Things are pretty settled-in here – normal and routine – and have been for a while but sometimes, just occasionally, I’ll step outside to go somewhere and as I’m locking up the door a horse-drawn carriage will pass by or an entire family on a motorcycle or kids coming home from school in their uniforms or I’ll catch a glimpse of the cathedral over the rooftops and think to myself, “Holy shit I’m in f**king Nicaragua! When did that happen?!” It’s a really strange revelation every time it strikes, but is always energizing and crazy at the same time. Even though, as I said, we’ve reached a level of normalcy here, when the realization strikes, it’s like I’m suddenly back to our first day here saying to myself, “WTF happens now?!” because when we first arrived we knew nothing, save for a few mental images from the Internet.
When I think back to our initial trip here I find myself both impressed and amazed with us at how smooth it went, considering we’d never been outside the US. I remember the moment when all communications on the flight changed from English and Spanish to only Spanish as we entered Nicaragua airspace and thinking, “Oh shit…we are NOW in the thick of it. I’m sitting on a plane at 30,000 feet and have no idea what the crew are telling me!” It was really interesting. All the stewardesses and stewards and the pilot simply stopped speaking English!
Then the crew started handing out documents. We had no idea what these were. Turns out they were customs documents…where are you from, where you going types of questions. You can get them once you land, but it’s better to have them done and ready before hand. So we got some from a stewardess – not fully understanding what they were – and filled them out.
The vibe in the plane changed a bit too. It was pretty obvious that the majority of people on the plane were people going HOME to Nicaragua, not visiting Nicaragua. That vibe was thrilling, actually. We couldn’t understand the conversations we overheard, but the enthusiasm of “I’m about to be home” was unmistakable.
When the plane landed and we entered the terminal the documents we’d received and started filling out on the plane were incomplete. Although we knew where we were staying, we didn’t know what the address of the place was, so we couldn’t fill that out. We panicked for a while then ultimately decided that even without knowing our address we’d have to try to get through customs.
The customs agent didn’t seem to care. We tried to explain as best we could that we didn’t know the address. He shrugged, charged us $20 USD and let us through. That was the first of many sighs of relief during our initial weeks here.
The place in Granada where we were staying came with transportation from the Managua airport, and sure enough, once we gathered our luggage and made it outside there was a guy there holding a sign that said “Roberta and Clif” on it. He had a van and helped us load our stuff into it. Then we were on our way, dropped head first into the mayhem of Nicaraguan traffic.
Managua is, mostly, a shit hole*. It’s sad, really. There are pockets of success and wealth, but apparently they’ve never survived the revolution and an earthquake that followed, so the town is largely devastated and full of desperate and poor people. During our drive through Managua I had my first doubts, although they didn’t last long.
To say we drove through a ghetto is mild. We drove through a destroyed city, but as we drove through it something cut through the clutter for me, and that were the people. I pretty quickly realized that the problem wasn’t the circumstances; it was my perception of the circumstances. My perceptions that had been fashioned by cookie-cutter homes in American suburbs couldn’t jive with seeing barefoot children leading horses along the highway or a guy transporting his wife and two children on a bicycle from some dirt road that disappeared into the jungle to a barely standing hut that sold Claro cell phone minutes and Coca-Cola. BUT these people were in their element and happy. Kids were playing and husbands were chiding their wives as they peddled their families on bicycles.
I dare say the biggest hurdle anyone has to face in coming to Nicaragua is getting from the Managua airport to Granada, or wherever you’re ultimately going. If you aren’t ready for the poverty, it will shake you. Close your eyes for the trip…or open them, and witness good people surviving.
Our driver spoke no English and we spoke no Spanish. Even so, he asked if we’d like to stop somewhere to get Coke or something else to drink (I think) and although we agreed I don’t guess he understood, since it never happened.
Passing out of Managua, and onto open highway, life become quite a bit more interesting and uplifting. We saw stray horses…or wild horses. I’m still not sure which, but there were horses on the side of the road every 100 feet or so munching on the grass. Some were tied to nearby trees or fence posts. Obviously, these were not wild, but many of them just roamed freely. Just last week in Granada when we walked to the supermarket there was a horse roaming the street and eating grass from the median. Motorcycles and taxis just drove around him.
Here speed limit signs and lane stripes are, apparently, only suggestions. Our driver weaved in and out of traffic – even dipping into oncoming lanes – as if it were nothing, sometimes coming up so close behind a motorcycle I thought the motorcycle driver might just scoot back and end up in the van with us. Considering neither my wife nor I were wearing seat belts, we were a bit unnerved. Of course, we haven’t worn a seat belt since being here, so now, looking back, the experience cracks me up a bit.
To be continued…
*Not all of Managua is a shit hole. they have some very nice parts of town, but you drive through none of these parts of town from the airport to Granada. Also, every local we’ve met warns us not to be out at night in Managua because we will get mugged.