Moms visit Nicaragua Oct 27-Nov 30 2006

Filed under: Nicaragua — Aaron and Amy at 3:21 pm on Sunday, January 14, 2007

After picking up Cynthia at the airport in Managua we got some groceries and dog food before getting back to our sanctuary at San Juan.  Cynthia immediately took to the hammocks, where she spent a lot of time relaxing.  We had excellent weather during her visit.  We even got a little cool weather and rain which Cynthia was looking forward to!  After two days of lounging about the house and pool, we decided it was time to go to the beach!  Aaron loaded the kayak on top of the jeep and we headed to Bahia Magajual which is about 15 minutes down the dirt road heading north.  After Cynthia and I got set up with our umbrella in the shade, then Aaron set off to go spear fishing from the kayak.  He was gone for several hours and returned with a large rooster fish and a small snapper.  Everyone on the beach watched as he scaled and gutted the fish.  Little boys and grown men alike were amazed he came out of the water with his fish!  Just as the boys were mesmerized by Aaron and his kayak, several families hung out with Cynthia and me as they relaxed in the shade.  We had a great day at the beach with the dogs and Aaron was able to provide a fabulous dinner!  We called our friends Tim and Tito to join us at the restaurant that was going to cook the fish for us.  The rooster fish was new for Cynthia, but she really enjoyed the tasty snapper.  Nothing better than fresh fish you caught yourself (or at least someone you know)!

The following day we were off to the colonial city of Granada.  We had been there before, but wanted to share the beautiful city with Cynthia, especially during the Dia de los Muertos holiday (Day of the Dead).  We got a beautiful hotel just off the square (Hotel Colonial) that had two charming pools tucked into courtyards.  We had a lot of rain that evening, so we watched the news which was broadcasting previously recorded footage of rallies for Presidential candidate Daniel Ortega in several different cities.  I stepped outside to determine if the rain had lightened enough to walk in, and she couldn’t believe what she saw.  We assume the footage from the city of Granada had taken place that day, while we were waiting out the rain in the hotel.  (It could also have been a rally without Ortega in attendance, we are not sure).  There was a line of traffic leaving the square driving right in front of our hotel.  They were mostly trucks overflowing with Ortega supporters waving their Sandinista red and black flags.  Even though everyone was soaked to the bone, when they saw me with her camera they untangled their flags and swayed them ever so proudly, defying the weight of the heavy material.  Some people were even riding bicycles while waving their flags.  Everyone was cheering and singing along to Ortega’s campaign song, a Spanish adaptation of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”.  “Nicaragua, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere after Haiti, is ripe for Ortega’s promises to fight poverty, distribute property to landless peasants and end the country’s acute electricity shortages,” (Newsweek, 11/6/06).  Clearly, everyone singing and waving their flags were ready and waiting for the changes Ortega might bring them. Our first night in the hotel the electricity went out just before we went to bed.  They started working on the generator which wasn’t working; and it was horribly loud on the other side of our wall.  Once they got it running it would be even louder, so we used hotel flashlights to collect valuables and changed rooms.  We settled in and finally got to sleep.The next day was Dia de los Muertos, so after we had a great breakfast at Kathy’s Waffle House, we headed to the beautiful cemetery.  The events were not as grand or as festival-like as we were expecting.  It turns out that Dia de los Muertos is not equally extravagant in all Latin American countries.  Nevertheless, it was a beautiful cultural experience.  When we arrived at the cemetery there were people selling all different kinds of flowers, water, and even cotton candy.  The cemetery was full of people coming to visit the gravesites of their family and friends.  The first part of the cemetery you see when you walk down the palm lined entrance is the Capilla de Almas (or the Chapel of Souls).  It was constructed in 1885 and resembles a small Greek temple.  When you round the corner behind the chapel you enter the sea of mausoleums and tombstones.  Most are white, some are colorful and they all have extravagant sculpture and architecture incorporated into their designs.  All the family and friends bring flowers to the graves as they come to say hello to visit those that are no longer living.  I am thankful that I was able to see the cemetery before and during Dia de los Muertos.  They were dramatically different and beautiful experiences.  Dia de los Muertos was full of energy and life, while my first visit was very quiet and peaceful.  The first cemetery visit for Dia de los Muertos was a bit hot for Cynthia, so we decided to head back to the hotel and cool off by the pool.  We were all going to go back in the afternoon for a procession, but I was the only one that returned.  I was able to walk around and absorb the experience, taking pictures and getting to know some families.  I walked back to the hotel with what seemed like the entire city on the streets.  It’s a strange phenomenon; when it’s so hot during the day, everyone comes out to socialize and play in the streets at night; especially during this night of festivities.After checking out of the hotel in Granada we were on our way to the artisan market in the town of Masaya; but first we visited our friends Greg, Karen, their daughter Daniela and their newborn, Emma.  We first met Greg one morning at Kathy’s Waffle House, began chatting and instantly became friends.  He has a beautifully refreshing wife Karen, their daughter Daniela has a contagious smile and laugh, and their brand new baby is precious!  After chatting we said our goodbyes and continued to the market where Cynthia did lots of Christmas shopping!The presidential elections were held in Nicaragua on Sunday, November 5th.  Normally the electricity doesn’t go off during the weekends, but it was off all day at the house.  We assume it had something to do with the elections, but who knows.  There are plenty of gringos in Nicaragua that are concerned that if Ortega wins, he may repossess their land like he did the last time he was in power, which was after the Sandinista revolution.  As mentioned above, the poor people are eager for him to fulfill promises of making improvements to their lives while fighting poverty.  Everyone is anxious to see who will be elected and what they will accomplish.  In spite of the US stating that they may create economic sanctions and hardships for Nicaragua if Ortega were to win; Elver (the house caretaker) returned from his hometown after voting and declared that Ortega had won the election!  For Cynthia’s last day in San Juan we tried to do the canopy tour (a route that has many zip lines going through the treetops) but it was closed.  Instead we went into town and had some drinks at a beautiful beachfront restaurant.  Then we lounged at the house and had a last swim before leaving for Managua.  We had a great seafood dinner and hung out playing cards in the hotel room.  We had an excellent time with Cynthia while she visited us in Nicaragua!  It was wonderful to just hang out, talk, watch movies and explore the beaches as well as Granada. In order to prepare for Aaron being gone for three weeks, I needed practice driving a stick in Latin America, so I drove back from Managua.  What an experience!  It’s a whole new world of driving when you are dealing with all the interesting characters on the street; horse-drawn carts overflowing with agricultural goods driving on the shoulder, buses and taxis that stop in the middle of the highway for their passengers, semi trucks and buses that make dangerous passes, pedestrians, bicyclists, slow motorbikes, topes (gigantic speed bumps) . . .  oh yeah, and pothole ridden roads that force everyone to zigzag across the streets!  Nevertheless, we made it home!  We arrived to find that Khorrah had been scratching (from tick allergies) so fiercely that she had infected wounds across her throat.  Elver went into town with us to see the vet, Fernando.  He gave her several shots consisting of an antihistamine and an antibiotic, and then gave us pills and a topical cream to apply multiple times every day.  She was pretty much healed in about 4 or 5 days.Aaron went to Costa Rica for two nights, so he packed all his fishing gear, the kayak, motorcycle and a surfboard (on loan from a neighbor).  He was going in order to extend our vehicle permit, but asked our friend Tim along to make it a guy’s weekend fishing trip.  They camped at Panama beach, which is about an hour and a half into Costa Rica.  They had great success spear fishing; bringing back mackerel, snapper and a huge mahi-mahi!  There was so much fish that we had a party to enjoy it all!  While Aaron was gone I got caught up on writing travel logs and working with pictures for the website.  I enjoyed the quiet time to myself hanging out at the house with the dogs, watching the season premier of ER, as well as watching the Democrats deliver a “thumping” to the republicans in the mid-term elections.There is a bay that is for sale near San Juan that we were interested in looking at, so we went out with our friend Tim (who is an agent for Discover Realty).  We were going to go in his boat which would take about 45 minutes, but it wasn’t working so we all loaded into his truck instead.  (His girlfriend Kathy and her two kids, Mario (7) and Ingrid (5) went with us).  Once we got as close as we could to the bay by truck, we found a local that agreed to take us there in his lancha and wait for us while we explored the property.  We hiked to the top of the hills that shoot up from the beach.  It was very steep, but we managed to scramble to the top.  After walking around for a bit, we followed the ridgeline path that leads down one side towards the beach.  Then we followed it inland for a bit, following the hills up and down, checking out the topography of the site.  We weren’t able to explore the entire property in the time we had, but it was a beautiful day spent hiking and enjoying the beach.Aaron was headed to the states for three weeks so he could help his aunt and uncle begin remodeling their new lake house.  During that time, my mother, Kathy, came down to stay while Aaron was gone.  Whenever we needed to go to Managua we always changed cars with our friend (Tito) who rented us his jeep.  He knew we were going to the airport and asked if we could give two of his clients (Seth and Lindsay) a ride that had a flight the following morning.  The day before Tito had rented out the car to someone else so we waited for him to arrive to make the exchange.  We sat there growing more and more concerned for Aaron’s flight as Tito continued to tell us we would have enough time.  His friend finally arrived 75 minutes late so we stashed our luggage into the car and took off for the airport.  We arrived at the Delta desk an hour before Aaron’s flight only to find nobody there.  We tracked down someone from Delta and they claimed they shut down check-in on schedule, and that customs already had their log completed and wouldn’t let Aaron on the plane.  They basically said tough-luck, come back tomorrow and don’t be late.  We already had a room at the hotel across the street since Kathy was coming in that evening.  Aaron and Kathy chose their departure dates to minimize trips to Managua and the airport.  While it was convenient, they were both disappointed they wouldn’t get to see each other at all.  As you can imagine, when Kathy saw Aaron at the airport she was a bit confused since he was supposed to be in the states!  While it was a horrible thing that Aaron missed his flight, it was great that Aaron and Kathy were able to see each other for a couple hours that night before he left the next day.  Prior to Kathy’s arrival we had been having drinks by the pool with Seth and Lindsey.  So when she arrived we joined them again, enjoying the pleasantly warm Managuan night.  It was great for her to relax after arriving and it was very interesting to meet young surfer travelers looking for property to purchase in Nicaragua. The next morning Kathy and I were off to the artisan market of Masaya.  (Until Kathy leaves Nicaragua, “we” will mean “Amy and Kathy” in the travel log).  We spent several hours browsing and shopping, but it just wasn’t enough!  Like Cynthia, she found lots of gifts for Christmas!  After having made it to San Juan on the very, very bumpy road, we had a great dinner and cervezas in town before making it all the way to our peaceful home.  We took a quick tour of the house and Kathy met Elver and his dog Niko before calling it a night.  Unfortunately Kathy was sick her first day at the house.  The first several days we spent hanging out at the house by the pool enjoying the beautiful views overlooking several bays.  In addition to lounging, our days seem to have been easily filled with lots of reading, talking, going to town for internet, groceries and to enjoy the occasional restaurant meal.  She fell in love with the pizza and carpaccio (lime soaked fish with herbs and olive oil) at Italian O’ Solo Mio, had decent lobster at the Iguana and wonderful sandwiches at Marie’s.  At one beachside restaurant Kathy purchased a beautiful ceramic pot from a local vendor to add to her collection at home.  She also walked the entire beach of San Juan bay filling every available pocket with rocks and shells for scrap booking!  Another activity we enjoyed doing in town was handing out gifts to kids.  Kathy brought a whole bunch of coloring and activity books, crayons, temporary tattoos, playing cards and Frisbees to pass out.  When we went into town we would pack a bag full of these items and find kids to give them to.  First we made a stop at our friends Tim and Kathy’s so their kids could have first dibs, and then gave everything else away.  Kathy loved being able to give them away, even if she didn’t speak Spanish.  I translated when necessary and everyone was very appreciative!  We also gave lots of stuff to Elver so that he could take it to schools and other kids he knows in Rivas, where he is from.  She also managed to give away a deck of playing cards in the shape of a surf board to a local surfer.  All the guys in the surf shop thought they were pretty cool!While it sounds like our house is out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there is actually quite a lot of construction going on all around us.  There are several homes being built as well as a small hotel.  Elver’s brother, Reir, was working at the house beneath ours so we asked if they could show us around.  Elver showed us that house, several others we can hear them working on but can’t see from our house, then took us to April’s hotel which is also finishing construction.  April is a friend of Gail, the owner of our house who lives in Canada.  April’s restaurant, El Jardin, is open while the hotel portion is under construction.  She also gave us a tour of her aviary filled with beautiful parrots and toucans, some of which she had nursed back to health.  After touring the houses we had a beer while watching the sunset from our perch in life.  After having seen April’s restaurant we cleaned up and had dinner at her place; which is pretty easy since it is about a 2 minute walk from our house!  We had fabulous mahi-mahi, cashew Thai chicken and peach margaritas! On the way home I was stopped by a policeman who declared I had done something illegal (passing on a curve).  He had a printout of an entire list of possible driving infractions and their corresponding costs.  He claimed he was going to keep my license and that I would have to go to the bank in the city of Rivas to pay a fine of 400 cordobas (about $24), at which point I get my license back.  This is how it actually works when you get a ticket, so there was no foul play going on.  I was firm but polite and declared that I did not pass on a curve, therefore there was no law broken.  When I confirmed that he was writing me a legitimate ticket I asked that he write down his badge number and he said “Of course!”  I continued to press him and say that I had done nothing illegal, and he lowered the cost of the ticket to 200 cordobas (about $12).  We continued to talk in a firm but polite manner and he continued to ask other questions such as how long would I be in the country.  When I told him my husband and I were renting a house in San Juan and will spend a total of four months in his country, he acted pleasantly surprised.  He began to say that he liked me and that he wanted to help, so he was going to return my license and I wouldn’t have to pay anything at all.  I reiterated everything he said to be clear, and he let us go.  During the entire process he never once propositioned me for a bribe, nor created a situation for me to suggest it was an option.  Utterly perplexed why he ever stopped us to begin with if he was just going to let us go, I continued driving home; unsure of what just happened.  Every time Aaron has had to deal with a bribe situation, it was very clear that is what was being requested.  After having told the story to a couple people, their opinion was that he was waiting for me to suggest I pay him then.  I’m not sure, as I have now witnessed many bribe situations and it just wasn’t the same.  Maybe he was new.  By the way, the only time Aaron has EVER paid a bribe was when he was in Managua driving the jeep we had rented from a friend that had old plates, was not registered or insured (of course, we knew none of this before renting it; live and learn).  At that point the police told him they were going to impound the car.  He gave them 300 cordobas (about $18) and they let him go; a small price to pay for something that was actually illegal and could have created a lot of problems for him.  Nicaragua has been the absolute worst country regarding corrupt cops trying to get bribes out of us by claiming we did something illegal.  But we are always firm and fight it, and don’t pay the bribes.The nicest hotel and restaurant in San Juan, Pelican Eyes, is up on the hill overlooking town and the bay.  We heard there would be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner served and we needed to make reservations.  We walked up the hill and made our reservations, but Kathy was so enamored with the lush, beautiful grounds in the daylight we stayed for lunch and drinks!  They have a beautiful palapa (thatched roof structure) about 40- feet high that has their restaurant and bar which flows out into the eternity pool area.  After drinks we made our Thanksgiving Day phone calls sitting next to the beautiful pool!  We ran some errands, went home to clean up and returned for a late dinner that evening.  Unfortunately our table got lost in the shuffle of the different seating times, so instead of eating our late dinner at 8:30, we didn’t get to eat until 9:30 p.m.  Nonetheless, it was a beautiful, filling meal we enjoyed together that Kathy didn’t have to prepare!  We both missed not having the rest of our family there with us, but were thankful to enjoy the holiday together. After we had eaten lunch and dinner at the Pelican Eyes restaurant, the experience wouldn’t be complete without trying their eggs benedict!  After enjoying a fabulous brunch, we packed the car and took the dogs to the beach for a couple hours.  We had a great time strolling through the water, picking up pretty rocks and playing with the dogs.  That night we had another great dinner at April’s.After having dealt with several issues with renting the jeep from Tito, and Kathy not liking the idea of driving an illegal, unregistered, uninsured vehicle in Nicaragua; we looked into renting a car from Alamo for a couple days.  We used it on several occasions; a doctor’s appointment in Managua, spending several days in Granada, and taking Kathy back to the airport.  After having another lunch at Pelican Eye’s restaurant, we left San Juan with enough time to arrive in Granada at about 4 o’clock in a light rain.  We walked around to a couple different hotels, and we finally decided to stay at one on the Plaza.  It has several large balconies overlooking the plaza with a great view of the canary yellow cathedral.  It was nice to have our own little place to hang out and watch the busy world go by.  That night we had dinner at the Asian Thai restaurant, which was tasty, but very spicy!Before leaving Granada, we had to visit our favorite breakfast place, Kathy’s restaurant.  We bumped into our friend Greg, so Kathy was able to meet him.  We leisurely toured the colonial city’s churches, a great museum and browsed stores on the plaza.  We finished a wonderful day by having dinner at a great restaurant out at Puerto Asesse, (which is out in the Centro Turistico) on Lago de Nicaragua.  There was supposed to be a procession going right by our hotel balcony that night, but as things go in Latin America, anything can change at any moment.  After hanging out at the cathedral waiting for everything to get started we went back to our room to watch; only to find out it was a street away!  They had changed it at the last minute!Kathy wanted to see the Granada cemetery with all its beautiful mausoleums, so we walked around for a bit before heading up to Laguna de Apoyo for lunch.  From the restaurant at the mirador (viewpoint) you see the crater lake of Apoyo with Mambacho Volcano in the background.  You can even see the city of Granada and Lago de Nicaragua.  After lunch we headed back to the Masaya market to do some more shopping before settling into our hotel in Managua that night.  Kathy flew out at 8:10 a.m. the following morning, and made it safely home.  She hadn’t flown in about 15 years, but finally decided it was time . . . and I am so glad she did!  We appreciate both our moms visiting us in Nicaragua, and enjoyed every moment of relaxing at the house as well as touring Nicaragua together.

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