Kris & Emily visit Nicaragua - Costa Rica December 1, 2006 – January 9, 2007

Filed under: Costa Rica, Nicaragua — Aaron and Amy at 2:12 pm on Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Originally, my mom and Aaron were supposed to fly in and out of Managua on the same days in order to minimize the number of times driving to Managua.  While in the states Aaron decided to extend his trip, thus providing me with a week between my mom leaving and Aaron returning.  After having spent three wonderful weeks with my mom, it was kind of nice to have the time to myself before Aaron came home.  A week flew by with guilt-free lounging, television, reading, working on our website and doing a bit of exercise.  Khorrah continuously got new wounds from scratching at ticks; so I was dressing them twice a day as well as keeping up with picking ticks from both dogs twice a day.  It was hard on everybody the dogs were irritated by the ticks, they certainly didn’t like them being pulled off and it was exhausting for me too.  The dogs know the ticks are there (they always scratch and bite at them-creating the wounds); but we often wondered if they knew we were helping them by spending several hours a day removing these parasites from their bodies.  We rented an exquisite house, but the ticks were not our favorite part.Aaron returned safely to Managua on December 6th.  He had to deal with a few issues at the airport before we could leave.  Apparently Delta has a policy stating that you can’t fly from the US to Central America without having a return ticket to the US.  This created a problem since Aaron’s flight originated in Central America and the US is the country he was visiting.  He would not be returning to the US on Delta, so before letting him on the plane in the US they forced him to buy a refundable ticket from Managua to the US, simply to satisfy this regulation.  It took over an hour, but after Aaron was pretty sure the cost of the ticket had been refunded we left the airport and took care of several other errands in Managua.  We went to the aduana office one more time, extending our vehicle permits for the last month that we would be in Nicaragua.

When we got back to the house we decided it was time to shave Khorrah.  We had tried once before in Mexico, but the clippers weren’t strong enough for her thick fur.  Over the last year she seems to have done well with the heat.  We don’t understand it, but sometimes we even catch her sunbathing.  We decided to shave her not for the heat, but because she had so many wounds that needed dressing, and her fur was making it more difficult.  She looked really silly at first; her body was all white while her tail and head were the normal black and white.  She looked naked and skinny!  In about a week she started to get some color back, but her fur was still short enough to help the wounds heal.

We had been renting a jeep from a friend in San Juan.  We settled on a price and pre-paid the amount to cover our three months of living in San Juan.  Over the course of a month and a half we had several issues with the jeep itself, trading it out for a more suitable car to drive to Managua, and mechanical problems with the second vehicle as well.  At some point in trading out vehicles when Aaron was out of the country, our friend Tito claimed that we had caused extensive damage to his car and asked for reimbursement.  Upon Aaron declaring there was no way we had caused the amount of damage (major rust and brake failure) on the vehicle in the short period of time we had the car, Tito threatened to sue us.  Due to Aaron’s knowledge and his ability to be quite convincing, he defended us well and Tito backed off, saying he didn’t want to ruin their friendship.  (As is Aaron’s personality; he had previously helped Tito in several serious situations when Tito needed him).  As amicably as possible, they parted ways with no additional money changing hands.  We had lost about $450 worth of the car we had pre-paid, and now we were without a vehicle for the next month and a half in San Juan.  We made do with just our motorcycle until Kris & Emily came.  At that point we had our friend Tim find us another car to rent.  It was in good condition, registered and insured.  We paid for 15 days and were very happy with the vehicle.  There was enough room for people, luggage and dogs for going to the beach.

A beautiful house high on a hill with breathtaking views and a magnificent pool yearns to entertain!  We had a party with some of our friends and met a lot of new people as well.  Aaron was visiting friends at a campground on the beach and invited everyone that was staying there to come.  They were all backpackers and were more than willing to party and check out the house.  We met lots of new people from all over the world that share our interest in travel, experiencing other cultures and meeting new people.  Aaron made a ton of sushi, which everyone loved.  Our friend Marc even had a chef’s uniform so Aaron could really play the part!  At one point during the night several people started banging on objects such as empty water jugs and buckets with either their hands or silverware.  I guess you could call it a drum circle; boy did they have rhythm!  They played off one another’s beat, keeping the intensity going for a good thirty minutes.  They were all really into it, and it made for a sleuth of great photos!

December 21st was our one-year anniversary for traveling in Latin America in our 24-foot motor home!  We had family members bet we wouldn’t make it passed six months, but we are still going strong!  We have been living in the RV since June 2005; having spent some time working and seeing family in different states before leaving the United States.  We marked the day by taking the dogs to the beach and having dinner at April’s wonderful restaurant El Jardin, which is right next to our house.

We were greatly anticipating Aaron’s sister Emily and her husband Kris visiting us in Nicaragua.  We had lots of family visit Nicaragua, which was one of the reasons for renting a nice house.  After making the drive to Managua we ran a few errands dealing with the RV documents and the RV generator that was still being worked on.  The flight wasn’t scheduled until 9:30 p.m., so we decided to kill some time by going to the movies.  We discovered the theater has something called a VIP movie (at the Galeria mall, in case you are in the area).  When we asked what it offered they said we have big comfortable chairs, and a waiter serves us items from a menu.  It only cost 250 cordobas for two people, which is about $14 US.  (Regular movie tickets cost about $2.50 per person).  We decided we would give it a go . . . . and boy oh boy was it worth it!  We got there 30 minutes before the movie started so we had time to relax in our super comfy oversized reclining chairs!  There were fewer chairs than in a normal theater, so there was room for the large chairs with small tables in between and extremely wide aisles.  A waiter immediately came to place our order.  We looked at the menu and were in shock!  They had beer, sushi rolls and sandwiches in addition to normal theater food like nachos, hot dogs and popcorn.  We needed to eat before Kris and Emily landed so we ordered several sushi rolls and kept the beer coming throughout the movie!  It was pretty unreal, and so worth the $14!  What a concept!  Maybe it exists in the US somewhere fancier than Flagstaff, Arizona; but this was a first for us!  The movie Casino Royale was great, but the experience was the highlight!  We highly recommend it!

We got a phone call letting us know that Kris & Emily’s flight was probably going to be late, but we didn’t know how late.  We ended up getting to the airport at the scheduled landing time and waiting for about an hour.  They finally landed at 10:15 and we booked it to Granada where we had a hotel reserved for the next two nights.  Unfortunately the hotel didn’t have our reservation, but they were able to accommodate us.  The hotel was fabulous (Hotel Capricho, behind the San Francisco church) and close to the main plaza.  It was a small boutique hotel with a brightly decorated communal kitchen, cozy pool for warm Granada afternoons, and several different kinds of rooms.  We got one that had two floors with two queen beds for only $55/night.  It suited our needs perfectly!  We threw our luggage on the beds and asked around for a cute little bar where we could hang out and have some drinks.  We couldn’t have gone to a better place in all of Granada.  It was the Flamingo Bar, and there were only one or two other gringos there, which means it was packed with locals!  Just the way we like it!  They had music videos projected on a wall blaring Latin music and people dancing all night long.  Sometimes it was too loud to hear the person next to you, but we were able to meet some great people.  As we took an empty table, a local patron stood up and cleared off the garbage, making sure we were comfortable.  He was so friendly, introducing himself and his table full of friends to all four of us.  Kris speaks Spanish as well, so we were able to talk with them all night.  Pretty soon it became too difficult to talk across tables, so the locals asked if we could just move our tables together.  Of course!  Once we decided it was time to head home after a long day, Kris had a craving for some good old street vendor food.  He found a dish of pork, rice and vegetables all wrapped in several big, green palm leaves and then put in a bag for transport.  It was so pretty, yet yummy and functional!

Kris and Emily’s first day in the colonial city of Granada started with a boat tour of las isletas (little islands) just offshore in the large Nicaragua Lake.  Immediately upon entering the lake we witnessed baptisms taking place in the water!  There was a group of people standing waist high in the lake, someone playing guitar and a priest dunking the baptized people under the water.  It was pretty amazing to see!  There were lots of little islands which were navigable by the small covered boats.  Most were inhabited; some had shacks on them, others moderate homes, and still others had impressive mansions owned by gringos or wealthy Nicaraguans that consumed almost the entire island.  Just when we were starting to get a bit bored, we asked the driver if we could go to the island with the restaurant on it.  He mumbled something about showing us another island before we have lunch.  As we approached the tiny island we saw there were dozens of monkeys clambering about in the trees!  Someone who owned the island put them there for tourists, and it has become a regular stop on the lake tour.  We watched in awe and Amy snapped away taking pictures.  The driver told us that if we brought leftovers from the restaurant one of the monkeys would come on the boat to eat it.  We had a great lunch at the beautiful restaurant and also met some gringos that were traveling from Guatemala.  They run a language school that currently teaches the locals English, and will soon branch out to teaching Spanish as well.  We took our leftovers back on the boat anxiously awaiting what would happen with the monkeys.  As we pulled up one of them jumped off a branch and landed in the boat.  Aaron opened the napkin of food and gave some to the female monkey.  We watched in shock as she gobbled down the food and quickly reached into the napkin for the rest of the food.  She stuffed her face and paced back and forth on the boat while chewing.   She clambered onto our laps while eating her food and looking for more.  She was all over Aaron and Amy couldn’t take enough pictures fast enough.  Aaron took the camera for a bit so she could interact with the monkey as well.  Emily was a bit beside herself and didn’t want to touch the monkey, so she carefully watched everyone else play with her.  As the monkey walked towards the back of the boat she wrapped her tail around Kris’ arm like it was giving her extra balance as she walked.  That was as close as Kris wanted to get as well.  Amy and Aaron couldn’t get enough and took advantage of having her on their laps, holding her hands and stroking her head.  Obviously this isn’t where monkeys belong, stuck on an island in the middle of a lake; but it is much more humane than a cage, having a collar and chain being hooked up to a wooden post or maybe having the luxury of a runner set up to swing in a tree.  We took what experiences we could from the situation, never having been so close to a monkey before.  The closest we have ever been there has always been bars or glass separating us.

After the boat tour we checked out the main plaza, stocked up on some goods from the supermercado (supermarket) swam at the hotel and had a great dinner of several different tapas plates at the mystical and delicious El Tercer Ojo restaurant (The Third Eye).  Before leaving Granada we had breakfast at Kathy’s Waffle House where our friends Greg, Karen, their daughter Daniela and newborn Emma joined us.  Next was shopping at the Masaya market, where more Christmas shopping was accomplished.  On the way home we took the old dirt road from Rivas to San Juan.  We found lots of firework stands and couldn’t pass them by without buying some for our Christmas, New Year’s and Kris’ birthday celebrations.  The stands were so colorful with all the different pyrotechnics!  You could see that many were not commercially made as they were wrapped in brown paper alone.  That night was Christmas Eve and we had dinner reservations at El Jardin; April made a special Mexican Christmas dinner which was fabulous.  Kris and Emily’s first morning in the house was Christmas morning, so we gathered some presents under the fichus tree and attempted to take a family photo.  Cynthia, Kathy, Kris, Emily and Aaron all brought gifts from the states; some of which were wrapped in tin foil for lack of any other paper!  It looked very festive and was great to enjoy Christmas with family this year!  We also gave our caretaker, Elver, a couple gifts.  Aaron brought him tennis shoes and Kathy purchased a DVD player for Christmas.  He was very appreciative and thankful to everyone for thinking of him.

We organized a fishing and snorkeling trip with a friend of Aaron’s who owns a boat.  We had a great time out in the water seeing lots of different colorful fish and even a leopard ray!  Aaron speared several parrot fish, a grouper and a snapper.  After half a day in the sun we were ready to call it quits so we enjoyed our beautiful boat ride back to San Juan Bay.  That afternoon we received a phone call from our new friends we had met on our boat tour of Granada.  They joined us for our seafood dinner and stayed the night before heading out the next morning.

December 27th was Kris’ birthday.  He and Aaron got up early and went surfing at playa Maderas with our friend Brandon (he is April’s 14 year old son).  They were gone for several hours and by the time they got home they were ready for a nap!  Emily and I looked all over town to try and find a masseuse that would come to the house and give Kris a massage for his birthday, but no one could come on short notice.  The boys thoroughly enjoyed their naps and we all relaxed at the house for a while.  We had a great dinner at O’ Solo Mio and had a surprise birthday cake back at the house.   The next morning we all got up early and went to playa Maderas with Brandon.  I was the only one that didn’t surf, but was kept quite busy taking pictures, as you can see in the photo album.  We got back from the beach and got ready for the San Juan canopy tour, Da’ Flyin Frog.  It was so much fun!  This was our first canopy tour.  We had done zip lines in Mexico before, but that was just one zip line.  A canopy tour is just that; a tour of the jungle canopy by going from platform to platform while strapped onto a cable flying through the air!  We had some great views of San Juan Bay but we didn’t see much wildlife.  We were on such a rush from the canopy tour and it was still early in the day so we decided to go back to the beach.

The last full day in San Juan with the four of us together we decided to show Kris and Emily the bay we had looked at south of San Juan.  We made a day of it and packed the cooler with sandwiches and drinks.  On the road south we suddenly heard the tell-tale roar of howler monkeys and immediately pulled over.  We saw some the previous day as well, so Kris and Emily got to see their share of monkeys in Nicaragua.  Aaron called to them and got them to respond several times.  There was an entire family of them, even a tiny baby which was the smallest monkey we had seen in the wild.  After watching them for a few minutes we continued on our journey.  Seeing monkeys in the wild and hearing the roar of the howler monkeys will never get old for me.  They are such enchanting creatures and I am always impressed with the noise that comes out of their little bodies.

After our long drive we arranged for a panga (small boat) to take us to the bay.  Everybody (including the dogs) piled into the boat and we were on our way.  As we rounded the corner into the bay there was a boat that had brought tourists from San Juan to swim in the bay.  We found a place under some shade and relaxed in our nearly secluded bay.  While we were snorkeling the boat left so we had some time to ourselves.  Aaron, Kris and myself took a little hike up one of the ridges.  The hike we took on the property before was a well-worn path.  This was more of a dried river bed full of leaves, but it was obviously used as a path as well.  We got to the top and had a beautiful view about 500 feet above the bay.  After returning to the fishing village nearby we were starving and looking for a good place to eat.  We found a perfect little restaurant and had tasty food, sometimes by candlelight (the lights went off and on during our meal).  It made for a perfect setting, and was quintessential Nicaragua.

Kris and Emily have slightly different holiday vacations, so Emily was able to stay longer.  Kris’ flight was early on the 31st so we left for Managua on the 30th.  We wanted to share the VIP movie theatre experience with Kris and Emily, so we had some sashimi (just raw fish; no rice, seaweed or any other fixins’) before the movie.  While waiting in line for the movie to open the waiters took our order so everything was served to us when we sat down.  They loved the experience as well; we all enjoyed our sushi rolls, beer and popcorn while watching “A Night in a Museum”.

While taking Kris to the airport, Emily asked Continental Airlines if she would be able to check some chairs she found at the market on the airplane.  There is a machine at the airport that wraps objects in plastic to keep them together or to keep them protected.  We have seen several people at the airport with their rocking chairs disassembled, hammocks, etc. wrapped to check on the plane.  Since they told her she could check them, she went back to the Masaya market and purchased her chair.  Amy also got two of the same kind; they have a wood frame but the seat is woven like a hammock.

The day we got back from Managua was New Year’s Eve day.  The town of San Juan was absolutely overflowing with people that had descended upon the beach for the holiday.  A rich Nicaraguan family owns several palapas (thatched roof structures) right on the beach, and they only use them for parties on major events such as Semana Santa, Christmas and New Years.  Every other day of the year they sit empty and are simply guarded by security.  That day they were bustling with activity.  There was stereo equipment suitable for a club, people lined up outside waiting to get in and new banners up and down the street.  All the restaurants were full of people waiting to party in the new year of 2007!  I was able to take a little nap before going out at night so I wouldn’t be so exhausted.  Aaron and Emily played dominoes until it was time to get ready for the night.  While getting ready for the evening, the electricity went out!  Emily was able to finish showering but applying makeup was difficult!  At one point she had her hair wrapped in a towel with the headlamp on over it to see in the mirror!  I missed getting a picture and she wouldn’t put it back on to model for me . . . it was such a Nicaraguan moment!  Aaron turned the generator on so she could dry her hair.  We lit some fireworks and opened a bottle of champagne before heading out for the night.  We had dinner at a beach restaurant among the swarms of people before heading back to the house to light off the rest of our fireworks.  We had the best view around as the entire town of San Juan set off fireworks simultaneously at midnight!  The Pellas mansion on the hill (the richest Nicaraguan family; they own the national rum “Flor de Cana”, car dealerships, banks, etc.) put on a marvelous show on the hill directly in front of our house.

We celebrated the first day of the New Year by having brunch at the wonderful restaurant up at Pelican Eyes.  They have the best eggs benedict, and they even have salmon!  That day our friends Larry, Dana, Jason and their son Jayden came up to the house to hang out for the afternoon.  Jayden was about 11 months old and loved playing in the waterfall at the house!  They stayed for dinner and Aaron made a great lasagna.  Emily’s flight was early in the morning on January 3rd, so we went to Managua the day before.  Emily decided she wanted one more of the hammock chairs that she had purchased so we stopped to buy one from a family off the main road going to Masaya.  When in Managua we tried to see another VIP movie but they were playing the same one we saw the week before.  We also tried to locate a charger for our iPod at an electronic store, but we had absolutely no luck.  We called it quits and headed back to the hotel to get a good night sleep.

The morning we took Emily to the airport we used the machine to wrap the chairs in plastic.  When she tried to check them the Continental agent told her they were too big and couldn’t check them.  As you can imagine she was not pleased with his response.  As mentioned before she specifically asked Continental if she could check the chairs before she ever bought them.  Then she continued to spend the money on the chairs and the plastic wrap because they told her she could.  Unfortunately it put a sour taste in all of our mouths; but Emily asked us to please donate them to our friends that are opening a yoga retreat community in San Juan del Sur (Dana, Jason & Larry).  When we gave them the chairs they absolutely loved them and were very appreciative.  Every time we take someone to the airport in Managua, we always manage to do lots of errands while in town.  We had dropped off the RV generator at a mechanic way back in early October and we needed to pick it up.  There were many issues with the darn thing and it kind of got lost in the shuffle.  It didn’t help that the mechanic that Aaron was originally working with no longer worked at the garage.  When we were in town to pick up Kris and Emily, we found out we still needed more parts ordered from the states for the generator.  Of course Aaron wasn’t happy to hear this since we just had four different sets of people flying from the states to Nicaragua that could have brought the parts with them.  He ordered the parts from Onan himself and had them shipped to Nicaragua at high cost.  Therefore the day we took Emily to the airport was our last day in Managua and we needed the generator.  We got to the shop in the morning when it was supposed to be done and it wasn’t.  Fortunately we had a backup plan expecting it to not be completed.  There are ancient footprints in the city of Managua preserved in petrified volcanic mud and ash that are about 6,000 – 7,000 years old.  They are called the Huellas de Acahualinca and there is a small but interesting museum where you can have a guide in Spanish or English.  The footprints were found while digging for quarry stone near the shores of Lake Managua in 1874.  There are structures covering the top of the footprints, but they are still open to the elements on the side.  When I first saw the footprints I got that spine tingling feeling that always accompanies an archaeological site or museum.  I was absolutely amazed at what lay before me.  You could see several tracks of people and animals walking.  All the human footprints were walking the same direction and the animal footprints were going different directions indicating the animals walked the path at a different time than the humans.  The animal prints were made by raccoon and deer.  In the human footprints you could see there were children as well as adults, and it appeared that some people may have been carrying heavy loads as their footprints sunk deeper than others.  We could also see where some parts of the mud was thicker and more wet than other parts as the footprints sank in the thick mud creating squishy deformed footprints.  Seeing these ancient footprints reminded me of the dinosaur footprints that are found in Arizona outside Tuba City.  I visited these tracks with my parents while in high school and I still remember to this day walking around in utter amazement.  The footprints in Managua are one of the most unique archaeological sites I have seen, and I highly recommend visiting.  Unfortunately I can’t share the footprints with you on our website because I wasn’t prepared to visit the site that day and did not have a camera.  I would have gladly paid the extra $2 to take photos.  The museum does not have postcards either, so they remain in my memory alone.

Having returned to San Juan we began to pack the RV little by little, so that it wouldn’t consume our last days at the house.  A really long story short; the owner of the house (lives in Canada) booked new tenants before we were scheduled to leave.  She expected us to leave early to accommodate them, but we stood our ground and refused to leave early.  My birthday was January 7th, we wanted a going away party and we wanted to be able to leisurely pack the RV (a daunting task).  Once we were finally able to communicate directly with the owner we were able to clarify incorrect information she had been given and she relented.  The new tenants were put up in a hotel for several nights while we enjoyed our last nights at the house.

We went with some friends to look at property north of San Juan del Sur, but didn’t find anything we were interested in.  Not exactly the property we were looking for and prices were way too high.  We had a party the night before my birthday which also served as our going away party.  Our friends Greg and Karen came from Granada with their beautiful children Daniela and Emma and lots of people from San Juan were able to come as well.  Fortunately we had the spare room available so Greg and Karen were able to stay the night instead of making the trek back to Granada.  Our friend Dana made Amy a great little cookie birthday cake and it was presented to her with everyone holding the lit birthday candles since they couldn’t go into the cookie!  It was so thoughtful of her and very much appreciated!  The next day was my birthday and Greg and family hung out at the house for a while before heading home.  Aaron found me a masseuse in town and I thoroughly enjoyed the massage!  Even though it was a bit noisy in town, I had forgotten how much I really love massages!  That night we had a great birthday dinner at April’s restaurant, El Jardin.  Our friend and neighbor, Ken, was also there for dinner.  He was very sneaky and arranged to pay for our dinner as a going away present!  We later told him in an email that it was also my birthday, and the gesture had extra special meaning.  That same night we also met someone from Flagstaff at the restaurant!  Talk about a small world!  Jack Howley had recently purchased a house in the same community as ours in San Juan.  After reminiscing about Flagstaff we found out that we know many of the same people in Flagstaff, yet we had never met one another until Nicaragua!

Our friends Larry and Annie were headed to Costa Rica so we offered to give them a ride to the border.  We had planned on going to the Nicoya Peninsula and to the beach of Samara.  After four months in Nicaragua, and three of them spent in our beautiful home in San Juan, we were very excited to be back in our little adventure mobile!  Of course we would miss parts of the house, but were getting antsy for our mobile lifestyle!  On the road again!

We would like to say “hasta luego” to all our friends we met in Nicaragua!  We enjoyed getting to know all of you.  You really made our Nicaraguan experience memorable!  We will see you on our north-bound journey, whenever that may be!  Adios!

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