Iceland: Mack The Knife…

iceland-location-mapTravel is always exciting and it´s the unexpected that most often provides the “good stuff.”  We are traveling to Reykjavik, Iceland, a mere 168 miles below the Arctic Circle, primarily to see the northern lights (aurora borealis).  This is something on Heide’s bucket list, not mine, but I dutifully help carry the bucket!  We left from Baltimore (BWI) on Monday, October 31 and will return on Sunday November 6.  During that time we hope the weather cooperates and Mother Nature actually switches the northern lights on during our visit and the lights will be visible.  No guarantees.

Now for the unexpected “good stuff” to start the trip.  We weren´t even to the ticket counter yet (WOW Airlines…whole other story) when Heide started talking about things she took out of her purse for the trip that weren’t necessary.  Suddenly, her light bulb went off and she realized that she had forgotten about the knife (as in weapon knife) she carries in her purse.  It is not an ordinary pocket knife to clean your nails or open an envelope.  Oh, no.  Hers is a Smith & Wesson Special Ops Knife with a three-inch blade and four-inch handle (7+ inches of cold hard steel and aluminum) including the MAGIC assist open feature (i.e., one-handed spring assisted opening much like a switchblade).   It is the typical knife anyone would expect their grandmother to be carrying in her purse… !  She was in a panic.

sw-ops-knifeI said, “Don´t take it out of your purse and flash it in the airport.  Inform the TSA agent when we go through security that you have it in your purse and ask permission to take it out and hand it to him.”  No surprises.  We knew the knife was headed to TSA heaven.

When we approached the first TSA agent checking our credentials at the security screening, and being the soft-hearted, caring, compassionate husband that I am, I said to the agent, “I just want you to know up front that I have no idea who this lady is and have never met her before!”

He looked at tiny Heide, all 5 feet, 1 inch of her, and said, “Oh boy, I can hardly wait to hear this one…”

Heide presented her passport and boarding pass and, as he was checking her ID, she started to explain.  “In the hurry to get packed for this trip I forgot I had something I shouldn´t in my purse.”  (Stage direction:  TSA agent raises eyebrows.)  I, of course, recognizing the gravity of the situation and trying to be supportive, am practically rolling on the floor trying to not laugh out loud.  She goes on to say, “I have a large pocketknife in my purse.  May I reach in, take it out, and hand it to you.”  (Stage direction:  TSA agent, while still looking at the passport, raises hand and waves another agent over…safety in numbers I suppose.)

The second agent enters stage left and asks what the problem is.  Heide restates the situation.  As she starts to reach into her purse to show him, he said, “Leave it where it is.  It will have to go through the X-ray screening.”  Under watchful eye, Heide is then escorted to the screening area where she puts her backpack, purse, jacket, jewelry, shoes, etc. into the trays for screening.  The Agent, while standing opposite her on the other side of the table, told her to retrieve ‘it´ from her purse and place it into a separate tray provided.  He informed his colleauge at the scanning machine, “We have something here.”   As she goes through the body scan, of course, she is then frisked completely.

I am still standing at the first TSA agent´s desk and, as he´s checking my passport and boarding pass (quite carefully I might add), he said, “Does she always carry that thing.’

I replied, “ Yep.  She is surprisingly one tough little lady!”  (Stage direction:  TSA agent is smiling.)  He said, “My thoughts exactly.” and waved me through.

And that, my friends, is how you start an exciting new trip to distant parts of the world !  More to come from Iceland…

Peaches and Cream

wp-1475496462143.jpgAs I sit near the Park Cafe on the indoor pool deck aboard Grandeur of the Seas, I can’t help but overhear conversations. It mystifies me why the topic of conversation among geezers is always about health problems: Medicare, what medicines they take, hip replacements, knee replacements, aches, pains. The conversations are downright depressing.  This cruise is almost all geezers and it seems unnatural to me.  There are no young people aboard; no children.  It’s God’s waiting room on the water.

Not since high school have I been in groups segregated by age.  I’ve had the good fortune in my career to always be surrounded by young people–elementary kids, college undergraduate and graduate students who exude joy and optimism about life.  There’s an eagerness about them.  They look for the fun in everything they do.  Happiness abounds. The elderly seem to focus more on what’s wrong than what’s right.

I have had the privilege of knowing a few people who have lived into their nineties in relatively good health. What distinguished these folks in my mind was their optimism about everything.  Without exception, their entire lives were characterized by a positive outlook on life enjoying each day to its fullest. They each always looked for the good in people and rarely if ever spread gossip. Unless asked very direct questions, they never spoke about health issues to anyone but their closest family members and then only with a purpose.

The 90-year olds I’ve known were among the “young old” as Mary Pipher would say in her book Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders. These are folks whose chronological age may be considered old but they are still young at heart and optimistic regardless of their years.  Age is in large part a state of mind.

At 65, I reflect back on my career.  I believe I’ve had a positive impact on the lives of the many children I had as an elementary teacher.  I’ve touched the lives of untold numbers of undergraduate and graduate students as a university professor.  I am grateful for those opportunities.  And through it all, I still see myself as that 16 to 18 year old in high school, optimistic and hopeful with a joy for life.  My 10th grade English teacher once told me, shaking her finger at me in front of the class, “Melnick, you think this life is all one big joke but you’ll find out later it’s not all peaches and cream.”  I guess the joke’s on her.  

Peaches and cream abound if only you look for them.


Masaya Volcano January 20, 2016
Masaya Volcano January 20, 2016

I promise I won’t bore anyone to death with more volcano pictures, BUT you’ve got to see this.  Click on the You Tube video link below at the bottom of the article…  On January 20, 2016, we looked over the wall on the rim of the Masaya Volcano and the picture to the left was our view of the hot gases escaping from down inside the crater.  The park was closed two days later.  Wait until you see the recent video (see link below)…

On March 1, the following video is taken from about the same spot we were standing…  You’ve got to see it now !!!  Be sure to turn your speakers on…

Click here:


Nicaragua: Lava and Pumice and Ash, Oh My…

Momotombo Volcano Eruption
Momotombo Volcano Eruption March 2, 2016

One of the many amazing things about staying in Managua is that not only are we living in the midst of one of the world’s most unstable seismic areas, we also have two active volcanoes nearby.

To our north, on the northern shore of Lake Managua (Managua is on the southern shore, about 50 kilometers away) is a beautiful cone-shaped volcano named Momotombo. I checked online for the meaning of the name but there were no results, so I’ll assume the name was intended to resemble the sounds of a volcano eruption, unless it’s ancient Mayan for “The Gods are angry again !” Until November of last year, Momotombo had not erupted since 1905.

Now, it seems Momotombo won’t shut up. It’s been erupting off and on since December, including two eruptions just a few days ago. After 110 years of relative calm, Momotombo has erupted 70 times in the past 14 weeks.  As you can see in the photo above, Momotombo produces some ash along with lava that can be seen at night from a distance.  The picture captures some pyroclastic flow, a current of hot gases and rock, down the side of the volcano.

Masaya Volcano Eruption

Our other volcano, 20 kilometers to the south of Managua, is called Masaya. It looks more like a black pumice landfill than a volcano, but that’s because it has numerous craters and calderas that have all erupted in the recent past, piling up lava chunks and ruining its chances of looking like the picturesque and shapely Momotombo, which (at least for now) has only one crater.

My cousin Judy went with us a few weeks ago to look down into Masaya’s craters. Masaya has the distinction of being the only volcano in the Western hemisphere that you can drive up to the top of, get out, and look over a low wall right into its steaming depths (see previous post). Unknown to us at the time, there were two seething lava pools at the bottom of one of those craters. We couldn’t see them because of the noxious vapors rising out of the crater. Geologists became so concerned over Masaya’s increasing lava pool formation, accompanied by increases in heat and sulfur dioxide, that they closed off Masaya to tourists just a few days after we were there and it’s been closed ever since.

Lest anyone become concerned about our proximity to these volcanoes, be assured that they are not huge volcanoes and Managua is well outside of the range of damage they can do. One of our diversions at the hotel is to periodically check the volcano webcams to keep an eye on our two rambunctious neighbors.

Just another day on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”.

Nicaragua: Hospital Emergency Room in the Third World …The COMPLETE Nicaragua Experience

emergencyIt was an “unexpected journey” that Bilbo would have been proud of, except there was no party the night before, no wizard to guide us, and no dragon horde of treasure awaiting us at the end.  But one similarity to “The Hobbit” was the frightening prospect of having to go to the Emergency Room in a third-world country. Fire-breathing dragons seemed tame by comparison. Yet, unlike Bilbo, we were prepared and confident…mostly.

Prior to our leaving the USA, we talked to our doctors and other healthcare providers about healthcare in the third world.  Predictably, each provider would frown with a shake of the head and warn us that healthcare in other countries was not good.  Each would rail about how poorly trained the doctors and nurses were, how there was little quality control, how conditions were not sanitary, don’t drink the water, don’t eat the food, “it’s cheaper for a reason.”  In short, each implied the only place to get first-rate care was in the USA.  Depressing news, but not bad enough to keep us from our adventure.

As precautions, however, we contacted our health insurance and got a “vacation override” for our maintenance prescription drugs so we would have sufficient supply for the duration of our trip (we needed more than the standard 90-day supply).  We translated our lists of meds, including dosages, into Spanish along with a Spanish explanation of the thankfully few health issues we have that might require care.  We wanted to be prepared for the possibility that no one would speak English when we needed it most.  Recognizing that medical facilities, just like those in the USA, can fall into “the good, the bad, and the ugly” categories, we researched the best and worst hospitals in Managua.  Upon our arrival, we located the nearest hospital with the best local reputation … just in case.  In short, we did our research and prepared for any worst-case scenarios related to any medical issues or complications that could be anticipated.  All information was carefully converted to Spanish PDF documents and then stored on both of our telephones, which we always have with us, so the information would be readily available should we need it.  We then promptly breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we were as prepared as we could be for all contingencies.  Almost.

We love having visitors when we travel and Nicaragua is no exception.  Sharing our experiences with family and friends brightens the trip and gives us a chance to broaden their horizons as we broaden ours.  So far, my cousin (and Heide’s best friend from childhood) along with our good friends Sam and Sunny from Maryland have visited us in Nicaragua.  Usually, things go smoothly.  On this trip, however, not so much. We shared more experiences than we intended. In addition to sharing old Colonial towns, smoking volcanoes, stunning Pacific Ocean vistas, we also managed to get 2/3 of our guests sick, along with ourselves, with some version of food poisoning (we think).  For most of the cases, the bout was the garden variety of “Oh, I don’t feel so good” food poisoning. The antibiotic Cipro, plus lots of water and rest, took care of the problem.

But my poor cousin, who shall remain nameless to protect her pride and privacy, had it the worst.  She didn’t have the “garden variety”, but rather the nuclear explosion variety that emanates from every possible orifice known to humankind.  The outcome (and I use that term loosely–no pun intended) was rather spectacular.  The mushroom cloud could be seen for miles. After a night of ejecting things she ate back in high school, she looked miserable, felt dreadful, and was severely dehydrated.  She couldn’t even keep the anti-nausea medication down.  The only thing the nearby Masaya Volcano eruptions had over her was the smoke–and I can’t say with certainty that there wasn’t any.  It became clear that if she was ever to see the USA again in this life, we needed to get her to the ER at the local hospital.

IMG_20160129_093414As luck would have it, the closest hospital to our hotel is also the best in Managua, so off we went, patient in tow, to experience Emergency Room care in the third world (every gringo’s private nightmare).  We pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance but she was too weak to get out of the car.  The security guard got someone from the ER with a gurney, and my cousin was quickly wheeled into the ER.  After a brief explanation, with Heide doing what translating she could while I parked the car, a doctor was summoned who spoke some English.  An IV was immediately started to replace fluids and blood was drawn for testing along with other “samples.”  Within an hour, the results came back as a “food-borne intestinal infection,” and an internist was called in who also spoke English.  Antibiotics were prescribed and administered via IV, but it became apparent that she was not recovering quickly enough, so the decision was made to admit her for observation overnight.

The hospital brought in an interpreter to make sure we understood what was going on with both her care and, of course, the billing.  Medicare does not cover anyone outside of the USA, and the hospital did not work with my cousin’s supplemental insurance.  Her supplemental insurance will reimburse her for the costs.  The forms I signed (on her behalf) were in English and perfectly clear.

I have to say that the gloom and doom portrayed by our USA healthcare providers couldn’t have been further from reality.  The care was first rate; the facilities were as modern and up-to-date as any I’ve seen in the USA.  The ER equipment looked no different than anything I would expect to see back home.  The lab results were back quicker than you could say, “Are the lab results back?”  We did not wait forever for anything.  The hospital was efficient and absolutely spotless including the public restrooms (my litmus test for cleanliness).  Each time my cousin would use the bathroom, amazingly, someone would go in and clean and disinfect it.   In the morning someone came into her room and cleaned and disinfected every single thing in the room–bed, mattress, floors, walls, chairs, everything was wiped down and disinfected.  My cousin was in awe at how thorough they were.  There were more people with mops in the hallways and public areas than there were cops outside trying to give me a ticket.

Nicaragua may be a poor third-world country economically, but the care we witnessed at the Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas was first-rate.  I don’t wish a hospital stay on anyone, but if I had to go myself, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to go to this hospital.  And the total bill for the emergency room care and the overnight stay in a private room, including all medications and doctor fees, was just $1,407.55.  That amount in the USA wouldn’t have covered the hospital meals, and the care would have been no better.

My cousin was back with us the next day and ready to go right back into the dragon’s lair — the wonderful world of potential food-borne illness known as “restaurantes.” Her first question was, “What’s for dinner?”

Nicaragua: I fought the law…and the law won…TWICE !

Policia_Nacional_De_Nicaragua_LogoThe vagabond life is never boring and two weeks ago was no exception to that rule. Navigating the legal system in a foreign country can be challenging. Much more so when you only understand a little of the language. In the United States (at least in Pennsylvania and Maryland), a U-Turn is permissible unless there is a sign prohibiting it. As luck would have it, Nicaraguans don’t waste a lot of money on road signs. No street signs, no route numbers, there are speed limit signs and appropriately placed “Yield” and “Stop” signs (Ceda el Paso and Alto respectively) but there are few signs of any other kind. And, where there once were signs that had gotten stolen, they still enforce the phantom sign anyway.  A puzzling system.  Not that that excuses my run-in with the law…twice.

We took off on a road trip in search of the Bavarian Delickatessen in Managua. Sauerkraut is not common fare in the grocery stores here apparently and I just had a hankering for some. The Bavarian Delickatessen was found and the sauerkraut was sold in bulk–not in cans or bags but by the wad.  We also found a little bakery next door that had some decent breads (Don Pan–pan meaning bread)–they do something to the bread down here that makes it crumbly without that wonderful bread smell and taste. We suspect the flour here is of a different variety because it seems to be fairly consistent everywhere we go. In any case, we were thrilled with our purchases and were heading back to our apartment when I took a wrong turn and needed to head in the opposite direction on the Masaya Road (Route 4). Just as I would back home (legally, BTW), I came up to a turn lane at a traffic light with no sign barring a U-Turn and, when the left turn light went green, executed a perfect U-Turn that would have brought tears to the eyes of driving aficionados everywhere. Alas, about 200 meters or so down the road and unknown to me at the time sat two Transito Policia–who observed my perfect driving with great interest.

As I approached where they were stopped along four lanes of traffic, one of them casually walked out into the third lane (MY lane), put his hand up, and motioned me to stop and pull over. I knew I was humped.  I wasn’t the only one pulled over but that was little comfort.

The real challenge, however, was yet to come.  Unlike Costa Rica where you can easily find someone who speaks English, Nicaraguan English speakers are few and far between and, apparently, it’s not a requirement for the police force.  Consequently, the entire conversation took place in Spanish–I use the term “conversation” loosely.  Pretty much, he talked, I listened.  When he got tired of talking to me he called his partner over to finish the conversation–still all in Spanish.  I may need hearing aids or a universal translator from Star Trek but the only word I clearly understood was “teeeket.”  With great flourish, he also kept motioning that he would keep my driver’s license, put it in an envelope and I would have to pay the fine at bank and then take the receipt to the police station on Monday to get it back.  He did this four or five times with a smile.  My only ace in the hole was “Lo siento.  No entiendo, señor.” (I’m sorry.  I don’t understand, sir.).  Don’t get me wrong–my ace did nothing for the shitty hand I held and I got the “teeeket” anyway but the police officer couldn’t have been nicer about it.

When we got back to the hotel where our apartment is, I threw myself on the mercy of Evelyn at the front desk who speaks English well.  She made a phone call to find out the procedure and made arrangements for a car service driver (Alberto) to take me to the police station and help me navigate the system. Alberto was a god send.  We were in and out in mere minutes instead of the half day I expected to spend there.

The Crime
The Crime

What I never realized was that there was a hidden message in what the police officer was trying to tell me with a big smile.  Just like in the movie Jerry Macquire, “Show me the money” and “Help me help you” were the actual themes of the conversation I didn’t understand.  His repeated motioning and explanation that my license would go into an envelope and I’d have to go to the police station to retrieve it were veiled attempts at soliciting a payoff.  Oh, dopey me….  Had I slipped him a few Cordobas, the entire episode would have evaporated into a “warning” without the hassle of keeping my license (“Help me help you”).

Not to be limited in my desire to give money to the police, I got stopped a second time a few days later for an “illegal lane change,” a bullshit charge but fairly common here in Nicaragua.  In any case, I now had a better understanding of what the officer was telling me.  He even drew a diagram showing what a shitty driver I was (see diagram).

Show Me The Money...
Show Me The Money…

He then showed me a folded card that indicated the fines for various offenses and pointed out the one that pertained to my high crime.  On the paper on which he drew the diagram he wrote “$40” and showed it to me with a smile.  Jerry Macquire came to the rescue as I “helped him help me” for 500 Cordobas (about $20).  I tried to hand it to him but he made it clear I should put it inside the “fine card” and hand the card back to him–thus, no money was seen being handed out the window.  He returned my driver’s license with a smile and we were on our way.

I swear that rental cars here have an invisible Bat Signal on them that only the police can see.

Nicaragua–Volcan Masaya: Gazing into the Abyss…

DSCN2394On Sunday we took a short trip to the Masaya Volcano which is just 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) outside of Managua.  The area actually includes two volcanoes and five craters.  The Masaya Volcano is also known as Popogatepe (“mountain that burns”) in the language of the indigenous Chorotega tribe.  The Masaya Volcano, during pre-Columbian times, was sacred to the indigenous people and they believed the eruptions were signs the gods were angry.  To appease the gods, they would offer sacrifices of small children and maidens.  In the 16th century, the Spanish conquerors baptized the active volcano “La Boca del Infierno” or “The Mouth of Hell” and for good reason. Gases constantly escape from the throat of the volcano and iridescent lava can be seen in its interior.  The Spanish planted a cross on the edge of the caldera to exorcise the devil from it. It is an active volcano and it’s last eruption was in 2008. In 4550 B.C. one of the largest volcanic eruption on Earth in the last 10,000 years occurred here.  Unfortunately, looking down the throat of an active volcano is on Heide’s Bucket List. Somehow the fact that it’s not on mine is irrelevant so off we went.

The Desolation of Smaug–A lava field at the base of the volcano

We decided to leave early (about 8:30 a.m.) as the park opens at 9:00 a.m. and we wanted to get ahead of the afternoon heat.  The heat of the day combined with the heat from the volcano itself was something we wanted to avoid.  We arrived 2 minutes before the park opened and were able to get in quickly.  The cost for Nicaraguan residents is but C$30 (about $1.07 US); for non-residents the cost is C$100 ($3.57 US)–very reasonable.  The guard at the gate wrote down our license plate number and they checked us off as we left the park later.  I’m sure they need to keep track of people inside a park where you can be cooked alive !  The road up the mountain side was quite good by Central American standards.  It was paved (kind of) most of the way and had a speed limit of 40 KMH which you could actually do.

Cousin Judy, Heide and Me (I’m in the middle !)

As we drove up the mountain side we were directed to the Visitors Center.  A stop here is mandatory before you are permitted to enter the road up the volcano.  There is a small museum of pictures, descriptions, fauna and flora, along with the opportunity to buy things at the gift shop–perhaps the real reason for the mandatory stop.  There is a walk-through display that provides examples of animals, insects, flowers and other vegetation that lives and grows on the slopes of the volcano.  Bats live in caves that are down inside the caldera and the nightly migration from the caves is supposed to be pretty spectacular.  Also, parrots amazingly live inside the caldera and have somehow managed to adapted to the sulfur smoke gases escaping from the volcano.  They return to their roost each evening around dusk.  Unfortunately, the night-time tours have been temporarily suspended with no explanation.  We will keep checking to see if they restart them during our stay.

Laguna de Masaya

In any case, the view from the visitors center is pretty spectacular in itself.  From the outside deck you can see Laguna de Masaya, a large volcanic lagoon.  As we drove from the Visitors Center to the top of the volcano, the panoramic views were breathtaking.  It is 635 meters (2,083 feet) above sea level.  From that height, I have no doubt we were seeing all the way to Pennsylvania!!!  But the real treat was still to behold.  As we got closer to the top of the volcano one could see the smoke and gases escaping like Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.  I have no doubt that Sauron’s Palantir (crystal ball) was watching us the entire way and he had our approach on his big screen.

Gazing into the Abyss…

But the best was yet to come.  There are simply not words to describe the awe inspiring view of an active volcano up close and personal.  Although we could not see the glow of the lava during the daylight hours, the sulphur gases and smoke escaping gave proof of what lies below.  In the picture to the left, I am standing at a railing on the edge of the cliff with the mouth of the volcano directly below me.  You can literally look straight down into the abyss.  In the larger realm of the universe, one comes face-to-face with how truly insignificant we are while glimpsing at our own mortality.







Nicaragua: A visit to a volcanic lagoon–Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo

Along the way to Granada, former capital of Nicaragua and old Spanish colonial city, we stopped off at a small town up on the mountain called Catarina. From the top of the mountain in Catarina you are able to look down onto a volcanic crater that last erupted some 23,000 years ago and has, in the interim, filled with water from natural springs and rain. The lagoon that it created is approximately 600 feet deep with a surface area of 2,110 hectares (5,214 acres).  It contains some of the clearest water known to exist in all of Central America. The water temperature is a balmy 80.6 to 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit year-round as there are some geothermal springs that feed the lagoon.

Arrow Mojarra (amphilophus zaliosus)

Although it does not contain a widely diverse population of fish, the lagoon is home to some interesting species.  There are four species of mojarras, which are found nowhere else in the world but this lagoon.  One of these species is the Arrow Mojarra (amphilophus zaliosus), only first discovered in 1976. More recently, three other species of mojarra, whose scientific and common names have yet to be defined, were also found in the lagoon.  Scientists think there may still be other endemic species in the lagoon yet to be discovered.

Young sweethearts gazing at Laguna de Apoyo and beyond

We didn’t make it to the shores of the lagoon on this trip but the view from Catarina was simply spectacular.  Not only could we see the entire lagoon from our mountain top perch but we could see all the way to Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua and beyond.  With a nice breeze and shade from the trees on the hillside it’s the kind of place where you could pack a picnic lunch with a cooler of beer and simply gaze all afternoon.  It is the perfect spot for dreamers and young sweethearts to spend an idle afternoon being mesmerized by the stunning beauty of Mother Nature.  Views of the nearby Mombacho Volcano are awe-inspiring with its cloud covered top.

If you seek peace and tranquility, you will find it in abundance here.

Tomorrow we plan to visit the Masaya Volcano, an active volcano, where you can walk up to the edge of the crater and look down into the abyss.  Wish us luck…!!!


Nicaragua: Small, Family-Run Eateries…”Comedor”

Proprietor of Sal y Pimienta (Salt & Pepper)
Proprietor of Sal y Pimienta (Salt & Pepper)

Since we arrived in Nicaragua, we have been in search of authentic Nicaraguan cuisine.  A number of the restaurants in the area seem to attempt to produce food the tourists want but it results in bland imitations.  When I was here a little more than a year ago, I recall some very tasty food.  Looking back on my stay the last time, I tended to eat more in local restaurants and less in the chains and commercialized places.  When Heide and I first arrived on this trip, the commercialized places were SOOOO convenient but the food was totally unremarkable–downright awful in many cases.   Yesterday, that changed.  We are now focusing on local cuisine prepared by local folks.  As I posted last year, eat where the locals are lined up and you’ll find good, authentic, local fare at extremely reasonable prices.

Sal y Pimienta
Sal y Pimienta

We went to a little place around the corner from where we are staying that appears to have just opened for business in the last week or so (Sal y Pimienta–Salt and Pepper). Already it has a robust breakfast and lunch “crowd” even though it only has four tables.  People lined up to order take-out.  It is a small, family run place that only serves breakfast and lunch, is immaculately clean, and looks like someone’s front porch with plastic tables. In Costa Rica a place such as this is called a “soda” but here in Nicaragua it is simply a “comedor” or dining room/restaurant.  The proprietors seemed genuinely glad to see us and the fact that they spoke no English did not deter.  Our Spanish is improving daily and we are both working hard at building vocabulary, improving syntax, and learning local idioms.  Our efforts are bearing fruit.

The food at the local comedor was among the tastiest we’ve had since arriving in Nicaragua, Heide loved it (finally) and you can’t beat the price.  Heide and I both had the same lunch of rice, Bar-B-Q pork ribs, and steamed vegetables for C$230–the equivalent of US$ 8.22 for both of our meals together including a drink!  It’s the drink that is noteworthy though. The gentleman running the place asked what I would like to drink and I said, “Coca-Cola Zero” (Diet Coke isn’t available in Nicaragua), a pretty common beverage here.  He had a somewhat panic-stricken look on his face but told me he would bring it to the table.  The next thing I knew he disappeared.  I caught a glimpse of him slipping down the side street and he returned just minutes later with a cold can of Coca-Cola Zero and a smile. He had walked down the street to another restaurant and bought one to bring back to me so I’d have what I asked for. Now THAT’s customer service.

You know the pork was delicious when I gnaw on a rib bone–I have an aversion to gnawing in general but particularly on animal bones.  If I start sniffing at the closest fire hydrant, stand back !

Managua: A Cacophony of Sound

Beagle-carCar horns are to Managua what live jazz is to New Orleans.  During our stay in New Orleans this year we enjoyed some of the finest local musical talent the world has to offer.  Live music was on practically every corner, in every bar and restaurant, and pleasantly heard at live events adding a festive air to business openings, backyard parties, and celebrations large and small.  In Managua, car horns are the music that is everywhere.  From short, high-pitched tweets from taxi drivers looking to attract your attention and business to the huge deep air horns of the fancy buses with mirror tassels hanging, the cacophony of sound is inescapable.

In the area of Pennsylvania we lived in, car horns are like nuclear weapons…everyone has one but no one ever uses them.  Not the case in Nicaragua.  The ubiquitous car horn is used constantly.  It seem to convey messages in secret code like, “Hey, how are you?”  “Nice wheels.”  “I’m coming through whether I fit or not.”  “Get the @#$!@ out of my way.”   “You @$$hole!”  and variations thereof.  You simply hear them all the time.  When you look at the perp, it’s hard to tell what he’s blowing his horn at.  Perhaps the horns are in Spanish…