December 25 2003
A very merry Christmas
- Nicaragua

Christmas morning finds us in the Cruiser, and at the rural Honduras/Nicaragua border crossing of El Paraiso at 7am, an hour before the border is to open. There is nothing we can do now but wait, so we made ourselves, and our crossing guide, a cup of coffee and watched the clouds ripped across the sky over Nicaragua. El Paraiso is a bit out of the way if you are trying to access the pacific coast of Nicaragua, but on our previous trip through these parts we found the border crossing at Somotillo, along the Pan-American highway, from Honduras into Nicaragua and especially the crossing at El Amatillo from El Salvador into Honduras to be so heinous that I would rather sleep in the streets of Danli before returning to cross at either place again. Besides the roads are better and less traveled through the mountains and the driving isnÕt as stressful.

Once the border opened, crossing into Nicaragua was a breeze it took only about an hour. The biggest hassle was the photocopier running out of paper resulting in us having to run the ten meters to the car to get a sheet. Now we are in Nicaragua driving down the street exchanging the occasional ÒMerry ChristmasÓ to one and other in jest of our situation, driving nowhere, to do nothing, with no one, on a day where everyone has something special to do.

Trying to get something to eat Christmas morning in rural Nicaragua is challenging to say the least. It doesnÕt appear that any one is interested in eating. ItÕs 10 am and the last four places we have stopped, to see if we can get a bite to eat, are filled with drunks celebrating there holiday. We were lucky and found a glass of strawberry Quick and some cookies with matching pink frosting. After a while we did eventually find some food and then made our way to Lago Appoyo outside of Granada. This is a beautiful inland lake surrounded by natural preserves. Apparently the nature preserves take the holiday off as well to allow the inundation of thousands of Nicaraguans trying to set national alcohol consumption records and push the boundaries of how many different types of music can be played at maximum volume in one location

at once. We made a hasty retreat and before nightfall were in the inland colonial city of Granada. Christmas dinner consisted of Hawaiian pizza and a beer. No turkey or snow but a lot better than strawberry Quick and a cookie.

December 30, 2003
Granada is an easy town to like it looks like a mini version of Antigua Guatemala without all the tourists. ItÕs filled with spectacular colonial architecture and has many restaurants, coffee shops, and other amenities that make it nice for the traveler. We spent two days there, kind of doing nothing, and I enjoyed it. Driving non-stop wears me out; it saps all my energy and takes a little time to recover. Staying in one place for a couple of days always makes moving on interesting again. We left Granada and moved on to the small costal town of Masachapa

The road to Masachapa runs along a tall ridge that is a beautiful viewing point looking out onto the pacific. The rolling hills are open and covered in grass and there is a cool breeze and for a moment it doesnÕt feel like the tropics. The sun is going down and filling the sky with and ethereal red glow on the horizon that demanded attention.

It is nice to be at the beach again. We surfed some fun waves but nothing spectacular. The last couple days we have been staying with a friend of Zack's named Luis Mayorga and his family. Masachapa is a fishing town with big open beaches that people from Managua visit on the weekends. It is not the cleanest place in the world but it has a good feeling to it and everyone we have met has been very open and nice. There is Giant resort up the beach where a lot of the towns people work for minuscule wages catering to the tourists that come to lay in the sun and play golf next to the preteen beaches up there. Luis works there giving surf lessons and renting surfboards.

We are camped out in the MayorgaÕs yard, which happens to be the main through fair for people in the neighborhood to pass through on. Luis has a large family and there are always people coming by to talk, fix fishing nets or bake cakes. It is a smorgasbord of activity. Staying with them has been special. I feel like I am at home we eat with them every night and all sit around the table and have a big meal, where they feed everyone who happens to show up. After dinner we usually cruise down to the little store that is owned by a very nice lady named Melba and get something sweet to eat. At night the streets are alive with activity and people walk around socializing and visiting until well past 11 in the evening. It is a great little scene and I feel as though I have made some good friends. It feels good to be a guest and not a tourist.

Luis has two brothers who live at the house David who is an electrician and Israel who gets paid to play soccer. They are around all the time and we have been spending a lot of time with them while Luis is at work.

Israel took me fishing for lobster the other day we woke up early at the crack of dawn and went to the beach where we launched the poorest excuse for a fiberglass boat that I have ever seen. After the boat was in the water Israel motioned to someone on the beach who brought out a small outboard on a wheeled cart and a tiny amount of gasoline. We strapped the motor onto place and were off racing through the surf to tend and set nets to catch the little sea creatures. The swell was pumping and it was quite exciting. There were four total on the boat excluding me. Each man had a job. One guy drove the boat that seemed to be the owner. Two others tended lines and hauled in the nets. And Israel swam down to free the nets when they got stuck to the bottom. Which happened several times on the dozen or so nets we hauled in. A few of the nets had been placed inside the breaking waves and we had to time the acquisition of them with the incoming sets and on occasion ditch them mid haul and make a break for the outside leaving Israel to dive through the surf on his own. He swam for a good two hours with only a few breaks and probably dove to the bottom 50 times to free the nets. At end of the haul they divided up the take, which was only a fifteen or so lobster. Then they took it to a neighborhood store and cashed in on their catch bringing in abort 20 dollars amongst themselves for half a day of hard work.

December 31 2003
So itÕs the last hour of 2003 and the explosive orchestra of fireworks has begun to ring in the New Year. I am looking up through the tent at the colorful light show and fooling myself thinking I will be able to go to sleep with all the noise and commotion that is about to occur. I am right. As the clock strikes 12 insanity ensues. Fireworks fill the air racing up and down the streets at head neck and waist levels, bombs explode so loudly that I feel the blast inside my body before I hear them. After the boom car alarms set off by the blasts chime in. It is a musical melody of mayhem.

Today I went to a cockfight with Israel. This isnÕt something that I would normally seek out in fact I find the idea of it pretty gross. But I was invited and I saw it as a good opportunity to see something that I feel opinionated about opposing. So off we went to watch the unknowing birds battle it out.

It was a sad and gross display of mans inhumanity to animals. The event took place at in a fenced lot where an admission was charged. The fights themselves took place in a round arena and were overseen by a, slickly dressed elderly gent with numerous gold rings and a Òtoo coolÓ mob boss demeanor, like the universe awaited the stroke of his hand. And that stroke was the stroke of death. Steel spikes were strapped to the heels of the unsuspecting birds by judges who also attend to the birds during the match. The instinctive nature of the animal is then used against itself. Confined to the pen the birds are held by the feet and thrust head first toward each other until they are in conflict with one and other. They are then released, where in they fight until the lucky blow of a steel spike cuts the throat of the other bird and forever bolsters the machismo of the birdÕs captor along with that of the gambling spectators that jeer and holler all the while. There was blood, there was death, there was pain and there were broken egos that fittingly ended in a fight amongst cowards masquerading as men in the dirt lot that evening. Maybe they should have spared the birds and come alone to the ring that evening.

January 2 2004
We have driven south to Popoyo a beach that we visited four years ago that at that time was a small salt harvesting village. The salt harvesters are still there but on a beach that only four years ago had nothing but sand, sun and surf now also had roads, streetlights and houses, restaurants and hotels built on the sand and in the estuaries. The beaches here are beautiful surrounded by estuaries lots of incredible birds and the most beautiful sky I have seen over the ocean the whole trip. The first day we arrived there was more swell than we have seen in a while and we got some fun waves. We found a local hot springs that was much more appealing than the one in Guatemala and it was relaxing to sit in warm water for the first time in several months. Zack had another friend in Popoyo named Tino who is one of the most talented musicians I have met. Tino and Zack played guitar and sang songs that Tino had written with girl Paola who worked at the hotel, who joined in after we asked her to turn her stereo down so we could hear Tino play. It is amazing how nice a little live music brings everyone together.

We met a lot of foreigners who had been living in Costa Rica and are moving north to Nicaragua to flee the over touristation they had helped create down there. Out in the water we met some folks from Florida who wanted sell us a cookie cutter lot on a piece of land that they were developing so they could afford on the beach they were about to help destroy with over development.

I feel a little saddened by out visit to Nicaragua. It seems as though it is trying to find itself. The government has long been in a state of political corruption and the society pays with civil unrest when scandals occur. It has been war ravaged twice in the in the recent past. The landscape although nice looking with tall grassy hills has been heavily deforested and lacks a lot of jungle vegetation. There is a lot of poverty and almost everywhere we stop someone asks for money. There is not much work the average wage is a bout $5.00 a day for ten hours hard work. There is not a lot of indigenous culture and there is a lot of class division. On Christmas we saw people in fancy SUVÕs cruising the rural areas stopping to hand out gifts to children on the side of the road who had there pointer finger in the air. We figured this must be some kind of tradition because we passed literally hundreds of these kids out on the streets with their finger in the air. The people have struggled so much and are so strong and yet there is feeling in the air like ÒWhat Now?Ó

Nicaragua is running to place in the capitalistic marathon. It is emerging as an alternative tourist/investment destination to Costa Rica and it is a sad thing to see it being commodified. A tourism-based economy seems falsely inflated and cultural destructive when the culture changes just to support what it thinks the tourist industry wants. Hopefully the beneficial repercussion will be a heightened awareness to the need to preserve the environment. Although it is sad to see the need to preserve the environment purely economic based and not based for an appreciation for what is natural and wild and how it and we fit into a sustainable society. It is an interesting and exciting time in place filled with a beautiful people and landscape hope fully it wont become another culturally deprived beach for the spring break dance party crowd.


Nicaragua Nicaraguita. 12/25/03
Up early, we leave the town of Danl’ Honduras around 6:00 am, and are at the border of Nicaragua ready to cross by 7:00. New country means once again a new currency. In Honduras, the Lempira was valued at about 17 to 1 US dollar. Here in Nicaragua the currency is the Cordob‡, and about 15 Cordob‡s equal one dollar, and we have about 900 Lempiras, and my brain is not working this early on Xmas day trying to figure out the exchange rate. It literally takes me about an hour to exchange the remaining Lempiras we have with a border official, as he too is quite confused, and the math that he continually types into the calculator does not add up. We go back and forth, like we are bidding or something, and eventually money is exchanged, and after about 2 hours at the border, we are in country of Nicaragua.

Seeing that its Christmas, most stores are closed, and the places that are open are filled with people drinking ÒGuaroÓ, or Liquor. We stop at two places to try and eat, and the relatively drunk folks running the eateries seem less than excited to stop drinking and make us some food, so we carry on. Finally we stumble across a cool little restaurant where we get the typical breakfast of Gallo Pinto (beans and rice), and eggs, and for me a Coca Cola. Note: If you ask a Nicaraguan what is the typical food of his or her country, undoubtedly you will be told that it is Gallo Pinto. If you ask a Costa Rican national the same question, you will also be told Gallo Pinto. A few years ago an argument erupted over which country had the right to claim Gallo Pinto as itÕs Comida Tipica, and too prove some strange point, Costa Rica prepared an absurdly massive dish of the stuff and claimed it in the Guinness Book of World Records. Retaliating fiercely, Nicaragua out did itself by making a dish of the mixture of rice and beans bigger than that of Costa Rica, therefore making the claim of Nicaragua as the true land of the Gallo Pinto. Either way, in either country is quite easy to find, and not a bad meal.

Its tough to be away from home on Christmas, and although I am happy to be in Nicaland once again, I am feeling a bit homesick and unmotivated. Our destination for the evening is an old colonial town called Granada, situated on the Lago de Nicaragua, just south of Managua, the Capital. Interestingly enough, this massive lake that looks to be almost 1/4th size of Nicaragua proper contains a species of fresh water sharks. I have never been to Granada, but Scott has, and promises me it will remind me of Antigua Guatemala, but not nearly as many tourists.

En route to Granada, we decide to stop and visit another lake called El Lago de Apoyo where ScottÕs aunt and uncle have bought some property. The name of the lake translates to mean quite literally, Òthe lake of helpÓ. Half way into our drive down the steep hill to Lago de Apoyo, we are quite literally screaming, ÒHELP!!Ó as we find ourselves stuck in the biggest Christmas party we have ever seen. The touristy part of the lake is absolutely packed with people, and it is almost impossible to drive through the human sea of traffic. I am behind the wheel, and find myself battling behind a bus and some taxis obviously taking advantage of this flood of folk that will eventually have to walk back up the steep hill to get to the main road. Finally we spot a sign for an ecological reserve/Spanish school, and we retreat behind their gate to get away from the Nicaraguan Christmas madness. The young man working there tells us that school is empty, aside from the mayhem going on in the street, and that normally the lake sees very little tourist traffic, only on special holidays such as today, when the people from the city come to get away. We drink some juice and chat for a half hour or so, mentally preparing for the exit we will have to eventually have to make. Our exit is just as brutal as the entry, but we do get a great shot with the camera of passing a bus that is packed with more people than I ever thought could possibly fit inside a school bus. ÒImagine if you saw this in the States!Ó I keep telling Scott.

Scott is quite correct, as Granada is indeed a beautiful colonial town that is quite reminiscent of Antigua, Guatemala. The main difference that I notice is the heat. Antigua has a climate that is quite pleasant, but here in Granada it is hot, sticky and humid. The town is situated around a central park as Antigua is, and as you walk down the street, you can peer right into peoples homes. The popular thing to do with the home here seems to be to have the main family room, or sala right on the street, and as we walk down the Avenidas in the evening, we pass by people watching TV, eating dinner, and enjoying the most comfortable time of the day in Central America. This is our first night here, and being that itÕs Christmas, accommodations are slim and we are doing laps up and down the Avenidas looking for a place to stay.

Suddenly Scott has the idea to call his friend Susan in Costa Rica who has just remodeled a home here, and might be willing to let us occupy it, being that its empty. Susan is thrilled to speak with Scott, and of course offers us her house, and tells us to find Memo, the security guard who watches the house and explain to him that we are guests and to let us in to sleep. After a bit of trouble finding the place, we find ourselves at the doorstep of this beautiful house with music blasting through the doorway. We knock and knock, with no answer, and just as we are about to give up, a young woman appears and informs us that she is the cleaning lady, and she can help us get inside. Unfortunately she doesnÕt have a key, but bangs on the door harder than we do, and seems quite determined. After some yelling and ferocious knocks, she give up and explains to us that ÔDennisÕ the guest must be out, but should be back any minute now. We are quite confused, as Susan had told us that the house was empty, and begin to ask about this Dennis character. She explains that Dennis has been here for a week or so, doesnÕt speak any Spanish, and that she likes to go out a lot, but that she should be back any minute. SHE?? Suddenly Dennis is a girl, and we are more confused than ever. We tell the cleaning lady that we will come back tomorrow, and thank her for her help trying to let us in.

Upon return in the morning, we have our first encounter with ÒDennis,Ó or Denise, which is rather sour, as she is not at all interested in sharing the quite ample home with to dirty travelers. She explains that tonight is an extremely special night, and that there is no way she could possibly share with us, but if we must stay, she will leave the following day. We decline, figuring itÕs probably better to let Dennis have her way, and decide to head to the coast in search of surf.

We end up in a town I spent a few weeks in four years ago called Masachapa, about an hour outside of the capital Managua. I have an old friend here named Luis Mayorga whom I met here in Nicaragua back in 1999. If anybody ever finds themselves in Masachapa, find Luis. Its really easy actually, just ask for the Familia Pajaro, and within five minutes you will be drinking a cup of coffee and hanging out with this amazing family. I came to know Luis through surfing in southern Nicaragua and through my good friend Cito Krakauer. Cito and I spent a couple of months surfing together here, and were invited to stay with Luis and his family. The Pajaros, or the Bird Family if you must translate it, are an icon here in Masachapa, and being invited guests here is very much a privilege. Scott puts it simply, invitees are invited and welcome, tourists are not invited, and not necessarily unwelcome, but just not invited. We are treated like family, and try to do our best to help out when ever possible. I find myself washing dishes a few nights, which by no means is an easy task when you are feeding a family of 14 people or so. Aside from Luis, who has his own house, but spends most of his free time here, the rest of the brothers who are around live at home with La Mama, Rita. Along with the brothers are their children, as well as their wives and girlfriends. When there are children around, you can always expect more to be visiting and hanging out, and thatÕs just what you find here. Something is always going on en la casa de Los Pajaros, and someone is always stopping by for a visit.

We spend New Years Eve here, which turns out to be fun, and I am glad Luis was able to convince us to stay. We see another amazing show of amateurs blowing up crazy explosives, and once again wonder how it is that no one gets hurt in the frenzy. I can specifically recall a large, and very drunk man lighting fireworks in his hand and shooting them horizontally down the street. We see one guy who is quite drunk and attempting to ride his bike home with his girlfriend on the handlebars. After a few futile attempts and near disaster falls with his girlfriend in the mix, he gives up, and hoists his bike up onto his shoulders and figures its better to carry it than ride it. What I canÕt figure out is why he didnÕt just walk it.

New years day. I am up at 7:00 and Scott is gone. Finally I put 2 and 2 together and remember that one of the brothers, Israel was going to take him out onto the boat to fish for lobster. I wish everyone a Feliz A–o Nuevo, and hangout with Luis before he has to go to work. We are leaving today, and heading south to make one more stop before we head to Costa Rica. Scott comes back cold but satisfied with his fishing experience, and reports that there is some swell. We eat an early lunch, snap some photos of la Familia, and are off to the southern Coast.

En route to Las Salinas on a really, really bad dirt road, we are waved to stop by an elderly man who is walking with nothing more than a plastic bottle and a small bag. Assuming he is wanting a ride, I encourage Scott to stop and pick him up. As we pull over, he rushes to the door and is followed by three others who I had not initially associated with him. They want a ride, and as I try to explain that there just isnÕt any room, they just begin to pile in. Next thing I know, there are 6 of us in the Landcruiser heading down the terrible dirt road. After an hour or so of driving, I ask the man, who is occasionally taking sips off of his clear plastic bottle of some sort of alcohol how much farther to Las Salinas. His reply is always, ÒÁWooooh!! Mas p‡ All‡! Falta todavia! Farther stillÉ Finally our passengers begin to hoot and holler, and gibberishly explain that we have arrived to their destination. We drop them off, happy as can be and continue on towards the coast and Las Salinas.

Back in 1999 and 2000, I spent almost 2 months here in Las Salinas, and there was not much going on in the form of tourism. Aside from the occasional surf traveler, that was about all I saw aside from the locals who live here and farm salt from the flats. The coastline is amazing here, and it will always be beautiful, yet tourism is on the rise. As we drive towards the beach on what was once an empty road, is now sided by house after house after house, as well as an enormous project that appeared to be a hotel or track housing or something. As I said, the scenery hasnÕt changed, nor the waves, and we get some fun surf. I am feeling a bit sad that I canÕt spend more time in Las Salinas, due to our need to get to Costa Rica and onto South America, but I am glad to have been able to return and visit my friends. Plus we got to see El Famoso Tino and film him singing and playing the guitar. Stay tuned for TinoÕs album, live in SalinasÉ Next stop, Costa Rica.