Random thoughts through Honduras

December 23, 2010 1 comment

Fireworks in Cantarranas, Honduras

I am spending a quiet night in Copan Ruinas in Northern Honduras.  Over the last few days, I have travelled up from Managua to Nothern Honduras, and have had a great time.

Here are some thoughts:

  • The bus ride from Managua to Tegucigalpa was quite uneventful.  It left a bit late (which is the norm), and took a bit extra time then thought originally (which is also the norm).
  • The police seemed baffled that the bus driver had our passports, and did not believe us.  It seemed that they have never done a check at a border before
  • Tegucigalpa seemed a bit more dangerous than Managua but it actually had a town centre.  It was nice to stroll around an old centre that contained a market.  Managua is quite spread out, and you need to take a taxi everywhere.
  • I went up to a village outside of Tegucigalpa called Cantarranas.  It was the village of our friend Rosmel.  They were having the last day of Carnival, and it was a great time.  Many people drinking, eating and dancing in the streets.  It was great to be in a smaller village after being in Tegucigalpa.
  • The highlight of the Carnival were the fireworks.  At one point, a guy dressed in a fireworks suit was lit up and ran through the crowd shooting fireworks at everyone.  It seemed to be a big hit, but the 3 foreigners ran for their lives.  Apparently it is a fun tradition.

Carnival in Cantarranas, Honduras

  • 3 buses, and 11 hours to get from Tegucigalpa to Copan Ruinas to visit Ellen Finn, who is running her own organisation that builds schools, promotes education, and helps the community.  Amazing person.  I will post a blog on this in a few days
  • Honduras is signifcantly colder than Managua.  I like the temperature difference, as it is quite comfortable to sleep at night.  It helps that I am in the mountains
  • I am loving the constant supply of water, and hot water showers.  It is a big difference from life in Managua.  This is what you get when you stay in hostels and hotels.  Very comfortable holiday indeed.

I will be heading up to Guatemala City for Christmas tomorrow afternoon and will be meeting some friends.  The tentative plan is to head over to Antigua next for a few days after Xmas, and then somehow head back to Nicaragua for the weekend.  I would love to head back on through the Carribean coast, but we will see how the timing works, as transport can be tricky during the holidays.

Categories: Nicaragua

The guide to Managua Taxis and Flash Kidnappings (avoidance)…

December 17, 2010 5 comments
The typical taxi in Managua

Even before I left for Nicaragua, I had heard stories about the taxis in Managua.  Taxis outside of the capital, in Nicaragua are generally safe, and I have not heard many stories of any issues.  Taxi cabs in Managua have a horrible reputation for robberies and kidnappings.  Although nothing has happened to me as of yet, I have received many pieces of advice on how to proceed with taxi cabs in Managua.  I have passed on many pieces of advice to other travellers as well.

The dangers lie in being picked up by a taxi, and others jumping in and being kidnapped.  The driver is usually in on the action.  The robbers basically get your bank card, or credit card, and drive you around to different ATMs (ABM in Canadian speak) and empty our your account until you have hit your daily limit.  They then dump you off in an area of town far away from where you were picked up.  I have even heard of the robbers giving you enough for the taxi fare back to your point of departure.  Very friendly robbers here.
Note that within any big city, there are dangers.  I believe that if you are informed, you can at least minimize the chances that something will happen to you.  Here are bits of advice to avoid robbery or flash kidnappings in Managua that I have collected from Read more…

The Virgin Mary, Halloween and Fireworks – La Gritería!

December 15, 2010 5 comments

Celebrating La Gritería in Leon!

Last week, we are given Tuesday afternoon, and the whole Wednesday off.  Most employees received this time off to celebrate one of the biggest holidays in Nicaragua:  La Griteria (apologizes for the spelling, as I have no idea how the spanish accents on the laptop work)

This was quite a confusing festival for me, but through many conversations with people and research on the web, I think I have pieced together what this festival is all about.

Basically, La Griteria is a mix between celebrating the immaculate conception of Mary, Halloween, and fireworks.  The celebration is most popular in Leon, so I headed there with a few of my friends to check out the festivities.  When we arrived, there were people crowding the streets in front of houses getting candy, condiments, instant coffee, etc.  They were visiting shrines to Mary, and screaming at those giving them the treats.  Fireworks were being lit in the streets in front of people, families, cars, babies, trees, and anywhere else there was available pavement space.  (In my neighbourhood in Managua, it is like New Years everyday – I am hearing fireworks as I type this, and it is 4:15pm on a Wednesday afternoon – and it is not dark). 

 My friends and I, joined in on the festivities by going door to door.  People would ask us questions, and we would shout something

Inspecting my gift of coffee

 back that I did not understand.  Eventually, I just resorted to “No hablo espanol”.  Surprisingly, I received extra treats for being the foreigner who had no clue what was going on.  I received gifts of a special maize corn drink, brownies, salt, and instant coffee.  All staples of a typical Nica kitchen.

As the night wore on, we eventually headed to the beach just outside Leon.  As we drove towards the beach, the shower of fireworks turned on the car.  Driving up the main road exiting Leon, children, families, and others were aiming their fireworks at the car, and also timing the explosions as we drove past.  It seemed like scene right out of a war movie.

I quite enjoyed my first taste of a Nicaraguan festival.  As I am learning, there are many festivals that take place in Nicaragua.  In Masaya, they have 3 straight months of festivals every year, and every town has their own special celebration(s).

Here is the official explanation of “La Griteria”  taken from www.vianica.com :

“…in cities and towns people start exploding fireworks and firecrackers. In the biggest cities, it gets so noisy that any uninformed tourist might think that a war has just started in Nicaragua. At midnight, firecrackers explode once again (the same happens at 6AM and 12PM, but on a smaller scale).” Read more…

Categories: Nicaragua

Thoughts on Nicaraguan Buses

December 3, 2010 1 comment

Inside the big yellow bus on a less busy day

Apologizes for the lack of posts in the last few days.  I was quite busy with meetings, and meeting friends in the evenings.  I am settling in quite well.  Now that I have a place to live, I will have more time to discover the country, which I am looking forward to.

I take the bus every morning to my work.  It is a straight shot down one main road called “La Carretera Masaya”.  It is very creative name, as are most street names in Managua.  It means, the road to Masaya.  I live at Metro Centro, which is km 0 of the road, and I work at km 13. 

This straight shot bus ride takes between 10 minutes, and 30 minutes depending on the time of day, the day of the week, the traffic, and also the type of bus you take.

The minibus seats between 16 people, and 30 people, and is basically a glorified large van that you might see in the movies which amateur bands use as their tour bus.  On busy days, they can get packed, but their advantage is that they are quicker, as less people jump on and off. 

The larger buses are the yellow buses I had talked about in a previous blog.  They are pretty much the same as the buses that we took to school in Canada and the US when we were young.  They actually receive a second life in Nicaragua, as many people make the trek up to the US from Nicaragua, and buy one or two buses, and drive back down.  The profit on these buses can be as much as $4000 each after gas and food expenses, and that represents a lot of money down here.

The mini bus costs about 10 cordobas, and the large yellow schoool bus costs about 5 cordobas, translating to a little less than 50 cents and 25 cents respectively.  These buses are packed like sardine cans, and it can be difficult to move your limbs during rush hour.

Several important things to note about taking buses in Managua (and possibly Nicaragua in general):

  • The buses usually stop anywhere to pick you up, no matter how dangerous it is, or how much traffic there is.  The exception to the rule is when there are random police checks, that all drivers know about.  When there are random police checks, the bus will only stop at “la parada de autobus”, which can also be located in a random, non safe area.
  • The buses will not stop anywhere to drop you off.  They will only stop in designated zones.  If you want to get off right at your destination, you have to hope that someone wants to get on the bus at the same point.
  • Fares vary.  Sometimes people get special prices, and sometimes there is ambiguity between what is a mini bus, and what is a regular bus.  It is not uncommon to pay less or more than a person going the same route.
  • The bus has a driver and there is also at least one person who stands with his head, or body out the window, or door (depending on the bus) to scream out the destination to people standing on the side of the street.
  • Buses are a nightmare on Sundays out of Managua, as many go to the Price Mart and other box stores to supply their stores in other cities.  Mini buses will be full, and the fact that there are less buses on the road compounds the space problem.
  • Buses are the safest mode of transport in Managua.  Much safer than taxi cabs off the street – I will speak about this in a later blog to explain.
Categories: Uncategorized

Can you live without water?

November 27, 2010 5 comments

This is how many people in rural and urban areas get their drinking, and cleaning water in Nicaragua

After about a month of living in Nicaragua, I am starting to understand the difficulties and challenges of those with limited infrastructure.  In Canada, the vast majority of people have access to clean, and continuous running water.  According to most sources, it is at 100% – there is no way this is true, as there are most likely a handful of people that live off the land who do not have running water to their homes.

In Nicaragua, it is much different.  There are not a lot of resources or statistics out there.  I could only find estimations, and those estimations could also be off.  One source on wikipedia, indicates that 84% of urban homes and 27% of rural homes have connections to water.

This is quite staggering, because even if there is a connection to running water, the service is often unreliable, and the cleanliness can be debated.

In rural, and urban areas, many people are forced to fetch their water a few times a week.  Water is usually carried in a 5 gallon bucket, weighing around 45 pounds.  Women, children, and other family members are forced to walk long distances to lakes, or private water facilities to retreive water for cooking, drinking, and bathing.  There are services that deliver water, but in a country where the per capita income is on average $430, it is difficult to afford these services.  Keep in mind, this is the average income….many people live on much less in a year, and the UN World Food Program estimates that the average income is even lower, at $300 a head.

I have experienced some inconveniences with water in the past month – nothing like what people face on a day to day basis:

  • Spending the weekend with friends, and having to fetch water from a water tank to brush teeth, and bathing with a small bucket.
  • Running water at a place I stayed at for 2 weeks only ran for 2 hours every 2 days.  When the water was running, the pressure was so low, that I was forced to shower with a bucket again.  Water tanks on the roof helped alleviate this problem, but the pressure was also unreliable.
  • My permament residence in Managua has running water for 12 hours a day (not 16 as I had previously thought).  We get running water between 11pm and 11am – give or take, depending on the day…sometimes more, usually less.
  • We keep a basin of clean water to cook, and clean with in the back, where our washboard is also located.  This is how the vast majority of people wash their clothes in Nicaragua (nearly everyone).  Washing machines are usually reserved for the wealthy.  Luckily we are fortunate enough to be able to afford a cleaner, who does this manual task 3 days a week for us.
  • After one month, I do not mind cold water showers anymore.  It is actually great for – a) waking up quickly in the morning and b) conserving water – as you learn to wet your body, get lathered up with soap and shampoo with the water off, then rinsing as quick as possible.  Cold showers coming from a shower head with good pressure is a luxury here.

An example of a washboard. This is common in Nicaragua, as we have two in our backyard washing area. Efficient and cheap, it what Nicas rely on for cleaning their clothes

For many people, including people I have got to know, this harsh reality is normal for them.  They do not complain, they just live with their situation.

For a Canadian, who has travelled a lot around the world, I have experienced these situations in a travel sense.  I have never lived for a prolonged period of time exposed to these situations before in my life.  Given the situation that others live with in close proximity to me, I think that my situation is actually quite good.

I am observing many harsh differences between life in Canada and life in Nicaragua on a daily basis.  People learn to live with less, and make the best of a bad situation without complaining.

It makes you think a little bit of how silly we act when our hot water heater fails, or we are without electricity and forced to shower with cold, or boiled water.  Canadians are lucky.  I am lucky.

Categories: Uncategorized

Please take a look – linked fixed

November 26, 2010 4 comments

This is my first attempt at making a video for SchoolBOX.  It is compiled from footage taken from my trip to the school in the dump – Juntos Contigo.  Please take a look, and please give me some feedback.

Also, pass onto friends if you are able to:  http://bit.ly/gg2amC


Categories: Uncategorized

I have no idea where I live…

November 24, 2010 1 comment

I recently moved into a flat near Metro Centro.  Managua is a different sort of city.  It does not really have an old centre of the city, as most Nicaraguan towns have.  An earthquake hit Managua in the 70’s and everything became shuffled.  It is now hip to live near restaurants and malls. The big mall I live near is Metro Centro.  Being in the centre, it basically means this is where a lot of the roads start.  It is also a landmark for many people.

my house

My House. The kitchen

I am glad I live near a landmark, as I would have no idea how to get home otherwise.  My official address is:

Shell plaza el sol, 1c. arriba, 2c. sur, 1/2c. abajo.

This means that they are using a gas station as a reference point.  I have never heard of a gas station being a reference point in an official address before in my life.  I guess things are just done differently here. 

Basically I live 1 block from the gas station east, 2 blocks south, and one half blocks west.  I don;t know about you, but most people do not need to be trained in orienteering, or carrying a compas to find their house.  It was a nightmare finding it the first time, as there were many Shell Stations in the vicinity.

The address of the other house I was looking at was even worse, they used a church as a reference point, and said it was near where the Pirate Radio Station used to be…

Things are going well in my new place.  I am in quite an international house, living with people from Nicaragua, France, Germany, and Italy.  Everyone is nice, and it is quite social.

I have just set up my mosquito net in my room.  I feel like I am sleeping in a princess bed. 

This Friday, I am off to Matagalpa to do some work for SchoolBOX.  I am really looking forward to this, and will post some pictures later on.

For some more insight into the Nicaragua Address System, check out this link: http://vianica.com/nicaragua/14-addresses.html

Categories: Nicaragua
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