Thursday, May 22, 2008


Welcome from Nicaragua. We were a bit giddy by the time we got to Masaya, one of many active volcanoes in Nicaragua, this one just off the highway from Managua to Granada. Famously, you can drive right up to the rim of the volcano, and famously, you must back your car into your parking spot to facilitate a quick get-away, just in case. (The last just-in-case was 2001.)

The museum at the entrance to the volcano park is a nice one, with a mini lesson of plate tectonics and some nice work on the local history.

Below are three of the people we met in Nicaragua. Rafael, with us at the museum, is an aspiring hotel owner. Right now he works for a guy from Montana who owns a nice spot in Granada. Rafael's also a bit of an entrepreneur and runs a couple of small businesses.

Ismael, our guide and driver in Managua, is next down. Mombotombo, a stratovolcano, is in the background middle left. I liked Ismael, though he didn't speak a word of English. He understood it though, I know that. Once I was bargaining for a couple of handbags with those Mayan/Aztec type drawings on them, I asked him to offer the woman 20 versus her stated price of 24 and he just looked at me and said no. Here's how I took the no: that would be insulting, and I'm protecting you and her by not relaying your bid, even if it will make you slightly angry with me. I sensed he knew I was a bit tired of local food too, we went to a nice mall with a great foodcourt and a decent live band (Billy Joel, Piano Man as we walked in) for our going away meal.

Next down is Fredder, our guide for ziplining up in a coffee plantation on the side of a mountain outside of Granada. Fredder was only 22 and had lots of energy and loved to talk. We learned that he started welding when he was 14 but that wasn't what he wanted to do so he went back to school. At university he had a girlfriend from El Salvador who did a poli sci degree; she knew everything about every treaty that affected Central American. Fredder wasn't into politics though, birds were his thing. He spoke for about an hour nonstop about birds while we hiked through the mountain, every word measured and meaningful. Fredder also let us know that he doesn't smoke, drink or dance close, but does like to party, and split with his old girlfriend.

After the ziplining fun we take care of a formality, signing the waiver. In the (farthest) background is Mario, while Fredder did the work in making sure we were safe, Mario did all the checking and made sure we were doubly safe and comfortable. He didn't say much, but you had the feeling that he knew what he was doing. He was also our driver, and could have easily killed us all, rollover style, just getting to our destination; it was not a fun ride, and I guess in choosing whether to hit the bumps hard or soft it might as well be hard and fast, versus soft and slow. (Same principle on the water by the way, boaters will know.)

A resort on the Pacific. After "roughing it" (hotel with no pool) for 5 days, we treat ourselves at Montelimar.

The pool is the largest in Central America, and the ocean isn't bad either. The waves are a bit deceptive, larger than they look .. there's a body in the second pic below, if you look hard enough.

Finally around sunset you get some relief from the scorching temps.

And when you think you've seen or missed the sunset, look what happens. The sun comes back again to hit the underside of the clouds. These three pics are taken 7, 8, and 9 minutes after the last pic above. Gorgeous.

Back in Granada you start the day (if you dare) with a trip to the covered market. How many years has this been going on, just like this.

And if your sandals need repairing, pay somebody to find you the shoe repair guy in the outdoor market. Two bucks for a 1 minute stitch job, turns a busted sandal into a functional one.

A typical restaurant. After playing it safe with recognizable food, we went with local fare. The restaurants aren't as showy, but the food is good, the service is great, and the conversation always interesting.

And then in the evening, it's Central Park. I had grabbed a bench (hard to do, you have to be patient and quick), but I soon had one visitor, then a second, which filled the bench. How am I going to explain that? Then a third, standing there with her baby and looking at me as if I took her spot. It's yours, I gestured, and your price (I thought to myself) will be a picture with me.

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