and the transit police who both arrived on scene...after an hour or so. The insurance adjuster took a statement and several pictures. I found it telling that the taxista had already met him before, having had several previous accidents...many of them in gas stations.

The policeman who showed up was evidently the wrong cop (?) so we had to wait for a new one. The new one had forgotten most of his supplies. He needed a clean white sheet of paper and a ruler to draw a diagram of our cars and their placements relative to each other and to the pumps.

They actually measured.

In situations like this you are not to move your car post-impact so that the diagram and measurements can be absolutely accurate. As you can imagine this makes it a little hazardous when accidents happen on the highway or involve pedestrians. 

Then we got all of our documents copied in triplicate. Luckily there was a copy shop across from the gas station and I had small change. The cop kept our drivers license and would have given us a form to tell us when to come pick them up but he had forgotten them. So we had to follow him (as he drove like a freaking maniac through rush hour traffic) to the police station which was hidden in Mercado Oriental, in a neighborhood I had been repeatedly warned against entering.

(No worries Mom, the office driver met me at the gas station, did the crazy driving to the police station, and made sure I knew what was going on.)

We sat there for a while comparing accident battle scars and sharing snacks until finally we got our paperwork back with an appointment at 8AM on Monday. The driver asked the taxista to arrive at 7:30 and we headed off. My driver asked if I didn't want to take advantage of his driving and go to the grocery store. I had a friend waiting for me at my house and I was going away for the weekend (and I'm slow on the uptake) so I emphatically said that I did NOT want to go to the grocery store. It wasn't until we stopped at the grocery store did I realize that the driver needed to buy dinner because it was 7:30PM on Valentine's Day and his wife had asked him to pick up something.

Then I dropped off my driver in his neighborhood where he told me in the same breath that "no worries this neighborhood is safe" but that I couldn't drop him off anywhere but right in front of his house because he "might get assaulted and robbed."

I drove home, had a romaaaaantic dinner at the mall with a Peace Corps buddy, and had a great weekend at the beach with her and three other peeps...and then returned to face the music at the police station Monday morning.

I was naive enough to think that our 8AM appointment card meant that everyone had a distinct time to sign paperwork and get their documents back. But the driver and I arrived at 7:30 to find a line already forming outside of the transit office. Not because people were afraid of missing their appointment but because everyone who had had an accident or traffic infraction in that part of the city over the entire weekend were to arrive at 8AM.

Except for the taxi driver involved in my incident. He was not there.

The office opened at 8:30 and as we walked in we were handed a number. I was lucky number 13. The 10x20ft room was packed with about 50 people (and five chairs). At least there was good ventilation. It seemed like a surprisingly friendly place as people involved in the same accident reunited, often greeting each other like long lost friends. My taxista finally arrived bearing number 45 and out of the warmness of my heart I invited him to share my number. We were called into another room where the office driver was quickly kicked out and I signed a document agreeing that the accident was my fault. The taxista was given his license back and told where to pay to get his accident report for insurance claims and was out of there like a shot. I was told that I had to pay a fine according to Ley 431 and bring the receipt back before I could pick up my license. (Looking it up later, it seems I had gotten in trouble for driving backwards in a public right of way. Which is ridiculous because it was a gas station and I was trying to change sides of the pump.)

We went back to my car where we found that one of the taillights had been popped out. The driver was so furious that he almost ran over a guy who was way too stoned to get out of the way. He was not way too stoned however not to harrass us by blowing kisses.

We drove like maniacs to the bank (which wasn't the one I thought the policewoman said to go to) but I didn't have my passport and therefore couldn't pay the bill. The driver obligingly paid for me (with my money). Then we went back to the police station where I jumped the line waving around my receipt and got my license back! YAY!

Next time "la chela es numero uno." Although I really hope there won't be a next time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

ALL the words!

Once upon a time (summer 2013) in a land far, far away (Santa Cruz, Bolivia) I commented to a friend (A) that I was thinking of signing up for an advanced Spanish class to smooth out my remaining grammatical errors. A said "Why? You know plenty of words." to which I indignantly responded, "I want to know ALL the words!"

As a good little language learner I keep a continuous list of new vocabulary. Since I just finished a notebook, I thought I would share some with you.

From the time I was reading the Safety and Security Manual:
pernocte - overnight
hostigamiento - harrassment
abolladuras - dents
fechorias - misdeeds
semovientes - livestock
escombros - debris
abrumadora - overwhelming
saque partido - take advantage

From the passion fruit report:
hito - milestone
deschupona - suckers (as in the coppice sense)

From our biannual staff meeting:
destreza - dexterity
hambruna - famine
pericia - expertise
cherepo - the loudly chirping lizard living outside my hotel room

From the painful audit that I didn't have the level of vocabulary necessary to translate for even though that was my main involvement:
cotizacion - bids, quotes
comprabantes - vouchers
delinquent account - saldo vencido (and totally not saldo delinquente which connotes little car-stealing, smoking in the bathroom accounts)

From the thousand interviews we had dealing with the milk/meat value chain:
pichinga - big container (this word only exists in Nicaragua)
arancel - tarriff
novillo - steer
pauta - pattern
ubre - udder (my favoritest new word)
pugna - conflict
potrero - paddock
errar - to brand
parida - calving
reductasa - reductaze (had to look that one up in English too)

From driving around:
marginal - service road
timon - steering wheel
desnivel - ramp
saca la lengua - to use blinker (or what you yell when someone doesn't use their indicator)
fulano - someone  you don't know (ie, The guy on the bus said...)
deacachimba - awesome (strong. not for polite company)
tuanis - awesome
chocho - awesome

This is fairly standard practice. Comparing notes with our guide at Mombacho, he totally whipped out his own vocab list. Really.

I'd have to a whole book for slang.