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 but I couldn't find the link.

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.