Saturday, May 7, 2016

From Sweating In Nicaragua to Chilling Out In Panama.......

Wherever we travel it's the little things of everyday life that seem to have the most impact on us and it's those things that stay in our minds. For this trip to Nicaragua it's certainly been the poverty level here that bothered us the most.  This is the seventh country we've visited in Latin America and while they all are poor compared to our lives in the US, this has been the poorest one.  We've been to Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama of course and now Nicaragua.

Trash Pickup Nicaraguan Style



Along the way we've met many gringos who are here trying to help change things just a bit. Some are educating young girls and helping them to realize they don't have to start a family before they graduate high school.  Others encourage young boys to stay in school and get an education instead of dropping out to live what they think will be as easier life on the streets.
Produce Vendor


Granada is a little like the wild west with many locals using horses to get around.  Need a moving truck, construction supplies, a ride to work or even transport to ones final resting place in a cemetery? Surely it will be delivered by a horse drawn cart of some type. One of the coolest things I've seen here is an elaborate, wooden stage coach funeral wagon pulled by two horses who are adorned in crocheted outfits. It was parked in front of a funeral parlor perhaps waiting to take someone to their final resting place in style.    Even the horses looked sad while waiting to get to work, perhaps because they were draped in crocheted blankets in the hot, afternoon sun? On our visit to the city of Leon we spotted what looked like a restaurant called, "All About Fish," that seemed to share a building with a funeral parlor. "How bizarre I thought," perhaps they kill people with their food to bring in customers?

 Why Not Go Out In Style
The Coffin Goes Inside And The Driver Wears A Suit
 
 
 

Speaking of food since we arrived here we've noticed many restaurants offering tacos, burritos and other fare that sounds like Mexican food to us. One day we stopped for lunch on the calzada, the populated, touristy part of the city with plenty of restaurants.  The menu said, "Comida Tipico de Nicaragua," which means "typical Nicaraguan food," yet the special of the day was two for one burritos.  We choose the chicken burritos which were really good yet featured a filling and side dish that would make our Mexican friends cringe.  The large flour tortilla was filled with a generous portion of chicken, a thin layer of refried beans and cole slaw and served alongside fries.  Here they grind up cabbage, drench it with vinegar (but no mayonnaise) and put it on just about everything. It works for us since we use cabbage a lot in Panama and also and I really love cole slaw.  Cabbage is cheap, holds up in heat and humidity better than lettuce, and is good for us too.

Inside Courtyard Of Restaurant
Many Buildings Here Have An Inside Garden Area

 Cooling Off Under The Ceiling Fan Waiting For Lunch
 

Chicken Burrito Stuffed With Beans And Coleslaw Served With Fries
 


As we walked around the towns of Nicaragua on foot we peeked into windows trying to get a glimpse of what life was really like. While strolling around the city of Leon we looked into an open window. There we saw a classroom of adults typing away on ancient manual typewriters. The sign outside indicated it was a school where eye doctors were trained.

We Bought A Few Bananas From This Lady
 
 


Our last day in Granada was spent visiting with friends Rich and Pat for the last time over a dinner prepared by my wonderful husband.  Some spaghetti with a yummy home made meat and vegetable sauce, cookies for dessert and way too much wine was a nice way to end our vacation. And it was nice to hang out in the air conditioning of our little apartment instead of out sweating in some local restaurant. While we thought the weather in Panama is hot we found that Nicaragua was even hotter, at least it felt that way to us.  Perhaps it was more humid?  Who knows but we manage to live in Panama without air conditioning and in Nicaragua that didn't seem possible.

 
Our favorite thing in Nicaragua was our Quad Wheeler Excursion


The next morning our airport shuttle arrived at 8am along with the maid to check us out of the apartment. We enjoyed a relaxing overly air conditioned trip to the airport commenting how green the Nicaraguan landscape had become with the start of their rainy season.  The quick 90-minute flight from Managua, Nicaragua to Panama City was peaceful as we enjoyed a small chicken sandwich for an inflight snack. 

Once out of the airport instead of waiting for our usual bus from the airport to the large bus station at Albrook Mall we hopped on one with a different route through the city. We had comfy seats in the air conditioned bus that began to fill up with locals headed home from work. Although the route was longer and traffic was heavy we were enjoying a tour of Panama City that only cost us 25 cents each. But then about an hour into the ride a little boy threw up at the front of the bus a few feet away from us.  People began to gag and head toward the back of the bus to avoid stepping in the mess.  The nasty smell permeated the air causing most of the riders to scrunch their faces in disgust.  The older lady who was with the kid also walked to the rear of the bus and we were just hoping the kid didn't barf again causing a mess in two places.  It was rather comical watching the faces of passengers who boarded the front of the bus only to look down at the vomit on the floor.  They carefully avoided stepping into it and made their way to the rear of the bus where the crowd was huddled together.

A young Kuna Indian mother with a baby and toddler sat down in two seats facing us.  The young lady looked to be about 14 years old and already had two kids. An older Kuna woman in full native attire sat next to her and we thought she must be the Grandma.  The baby that the young mom was holding was drooling with spit up and we hoped there would be no projectile vomiting since he was just  few feet away and facing in our direction.  A while later the baby began to fuss so the young mother simply reached into her blouse and pulled out her milk-filled breast to offer the little tyke.  He clung onto her boob with both of his tiny hands suckling her milk for everyone to see.  Grandma chatted with her as the bus made it's way through the hectic life that is Panama City.

Nearby a handicapped man with one leg in a wheel chair was offering to hold purses, brief cases, and groceries and even kids toys of passengers standing nearby.  He looked funny with plenty of things piled on top of him but seemed content to help out.  Our longer than expected bus route took over two hours to get us to Albrook Mall.  Since it was now time for dinner we stopped to eat before boarding another bus for home. We boarded the second bus around 6pm and being that it was Friday during rush hour the city traffic was grid-locked. Our normal 90-minute ride to our house in Chame took over two hours and it was after 8pm when we arrived home. And once again we froze for hours in the overly air conditioned bus instead of sweating like we did on the buses in Nicaragua. 

Back in Panama the rainy season has started and brought some much needed rain to the dry country. It poured hard for most of the morning as we unpacked and caught up on laundry and cleaning after being away. It's actually a cool-ish 80 degrees here with the cloud cover.  Time to get resettled into our normal routine until our next adventure comes along......along the gringo trail.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Four Wheelin' On The Island Of Ometepe......Nicaragua

Our adventure in Nicaragua continues as we headed out to see another must-see, the Island of Ometepe. One of the largest freshwater islands in the world Ometepe island was developed from two volcanos rising up from the lake many years ago.  The two volcanos Concepcion and Maderas are joined by a piece of land in the shape of an hourglass.  The island is nineteen miles long and just six miles wide and might just have more pigs, cows and horses than people, or so it seemed to us.

While there are many myths about Ometepe one of the most memorable is the one about two young lovers from opposing families.  This Romeo and Juliet type of story ends badly when the two lovers each slit their wrists since they can't be together.  As she's dying and falls back her chest rises up and forms the two volcanos that represent the two hills of the island. In the native language the word "Ometepe" simply means, "two hills," or perhaps two boobs in the case of the myth?

First we had to pack a bag and head out by foot very early in the morning on Monday to the bus station here in Granada. Although Granada isn't all that big it boasts of having four or five bus stations, or ah....so they're called.  The one we had to get to was smack in the middle of a busy, congested marketplace full of bikes, cars, and pedestrians so trying not to get run over was a tricky. With buses pulling out and barely scraping by the nearby vendor stands it's quite a sight to witness.  The so called bus station that looks more like a parking lot with a few buses in it is a congested mess.  On the streets nearby local vendors were setting up their stands selling prepared foods, produce, clothing and just about anything else one might need.

We boarded a "chicken bus" for the town of Rivas which is where our journey would begin.  Although I'm not sure why they call them chicken buses it's either because you can't be chicken to ride 'em, or maybe because there are sometimes chickens riding on the buses.  Since we boarded the bus at the station we managed to get seats but still had to wait a while as the bus filled up. Even though it was early in the day it was hot inside the bus and before long we started to glisten with sweat. 

The bus driver seemed to change personalities along the way as he went from driving like a bat out of hell to driving like the little old lady from Pasadena.  Eventually after an hour or more of sweating we landed in the town of Rivas.  While still on the bus several pushy men came aboard targeting gringos, there was only one other couple besides us, offering us taxi rides. He suggested that we share a taxi to keep the cost down and while we were all for that the other couple seemed to have other ideas.  Once off the bus the pushy taxi driver suggested we stop to shop at the local kiosks.  Being the impatient type that we are we declined shopping, decided not to look for other gringos to share the taxi with and asked the taxi driver to just take us to the port already.

So we climbed into yet another dumpy, dirty taxi, with torn seats, no air conditioning, windows rolled down and headed from the town of San Jorge to the port for the ferry. While we've been on ferries in Texas that were clean, organized and well kept this was not the case here in Nicaragua. We were approached by yet another pushy man who guided us to the ticket booth to purchase our tickets.  Then he asked us where we'd be staying on the island and when Clyde mentioned that we had no reservations yet, the man insisted that it was very important that we reserve a room NOW.  He asked if we wanted to stay in town or near the beach and offered to make the reservation for us.  We opted for a room in town so he quickly phoned a hotel and offered us a rate of $25 for a private room with a private bath.  When we requested one with an air conditioner the price went up to $35 which we were fine with, at least being able to cool off after a day of sweating.



Our Ferry Awaits

Follow The Crowd
 
 


Once on board the ferry we found ourselves in a room in the bowels of the boat full of rows of metal seating. We found a seat before they were all taken since we'd be on the boat for an hour or more of slow travel before we reached the island. Oddly enough there was a tiny television screen showing a movie, a sort of Latin version of a dirty dancing type of movie.  While I was silly enough to expect a place to buy drinks and food onboard, I was lucky enough to find a teeny, filthy bathroom.  The three level ferry did offer seating on the top outer deck, but we figured it would have been even hotter up there since it offered no shade from the hot, morning sun.

Inside The Bowles Of The Ferry


A Volcano In The Distance




Eventually we made our way off of the ferry to find more pushy taxi drivers offering to take money from tourists.  When one driver asked our hotel name and we said, "Los Ranchitos" he kindly told us it was only a short walk of three blocks away. The front of Los Ranchitos was cute with a restaurant made of bamboo, a pressed dirt floor all decorated in island style. In the back near the garden were the hotel rooms which were very basic but would serve the purpose for just one night.

Los Ranchitos Restaurant


Cool D├ęcor.....A Tree Trunk Made Of Cement With Bottles Stuck Into It

A Pressed Mud Floor
 
 
 


We checked in and dropped our backpacks off before heading out to explore the island.  Too big to explore by foot there were plenty of places offering to rent scooters, motor bikes and quads to go exploring.  Since neither of us has ever driven a motorcycle we were unsure about the idea of renting one.  Add to that the fact that Clyde didn't bring his drivers license with him from Panama so I thought that I'd have to do the driving. The safer option was to rent a quad or four wheeler that couldn't be tipped over and was safe for exploring the back roads.  And according to the woman that rented us the quad, it was no problem that Clyde would be doing with driving without a drivers license in his pocket.  The vehicle was registered in my name using my license and when asked what to do if we were stopped by police she said, "just say you switched out drivers and it will be ok." So off we went exploring the island with the help of a map given to us by the rental agency.

Click on the link below to check out
a video we did of our Quad ride on Ometepe






Our journey began in the town of Moyogalpa, the largest village on the island. From there we headed out along the "Route of Volcanos," which could be seen from most everywhere.  We followed along the winding road that passed in between the two volcanos. Volcan Concepcion is still active while Volcan Maderas is considered to be extinct. Yet active or not both volcanos have trails leading to the summit for those brave enough for the undertaking. But hiking these suckers is not easy in the scorching heat for a duration of ten hours round trip, so not something we wanted to do.



As our noisy quad made its way along the road we made our way past quaint little farms, homes, churches and more. Several times along the way we encountered Nicaraguan road blocks consisting of cows, horses and pigs in the road.  We stopped at Ojo de Agua, a natural swimming pool of crystal clear water fed from a local spring.  A nearby sign billed this place as, "Fuente de la Juventud," or "The Fountain Of Youth," so I made sure to splash some water on myself before leaving.

Ometepe is said to have the largest concentration of petroglyphs or ancient stone carvings in the world so we kept our eyes open to find some.  A sign lead us up a rocky road into an area with plenty of petroglyphs to view.  There are nearly 1700 of these ancient carvings on rocks in the area, some more intricate than others.

The scenery around Ometepe was just lovely and resembled the country side of Panama in many ways. Before returning to Moyogalpa we drove through the second largest town on the island called Altagracia.  This picturesque little farming village was represented by religious statues along the roadside.  We returned the quad by 6pm and went back to our room to relax and freshen up a bit before heading out to dinner.

For dinner we chose an Italian restaurant where we dined on pizza. A single female diner sat alone at the next table so my friendly husband began chatting and eventually invited her over.  An elderly woman from Luxembourg was visiting Nicaragua working for a non-government organization.  The goal of her organization was to go into the schools and educate young girls helping them to realize there are options for them in life.  Since young girls in poor Latin American countries tend to think their mission in life is to make babies, organizations like this serve to educate the young ladies as to other choices. And Nicaragua is one of only five countries in the world where abortion is illegal regardless of the circumstances, even in the case of rape or life threatening illness.

Tired from a long day of adventures last evening we retired early for a long peaceful night of sleep.  All was well until the wee hours of the morning when a cacophony of thousands of birds began singing outside our hotel window.  It literally sounded like something out of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, "The Birds," and had us wide awake an annoyed at 5am.

Today after breakfast we headed to the port by foot and made our way to the ferry for our long journey back to Granada.  We watched as the ferry's crew attempted to get a large bus onto the ship without it bottoming out on the deck. Since it was overcast and not sunny we headed up onto the top deck to enjoy the views and breezes. There we chatted with two 30 something twin brothers from Germany who take a yearly vacation together.  Nearby we watched as a young, backpacker type mended his badly bruised arm that was covered with road rash.  Apparently he had rented a motorbike on the island and got into an accident with it, throwing himself and the bike onto the road. While he had to pay for the damages at least he wasn't seriously injured. While he appeared to be just another tourist it turned out he's living here in Granada teaching English on a volunteer basis for a month or so. A native of Belgium we chatted with him about the state of Nicaraguan kids. He said that volunteers like himself were told about the glue sniffing boys on the streets and instructed not to help them out.  Apparently these boys chose to drop out of school and live on the streets thinking it will be an easier life where they can do as they please.  Instead if they would stay in school they would be provided with meals along with an education, but would have to abide by the rules also.

Putting Cars And Trucks Onto The Ferry

And Now The Bus

Ouch....Scraping Bottom
 
Another Volcano View
 
 

In our travels we've met people from all over the world all with different ideas and styles of travel.  During a stop on our four wheelin' trek we stopped for a drink at a roadside restaurant with a hotel on the beach.  We chatted with a husband and wife from Australia, both retired school teachers who were literally backpacking through Latin America.  While this is usually something done by young folks on a small budget these professionals were doing it the same way.  They were staying in dorm rooms at hostels full of beds with shared bathrooms, taking buses and carrying their luggage on their backs.

From the ferry today we opted to splurge on a private taxi from the town of San Jorge all the way to our hotel in Granada.  The 90-minute ride was comfy, fully air conditioned and a great way to see the scenery along the way.  With the start of the rainy season here the landscape is quickly changing from burnt brown to a lovely shade of lush green. After resting up a bit we walked to a large grocery store and decided to stay in tonight and cook dinner.

Surely after partaking in the fountain of youth I'll wake up looking twenty years younger tomorrow and perhaps I'll have to change the name of this blog to, The Old Guy and His Young Wife Travelling......along the gringo trail.





Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Adventure Continues To Leon, Nicaragua.....

Another long day here in Nicaragua that began at 6am in the city of Leon and ended with margaritas and new friends in Granada.  It was a cool 7 am yesterday when we left our apartment and made our way to the bus station.  We boarded a bus for Managua, an hour bus ride that would leave us at a rather crazy, busy bus station.  Before I really had time to look around we were herded like cattle onto another bus headed to Leon. The tiny van-like bus was better than the first way over crowded larger bus where we were smooshed by strange butts, boobs of sweaty Nicas standing in the aisles.  We exited the bus in yet another bus station where young men were literally in our faces trying to sell us tours of the city.  Once we escaped the vendors we found a taxi to take us to a nearby hotel to see if they had a room for the night. 

The cozy B&B called Paz de Luna was recommended to us by our friends Pat and Rich who stayed there in the past.  Since I'm rather picky I insisted on a private room with a private bath along with air conditioning as a way to escape the tropical heat.  The city of Leon is said to be even HOTTER than Granada, so a/c was not an option.  Our lovely room was located off an interior garden area for around $50 for the night, which included breakfast. We were asked to wait a few minutes while they gave the room a once over cleaning so we sat in the little restaurant. Since we'd been up since the crack of dawn I was hungry and ordered some fruit, yogurt and granola with coffee for a healthy late breakfast.  Clyde on the other hand opted for a piece of cake to go with his coffee as we waited for our room to be finished.

Our Hotel


Entrance To Hotel & Restaurant

Courtyard & Garden


A Fat Or Pregnant Cat

Fountain In The Court Yard
 
 


Leon is one of the oldest cities in Latin America and full of old buildings, churches and parks just waiting for tourists.  A city larger than Granada we made our way around by foot until we were drenched in sweat and tired.  Eventually we hailed down a taxi to take us to a cathedral and from there managed to find many of the other historical buildings.  We stopped into a museum of the revolution where a former soldier gave us a tour, all in Spanish of course.  He proudly told us about the history of his country and the war as we dripped in sweat inside the old building that lacked airflow.  But eventually we followed him to the roof of the old building where he lead us onto the old tin roof for a fantastic view of the city.  All I could think was how this would never happen in the US without a law suit.  The roof was creaky and didn't feel safe yet we followed the man to the edge of the roof to have a look around.

Old Churches In Leon

Leon Means Lion In Spanish.....Plenty Of Lions Around


Another Church

And More..........






A Hot, Tired Tourist Named Terry Sitting On The Corner
 
This Building Is Where Dictator Somoza Lived And Overthrown
 




Our Museum Tour Guide Who Took Part In The 1979 Uprising
 That Brought Democracy Back To Nicaragua




To The Upper Level Of The Old Mansion


Here We Are On The Old Roof


Old Tin Roof


Doesn't Look Too Safe?  Well It Didn't Feel Too Safe!


A Grand Old Stair Case 
 
 


After walking around all day it was time for a well needed cold shower and a rest back in our hotel.  Later that evening we had dinner at a nearby restaurant called Porky's were we chatted with two young men from Switzerland. A bottle of Ron de Cana, the local rum along with some cokes helped the food go down and the conversation flow smoothly. Today we woke up early as we decided to splurge for our trip back to Granada. Instead of taking two buses we opted to take the air conditioned shuttle from our hotel for a price of $30. During the three and a half hour trek we chatted with a young lady from Paris who was visiting Nicaragua. Also in the van were three young people from Australia who were backpacking through Latin America.

We made it back to Granada by afternoon and later met up with some fellow house sitters for drinks.  Four hours later we ended our conversation with them and stopped at yet another Nicaraguan Mexican restaurant for a cheap burrito.  For less than $4 we each enjoyed a chicken burrito as we chatted with other patrons of the tiny restaurant.  Two young men from England sat nearby telling us about their adventures as we told them about ours.

Granada is truly a mix of people from all over the world who are either living here, travelling through or visiting friends as we are. Time to end another long day of adventures with a cool shower and a dip in the pool here in Granada, Nicaragua.......along the gringo trail.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le%C3%B3n,_Nicaragua