Monday, February 4, 2013


Regular viewers may remember that internet connections in Nicaragua are not to be taken for granted.  In addition, I've been on the move for the last few days, so haven't had much time for anything but quickly scribbled notes.  Arrived at home base last night, and had some time to convert those notes into a more (hopefully) readable format, including some completed sentences.   


Arrived in Managua at 10:30 pm last night, and was in my room at Hostal Nicaragua Guest House by 11. Started to feel the heat as we were taxiing to the terminal. Pilot said “It’s 85 degrees.” Yes it is! Only one planeload of travelers going through customs at that hour, so it was an uncharacteristically efficient experience. When I opened my checked bag I found a nice note from the folks at FTSA - Portland. They wanted me to know that they opened my bag before stuffing into the cargo hold and sniffed around in my underwear looking for “prohibited items.” Probably worried about that set of tools I packed – hammer, axe and fencing tool (wire cutters, not epee). Nice of them to tell me, I wouldn’t have known otherwise, everything looked just as I packed it. Guess the tools are not prohibited items.

Meeting up with Juan in about an hour; we’re picking up a rental car and then off to Leon, one of the two great colonial cities of Nicaragua (Granada being the other). Should feel right at home. Traditionally, Granada has been the home of the conservative political party and Leon the home of LIBERALS! We once had liberals in Estados Unidos… we just have different flavors of Corporatist…. But I digress. Leon is Nicaragua’s “college town” and in the late 70’s a bunch of college kids organized the Sandinista Revolution to overthrow the dictator and American puppet Samoza. Don’t get me started on that guy. Juan has memories of Somoza’s Gardia (armed by the US and trained at its School of the Americas) raining indiscriminant aerial bombardment on the city of Masaya where he grew up. Everybody crawled under their houses and prayed for God’s blessings. Thank you Jesus for sparing Juan and his familia.

Leon is also the home of the biggest Catedral in Central America. Legend has it that the Leon Catedral was meant for Peru, but somebody switched the plans during the boat ride over from Spain.


Okay, my FaceThing friends (six at last count, ranking not available) have already read my unfavorable review of VISA. The limited-character version. Predictably, elaboration now ensues.

As planned, I got up yesterday morning and headed for the Oficina de Budget Se Rente. Arrived at 8:30 local time, about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. No problema, the clerk started processing my paperwork right away and….my card got declined when she ran the deposit. Not possible. A fraction of my available balance, and I took the pretrip precaution of (I thought) having my file noted for travel to parts exotic. Even so, declined. So the clerk gives me a phone to call the “24 hour help line” number printed on the back of my card. And it only takes a few minutes to be connected to a real person. That way trouble waits.

“Help” it turns out is a relative term. The VISA rep makes empathetic sounds, but bottom line is she can’t actually tell me why the transaction was denied OR remove the block. But she can connect me with the issuing bank (in this case credit union). Ignorance professed: I had no idea that only the “issuing bank” could provide the “24-hour” service promised on the back of my card. Flaw in the system: my little Oregon Credit Union doesn’t keep 24-hour service hours. And it ain’t like the little guys can tell the big guys to fill in around the edges. Result: when at about 9 am (7 am in Portland for those keeping score) the VISA rep connected me to the Credit Union line, we ran smack into the 2-hour time difference and banker’s hours. Turns out (as expected) to be a minor inconvenience. Had to wait out the time difference, but, once the Union opened at 9 am, their rep was quick (in part because she assumed I was paying for the call) and thorough. By the way, the rep also fessed up to the fact that, despite my earlier call, the file was NOT noted. Fifteen minutes later we were on the road.

Juan confirmed the substance of the legend of La Catedral Leon. Took a couple of generations to build, with the vaulted ceilings you might see in European cathedrals of the same period, but with some Arabic-inspired architectural features and Spanish colonial splashes of bright color, and a vast ceiling supported by massive pillars arranged in five rows. The pillars are accessorized with statues of the saints and Nicaraguan notables. Most notably the place where Ruben Dario (THE Nicaraguan poet) is entombed, in the shadow of one of the pillars, his tomb covered by a statue of a crying lion sprawled over stones engraved with Dario’s name. My FaceThing-posted picture does not do justice to the statue. Most lion-festooned monuments showcase the king-of-beasts thing.

We stayed at Mozzie’s, a backpacker hostal just 3 blocks from the Catedral and the Parque Central. Nice clean room, what turned out to be a private bath, free but semi-reliable-and-free Wife Eye, veinte dolares. Spent most of yesterday walking the streets, saw the cathedral, a couple of Iglesias and two museos. Ate lunch in el parque, cooked by a (repetitive redundancy alert!!!) little abuelita. Carne (res) asado y ensalada con tortillas y pico, and to drink, a kind of unfermented corn mash beverage. They also have a fermented version, called pinol. Pinol is so popular that many Nicas call themselves Pinoleros/as. Caught a third museo on our way out of town today. Leon is a beautiful and well-maintained city in a country where church mice are considered middle class. Leon is Nicaragua’s college town, and as previously noted was the birthplace of the Sandinista Revolution. Today Leon is the place where the memory is preserved of the struggle against the US-supported Somoza regime. Nicaragua was originally settled by 3 or 4 indigenes, all tribes originally kicked out of what is now southern Mexico by the Aztecs. Everywhere we went we also saw great attention to the struggle of the indigenes against the Conquistadores. The indigene victories over their oppressors can be seen in the rituals incorporated into Catholic masses and in the annual festivals and parades held in every Nicaraguan city, many featuring giant-headed caricatures of prominent Espanias, originally paraded under the noses of the great oppressors. Only disappointment: no access to the parque a este tiempo. Cerrado for repairs. The center of civic life in the city was closed to public access for a little sprucing up. Great barriers erected to assure the craftsmen were not disturbed as they made busy resetting cobblestones and repairing concrete in the great square.

Gecko break. Sitting in my room in Gigante Sunday evening and just heard tonight’s first chirp chirp chirp. Take five while I focus on my breathing. Something very soothing about that triple-chirp. And it’s always a triple. More reliable than Pete Rose.

It was great having Juan with me in Leon. Juan’s got a bit more education than many his age (mid 30’s?) and he knows his history. My espanol, despite years of undisciplined study, still sucks, frankly. So when we’re viewing museum displays with subtitles espanol, he had it covered in English. Plus, he’s just el senor amable. Juan met his wife in Leon, and as we crossed the street a few blocks from the Catedral, he recognized the place where he and his wife took lunch together as a regular part of their courtship. Infortunable, el restaurante es abierto solo para almuerzo, and we had just had ours.

Today was a travelling day. I’ve noticed great improvement in the roadways of this impoverished country since my first visit. The most difficult part of this trip (aside from the VISA mishap) was the traffic in Managua, which wasn’t much bother. Except for the really aggressive truck drivers. If they want your lane, they’ll take it. Move over, slow down, or be crushed. Otherwise, where seven years ago you might have to guess where to make the right to Leon we now had helpful road signs (something we take for granted at home) pointing the way. And there’s much more pavement over previously pock-marked stretches of highway. None of which by the way is meant to encourage travel here. Cross this place off your bucket list (dark or otherwise…..for reference see “dark bucket list” in the urban dictionary) now.

For all but the last night of my trip I’ll be at Margaritas, a little restaurant y hotele on the beach. Run by a local family with I think four kids (they move around pretty fast, so it’s hard to keep an accurate count). Margarita is the family matriarch, runs the restaurant while her esposo works the family fishing boat, which can be found parked on the beach en frente de la restaurante between launches. The boat’s maybe 20 feet long, a flat bottomed skiff with an outboard motor. When the boats “roll in” at the end of the day’s catch, literally roll the boats to a point above high tide using driftwood logs. The same technology used by the Egyptians to move pyramid stones.

For my first two nights in country, I’ve had rooms with private baths and access to unreliable intertube connections. Plus windows and fans. Okay, so the agua in the showers has been “solo normal,” meaning unheated. When it’s 85 degrees at 11 pm, agua normal is just fine. My room in Gigante takes it to another level. Spartacus would love this place. No window. No fan. Toilet? Through the restaurant to the right. Where’d I put that flashlight. Shower? To the left, on the other side of the family living quarters. A pipe coming out of the wall. What’s a shower head? All the comforts of home.

Took an after-dark walk on the beach, lit only by a penlight and the stars. Massive star count. When I was a “yoot,” I camped every summer with my Boy Scout troop in Northern Wisconsin where, absent the interference of city lights, we gazed at a pretty amazing array of stars (and the occasional wave from the Aurora Borealis). Memory’s a funny thing, but the stars at 11 degrees from the equator seem greater in number and amplitude than those on display at Camp LeFebre. I recommend you check out the northern Wisconsin display.


Sitting at the local internet café watching the Pescadores come in from a day on the water, enjoying the warmth, the light constant breeze (nature's air conditioning) and a cup of cafe negro. Slept unusually well last night, despite some disappointment on arrival and the noise of the household on the other side of the wall. I usually wake up with the cock’s crow, about 5 am. Slept through that and the noises of the Pescadores preparing to set off for the day. Woke up just in time for a quick splash of water to the face then headed for the north end of the playa for my 9 am meeting with the builder at Mama Lin’s, another local-owned restaurant. He’s going to work up an estimate for materials and labor, and give me an idea of how much we can do with the time we have. Fingers crossed for good news on both!

Two weeks ago I hired Kuko to clear the building site. Kuko was one of the workers I used last year, good kid but slow. I had the lot cleared last year before building the fence, but the jungle reestablished itself and must be vanquished! Kuko is a little behind schedule. He hasn’t finished the “cleaning,” so the excavadores probably won’t be able to get started digging trenches for the footers until tomorrow or Wednesday. So we may not get everything done I hoped on this trip, but I have six years to finish! Hay mas tiempo que vida. Nicaraguan proverb: there is more time than life.

My goal this year is to get the foundations laid for the bodega, a rainwater cistern and septic tank. We’ll see!

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