Justin and Silver Al

Nicaragua
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Nicaragua

Into Nicaragua (Killer Potholes)

Land Of Volcanoes and Tornadoes

Jan. 15, 2008.  We have made it into Nicaragua and Life is Good.  We arrived in the city of Leon in the mid-afternoon, checked into a decent hotel after searching for a different one a little too long.  After putting the car into lock-down mode, we set out for a bite and found a cool little local Cantina/Comedore hidden behind a plain windowless fašade.  Here we could order liter sized bottles of cold Dona beer (should be a ~ over the 'n' in Dona, but I can't figure this out.  Same with the 'n' in bano, by the way) and an assortment of snacks.  The two guys at the table nearby were friendly and soon we were immersed in conversation. Both these guys were veterinarians, and the younger of the two spoke a little English.  We bought them a liter and were instant friends.  The conversation ranged from the greatness of Leon, to the where we were from, to the greatness of Leon, to the greatness of Nicaragua, to a bit about our trip, to the greatness of Leon, to where Hugo had traveled and then back to the greatness of Nicaragua and the greatness of Leon.  We couldn’t agree more…we were loving Nicaragua so far.

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Hugo and Justin

Soon we had plans to meet Hugo later at a good bar he knew about…Via Via (also a youth hostel).  We went back to our room, Eli napped I hit up the web, we re-racked, cleaned up and headed for the Via Via. 

 

Hugo was waiting for us at the Via Via and we ordered a half size bottle of rum, a pile of limes and a bottle of ‘agua con gas’ (Seltzer).  Hugo was embarrassed that he didn’t have any money at the moment, and it took a lot of reassurance to get him to feel at ease helping himself, which he eventually did.  We talked about Leon, he tried to teach us some Spanish and we talked about dancing, discos, the US, the wonders of Nicaragua and the wonders of Leon.  We had a couple shots of tequila and finished up the bottle of rum.  He was sad we were only staying for one day.  There was a lot to see, he told us!

Diacachembo: All Cool with Hugo

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Justin and Eli Heading To The Disco

Soon we were making our way to a different club, a disco.  It was a cool scene there.  We had more tequila and beers.  Hugo suddenly seemed quite drunk.  He kept trying to explain and demonstrate how to ask a Nicaraguan women to dance, ‘if it turns out that it is her boyfriend sitting with her, tell him congratulations on his very beautiful girlfriend’ and he’d be fine.  Hugo danced a few times, salsa, meringue.  He also got turned down a few times.  Eli and I were just enjoying the scene, not really looking to dance, but inevitable the time came when Hugo dragged me up to the raised disco floor and we cut in on two largish women who were dancing together.  The lady I danced with was reluctant, but pleasant, and finally we were facing each other and doing a sort of dance.  I am not much of a dancer…I would like to get better and I’m always up for giving it a try…and I don’t think I was a great partner.  Fortunately, unlike the other couples, we did a ‘no touching’ dance, just boogieing and bobbing.  I was buzzed enough at this point to not be self conscious, because there was a room full of eyes on me.

 

When the song ended, we had a hand-shake and a smile and I was off the hook.

 

Back at my seat, another fellow approached me.  He could speak some English and wanted to try it out.  His name was Maritsio and he was a pretty funny jolly guy.  By this time both Eli and I were having a hoot, and had I been a little less inebriated, I might have caught onto Maritsio a little quicker, because he was looking for love.

 

When the camera came out, he snuggled in close and I started getting the sneaking suspicion that he was being warmer than most.  Yes, indeed.  “Eli’ I said, ‘Take the picture, this guy's got his hand on my crotch.’

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The Disco

Disco Club

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Just A Little Too Close For Comfort

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Surprise Justin!

Friendly Maritsio

Now, you might be starting to wonder after naked wrestling and traveling with a couple men and now this, where my orientations lay.  I’m a straight man, when you know it you just know it, but I have no issues with anyone of opposite persuasions and I don’t feel threatened by a little extra-friendliness.  We had a little fun with Maritsio, but he was a bold gay man and kept pushing the line.  The hand on the crotch was just a little too much, and even though we were laughing our asses off, it was time to go, so we left.

 

We hit up every street food vendor we passed as we staggered, laughing our way home.  Apparently, we spent a little too long at one vendor, because as we were leaving Maritsio popped up.  He clung to us, this time aiming for Eli with his misaligned attempts at hugs and kisses.  He got a little ruder, and we were in hysterics.  Finally we ditched him in front of our hotel.  We fell asleep laughing and laughing (with no water), but woke up feeling a little dirty.   We both jumped into the shower pretty quickly, but the laughing erupted again when we reviewed our pictures and recordings.  That was a crazy night

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Eli Gets Some Too

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Street Food in Leon

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Street Food Leon 2

Leon is a great and friendly place.  We always felt safe and people are very helpful.  Check it out sometime.

The drive from Leon to Granada went pretty well.  Once again we didn't actually hit the road until after 1 o'clock and once again it took a little while to get our bearings and find our way out of town.  Eventually we were on the road, however, and making good time. 
 
The ride to Granada took us past volcano after volcano with plenty of cows thrown into the mix.  Driving in Central America is a constant game of passing.  You end up behind a huge truck and start swinging out to sneak a peek at what's coming the other direction.  If there seems to be enough room to pass, you gun it and are behind the next big truck.  Every once in a while you get some open road and can cruise before you come up on the next big truck.  Sometimes the line-ups get to be long and you have to pass one truck at a time.  Sometime you gun it to pass only to get jammed by the guy behind you who is trying to pass you first.  I'm a rather cautious passer, even if I do it all day long.  I've seen other drivers take stupid risks and almost run the oncoming traffic off the road.

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Pizza in Granada

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Volcano on the Way to Managua

The drive to Granada took us through Managua.  We got a little mixed up and had to ask for directions.  The guys at the gas station thought at first I asked how to get to Canada instead of Granada and almost sent us back home, but at the last minute they figured out what I was asking.  The city Granada is pronounced with all soft 'A's and almost as if it was one syllable.  Try it. Gra-na-da.  Now slur it all together.  Yea, that right!
 
Well in Managua we stopped off and bough a couple things to make sandwiches, a couple V8 juices and I grabbed a yogurt.  Ummm, I really like yogurt.
 
Soon after we got back on the road, we got flagged over at another police check-point.  Papers, license...ooops....there is Eli trying to slowly slip his seatbelt on....and so the bartering began.  Again they would have to keep my license and I'd have to get it back tomorrow when I paid some fine at some office.  Again I asked to pay it now.  Thirty bucks later, slipped discreetly into an envelope, and a scolding, and we were on the road.  From now on we will go over a checklist when we see the checkpoints.  Eli was embarrassed about the second seatbelt offense, and I told him the penalty was going to be this website reporting it to you.  I made him do a recording too! 

Pulled Over in Managua (Seatbelt 2)

Now we have arrived in Granada, and life is good.  We took a while trying to find a couple places in particular and finally gave up and took the first place we found which happens to be quite nice.
 
Our first walk around town brought us past huge colonial churches, brightly colored buildings and bustling outdoor markets.  Lots of friendly folks everywhere, all sorts of people on bicycles, horse carts, shoe shiners.  We wandered through one enclosed plaza looking for a cafe and ended up wandering through a little slot machine casino with the usual ghostly arm pulling zombies staring blankly into the bandit's faces.  Eli and I dropped a little pocket change and I won a jackpot, turning one cordoba into 87 cordobas- a few beers for sure!  So the next stop was a relaxing outdoor cafe where we had a couple Victorias and watched the town do its thing.
 

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Granada Church

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And Another

At Cafe Nuit Granada

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Streets of Granada

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Market in Granada

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Our Hotel in Granada

Isle Ometepe.  We have arrived on the island of Ometepe, in the center of Nicaragua. This place is right out of a dream, and our dreams last night were absolutely crazy. Anyway I don┤t have a lot of time to update you at this moment, but I wanted to give you a heads up. We are staying for the next couple nights on the side of a volcano in a working coffee plantation. The fact that they have internet here is mind-blowing. (Very slow, but for an old barn many kilometers off the beaten path, it is pretty amazing) Tomorrow we are going to try to hike this volcano, which, judging from the group we saw that had just descended this afternoon, should be a real workout. These kids were athletes and they were covered to their waists in mud. The advice they gave us....'don┤t do it'.  I┤m out of time already and I have so much to say. I┤ll be sure to update in full detail in the next day or two...gotta go!

Jan 20(?), 2008

Let me catch you up to speed, while I have a moment. First things first: Granada. After walking around Granada for the day, we went out for a pizza dinner with a couple bottles of wine. Next we set out to find a bar called Cafe Nuit, which advertised live music every night. When we found it, it was packed with locals and gringos alike and the singer was amazing. He was Nicaraguan, but could have been straight out of the Buena Vista Social Club. An older fellow with a confident and booming but sweet voice, he had the whole place hollering and dancing.  Every once in a while he would lean over from the stage a give a girl a long juicy kiss. He was loving life because we were loving him. Eli and I had a couple more glasses of wine and chatted with a couple women who had been volunteering as teachers in a remote and very poor town in the north. They had a year more to go. Somewhere I have their blog addresses written down, and I'll add them, as promised, when I find that slip of paper. After a wine glass was broken (by us) that we were asked to pay for, we decided to call it a night and we headed back to our hotel. The power went out shortly thereafter, but we got a good night's sleep. Then next morning the power was still out, and we packed up and set out to figure out how to get to this island of Ometepe. We had heard that there were boats from Granada to here, but at the docks we discovered that they didn't take cars. With this news we thought it best to drive south along this giant lake to the town of San Jorge (pronounced San Hor-Hay), and while it took us a few wrong turns and some back road/horse-cart tracks, we finally found the highway and we in San Jorge in no time. In San Jorge we got the full low down on the lancha schedule, how much the car would cost to bring over and decided, in light of the fact that they appeared to have secure parking at the docks, we would let Silver Al rest in San Jorge while we went over to Ometepe on our own.

On the lancha we met Lisa, who has been our traveling friend for the past couple days. Lisa is from Portland OR, and has been working as a volunteer working with street children in Leon. Her three months there had now come to an end and she was taking a little vacation before heading home.

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On the Way to Ometepe

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Puerto Gracias Ometepe

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Tesoro Del Pirates

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Eli Hiking

About 35,000 people inhabit Isla de Ometepe, and there are a number of towns snuggled around and island shaped like an 8 with two volcanoes in the circles of the 8. The first place that we choose was a couple Kilometers past the town of Charco Verde. It was called Tesoro del Pirates. Tesoro del Pirates felt pretty remote with a rough rocky dirt track winding its way down to a couple little dorm buildings and a central palapa. We immediately went swimming in the somewhat murky, but very refreshing water. There were a couple nice Italian guys who currently lived in Germany that were spending their last night there, as well as a couple Nicaraguans there. We laid out on the dock, drank beers, drank some rum, ordered up some good food that arrived moments before the power went out. On the way from our dorm I met a very friendly couple...the guywas from Guatemala and the woman was a local. The fellow, Oscar, bought me a beer even though I was trying to make it to the dinner table, so I stopped and chatted. The woman, China, was young and quite drunk and kept asking me questions, most of which I couldn't understand, but eventually I figured out that she was looking to upgrade her business from this Guatemalan guy to a gringo. When she asked if she could be my girlfriend during my Ometepe stay, I caught on. Uninterested but remaining friendly, I asked what about your friend, Oscar? She looked at him, he looked at her and he (who could speak some English) said with a dejected expression "I hope she will be my girlfriend tomorrow, and probably will if you don't take her from me."  "Don't worry," I assured him, I'm not looking for a girlfriend". It was like the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders... It is funny, when you only understand so much of what is really going on, what you can really be getting yourself into while you are just trying to be friendly. China insisted I take her phone number, which she wrote on a card, and everyone was happy and I slipped off to our dinner table, where Eli and Lisa already had meals in front of them. After I finished my meal in the dark (power went out) we all sat (Eli, Lisa, the two Italians and I) and drank bottles of rum (littlish bottles). We were joined by an old Nicaraguan man...full of wisdom...who spoke good English and told us all about the history and culture of the land. After dinner we decided to have a fire on the beach. One by one, after some good political banter, we crawled off to bed....but sleep did not come for Eli and I.   Lisa had taken some sort of sleeping pills and fell right out cold, but we tossed and turned for what felt like hours.  The night was full of energy and noises.  When Eli and I finally did fall asleep things got crazy. In my dream I was first in some sort of shower and my mouth filled up with foam. Eli was calling to me desperately, but I could not speak. Then I was in my bed...awake...?   Everything seemed right, the room, the open door, the roaring waves, the noises of the night... but I couldn't move and Eli was still calling for me.  He needed me and was warning me of something. Totally paralyzed, I lay in my bed while reddish glowing robot/insects came streaming in through the open door right at me. I tried to thrash, I tried to holler...finally I broke free and nearly fell off the bed yelping. All was silent. In Eli's dream, he was, in fact, calling to me. He was trapped in a deep pit. Insects and spiders were crawling on him and he couldn't get out. Since he was right in front of our dorm room, he was frustrated that I was not waking up (obviously he was unaware that my mouth was full of foam and I was pinned to my bed, trying to call back to him). Suddenly, Eli was awake and laying back in his bed.

The next morning, Lisa claimed that she heard nothing, but I am sure that Eli and I were screaming back and forth to one another in a panicked frenzy for a lot of the night. The energy of the pirates is strong in Tesoro del Pirates.

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Finca Magdelena

Waking up in Hammock in Maderia

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Coffee at Finca Magdelena

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Our Ometepe Amiga Lisa

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On Top of Ometepe

On Top of the Volcano

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Jungle of Volcano

Now we have moved to Finca Magdalena...a working organic coffee plantation, ripe with flowers and birds and monkeys. It is a ways off the beach, up the side of Volcano Maderas, and a great place to take the hike from. We arrived via some crystal clear pools at Ojo de Agua, where you can swim in a diverted river, swing off a rope swing and drink a beer. It was a popular spot and I felt as clean as I ever have after spending an hour there.

The ride to Finca (Farm) Magdalena was a really rough one, even in the back of a pick-up truck. We did Silver AL a big favor not bringing her along. Just when you thought the road was tough and we were near, we'd turn up a tougher road and wind our way over and around even larger rocks on an even steeper path.

This place is absolutely beautiful. A huge old white barn with dorm cots. Eli and I have been sleeping in our hammocks out on the porch, which seem more comfortable than the cots inside. With a sheet over your body, tucked in at the feet and a sarong over my head, I just dab a little bug dope on my nose and hands and I'm good.

When we first arrived, as I said, a group of mud covered kids arrived from the volcano trail and advised us not to do it. Yesterday, we did it.

The hike was awesome. It was a workout, but these kids, who claimed to be various sorts of athletes (mostly track and field) had us a little worried. I had hiking boots, Eli had sneakers and Lisa had simple slip-on shoes. Before leaving, Lisa was able to borrow a pair of sneakers that didn't quite fit (lost and found) and we hit the trail with a friendly young guide. While you are always told that you do, you don't need to have a guide for this hike necessarily, but he wanted the work and for a very cheap price, it was worth some local information and a new friend. The hike was a hike. It took me a while to find my pace which had deteriorated a bit from four weeks in the car. Once we got going, however, it only took about three hours for us and we were able to pass a handful of other groups along the way. At first it was sunny, but eventually you enter the cloud forests and it gets very damp, with little visibility. This is where the mud got really thick, slippery and deep. By the time that we made it to the rim, we were pretty much covered in mud and clay. I was bleeding from a couple spots, Eli's knee had gotten a good smash (not bleeding, just really hurting) and Lisa was having some knee pain too.

It was a slow decent into the crater, even slipperier and steeper than the trail thus far. There was some silty, muddy shallow water which we promptly crawled into and when we got out, it felt pretty cold. Soon a couple other groups arrived and we chatted for a few before heading back up and then down. On the way down we saw a bunch of cool birds and plants and a couple trees full of howler monkeys. The hike down took a long slippery while...I definitely fell on my can many times. Going slowly down for a few hours made it sink in how long the uphill hike was. Going up, I fell into my zone, which, unfortunately, does not often involve looking anywhere but at the next step in front of me. On the way down we really got to see a lot.

Back at the farm, it took a long shower to get the mud off, and I did my best to wash my mud and clay caked clothing with Irish Spring and tubs of water. They got cleaner, but the water never rinsed clean. I think my clothes are still wet. The one bummer...ah, two bummers.....of the hike were that I think I left my last intact Myanmar t-shirt up there and my sunglasses got badly scuffed in my pocket, just from the mud. I might try to get some new sunglasses, who knows...they are nice to have. I also did tell some hikers heading up today that they should be on the lookout for the shirt, but the fact of the matter is that we are moving on in an hour or two.

This morning we are all a bit sore in the legs...actually really sore...mostly from the downhill, I assume. Eli's knee is still a little sore too. I'm not sure how Lisa fared, as she hasn't appeared yet from the dorm room upstairs.

In an hour or two we have a room booked on the beach which promises us that they will 'give us the bar' for the NE Patriots game. They have direct TV and a nice comedore (place to eat). They are even going to pick us up .....shortly so I need to pack.  I'll update more later.

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Birthday horse

TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY!

Yesterday we did take over the bar...totally rocked both games...but today a bike tour is coming in and we need to move out. Football Sunday was a long afternoon of beers, rums, tequilas, some corn liquor in an unlabeled bottle that came out of the bar maid's purse, some other kind of brown shots which contained amaretto (among other things), and vegetables and meat on sticks. We were howling. The local staff all loved us. They were in awe of us. They still are. They have their football, but we showed them we can do up a football party too.

This morning, when I came down the stairs I was greeted with huge smiles. 'Buenos Dias' and 'Feliz Cumpleanos' and 'Tienes una goma?' (Do you have a hangover).

I am also covered in red spots today. Not a very photogenic birthday, but the camera is just about out of batteries anyway. The dots on my face are smaller than the dots on my hands...bug bites or a rash...pretty funny looking.

Anyway, I suddenly need to pack it up and ship it out. I think I would like to ride a horse today for my birthday. We can rent some across the way, but now we need to move, so who knows. I seem to recall that I ate ice cream last night at some point (before the skinny dipping or after...no se)...we'll call that good for the birthday sweets, even if it was well before midnight. I actually passed out between the games but Eli revived me and I came back down the stairs. All the same, we still might have very well gone to sleep before 10 o'clock. Eli said he woke up and I had my hand on his leg and was sort of cuddled up to him. I don't remember that, I'm just reporting to all of you, my good friends, the news as I hear it. Not going to hide anything from you, you're coming along for the full ride here. I do know that I need to sleep on my side to keep from snoring. Usually we do the back to back, but if I had fallen asleep the wrong direction my hand might have been on his leg. No Se!

Okay I've got to run and scope out a new spot. We gotta get this birthday show on the road. I'll keep you posted!!!

Jan 21, 2008.  I had a great birthday.  Eli and I sat on the beach for a couple hours, then we rode horses to ojo de agua.  Did I mention ojo de agua before?   It is a very relaxing place to hang out for an hour or two.  The water is the softest I can remember feeling.  Families bring big picnics, there is a rope swing…and you can ride horses there which we did on my birthday.  The horses hurt Eli and I.  I suppose that there is a proper way to ride a horse, but I felt like a rubber ball on the end of a short rubber band that was attached to a paddle that was vigorously paddling.   

      After the horse ride we picked up a bottle of rum and a deck of cards and played a number of hands of rummy and some spades. We ate at the new hotel.  The high point of the dinner was a very good tomato-vegetable soup.  After dinner we went back to the hotel of our previous night and had a beer at the bar with the bar-keep we had befriended during the patriots game and a tour group full of cyclist.

       My birthday was topped off with a ripping beach fire.  Under a full moon, we finished up our rum, sat back, and talked life.  A Nicaraguan couple happened by the fire and hung out for a few, super friendly.  They were from Managua but have lived in Chicago for the past couple years. 

 

Jan. 22, 2008.  Today we left Ometepe.  After hiking a volcano, swimming in the lake that looks and feels like the sea, staying at a working organic coffee farm, swimming at ojo de agua, getting tormented in my sleep by pirate spirits, having a birthday, watching the patriots, making friends with other travelers and Nicaraguans, burning a couple beach fires…a little roughed up, worked out, sore, sun burnt and spotted, our first true reprieve from weeks of driving comes to an end and we are back on the road.  I am thirty-four now…I made it.

 

Upon retrieving Silver Al, I immediately noticed that a small black bag had gone missing.  It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could have gotten into the car, but I feel like I remember having it when we were parking the car and deciding at that point that I would not bring it to the island.  I see no point in hypothesizing how or where it disappeared. It contained a bunch of wires and chargers and a bunch of the little stuff I used to upload the pictures and audio.  I’ll rectify the problem soon hopefully, but you might not see a new photo for a few days.

 

Nicaragua is #1!

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Leaving Ometepe

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