Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Today I saw a Broadbill mot mot, and it was awesome!

The great thing about being in your 30s is that you (well at least I feel this way) can easily slip between the beer-chugging hostel scene and a nice hotel. I woke up on my sweat stained mattress in Carti, fully intending to stay another night (and perhaps get my own island) and I thought... I'M DONE. I have spent over half of this trip in hostels, and it has been fun. The easy company, spending $20 or less a night, it's a great thing. But once in awhile I need to be around a different crowd. I read about Canopy Tower a week ago in Lonely Planet, thinking I might check it out. Just an hour from Panama City, it's one of the best birdwatching spots in the world. Jimmy Carter, Martha Stewart, Angelina Jolie have all been here. It's been mentioned in National Geographic, Traveller magazine and a bunch of others. Not fancy, but in a fabulous setting in a tower in the forest.
I took a bus from Panama City, got off at an intersection and hiked up a hill for a mile or so thought the woods and came up to the green tower. Everyone said "you WALKED up the HILL?" because they all had taken a private taxi. This was a different crowd. I admired the amazing view from the roof and took a shower. This place has a feel of a scientific station, a hotel and a lounge. All the rooms open up to a big interior balcony and there is a library of nature books and birding magazines. The third floor is a lounge where you can sit on couches, lay in a hammock, eat, drink, read. I took the 3PM tour and was joined by Dianna and Eric, a couple from Bermuda, Rachel from England, Tony, an animal rehabilitation guy and pipers plover enthusiast and Larry, former cardiologist and hummingbird enthusiast. Our guide drove us out to an abandoned road in the forest. "better wear hiking boots and long pants!". When in fact it was just an easy stroll.. for me. Everyone had binoculars and I had to borrow some. Larry had the biggest camera I'd ever seen, he was a genuine bird paparazzi. His photos could be in National Geographic.
To me, all forest sounds kind of blur into one big soundtrack of random cheeps and chirps. Insects and birds sound similar to me. Not to these people! We heard another random chirp, and Tony or Larry would say "Oh, there's a flatbill over in that tree!" and we would all point our binoculars, and our guide would point a big telescope. Sure enough, a neon colored bird would be hiding in the leaves. Something I NEVER would have seen. Everyone busily jotted down the birds they saw in their own personal log books, and I happened to have my journal with me. This is what I saw:
Broadbill mot mot
Olivaceous flatbill
bi colored antbird
brown woodcreeper
white whiskered puffbird
flycather atilla
scarlet rumped cacique
along with a literal RIVER of army ants, a river of leafcutters, termites and frogs. It was also the best smelling rainforest I'd ever been to. It was great to be around people who care so much about birds, their enthusiasm was so contageous. When I got back, I laid in the hammock and checked out "birding" magazine. Did you know that there is a world series of birding? It takes place in May, lasts 24 hours, you stand in a 17 foot circle and have to identify as many birds as you can in 24 hours. Last year it took place in New Jersey. (New Jersey??). Kirtland's warbler made the cover, and there was a whole article of what to do when a preditor comes to eat your baby chickadees. Just like Jimmy Carter, I love this place and it was a great random spur of the moment decision.
We sat down to a nice dinner of wine, salad, beef, potatoes, etc, etc. It was fabulous. After dinner we looked at Larry's photos on his computer and all clapped when he was done showing us. I have to get up at 6AM to not miss the morning feeding outside the observation deck. It was fun to be a birder for a day! Tomorrow I might finally go to Isla Grande.

My night with the Kuna indians

The San Blas islands are some of Central America's most beautiful, but they are hard and expensive to get to. I decided to do it the last minute ghetto way, by taking a 4X4 (instead of flying) from a hostel in Panama City. The San Blas are completely run by Kuna indians, it's called the comarca kuna yala. They all live in villages of thatch huts with dirt floors and sleep in hammocks. A group of us were picked up at 5AM, then drove down three hours of bumpy, washed out roads. My knees were pretty much in my chest, we were squished in the truck. After a ride down a river in a canoe, then a half hour ride out in the ocean, we arrived at the most rustic place I'd ever seen. A cluster of junky bamboo huts - very much like the hilltribe villages in Thailand only much more crowded. There was a super ghetto hostel in the village of Carti, where we stayed upstairs in a dirty, hot bamboo house. The company was fun - three guys from Brooklyn, a girl from Canada, two finnish people and an irish couple. The package included a visit to the islands - we took another hour boat ride out into the ocean to the most picturesque island I've ever seen (pictured above) - isla pellican. And true to it's name, there were pellicans dive-bombing into the water for fish.
Along with the rustic accomodation was rustic food. Fish and rice (pictured above) - it wasn't too bad. The NYC guys had been there for three days, and ate fish and rice at every meal. We spent the entire day there, snorkeling, reading under the palm trees, swimming (we fed baby sharks our leftover fish - I was too scared to go out into the deep water where the sharks were, so I didn't see them!) After a perfect day, we went back to the hostel. I love camping, and rustic stuff, but this was too ghetto even for me. the mattresses were stained, and for a pillow I had a couch pillow. We were all so grossed out by the pillows that we had to put towels on them so they wouldn't touch our faces!
After a communal dinner and a couple of beers, we decided to go to the little kuna museum on the island. I learned that Kunas are a matriachal society, and they've battled with the Panamanians quite a bit (but the US helped them during the building of the canal) but they love foreigners. They also sleep in hammocks, get married in hammocks and give birth in hammocks. Really. They have their own religion - sort of like Chrisitanity (heaven and hell) but with a lot of mystcism thrown in, and a lot of hinting toward good and bad karma. It was interesting. Sort of like the hilltribe villages in thailand but a lot more ghetto and uncomfortable to visit.
I came back to Panama City today with the Brooklyn boys, and now I'm at a nerdy, expensive and super cool bird watching obervation-station hotel place. I had to take a bus and walk a half hour up a sweaty hill through the jungle to get here. I was completely soaked in sweat and everyone was sort of surprised that I walked from the highway. There are bird books everywhere, and the whole hotel is in a tower so there are killer views! I'm going on a tour in about 10 minutes (I think it's a bird tour) and supposedly we can see monkeys and more birds at dinner. It's so scientific and nerdy, my dad would love this place. well, I'm off to be a bird nerd... also check out the sloth pic I uploaded!

Monday, December 01, 2008

This is gonna be a short one...I'm in another panama city hostel and it's been a loooong day!
I think I've been a pretty good sport about all of this rain. I learned that this is the worst rain period Panama has had in over 30 years. Raining ALL over the country. I really was starting to like Boquete, but I was getting tired of being the gringa wandering around town in the orange plastic emergency poncho. After 2 amazing nights at the panamonte hotel (the place that cut me the great deal), I moved to a normal hostel on the river so that I could see some friendly non retiree faces and save some money. In the lobby, I looked a little glum and desperate so one of the owners (A nice guy from Gary, Indiana..the accent reminded me of home!) told me of a place that would cheer me up, an animal rescue center run by some British retirees on the outskirts of town. I hiked up a hill and out into the misty woods, and 30 minutes later found Paradise Gardens, where they rehabilitate neglected exotic animals in a beautiful setting. You can pet some of the animals, and learn their stories. Like the two scarlet maccaws that were confiscated from some drug dealers. And the two toucans, Bonnie and Clyde, who were found injured at the side of the road. And a wierd cat-otter mix that Ive never seen before. They even had a baby sloth, wrapped up in a blanket, that they would take out for you to pet. Im not the biggest animal lover you've ever met, but even I was amazed by this place and it completely cheered me up. Bonnie and Clyde, the toucans, were amazing. I asked if they ate fruit loops.. haha. Paradise Gardens gave the animals such nice areas to roam around in, way better than the spooky zoo in El Valle!
Today I flew to Panama City (it was cheap and I was lazy) to arrange a trip to the san blas. I'm going tomorrow at 5am, Im super excited!! look it up on the internet. I'm going to stay in a rustic cabin. rock on! I won't be able to blog for a few days because I'll be kickin it with the Kuna indians!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

whitewater mania!

I left the Lost and Found lodge in hopes of getting to Boquete for the western union transfer. Originally I was going to go to Panama City, but the fondue-making Dutch flight attendants at the L&F told me that Boquete was fine, it had opened up again to tourists. I really wanted to see it anyway, so I decided to go. It´s so easy to travel here, I´ve never waited more than 10 minutes for a bus. Andrew from the lodge dropped me off in David, then I got on a yellow schoolbus for $1.45. 45 minutes later, we arrived in Boquete. A pretty little town up in the mountains with a river and pine trees, it reminds me a lot of a colorado town. The western union office was easy to find, and the transfer went though so I treated myself to a nice hotel on the edge of town. They cut me a great deal because the town was basically closed a week ago due to the massive floods. One block from my hotel is a big washed out bridge. Tourists are a stil a little sparse. Unforntately I´m still not going to be able to go to Bocas Del Toro, the devastation there was just too bad. I REALLY had wanted to go to Bocas del Toro. Oh well, sometimes you can´t tell mother nature what to do.
The restaurants in this town are either uber-panamanian cafeteria type places, or tourist places with english menus. There are a few nice places, but I still miss the Libertad restaurant in El Valle. A place with a menu in spanish, but with ambiance. The town itself is cute, though. I´m not complaining. I arranged for a full day whitewater rafting trip for today, then had dinner at a bistro place, then an atlas at a jazz place.
The guide, Tini, picked me up bright and early. ¨Tini¨is supposed to be like the nickname ¨Tiny¨. But unlike an ironic mobster name, he actually was sort of tiny. Also in my boat was a Californian family: Herb, Wanda and their son Sam. They were great, very adventurous and well travelled family. We were joined by a kayaker (who picks up paddles and helps with rescues in case something happened to Tiny) and we drove about an hour and a half up to the Costa Rican border to the Chiriqui river. This is the same river that flooded last week, so the water was VERY high. While we were unloading into the river, we saw toucans (my first) and some monkeys. I was really excited about the Toucans. Growing up in Battle Creek, I always pictured Toucans with big smiles like a bowl of Fruit loops. Ive been rafting a good 7 times before (class 5 in West Virginia and a very cold class 2-3 with my dad in Colorado), and never once fallen out of the boat, so rafting does not really scare me, although my chiropractor 5 years ago made me promise that I´d never do it again.. oh well. a good minute after put in, we already had a class 4 rapid. I know what a class 4 rapid feels like, that was a class 5 rapid. We had class 5 rapids for the first hour of the trip, one after another. I sat in front and was actually scared, which was fun (hey, I´m getting my money´s worth!). When you sit in front, you drop into rapids and just see a wall of water coming at you. Everyone was soaked the whole time. I was screaming, but it was really fun. Each rapid is named for something, usually for who falls in it or who´s boat tips in. For example, we approached one and Tiny said ¨Thees rapeed es called Mexian family!¨ meaning that a mexican family fell in not long ago.
About 45 minutes into the trip, when we were going over a class 3 rapid (which is actually class 4), I was tossed out of the boat. I don´t actually remember falling out, I just remember all of the sudden being UNDER the raft, looking up through the muddy water and seeing yellow, and thinking, holy crap, I actually fell out of the boat and Oh, I hope there are no rocks! When that happens, you are supposed to claw your way over to the side of the boat, and have someone pull you up. Which I did. We were moving so fast, it was actually pretty terrifying. Herb pulled me up, and we were still going over some rapids. I was all disoriented for a minute, I couldn´t tell which end of the boat was in the front.. then after a few minutes I stopped shaking and was all fine. SO much fun! Tiny said now we can call that one ¨Chicago rapid¨. haha. It was truly the most exciting and rough rafting trip I´d ever taken, which to me is a good thing. And the hot shower and hot coffee I had after getting back to my hotel was life-changing!

Arriving back in Boquete, it started raining again and I had to go to the Lavanderia to wash my clothes. It was a busy laundry day and the lavanderia wouldn´t take me, and the women were really bossy and kinda mean, so I had to find the OTHER lavandaria, on the edge of town. I kept asking people where it was and not understanding the answers. I almost gave up and took my laundry back to my hotel, which I know would have been expensive. One guy took me to the river and pointed at it, and said that I could wash my clothes there. A half hour of walking in the rain later, I found the other lavanderia that was run by the world´s nicest woman. I talked to her for awhile, then another guy who was washing his clothes. Finding the second lavanderia just made my day. That´s what´s fun to me about travel. Sometimes you try so hard to do the simplest thing like find a laundromat. Then, when you do, it´s just so satisfying. You feel like such a winner.
During the clothes-washing I stopped at a cute mexican reastaurant for a taco and a beer. On the window near me I was horrified to see the biggest wasp I´d ever seen. I backed away from the table and got the waitress and asked if the insecta was a vespa. They killed it for me. I tried to tell them that it was the largest wasp I´d ever seen in my life, then I realized later that I kept telling them that there was a ¨wasp in my life¨, haha. Which sounds kind of metaphoric, doesn´t it?

Tomorrow I think I´m going to go to David in hopes of catching a bus or plane back to Panama City. The weather forecast for the whole country is BAD. I seriously might fly to Costa Rica and just go to my old town of Montezuma for the beach, where the weather forecast is good. I don´t know. I might not be too tan when I get home but I´m definitely having lots of fun adventures here in Panama.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Smokeskis/How dare it rain in the rainforest!

In 1988, while I was busy making my hair big and listening to Guns n Roses, the U.S. imposed sanctions against Panama for Noriega's shenannegans. Little did I know that just 20 years later, Panama would impose sanctions against me personally.
I left El Valle on a rainy morning, and took the bus with some uniformed schoolkids through the woods to the Panamerican Highway, where I caught a bus to what I thought was David, but actually went 2 hours in the other direction to Panama City. I was tipped off by the huge skyline... When I said "necissito voy a David" the person told me that there was no direct bus there, but I had missed that little detail. I got on a giant megabus to David with two stories, and had a great seat in front in the top row. 3 peacefull, blissful hours went by until we stopped at a truck stop for a meal (I had some sketchy pasta), and to pick up more passengers at the halfway point.

I could hear them before I saw them, two older, overeager americans in their 60s. The woman plopped down next to me and her husband sat across the aisle. I smelled something foul and rotten, and thought maybe it was the bus, but it was them. The smell of stale cigarette smoke, smoke that was coming out of their pores after a good 45 year smoking habit. When the woman asked if she could sit there, her teeth were brown and grey. Everything about them was grey. They were nice enough, and you can't exactly tell someone to move because they smell so bad, so I tried to stare out the window and angle the fan at them, to blow away the smell. Every time they chuckled at the stupid movie, I had to breathe through my mouth. I tried to chew some really strong gum and thought about offering them some. I was angry. Why was I the one chewing gum? Why are some people so naieve - clueless that they STINK??!!!
heh.. hegh hegh.. achachack ack. hech hech.. that's the sound of the smokers cough I heard all the way to David.

When we disembarked, I was happy to be rid of them, and laughed that they had both lit up a cigarette before we could even get our bags out of the lower compartment. When one of them dies, is the other one going to stop smoking, I wondered? I took a taxi to a hostel I read about, and had booked a private room. When I arrived, who pulls up at the same time. Mr and Mrs Smoky!

I just resigned myself to the fact that I would have to see them again and again... and went to buy some groceries for dinner. David is a pretty crappy city so there was really no place to hang out at night besides the hostel. So I grabbed an atlas and sat out on the porch with the Smokeskis, the funny hostel owner Greg, his cute Lenny Kravitz lookalike employee Benny, and a random French Canadian. Greg and Benny took turns playing the guitar, The smokeskis smoked, and we all talked about travelling. Greg used to live in chinatown, NYC and we talked about my favorite dumpling shop. I learned one of life's great mysteries - how they make soup dumplings! (they freeze the soup first, then put in the dumplings and steam). The smokeskis were on a long, extended trip through central america, which I thought was cool for people their age. I asked them if they met over a love of cigarettes, and they looked at me funny and said they met because the Mrs was Mr's dispatcher at an old job. We discussed smoking laws, their love of smoking and how they differ in Central America vs North America (CA is cracking down, which is nice!) The Smokeskis even buy special cigarettes by the carton from the Native Americans back home, because they are cheap. I even suspect they moved from Oregon to Nevada for the more liberal smoking laws. Greg and Benny took me across the street to the uber authentic ceviche restaurant, which served three dishes: ceviche, fried fish and some other kind of fish. I had some ceviche and Greg and Benny laughed with the regulars (all older men) and told dirty jokes. It was the type of place that I would have been really intimidated to go on my own, but in their company it was OK. I went back to the hostel, bid the Smokeskis goodnight, and went to sleep to dogs barking.

The next morning (my designated "banking" day) I went into David to try every cash machine in town (still did not work!) and try to cash my traveller's checks (no bank in town took them). This is the first country I've ever been to where neither worked - sometimes my ATM gives me trouble but I can always get cash from my Am Ex checks. This is just one of those things you have to deal with when travelling - every country has a quirk, but it was still frustrating, and I was beginning to feel like Panama did not want me to take out any money! I called Am Ex in a panic, and they agreed to western union me the money. Whew! The only western Union place in David was offline (of course) so I just went to the lost and found hostel way out in the jungle as planned.
Andrew, the owner, picked me up and brought me wayyy out into the jungle, where we had to hike up a steep muddy hill. A huge "backpackers resort" was up there, with a huge uptdoor sitting area, a kitchen (you have to make your own dinner), some cabins and a dorm. I had the dorm with Steve the kiwi and Andrew the Aussie. Really, really nice guys. It rained the entire time, but I was happy for the peace, the hammock, the sounds of the tropical birds, the kinkajous that came to eat bananas (they are so cute, look them up!), the hummingbirds, the sound of rain falling on the roof at night. I made some spaghetti with red peppers and chicken. Three dutch people were also at the lodge - three flight attendants, two guys and a girl. They were really funny, kind of demanding and a little flamboyant. I was amazed, though, when they whipped up an impressive dinner of fondue in about 15 minutes flat. They brought in their own cheese and bread. It was amazing! They didn't share (boo!) but I took a photo. I didn't get to do the night hike due to the rain, but I went to bed early and slept better than I have the whole trip.

More coming tomorrow, and I'm sorry but the internet cafe doesn't read my camera memory card.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

El Valle - I´ve got some decisions to make

I woke up in Santa Clara and had breakfast with the crazy family, then hopped on a few salsa busses to El Valle. El Valle is a volcano crater, a small, sleepy little misty town up in the mountains. Supposedly it´s what Boquete was like 10, 20 years ago. The bus stopped to drop me off, and I said oh, I need to go to the CENTER of town, thinking we were on the edge. They said, this is the center of town.. haha. It´s small. It´s absolutely beautiful and I just walked around town, had lunch at a place that had a bowl of Halls cough drops instead of candy, saw the hot springs, went to a bizarre little zoo and laid in a hammock on the roof. There are only faint sounds of roosters, faded salsa music, and a few cars. That´s it.
This town doesn´t even have a coffee shop but it has a zoo out on the edge of town. I went there around sunset, when it was dark and misty. They had a crocodile, tropical birds, an ostrich, a few raccoons, pigeons and turtles. I was the ONLY person at the zoo (which was in the woods) so it was really spooky.
For dinner I had about three choices, since the town gets really dark at sunset and I don´t have a car. I could go to the lunch place, where all the gringos were sitting, or I could go to the Panamanian place near my hotel. I decided to go to the cute little Panamanian place, and what a good decision that was. I asked the waitress, an abuela type, what the especiale was, and she brought me this chicken stew with fried plantians which was fantastic, smoky, just delicious. I could rhapsodise about it forever. And it was only $3.50! For dinner. With this whole ATM card not working thing, I´m really trying to see how much money I can save. Today my lunch of chicken neck soup with bizarre squashes in it and rice was $2, then I treated myself to a 25 cent banana cupcake with merange on top. I didn´t eat the neck, but I didn´t even know what was in the soup until it came to my table. I just went to the place next to the laundromat because it looked cheap and local. And that was the only thing on the menu.
My room comes with a TV so last night I watched the news. Uh oh. I knew there was some flooding in Boquete and Bocas del toro, where I´ve been planning to go (pretty much my whole reason for coming here) and it´s BAD. Roads washed away, thousands lost their homes and businesses. Other travellers are getting e-mails saying their reservations have been cancelled. This situation is all too familiar, since I was in Thailand during the tsunami.. That´s how I discovered Laos, which was great. I´m going to David tomorrow, then to the lost and found hostel, check it out Cool, isn´t it? One very smart thing I did was bring my cellphone, which actually works here. I called them and they are open and will pick me up from David and the guy said we can talk about beaches when I get there. Luckily I have two weeks, so I still have some time. Though not much. These are my choices:
1. Go to the San Blas. I researched this a ton before I came here. Pros: nice beaches. Cons: the cheaper places have toilets that empty into the ocean, it´s sorta expensive (have to fly there), two people have told me they were bored there after 2 days. I´ve been calling and some of the places are booked up. And I can´t afford $150 a night or anything like that.
2. Go to Costa Rica. Pros: possible nice beaches in the Corcovado-Osa penninsula area. Plus I love taking busses. Really, I do. Cons: I have no guidebook, I have already been to Costa Rica, I wanted to go to PANAMA. Costa Rican food is also kind of..meh.
3. Find another beach in Panama. But it can´t be deserted, I am travelling solo and for safetý´s sake I need other gringos around. When I get to David, I´m going to poll people at the hostel.
David itself isn´t supposed to be anything to write home about, but I can go to a real bank to cash my travellers checks and go to that cool eco lodge from there.
Maybe I won´t even see many beaches. I really came here to see Panama. And that´s what Í´ve been doing. I didnt´want this trip to be stressful (see Asia 04-05), so I´m going to try not to stress. The whole ATM not working thing isn´t helping.. but I´ll get through it! At least I´m not home in the cold. Panama or Costa Rica? What a problem to have. boo hoo poor me, right? I mean, I hiked to some beautiful waterfalls this morning. Life is good in El Valle (when it´s not pouring rain like it is now..). I totally dig this little town.
Coworkers, if you are reading, comment and sign your name. Guess where I´m going for dinner tonight? Yeah that´s right, the chicken stew place!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Santa Clara: Beaten senseless by Salsa music

I woke up bright and early in Casco Viejo to rain tapping on the roof. I had originally planned to explore Casco Viejo today, but since I saw most of it the night before, I got itchy to move on to a beach. In the lobby I mulled over my options and worried about some logistics when Eli gave me a fist bump and said ¨be a traveller!¨. I caught a taxi driven by a woman. She was as nice as could be, and at one point asked me how old I was. Well actually I turned 38 yesterday. Turns out that is her exact birthday as well, year and all! I thought that was an auspicious and promising sign to my day. I went to the main bus terminal which was attached to a shopping mall. I tried 4 different ATM machines with no success, then saw that the internet was closed as well. The ATM problem worries me, but this happened in Brazil as well. I have got to get a damn debit card and not rely on my normal ATM. Have I not learned my lesson before? I have travellers checks and my credit card and enough to get me through a week of normal spending. I may have to charge all of my hotels and hostels, and pay myself back later to get though two weeks. I will make it happen regardless. Mai pen rai. whatever.
I sat in the bus terminal to eat my Mc Donalds desayuno deluxe, and noticed that everyone´s favorite place at the bus terminal is a chicken chain called ¨pio pio¨, with a baby chick as the logo. They must have named it that because baby chicks sort of make that noise, don´t they? pio! pio pio! haha.. love it.
Once again I found myself to be the only gringo on the bus. It was nice and airconditioned, and we listened to salsa. Think about how loud you might listen to music in a car, then turn it up about 5 notches. That´s how loud music is on the busses. I do like salsa though, so I enjoyed the ride though lush scenery, and in two hours I was in Santa Clara.
I got off and walked the 2KM to the beach, to my planned hotel, cabañas veraneras. Sweat poured out of my face and my backpack is a little heavy. Though I´ve noticed the whole marathon thing this year has made the backpack easier to carry and walk around with. I´ve always been able to manage it, but I can tell a difference from last year. Which is nice. After walking down the road in 95 degree temperatures, I checked into a cute treehouse looking room overlooking a restarant at the beach. The beach was lovely, and I was the only gringo there that I could see. Hundreds and thousands of Panamanians were hanging at the beach and had pointed their car sound systems at the water, fighting with the speakers coming out of every restaurant on the small stretch of beach. The day started fairly quietly, but by 4PM the salsa was deafening. Even I was annoyed and couldn´t hide from the music. I read my Barack Obama book on the beach (dreams of my father - which is very good) and tried to not let the rhythm get me, but as Gloria Estefan warns us, the rhythm is gonna get you. The eight count beat and swelling horn sections and backup singers held me hostage until about 6PM, when miraculously everyone went packed up and home. EVERYONE, and the beach was beautiful and peaceful, where I enjoyed the sunset (above).
I had a fabulous dinner of cevice and an Atlas beer (which I have decided is my favorite), and listened to salsa music at a softer volume, which is still louder than what you might consider normal in a restaurant. Between the bus and the day at the beach, I had listened to salsa for over 12 hours straight. What I´ve concluded is where other Central American places such as Guatemala and Costa Rica play salsa SOME of the time, Panama must play salsa ALL of the time. And that´s OK. I could not, for example go to a place that played heavy metal ALL of the time, country or emo rock ALL of the time. So whatever those countries are, I need to find them and probably avoid them. The salsa though, it´s OK. Though we are only on day 3.
Suddenly the salsa was interrupted by the unmistakable sounds of KC and the sunshine band. It was enough to cause me to put my book down and look around in shock. I knew there was another table of loud american tourists, and now they were drunkenly dancing. A pot bellied man in his early 70s, his young panamanian girlfriend, and the man´s daughter. I introduced myself to them (when you are the only people in a restaurant and someone causes a scene, that´s what you do I suppose) and they invited me over to their table. ¨Hey, Chicago - GIT OVER HERE!!!¨The daughter (in her 40s) was visiting her dad (who had retired in Panama) and brought along her young boyfriend, 30 at most. They were quite a family. Loud and brash, and kinda trashy and a lot of fun. The staff of the restaurant played the KC and the sunshine CD that they had brought in to be played. Which mortified me on some level, but was hillarious at the same time. The daughter and boyfriend were into NASCAR and the father proudly told me he wasn´t divorced yet to his former wife. His Panamanian girlfriend was very sweet and friendly. We sat for a few hours and for once it was nice to not be the most obnoxious person at the table for once. I got birthday drinks again. (why not?) The father was giving me deja vu for some reason, I couldn´t figure it out... did I know him? How could I know him? Then I realized it was becuase he sounded EXACTLY like Dr Phil. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and Dr Phil said ¨YOU GOTTA GO NUMBER ONE OR NUMBER TWO?¨ haha.. I told them number one, but everyone who knows me knows that poop stories are the way to my heart, and when I come back, I´ve got a good one for you. Boyfriend pointed to the daugher and yelled after me ¨She LOVES POOP STORIES!!¨
I returned to the table and told them my famous story about the comcast guy and what he did to my bathroom, which pleased them. They were confused about how I got there, how I found this place and I explained the whole backpacking thing to them, and how we all read the same guidebook, stay in the same places, blah blah.. They admired it and kind of shook their heads, but Dr Phil lectured me about safety, which I thought was nice in a fatherly way. I went to bed at around 11 and slept well to the sound of the Pacific ocean.
Some random observations about panama, other than the mandatory salsa at all times law:
*people here drive new, clean cars. Waaay newer and cleaner than the other CA countries. And they favor Toyota over all others
*Ocean Pacific is alive and well. I saw an Op billboard and people wearing new Op clothing.
*I always, always see foreign lookalikes to people I know from home. At Santa Clara beach was the Panamanian Dan Hansen and a Panamanian Logan Rosenthal! AKAP, you´ll have to tell him!
above: my lunch of chimichurri steak and the sunset at Santa Clara

Panama City: Langosta, not Langostina!

My grand plan for Panama City was to stay in two contrasting neighborhoods, the more historical one coming in, and the flashy bank district with all its glitz and glamour on the way home. Lonely Planet had talked up the Casco Viejo neighborhood as ¨less seedy than 5 years ago¨ and one of Panama City´s most up and coming hip and trendy places. Where you might see abandoned buildings, then you would find youself in a hip, candle lit retaurant.
After a quick and painless trip down to Panama and no stay this time in a crappy Dallas holiday inn, the humidity was completely overwhelming. I am not complaining.... But wow was it hot, even at 9PM. I used a trick I had read about to get a cheaper taxi into town, (it´s a good one! Go to the arrivals area and get a taxi dropping someone off. They are more willing to cut you a deal than the guys getting all the people coming off the plane into the country for the first time. I paid $10 less than the book said it would cost!) This is what I was thinking as we drove through Panama City:
wow, this is nice! beautiful high rises, what a skyline... Love that salsa music in the taxi. da..dadada...da. da! Ba ba baba!! Hey.. I´m in PANAMA now! kickass! oooh, fancy hotels and casinos... Ok where are we going now?
CLICK!!! my driver locks the doors
holy crap are those prostitutes? What the? Oh man... wow. Bad slum. very bad slum. Damn you Lonely Planet! I might have my driver turn this car around and take me back to the Sheraton I saw a ways back...Is he taking me here to kill me or is this how Casco Viejo is going to be?
He called my hotel for directions, (not his murder accomplice as I was thinking) then we finally found the Hospedaje Casco Viejo. The neighborhood was better than before, we were just separated from Panama City by a horrific slum. Still, I was pretty shellshocked when I walked in but relieved to see some backpackers in the lobby. Before I even checked into my room (which was huge, had a balcony and a great fan), they asked me if I wanted to go out for a beer. Um, YES.
I joined Miranda (teacher from N Cali) Eli (cute little culinary student from Savannah) and an older dude, I forgot his name, but he was close friends with Abby Hoffman in the 60s and went to the Chicago 7 trial. He wrote a book about the 60s as well and I have to look for it. Miranda had also been in Thailand during the tsunami, and had been to Antigua over Christmas. So the three of us had lots to talk about. Everyone had some travel stories, and What´s his name had good stories about Chicago in 1971 during the Chicago 7 trial. I couldn´t have asked for a better crew for my first night in Panama. A free spirit, a culinary student and a genuine, authentic hippie.
Casco Viejo was charming at night, though a little sketch and I was relived to have company. Miranda and I had just arrived, and Eli had been here for a few nights. He took us to a jazz bar, then to a cool outdoor restaurant with some live music. I accidentally ordered prawn soup instead of lobster, but it was still fanstastic. It had a huge, whole prawn floating in the top. I love it when I get to make eye contact with my food. I suddenly remembered again that it was my birthday and they all gave me hugs and bought me a beer.

We wandered around a little bit more, and heard a live band coming from a stone wall. It was this place I had read about, La Casona. Kind of a run down, though atmospheric public space that sometimes has performances, music jams, theme nights, etc. Literally just an ancient stone wall with a roof overhead, with lots of candles. It looked like a place we might have an underground dinner party in Chicago. The only other gringo in there, a girl from New york who made it clear that she was ¨with the band¨, so nicely gave us a few beers from a plastic bag. The band consisted of three boozed up college kids, and they took turns pretending to be Axl rose. We heard ¨don´t cry¨, and ¨knock knock knockin on heaven´s door! .. ay...AY AYAYAY!!!!¨ Along with some of their own Panamanian ballads that everyone but us knew. Miranda and I were laughing at one of their friends, a kid who wasn´t in the band but stood ALMOST on the stage and sang along to every song. He had a very impressive beer belly - he looked pregnant. And the tight white soccer shirt wasn´t helping his look. We thought about funny songs we've heard that we could request ¨hey, do you know gasolina? Do you know papichula?¨
We capped off the night on the roof of the hostel with a couple more balboas (one of panama´s beers) and I finally went to bed around 230A.

Friday, September 05, 2008

In November..

I'm going somewhere on my birthday for two weeks. Here are two hints!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Guatemala/Nicaragua photos are on Flickr now

Comments welcome!

Oh, and check out the Casa Iguana's website! This was on Little Corn island, Nicaragua. What a great place this was. So hard to get to, so worth it:

Here's a couple of youtube videos I never got around to putting on here.

taxi ride in San Pedro (the driver was an 11 year old boy)

and a view from the main square in Antigua, where all the locals hang out.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Can I stay?

I don´t know what´s wrong with me. I was all set to go see a band at cafe no se (cafe "I don´t know", don´t you love the name?) last night, and at a time I´m too embarrased to say, I laid down and got too comfortable. It´s easy to do, with my new room. It has, what, 15, 20 ft ceilings? It used to be a 15th century convent and a monastary and has high wood beam ceilings and tile floors. It´s right on the big famous yellow arch that I love so much. I stayed in a room with a straw floor a few weeks ago, so I notice things like flooring now. I watched TV for the first time in a while, to ease myself back into civilization. Tonight, I swear, I´m going out. Even though I have an 8AM flight tomorrow.
Apparently I´m also making the transition from backpacker Sara back to my regular Chicago self. I chose this hotel because of the amazing history and ambiance. I may like to slum it, but I also like to splurge once in awhile. So yesterday they tried to put me in one of the modern rooms, hidden in back, NEXT to the hotel, in some sort of b.s. annex. Way back in the bushes. Said nothing else was available. I was like, the only reason I made a reservation here was to stay in one of the monastary rooms, like you showed me, and if you don´t have one I can just move to another hotel. For my last two nights, you sure you don´t have anything?? But I was as polite as possible about it. I got switched back. I felt like a bit of a brat, but I deserve only the finest for my last two nights!! Single people will not get the shaft! And you know what, I love my room. All $75 per night of it, which is actually sort of a bargain. The breakfast is not as good as the BK numero tres, but oh well... I got my dream room and that´s all that matters. Ech, sometimes I hate this side of myself but I would have been really sad and angry with myself for settling.
Today my plan was to go white water rafting. But I guess it´s not the season for that. So I went to the coffee museum, which was actually pretty interesting. I missed the english tour by about 15 minutes, and felt a little pouty when my only choice was the spanish tour. I told the guide that I didn´t speak spanish very well and he agreed to not talk too fast. And hey, guess what - I understood about 60, 70% of what he was saying! Well, I was helped by the super obvious visual aids in the museum but I understood much more that I thought I would. And even asked two questions. And when I saw the big, LOUD annoying Americans in the gift shop, I was secretly glad that I was part of the cooler, spanish group. Even if I was kind of a poser.
I hate this part of every trip, I get really sad to leave. Africa and Asia were a little tiring, so I had home to look forward to, to rest at least. But as you can see here, I did a lot of sleeping and hammock-laying. And have no jet lag to face, not even one hour. So really, the only thing I´m looking forward to is seeing my friends and coworkers again, and to see if my landlord really did knock out and re-do my shower like he promised. Regular Sara hopes he did, but backpacker Sara is more like, eh, at least I have a shower.. and you´ll be lucky if I even use it. Bottom line is that this was a VERY enjoyable trip, and I want to continue my spanish in Chicago, I´m going to look into spanish circle or latin school again. I don´t want the momentum to go to waste. And for goddsake, get this girl some salsa lessons.
For a little closure, here are my Bests of:
  • Breakfast - the BK numero tres!!
  • Dinner - the kingfish at Casa Iguana, tied with the Enchiladas verdes at Frida´s in Antigua.
  • Beer - Toña, Nicaragua
  • Beer label - Gallo, Guatemala
  • live music - Riki´s, Antigua, Cafe Nuit, Granada
  • cheapest room - EVER - the psychedelic hotel San Francisco, San Pedro, $3.50
  • Favorite room - Casa Iguana, casita number 4
  • Boat ride - Big corn island to little corn island. Like a $4 white water rafting trip
  • Bagged snack - those freeze dried taco things, Guatemala

Important things learned in Guatemala and Nicaragua:

  • It´s easier to travel around here than Europe.
  • Reggaeton is everywhere
  • I sorta like reggaeton!
  • What Central American guys lack in height, they more than make up in dancing skills
  • People in Guatemala speak slower than Nicas, Guatemala is the perfect place to learn spanish
  • Refried beans are damn good for breakfast
  • Bedbugs here aren´t messing around
  • If your feet are dirty, you are probably having a good time.
  • Hygeine is overrated
  • Other travellers in Central America are super friendly
  • Chickens come in all sorts of cute logos here (Gallo, pollo estrella)
  • Nicaraguan hot dogs are nothing to be feared
  • I could retire or work in Antigua one day, It feels very homey
  • People who admit to going to 300 plus Widespread panic shows are usually pretty strange
  • Wearing one sweater for 3 weeks is perfectly acceptable
  • It´s surprisingly easy to get used to seeing men with rifles
  • It´s not easy to get used to seeing children working and class differences here
  • Latin culture brings a little warmth and color into my life

El fin

and thanks for reading! If you were reading and not commenting, let me know..

above: the arco, a coffee plant, our coffee tour guide, some textiles made by children in the main square - about the tumultuous times in the 80s - (if you can read it, it´s sad about pregnant women hit by bullets in 1982 and 1985), another chicken bus, the room next to mine (my headboard isn´t that good, but I did have towel swans!)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Nicaragua...making the CTA look good

So I have the pleasure of riding the brown line every day in Chicago. We used to have this idiotic public campaign called "don't be Jack!" to enforce good manners on public transportation. Jack was stick figure who committed such faux pas such as not moving to the back and eating his snack. We stared at the signs on the way to work. Don't be Jack! Don't spill your snack! haha. Yeah, pretty stupid. But really, the folks in Nicaragua could use a dose of Jack. I really hope this was an isolated incident. I was riding the microbus this morning from Granada to the airport. Amour FM was playing, all was good, yet crowded. Then a guy got on, carrying a 4 year old girl, covered in hideous burns and bandages. Her face was completely covered in plastic. They were both very unconfortable. the man for carrying this big kid, and the girl for, well, being covered in burns. And get this. NOBODY GOT UP to give them a seat. So I got up and gave them my seat, being the good little CTA rider that I am. There were plenty of GUYS sitting nice and comfy nearby. Not that I expect any chivalry but you know....No, let the Gringa get up! You can't really stand on these busses without stooping, but there were no bumps and all was good. The father was grateful. We had only about 20 minutes to go. Then, towards the back, a woman got off. A seat, I thought. I'll just move back there. Well, think again Gringa. A big fat man spread out and took both seats as his own. You know those people who don't move over to the window to let someone have the aisle.. like that. A couple other gringos in the back looked at me like "yeah, we saw that too.. unbelieveable". Maybe the big, let's call him, Fat F$%^ did not see me. Oh, he did. So we get to the airport. We board flight 116. But wait, there's a little old woman, maybe 85, 90 years old in a wheelchair. Who keeps trying to get up to shuffle her way over. Does the staff of Copa airlines help her? nope! I was about to help her, but another lady got to her, thankfully. What was all that about? Please tell me it's not always that way.
Our flight was interesting. Lots of turbulence. You know it's a bad flight when people are PRAYING and holding the seat in front of them! haha. I wasn't too worried though, only for a minute there.
One more thing I forgot to tell you about Nicaragua. They shut off the water from about 11AM to 4PM. everywhere. Even in your hotel. Want to take a shower? have to wait. Want to go to the bathroom, FLUSH the toilet and wash your hands? hope you have some anti bacterial gel! Do you have horrific AB? Hope it's not between 11 and 4! I guess that's where the term "if it's yellow, let it mellow" comes into play. They used to schedule power outages in Granada too but they do water instead now. I did enjoy granada for my last night. The first time I was in Granada, I wasn't feeling well but last night I found the live salsa band at Cafe nuit. A 6 piece band, all wearing orange shirts. They were great. I was good and went to bed at a decent hour. Now that I'm back in Antigua, I might find some live music tonight too. I have good memories of being here with various people over the past couple weeks, but I have no issue in going to find music on my own as well. It's nice to be back in this town, I really enjoy it so much. On our shuttle from the airport, this dumb american guy was telling us how he caught hepatitis A, and almost died, because he was afraid to get a hepatitis shot. Then a funny honduran guy told me how HE got hepatitis from eating monkey meat. I could go into some more interesting details, but because I know Kathy reads this, I won't! They are gross!
above, my new gorgeous hotel that's a former convent, the hotbed of little corn gossip, the Sweet Oasia, interesting spelling on Little corn and by popular request (well... maybe for Kellogg... me and mini Hulk
and a bonus video, taking off in Managua on the plane. Yeah, I know it's kinda lame. sorry.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Maize hoy, maize mañana

Little corn island is a beautiful, peaceful island - filled with gossip, intrigue and scandal. OK, ok, maybe I exaggerate. Scandal - yes, they did have a problem with drug trafficking two years ago, when some of the shuttle boats were stopped and searched often. But that´s under control now. And gossip, well, I found that out for myself at the sweet Oasis snack bar.
Whenever you go to a small place like this, after a few days you see the same people over and over and over... I was only on Little corn for 4 days and I had already met over half the tourists, knew who the empanada man was, how to find the bread lady, the coconut bread kids and the town drunk. My eco-lodgey place, the Casa iguana, did not serve lunch so I often went through the woods into town (a 10 minute walk to the other side of the island) for internet and something to eat. You have about three choices. The popular cuban place, the coconut bread kids and the Sweet Oasis, which looks like some ice cream stand from the 50s. I couldn´t stomach any more spicy seafood or rice n´ beans so I dared try a hot dog at the sweet oasis, which is on the main, well, sidewalk, and offers both dramatic telenovellas on the TV and great people watching. The hot dog was not that bad. I never thought that I´d eat a nicaraguan hot dog, willingly, but it had a pleasingly artificial meat taste. A torrid love affair was coming to an end on the TV and to my left was the 20 year old (well, I found out on the plane that she´s fresh out of high school) wide-eyed fraulein straddling the town rasta. I also had the misfortune of talking to Peter, a sun-baked ex pat from Hawaii and god knows where else. We talked about how he ended up on little corn, and how I was trying to learn spanish. "come on... all the spanish you need in Chicago is - MOW MY LAWN CHICO - hahahahaha, am I right?" Peter was an ass. I have a little theory about ex pats who have been living in the tropics too long. Not retirees, but those mysterious people who bounce from tropical place to place, in flip flops and a beer stained shirt. They are usually... como se dice, one beer short of a six pack. He told me a bunch of other half truths about himself, and about my hotel. At dinner, I told one of the owners, a nice girl from Maine, that I had met Peter and what he said to me. Lies, all of it. And we had a laugh about the starstruck young German girl in love with Rasta mon. So... yeah, I guess I contributed to the town gossip. What do you expect?
The Iguana served some pretty good dinners in the three days I was there. Kingfish with bernaise sauce, pork loin and polenta, and a salad with dressing so good that one of my dinner buddies drank some of the dressing out of the bowl. This is where I got to know Susan and Sharon, thirtysomethings from Dallas, along with Emily (producer for HGTV) and Anna (works for Betsey Johnson) from San Francisco. We had our own little drunken hen party of sorts and discovered that we had been to a lot of the same places - US. Vietnam, Nicaragua, Africa. Why on earth don´t more American guys travel to these places? Guys, take note - you could get so much more play if you´d only stop going to "Las Vegas with your buddies" and take some chances. But I digress. Eveyone at the Iguana had a good time at dinner. There was this bizarre old, tiny hulk hogan like sailor guy who I took my picture with, and refer to as my future ex husband. During dinner a giant moth flew up to the rafters, we thought it was a bird. It´s body was as big as a birds´. Then a lizard caught it! Kelly and the Texans tried to teach me how to play Texas Hold em, but I got tired again and went to bed. I seriously don´t know why I can´t stay up past midnight in Nicaragua. Maybe it´s the sun.
I tried to go snorkeling, but the dive boat left without me. So I hung out in some hammocks and alternated between that and swimming. Yeah, poor me. Yesterday morning, Emily, Anna and I took a two hour hike up to the light house-tower thing, and took some crazy detours through the woods to some other beaches on the island. They were funny, smart girls and I enjoyed hanging out with them. Only a little younger than me (but we all agree that none of us look older than 27), they have interesting jobs in another big city so we had plenty to talk about. I also thought it was funny that A & E identified my accent right away - as much as I try to hide it, I have the obnoxious midwestern Chicago accent. haha. We also ran into another pet monkey, I took a video for youtube. I´ll try to post some more videos later.
Today I took a tiny plane back to Managua, with the fraulein and her mother. But she´s going back to little corn in a few weeks to get herself some more rasta! haha. I checked back into my favorite gay hotel (I wonder if they will say to me haaaaaaaaay novia!, OK maybe not...) and I´m going to try that live salsa band place later. I hope they have live music on a Thursday.
above - the playa, climbing the lighthouse, a baby pineapple (how cute), another playa, my outdoor shower.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Afternoon delight

No, I´m not talking about skyrockets in flight, or sticks and stones rubbing together makin´everything right, or everything being clearer in the light of day-ay. (thanks to that un-named, yet good friend who put that on my ipod!) But it really is a dee-lightful afternoon here on little corn. Not much to say, I went for a little swin last night, but we are on the windy, outward side of the island so it was a little wavy and un poco seaweedy. Had dinner with a crew of nice people, had some beef with carbernet demi-glace and cauliflower cous cous, went to bed kind of early and read the memory keeper´s daughter for 3 hours.. had the sea wind blow on me while I was sleeping. I hiked through the woods into town to buy some bottles of water and use the computer. I am still recovering from being jostled senseless from the boat ride, but my shoulder is recovering from my death grip on that piece of wood. The sea looks less angry right now but is it wrong that I secretly hope that I get another ride like that in 2 days? As long as I live, it was the most fun I´ve ever had for 4 dollars.


I bought the most hillarious book in panajachel, when I was waiting for a bus at Lake Atitlan. I was poking around a used book store run by a lady with long, wiry grey hair (of course) and I saw it, and new it would be my "beach book". It was written in 1970 by the former stewardesses who wrote the book´(I´m embarrased to say I´ve read) called "coffee tea or me", a book about how pilots, stewardesses and passengers all got it on in the 1960s mod airline scene. Please don´t read it, it´s a horrible book. And this one looks like it might be just as bad, yet good. It´s called "coffee tea or me girls lay it on the line - a single gal´s guide to life in the swinging 70s". I would bet my life that it´s out of print. It seems to be some sort of lifestyle guide - how to seduce men, how to dress, how to throw parties, how to be groovy in every social situation. It´s very post summer of love, pre 3´s company. Published the year I was born. perfect. Even the font on the cover looks like a good time, and there are two little drawings, one of a man chasing a huge chested woman, and vice versa. After I finish reading about Paul and his sister with Down´s syndrome and their dysfunctional parents, I´m going to read about my whole new lifestyle out on green hammock.


above: beach reading, kids selling coconut bread (it´s good), intersection on little corn, beach, my new house for 3 days

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The strange world of the corn islands

The corn islands are about 70 miles (I think?) off the east coast of Nicaragua. But how different. I flew in an 18 seat plane which was actually not bad at all, and I found big corn island to be one of the most bizarre places ever. Tin shacks and people speak a language all their own here. A mix of english, spanish and mumble jumble of all kinds of strange slangy sayings just from being so isolated from land. I found a hotel from LP, didn't like it, found another and just decided to stay for one night. The natives supposedly speak english, but I found that I understand them much better when we just use simple spanish. This guy above, a typical islander, sold me a coke and of course I could barely understand him! He was really charming and funny though. Another thing about this island. They Loooooove country music. yep! Everywhere you go, you hear some twangy heartbreaking song about losin' a woman or being kicked out one's house. There is also a lot of garbage laying around, which bothers me. Big corn could be so much better if people took pride in their surroundings. The roads (well, there are like 3) are also the most pothole-y roads ever, and it had just rained, so the island was a muddy mess. I laid in my hammock, had some caribbean curry lobster stew with rice, (it had corn in it so I can be satisfied to know that I had some corn on the corn islands) and chatted with some Americans and Dutch people in the restaurant, sat through a little power outage, then it was time for bed. Food is still not going down as smooth as I'd like, but I am getting much better.
This morning I had breakfast while watching a sad monkey named Irma tied to a tree, then went down to the dock for the boat to Little corn. I've heard amazing things about Little corn and I was eager to get there. The boat was one of the most fun and terrifying experiences of my life!! There were maybe 20 of us crammed in there, in this wooden boat, going up swells that must have been 7 or 8 feet, maybe more. It was exactly like being on a roller coaster for a half hour. the boat would go up, everyone would scream, you'd be airborne for a second or two, and the bright blue sea was just at your side. I wanted to take photos so bad, but I could barely hold on. The whole time I was thinking, are you kidding me?? This was two hours ago and I am still recovering. I was laughing and squealing the entire time. I was holding on so tight there was no time to stop and be scared, we all really got our 4 dollars worth. The canadian guy next to me said that little corn is special because it's so hard to get to. I said, yeah, it probably weeds out the riff raff.
Little corn is paradise. In a wet, rainforesty type of way. No cars, no garbage. I'm not sure how much swimming I will do today, there are little bursts of tropical rain but it's really beautiful. Little corn takes about an hour (I think) to walk around, and I am staying on the far side in a place called casa Iguana. It's run by some people from Chicago, who I have not yet met. I looked at a few different types of accomodation and unfortunately fell in LOVE with the most expensive type of bungalow. I wish she hadn't even shown it to me. I kept asking the girl who showed me around about spiders. So, you ever get tarantuals in these huts? Do people ever wake up with a tarantula on them? I'm from the city where there are no spiders. What about wolf spiders? Which huts have the least amount of tarantulas near them?? She confided that the two orange huts were the most spider infested, so I stayed clear of those. I have an outdoor shower and she made sure that I understood that there is ALWAYS a chance of seeing a tarantula in or near the huts, but that they sold alcohol as well so as to better deal with the spiders. The chef at the iguana went to the CIA, and people on big corn told me that "he knows his sauces". The girl who showed me around was happy to hear that I was such a foodie, because the chef is her husband. We all eat dinner together in the main hut like at the Iguana Perdida, so I will learn more about spiders and the people at the Iguana later.. Wow, two places with Iguana in the name. But this is no room of straw. It's way, way nicer!
above, path to my hut, view from my porch, coca cola guy on big corn.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Beneath the surface

I wish I felt a little better, because I am really beginning to like this place. I know that Granada is THE most touristy town in Nicaragua, but I can´t help but notice there is a wierd vibe bubbling beneath the surface here. I can´t put my finger on it, but it´s probably comparatitis from Guatemala. This is how I compare the two:
Guatemala: calm, slower, people with peace on their faces, lingering on the streets, painted signs on the buildings, Mexican style, Mayans, big eyes, weavings, welcoming , more innocence in the children, modesty
Nicaragua: fast, alive, people with slimmer, more cat-like faces and smaller eyes, (wierd I know but I´m not hallucinating), people with coarser hair, desperate little kids, reggaeton and loud horns blaring out of cars, a slight sense of despair, colorful buildings, more hoochie outfits (the muffin top is very "in" here), women tettering around in metallic shoes
I hope that´s not judgemental, but those are some of the observations I have had the past two days. It´s really a shame I´m not feeling better, because I´d love to see some live music and have a few victoria beers, but it´s naps and fruit shakes for me today. I feel like I´m missing an opportunity to see the city better, but today I laid in my fantastic room for 6 hours in the aircon. I have to make myself well before the islands. I really haven´t been taking stellar care of myself, getting up at the crack of dawn, going here and there, not taking vitamins or thinking about nutrition.. This happened to me in Asia too, I had one day where I thought I had the flu, then I felt better.
This morning I woke up early again to go ziplining. I did this with Kathy in Costa Rica and it´s so much fun. There were NO other gringos there, just me and like 6 Nica guys. They took great care of me, and actually I´m glad no other gringos came, because I could talk to them. One guy, Martin, always went before me and Manuel followed behind. I kept complaining about being tired and Manuel would give me shoulder and arm massages, haha. Anyone who knows me knows that I don´t turn down massages! So we´re on the top of a tree, great, can you move it a little to the left? Awesome. Usually I would feel a little strange being on the top of a tree with 2 Nicaraguan guys in the middle of nowhere, getting a massage but it was just another normal day.. This is funny. We drove to the woods on a road so bad that the driver used the shoulder instead of driving on the potholes. On the way there I rode with one guy from New York who was strangely travelling by himself. And I say strangely because american guys rarely travel by themselves! He agreed that girls are normally more adventurous. I met a few girls travelling solo (like Antonella) but every guy is usually in a couple. Why is that? Travelling solo is so much fun, I don´t get why they don´t do it. Australians and Canadians do, though. American guys - rarely.
I was reading in Lonely planet that this is the second poorest country in the western Hemisphere, to Haiti. We did see a lot of african-looking tin shacks out in the woods but Granada is not that bad. And the history is so interesting. The whole sandinista-contra thing from the late 80s. I remember hearing about it when I was in high school. There is definitely some residual hurt from that era.
Tomorrow, Corn! Corn! Not sure when you´ll hear from me again but I´ll try to write. I will be there for 5 nights I think.


This is my lower back.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

the evening of no electricidad

Last night, a strange thing happened in Antigua. The whole town had no electricity all evening. As soon as I realized it was getting dark and was not coming back on, I ran back to my hotel to grab a flashlight and who did I run into but Trisha and TJ from Lake Atitlan. We had arranged to meet for dinner but coincidentally, they picked my hotel! The hotel (the purple looking back shed, you saw the photo the other day) isn´t the fanciest place I´ve ever stayed, but I returned because I was so charmed by the family that runs it and the trees in the backyard. And isn´t the name great - the Jardin de Lolita? Lolita is a 70ish woman who speaks spanish too fast for me to understand her, but her sons always talked to me. The one son always looked like he was having the best, breeziest day ever - and it was contageous.
Trisha and TJ had some funny stories for me at the Lake - they told me all about life in Tegucigulpa - how they had to bribe some police at night at the side of the road, and how their friend had to breathe into a police helmet to act as a breathalyzer (the cop then smelled the helmet, held his licence hostage, and told him to drive to the ATM to take out money!). We went to my old standard Frida´s in hope of dinner, but could only get beer and guacamole due to the power outage. The streets took on a really spooky feel with NO street lights and every place lit by candle light. We finally found one place to eat, in a fancy fancy hotel that had a generator. Our dinners were a little pricey but hey, that´s what emergency money is for. And we got the added bonus of some marimba players - 6 or 7 guys all play ONE giant xylophone-type thing. So we made the best of the wierd evening with good company and funny stories. As we were finishing, Elana and Gary came up to our table - from the volcano tour. Everyone circles back through Antigua. Elana told me that the famous TEXAN was spotted in Tikal. And she had to salsa dance with him the night before! He´s everywhere!
I bid goodbye to my teacher friends and woke up less than 6 hours later for my 6:30 Am flight to Nicaragua. It´s an odd feeling, waking up at 3:30 AM and bolting out of bed thinking, must go to Nicaragua now. The plane was almost empty and when I was flying I had that "uh, what are you doing?" thought, then I arrived in the heat and humidity of Managua. Wow, is it hot here. Guatemala always had cool nights in the upper 50s and gentle breezes during the afternoon. This is maybe 85, 90 degrees, lots of heat! Well, that´s what I wanted, I suppose!
I enjoyed my taxi driver, Henri, but the rest of Nicaragua does not seem to find me as charming as the people of Guatemala. Everything seems much faster, they talk faster, they get a little more impatient with me, but that´s OK. In Guatemala I felt like everyone was HAPPY and slower. Guatemala had a nice pace to it - this is more like arriving in NYC from Chicago, which is fine. I like seeing different types of people and lifestyles. Henri took me to the microbus, where after a near fistfight between microbus drivers for my business (really!) I rode with a bunch of young Nicas to the sounds of loud lite rock on the radio. The station ID was a breathy woman who would purr "aaammmoooourrrrr" between each song. Being in advertising, I notice things like station IDs and dial positions. Granada is also a beautiful colonial town like Antigua, with huge, cavernous bulidings painted different colors, some with lovely fountains and courtyards. I checked into a total dive called the bearded monkey, where I have my own room. and the slogan in the bathroom is "conserve water, if it´s yellow, let it mellow" - classy!
I´m here two nights, then it´s the corn islands for 5 nights. Oh, and I spent over an hour in a bank today trying to cash traveller´s checks, where I also had to go through an X ray. The people in the bank did not find me charming at all. Oh well! I´m not sure what to do tonight - my hostel shows movies and has a happy hour. We´ll see.
above - Granada, my new street, some lake in Honduras or El Salvador, mirimba players!
I´m enjoying the comments!
here are the marimba players. If you don´t have sound, it might be useless. This is for you, super huevo and teabag!