Sitting in Leon, Nicaragua at a small table eating a grilled piece of chicken with a side of rice. (I am reaching my rice capacity…just saying) The power just went out so I am sitting in the dark with a few other patrons and since nobody else is phased by the darkness, I have to assume this is a regular event and nothing to be alarmed about.
I feel very comfortable in Central America. My eyes hardly flicker when I pass men with machine guns and I am enjoying eating all of my meals for less than a dollar from street vendors. The people have been gracious and I have always found help when I need it. The only social challenge continues to be a need for stronger Spanish skills. When I meet people, I like to get to know their history, interests, and thoughts about different subjects. Unfortunately, many of my conversations are limited to questions about whether they have brothers or sisters, their favorite foods, how old they are, and what sports they like to play. When I am not sure what is being said, I find that a smile and nod response usually provides a smile back. As I am walking down the streets, I have had many encounters where I am not sure what is being said…the difference between understanding one word is significant because in one case, I wasn’t sure if the man said “your money or your life” or “I want you for my life.” In either case, I stuck with a smile and nod while quickly walking away. The men in El Salvador and Nicaragua seem to have a common language with passing women that includes whistles, blown kisses, and an occasional pssssst, but so far they have not seemed to want more than to be acknowledged. I always wonder if that ever works…like hey, that was a great psssst, do you want to hang out?
I arrived in San Salvador after a wonderful few weeks in Guatemala and Belize. You know how sometimes you have a really busy weekend planned and no matter how good the party is on Sunday afternoon, you just don’t really enjoy it because you are still dreaming of the fun events from the night before. That’s how I feel about El Salvador and Nicaragua. They are cool places that are struggling to compare to the recent fun I had in recent destinations.
I had exactly nine days to travels from Belize City to San Jose, Costa Rica. This timeframe included sight seeing in two countries and 36 hours of bus time. I spent two full days in San Salvador and did not venture much out of the city. I walked and walked and walked for hours.
On my first day there, I spent two and a half hours walking to find a bus station where I could buy my ticket to Nicaragua. I kept walking because every time I asked for directions, everyone seemed so encouraging, but after a while, I had to give in and take a taxi to the station that was far from where I was wandering. With ticket in hand, I visited the historical city center filled with a cathedral, palace, and tons of street vendors. When I had the inkling to head back to the hotel, I looked at the map and realized I had miles to walk…again! An older man pulled my disappointed eyes away from the map by saying hello and telling me he wanted me to taste some local fruit being sold by the nearby vendor. As he bargained for a good price, we chatted and laughed. When the negotiations were complete, he walked with me for a bit and offered to show me where a bus was. As I travel, I usually do not mention where I am staying and often say I am on my way to meet a friend. This usually helps to avoid people hanging around for two long or thinking about joining me back at the hotel. As we sat on the bus, my new friend showed me his market purchases and chatted about his son. We got off the bus and he told me I had to change buses but he was happy to join me…and asked if he could buy me a soda before we got on. He continued to share his life story and ask perplexed questions about why I would travel alone. We boarded the second bus…he insisted on paying for both rides…and for a second, I wondered if he had ulterior motives and what I would say when my “friend” never showed up at the place I described near my hotel. Luckily, this gracious and kind man got off the second bus, said goodbye, and crossed the street to get on the reverse bus to head home. I told him that he was my angel for the day, and he responded that I was his angel, too because it wasn’t often that “young” girls spent afternoons with him. He certainly knew the right thing to say!
So far, my whole trip has been like that…whatever I need, there it is. I can’t even list all of the Divine moments I’ve had, because there are just too many to count. This morning, as soon as I took a wrong turn, the front desk clerk from my hotel (who is always at the front desk) happened to be driving up the road. He knew from an earlier conversation that I was headed to the bus station and pointed out that there was a short cut before offering to give me a ride.
Bus rides continue to be adventures. I decided that I better put an “in case of emergency” number in my wallet…only because bus drivers love passing with merely inches to spare and more than half of my rides have been on buses with cracked windshields. I have to assume these cracks came from some trauma and just want to be prepared for anything.
Managua, Nicaragua feels like many other cities, but lacks a main downtown area so there is no easy way to explore. I spent my first morning with a taxi driver who took me to highlight spots and ended our time by dropping me off at the mall. I mentioned I had my full share of the and beans, so when I saw a Subway, I gave into the indulgence and enjoyed a veggie sub. I rarely order from food chains, but the predictable taste of that sandwich tasted really comforting.
When I walked into the department store, I loved the first dress I saw. I do not need another dress…you know it and so do I. But here’s how the conversation in my head went.
(walking into store and seeing cute dress)
WN (Weak Nancy): Wow, that dress is cute!
SN (Strong Nancy): I don’t need another dress
WN: It’s always nice to open my closet and see something that reminds me of a trip.
SN: Oh, come on! It is a Calvin Klein dress, hardly local clothing.
WN: True, but I will remember this time in Nicaragua every time I put it on.
SN: Shoot, it’s not like I am all in love with Nicaragua and my suitcase is already heavy enough.
WN: I finished that big tube of toothpaste yesterday. This dress can’t possibly weigh more than that.
SN: It is a bit expensive.
WN: Remember the $8 hotel night? I think I will just try it on. I might not even like it.
Anyone care to guess the outcome of my internal dilemma?
Heading to Granada next! It has received rave reviews as a colonial city from everyone I’ve met! With just a few hours to explore, I have lots to cover. The bus ride to Granada is about 45 minutes and cost about 90 cents…a price I just can’t beat.
**Arrived in Granada and enjoying a hummus plate for lunch…touristy places have their perks!