Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nicaragua Cont. The Day I Meet the President

This morning we took a bus tour on Nicaragua. It was weird they had all these Christmas trees up with the number 30 on top of them. It turned out that they were from the previous Christmas and the Sandinistas decided that they would leave them up all year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of them taking over power from the Somaza regime. We drove around the city and saw areas where people had simply become squatters and started building shacks then were given the property by the Sandanistas.
The first stop we made was to a archeological site called Huellas de Acahualinca.It is incorrectly believed by some that the foot prints were made by people running from a volcanic eruption, the footprints were really made by people walking to Lake Nicaragua to get water. The footprints are 6 or 7 thousand years old. There were roughly 10 to 20 people who left footprints one of the footprints looks like it has 6 toes, which was most likely created by one person walking behind another walking in the first person’s footsteps. There are also animal tracks near the footsteps but they are headed in a different direction so the animals probably came after the people and were headed in a different direction.
After we saw the footprints we went to the location of the old presidential house. It had a history of the Sandanista party and some information on Augusto Sandino who was not actually part of or the founder of the Sandanista party but a rebel against the US control of Nicaragua in the 1930’s. Sandino had been the son of a farmer and went on to fight against the US Marines in a guerilla war, in which Sandino’s soldiers had the advantage because they were familiar with the terrain of the jungles.
We had to get dressed up for dinner because we meet with ex-president of Nicaragua Enrique José Bolaños Geyer. Don Enrique had gone to University in the US and received a degree in Engineering. His family wasn’t really involved in politics they were more concerned with business. Geyer was a cotton farmer who had his property confiscated by the Sandinistas. As president Don Enrique fought against the political corruption of previous administrations. Don Enrique told us about how Central America didn’t really have a revolution to gain independence from Spain that gained its independence because Napoleon named his brother King of Spain.
Don Enrique also explain the benefits of a canal in Nicaragua and how there is more water for a canal and how a canal in Nicaragua would be able to handle ships almost twice as large as the ships the Panama canal will be able to when it is done being expanded. The goal for the Panama Canal expansion is 130 thousand pounds while a canal in Nicaragua would be able to support a boat weighing 250 thousand pounds. Even without a canal we Vanderbilt used Nicaragua to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific it took half the time it would have take to travel around South America.
Don Enrique also discussed how he had high hopes for united Central America similar to the EU. He said that Nicaragua needs help with that in order to bring this about and increase the power and prestige of all of Central America. He said the per capita GNP of Nicaragua is about $1000 while the per capita GNP of Costa Rica is $9000. Don Enrique said that $40 per person in Nicaragua per year for infrastructure improvements is what would be needed it increase the GNP of Nicaragua to a level similar to other Central American countries. He also said that a customs bank or CAFÉ integration bank would be required to distribute customs revenues to bring greater equity in Central America. Don Enrique if Central America chose to follow the same path that Europe did a unified Central America would be possible.
After our dinner with Don Enrique I went back to the hotel and swam and then went to Karaoke, I started getting tired so I headed back the hotel alone and called it a night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First Day In Nicaragua

Wow it has been a jam packed trip it is so hard to believe we have only been here one day. I had a great time swimming and hanging out at the Karaoke bar last night then this morning I went down to breakfast at around 7:00 so I would have time to read the Bible and drink a couple of cups of coffee. We left around 8:00 and had a tour of Granada by horse drawn carriage. We saw the old hospital, the old train station and the old cathedral. Then we went by a place where they made cigars, some people rolled some and we all shared a sample cigar. It wasn’t as strong as I would have liked it to be so I ended up not buying any cigars. At the cigar shop they had a parrot and a poster ofArnold Schwarzenegger. Then we went by this cemetery that had a bunch of mausoleums and statues to mark the graves. They also had mango trees there and we found out that Granada is a city with a lot of Mango trees. Then after the cemetery we went on a tour of a Nicaraguan Cultural Center. The cultural center had used to be a very large house and then part of it was turned into the cultural center. It had a lot of contemporary Nicaraguan art. There was also a radio station and an artist working on new pieces and selling some of his art from a work room.
After we left the cultural center we started talking to some kids who were playing around barefoot in the street. Claudia asked them why they were not in school and one of the boys replied because he didn’t have shoes. One of the most eye opening things about the trips so far has been the poverty. Like the kid, Michael, last night who ate the half eaten hamburger we gave him and the kids that claim they can’t go to school because they can’t afford shoes it is very heartbreaking. It also reveals how truly wealthy we are in the US. Never has my mom, even when I thought we were really poor and my family homeless, been unable to provide me with shoes. Also very rarely did I go without eating and even when I did it wasn’t long enough to cause me to feel like I needed to eat a stranger’s half eaten food. I was told that the average income is $100 per month for a Nicaraguan and while things are cheaper in Nicaragua then in the US things are not 20 or thirty times cheaper. There is definitely an economy based on begging in Granada. If the average income is $100 all a kid would have to do is get a couple dollars a day and they would greatly increase the living conditions of their family if they earned $3 or $4 they would be making the income of an adult.
In the afternoon we went to Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is a fresh water lake and is the only place with fresh water sharks. The sharks in Lake Nicaragua are Bull Sharks, they used to swim up the rivers but were trapped by a volcanic eruption. Lake Nicaragua was very beautiful and after Renee, who was my guide on the boat said, a small island could be purchased for as little as $100,000 I wanted to buy one. Though Renee followed that up with the cheaper Islands are usually pretty close to diapering. A medium sized Island would sell with a house would sell for $400,000 which seems pretty cheap by LA standards. Lake Nicaragua had been part of a transit system to get from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and also made Nicaragua an appealing place to build a canal before Panama Canal was built. Someone brought white faced monkeys and spider monkeys to one of the Islands. I think Josh was allowed to feed the monkeys.
After the tour of the Lake we were set free on the town of Granada. I ended up going with Evan, Christine and Keith to a typical Nicaraguan restaurant. I had wanted to go with Josh to eat some crazy food and we were told that Centralito, the restaurant I ate at, was the place to go but they only had the regular Nicaraguan food. I ended up getting a steak which cost around $8 and a 2 mojitos for a dollar. Then a vendor had come by with a 25 pack of Romeo Y Julieta cigars and I talked him down to $20 then I ended up leaving them at the restaurant and someone took them by the time I got back. There were about ten kids going around begging and then street performers trying to get donations and a guy who was making friendship bracelets sitting right next to our table so anyone of a dozen people could have stole them. Losing the cigars was a good wake up call to be more conservative with my money. So I just went back to the hotel to upload some of my pictures to facebook and and work on my journal. I ended up having a good conversation about the trip and the poverty in Nicaragua with Kevin, Nell and Eileen.
The thing I have been most impressed by on the trip other than the poverty has been Roberto’s skill as a tour guide. His English is great and he is very intelligent and caring. I was standing up because someone was in the restroom and had wandered back toward the bar to wait and Roberto was very quick to make sure everything was alright and if I need anything or felt sick. It was also amazing how patient he was with all of us. It seem like so many times today he was surrounded by people each with their own request or demands and he took it all in stride and didn’t seem to get bugged. Also a group of us lead by Josh wanted to eat weird exotic food plus some guys wanted to go surfing and he promised to help make it all happen. He was amazingly diplomatic and reassuring which seemed to be essentials for a really good tour guide. Because it seems like the tourist experience of being in Nicaragua is being in slightly wild and exotic country but also people can easily get feed up of things being too different.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Day of Transit

Day 1 June 21st
It was a long day. I was on the first flight that left LAX at 7:40 so I decided to get to the airport super early so I could sleep at the airport. I figured I would get more sleep that way. It was pretty effective except for the fact that I was woken up at 5:30 by someone who thought I was going to miss my flight.
We had a long layover in Houston but the time was well spent getting to know the other students on the trip. I hung out with this guy Max, his sister Terra and this girl Kirsten. A guy named Josh wanted to eat crazy food so after we all had gone to Ruby’s he ordered up some fried alligator and a bunch of people tried it, though I missed the chance to get a bite.
When we got to Nicaragua the first impression was that it was hot. Which was a small surprise because we arrived at night and I was thinking it would be cooler.
The second realization that I came to was that there was a great chiasm dividing the economic prosperity of Nicaragua and the US. The airport was clean but looked very old by my standards. Also when we got out of the baggage claim area and were walking toward the bus there were children begging. Also while I was going to the restroom there were two women in that gave me the impression they were prostitutes.
We got on a very nice and modern bus and meet our tour guide Roberto. Roberto was very interesting. He had studied Engineering in Bulgaria and now was a tour guide part of the time and an Engineer part of the time. I got the impression that he made more money being a tour guide than he did as an engineer. Roberto explained how the evening would progress, with an hour long bus ride from Managua (were we landed) to Granada where we would be staying. He also explained that we would eat dinner and the choices would be limited and for breakfast the next day that the food choices would be limited but reassured us that going forward we would have a lot of choices that the first two meals where limited to help things go quicker. Roberto also explained that we should not give money to people begging that if we wanted to give them something we should only give them food.
I was impressed by the colonial architecture of Granada. Sometimes I get the impression the whole world is trying to look like the US it was nice to see buildings that were designed different. Our hotel had everything I imagined; the exterior had a colonial Spanish look then when you walked through the doors you entered an open plaza with a fountain and palm trees.
I found it interesting that our first meal in Nicaragua was a hamburger. I was a little disappointed especially since I had a hamburger for lunch at Ruby’s. Though I guess it the concept was to get us acclimated slowly to being in a new country. The hamburger patty was really small and it had a lot of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, pickles). We also tried a bunch of local beers. I decided Toña would be my beer of choice it was the least bitter.
Right away I discovered the importance of the phrase “Donde esta el bano?”. Also it was very exciting to be able to put my limited Spanish skills in to practice helping the students with no knowledge of Spanish. One of the guys didn’t even know that cerveza was the word for beer. It seemed like the first night the important Spanish phrases where “Cerveza, por favor” and “Cuanto questa?”

Deprture 2

I slept a little bit between 2:15 and 3:45 which was oddly refreshing so the plan that I would sleep more at the airport might be working. Its funny the floor felt so comfortable while I was laying on it but when I got I was definitely achey.

When I went down just after 3:45 there was a huge line so it took 45 minutes to check in so I found an out of the way place to try to sleep for the next 2 or 3 hours.


I now realize the idea to get to the airport at 1:30 am and spend the night was crazy because LAX doesn't open until 3:45 am.
I have spent days at the airport flying stand by so arriving 6 hours before my flight seemed like a much better idea then trying to arrive at 4:40. So I am sleeping on my luggage next to the security check in waiting for the airport to open. I will have to plan things out better in the future.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Music Video

I have been trying to expose myself to as much Spanish as possible before my trip to Central America. Last week a I bought a copy of La Opinión and today I came across this video:

Balloons Revistied

I had this idea a almost two years ago that I should buy an around the world plane ticket and travel around the world. The way I would support myself is by selling balloon animals in the Airport of every city I go to. My idea was that what ever money I made would determine how long I stayed in that city. Plus I figured rich tourists would be willing to spare a buck or two for a balloon creature which would go a long way in many cities. money. Plus they might have extra local currency that they wouldn't be needing back home.

I was reminded of this dream when I was checking out Where the hell is Matt. So I think I want to practice making balloon animals for my upcoming trips.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

These videos really inspired me for my upcoming travels.
Part 1

Part 2

There is also a part there but I didn't find it that interesting.

Where the Hell is Matt?

My tourism posted this video for us to watch before we leave for Central America on Sunday:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shots and Malaria Medicine

I got my shots today for Hepatitis A and B. I had tried to get the last week but the medical office at school was closed last week and I figured I could procrastinate before that. Then at last weeks orientation for my trip to Central America I found out that I needed to start taking my a week before we left. So I took the first Malaria pill yesterday and need to avoid all contact with mosquitoes for the first 2 days. Though what maybe equally if not more challenging will be avoiding eating fecal matter for the first week. Because my Hepatitis A shot doesn't start working for two weeks.