Metrocentro y La Colonia
Whenever I’m feeling extra culture-shocked and just need a day to pretend like I’m in the U.S., luckily there is a place to go here in Nicaragua. Metrocentro is one of the malls in Managua, and it has air-conditioning, a food court, clothes stores, shoe stores, a movie theatre and basically looks like a typical mall in the U.S. My typical make-myself-feel-better-day at Metrocentro consists of lunch and a McFlurry at McDonald’s, a new shirt from Siman, a movie (last one was The Descendants in English with Spanish subtitles), and some small purchases from La Colonia, which is attached to one side of the mall & is basically the most high end supermarket there is here. La Colonia is nothing short of awesome. There I can find almost anything I can imagine; they actually have peanut butter, strawberries, pickles, Dr. Pepper!, and even my St. Ive’s face wash! It is sort of weird to think back and realize that these things have become luxuries for me and that they will just be normal everyday things to buy when I’m back in the U.S. 2 ½ more weeks!
El Fallecimiento del Comandante Tomas Borge
I know I already gave a history lesson on Nicaragua, but just as a mini summary: There were 10 original founders of the Sandinista party, which led the revolution to victory and currently run the country. 9 of these founders were killed while the dictator Somoza was still in power. 1 of these made it out alive (though he had been brutally tortured in a Somocista jail for many years) to see the end of the Revolution. He died of old age last week, and needless to say, it was a huge deal. He was a symbol of freedom for the campesino (peasant) and of the underdog overcoming the dictator. He was buried at the Revolution Plaza in Managua (which I visited about a month ago) and people came to the funeral from all over the country. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go because the preschool still had class, but apparently the buses were impossible anyway because everyone (including bus drivers) was at the service and many of them weren’t running. This event made me realize I still don’t know enough details about the Revolution and I want to learn more. I’ve started reading a book called The Jaguar Smile, which talks about a trip to Nicaragua right after the Revolution. I’ll let you know what I learn.
Los Artesenias y Las Hamacas
Before I came to Nicaragua, I had no idea that they are famous for their artisan crafts and their hammocks! There is a whole neighborhood of hammock-makers in Masaya (where the other interns live) and the most famous artisan town (Catarina) is only a 10 minute bus ride away. Tuesday was El Dia del Trabajador (The Day of the Worker), which is a celebration day in Nicaragua where everyone has off from work, so Caroline & I decided to take advantage and go buy some souvenirs! Each of the shops had similar crafts to offer; decorative pots to hang on the wall (which is the typical Nica adorno that they have in almost every house here), brightly painted ceramic butterflies, paintings, wooden carvings, and so much more…all handmade. Nothing had a price tag, so we became pretty good hagglers by the end of the day. My best deal was getting something that was originally 300 cords for 210! After we were satisfied with our artisan purchases, we moved on to Masaya to check out the hammocks. Deciding which hammock to buy was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make here (tough life, right?). There are so many different kinds, colors, sizes, prices; You can get a hammock chair, a regular woven hammock without a bar (which sort of cocoons you in), a special woven hammock with bars on either end so that you lay flat (sort of like in a bed) of which they have singles, doubles, and family size, and they have so many mix of rainbow colors that it would be an understatement to say that it is overwhelming. All of this, and you have to negotiate, too! After an hour of browsing, I finally decided that I wanted to more stable hammock with the bar, and I wanted a double size so that it could be good for cuddling. I plan to put it in my living room as a second couch for my apartment next year, so I didn’t want the typical crazy rainbow colors that they come in. I found one that was a cool, black and white design, and they sold it to me for 890 cords ($38), which is an awesome price since they tend to cost at least $150 in the U.S. My only worry now is that it won’t fit in my suitcase. I guess I’ll find that out in a couple weeks!
Isla de Ometepe 6 – Edgar y El Mono
So Edgar was the owner of the kayak place and even though he wasn’t my tour guide, I ended up spending a lot of time with him and getting to know his life story! He was born on the island, got married when he was 17 (but is divorced now) and has 8 kids…and I thought 5 was a lot! He told me about his oldest daughter who lives in the U.S. and married a Frenchman, so now their kids are trilingual (jealous!). He actually traveled to San Francisco for a month to visit and is currently trying to learn English. Right now he’s in the process of building a hotel so that he can grow his business in the tourism industry (right now he offers kayaking, windsurfing, boat tours, bike rentals, etc). I wish I had gotten a picture of him but he basically looked like a Nicaraguan hippy (if that is possible); he had long, wavy hair, a really chill personality, and was lying in a hammock when I first walked up. The best part of the whole day was that introduced me to his pet monkey named King Kong. At first King Kong was shy and wouldn’t let go of his papa, but after I pet him for a few minutes he warmed up to me and let me hold him! I played with him for a while and took some pictures with my new friend!
Isla de Ometepe 5 – Kayaking
I read in my guidebook that if you kayak through the Rio Istiam which runs through the middle of the island, then you are guaranteed to see monkeys. Since I have still not met my goal of seeing wild monkeys (although I met a few pet ones) on this trip, I was determined to do it. I set out on the trek to Meridas with the hope of thumbing down a truck, but once I got to the road I realized that might be close to impossible. It was full of giant rocks, dirt, and hills that very few cars could make it through. But I was determined, so I kept going. I attempted to run, but then stubbed my toe a few times and realized running in flip flops is a bad idea. Then, I attempted to double ride on someone’s bike, but then I realized that is pretty close to impossible without pegs. Finally, after a 90 minute steaming hot walk, I saw a sign for KAYAKS! When I finally made it, the owner couldn’t believe I walked from Santo Domingo. He immediately offered to give me a ride back in his truck…what a relief! The kayak tour was awesome. We stroked through Lake Nicaragua (the only fresh water lake where you can get eaten by sharks) right in between the two volcanoes. Needless to say, the view was gorgeous. My arms were already sore by the time we made it to the river, but it was totally worth it. There were exotic birds everywhere, all making weird bird noises that I had never heard before. I don’t remember any of their names because my tour guide only spoke Spanish, but one of them made a noise like a dying pig that was extremely unnerving. I didn’t believe him that it was a bird until he made us turn around to show it to me. Unfortunately, since it is currently the end of the dry season and the river is extremely shallow, we couldn’t make it far enough to see the monkeys. However, it was still a fun & peaceful kayaking adventure (along with some much needed arm exercise)!
Isla de Ometepe 4 – El Ojo de Agua
Although Caroline decided to climb one of the volcanoes, I had already had my share of volcano climbing months ago at Volcan Masaya. It was enough for me to just stare at it from the bottom, so I decided to check out some other cool sights on the island. El Ojo de Agua (The Eye of Water) is a giant, natural pool made up of natural spring water. However it is different from your typical hot spring because it is not hot; the water is really cool and I even had to count to 3 to convince myself to jump in. The water is rumored to not only have healing powers, but also to be like a fountain of youth. When I first entered, one of the workers told me a few stories about people who entered looking like they were 60 and left looking 20 years younger. I told him I hoped this didn’t happen to me cause then I’d look 2 years old. He also talked about a time when a priest who was really sick came and bathed in the water for 3 hours and was healed when he left. I dove in the water with high hopes but after an hour of swimming found that I still look 22 with no real signs of healing (although at the moment there thankfully isn’t really anything to heal). Regardless, it was a refreshing swim in the shade on a steaming hot day.
Isla de Ometepe 3 – La Playa Santo Domingo
We decided to base ourselves out of Santo Domingo Beach because it was the closest to all of the things we wanted to do…and what an awesome choice it was! As always, we chose our hostel by which was the cheapest and (also as always) we couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was. It was right on the beach with hammocks everywhere, and even had beach chairs to tan in (the only other time I had seen these was at the private wealthy community in Tola)! Lying on the beach, there was an amazing view of Volcan Maderas to the right and I realized just how accustomed to seeing volcanoes I’ve become. If this was my first day in Nicaragua, I would have probably been speechless (and maybe a little terrified) to be relaxing within eruption distance of a volcano. After 4 months of seeing volcanoes almost every weekend, it has become sort of normal. However, while I was swimming in the bath water of Lake Nicaragua, the amazement of nature hit me all over again and I realized how much I’m going to miss this country.
Isla de Ometepe 2 – Es Dificil Viajar
Considering how touristy the island is, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to get around. It is way too big to walk; it takes over an hour to drive from end to end. There is a bus that leaves every few hours but only goes in between the 2 major cities on 1 side of the island and completely ignores the other side. Caroline had her heart set on climbing the volcano on the “ignored side” of the island, and I wanted to go to that side to see the Ojo de Agua (more to come on that)…we were determined. When we started asking people how to get there, everyone kept saying that we could just hitchhike. Clearly, that sounded sketchy to us, so we decided to pass on that and ask more people. After a while, we realized our only options were renting a motorcycle (which we don’t have a license for) or hitchhiking. After seeing that almost every truck that went by had a couple tourists on the back, we went with the 2nd option. So, the first hitchhike of my life was on the back of a motorcycle with a nice, older Nicaraguan man who lived on the island. By the end of the weekend, I had hitchhiked on 2 motorcycles, 3 trucks, and a bike (yes, as in bicycle). I realized that it is just a part of life for the islanders and they almost always stop when seeing tourists walking down the street even if they don’t have their thumbs up. It sort of made us live on the edge for the weekend because we had no set transportation and just had to be spontaneous and rely on chance to get around. But it was kinda cool!
Isla de Ometepe 1 – Los 2 Volcanes
Ometepe is another one of those “must-see” places in Nicaragua. It is a giant island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua with 2 volcanoes on each end, which makes it a pretty cool sight to see when you’re pulling up on the ferry from the mainland. Ometepe has everything you can imagine; gorgeous beaches for relaxing, giant volcanoes for hiking, a lake of bath water for swimming, wildlife for watching, museums for exploring, and whatever else I could be missing! It even has ziplining and horseback riding (both of which I’m saving for another weekend). With only 2 days on the island, it was hard to decide what to do!
Los Nicas Estan Robandonos!
Nicaraguans are stealing our words! During one of our soda breaks, the music professor said that we finished the garden “swing”. Clearly, I didn’t understand what he was saying and thought he was pronouncing some Spanish word that I had never heard before. However, the other foreigner at Cantera happened to be sitting with us and she explained that he actually was saying swing. Apparently, they took the English word, changed its meaning, and then started using it in everyday sentences. In Spanish, “swing” means fast/efficient. Later in the week, I heard one of the teachers say the same thing! How strange!