A Mini Travel Blog

    Mini Travel Blog


    As I have mentioned a couple of times, I am traveling for a while, five weeks, in Nicaragua. It is a return trip for me since being here once before in 1989. On that trip I arrived in Managua on a bus from Costa Rica on January 20th, US inauguration day. There was a parade going on which turned out, according to a cab driver, to be a celebration of the end of Ronald Reagan’s administration. He laughed and said that the people believed their troubles were over. Though that was hardly the case, sanctions stayed in place, it did show that they had a firm belief as to the source of their troubles.

    Nicaragua is now said to be the second poorest country in Latin America. While that is probably true based on some metric, it does seem to be enjoying a boom in tourism which means good things for their economy which is quite obviously in better shape than then. There are lots of Chinese motorcycles on the road and many late model cars competing for road space with old yellow “chicken buses” which are extremely cheap and have been the main transportation mode for me and my traveling companion. The tourism boom is no doubt tied to the low prices and the extremely low crime rate as compared to its neighboring countries. [We have met many travelers/vacationers and expatriates who  have been all over Central America and have had no problems with crime other than a few cases of petty theft.] The near universal perception is that the Nicaraguan people are genuinely friendly, that is certainly mine. Some observers expect that a few years of heavy  tourism will cause them to become more jaded and one woman who has been coming here since 2004 said just this morning that she can see a difference since then.

    The biggest majority of foreigners here are Canadien followed by Dutch and then probably a mix of other Europeans. Swiss and Germans are well represented. Many women are traveling alone or with only other women and it doesn’t seem to be a problem for them. USians are probably next in number and most seem to be here for a short stay compared to long term for the Canadian snowbirds or European travelers for which this is just a part of a longer journey.  

    Politically there seems to be a bit of a geographical division within Nicaragua but it does not seem to be a great one. The northern part of the country is the heart of the Sandinista revolution and there is evident a more common display of statues and other honoring of Sandino and of “The Heroes and Martyrs” of the revolution. Daniel Ortega is still quite popular among every Nicaraguan whom I have heard expressing an opinion.

    Now an anecdote from the “It’s-a-small-world” department. Just at the time that M. Maiello was writing about “Infinite Jest” and in the process mentioned “The Catcher in the Rye” my friend and I were talking to a Canadian expatriate who has lived in Chile for many years. She was in Nicaragua to meet her mother half way and the four of us were talking over drinks. It happened that three of us had just finished whatever book that we were reading and so book recommendations was the subject for a while. My friend had just finished reading “Catcher” and had really liked it and so she said so. The woman and her mother immediately turned to each other and broke into big smiles. It turns out that the daughter had been a one time girlfriend of Salinger and had stayed in touch for years and has a collection of letters from him which are quite valuable but she says she would never consider selling.

    Also in the small-world category, we have met, on separate occasions, two people from Vermont and both are personally acquainted with Bernie Sanders. One is a woman who was in a group of friends years ago which included Sanders and the other a man who is or was, I am not sure, on the city council of Burlington. [I also think it was called something different from city council but I don’t recall that for sure either.] Both were strong supporters of Sanders, both consider him to be totally genuine, and both said, with no prompting, that not only did they support Sanders but that they were very leery of Clinton. They also agreed that the Republican candidates are all scary and that Hillary would be much better than any of them.

    For now I will end with a blog recommendation. It is in some ways just more of the same political analysis on one side versus the other but it does address an issue that has been in contention here at Dag. It discusses, among other things, whether attacking racial inequality is best done as a racial issue or a class issue.  



    Nice catch.  I didn't know Navarro's work.


    As for the issue at hand,


    "Authenticity, yo'". 


    I don't think even the most race/sex blinded adherent would accuse Hillary of authenticity.

    In the same vein Civil Rights activists were unaware of the activities of Bernie Sanders, thus he had no immediate source he could say connected him to the black community despite being in Congress for thirty years. Harry Belafonte did say he had talked to Bernie on the phone at some point in the past. Black Vermont activists say that they were ignored by Sanders. Reverend Barber of Moral Monday's fame says neither Democratic candidate is truly addressing voter suppression. Barber was unaware of Sanders. Bernie Sanders came for black voters when he found he needed black voters. Previously, Sanders involved blacks to the same degree as Occupy Wall Street engaged blacks..

    There is this:


    Hell, thousands of people were arrested. People were murdered.

    Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner Liuzzo, Evers, etc. Ring a friggin' bell?

    Four girl's died when a Church was bombed in Bombingham. Remember?

    King's home was bombed. King was assassinated.

    Niw we have a guy unknown to the black community as a whole running to the front of the line saying "Follow Me!"

    In Congress for 30 years and no outreach, except Cornel West and dope-smoking Killer Mike.

    Sanders built no structure. John Lewdis doesn't know him. Rev. Barber doesn't know him.

    Now Sanders wants to lead a revolution.

    I do not feel the Bern.  

    If he is the Democratic nominee, I will vote for him. Don't dare talk to me about a revolution.

    Here is a link to a photo of John Lewis in Selma moments before his skull was fractured by Alabama state troopers.

    Which is the more powerful image?


    Here is the story of Hillary Clinton going undercover to find out if a private school in Alabama was discriminating on the basis of race. She did this while a law student.Hillary was doing the job for Marian Wright Edelman.


    If you read the article, you will note that it was not without risk.

    I read your link to salon about Trump's love of poorly educated voters and as usual you and the doofus reporter were clueless and unaware that he was mocking overeducated Liberals while joining his poorly educated friends with 'we're the smartest and most loyal people' celebrating their victory.

    There is another new development that surprised me, the blowback from the  Clinton minion's attacks on Sanders and the Party corruption that is undermining his campaign is driving some Sanders supporters to go beyond just abstaining from voting , some are now promising to vote for Trump to assist in the defeat of the Wall Street Democrats and their chosen queen.

    Way to go Lulu!

    Me, I am a 'class' guy.

    I think one can be a 'class oriented guy' without ignoring race and racial discrimination.

    Any democracy has to deal with coalitions; but one should not follow the dictates of coalitions blindly.


    Sounds like a nice trip.  

    It is time for us to invest in out country and it's people. With out people all you have is real estate.  

    As suggested by PP : Thanks for this - could you repackage it in a blog or the Creative Corner? Will get lost as a comment.

    The following comment was in response to an article by some clown named Moynihan who was trying to taint Sanders for his support for the Sandinista revolution. I have made slight edits for clarity.

      First a bit of background. I My first trip there [to Nicaragua] began in the USVI from where I crewed aboard a 27 foot sailboat through the canal and up the coast of Panama to Golfito, Costa Rica. The owner/captain, his brother, and I stayed there for a week or so enjoying a New year’s Eve with other sailors and travelers and venturing out a ways on short day trips. Costa Rica was beautiful and I had nothing but good experiences there. I then left the boat as planned and began working my way north through Central America. I soon found myself on the “gringo trail” which consisted of the common route where travelers going north questioned and visited with those going south and vice versa about places to stay, things to see, and the experiences they had in the various places. I hooked up with an experienced traveler from Sweden just as I was leaving Costa Rica on a bus for Nicaragua.

    I arrived in Nicaragua with many preconceptions and some expectations but I also tried to see the country with a ‘beginner’s mind’ and be open to evidence that might alter my view. I had followed the political situation in that country since the mid-seventies and somewhat closely since the election of Reagan.  I was convinced that Reagan was stupidly wrong about Nicaragua and criminally wrong in his actions against that unfortunate country. By January of 1989 the majority of US Americans had come to agree though not nearly as vehemently as me. Congress also agreed as did virtually all of Europe. The World Court also agreed and had ruled against the US and in favor of Nicaragua. Nicaragua was over-run with Central Americans, Europeans, Canadians, and a relatively small number of US citizens who were mostly organized into “Brigades” of “Brigadistas” doing volunteer work in support of the country and its new Sandinista government. There was a bit of partying too done with a bit of revolutionary fervor and some of my favorite people I met at “Sara’s”, a beer bar in Managua occupied nightly by brigadistas from everywhere who drank all the beer every night and many of whom then went looking for the second best place to drink all their beer too, were the Cubans.

    By 1989 the revolution which had thrown out Somoza was mostly consolidated but the new government was still under the oppression of sanctions by the US and attacks by Contras trained at the “School of the Americas” at Ft. Benning Georgia and still being funded secretly and illegally by the US which did so partly with funds derived from active participation in drug trafficking.

     If the horror stories told by our government to justify and create support for our attack on Nicaragua were anywhere close to true it would have been obvious to enough of the foreigners in that country who had free and unguided access to everything everywhere. I never heard of any exception except to the inside of some military bases. I took pictures of some great graffiti on the exterior wall of a base and some shots through the gate and was only politely asked to not take any more when I put my camera slightly through the bars of the gate to get some interior shots.  

    Leaving Nicaragua I continued north. We went through Honduras by the most direct route to El Salvador but I had a year old guide book and was not aware that the rules had been changed and that I could not get into El Salvador without a visa which would not be issued at the border. This was a rule no doubt instituted at the request/demand of the US government. I temporarily split from the Swedish guy who could enter and went on a long circuitous route back through Honduras where I saw many signs of military dominance of its citizens. Numerous times my bus would be stopped and occasionally young men who obviously didn’t want to go were pulled off and led to large tents with sides rolled up because of the heat which revealed cots with many other men sitting. No signs at that distance of any activity, just sitting. I was never questioned or asked to even show my passport.  

    I left Nicaragua with all my beliefs of US malfeasance confirmed and with a very strong feeling that the Nicaraguan people deserved our help rather than our boots on their neck.

     Jumping forward all these years I have finally returned and reloaded my impressions. The country is still poor but its infrastructure looks much better. It is said that you can drink the water virtually everywhere though I didn’t test that too strongly. I brushed my teeth with it and drank what I was offered with my meals a few times and suffered no ill affects but almost always drank bottled water or beer. My impressions are just that, impressions, as I only have ‘survival’ Spanish and certainly cannot carry on a meaningful conversation in that language and there is not much English among the people there except for the many tourists and expatriates and sometimes English at my level of Spanish among workers in the tourist industry.  The transportation system is amazing in that you can go anywhere by bus very cheaply. We rode buses all around Managua, for instance, for two and a half Cordobas at 28 Cordobas to the dollar. The buses, called by foreigners ‘chicken buses’ never pass a stop regardless how full and usually stop between stops if you wave soon enough. I think most would be surprised how packed a bus can get but my friend who worked in San Francisco and commuted daily on the BART to Haywood said it was the same there. Between cities was also amazingly cheap and within cities the cab fare was amazingly low. As always and everywhere people are advised to know the cab fare before getting in but I rarely followed that advice and the worst price I paid for that ’mistake’ was ten Cordobas above the common fare. The routine was to know the general direction of your destination and stand beside the road watching for cabs going that way. A cab which probably already had some passengers would stop if it had room so some trips were not direct but that was part of the fun. Almost every cab driver was genuinely friendly, like almost Nicaraguan in any encounter, and were patient with us gringos when we had trouble communicating our wishes. A couple times they drove to a roadside business where they knew a person who could translate. At the end of a trip I almost always waited for full change for the money I had given the driver even if it was only very slightly over the amount of the fare. In five weeks of getting around this way I [almost] never noticed any hesitancy to give me the full amount of change or any indication I was being sweated for a tip. Exceptions were extremely rare. I would then, with extremely rare exceptions, tip them. The usual fare within a city was 15 to twenty Cordobas each, fifty-five to ninety cents, mas o menos. Usually twenty to thirty for the two of us.

    Accommodations, arranged mostly through Air BnB or Hostel World ranged from excellent to mediocre value for the money and my total amount spent for the trip, not counting a frequent flyer miles ticket, was about eleven hundred dollars for five weeks sharing the cost of rooms with private baths. It could have been a fair amount less and with long term room rates and preparing our own meals could have been much less.  

     Beyond my surface observations I will pass on what I was told by a professor in Managua. It turns out that he had studied political science in Europe and had at one time thought of entering politics. He said that the Sandinistas would easily win an election today and that would likely remain the case for the foreseeable future. From this point my statements are what I hope is a fair reflection of what he said.

    The Sandinista government has done much to help the general population of the country and continue to do so but they are also, like I believe most governments to be, too inbred and fill too many government positions through patronage of friends, relatives, and powerful supporters rather than through recognition of qualifications and history of effective service. Danielle Ortega is most interested in playing on the international stage and leaves most of the power of internal governance to his wife. She is wasting money that is desperately needed elsewhere on things such as the ugly steel trees which are lit at night at great expense for very costly electricity. [The stupidity of much money spent on ugly 'art' was just one example by my host of what drove him nuts about Mrs. Ortega, mostly it was her having too much power from an unelected position even though that power was not being abused to forcefully crush dissent and was used in many helpful ways that benefited the common people]

     She owns the company that builds them. [I am not sure of any details of that statement, it was thrown out with a laugh and no details were pursued]  Another leftist political party to help keep the government more honest would be a good thing but cannot expect to have any chance until a generation that venerates “The Heroes and Martyrs” of the revolution has passed on. The poor class controls who are elected because elections are fair and honest and so right now parties on the right do not have a chance of gaining more than a little representation. A more rightist government won one election, power was handed over peacefully for the first time in Nicaraguan history, and the people got a taste of what austerity measures recommended by the IMF and the World Bank felt like to an already poor country and now the Sandinistas are firmly back in power through the ballot.  Now my host would like to see an alternative on the left but would still vote for the Sandinistas [I believe] rather than a right wing party.  

     My host was not surprised at what I told him about the article by Moynihan but thought most of the accusations and conclusions of Moynihan, especially those of war crimes by the revolution and the history of the Sandinistas, are absurd and pointed out that those charges of crimes did apply correctly to the Contras, [the ones trained by our government to attack local leaders and infrastructure so as to bring down the government chosen and fought for by its people].

     Some more random thoughts: Nicaragua is the second foreign country I have ever been in where I was not approached either to buy dope or to be offered the services of a prostitute. The other is India. A building in Managua was pointed out by our host as the former headquarters of a drug cartel which was crushed four or five years ago and is now a police station. He said there are no powerful drug gangs in the country.

     Almost every building, including residences, of any size is fortified with steel fences, bars on the windows and doors, and concertina wire around the walls and roof line. This includes those recently built or under construction.

     When we asked we were told that there could be some danger of getting mugged or harassed at night in some areas and so should take a taxi after dark. We ignored this advice in most of the places we stayed and only took a taxi as a precaution one evening when we were a long walk from our room in Grenada and the power went out leaving everything very dark. It came back on about the time we got to our room. Nobody we talked to anywhere had had a crime problem or heard first hand of one or at least it never came up among travelers we talked to.

     I will probably add more thoughts as they come to mind and will be happy to answer what questions I can when time allows. 




    A fun thing that we did in Nicaragua was to go to a rodeo on the island of Ometepe which is formed by two volcanoes and is located in Lake Nicaragua. We heard about it and when asking about details, where, when, etc, we were told that we could expect a lot of drinking and a rowdy crowd. Sounded enough like a Texas rodeo to me to make it interesting. It turns out that the Ometepe islanders have a much different concept of 'rowdy' than do Texas cowboys and their rodeo fans. We went and had a lot of fun and were never uncomfortable. The crowd had a lot of fun but I neither saw nor heard any obnoxious drunks and as everywhere else, any contact we had with locals was friendly and respectful by all involved. 

     Unlike stateside rodeos, this rodeo had one event, bull riding. And unlike Brahma bulls chosen to challenge the best riders in the world, the bulls of Omotepe were smaller and not so damned mean. They were local bulls gathered up for the event and herded into a pen. Rather than a chute to constrain the animal while a rider got on and prepared to ride, the bull was let into the arena where part of the show was the roping of it and getting it to a post where it was snubbed up. It took some skill just to get on its back and then when it was released most gave a good ride. After the ride was over a small gang would run around teasing the bull waiving red towels or their t-shirts or just their hands and sprinting to the fence to climb out of the way of its charge until the bull finally found its way back to the holding pen. We were told that a couple hours after the rodeo was over that the bulls were turned out onto the street to find their way home.  They don't try that in Waxahachie or even Lukenbach but by that time we were back to our hostel sitting on a dock from where we could look one way across the lake to the mainland and the blinking lights on the big wind generators or the other way at the moon shining on the clouds that formed as the wind passed the peak of the other volcano.

    Image result for ometepe pictures

     I mentioned above that buildings in Nicaragua have walls, iron fences, and concertina wire around them. Ometepe is for the most part an exception. No battles have ever been fought there we were told and the reason is that the distance across the lake has provided them with protection.  

    You might like "Under the Volcano" from days gone by. Not a bad movie either.

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