Sunday, July 8, 2012

Finally...I Made It!

Depicts CIA involvement in the Revolution 
After a full 48 hours of travel mishaps, although small but irritating nonetheless, I finally made it to Nicaragua. Dumped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, I am bombarded by some six taxi drivers  all vying for a chance to win my cordobas. And while I am honestly annoyed by the pushy sales pitches, I can respect the need to hustle for the traveler's dollar amongst the heavy competition. For the winner, it can sometimes mean the luxury of having meat with the typical rice, beans and plantains for his family. But I cannot complain for it was here that I met Melanie, a sassy young Australian, who also was dumped out in the middle of nowhere. We rode for many hours on the same bus together, and never spoke a word to one another, but were now teaming up against the riot of men to share a taxi into Leon.

As it turns out, Leon is a very charming college town steeped rich with revolutionary history. At every turn you'll find evidence of a proud people fostering their wounds with pride. Colorful murals cleverly located near the university remind its young people of a past they are too young to have experienced. As I studied each one to interpret its meaning, I stumbled across one "representing the "Sandinistas" armed struggle and the CIA's role (the serpent) to influence the Nicaraguan elections. The fact that I was not personally involved in this manipulation did nothing to deter my guilt or remorse for enjoying the interesting depiction. I was American and that was reason enough. Sadly, the rest of the city was not as well maintained as one could hope for. What remains of its colonial stature, colossal cathedrals and a vibrant art scene, made it a city full of substance, and that made for a stimulating stay. Melanie and I found great places to satisfy our hunger, one favorite of ours, Barbaro, was worthy of a second visit.  A great city to experience on foot,  and in hindsight, I regret not doing a guided tour.  My main purpose for my stay was to hike and volcano board down the infamous Cerro Negro, which I shamelessly accomplished while crashing out twice. Nonetheless, it was an experience of a lifetime, one that I will arrogantly boast to my nieces and nephews once I return home.

Next on the "Gringo Trail" was the Nicaragua's oldest city of Granada, which sits on the foot of the majestic Volcan Mombacho while simultaneously resting on the dark sandy shores of Lago de Nicaragua. It's beautifully maintained colonial architecture does well representing the Spanish empire of old, and it doesn't hurt that the cuisine was to die for.  From the grand central park, to the fabulous cathedrals and cobblestone streets, this was a luminous city to explore on foot. It also serves as a great base for other outdoor excursions like exploring the nearby islands of Las Isletas, the handicrafts center Masaya, and the towns of Pueblos Blancos. This part of my adventure holds a special place in my heart... as it marks the first time I ventured out of my "solo traveler mode" to travel with a group of complete strangers that made an already awesome experience, that much more incredible.  Melanie and I quickly grew to a group of eleven, consisting our four Australians, four Americans, one Spaniard and two Israelis who were quickly dumped early on.  The Israelis need mention, for if it had not been for meeting them on the street, and recommending their hostel to us, Melanie and I would never have met the others. Since we were all traveling in the same direction, it just made sense to combine our experiences.  It was also this group that would be responsible for breaking me out of my "private room-private bath" snobbishness to share a dorm room, which was another experience in itself. Not one that I was fond of at first, but they made a believer out of me, and I was able to save a few pennies in the process.  Who knew?

After exploring Las Isletas, sharing pizza and wine, and group breakfasts at the Garden Cafe', our group of now eight traveled onwards via "Chicken Bus" to the popular pacific coast destination of San Juan del Sur which used to be a sleepy little Pacific coast hamlet, until it was discovered by backpackers and surfers as the perfect spot for beach wandering, kite surfing, deep sea fishing sunbathing... and of course surfing.  There is a laid back vibe to this town, and what originally was planned as a two day venture quickly turned into four and our group of eight now split in half to stay at separate hostels. We happened into town during "Caravana del Caribe" an outdoor night festival of live beachfront music and dancing.  This made it easy for our now two groups to convene together at night, as drinking and dancing in the streets of San Juan were right up our alley.  One night while enjoying the local beer at a beachfront bar, we watched the ending to a spectacular baseball game. Nicaragua is playing Cuba in a five game series.  "How great would it be to catch a game while we are here?" someone from the group comments.  Just like that, with a bit of planning, we were off on the next "Chicken Bus" to Managua to see the next game in the series.  Not something I would have done solo, that's for sure, despite being an avid sports fan, but being part of this group made it so much more electric. Cuba killed it in this game against Nica, and I am ecstatic that I had the chance to experience it. Blessing to my new travel buddies, Melanie, Jemma, Makensie, Carlos, Jennifer, Alexander and Daniel. Keep on Travelin'!!!

So after globetrotting in Central America for the past eight weeks, it's back to the real world as I know it. Responsibility is calling and I have a dog who is in need of his mother. Do not think that for one second, that I didn't try to scheme a way to get my dog to Central America.  If he were small enough, it would have been as easy as paying a fee for him to fly in the cabin. Sadly, it's too hot for him to fly as cargo, or I'd be on the next flight to Panama.

Who says "... Men have all the fun?!?"  Not me... that's for sure!

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