All posts by Erin

Let the Music Play

I am sitting here in Panama City at Hostel Mamallena listening to a fabulous jam session.  An Israeli guy named Ben on Harmonica, Will, the hostel manager accompanying on guitar, and my man Todd playing lead.  Townes Van Zandt on the play list.  This afternoon I had a little life moment.  A lot of stress, some quick tears on the street, yet, this is what my days have become.  Why do I feel anxious sometimes when at the end of the day it is simple; life is grand.  The music soothes and grounds you back to reality.  Hopefully, before you fall too far into a self loathing melancholy of who knows what.

Different nations have combined here to make wonderful spontaneous music.  Beers and box o’wine clutter the table, chatter encompasses the backgrounds, and the smiles abound.   The music plays on, interrupted with laughter and conversation.  This is life today.  In this hostel.  In Panama City.Panama City

On the Road Again

Good bye Nicaragua.  We had a fabulous go in Nicaragua.  Between a visit from Ryan, Dale, the Nica people, working at Imagine and the land as a whole it was spectacular.  But now we are in Costa Rica.  Various modes of transport later we made it; one chicken bus ($1/10C), one collectivo taxi ($3.75/70C), and a free ride in the cab of a semi later, we made it.  

We spent our last two nights in Nicaragua in San Juan Del Sur.  I really wanted to hit the beach again.  Maybe have a go at surfing, but it was too damn hot and expensive.  So Todd and I enjoyed the local beach, splashed around in the waves, enjoyed using a kitchen again.  The place was pretty, but very touristy.  Luckily, the day we left was dingy and rainy. Always makes things easier.

So, we decided to hitch hike or catch a cheap local bus once we crossed the border into Costa Rica.  We had been warned by many travellers that Costa Rica was expensive.  But I took the information, filed it away, and was flabbergasted when the buses wanted 10dollars to take us to San Jose.  So Todd and I hoofed it over the border, still excited to be on the road again.  We ran into two girls with vast hitching experience and they managed to grab a semi truck who accepted all four of us, no questions and no money required.  What I thought was going to be a 2 to 3hr ride was  5plus.  Luckily, I pass out on uncomfortable and hot busses, so sleeping in the semi was no problem.  Even with the soft bed my tush was resting on.  I love the random when traveling.  And riding in the cab of a semi definitly falls into the random catagory.

We made it into San Jose last night.  It rained all day  (good thing we found a ride when we did).  We have been in Granada so long I forgot about congestion and smog.  San Jose has a lot of both.  Luckily, the horizon is draped in rolling green hills and mountains.  A visual escape.  We are staying at Hostel Pangea for an outrageous price of 12dollars for a dorm room each.  A very western style place; pool, bar, night club, food, cleanliness, people, and style.  Call us snobs or antisocial but I found the whole thing a bit contrived.  I do like the free internet and sheets though.  We were supposed to rent some motorcycles and get out of the city for a day or possible overnight.  On a side note, the ooncce, oonncce music is in full effect right now at the early hour of 3pm.  A little nervous to hear what is to come late night.  Anyway, I had contacted a rental place and pretty much set the whole thing up.  Yet, they did not get back to us until 12pm today.  Tour was scheduled for this morning.  So a couple choice words from Todd and I, and we decided to bag the deal.   Oh, well.

The funny thing about changing countries so often is the constant need to change money.  You would think that adjacent countries would set up convenient systems for such a purpose.  No!  Yes, there are the touts at every border eager and waiting to change your money, but one never knows if the rate you are getting is subpar or the best you will get.  So, we take the approach of a little money changed at the border and the rest in a city.  We may be changing this strategy.  We went to at least 6 banks and a Bureau de Change today.  Yes, they changed Cordobas(Nicaraguan currency) for Colons (Costa Rican) but only old bills.  Go figure.  In Granada, there were always guys on the street willing to change almost any currency.  But in a big city like San Jose, they dont seem to have it together.  They would exchange the cordobas but only if they were the old tattered bills.  Of course, we only had the new bills that came straight out of the ATM.  So, instead of riding a motorcycle through the beautiful mountains we hoofed it all over town trying to find the one reasonable bank in town. Luckily, it does exist.  Mission finally accomplished.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local buffetesque place.  It was delicious.  I had a fried rice, green salad, and a beef torta.  It looked kind of like a burger but not.  Todd dined on white rice, his favorite, black beans, pasta salad, and a hunk of pork.  Surprisingly good and very filling.  As for tomorrow, no idea what we will do.  We have a bus scheduled for 11pm to take us on a long 18ish hour ride to Panama City.  Sounds like fun already.

Dont know that I am enjoying San Jose.  But it is nice to be on the road again.  Panama City here we come!

Donde esta el Toro?

A crazy couple days have ensued.  Friday night, fabulous dinner with our friend Cammy.  Saturday, vowing to take it easy, we stayed up late drinking with our new friend Tobie.  Sunday, oh Sunday!  Monday, a celebration with Tobie on her last night in town.  And that brings us to today, Tuesday.  Sitting here at Imagine writing a blog instead of tackling the pile of work I should be doing. 

Let’s start with Friday night.  Our friend, Cammy, was nice enough to invite us over for a little dinner and a lot of wine.  Since we have been improvising meals on our beautiful Coleman stove in Kevin’s backyard, we jumped at an opportunity to cook in a legitimate kitchen.  She whipped up a hardy pasta with cream sauce, while I made a little garlic bread sans the use of an oven.  The meal hit the spot and the company added to the wonderful evening.  A couple of her friends joined us after dinner and we sat Nica style on the side walk, in rocking chairs,  watching the evening happenings over a lot of Flor de Cana rum.  We ended up crashing in a bed at Cammy’s place.  The first bed I have slept in for almost 2weeks.  It was beautiful!Granada

Saturday we rolled into work.  I canvassed the hotels and Todd finished the website.   Check it out at www.Imaginerestaurantandbar.com .  Our goal, call it an early night.  The reality, a late night drinking with our new friend Tobie.  She has one of those commanding personalities that leaves you totally at ease and wanting more conversation.  So we had a couple drinks, laughed a lot, and made it to bed a lot past our expectation.  Over our evening conversation we decided to wake up early and check out the local bar by our place before the running of the bulls.

Running of the BullsYes, there is a running of the bulls here in Granada, Nicaragua.  Don’t think Pamplona, think chaos.  Before we could witness the running of the bull, we decided we should check out the local dive bar around the corner from our place, Ranchero Escondito.  I love a good dive bar, but I love a good local dive bar even more.  And this place fit the bill.  30Cords for a litre of beer.  That”s $1.50 for a litre of cold beer.  Yes!  Of course, we were the only women in the place.   Today, I dressed in pants and a modest tank top.  No need to make things worse for myself.  So, we order some litres of beer and considering we were all dragging a little from the night before a little hair of the dog did the necessary job of rejuvenating us for the day.  Our plan, a couple of litres, then the bulls.  The reality, 10 litres of beer and a bull.  We did try to leave many times but the gentlemen in the corner kept buying us litres.

At first, you think, ‘well, isn’t that nice.'”  But luckily, Todd keeps his wits about him in these situations and saw right through these men.  Let me back up.  They were very friendly and entertaining.  I even danced a bit.  But down here you can’t always trust friendly.   We knew the day was going to be one with pick pockets and petty theft.  That’s what happens in big crowds.  So, I was packing most of the important stuff, money and cell phone in my bra.  As Tobie and I practiced our Spanish with our new “friends,” Todd got the low down from a street wise guy named Lenny.  Luckily, nothing happened at the bar.  We ended up having a great time, being a novelty in a place is weird, but makes for some good times.  We will definitly be going back to this place; around the corner, cheap, a good juke box, and not full of gringos…perfect.

Running of the BullsSo back to the bulls.  We left our new local paradise in the great pursuit of said bull running.  Even though this was a big event down here, very few people actually knew any of the details.  We wandered down to the Central Park.  Crowds of people, but surprisingly very few tourists.  It was definitly a local occasion.  Everyone was crowded around one side of the park, so we made our way in that direction.  The site was funny.  Lots of cowboys making their way down the street followed by a truck full of bulls.  Now, I don’t know exactly what happenend from there.  But without warning, the crowd start moving rapidly.  There was a bull!  Not running down the street, but weaving his path of destruction through the packed Park Central.  The excitement was unbelievable.  We were caught up in the movement before we even realized we were moving.  The group moved without warning.  I was pushed behind a tree by a grown boy trying to avoid the bull.  Each man for themselves apparently.  I was second guessing my choice of footware at this point.  Well, this moment climaxed.  I have no idea where the bull went, but the people moved toward the lake.  Was this the running of the bulls or the herding of the people?

Running of the BullsWhere the people went, we followed.  Stopping to pick up some roadies of Tona for our walk in the hot sun.  The adrenaline from the recent bull sighting left us amped to go on and see more.  It also trickered a hunger pain, so we bought hot dogs from the conveniently located hot dog stand.  Now, these stands kind a  freak me out, but this hot dog was great.  And only 15C or $.75.  Another bargain.  So, we walked and walked with the crowd.  Every now and then a wave of movement would surge, yet I don’t think anyone knew the cause.  As we wandered we chatted it up, about the odd circumstances of the day we had found ourselves in.  I met an older gentleman who invited us to the rodeo next weekend.  Oh yes, not just bull running, there are rodeos too.  We found ourselves loitering in the crowd outside a stadium.  Apparently, that’s where the coveted bulls were being kept for the moment.  We venture a little closer to the crowd, and just at that moment, a bull comes charging out of the entrance.  People run everywhere.  It was actually the people I was more nervous about then the bull.  One bull, thousands of people running around like idiots, which one would make you more nervous.  So we watch and move as needed.  Things start to die down again and the crowd starts moving to the lake again.  Running of the BullsWe regroup and just then I hear someone shout “gringa!”  And before I know it I feel the weight of a horse hoof on my right foot.  So I acted totally imature and screamed at the idiot horseman with some good old fashioned English provanities.  The locals who witnessed the incident laughed with amusement.  Todd apparently was on the other side of the horse and got side swiped by the horse’s shoulder. 

Tobie, the friend we were with, happens to be a doctor.  So she gave the foot a look and gave me the clear.  Obviously, not broken but bruised and caused by totallly irritating circumstance.  At this point, we break.  Todd and I head out to meet another friend, Tobie went to take a power nap, and we all promised to rendezvous at 8:30.  You can see where this is going.  Obviously, no rendezvous.  I was passsed out in a rocking chair back at the house by 8:30.

The day was fabulous!  I am pretty sure the whole town woke up with a hangover yesterday.

Not just the pretty stuff.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Being stationed in one spot for a long time opens your eyes and ears to all aspects of place. No longer do you see or hear just the pretty stuff. Rather, your eyes begin to see what you weren’t able to visualize earlier and your ears key into the everyday sounds. Being in Granada, now for almost two weeks, has been great. Living in Kevin’s backyard, cooking on a Coleman, and spending our evenings either at his bar or sitting in rocking chairs watching bootlegged movies, a tad odd. I wouldn’t call it comfortable or uncomfortable but an adjustment in the works.

Many nights we end up walking home; through the dirty market street, past the sanitarily questionable food stalls, stepping over puddles/rivers of I don’t want to know what, and although it isn’t the pretty stuff, it is the reality of an impoverished place. My eyes aren’t bothered as much anymore by the piles of feces in the streets or the sight of a bum’s feet after years of no shoes. It is what it is.

What I have been noticing more these days are the sounds of place. And let me tell you, there is no shortage of noise in this city. Old cars with mega phones or huge speakers tied to the roof roll through the streets playing music, blaring adverts, and because I don’t speak Spanish well or have learned to hear the noise but not actually listen, I don’t really know the purpose of these vehicles. “Fre-co!, Fre-co,” is frequently shouted with the rapid speed of an auctioner. Fresco, is simply a beverage. And man, do they try hard to get your attention with their loud, often high pitched, redundant call. Let’s not forget the sound of horse hooves on pavement, old mufflers struggling through the streets, the chatter of people, whistling and cat calls for just about anyone and everything, the CD guys boom box blaring old Micheal Jackson tunes, etc. And at night drumming and clapping. The sound of street performers striving to make a cordoba.

These are the city sounds. And then Todd and I have been lucky enough to experience a whole other set of sounds every night. People don’t seem to sleep here. And noise violations are the norm. Outside the nicely locked gate, there are squaters. Every night they sit on Kevin’s stoop and play cards, drink, and I have no idea what else until all hours of the night. Young and old included, no age discrimination on this one. They shout, holler, laugh, talk, scream, or whistle to help us get in, you name it. Sometimes I want to join the party, but more often I am glad to be behind the locked gate. Beyond the friendly squaters, there are the dogs. To spade and neuter here cost money that people don’t have. The numerous dogs are like squirrels back in the states, they are everywhere. And luckily for us they all just went into heat. Now that is a horrible sound; dog-on-dog. I will leave it at that, no one needs further details.

These are my observations of late. Tahe noise grows on you, but I seem to be amazed at how many sounds there really are. A new one every day.Bags of Beer

On a side note, I would also like to mention a recent find of another kind. On one of our walks home, Todd and I decided a little cerveza was necessary. Well, all shops were closed except a tienda selling fried tortilla things. On a whim, we asked if they had beer. Yes they did! But, we didn’t have a bottle for deposit so we were givin our beer in a bag. Bags of BeerYes, we walked home and have since walked home with many a beer in a bag, laughing at the circumstances and geniune human creativity of it all. Beer in a bag as you can imagine looks like piss in a bag. The locals think we are odd gringos but I think we have earned some respect because of such tactics. Another side of getting to know the place you are in.

Two thumbs up for Nicaragua

A long time coming, I have been a tad lazy about our blog. Ryan departed before the sun yesterday morning. What great fun to have a friend down here to experience a snipit of our life abroad. Not only did he come bearing Cheez-its but he brought an open mind, his fabulous personality, and a willingness to embrace travel in Nicaragua via Erin and Todd style. By that I mean, hostels, chicken buses, and local food (although we managed to eat a good amount of pizza and hamburgers). Basically, a trip on the cheap.

We left you in Leon. It’s a great city with a nice rough edge. Luckily, most of the places we wanted to vist in Nica are relatively close together minus Isla Ometepe.Finca Magdelena According to our guide book, Isla Ometepe is the highest point on a fresh water island in the world. We never investigated the truth of this comment but for now, let’s roll with it. Leery to travel on Independence Day (Sunday, July 19th), we left on Monday morning. Breakfast, a trip to the farmacia (I am on a strict Zyrtec diet at the moment), a chicken bus to Managua followed by a rapid bus exchange to Granada (it was still rolling as we hoped in), a quick bite to eat, a walk to the ferry, an incredibly long and confusing baggage check process, and then we were on the ferry. Four hours in 2nd class, meaning the breezy upper deck was off limits, we made ourselves comfortable in a corner on the floor. Apparently, you have to get there super early to reserve a seat. After a lot of cards, some good political conversations, and the rest of the Cheez-its later, we arrived in Altagracia after dark. Luckily, we met a friendly tout who reserved a room at Hotel Castillo for us which included transportation from the port. We claimed our bags and were loaded like a herd of cattle into the back of a bucky with roughly 20+ other tourists and their bags. Now, let’s set the scene. We are in the back of this truck, no visual of the road ahead, only the silhuettes of the trees and bushes, and the faint sound of the water rolling up the shoreline. Jokes ensued about a western media disaster taking place if this very rickity truck full of gringos tips. Now, Todd and I have taken some dodgy transport, but as the truck tilted drastically to the right (road construction apparently) even I became a bit nervous. I can only imagine the thoughts going through Ryan’s head about this chosen form of transport. Luckily, we tipped and tilted our way to the Hotel without flipping. AltagraciaWhere we checked in and quickly calmed our nerves with a celebration beer (or two, three…) Morning revealed a beautiful island.

We decided to beat the city, rough interpretation, and head to Finca Magdelana. The Finca is an old coffee farm at the bottom of Volcan Madeira. A ride in a chicken bus isn’t all that bad. Except on unpaved or poorly paved roads. There is something about the shocks of a school bus that don’t quiet meet the standard of a 4wheel drive vehicle. Or maybe the problem lies with my bones not being sturdy enough to handle the painful jolts on unpadded seats. I won’t point fingers. At this point, one might think we were on a masachistic travel mission, but no, simply trying to get from point a to point b. Arriving at the Finca after our bouncy ride (sounds better then bone crushing) we hiked under the hot sun, always the hot sun, never do we manage to hit the cool sun, uphill for roughly a km. I will speak for myself, I would hate to make the boys sound pathetic, so for me…I was one sweaty fool by the time we reached the lodge.

Finca MagdelenaThe group decided to explore some petroglyphs. Funny, three educated people couldn’t manage to stay on a trail or define the word “petroglyph”. We climbed through barb wire, up one path, then another, just wandering through the woods. Good times! We also had a hell of a time finding the promised coffee plantation. Plantation to me infers lots of plants on lots of land. Well, we may or may not have found coffee plants. Our identification skills remain questionable.

We celebrated Todd’s birthday with a bottle of Flor de Caña and a lot of cards. Not a big 28th birthday bash, but for the non-birthday enthusiast he seemed to enjoy himself.

Finca MagdelenaAfter experiencing the ambiance of the Finca, which included tons of beautiful butterflies, we were on our way back to the shore. This time in pursuit of Granada. We decided on a different journey back which managed to save us about 2 to 3 hours and allow us to experience one of the best gallo pinto’s yet. Gotta love the run down mom and pop shops; cheap and tasty!

Granada reminded me a lot of Antigua. An old colonial town full of tourists but very aesthetically pleasing. GranadaWe stayed at Kahlala for $6/pp/night. A nice little place where we were able to watch some movies, drink more Toña, and question each other about our travel experiences. It was nice to hear the more intimate details of each persons’ travels. We become so used to summerizing our experiences, you sometimes forget the details yourself until questioned. I found the whole night to be very refreshing.

MasayaRyan wanted to check out Masaya, the old market town of Nica. The craftsmanship was amazing. Beautiful rosewood carvings, intricate pottery work, and plenty of hammocks to go around. And of course, a lot of shit. We spent the day exploring the market, comparing prices and making sure Ryan was well stocked with souvenirs. There was supposed to be a second Market, but that turned out to be the food/clothing/misc. local market. I truly enjoy exploring this type of atmosphere, except when I am randomly kicked by a small child. It provides a good glimpse into the local world. What food is available? How much is a live chicken? What the hell is that thing? You get the point.

That night involved a lot of beer and some cigar toking. Even I participated in the latter. The cigars here are of the Cuban calliber, not stinky and dry. We reminisced some more, conceded to the fact that Ryan did have to leave, and enjoyed each others’ company over one last night of drunkin’ debautchery.

Ryan has since left us and Todd and I are back in Granada. Our tent pitched in a guy’s backyard, ready to cook on a coleman, and possibly ride out a couple of weeks helping him at his restaurant and in his garden. We will see how this transpires. Nicaragua is full of wonderful people and beautiful places. I could definitly stay here for a while!