My last post was published when I had already left my homestay family in Granada and made my way up to the capital city of Nicaragua. Managua is a city with a population of almost 2.5 million people. This city makes up a large portion of the population in a country of approximately 6 million people. To be honest the city at first sight is more than a little depressing. As I rolled into town with my face pressed against the window by fellow chicken bus travellers I was able to take a lot in. When traffic began to back up people were quick to run out with random objects for sale or else to clean windshields. Some pushed disfigured people in wheelchairs betwen cars who gathered in no orderly fashion. I even saw one man tryign to sell a little tropical bird which he kept in a cage. The city lacks any tall buildings besides hotels such as the Hilton or Holiday Inn and even those are hardly over ten stories. There is a real mixture of western and Nicaraguan culture in Managua and I grew quite fond of this. The city is incredibly spread out and as soo nas you are out of the city “center” it gets pretty rough. Definitely not the kind of place to be a hero and walk around at night.
After hopping off of my bus at the station I negotiated with three different taxi drivers until I finally got the right price and made my way to Barrio Martha Quezda. I had heard this area had cheap accomodations so decided it was a good place to start since the one hostel in town was already full. I remember writing a message to Cam Varner after I got settled in in the sketchiest neaighbourhood in Managua. I worte that I loved him and if I didn´t message him in the next few days then mayeb let my family know I was a goner. Even when I called my friend Celina from Managua to tell her I had arrived she hardly wanted to venture into my neighbour. God bless her though because she took a taxi right to my “hotel” in order to make sure I was comfortable in my new location. I am pretty good at putting on a brave face but I remember feeling pretty relieved when Celina and I took off to La Galeria for the night.
Managua is not a backpackers spot. It is big, dirty, dangerous, and just overall intimidating. Luckily I had my personal guide Celina who I had met more than a month earlier in San Juan del Sur and I could tell was doing her best to show me that Managua isn´t as depressing as the guidebooks say. The best part about the whoel experience is that now I know Managua is a great city. It is too bad that so many others leave feeling that even a minute is a minute too long to stay in Managua. Our first night we went to La Galeria which is a massive shopping mall and restaurant area with all sorts of western shops and eats. Gallo Pinto (mixed beans and rice) still wasn´t difficult to find though don´t worry (nom nom nom), however, we decided to go for Mexican food.
The next night was Saturday night and Celina took me to the biggest Discoteca in Managua known as ¨Chaman¨ which is of course a witch doctor in the Mayan world. The place was massive consisting of a nightclub insode a massive Aztec looking pyramid and a huge outdoor dance area. It was in the middle of a field and the locals dressed to the nines in order to seduce the other sex onto the dancefloor. Even Celina took me out shopping for a collared shirt so that I would be permitted into the Discoteca. Of roughly 500 people I am quite sure I was the only extranjero (foreigner) in the club and the feeling was pretty exhilerating. The blend of music was perfect with a nice mix of Reggaeton, Salsa, Electronic and good old Black Eyed Peas (huge down here). At midnight fireworks were going off and paid dancers were getting crazy up on stage. We stayed until about 3 a.m. and were some of the first to be leaving. I will never forget Chaman, that is one crazy nightclub.
I moved into a new hostel as soon as space had become available. This hostel not only had running water but water that you could drink as well. I had moved into a much safer location right by the Metro Centro which is one of the big malls in Managua. I went and watched a couple of movies, one in English and the other in Spanish. Una Aventura Extrordanaire (or Life of Pi as you know it back home) was a good choice to watch dubbed because there isn´t much talking in the first place. The Spanish words with a Hindi accent made my job a little more difficult but Celina filled me in on a couple sections I wasn´t following so well.
One of my best experiences was when I was invited to Celina´s house for New Year´s Eve in one of the many barrios of Managua. It was really exciting to make my way out of the City Centre of Managua and into the Barrios where the regular people live. It was there that I was introduced to Celina´s sister, big brother (and I mean big brother), cousins, niece and even her grandmother. We ate delicious Nica foods and drank a few glasses of Flor de Cana in order to prepare for the fireworks at midnight. People are as obsessed with fireworks here on New Years as they are on Christmas and as we walked around hugging and kissing everyone accompanied by a quick ¨Feliz Ano Nuevo¨ you had to watch that a firework wasn´t aiming directly at you. The whole evening was very special and I owe it all to Celina and her family for inviting me into their neighourhood to celebrate. After midnight the younger people began heading out towards the nightclubs but many stayed behind to chat and laugh with family. It was really nice to see that family was so important to the people of Nicaragua when it came to summing up another year.
After many more great meals and adventures in scenic locations through the city I hopped into a taxi at 5:20 a.m. and made my way to the station with buses heading for El Rama near the Carribean side of the country. My next major destination would be The Corn Islands which can only be compared to ones dreams.
I originally planned on making the journey to Little Corn Island myself but a couple from Utah decided to join me at about midnight only 5 hours before my taxi. At first my only thought was that I was able to save $10 on my taxi to the bus station but these two became crucial in my trip to the Carribean Coast. On the bus to El Rama which took over 8 and a half hours we packed on as many people as I have ever seen on a chicken bus. By the time that the back tire blew I already had a not so little boy sitting on my lap and others sitting on the top of my chair as well as the one in front of me. You know that a chicken bus is ´actually´ full when the locals are yelling at the bus driver to not let on more people. I just sat there and laughed with my new friend Alex who was from El Rama. Upon arrival in El Rama we hopped into a Panga (speed boat thingy) in order to travel 70 km down a beautiful river called the Rio Escondido in order to arrive at Bluefields on the Carribean Coast of Nicaragua.
Bluefields instantly reminded me of Tortuga from the Pirates of the Carribean ride in Disneyland except without the singing pirates and a much stronger aroma of urin throughout the narrow alleyways. Lexy, Aaron, and I were joined by Marta and Mariano from Barcelona and we all made our way to a cheap hotel with help from a hardly chilling Creole dude who called himself ¨spicer¨. It was really confusing on the coast because almost everyone was bilingual but it was hard to know whether people preferred to talk in English or Spanish. It happened that since Marta didn´t speak too much ENglish that Spanish was easier when we were tryign to negotiate for rooms. We tried finding a couple bars in town walking around in areas we probably shouldn´t of but in a group of 5 we felt pretty secure. We were most likely the only tourists in town seeing as how most tourists just take an airplane from Managua to Corn Islands in order to save a lot of hassle. I just can´t see the adventure in that! The town was dead and after having a quick beer we all headed abck to our rooms which had windows facign right towards a bar that was empty but still blared random country and reggae music. My mattress wasn´t a mattress and all and the humidity got the best of me. I also had a hard time sleeping knowing that Bluefields was a port town where many sailors docked at in order to get themselves a prostitute for the night. The condoms that lay on the ground beside my bed didn´t make me feel any more comfortable.
Okay, I think I slept for two hours.. oh well, good enough. It is 7:30 a.m. and time to head to the docks to catch our boat to Big Corn Island. We were all starving and after goign to buy some street food for the voyage we realized the boat was due to leave in less than 5 minutes. We rush the lady to put our chicken onto our rice and beans so that we don´t miss our boat leaving a big question mark as to whether the chicken was cooked or not. Luckily we made it back to the boat a minute or two before 9:00 a.m. when the boat was due to leave. The unlucky part for us was that the boat wasn´t satisfyingly full for the captain until 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. So we sat there for five and a half hours waiting to start our 8 hour journey to Big Corn Island. We made the most of it however and luckily our new Nicaraguan friends brought a guitar so we had nice entertainment to go along with our Ron Plata.
The boat ride was long and it was pitch black by the time we got to Big Corn Island. I spent msot of the journey on the top of the boat alone staring at the stars and napping here an there. others spent there tiem sleeping in bunkbeds with no mattresses or puking over the edge of the railings. I still feel very lucky to never get ill when I am out at sea. We arrived at Big Corn Island at 10:30 p.m. and checked into a hotel right beside the dock. By this time Aaron, Lexy, Mariano, Marta and I had formed a close bond and had unofficialy decided to watch out for one another. That night we all even chipped in an extra 50 cents each to get air-conditioning in our room for 5. We also worked together to kill a massive tarantula looking spider that was hoping to get away with not pitching in for the air-conditiong. We caught the first Panga off of Little Corn the next morning and powered over to Little Corn in less than 30 mintutes. With the size of the waves though 30 minutes was more than enough to absolutely soak everyone on the boat. By the time we arrived at Little Corn everyone cheered and you could tell the driver was also relieved to have entered the peaceful water surrounding Little Corn Island.
I´m going to condense my Little Corn Island experience a while lot but will include ltos of pictures instead. We stayed at three different locations and ate like kings for an entire week. The first p’lace we stayed was Elsa´s Place in bungalows on the beach. We then moved into a house together in the jungle but only 50 metres from the beach. This place was called Ensuenos (roughly translated to ´In Dreams´) and was one of the most interesting places I have ever stayed. The last was Three Brothers which had a kind of village feel to it and amazing water from the well. At $5 a night this place was a steal. We swam, hiked, snorkeled, tanned, read, and ate as much as we pleased. Coconut trees covered the trees so we had unlimited cocunut water available at the slice of our machete.
Thursday morning came around and Mariano, Marta and I decided to head back to the mainland. We gave our hugs and kisses to Aaron and Lexi and exchanged e-mails. I hope they read my blog and know how special they made my trip to Little Corn Island. The trip back to Managua still took along time but I had a bit of a better plan this time since I had already done the reverse trip. The Thursday boat to Bluefields only took 5 and a half hours instead of 8 and I instantly took a Panga up the Rio Escondido to El Rama. I parted ways from Marta and mariano in Bluefields as they made a plan to go 50 kilometres north of Bluefields to a remote area known as Laguna Perlas. It was strange losing those two so soon after losing Aaron and Lexi but that is the way traveling goes sometimes. Luckily I met up with a group of 5 German girls on the boat to Bluefields and we all agreed to stay the night together in El Rama together before catching a chicken bus back to Managua in the morning.
Back in the big city of Managua it was a good vibe. i felt much more confident than I had felt when I arrived their 2 weeks before and was looking forward to meeting up with Celina. We spent the next few days together as I sorted out just what the hell I was going to do about getting down to Colombia for the 21st of January. Why must I get to Columbia for the 20th you may ask? Because I am meeting up with the one and only Steamin´ Willy Beamen in Cartegena… POW!!
So here I am in Panama City after taking a 37 hour bus trip all the way from Managua, Nicaragua. It sure felt weird leaving Nicaragua. That place could not have accepted me anymore than it had. I could have stayed for another 3 years and still not seen everything that it had to offer. My Spanish has improved greatly and for that I must thank my homestay family, my teachers, Mariano, Marta and especially, Celina. Nicaragua is DIACACHIMBA! Lots of borders crossed as I started my journey at 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning and arrived at 7:00 p.m. today (Tuesday) at the Panama City bus terminal. Crossing that bridge over the Panama Canal was sure a trip and I can´t wait to head back in the morning to see it all. One more trip from Panama City to Cartegena and I am to be with my brother, Will Lees. I am so stoked to see him but really have a good feeling about Panama City for now.
I hope everyone is doing well as always. Life is good down here and it is a nice feeling to have moved to a new country. I am missing Nicaragua and more importantly the people there. If you ever have the urge to make a trip down to Latin Maerica, Nicaragua is an absolute must. it is very late but I am very satisfied to haev a chance alone on a computer in order to write about my travels and add some pictures. Next post might even be from Colombia with my main man Willy Beamen at my side.
Chao Super Guapos,