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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Introverted in Granada

This weekend I escaped to Granada. I didn't invite anyone to come with me. I just packed up and left.

On Friday I called ahead to reserve a room at Hostal El Momento (no small feat as it turns out). Went for a run. Went to the gym to work on my arms (I have seen no discernible impact). Had some housekeeper-made dinner. Watched Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (swoon. Diego Luna). Packed some clothes and some lunch. And then puked up my guts for a good two hours.  And all I could think was "I wonder what is happening here physiologically" and "Boy, I hope I get enough sleep to leave early tomorrow bright and shiny."

The first question was answered by this fantastic website (which also informed me that the ideal vomiting position is with your head below your waist which would indicate standing and bending over into the toilet) and the second doubt was allayed when I sprang out of bed at 6:30AM. Ok, I didn't spring but lurch but I was awake and hungry and that's what counts.  After breakfast and my typical Saturday morning conversation with my 12 year old gardener (the water pump is broken again and I bought the wrong type of fertilizer and no he's not really just 12.) I headed to VOLCANO MOMBACHO! woot!

The road to the trail heads are up a big hill (Obvis. It's a volcano pues.) so my Toyota toaster wouldn't be able to make it. Instead, tourists take a truck straight out of Jurassic Park which leaves at 8, 10, and 1 and is surprisingly punctual. After paying an arm and a leg for being a foreigner ($16!) I hopped on the 10AM shuttle About halfway up the volcano the shuttle stopped and the driver didn't really explain the purpose of the stop which led to some confusion. I stepped in to ask the driver what was going on and then had to tell everyone else (Nica and tourist alike) which then led the driver to enlist me in explaining to some Americans that they had to pay for their tickets which was super awkward. Anyhoo, the idea was to allow us to explore a coffee farm, get a free cup, and hopefully drop some bills on a snack at Cafe las Flores (a chain store which I am not afraid to admit is my go-to cafe because they have really good brownies and mediocre chai and because they're Rainforest Alliance certified).

Our chariot awaits

Cafe La Flores has a coffee farm complete with nursery and processing center on the volcano

On the way back onto the truck I overheard an American woman say to her companion that they had to wait for another girl who had gone to the bathroom. I decided to befriend this woman immediately because as a solo lady traveler I am always in search of a bathroom-stop-looker-outer. It turns out that E, as she was named, and her colleague A work in Managua with a friend of mine from Peace Corps! (The bathroom girl is M.) Upon arriving at the Visitor Center, we endured a short introductory talk from the guides and some significant naysaying from an older German tourist lurking about. He was dressed like a stereotypical German hiker in some pretty technical gear and grousing about how cloudy it was and how we wouldn't be able to see anything and how he'd been waiting in the lodge since 8am for it to clear up. EMA and I, embracing the fact that we were in a cloud forest and that it's supposed to be cloudy, decided to spring for a guide anyway ($12/group in Spanish. slightly higher in English) to hike the El Tigrillo trail. (For your information, the volcano has three trails; Crater Trail is 1km, Puma is 4km and closed at the moment, and Tigrillo is probably 2km. The issue is that if you come up on the 10am shuttle you're supposed to go down on the 1:30 shuttle and I think they expect you to be very slow.)

And J, our guide, was fantastic. We ate plants, stuck our hands in weird holes in the ground, made fart jokes, learned all about ants, did NOT touch the huge spiny ferns, compared our vocabulary word lists, and had some absolutely spectacular views. Take that surly German tourist!
Take THAT surly German tourist! Take it!

A view of Laguna de Apoyo, my regular weekend haunt
Even my least stunning photo is still lovely
After returning to Granada, having the myriad of hostel rules explained to me, and taking a shower, I headed out to lunch (an overpriced burrito with a free jamaica margarita) and then to explore the city.

I started with the churches.

Granada cathedral
Iglesia La Merced
While I was up in the bell tower of La Merced, I realized what time it was and that I'd have to skedaddle quickly if I didn't want to go deaf. However stairs and I are still not friends and I started down very slowly. Seeing my hesitation, a Nica yelled in a perfect Rob Schneider "You can do it!"

The view from the bell tower
Another view from La Merced
Granada is small. When climbing the bell tower of La Merced I ran into a guy who I had seen earlier (and who creepily reminded me that he had seen me earlier). I also ran into EMA at La Casa de Los Leones, a cultural center with a radio station, violin workshop, art studios, and Esperanto classes. They had just come from the bookstore which was my next stop. Books are super expensive in Nicaragua and Lucha Libro, which sells used classic paperbacks for $4, is considered cheap. (It's a fantastic shop selling a wide range of new and used. They aggressively weed out mass market crap and the inflated costs are totally justifiable. Also, cute puppy in residence.) I bought a $7 copy of Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain and retired with it to dinner. Passing by all the lovely and exciting hubub that is the Calzada, the main drag for restaurants and bars, I ducked into Cafe los Suenos which was beautiful and tranquil and served the best veggie quiche I have ever had in all my life. Their salad dressing was also fabu.

I was in bed by 10.

I had planned to go on a kayak tour of Las Isletas on Sunday morning but when I woke up I decided that I didn't really feel like sweat or exercise of any kind. Also, the photos of the tour that the guy at the hostel showed me heavily featured monkeys which did not appeal to me. Instead I wandered over to Kathy's House of Waffles for some blueberry pancakes (!) and hot chocolate. It is a popular spot and they didn't want to waste a whole table on me so I said that I could totally make friends and I was plopped down with a pleasant older Nica couple and some American Habitat volunteers. They didn't talk to me so I immersed myself in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. (To be fair, the Nica couple told me that my pancakes looked delish and the Habitat ladies commended my choice of reading material.)

Post-breakfast I checked out the San Fransisco Convent and Museum. The church next door was having service and so I listened for a while from a rocking chair in the Museum terrace.
The lovely patio at the Convent

The display of giant heads at Convento San Francisco

And then I headed home to Managua to do my laundry, sip some chai, take a nap, and finish my French homework. My anti-social weekend was just so pleasant!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bloggity blogs

Once upon a time (5 years ago) in a land far, far away (Bolivia), 103 random Americans worked as Peace Corps volunteers until they were evacuated.  Here is a selection of their blogs:

This is twenty seven months Except it wasn't really. Jacky waxes poetic, sometimes in Guarani.

T2Bolivia Who's last post is titled appropriately: "That was 22 months," months filled with vegetables and llamas

Bolivia44 For a sweet perspective on what it's like to be a married couple in the Corps. Erika of Mark-n-Erika has a new blog too. check the sidebar.

La Gringa Allison tells us all about how she drank with international chacarera stars. You may not be jealous but you should be.

Britta's Global Eyes Fantastic photos on this one. Ok, all the blogs have fantastic photos but these are super duper fantastic.

Fun with Tom and Anna Tom and Anna also write about thru-hiking the Appalachian trail to raise money for Heifer International

Anna's Bolivian Journal A different Anna. But just as cool.

Some of us went on to do Peace Corps in other locations. Like Tammy: Peace Corps Take 2: The Gambia

And some did Peace Corps again...and then drove all over South America selling ice cream: Una Buena Crazy

And as a bonus, another married couple blog but reporting from El Salvador: Y Otros Demonios

Basically, I'm cleaning out the sidebar of my blog so that I can add the adventures of my recent cohort of warm and fuzzy development workers and their warm and fuzzy significant others.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The city of lights: not Paris but Managua

The week before Christmas all of the Nicaragua staff in our office was on forced vacation. Evidently they hoard their vacation days and we must pillage them periodically. I, however, was able to "work" from home. As the quotes indicate, it was a light workload but I thought it would be particularly disingenous to leave Managua so my days of updating our website and translating documents were peppered with adventures around my newest city home.

In general, I am not huge fans of zoos. (Except for of course the National Zoo where I volunteered for a while. Shout out to my Beaver Valley peeps!) But it's a neat way to "meet" some of the local wildlife and see what sort of public environmental education is going down. So on Tuesday I headed to the Managua zoo, which as their own website* points out, has installations that "are simple and back-to-basic due to the tight budget under which the zoo operates." This means cement cages for the stressed-out big cats. For some reason, though, the tapirs had some pretty sweet digs. It seems like the zoo is expanding and, as it does so, improving the facilities. Here's hoping the exotic animals get upgraded soon.

In the past, I've nerded my way backstage at certain zoos and museums. This time was no different but considerably more accidental. As I was walking past the water buffalo enclosure I got to watch the staff remove one of the animals and start leading/pushing it somewhere. I slowly realized that perhaps I shouldn't be allowed to be near while there while they're moving the animals, a realization brought to a conclusion when I saw that they had roped off the entrance to the part of the zoo I was in...evidently before checking if anyone was there! Anyone like me! Trapped with a ferocious water buffalo!

It's ok, I stepped over the barrier, ate some tostones, and drove home.

One note: their English language website lies about the price. It is C$100 for foreign adults. This sort of thing causes me to morph into my alter-ego and crusade for justice. Seriously. I've done this before. Why should I pay more than a national?

On Wednesday evening, I was going a little stir-crazy so I checked Via Nica to see what sort of solo activities I could do. On the schedule was a showing at the Cinemateca Nacional so I headed on down. I arrived early and the guys were just watching a dvd of Inception. I know that that movie is supposed to be mind-boggling but it's even harder to follow in your second language. Then promptly at 6, and with only one other person in the theater they put on the feature film: a short series of vignettes centering around a Managua bus route. A small crowd arrived about 2/3 of the way through so when the movie ended they just showed it again.

On Thursday evening I went to a lovely Christmas concert at the church I semi-regularly attend. It was kind of like having a stroke though because they sang all the traditional songs but in Spanish. Of course, you say. But my brain rebelled a little.

Saturday morning, two days before flying home for Christmas, I realized I had bought no gifts, except for a bottle of rum from the supermarket. (Which is actually higher quality for less money so there.) So I headed to Mercardo Huembes. I had only been there once with my driving instructor and I vaguely remembered that we made a left somewhere past a traffic circle. I found the market, parked my car and wandered the labyrinth. It's a pretty standard market selling everything from soup to nuts to books to ball gowns and it has a pretty nice artesania section. I wandered around for an hour buying earrings and bananas and then wandered around for another hour looking for my car.

On Saturday evening, I had the pleasure of hosting a couchsurfer, and literal surfer, from Venezuela. After taking in the sights at the supermarket and mall, we headed to Puerto Salvador Allende for dinner. The Port is the most recent attempt to revitalize some sort of functioning downtown. Running along the shores of Lake Managau and painted in the neon pastels (is that a contradiction?) that are the unofficial colors of Nicaragua, it hosts several restaurants, bars, and playgrounds for the kidlets. (Oxford comma!) After a surprisingly gigantic and delicious seafood meal (which had some unfortunate consequences for me. Damn garlic.) We wandered out to see the Christmas lights and full-sized Nativities that line the Avenida Bolivar up to the giant Hugo Chavez head.

The now defunct but sparkly National Cathedral.
Totally not kidding about the giant Chavez.
Two note: you may want to do this activity earlier in the evening and not at 11PM like us. Our spidey-senses were tingling.

The next morning, because the garlic was still wreaking havoc on the delicate ecosystem that is my gastrointestinal tract, we headed to Laguna de Apoyo, one of my frequent haunts. The Laguna is a crater lake about 40 minutes outside of the city. It's technically a protected area but there are a couple of little hostels where you can hang out for a day for $5. We chose the one with free coffee (but more gringos and no credit cards) instead of the one with inner tubes and more chairs (but with music blaring).
The ubiquitous tourist feet photo.

Then we headed to Granada for dinner, lamented the condition of the horses pulling carriages, and hung out at the waterfront a bit before driving back to Managua.

I may have also gone to see Hunger Games a few times that week. Could be that I also went to buy some jeans.

Now that I'm back in Managua, I would still like to check out the National Arboretum, Huellas de Acahualinca (prehistoric footprints), and the municipal trash dump because some guy on the official Managua website said that "Hundreds of 'cheles' (although not all) from NGOS visit the area to produce photos of Nicaraguans in conditions of poverty and then use them to illustrate their promotional brochures." So I have to get on that bandwagon. Of course, this blurb comes from the same guy who highlighted all of the cockfighting arenas in the city.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Ometepe (again)

The first night on Ometepe, it rained with a vengeance and the wind was howling. The cob houses have tin roofs so it sounded a bit like a freight train but my biggest worry was that all my clothes hanging on the line would blow away by morning. To assuage your concerns, nothing blew away and it was surprisingly dry in the morning. Breakfast was french toast with fruit and real syrup (!) and underwhelming tea. (Do you think if I opened a tea shop in Nica it would make money? It could be like my pizza, pancake and pastrami themed restaurant slated to open in Bolivia when I ever get back there.)

I am not at my brightest or bestest in the mornings so I ignored MK and read while chewing. He had requested that we speak only in Spanish and for some reason that always annoys me. What can I say? I'm a grinch. Despite my best efforts MK still learned some by peppering me with grammar and vocabulary questions. Persistent kid and maybe easier than talking in Spanish because he said when I got going I spoke with a funny accent that was demonstrably not American. (possible example: Este tipito en allips esta con ch'aki nomasps.) Later, I apologized to MK for ignoring him but he pointed out that I ignored him every morning. Too true, young grasshopper.

Anyhoo MK and I had considered several options for Day 2: climb Maderas, hike to the San Ramon waterfall, kayak the River Istian, swim in the lake. It was too late to climb the volcano so we decided on the waterfall. We were told that if we drove it we could do the waterfall in the morning and I could kayak in the afternoon. Off we went. The waterfall is located above the San Ramon research station, which you can drive through. I, the nerd, wanted to walk through the station on the chance of seeing what sort of stuff they were up to. Also, the ticket seller said it was 3k, about an hour walk, and $1 versus 1k, 20 minutes, and $6.
The view from one-third of the way up.
I am the slowest hiker ever and I am still trying not to re-break myself but I think our pace was pretty standard. (A couple from the hostel that I affectionately referred to as "legs" hiked way faster. That can happen when just your legs are 1m long) The first two kilometers are up a steep road. At the top I stopped and ate some snacks. (My boss once commented that I would be a good mother because I always carry food. I suppose she could be right, but the snacks are for ME.) The last "kilometer", which is where the hike starts if you drive, is a mostly uphill walk with some riverbed scrambling. Nothing technical. Some long, steep, very sweaty hours post-arrival we arrived at the waterfall. And it was almost too cold up there to dip in!

The freezing cold Cascada San Ramon.

I think it might look colder in this pic.

On the way back down we ran into tons of people who all asked how much further it was. Somewhat perversely, MK told everyone "20 minutes." One small child (aged six, tops) took this very poorly and went on a prolonged rant about how awful MK was in particular "Que bruto ese gringo!", and how horrible gringos were in general. Complaints that were fairly political and specific to Nicaragua. His parents looked mortified and tried to shush him because it was obvious that I understood and was shocked (yet a little amused).

We were going to eat at the Biological Station but MK wanted the apparently phenomenal coffee at the Finca so we went back there. In total, the trip took 5 hours. Back at the ranch I ate a late lunch and just conked out. I know, I wasted my vacation with napping and reading. But it was too windy to kayak and my ankle was a teeny bit sore *whine*.

The next day, both MK and I had chocolate for breakfast and then headed back to Charco Verde to chill at the beach before our 2pm ferry. Once again I stayed in the water while MK bronzed himself. I would have read, I suppose, but my Kindle was dead so swimming "laps" it was. We had some lunch and I availed myself of the bathroom about three times before finally taking an Immodium and setting off for the ferry.

The second-best beach at Charco Verde
More trees. Sorry.
On the ferry back, I bonded with a woman over a dog chained up in the back of a pickup. She was telling her daughters that the dog was fine which I objected to. She explained that she recognized that the dog was patently not fine (the poor thing was shivering in a puddle) but that she didn't want her daughters to get worried. I dunno, I'd rather the girls be crusaders for the abused. Then the conversation veered to the windmill farm I saw, the high costs of energy in Nicaragua, and the fact that the first lady has erected several lit-up "trees of life" all over Managua. For a poorly translated article on the topic, see here.

Just for reference: the lit tree of which we spoke.
Once we arrived in San Jorge, MK congratulated me for a good road trip. Of course we had another two hours of driving to do. Returning to the city. At the end of a holiday weekend. In the dark. It was a little hairy. Especially the hilly part behind the trucks going 30kph. And somehow we went a different way than we had come. But we did discover a whole kilometer-stretch of garden stores! And the next day MK moved out*.
Hasta luegito Ometepe!

Stay tuned for my adventures at the Managua zoo!

*It was his last weekend in Nicaragua. I'm not THAT horrible. He also apologized for pre-emptively congratulating me because that last stretch was probably the most stressful part for everyone involved. There was a considerable amount of yelling at traffic.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


My friends and I have a joke that when we travel together we need a buffer person. Sometime I am the buffer but more often than not I am the one who snaps: “I swear if you prorate the grocery bill based on the quantity you expect us to eat again instead of just splitting it evenly I will rip out your entrails!!!*” (To be fair though, I also do the bulk of the planning.)  So you may not be surprised to learn that the day after my roomie MK and I returned from a long weekend vacation he moved out.

But I get ahead of myself. In the middle of Nicaragua is a lake. Lake Cocibolca!  In the middle of that lake there is an island. Isla Ometepe! In the middle of that island are two volcanoes. Concepcion! Maderas! And that is where we went. Technically I invited myself on MK’s trip. But I acquired the truck, booked the ferry, reserved the hotel… and bristled whenever MK wanted to deviate from my painstaking itinerary.

The shimmering isle of Ometepe. Left is Concepcion. Right is Maderas.

 At work I have a well-deserved reputation for not being able to back in any vehicle straight (I really should practice) so my colleagues were understandably concerned when I requested a truck which I would drive backwards, onto a rocking ferry, to park between other cars. Twice.  They gave me a legal release for MK to sign just in case we plunged into the lake.

But first, I drove through the market on a Saturday morning. This was actually an error in navigation. I gave MK three tasks as co-pilot: to hand me food or drink as requested, to change the radio station when it was God, and to navigate. Nicaragua is not a fan of street signs so I had printed out a Google map to count how many blocks to go before a turn. As we drove into Granada, I handed the printout to MK and said “Ok we just turned east, can you tell me how many blocks I need to go before I turn south again?” to which he responded with confused silence before asking “Which way is south?” So I just turned down a random street and wound up in very heavy foot-, horse-, and bicycle- traffic, driving through the weekend market in an absolutely gigantic pick-up truck… and listening to God music. Recognizing religious rock on the radio is an advanced language skill.

Despite it all we arrived to San Jorge in time for the ferry. The ferry guys evidently have ample experience in inept chelas driving vehicles way too big for them and gave very very explicit directions for backing-up complete with hand motions. For the last bit, they suggested I just put the car in neutral and let them push it the last few millimeters. (This does not mean that I wasn’t a shaking mess when I got out of the car.)

Like. a. boss.
The ferry, Rey de Cocibolca was decked out for Christmas… and the second coming of Sandino. Besides Santa, there was a lot of propaganda.

Sandino and Santa. Together again.
Our first stop off the ferry was lunch. (Of course.) Charco Verde, literally green puddle, is a protected area around a laguna. It also hosts two private beaches, three hotels, and, most importantly, a restaurant serving pretty standard Nica fare. And the coffee was free so MK was happy. I was happy because I got to frolic outside! Managua is a tough city to live in. It’s not super duper walkable and there are few places to people watch, with the exception of the malls. So it is always nice to escape. The reserve has a short trail around the laguna with two spurs to lookout points. Before entering the park I noticed on the map that they had a reforestation project so of course I launched into a thousand nerdy questions about which species they use, have they seen improved water quality, is there a public education component etc nerdy etc**. The man collecting the entry fee ($2) was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable and would probably hire me if I move to the island. I think the hike around the lagoon was a mile tops but there is a gorgeous private beach and plenty of wildlife. In fact, a weird Canadian approached us to announce “Monkeys! I saw monkeys!”
Trees! I saw trees!

The byootiful beach at Charco Verde.

The green puddle in all its glory. 
MK had Ojo de Agua on his itinerary so we headed there next, with the understanding that we could only swim for two and a half hours because I wanted to arrive at the hotel before dark. Ojo de Agua is a natural spring that the ticket-seller assured us would make us look ten years younger, not necessarily now but maybe when we’re 60. At any rate, he promised we would be smoother for only $4. Since I have plenty of blubber, and a surf shirt, I could have swam for days but MK got cold after half an hour (tops) and wanted to continue on or eat again. I am mean and horrible and had the car keys so I just kept swimming around happily and practicing diving (at which I have no discernible skill) until it started to rain. One woman did ask if I was the mother of three little boys who were also diving and also wearing surf shirts and also gringos. Then I joined MK in the restaurant area where neither of us could locate any sort of wait- or cooking-staff. I did however make sparkly eye contact with a guy at the next table a few times so if you were at Ojo de Agua, Ometepe on December 8 let me know. I was at the table with the shivering Swede next to the table with the Spanish diplomat with the boxer. Blue dress with black stripes.

Ojo de Agua. Not the best picture, I know.
Note: As I was diving to the bottom of Ojo de Agua I noticed that the ground was covered in tarps in many places which were held down with rocks or bags of rocks. I wondered if perhaps we had been duped and were in a pool made to look all nature-y and youth-bringing.

Then we moved on. If Ometepe Island is a snowman, our hotel was a little below the snowman’s right hip.  Pretty much everything from the snowman’s bellybutton on is unpaved. It was quite the drive. My arms got a great workout from both clutching the vibrating steering wheel and frequently changing gears from second to first. I actually think that my future colleagues should be tested on that kind of driving ability. On my test we drove to the mall. Although I do that far more often then go to the field at the moment I imagine that navigating bumpy, unpaved, huge muddy holes will be more useful  long-term in the development line of work.

We arrived at Finca Mystica, which was actually a bunch of cob cabins. (Check it), where I immediately staked out the bookshelves and crashed into a hammock until dinner. I also had a nice long conversation with one of the hotel staff about pretty much everything: what I do, Bolivia, coca, indigenous peoples, dogs, Spanish vocabulary (for example how I use the word monkey to mean teenager a la Bolivia), and how I handled the drive. The proprietors at the Finca were away (having a baby!) but everything was handled beautifully, the food was ridiculously yummy, the setting gorgeous, and the beds super comfy. I mean, even the dorm had full-sized beds with American sheets. And there were so many cute touches like chotchkes and fabric covering the exposed plumbing and stuff.
The byootiful view

Our cob house

I think MK crashed around 8 and I made it until 10:00.

Next up: we hike to a waterfall. That’s it. That’s all we did.

*True story.
**The answers to my questions were poponjoche, jobo, guacima, etc; they don’t have the resources to study that; and yes