Saturday, January 7, 2012

Nicaragua



January 7, 2012 10:30pm

We made it through the airport okay - luckily my daughter Anna had called and told us which forms we would need to have going through customs. We exchanged some money for cordobas which is Nicaraguan money. I didn't understand what the rate was or really anything the man was saying.

The temperature at 10:00 was 75 degrees. We were picked up by my daughter and her friend. He has picked up the fast style of driving where you beep a lot. It was scary and the van only had one seat belt. It took us half an hour to drive (fast) from the airport to the MPI House. It was so interesting to look at the buildings. There are many run down places but then right next to one will be a new car dealership or a nicer restaurant. There are signs and graffiti all over. Across the road (like a banner) I saw a Sherwin Williams Paint sign and there was a lot of graffiti like you see on the trains in Wausau. There were homemade signs all over and then some really cool murals. Signs everywhere. As we were driving fast there was also a golf cart like vehicle driving (capos) along and an open wagon with two horses on it. There were many people outside at night sitting along the road or sitting on wooden crates or at little tables. We went by the American Embassy which was a nice building with the flag flying outside. Then I saw this huge bronze statue like the Paul Bunyon one in Minocqua. It looked like the statue was holding up a machine gun so I looked it up when I got home.

They live in an area about 10 miles outside of Managua. I guess there are not addresses for buildings in Managua. Everything is just measured by where you are at on the road like km 14.5. They have two Rottweiller dogs that are guard dogs. The problem is they don't like new people so they have to make sure they are locked up when new people are around. New people like us. One of them almost died earlier this year from eating a poisonous frog. The good news is that they had a rat massacre over the holiday break so the rats (actually large mice) are mostly gone. I did hear a really loud chipping like chipmunk noise outside my window.

The house is interesting. In the center there is an area of cement and dirt surrounded by a small white fence. The kids have their clothes hanging on a clothes line but I guess there used to be chickens in that part of the center of the house.

January 8th

I started reading the book Blood of Brothers about the Nicaraguan Revolution and I cannot put it down. Sorry - you will have to put up with some of the typos because of the keyboard which is different than ours. It is by a New York Times reporter who was the first one to find the Contra camps. It is an excellent book. It really provides great examples of how economics work or don't work in a country.

Last night the kids went out last night "clubbing" so I was nervous but I fell asleep. In the middle of the night I heard like 50 dogs all barking at the same time. The girls and other people were home early and had a fun time. Then while it was still dark I heard MANY, not just one rooster, crowing for a long time. In the morning there were birds that sounded like owls. The windows all of screens with iron designer bars on them so you hear everything outside.

In the morning at breakfast I said a lot of people must have guard dogs and they said that alot of people actually have guards with guns. This house is in a gated community which in Nicaragua means at the bottom of the hill there is a man with a bar across the road that he opens up.

You would save on your water bill down here as there is no hot water so quick showers are the norm. Actually the shower was missing a shower head so it was a tube with water coming out. If you are reading this you need to challenge yourself and take only cold showers for the next two days.


You are not supposed to flush toilet paper in the toilet down here because it clogs up the sewers. In one restaurant bathroom where we went I did not realize it until it was too late but there was only one toilet paper roll for the whole bathroom that was outside the stalls.

We walked to catch the bus this morning to go to Granada. My daughter had asked if I wanted to take a taxi or the bus. She had previously told me about the bus. People whistle along side the road for busses and things and when they are on the bus they whistle to get off. When the bus pulled up it was a small old yellow school bus (I guess from the 1970s from the United States). They really cram people on. Besides all of the people sitting, they cram people into the aisle three deep. I was thinking how people who don´t like to be touched would go crazy. and then they just kept putting more people on so I had to cram further on the bus. Did I mention that the buses also go very fast. I asked my daughter and her friends how many people they thought were on the bus and they thought about 100. It is good to not think about how fast the bus is going and watch outside. Every time the bus would stop it was so hot on there. We went about 10 miles and caught another bus for another five miles. Once when the bus stopped a guy had a big plastic bag and was selling water through the bus windows. The water was in little plastic bags. Later I asked how they know which water is safe to drink. They have filtered water at Anna´s place. She told us that everyone except her drinks the tap water so we could drink the tap water. I guess the tap water is safe but there is always water shortages so people save water in tanks at their homes and that water is not good to drink. Then we got out in Managua to catch a van to Granada which is the oldest European city and sort of a tourist place.

As we drove (speedily) through Managua, it is easy to see why many travelers on Trip Adviser say they didn´t like Managua. It is a very dirty and poverty ridden city. There is garbage along the side of the road everywhere and there are dogs all over eating the garbage. When we got out to catch the van, people everywhere were selling things and they are very assertive about selling things. They are mostly selling food items. When we were looking for a van ride to Managua many people wanted us to buy food. They had to teach me not to look the people in the eye to shake my finger to mean no. I really want to just give the people some money. A man offered to take us to Granada for 40 dollars. Anna´s friend Jesse told him no. I thought it sounded like a good price. After 20 minutes a van came and all of the people waiting rushed over to it. We got on it but I was the only person who had a seat. The others had to stand the entire time. Later at lunch I asked how much the van ride to Granada had cost and they told me it was a dollar for each of us. The first buses had cost 15 cents.

Even in the dirtiness of the city - it is very exciting there is so much to see and everything is different.

We are in Granada now and we are staying at the Hostel Oasis (wonderful place) for 10 dollars each a night. There are a fair number of people at the hostel that remind me of Mr. Greil but truly there are all age ranges. Some great things about the Oasis are that they have Coke in the old glass bottles and people are always cooking food in this open kitchen so it smells great.

Anna and Katie are making fun of me because I keep saying Thank you instead of Gracias. Anna who knew no Spanish when she came down here can converse pretty well at restaurants when it is just the three of us.

January 9th

Yesterday we walked around in Granada. It reminds me a lot of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The French buildings burned and then the Spanish built most of the buildings in the French Quarter so it would make sense that Granada which was founded by the Spanish would look similar to the French Quarter. You have to be careful when you are walking on the side walks because like the French Quarter the side was are in much need of repair. So you have to watch where you are walking all of the time. The difference is that in Granada you might drop in a whole a foot deep compared to a few inches.

The architecture involves buildings with courtyards in the middle of the building. So the outside of the house just looks like a door. You have no idea what it is like inside. In the Oasis there are several places where the building has an open ceiling. Most of the buildings have open courtyards so I am continually surprised when I am in a building and look up and there is no ceiling.

Last night we went to a neat restaurant called the Third Eye. I found a picture someone else had on the internet. (This person has an awesome gallery of Nicaraguan pictures so you can click through them.) It was really neat inside and I had shrimp curry. About halfway through the meal there was a mouse running across the railing.He sat at the end of the railing for the rest of the meal. (I think our daughter Jenny was glad she didn't come after she heard the mouse story.)

Today we had breakfast and I was able to taste Nicaraguan cheese. It is white and dry and salty, sort of like if you took ricotta cheese and made it really dry and put a lot of salt on it. (Christian you would like it!) There are often people walking with things on top of their heads like fruit, cheese or cashews. The bathroom at the restaurant had no light and had an upside down bug that was still alive. I tried to convince myself that it was a cricket but now I see it was not a cricket but a roach.
Do not forget to read Blood of Brothers. I am on page 177.

Anna and Katie had talked about going zip-lining at Xmas. At the time I had thought to myself, I will just let them go but then I talked to Kris Peterson who is just a few years younger than me and she talked about being excited to go zip-lining in Mexico. So I told myself - if Kris can go so can I!!! Well, today I was cursing Kris Peterson but more about that in a minute.

The ride to zip-lining was totally intriguing. The countryside is truly beautiful. After a while you don't see the garbage or bugs and you really start to see how interesting it is. The road system is pretty much a free for all. On the ride to and back from zip-lining I saw on the road or along side of the road two pigs, five to six cows walking along the side of the road, eight to ten cows tied up alongside the road eating grass, a few horses, a newer tractor, a man pushing a hand wagon, a cart being pulled by horses, a cart being pulled by oxen, several bikes with either single riders or double riders, some weird golf cart like vehicles that only have one wheel in the front, several dogs, several people walking in the road, several children sitting down playing in the road, and several dogs. In case you were wondering - it is okay to pass cars on curvy hilly roads.

Our driver showed us a coffee plantation as we were driving. These beautiful flowers are all over alongside the road. It was a beautiful drive. Every once in a while one smells burning garbage as that is how they get rid of their garbage.

The cost for going zip lining was 27.00 per person. This included being driven 10-12 miles outside of the town by a tour guide driver. He was talkative and Anna talked Spanish with him almost the entire way. Katie and I feel pretty helpless when it comes to the language. I have to double check with Anna but at one point I heard her respond with "Wisconsin" and I think she said "by Canada." Probably not best to mention that whole U.S thing.

Zip-lining was fine while we were getting our equipment on. Then we got into the back of a truck and started up a rugged trail. Yikes. Then when the truck stopped we had to walk up a trail. Then we had to climb up this platform by a tree. There were three men who were there to help us with zip-lining. The young man was trying to explain the directions for zip-lining (he was speaking in English) but I still did not get it. You were supposed to put your writing hand behind your head and use that for your brakes and on and on so I kept asking questions. Finally one fine young man said, if you want a man to go with you we can do that so I said I WANT THE MAN TO GO WITH ME. Actually he was a nice young man in his early twenties. We had to walk up to the starting platform and it was really scary. Maybe I am afraid of heights - I do not know but it was really scary. So I got hooked to the young man who called me "mama." He was quite funny and would say things like "keep going mama" "mama I am with you for the rest of this trip" "mama I am your son" and so on. I think he thought he would only have to go with me the first time - oh no I was so scared I made him go with me every time. He would put his arm on my back and pat it as we went down and say "its okay mama your son is with you." Did I mention that we also had to walk across three bridges made of wires that were totally wobbly. When I put up our pictures I might look happy in them but I was very scared. As we went from platform to platform and had to wait for everyone, I literally hugged and hung onto the tree and wouldn't look over the edges. My daughter tried to talk him into tricking me and letting me go by myself. It was confusing because there were a lot of clips and I thought he had been clipping me to himself. When I noticed he wasn't clipped to me I just grabbed onto his harness so he wouldn't be able to let me go by myself. After four zip-lines I asked how many more and they said six...oh dear. Well, I made it. I gave "my son" a 25.00 tip "(keep in mind that we paid 27.00 for the whole trip) but I was so thankful he had helped me. Later at lunch when people were making fun of me for giving such a big tip I tried to relate it to being in combat and how you get so emotionally connected to someone who saves your life. Of course the fact that I had tried to relate zip-lining to combat made everyone crack up. I tried to explain to my daughters that when I was younger it probably wouldn´t have bothered me, but I said I was fifty-one. Anna argued with me and said you are not fifty-one. I was a little bit flattered until she said she thought I was fifty five.

Today the small streets of Granada filled with their street vendors and yelling and beeping cars reminded me of a market place in Bangkok. It is really a neat city and there is always something new to see. While we ate at a restaurant today inside the menu was a sheet explaining why it is important not to give money to the beggar children - it reinforces the begging culture and keeps them out of school.

My good friend Jeff Bergstrom shared the good news that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be visiting Managua on Tuesday for Daniel Ortega's inauguration.


January 10th

I didn't have time to tell about the best part of yesterday. We got massages, facials and pedicures. Back home this would cost $130.00. They had a New Year's Special so the cost was $38.00. Usually they have music playing in the background but we were fortunate to have a rooster crowing every 5-10 minutes.

Today we went to Laguna de Apoya which is a lake in the crater of a volcano. It was truly beautiful.

Not much time to write today. Leaving for the clinic by La Chureca soon. The lights in the house just went out so now I am really appreciating the light from the section where I said they used to keep chickens because it just has a light covering which lets in a lot of light.

We rode to the lake in a shuttle with other people. There are many German people here. As we were riding I was reading my book Blood of Brothers (did I mention that it is wonderful? - I think I'm secretly pretending I'm Stephen Kinzer, the New York Times reporter who wrote it.) I had just read something about peasants being killed along the side of the road when our shuttle pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of now where. Yikes! Then I saw that there was a gate on the side of the road that let us into the entrance of the Paradise area we were going to. There was a big thatched roofed area which reminded me of the houses on Gilligan's Island. The crater lake was a beautiful greenish color. There were kayaks and a raft. All around it looked very secluded. I went out on a two person kayak with Katie but the water was not calm like a normal lake but very choppy so I was a little nervous so we didn't stay out too long. Mostly I just read the book and then had something to eat. A huge plate of Nachos were 90 cords and interestingly a Snickers bar (which I also had) was 40 cords. One hundred Cordobas is approximately $5.00. There are so many Coke signs - most of them are really old, some are painted on wooden shacks and they are everywhere. The really nice thing is that I have not had anyone at a restaurant ask, Is Pepsi okay? (I'm a Coke fan!) Of course I did ask for coca at the first restaurant we went to (every once in awhile I try to order for myself) and the waiter and the others laughed because I had ordered cocaine. 

On the way back we took the shuttle to Granada. Nicaraguan time means people usually show up a half hour late so we left at 3:30 instead of 3:00

We took a bus again from Granada to Nicaragua. We were lucky to get a seat. An elderly man sat next to me but then gave up his seat to a lady with a child. Young and old people always do that.  Sometimes I am fearful for a woman with a baby because when they first get on the bus really jerks around. Any way if you are picturing a peaceful one hour ride well it was not peaceful. The whole way a guy kept yelling loudly what sounded like "maneena manooa." He was the guy standing at the back stairs of the bus letting people on the road know where we were going to in case they wanted to get on the bus. Picture rush hour traffic in the Twin Cities but with continual horn blowing that sounds like a train horn and throw in a few horse carts and pickups with people in the back and you've got it the ride home. At one point at a stop light on a four lane road I looked out and saw two small children standing on the road between our bus and the car next to us talking to people in the car. Then the light turned green. This was at dusk. When I looked to the left there was an amazing sunset with mountains. There is so much physical beauty in the country. We then caught one of the regular city buses. When we got on it looked so crowded and it was. I mean that this was the most jam-packed bus I've been on. It's really neat to see the people on the bus. Two different ladies offered me the spot next to them when the person sitting by them got up. Katie sat on her backpack because the seat was missing. There are often missing seats. You might find this strange but I like riding the buses. I am worried that I'll come home and things will be really boring

Someone asked me me how the "Nicas" (prounced neeca) feel about the United States. I asked Anna and her friend Jesse and they said they didn't think the Nicas loved the U.S. because of our country's history with theirs which goes well beyond the contra thing (e.g., William Walker filibuster 1856, the Marine landing on the mosquito reserve, the Knox note in1909).  They said the Nicas look down on people from the U.S. because the people feel we are ignorant about their culture and country. However, they said there is not any great animosity toward people from the U.S. They might talk negatively about the U.S. but they embrace much of our culture. Anyway I always smile and and say Hola but now I learned to say adios if you are walking past someone and not stopping. Its hello and goodbye all in one. I am picking up things quickly. Well, not really but at least now I say "thank you gracias" and I'm up to remembering about fifty percent of the time on that toilet paper thing

Back to last night as we rode on the bus I try to look at everything. I don't remember if I told you about Granada and the store with the new televisions and motor cycles in it and the women with the baskets of fruit or cashews on their heads. Old and new. That's what it was like as we drove. I saw a brand new building with a parking lot but couldn't tell what it was. There are many run down businesses. There are sidewalk vendors cooking food and selling food. Their favorite fast food place is called Tip Top and they sell fried chicken which Nicas love. While on the bus we went past a roundabout area (we went flying around it) but there was a beautiful huge fountain with colored lights and there were Xmas tree lights everywhere. It was beautiful. A little further we saw another lighted area where people were watching a big screen television and watching the Ortega inauguration.

We got off of that bus and had to walk in a busy area . It was dark and there were people all over. Have I mentioned that several times a day men will yell things in Spanish or maybe " wow" and their glances will watch us walk by. I may be wrong but I think they are mainly talking about my daughters and the other lovely young ladies with us and not me. At first it was a little strange but now I'm just so used to it. Just like that weird chipmunk noise that I learned is a gecko. I am under shortened computer time as Anna needs her computer to do her work and the Internet goes down frequently.

January 13th
I am finding it hard to find computer time. On Tuesday after our bus returned to Managua and we had taken the city bus. We then got out and walked several blocks on busy streets to where taxis were. We found a taxi and were negotiating the price for the taxis to take us to our house fifteen miles outside of town. It seemed like we weren't getting a good price but then Jesse, our price negotiator, said not very happily that the cab driver wants a dollar per person. I said I'd pay five dollars per person for ride. I got to sit in the front of the cab. I noticed a black and red flag on the dashboard with the letters FSLN. It sounded familiar. I had my Blood of Brothers book with me so I looked it up. It stands for Sandinista National Liberation Front. Also on the dashboard of the car were several stickers of the crucifixion of Christ and of Jesus preaching. When we got to the road that led out of town there was a traffic jam. There is usually not much traffic on this road. We soon discovered a car had broken down. The neat thing about Nicaragua is that they don't let an accident slow them down. They just quickly find some way to drive around the accident. The traffic was still stalled even after the accident so our taxi driver kept beeping his horn a lot. Then he pulled into the left lane of a two lane road and went speeding past at least ten cars. He somehow squeezed back into the right lane of cars. A few minutes later he did it again. I closed my eyes and was happy for the stickers on the dashboard. I guess the line of cars was a Eucharistic procession. I am starting a separate post about La Chureca and following Anna around to see what she does with the Manna Project. I have posted a picture of a La Chureca home Anna had on her computer. Actually that is one of the nicer ones and many homes around Nicaragua look like the one above.

12 comments:

  1. Mrs. Gajewski,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

    What is the perception of Americans in Nicaragua?

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  2. Oh my goodness!! I didn't even know you were leaving, much less posting blog entries!! Thank Goodness for Mrs. S for sending me your site! Now that I'm done being mad - - - Have fun! Thanks for writing such great entries! I'm laughing out loud at the zip-lining story!

    A

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  3. Ugh - Blood of Brothers is not available in Nook format :( I actually have to read a REAL book??
    A

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  4. I am impressed with your sense of adventure! I don't think many moms would embrace everything the way you are with humor and gratefulness.

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    1. I think you and Wayne should go and visit Anna!

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  5. this is the 4th time I have tried to post a comment but nothing happens-and you know my typing speed. I am enjoying the blog-would have done the zip ling thorough without all that whining. Things are going fine at school-it's hard to get it all in and then I don't always have the computers. --but we are managing. Kids have been great but work is still slow to come in. keep blog coming it is great--me

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  6. Jeff helped me and I now know how to do it--it takes a village. Do you want to hear about the essays--well maybe not so much!! take care me

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  7. oh guess what --now that I know how to do it i can write all the time.Well sad to say I am behind in the checking up part:you know that highlighted sheet you left me.Well the problem is I keep being me ( the history day helper and not you the history day checker. But I will try to get it done tomorrow. Classes 2and 5 are up to date but the other--not so much.(my new favorite saying)I am enjoying the students. What a great group--they even put up with my humor ( I haven't sang for them yet) Well just once when I sang Sonny in the morning for the Sonya in 5th hour because they told me her name was Sunny. OK for now am off to look at some essays and Jesse's script--love the blog --me

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  8. Oh forgot to tell you that the Lit for Life kids have the best intros. Thank you Mrs. Hosely

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  9. Mrs Gajooski - Since I am a person that does not share his thoughts and expressions freely - I am impressed that you traveled outside your normal boundaries! However - I think you should have been looking out the window instead of burying yourself in a book. I was very concerned when you went out on the kayak in rough waters. It almost sent me into a panic attack. I hope your daughters are good swimmers! The fried chicken sounds very tasty. I'm sure Angie would approve.

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    1. The comment above is from my funny brother Scott aka Jim Howdy. He is making fun of me because when we were in Jamaica and he took my daughter Jenny snorkeling near some huge rocks I was sort of really panicky. Also we had a cook (Angie) who made delicious food and I complimented her many times so they made fun of me.

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