I went down the street for a lesson at six and came back up the street to the Hotel Jerico for breakfast at seven.
Puttered at keyboarding most of morning. During this Juanita went down the street for coffee while the room was being cleaned. We walked to Cafetin Claudia for lunch eating a bit of chocolate gelato on the way to try and quell an uneasy stomach. Then we walked to the market after lunch and bought some bananas and went to the Pali for some travel snacks for Wednesday.
I got talking in the line up with a couple from Arizona. Juanita was waiting by the door with the bag of bananas. She commented “That must have been a pretty good conversation. A couple of people walked around you guys while you talking.” Oops. Another victory for situational awareness.
Back to room for a nap and some reading and a bit more keyboarding until Wheel of Fortuen and Jeopardy! A walk across the street to the Eskimo and then we settled down to read a bit, surf a bit, watch the Iowa caucus news a bit and then it was bed time.
We received texts today from Becky (Zeke out of hospital will go back tomorrow as an outpatient) and Debbie (arrived safely in Orlando).
February 2, 2016
This morning the six a.m. Spanish tutoring session was mostly conversation and mostly in Spanish. It included some jokes both ways and some recent local history, which reverted to English at times because of speed of communication of the more salacious details. Breakfast was just being served when I arrived back at the hotel shortly after seven. After breakfast we visited a bit then I laid out the web site page for February and then it was time to change and get ready to go to brunch.
We walked to Kathy’s Waffle House to meet Nathan and Melody Durant. I think the last time we ate there, maybe two years ago was when we met with them. It is a special occasion sort of place for a budget traveler. Good food, generous portions and bottomless cups of fresh-perked coffee included in the American restaurant level prices. They serve breakfast and lunch only and you do not see a lot of locals eating there probably due the prices. Even so it is usually busy. There were no tables for four when we showed up except one in the sun so we opted for one just inside the door under a fan. The waiter said he would move us outside if a table became available. One did just when Nathan and Melody arrived, but we were all happy enough where we were. We must have been since we managed to visit until quarter to twelve when the lunch crowd was starting to arrive.
We parted company with the possibility that we may hook up with them when they head down the San Juan River (the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica) later this month.
After this we did not need lunch so we visited with other guests and then hung around reading and writing and puttering with the web site. It is close to five and tomorrow we plan to go to Matagalpa so should pack tonight. Not many choices to make. Everything goes in the bag. But still will need to take the time. And it is time now to go see the money changer on the corner across from the Hot Dogs Connection of Granada. Talk to you later.
February 3, 2016
I was running a bit late when I walked to the tutor, but we still started within five minutes of the hour and had an enjoyable visit with a mix of Spanish and English and a minimum of verb drill. We both knew and behaved like it was the last lesson for a while, maybe a year. Anything I had learned was not going to be added to in any significant way so we relaxed.
When I know what I am talking about and the words are not too technical or obscure I manage to talk tika-tika-tika and it flows not too badly. If it is particularly bizzare or technical not so much. On the way to Matagalpa I was asking the woman in the small store in the corner of the bus depot what the refund/deposit/value of an empty Coke bottle was. I could easily get out of her the price of a full one or the information that she wouldn’t sell me a full one to take on the bus. She would sell me the contents and put it in a plastic bag because the bottles get sent back for the deposit, but there was no way I could get her to tell me what an empty was worth. I think this is because there was no conceivable way anybody would want to know that even “for curiosity”. If the question is one that you don’t think anybody would be asking you have a hard time figuring out that somebody is asking it.
I lived the other side of the transaction when we arrived at the hotel in Matagalpa. The desk person was asking something that did not make any sense that she would be asking so I didn’t know what she was really asking and what to answer. I could make out most of her words, but I had no idea the meaning of those words in terms of a response that would satisfy her quest for knowledge to justify an action.
Communication is fun ain’t it? When a conversation starts well it often speeds up beyond my capability to process. Other times it starts poorly because my hearing isn’t what it used to be especially with competing simultaneous sounds. Then the person assumes I know way less than I do and reverts to bad English. I don’t ever think I will be as sufficiently proficient to fill in the blanks anywhere like I do in English, because in English the blanks are caused by listening skills and bad hearing and in Spanish you add limited vocabulary to the mix. Still exceeded the original long term goal of being able to communicate to the level of an intelligent four-year-old. Four-year-olds get everything they want or at least everyone around them knows what they want even if they don’t get it.
The tutoring session ran over a couple of minutes since we were in the midst of some story. Can’t remember if it was his or mine, but we were intent on seeing the story to the end whosever’s it was. Breakfast was arriving at the table along about the time I did so we ate and visited with the French Canadian guy at the next table. Yesterday his plans were to look into renting a car and using the insurance coverage from his credit card. Today he said they abandoned that idea since the mandatory insurance for liability was $US 12.99 a day and they would let him waive the collision coverage and put it on his credit card, but that if any damage occurred he would have to pay the car rental company for the repairs and then look to his credit card company for reimbursement once he was back in Canada. It made logical sense to me. Why should the car rental company have to wait for his credit card company to pay if he wrecked the car? And what would they do if he leaves the country and the credit card company stiffs the car people for repairs? It made sense to me, but I didn’t argue their position for them I just agreed with his decision. It didn’t make economic sense to him to rent a car so his plan was to use public buses. We looked at a maps of Managua and Granada and I showed him where they say which terminals have buses to which cities. He found a bus from Granada directly to Leon leaving Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but it seemed to appeal to him. It seems late in a day to get started travelling and even if the bus ran on time you would be arriving in a strange city around sunset. I try to avoid cities at night. Even in broad daylight they had somebody stalk them in Managua and narrowly escaped by leaping into a passing cab. You would think he would want to take an earlier bus, but the idea of not having to make a change in Managua seemed trump. Maybe the idea of being in Managua is a worse idea than walking the streets of Leon after dark. Leon is a nice destination for bus travel from Granada. There are frequent buses to the UCA terminal and the buses leave from the UCA terminal so you get off and walk down a few slots and get on another bus without having to leave the terminal.
After breakfast we puttered. Okay. Let’s be fair here. I puttered. Juanita was packed and ready to go before breakfast. I changed from my tutoring/breakfast clothes of shorts, flip-flops and a tee shirt to long pants and shoes. I fussed with what went into the bag and where it went and by nine we were walking up the street toward the central park. Near the cross we chatted with a tour guide we knew and said our goodbyes etc. I heard a rumour of some of his past life skills in a previous existence but looking at him could not process the idea he would be capable of such things. If everybody looked like what they were capable of doing would they get a chance to? Everybody would avoid them. We say “as ugly as sin”, but if sin were really ugly where would be the temptation to partake? In Genesis it says the serpent was the most beautiful of all creatures. So much for appearances. By the way the reference is from memory – somebody who looked perfectly normal stole my iPod Touch with the Bible app on it. That event is covered in the January Update.
We walked the half block from the main square to the bus terminal, stopping on the way to chat with Jose our guide from the boat trip the other day. There was a bus pulling out with a couple of seats in the back still available. The seats weren’t together. We passed up that opportunity and walked into the terminal where somebody helped us onto the bus and helped us stow our bags. One went under the back seat we were sitting on and one under the next seat toward the front. I got off the bus briefly and bought a small bottle of cold water and made pointless inquiries about the value of empty pop bottles and got back on and we read until the bus was mostly full and it left. Toward Masaya the bus was standing room only and by Managua it was really packed. I managed to hand out a few curved illusion tracts, but for the most part just sat there and watched the passengers and the passing scenery. The new Price Smart in Managua was a lot further from Sinsa than we had guessed from descriptions.
Our carry-on bags were stowed under the seats and the my “personal item” tote with the laptop was at my feet. There was a door and door well directly in front of us so it would be an easy matter to grab the tote as one got off the bus. However, I had my leg unobtrusively through the strap and my foot wedged under the lower rail. That bag wasn’t going anywhere even if it looked like easy prey. There was a tough looking youth standing there. He wore rings and tats and had various tools hanging from carabiners and loops on his clothing. Every once in a while he would take a quick look at the tote. I was prepared to brace myself and punch back if he tried anything when the bus stopped to let off or take on passengers.
Our destination today is Matagalpa. Matagalpa buses leave from terminal near the Mercado Mayoreo out near the airport in the northeast of Managua. The bus we were on was going to the terminal across from the University of Central America (UCA) in the Northwest of Managua. Usually one gets off the one bus near the Metro Centro shopping center and takes a cab to the other terminal. As we got closer to a transfer point to the other bus terminal the bus was so full I could see how we could get off with our luggage and was a little apprehensive about the tough looking guy getting off with us. I said to Juanita that we might have to wait on the bus until UCA and take a longer cab drive.
I’m back. Sorry about that but it was past noon when I was writing the above and we were running late to head for the buffet. As it was we were too late for the enchiladas on the steam table and nothing else looked interesting to eat so we ordered a couple of batidos and drank them and … Oops! I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s so tomorrow! Let’s go back to yesterday or as we are calling in this narrative - today.
When the bus stopped at the Metro Centro stop the conductor yelled to us and everybody helped get our bags off even the tough looking guy who stayed on the bus as it rolled away and I talked to a cabbie about the price to terminal Mercado Mayoreo and he quoted me C$ 120 for the two of us and he helped put our carry-on bags in the trunk and we got in the back seat. There was a lady passenger already in the front seat. Probably could have negotiated $C 20 less in fare, but maybe not and this worked. In a few blocks another lady joined in the back seat for a while and then she got off in a couple of miles at the same time as the first lady so we had the cab to ourselves the rest of the way to the bus terminal. A couple of women flagged the cab down but he told them where we were going and they wanted to go in the opposite direction so stepped back from the curb to wait for another taxi.
At the terminal I noticed he did not turn down the right street and then he asked if we wanted the terminal or the market. Then he did a u-turn and ended up at a side entrance to the terminal where he wouldn’t have to pay the “cobro” to go in to drop us off. Also dropped at that spot by another cab was a young woman and her son. Touts directed us and hurried us to the payment window and the waiting buses. I paid for a couple of seats and got tickets for seats #15 and #16. We walked to a boarding Matagalpa bus but that was a Ruteado (stops everywhere to pick up and drop off passengers and goes into side streets in major towns on the route) and ours was for an Expresso (doesn’t stop as often, stays on the direct route). It was 11:15 and the bus was scheduled to leave at 11:30. I boarded the bus with the bags and Juanita headed to the washrooms. The lady who walked into the terminal at the same time was across the aisle so we visited and I gave her a curved illusion tract. Juanita got on the bus and I went, buying a large bottle of cold water on my way back from the washroom. The son of the lady across the aisle came with two slices of pizza for them. We ate our peanuts and a few cookies and washed them down with cold water. Later on at San Benito a vendor boarded the bus for about fifteen minutes and we bought a couple of empanadas and one other pastry.
The bus left on time. It went east out of the city and turned north as it passed through Tipitapa. It passed the barrel stores we had shopped at and the gas station where we had problems with the alternator pivot bolt on the truck. We crossed the Tipitapa river coming out of Lake Managua to Lake Nicaragua. The Tipitapa river is currently more of a trickle than a river where it goes under the highway bridge. Kind of damp looking water foliage and not much open water. Lake Nicaragua is low enough that one of the other guests at Hotel Jerico saying the lake is so low that the ferry from Granada to Ometepe Island has been canceled for five or six months. It can’t be helping that the river into it is pretty well nonexistent miles before it gets to Lake Nicaragua.
A few miles later we passed the San Benito Subestacion, a huge electrical sub station. Then we started seeing lots of businesses selling barrels on the side of the road. Lots more inventory and variety than the ones we shopped at last month. We got a good deal, but it will be good to keep in mind the greater selection a few miles further north than we went. Most of them seem to be selling large and medium sized birdcages as well and many are selling mattresses along with barrels, birdcages, and tanks. I can’t see the connection, but maybe they are counter directional in market demand and work as a sales leveling mechanism. I can’t imagine any other link that makes sense and I can’t imagine that level of sophistication either.
The land seems drier than other times we have been through it. I didn’t see much green anywhere on the way to Sebaco except for a couple of patches seen in the distance near some farms in a couple of valleys. Sebaco was its usual bright spot with fruits and vegetables on display on the roadside stands lining the roads of this town on the junction of two major highways. Heading east toward Matagalpa we passed drying fields where coffee and other seed products are brought from the highlands to be laid on tarps to dry in the sun. At the end of the day they pull on the tarp edges to get the seeds or beans into heaps and fold the tarps over them to protect them for the night. The next morning they unfold the tarps and spread out the beans into a thin layer to dry in the sun for another day. It was getting later in the day as we got close to Matagalpa and the workers in the drying fields were starting to heap up the beans by lifting the tarp edges.
We got off the bus at the Matagalpa terminal and walked out onto the street and a helper flagged a cab and put our bags in back and earned his tip. On the way to the Hotel Villa Hermosa we gained and lost a few passengers who gained curved illusion tracts in the process. At the hotel we paid for our room for five nights for $US 92.50 without breakfast. There is the dining area where they used to serve breakfast. That area is available for our use and there is an electric kettle, a microwave and cups, saucers, and utensils in a side room. The room seemed like it would be an airless hole, but it is fine. In Granada I think it would be awful, but at Matagalpa’s altitude it proved to be fine with the multi speed oscillating fan running and later in the evening was fine even without the fan running. We have the option of moving to another room tomorrow.
We were hot from our trip and unpacked a bit and had showers and a nap before heading across the nearby bridge and up town. We passed a fruit stand next to the bridge and a girl selling yucca balls outside a dress store, and figured we would pick up some on our way back to the hotel. Uptown further we walked around the edge of the central park and headed down a street to Don Chaco. The stuff on the steam table looked toxically old and we looked at their batido menu, but carried on to a cross street and checked out a bakery we knew from previous visits. It was busy with a lot of people sitting and visiting and eating pastries and drinking coffees, but the selection was all baked goods. Nothing we really wanted to eat for supper. We headed back the way we had come to Don Chaco for a batido, but it was all closed up with the corrugated metal doors pulled tight to the sidewalk and locked.
We crossed the street to a café and bar but it was dimly lit and looked and smelled mostly bar with lots of people sitting around staring into their drinks. Up the street we checked out the food court at La Colonia supermarket. It looked fine for earlier in the day, but was winding down as well. Not much selection in the glass cases and none of looked appealing. We checked out a sad little food court up a narrow stairwell across from the park. It looked great with modern food stalls and play area and lots of clean tile and open to the air on the sides but the businesses were sad. The food stalls themselves were either empty or severely understocked. It reminded me of the food court in the Golden Mile in Regina, although it had more ambiance than Regina its stalls seemed teetering closer to the brink of bankruptcy.
On street level under the food court we went into a fried chicken place and bought and ate a couple of pieces of fried chicken and then walked across the street to the central park and had a couple of Eskimo ice cream cones from a cart. I had my shoes shined for only $C 10 (10/28 of a US dollar. You do the arithmetic) then we walked up the street toward home and had a couple of gruilla’s (sp?) with a piece of cheese each. Then we bought water and some Mr. Noodle type soup mixes and walked home. The yucca girl was gone and the fruit stand was closed up. No yucca or fruit for us tonight.
Back in the room by six and I checked channel 49 for Wheel of Fortune and it wasn’t there. I checked the channel listing channel and it said it would be there but it was not. Not much in English. We watched a bit of BBC and CNN in English and about ten minutes of Big Bang Theory dubbed into Spanish and then kind of dozed off reading and woke up long enough to turn off the TV and the room light and then woke up around midnight and found that Juanita had woken up enough to take the Kindle and my glasses and the phone and the remote control from off the bed between us and I lay there wondering how I was going to survive laying there awake and next thing I knew the phone was going off to wake me up for five a.m. so I could go down the street at six for tutoring and that is so yesterday. Juanita managed to wake up enough to hand me the phone and I killed the alarm. Then we dozed for a while more and I finished reading Antifragility and started reading a possibly trashy novel that was free on a Book Bub link to Amazon.
I will have to remember to turn off the alarm setting on the phone before 5 a.m. tomorrow.
February 4, 2016
Up in the morning, wrote a bit. Walked up town and had breakfast. Menu board says 60 cords for full breakfast and we see a few being served and they are substantial with lots of rice so I ordered three scrambled eggs for me and two scrambled eggs for Juanita and cheese on the side and coffee for both of us. The cheese and eggs was great and the coffee was better. The bill was only $C 54 so I gave her $C 60 and everybody was happy.
We walked around a bit and then walked back to the hotel. I stopped at one barber shop who wanted $C 160 from me if I had a haircut and beard trim. That was more than I have ever paid in Nicaragua and a lot more than the money I saw being paid by the locals so we left and carried on walking back to the hotel and found a barber around the corner that wanted $C 60. The difference between a good haircut and a bad one? One hundred Cordobas and two weeks. I certainly got my money’s worth. He asked if I wanted #2 clipper all over. I said “three” and the one he used, cut the hair on my head and my face more like a #1 clipper. Really short. Doesn’t look that bad and it will grow out. He did trim around the edges with a razor so I look a lot tidier than before the clip. Next time with a strange barber I will ask to look at the clipper ahead of time.
We headed back to the hotel for keyboarding. On the way we bought bananas and mandarin oranges, probably the sweetest oranges I have eaten. Ever.
While we were out and about I was looking for a place that had telephone booths for international calls. I guess they have been made extinct by cell phones. I need to make a phone call about the reservation for an RV spot for the spring shutdown. I was able to contact them by e-mail, but the reservation needs to be finalized by phone.
I puttered away on the keyboard into lunch time and we left a bit too late. When we got to Don Chaco the enchiladas were gone from the buffet line and nothing else appealed. We had a couple of batidos instead – milk and peanuts for Paul and papaya and water for Juanita. Then we went to the La Colonia food court and decided we were too late for anything appetizing there, too.
Up the street we paid a Movistar (cell phone company) tent person to enable my phone to make calls to Canada and the States. Going into the bathroom in the sad little food court I got my credit card out from the inner recesses of my inner wear and was ready to give the number to the trailer park girl. Phone did not work for Canadian calls. Back out on the street and accost the tent person. He concluded or I understood him to say that the only way the phone can call a number is if the number calls the phone first. Sounds stupid, but it makes sense.
We went to the trendy coffee shop to use their supposed fast internet. The Wednesday two-for-one special of coffee and muffin were so yesterday so we drank overpriced, bitter coffee and I nibbled on a marvellous carrot muffin that didn’t taste a bit healthy. It turned out that the Windows 10 and Microsoft Escape browser combination don’t seem to support Skype telephone calls. Nor do they support Google calls. Eventually we left to bang our heads against technological obstacles elsewhere.
Back at the hotel there was a couple using a video conference to loudly conduct a business meeting with somebody on line. I was pretty well able to ignore them as I looked for and discovered a current version of Internet Explorer that Microsoft hides in the accessories section and used to download a telephone call friendly version of Skype, paid Skype ten dollars and called the trailer park. When the call connected I left the dining room and conducted business where I could hear the call and not be heard giving out my credit card numbers. Actual cost of the call? 12 cents. I guess we have a $9.88 credit on Skype now.
I then went back to the dining room and was writing away and suddenly the room became silent. No Internet. No more conference call. I said,“Se fue!”(It went). The man agreed and soon the man and woman went away too. I was happily writing and some time later went to post the writing and realized that the internet had gone away because the power had gone away and neither was showing any sign of coming back. Time to shut down the laptop. Posting will have to wait.
We walked around the corner to buy a couple of pieces of fried chicken which hadn’t had time to cool. On the way back we could see a crew working on the pool mounted transformer across the street. There was hope. We ate our chicken by candle light. Very romantic. Then back to the room with our flashlight.
I showered and did the daily laundry and got set up for the morning to get dressed quietly and was all ready and the lights came on. So I uploaded today’s writings, we watched a bit of TV news and went to sleep.
Selva Negra (Black Forest)
February 5, 2016
Slow start to the day without the routine five a.m. alarm, followed by showering, dressing and being on time for six a.m. tutoring session and seven a.m. breakfast. Today I woke up and glanced at clock and it was seven a.m. and rolled over and tried to go back to sleep before finally getting up. Routine has its place. So much for the plan to get up at old normal time and make use of the time of clearheadedness for writing.
In the hotel dining area we visited with a family of four (mom, dad, boy about six, girl about five) from Ottawa, travelling for some months so far. They spent time in Mexico, Costa Rica, including a sail boat on the Caribbean before arriving in Nicaragua. They have been living in a rented house on the Pacific beach west of Leon for the past two months. They are now headed to Ecuador. His or her mother has been with them for a couple of weeks. They are in Matagalpa for the day. After breakfast at the no name cafe across from the Pali they plan to go buy a jacket and some shoes which haven’t been necessary living on the beach. They leave tomorrow for Ecuador which will be higher and cooler so the shoes and another layer of clothing will be needed. Since they will arrive near the start of Mardi Gras shopping might be a bit of challaenge. Today they plan on visiting the chocolate factory in Matagalpa. I said it is hard to find, but they have a local friend driving them around. This evening they plan on staying in the Best Western across from the airport. The kids are looking forward to the pool and they are looking forward to easy access to the airport tomorrow. After Ecuador they plan on making their way south to Peru and Chile before flying across to the coast of Brazil and picking up a sailboat to relocate for the owner. Grandma will fly back to Canada.
I started writing the blog about yesterday as a narrative and realized the time and reverted to point form so we could get in motion and out onto the street. So off we went to the café with no name. Remind me to write about Michael Gerber’s account of Peggy’s Diner sometime.
The Canadians were at the Breakfast place. The dad was at the counter paying and trying to decide how much Nicaraguan change he wanted, but his wife assured him they would spend it on shoes and a jacket before leaving the country. I noticed his iron ring and asked what type of engineer he was. He is a mechanical engineer. I mentioned our daughter was civil/ geo-technical and that I was not an engineer but had worked as an engineering manager before retirement. He said he had been in management for years with the department of defence and that most engineers did not end up in management because they were not typically people people. They left. We finished eating and stepped onto the street and flagged down a cab with one passenger in the front seat. He cabbie wanted $C 300 to go to Selva Negra. I balked. He countered with $C 250. I countered with $C200 and he agreed.
The other passenger stayed for the ride to Selva Negra. The cabbie and her seemed to be having a great visit. Nine kilometers from Matagalpa you turn off at the military tank onto the gravel side road for Selva Negra. The road is rough but doable. The cabbie slows down a bit and the ride becomes a little less scary. Eventually we got to a gate. We paid the entrance fee for the two of us and the guard raised the gate. The entrance fee will be deducted from any restaurant food we buy.
The cabbie drops us at the covered entry way to the restaurant and drives off with his other passenger and promises to return at four o’clock. We enter the building and standing by the hotel desk is the owner clutching her closed laptop. She is a pleasant, attractive middle aged woman. She greets us and asks about us and we ask about her. She is part of a long line of Germans that came to Nicaragua in the nineteenth century start coffee farms. One of her parents or grandparents had come directly from Germany much as my grandfather had married somebody from Ireland a generation or two after emigrating to Canada. In a previous visit to Selva Negra (Black Forest in Spanish) we learned that it was started by a German-Nicaraguan family. I asked if she was part of that family. She said that her family was part of the original group of German coffee farmers, but had bought the Selva Negra hotel/restaurant/coffee farm in 1975 and had run it ever since. We asked for a map of the walking paths on the property. She explained the rating system of circle for easy, square for moderate and diamond for more difficult. She also said that the times are for walking the trails and that some people run them in the morning.
We had a cup of coffee at a table in the covered area next to the lake and we read for a while. Then we went for a walk on a couple of the trails, stopping to read on the way on chairs provided.
Back at the main lodge we had a long lunch, read for a while and then go for a longer walk. There was slight smattering of rain but it never got serious while we were walking. On our route we check out the chapel which was being set up for a wedding and the banquet hall which had table set up for a wedding supper.
Back at the lodge we checked out the dessert display cabinet. Lots of yummy looking cakes and pies but no cheesecake so we opt to sit on the deck again and read until it is time to go out front and be ready for the four o’clock cab. The rain started in earnest and pounded down into the lake. Glad we were back from our walk.
At about ten to four we made a pit stop and then went out front to sit and read and wait. At four fifteen when the cab was a no show I went inside and asked at the desk. She said she could call a car and driver and the fee would be about three hundred Cordobas. I said I would wait another ten minutes for our cabble. A little before four thirty she made the call and said a car and driver would there in about twenty-five minutes. I don’t know why the original cabbie was a no show. Was he insulted by the $C 200 and became angry about accepting it and was getting even? Did things progress with his passenger and he was busy? Did he pass one too many times on a solid line and his luck ran out? Did his high speed corners take him over the edge on the wet pavement? Did he make his quota for the day? Who could know?
An immaculate, unmarked Mazda 323 shows up. The well presented older driver got out and told us he had come for us and we rode at a sedate pace back to our hotel. He stopped by the tank so I could take a picture when I asked and he went where we told him in town, but he definitely kept his social distance throughout the trip. He graciously accepted the fee and the curved illusion tracts.
Back at the hotel I set up the computer in the dining room. There was no noisy Nica conference call today.
I surfed a bit. Then I check e-mail and open one with a job offer. The next several hours are spent fighting with the programs I have to get the .pdf submissions the employer wants every year. It was made easier by using the surface pro pen to mark up forms. This resulted in not the prettiest forms but hopefully adequate. Certainly couldn’t have done it the way I have done it in previous years – I have no scanner and no .pdf editor except for the pen based one.
We book and pay for two more nights at hotel to get us past Mardi Gras. Back to room after nine and Juanita finally got to check her e-mail while I washed my pants, shirt, socks, etc. from today, hung them to dry and had a shower then to bed after 10.
February 6, 2016
Today we did better at getting up than yesterday. I was up around six and did my daily dose of psyllium husk and pills and brushed my teeth and went out to the dining area and checked the news on the internet and cleaned up e-mail and uploaded a few pictures to the web site. Juanita joined me a little after seven and made some coffee to hold us until breakfast. After I ran out of time to do any more keyboarding we headed up town to the café across from the Pali and ordered scrambled eggs, a piece of cheese and coffee for each of us. I sat down and Juanita pointed out they had a sign for today announcing nacatamales, a typical Nicaraguan weekend treat. I promptly went back to the counter and asked if we could change our order to nacatamales. “Si!” with a big grin. Definitely a higher profit margin than scrambled eggs. We have had better nacatamales on Sunday mornings at a hospedaje in Leon, but these were almost as good and far better than most we have had in the past.
We checked to see if they would be open in tomorrow morning and then went across to the Pali and stocked up on water and snacks and bought some toiletries that had run out and walked home to the hotel. On the way back we bought a bit of fruit and small bag of deep fried yucca balls. They are sort of like heavy, greasy slightly sweet tim-bits. Later, on the bus Juanita took one small bite and graciously let me have the other 5 7/8’s of them.
At the hotel we dropped off our purchases, changed out of shorts and flip-flops and into pants and shoes and walked up to the nearby corner and flagged down a cab to the south bus terminal. There was already a passenger in the front of the cab. A block later a young woman got in to the back seat with us and then the front seat passenger got out a bit down the road. Between passengers I gave the young woman a pair of curved illusion tracts. The cabbie was fascinated by them. He twisted around at the next traffic light to see what was going on. I gave him his own pair and encouraged him to turn around and drive when the light changed. The cabbie then drove along moving the cards back and forth to see the apparent size change. When the next front seat passenger got in the cabbie drove along showing the passenger how the cards seemed to change size. I gave a pair to that passenger as well and then he got off and we got off a block later at the bus depot. The bus to Jinotega was just leaving. We got on board. It was almost full but we managed to get a seat together.
The bus headed up the hill out of Matagalpa and into the mountains on its way to Jinotega. Some friends in the States say this is their favorite town in Nicaragua. We have looked into booking a hotel room there, but it is only forty-five kilometers from Matagalpa so a day trip ahead of time seems like a way to check things out without making any commitment. We have taken the bus in the past, but only as far as the turn-off to Selva Negra. The turn-off is marked by an old battle tank parked at the junction. So we wave to the tank on our way past and the bus continues climbing into the mountains to an area new to us.
The road is an excellent paved highway, but the up hill stretches are steep and the bus lumbers up them in a lower gear. The downhill stretches are not much faster as the driver seems intent on preventing a runaway situation. With that and the frequent stops to take on and let off passengers the forty-five kilometer trip takes about an hour and a quarter. We arrive in Jinotega shortly after noon at one of the cleanest and most modern bus terminals I have seen in Nicaragua and join the crowd out to the street. When the jostling for cabs subsides a bit we take one fifteen blocks to the central park area and walk around in the shade under the big trees and hand out a few curved illusion tracts.
Jinotega is in a valley that reminds me of the Thompson Valley in Canada. It has a reputation as a cowboy town and to me it does seem a lot like Kamloops with a touch more ambience. We walk away from the park in the middle of town and back generally toward the bus terminal. We had spied some shops with chairs from the cab. That implies eateries. The first we came to was an Eskimo. Nope. Not ready to have ice cream products for lunch. A little further on we come to a small restaurant with people sitting at tables. There is no staff in sight, but some of the people have plates of food. I walk to the back and enter a living area with two grannies in rocking chairs around the corner from the entry. I excuse myself and start to back out but the heavier of the two gets up and asks me what I what and I ask her what they have and then I order and we find an empty table. A harried looking middle aged person shows up and delivers some plates of food and takes other people’s orders. Eventually she has no choice but to deal with us, and is about to but the grannie shows up with our two plates so the woman asks if we want chilies on top (“no”) and brings us food and me a drink of manis y leche (peanuts blendered with milk). Juanita sticks with her bottle of water. The food is okay. There is no bathroom. I pay. We leave.
Further down the street it seems like it should be about here that we turn and go east again and there is a Tip Top Chicken fast food place on the corner and they would have bathrooms so we cross the street and go in. We order a couple of coffees and a piece of tres leche cake. For close to the cost of a lunch in a local restaurant we get two café americanoes in espresso sized cups and the smallest piece of tres leche cake I have ever eaten. Well it’s the thought that counts. Like try-me’s at Costco it doesn’t take much of a portion size to give you a large portion of the experience of a full sized piece. Besides, as far as tres leches cakes go this one didn’t go very far in terms of texture or flavor either.
The bathrooms were clean and modern. They have soap and hand sanitizer and paper towels and toilet paper. No worries here, mate.
We amble off up the street and find the Otros (something like that) park and wander around it a bit before heading back to the bus terminal. On the highway into town I saw a sign saying there was fried chicken place two blocks west of the Otros park, I guess we found it without intending to. Tip Top Chicken restaurants are usually busy with local people even though the prices are sky high compared to the alternatives. We occasionally eat at one, but not often. A few years ago when we spent a month helping at Somotillo on the Honduran border, we would go to Chinendega on Saturdays. It had a Tip Top Chicken that was packed while a block away was a local grill that served grilled steak, plus a buffet choice of side dishes for less money. It too was busy, but I always struggled over why anybody would eat at the Tip Top Chicken given a choice between the two. I have concluded by talking around that the appeal is that of conspicuous consumption which shows off that you can afford to eat at a very North American style, air conditioned fast food place. One local commentator said that people eat there to be seen and when they eat Nicaraguesan cart chicken they pick it up to be eaten at home.
Back at the bus depot, the next bus to Matagalpa is scheduled to leave in twenty-five minutes. We talk about going for a walk, but end up talking to the restroom attendant and giving her a pair of curved illusion tracts and then hand some others out and buy a bottle of water and then it only makes sense to wait for the bus to show up. Good thing we did.
The bus showed up and swept past and stopped two bus lengths further ahead than where everybody was waiting. I left Juanita to fend for herself and joined the throng swarming the bus. When in Rome… I implacably moved forward, squeezing out anybody who tried to get ahead of me by going around between the bus and me. Construction site buses are boarded in far more orderly fashion than Nica buses. That is not to say there can’t be the odd incident. I remember some years ago when the crane operators would walk a block to where our bus stopped sooner than their bus and then would push in front of the line when the bus arrived. One day I blocked one crane operator and he pushed and I pushed back and he called me a silly body part or two and I prevailed and he never pushed in front again and we have worked the same shutdown for years and we don’t share bus stops anymore, but we always look for each other and take the time to visit and catch up on each other’s lives.
Even getting on the bus earlier than I would have without standing my ground the situation was bleak. There had been people piling in the back door as well as the front door I had come in. Every seat on the bus had somebody on it. Just one for the most part for each of the two person seats. I guess the deal is that everybody tries to get a seat and once they have one they see if a family member or other travelling companion has a better one and then do an instant upgrade. A woman offered me a wheel well seat and went off to join her husband who had a better seat. I took it and told somebody who wanted to share my good fortune that my wife was going to be sitting with me. He left for better prospects. Juanita squeezed down the aisle and I scrunched in against the window and she sat on the aisle. After we were rolling we changed spots as she can handle the reduced leg room better. When the conductor came by and I paid him I moved my wallet to a zipped pocket between Juanita and I.
Walking around Jinotega and on the ride back we managed to hand out several curved illusion tracts. Overall we had a pleasant day. It was a nice enough little town. Generally, it was clean and the people seem friendly, but we couldn’t figure out why it would be our friends’ favorite town in Nicaragua. I think it would be hotter during the day and colder during the night than Matagalpa and not as pleasant to walk around. We cancelled any plans to book a hotel there.
Speaking of cancelled plans. We got an e-mail last week from our friends about the proposed trip to San Carlos and the San Juan river area. We would bus there, about five hours from Managua, and get off the bus and walk for three hours to where we would spend the night sleeping on somebody’s floor. We replied right away to count us in and shortly after that went to sleep for the night. Part way through the night I woke up and started thinking of the reality of the trip and the reality of our physical and spiritual conditions and temperaments and how close the whole thing would be to when we would be due back in Managua for our flight home. It suddenly no longer seemed like a fun idea. The fuzzy concept of a leisurely drift down the San Juan River had morphed into a reality march neither of us is up to. I sent an e-mail the next morning about writing a cheque (Canadian for “check”) that would be overdrawn when it came to cash and our friends graciously let us off the hook.
Back in Matagalpa about four we dropped our backpack at the hotel and walked up town in search of a smoothie. Don Chaco was already shutdown for Sunday and after some asking and walking found a strawberry banana smoothie that satisfied Juanita and I endured. Then we bought a couple of guirilas (flat corn fritter grilled between banana leaves) and munched them on our way back to quiet evening at home in the hotel.
February 7, 2016
Today was a quiet relaxing day after a restless night that left me feeling a bit fragile. We walked up town to discover the low-priced no name café closed with the shutters locked to the concrete floor. So much for being open “tomorrow” when I asked yesterday. The pharmacy next door was open, however, so I self medicated with a prescription drug purchase and a bottle of water from there and we carried on across the square and up the hill to the Café Euro we have patronized in previous visits. There we had a relaxing breakfast of omelettes, toast, gallo pinto (rice and beans) and café Americano. Prices are higher than we have been paying in town, but not much different than Cafetin Claudia prices for omelettes back in Granada.
The self medication had not kicked in yet so after a visit to the bathroom we headed back home. On a side street around the corner from the trendy coffee shop we discovered The Barista a slightly less trendy (no A/C, open to street) coffee place and bought a smoothie to go. Then another side trip to the Pali to buy oats and instant coffee and we were home. I was surprised at how many businesses were open for a Sunday. Fewer than would be open on a weekday or a Saturday, but still more than expected.
On the topic of self medication, public safety is different than the nanny states of Canada and the United States. There could be many reasons for that. Perhaps poor countries cannot afford the cost of strangling their citizens. That is, perhaps the citizens live so close to the end there is not room for the cost of bureaucracy in their cost of doing business. Perhaps in the coming collapse of the North American economies the bureaucracies of state hyper-regulation and higher education will be thrown overboard as so much unnecessary baggage. Or perhaps they will become Cuba North and just let the people suffer one level above complete suffocation. That is unlikely in the States. There are too many guns and too few willing to drink the socialist Kool Aid.
But I digress. Bureaucracies exist in poor countries to provide employment, but the levels of bureaucratic employment that poor countries can afford to siphon off the lazy and unimaginative rent seekers are limited by the taxes they can collect. For whatever reason they do not seem to get involved too deeply in people’s lives and public safety. Maybe lives are cheaper and having fewer regs results from an informal cost-benefit analysis.
Three examples of lower standards are prescription drugs, electrical safety and public hazards.
You can go to a doctor and get a prescription for a drug and take it to the pharmacy. Or you can skip the doctor part and just buy the drug. Things may be different for narcotic type drugs, but the rest of the range of medications is simply request it and pay for it.
In the bathroom of our hotel room is a water heater of the type familiarly known as a “widow maker”. It is a large shower head attached to the end of the water pipe coming from the wall. Attached also to the water pipe is a piece of conduit with a couple of wires coming out the end and wire nutted to the wires coming out of the showerhead. Except for the ground wire from the showerhead which seems to be free floating. Perhaps it is connected and I can’t see. I have no intention of poking around in the wires to get a better look while I stand in a wet shower. I also had no intention of using the thing to heat water, but apparently they have flow switches in them. Or this one does. When I turned on the water for my first shower the water came out warm and I looked closer and the switch on the side was in the “on” position. Actually the “full on” position (black filled circle). There is an “intermediate on” (half-filled black circle symbol) between the full on and the “off” position (empty circle).
As I said it must have a flow switch to kill power to the heating element when the water shuts off. Otherwise when the water stopped it would make that same death gurgle that the water heater element in Bethel Gospel Camp made when I drained the water heater before turning off the circuit breaker during the Fall winterization routine. But I digress.
The internal flow switch in the widow maker seems to work better than the side heating selection switch. The flow switch just does its job. If you operate the heating selection switch there is an internal flash in the heater that is visible through the plastic housing. That can’t be good.
A final example of public safety enforcement is the car wash / oil change business on the corner next to our hotel here. They have a grease pit that you can drive a vehicle over so the mechanic can change oil etc. Unlike Mr. Lube there are no sliding covers to prevent people inadvertently falling in. There is nothing. Just a six-foot-deep concrete pit next to the sidewalk. You drive the vehicle across the sidewalk and over the pit. When there is no vehicle there the pit is open to the world a couple of feet from the sidewalk. If coming home some dark night you cut the corner a bit to save a few steps you would find yourself lying in the bottom of the pit. Likewise, there are storm drains open to the world at many street corners. Step off the sidewalk in the wrong spot and drop several feet. These are everywhere in the country and they stay that way for years. Just “look where you are going” seems to be public policy. A company I worked for left an open ditch and some trespasser stumbled into it one dark night and successfully sued for a million dollars. And that was in Canada. Can you imagine the litigation in the lawyer infested regulation-stifled United States?
Not to say that public safety is totally ignored. In January the navy had said sea conditions were too rough to travel from Little Corn Island to Corn Island and a boat captain ignored the mandate and thirteen Costa Rican tourists died. Friday he pleaded guilty and will be sentenced to from two to four years in prison. That seems to be a lot more efficient court system than North America as well. One of the risks of having a bit of money. You can fritter it away on useless items like endless appeals and relentless regulation. Eventually all the money is gone and your purse is empty.
Back to the day.
There were a number of fire crackers going off in the neighbourhood setting off car alarms and a huge party going on in a park a block away. Mardi Gras celebrations? Juanita walked uptown for a smoothie and the reluctant staff eventually made one for her in the midst of shutting down early so they too could celebrate. She said there were hardly any people on the street and all the businesses were shuttered.
There were three channels carrying the super bowl with commentary in Spanish so we read and surfed and watched that out of the corner of our eyes with the sound turned low until it was over and it was time to go to sleep.
February 8, 2016
Another relaxing day. There were bells outside in the street. They were a bit louder than ice cream cart bells and pretty early for ice cream as well. When I set up the computer in the dining room I asked the hotel clerk what the bells were for. They are to let people know the garbage is being picked up.
I puttered at the computer for a while then we went for a walk to breakfast and came back and puttered some more. Then we headed for a buffet recommended by Indy, a friend who used to live here. The buffet Mana del Cielo (Mana from Heaven) was downtown a bit and busy. Thre was tour group lined up ahead of us. At the end of a line just ahead of us was somebody with a Canadian flag embroidered on his hat. We got talking. He has lived in Managua for fifteen years and has lived in Saskatoon and Vancouver. He works with an organization that does bicycle pedal operated well water pumps among other things. He was in Matagalpa showing his parents around. They are from Hamilton, Ontario. Then time for talking was over. The buffet was at hand.
We both took more food than we could eat, but I finished mine. I asked for a caja “box”, but I guess they call them paquetes (packages) here and the server took Juanita’s leftovers and came back with them in a Styrofoam box and asked for five Cordobas for the box. The table we had been sitting at was on the route to the bathroom so we got to talk to tour group members and to hand out curved illusion tracks to the servers and local patrons.
After we finished we headed to the door and stopped to visit with the Canadian and his parents. I asked him about the wells and he said they get them professionally drilled, but he had some contacts who should know about mud pump sources and he said he would e-mail them. If he comes through I will e-mail them to Byron. One company he mentioned was McGregor in Managua, but he also said he would forward the name of an individual who works for one of the companies that drill wells for them. Out on the street the tour group was forming up to walk in the direction of the central park. I asked where we where going next and we all laughed and then Juanita and I headed south toward the other park in town, Parque Dario. It was a longish, pleasant walk along quiet streets, but eventually we figured we had gone far enough south and the street was starting to get steep so we headed downhill and west and hit the park on its south edge.
A drunk was happy to receive the to-go box, but he tried to ask for money for something to drink with it. I guess we were just to dumb to understand and he failed. In the park I spotted a washroom and took the opportunity and when I came out I was accosted by the snack bar attendant for the five Cordoba fee. I thought I had handed out all but one pair of curved illusion tracts in the restaurant, but in checking my pocket at the park entrance I discovered another stash so I gave a pair to a mother with her child at the entrance and we went back to the snack bar and handed out some to the patrons and attendant and visited with them a bit.
Across from the park we checked out a coffee shop that was the very first place we had a cup of coffee in Matagalpa, the first time we came here as a couple. It was hyped in the Lonely Planet for its coffee and having sacks of coffee beans propping open the door. There was more ambience in the write-up than in the reality. It was a large, open, sterile, flourescent lit environment with plastic furniture, plastic laminate counters, indifferent service, even more indefferent coffee and high prices. It was no surprise to find it currently boarded up with broken windows.
Walking back toward the north on the more commercial street that leads to the center of the central park we stopped at a Payless shoes store to check out the selection and prices. No different than Canada. We also ran in the Canadian NGO worker and his parents there. I commented on the prices and pondered who would shop there. He agreed and said most people he knew bought their shoes in the market and I mentioned the shoe factory next to the church near Masaya and he said many of the shoes are said to be made “in Masaya”. I then asked more about what they did and if they have teams build bicycle water pumps and he said they didn’t because they never knew if the well would actually hit water. He mentioned some of the other things they do: hand wash stations at schools, latrines, etc. He also said he had seen few Canadians in his ten years running teams here. Probably fewer than a dozen. I defended them by saying that Canada is only 10% of the population of the States and his reply was that they bring 22 teams a year into the country. I mentioned the waste separating toilets we had installed in Mexico and he said they seemed to work in Mexico and Bolivia, but not here. They don’t seem to like the maintenance involved. I mentioned some of the Japanese built latrines requiring pumper trucks that Juanita had seen at rural schools in the north and he commented he had seen a lot of stuff done with good intentions, but no concept of the local conditions. We parted company again.
I spied a health food store and checked on Psyllium Hulls which they had for about five times the price of Canada. I’ll just have to ration my dwindling supply. In the store they also had a step-on scale. If it is accurate I have lost about ten pounds since we have been in Nicaragua. Hmm.
We carried on up the main commercial street past stores that seem too ritzy for our blood. They are busy so somebody must have some money here. At the park we read for a while and then went back to the hotel for continued sloth of surfing and writing and a bit of TV.
February 9, 2016
After a pretty good night’s sleep I got up fairly early and did some keyboarding until Juanita got up and we headed uptown for breakfast at the no name café for the usual eggs, cheese and coffee. The male half of the couple running the place served us and charged me a bit more than I had been paying and we compromised on something that he seemed okay with.
On the way home we stocked up on bananas from the fruit stand by the bridge along with some really sweet mandarin oranges. There was time for some keyboarding and getting to the bottom of the e-mail in-box for the first time since October. I finally got around to writing a bio for the 50th high school reunion next summer. The e-mail request had been sitting in the in-box since early October. Once started it didn’t take long which proves the theory that the hardest part of a lot of things is getting started.
The first time I was in Matagalpa I came with Ben Butler of Way of the Cross Ministries in Harlingen, Texas. Juanita had gone back to Canada for the birth of a grandchild. Grandfathers are pretty extraneous to that process and Alberta is inhospitable to say the least in January and February so I stayed in Texas.
When Ben said I could tag along on his trip to Nicaragua I made sure that Juanita was okay with that and then leapt at the chance to go all over the country to meetings with pastors for the cost of an airfare and half a hotel room. I got to see a large swath of the country in a brief time.
In Matagalpa we ate one night at a carne asada place that I have not managed to find during subsequent visits. Last weekend I sent an e-mail to Indy, our translator on the first trip, asking if she could tell help me find the restaurant. She grew up and lived in Matagalpa before going to university in Managua and moving to Oklahoma. She thought she remembered, but the map showed it in the wrong spot for her memory so she sent a few other ideas as well. We have been trying them this week.
We walked past the north park and past the Claro building to a carne asada place Indy recommended, but they were only grilling pieces of chicken for lunch and said to come back at five if we wanted grilled beef. We went to Don Chaco’s. No enchiladas today, but they had a meat filled empanada type thing that was delicious with a smoothy. We each had one of each.
Next door to Don Chaco’s is the national museum of coffee. They were just closing when we passed by but said they would be open again at two. We decide that if we are in the area after two we will check it out. We walk up a cross street going uphill until we hit a street new to us. We turned onto and walked the length of that street climbing higher and higher and getting fairly close to the big cross on the hill east of the city. Then we walked down a sidewalk, stairs arrangement that put us out onto a street not far from Parque Dario.
Across from the park we went into KissMe, an ice cream place. Online guides say it is “a cute idea, but over priced”. None of them say the ice cream is worth a premium. I read their menu board and it had single scoops for C$ 65 (over three buck Canadian) but it also said that a cone was only C$ 20. I asked and that meant the empty cone was twenty cords. A single scoop in a cup was sixty-five. If the reviews had raved about the flavor or texture or creaminess I might have tried a scoop to see if it was close to over four times better than Eskimo ice cream, but they didn’t and neither did I.
We walked through the park to find a row of benches in the shade near a bus stop and sat down and read and checked out our city map and eavesdropped on a single female tourist with her map talking to a couple of locals on the next bench over. Juanita went across the street to investigate a store called California to discover it was a restaurant and come back with a photocopied menu which we reviewed. Then it was time to stretch our legs again. I handed out some curved illusion tracts and we walked down to the river edge and walked back uptown along the sidewalk, stopping to spend a long time watching some aquatic birds hunting river fish. We also checked out an expensive three story steak house that had been on Indy’s list. It was across the street for the river so we went in and asked to see the menu. They had a good variety of comestibles at special occasion prices. Not the place we would dine on a regular basis. The local equivalent of Hy’s, Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris.
When it seemed we were about even with the coffee museum we headed uphill away from the river and spent some time puttering through there. They had interesting displays to read on the local history of coffee and its cultivation and processing. There were a few displays of local political history written by the victors of the past struggles.
It was almost four by the time we got back home and we settled in for a bit of surfing and rewriting some pages of last month’s web update into narrative form and uploading them. Then it was time to watch a bit of the political reporting from the New Hampshire primary, then shower, laundry and bed.
Some time in the middle of the night I kept get awakened by a dying battery’s cry for help. I muddled through checking for some electronic item in distress, but all were accounted for and happy. Eventually I tracked the noise to our Canadian cell phone that I had turned on last week to get a phone number. After hooking it up to a charger I had a hard time to get back to sleep what with yowling cats, barking dogs, a too loud TV, and gusts of wind banging a nearby tin roof. I finally read an hour or so until drowsy and sleep prevailed over the noises.
February 10, 2016
Another quiet day of retirement in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. We walked uptown for breakfast at the no name café across from the Pali. The price has gone up a bit because the price of eggs has gone up a bit. We checked out the brand of coffee they serve. It is the best coffee we have had in Nicaragua and they charge only $C 7 a cup or about two bits a cup! The café owner buys it from a woman who brings it in from Managua and she will let us know tomorrow what she will charge per pound of the beans. I doubt that the coffee is grown near Managua. We are in the heart of coffee country here. Coffee started being grown here in the 1800’s after people discovered it grew better and tasted way better than the coffee that was grown in the lowlands by the Pacific coast.
On our way back from breakfast we noticed the power company was setting up to change a few power poles. We were not surprised that the power went out shortly after that along with the internet service in the hotel. I carried on writing off-line until it was time to go for lunch. We walked past the line crew and I admired the way they applied ground clusters to protect themselves.
Don Chaco had nothing that appealed but we found something at the food court in La Colonia supermarket. Then we walked up and down cross streets we had not walked on before. Part of our method was to explore new places, but I was also keeping an eye out for a restaurant where I ate on the first trip here. It wasn’t particularly good but my fussy little mind is annoyed that I can’t find it.
At one point we started encountering people coming up hill from church. Today is Ash Wednesday so they had ashes on their foreheads vaguely in the shape of crosses. I commented to Juanita that it was Ash Wednesday. She replied “Oh right! I was starting to think we had run into an East Indian tour group.”
Eventually we ended up near Parque Dario and went to the other branch of the trendy coffee shop. I remembered seeing on their video display board that they have a two for one coffee and carrot muffin special on Wednesdays. It brings the price down to what a reasonable person would pay. Still too much for my inner cheapskate, but I can silence him just this once. Well “some restrictions apply” to the two-fer deal. It only happens during a narrow two-hour window and we aren’t in it or even close to being in it. If one reads the deal details that flash by on the board we are way too early or if one listens to the barista we are too late, but in any case it is back out into the street to cross the park and sit and read for a while and be hit up by panhandlers and then do some more exploring. We buy a couple of cups of rice pudding from a moto selling “yogurt” and walk along eating the pudding on our way back toward home and a cup of coffee at the no name café.
Power was still off, but there was lots of life left in the laptop battery and we read and puttered around and visited with the staff and the owner’s daughter and before you knew it was close to quitting time for the power company guys and the power came back on and the evening placidly proceeded until we were in bed and asleep again.
February 11, 2016
Another relaxing day in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
Did some keyboarding and visited with a Dutch couple over coffee. Recommended Selva Negra and the no name coffee shop. By the time we finished e-mail etc. and were on our way to breakfast we met them coming back from the no name. When we saw them again in the evening they said they had taken one of the more aggressive trails at Selva Negra. They didn’t know what the noise from the howler monkeys was when they were in the woods and mistook it for bears and fearfully clutched rocks to throw if necessary.
At lunch we walked to find Vita E Bella, an Italian place that Indy mentioned. I looked on line before we left but could not find it in the area shown on line and none of the locals knew when I asked them. See! I can ask for directions if I have to! We ended up eating carne asada at a little place a couple blocks off the square and then went for a brief walk since getting pummeled by the strong wind got old in a hurry.
Back at the hotel we asked the owner’s daughter where the Italian restaurant was. She showed us on the map and it was right where the number was that corresponded to their ad in the free map I have been carrying. Go figure. Later we went back, found it in its alley across from a hostel and shared a small pizza for supper. With the lighting, the wooden tables and chairs and the cloth checked table cloths it struck a chord with me as one of the most pleasant places I have dined in Nicaragua.
We walked home stopping at the Pali to stock up on cup of noodle soups for those times when we are not particularly hungry and don’t want to go for a walk to eat. Then we had a pleasant evening with some visiting with the hotel staff and singing along with some gospel concert music they put up on the flat screen TV over the desk.
If you read about our travel adventures you frequently see me mentioning doing laundry. It is pretty mundane, but is an important hack in travelling lightly. We started years ago using Tilley travel clothing and would wash it, rinse and wrap it a towel and twist the towel before hanging the clothing up to dry overnight. We still buy Tilley socks, but after seeing a series of articles Rolf Potts of Vagabonding fame wrote where he travelled around the world with no luggage and carrying everything in his Scottevest jacket I started buying their products similar to this Travel Vest. Their underwear is more comfortable than Tilley’s. Their Tee Shirts with three zippered pockets are comfortable, look good and dry really quickly.
Last year I included Rob Scott’s book Pocket Man in my clothing order from Scottevest and quite enjoyed it. He wrote about building his business from scratch and his experience on Shark Tank. Now I see he has a book out expanding on that popular episode and with interviews from other people who have also jumped the shark: Shark Bites: The Unofficial Guide to Shark Tank by Entrepreneurs from the Show His and their experiences are not all positive. In his first book I learned that the sharks take a permanent bite out of your business just for the privilege of being on the show. Deal or no deal they get a small percentage of your business forever. Haven’t got around to ordering and reading Shark Bites, but I am sure there are other revelations.
Juanita and I read while waiting for breakfast to show up. Then we eat. I eat faster than she does. People who eat fast tend to be fatter than people who eat slowly. The food is in there before your body has time to tell your mouth to stop filling itself so fast eaters eat more food. Not all food metabolizes the same but if you eat more food of all types than somebody else you will probably be heavier than they are.
But I digress.
Finishing eating first means I can go back to reading while I finish my coffee. This morning I read something in the book: influence: The Psychology of Persuasion that brought back some memories. Cialdini was saying that scarcity either real or artificially created (“the last one in stock”, “one of only five models made with that engine and trim package”) makes things desirable and that coupling scarcity with rivalry can make you way overpay for something. He mentioned the all time high amount paid by a TV network for a movie and how the “winner” regretted it and the executives at the “losing” network in the auction were relieved.
It reminded me of an exercise at an American Management Association course I took in Chicago. They split us up into teams and gave each team a budget and a list of roles to play in the auction. The auction was for items that we would need to survive on a mountain. We had a list and brainstormed our bidding budget based on how much value an item on the list would be to our survival on the mountain and how much money we had to spend. The list was of things like: a map, matches, a tarp, an axe, etc.
My job was to make the bids for our team.
The bidding started and quickly became pretty intense. We soon hit our limit for each item and I quit bidding. My team mates were going berserk that I had stopped bidding. One team mate accused me that I had been given the role of anonymous obstructer on the team. One woman even hit me! Hey lady! It’s only a game!
As bidding went on we came to items we had thought would be more useful for survival and by then the other teams had exhausted their resources in the initial feeding frenzies. I successfully bid even less than our max budget and our team had more stuff needed for survival than any other team. We won. I nursed my bruises. Nobody apologized for the verbal and physical abuse.
February 12, 2016
Another relaxing day in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. After breakfast at the no name café across from the Pali we spent a fair bit of time at the Hotel Villa Hermosa keyboarding. I’m writing about this a few days later and the rest of the day is a bit fuzzy. That’s one of the dangers of retirement. I guess.
I said to remind me to tell you about Peggy’s Diner.
Michael Gerber writes management books and does management seminars and consulting. His primary thesis is outlined in the E-Myth. He says there is a myth that businesses are started by entrepreneurs. In his opinion most businesses are started by technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure. Somebody knows how to do something and doesn’t like who they are working for so they start a business doing what they know how to do. Then rather than working on their business they work in their business. They get so busy and stressed, doing it, doing it, doing it that they have gone from working for a jerk to working for a mad man.
His prescription is to step back a bit and approach the business objectively and analyze the business’s needs in a number of areas from customer acquisition and retention to order fulfillment and a bunch of things in between and systematize them much like you have to do if you were creating a franchise model for somebody else to run. You consider all the roles involved and develop job descriptions and training manuals, even if you are, initially, the only employee.
I think it is in the E Myth Manager Seminar that Gerber tells a story about “Peggy”, an invented character who started “Peggy’s Diner” the same day that Sam Walton started Walmart and there she is twenty years later still mopping the floor and opening the diner and shopping for supplies and doing all the cooking and so on. All she has done for twenty years is work in her business. It’s a living I guess, but that’s all it can be. And when we eat at the no name café that’s what I think of. Survival in their business is not to be sneezed at, but I have a hard time seeing that business ever doing any more than survive and if the owner gets sick then the business grinds to a halt. Unlike Sam’s business where his heirs are still among the wealthier people of the world even after splitting his inheritance between them several times. Sam Walton’s focus was on working on his business and constantly improving business systems. He was interviewed when Walmart served the Northwest corner of Arkansas and said he figured that they would grow to be about statewide and then stop. Years later he was asked about this and he said that at the time that was as big a business as you could have and still know what was going on, but as their business grew the information technology grew faster and he never reached the point where they didn’t have a handle on what was going on.
Gerber’s ideas are anecdotal, based on his observations and his time working with small businesses. A couple of years ago I read a full fledged hard covered management book which was the summary of an extensive formal study of new businesses formed in the United States. Most people who start businesses start a business that is a carbon copy of one they already work in. Rather than meet some discovered unmet need and adding value they tend to do exactly the same thing their former employer did and sell the same products and services to the same customer base. Rather than grow the pie they just try to cut their piece out of the same pie. A guy working in an auto parts store starts an auto parts store. A guy in a muffler shop starts a muffler shop and so on. Seems that Gerber guessed right.
The value of systems thinking cannot be underestimated yet it usually is under appreciated. Several years (decades?) ago I was listening to a couple of junior radio people talking to each other on an afternoon CBC program. They were talking about Ross Perot and what a doofus he was. Why do you know he started a business and had no employees and no money and yet he sat there for a couple of days and worked out a vision statement for his no employee company and a values statement about what his company would and would not do and how it would do business? All they could see was some guy sitting alone at a desk. They refused to see the company that grew out of that exercise and the billions of dollars he parlayed it into and him selling it to GM and ending up with a seat on the board of directors of GM.
Maybe the exercise had nothing to do with his success, but I have noticed in business that there are usually so many demands on your time you need some sort of filter to prevent you from being distracted into working on stuff that has nothing to do with what you should be doing or thinking about. Seems like it would be more efficient to develop the filter ahead of time like Ross did, but if you have a better idea let me know. As Ross Perot would say, I'm all ears.
February 13, 2016
We went up to the no name café for breakfast and afterwards went across the street to buy a couple of gallon jugs of water and a few bags of manis (peanuts). Still don’t know why they are called manis here and cacahuatas in Mexico, but they are.
There was the usual line up in the Pali. Yesterday we were quite a bit earlier and there was no line. We went in on our way to breakfast since we knew we were going to buy a couple of bags of coffee from the no name café people and figured it would be a hassle to go into the supermarket carrying a couple of packages of coffee even if it were a brand they don’t carry. The no name café sells their coffee for seven Cordobas a cup or two bits US. We have paid sixty Cordobas and more for a cup of coffee in Nicaragua and yet the seven Cordoba coffee at the no name is the best we have had. I asked to see the package the other day and had not seen the brand so asked about buying a couple of pounds. They said they would check and came back with C$ 100 a pound beans or ground. We ordered two pounds of beans.
After the Pali we headed home and bought some bananas at the nearby fruit stand. Her mandarin oranges were not up to snuff. Almost as bad as found in the produce department of a Canadian supermarket. After a bit of internet surfing and answering e-mails, but no productive keyboarding it was time for lunch. It was early so we figured the buffet at Don Chaco would be fresh, but it wasn’t. It was closed. We checked out the buffet at the La Colonia supermarket, but most of the table were full and the line at the buffet was yuuuge as a certain presidential candidate might say. We decided to proceed to the Mana del Cielo buffet and keep to one or two items per plate and no over-priced sugary drinks. It was good, filling and a reasonable price. No need for a to-go package today.
Walking toward the Parque Dario we picked up a smoothie for Juanita and an ice cream for me. When we got to the park it was surrounded by booths selling food and souvenirs and all manner of other things. Seems it is a fair going on with a queen to be crowned in the evening. That would have been the place to have lunch. Huge cauldrons of stir fry and noodles and all manner of good looking and smelling food. Too late for that. We walked around and found some souvenirs and had some sitting time and ran into our landlady and her daughter who recommended the pupusas. Too late for those too. Then we walked up the hill and bought a cup of fruit and a piece of cheesecake at a modern corner store and walked around town another hour on our way home for the afternoon.
Back at the hotel I surfed and checked e-mail, but did nothing constructive. I was kind of sleepy but didn’t want to waste the afternoon sleeping so wasted it anyway and was still kinda lazy and groggy in the evening so did nothing then either except, surf, visit with the staff and some new Canadian guests from Penticton and Courtenay, B.C.
We watched a movie in English with Spanish subtitles and a bit of other TV then went to sleep.
February 14, 2016
Happy Valentine’s Day
After a quick check of e-mail and headlines we walked to breakfast. On the way about half the stores were closed and a few had displays on the sidewalk selling Valentine’s Day items. You could buy individual roses or go all out and buy an arrangement of artificial roses with a plush bear holding some slogan embroidered on a heart. The bear floral arrangements started at $C 550 for a small one. Too rich for this cheapskate couple. I asked Juanita if she wanted one and she said no and invoked the card rule. The card rule is one we ran across when we were first full-timing in a fifth wheel trailer. There is enough room for everything you need, but no room for stuff you don’t need. Rather than buy expensive greeting cards that would have to be tossed almost immediately we would go to a card store and pick out cards for each other. You would show the card to the other person who would read it and put it back in the display rack. Cost was no object since we didn’t buy each other a card. No space issues either. It’s the thought that counts.
I suppose if we were politicians we could go and find the most expensive card possible and then go spend our savings for something else. That’s what the government does, isn’t it? They can cancel a program multiple times and then “spend” the savings over and over. Megabucks we never had but which get passed as debt on to our grandkids.
Wow! How did care bears with hearts evolve into a rant about government? I guess anything can happen when 38% of the electorate elect a care bear as prime minister.
The no name café was closed for Sunday so we walked a few blocks more and had omelettes and coffee at El Gran Café. They have internet so we read and surfed after eating and then ordered some raisin toast and more coffee. The toast came with little clumps of raisins on top of each piece and with a small cup of refrigerated butter, a small cup of jam, a decoratively cut grape and a small pile of granola on the side. Not what I had in mind, but upon closer inspection of the picture in the menu exactly what they offered.
Back at the hotel we settled in to reading and catching up on e-mail and on the last few days of blog postings. Might even get in some pictures for the last few days and maybe even a page of house pictures and narrative about Debbie and Ernie’s house building efforts last year. When we left to come south Ernie was finishing the plumbing. I guess since then they have sheet rocked it and the tape and mud guy started work this week.
Micki's Pancake House *
Micki was a Nica. She was about fourteen when she got involved with an older man, an American, living in Nicaragua. Together they opened a restaurant which he named after her. That was her only connection. She was in no way an owner of the place although it bore her name and he always told her he would leave it to her in his will. They stole/ purchased/ lured away the servers, cooks and recipes from a popular Granada restaurant and quickly had all that restaurant’s customers as well. Micki worked for years in the restaurant and lived in the older man’s house, and loved him and was loyal to him. Their relationship was more paternal and it has been said she loved him like a father.
Not all Nica – Expat relationships are noted for loyalty and fidelity. Both parties are often exploited, but she was exceptionally loyal. He maybe not so much. He went back to the States for some medical treatment and left another ex-pat living in the house with her. When she resisted the sexual advances of the friend he threw her and her clothes out in the street. When the restaurant owner came back to Nicaragua after his treatment he brought her back to live with him. She was living in another room of the same house and still working away in the restaurant.
Then a couple of things happened.
First, he went to a lawyer and had a new will drawn up leaving the restaurant to his son in the States. His lawyer blabbed to other lawyers. One of them told her. The fur hit the fan and things were pretty uneasy and he drafted a new will.
Second, being a young woman she had certain drives for love and affection and found a young man of her own age to fulfill those needs. She became pregnant.
She tells the old guy she is pregnant. Then, according to him, in the heated discussion, she is so upset she shoots herself in the chest with his hand gun. Her family shows up. The police show up. The family is placated by his offer to take in their thirteen-year old daughter to live with him and give them the restaurant. They don’t make a fuss. The police are placated by the family or other considerations. The fuss dies down.
After a little while the owner quietly sells the restaurant to a third party and quickly leaves the country. And life in Nicaragua goes on. At least that is a story that Buddy told me. I have no idea if there is the slightest particle of truth to it. It might not be true. It is believable enough, but as Mark Twain said fiction has to be more believable than real life.
Buddy says he bought a hotel in southern Alberta a few years back. It had good revenues and low expenses and looked like things were only going to get better with the Keystone Pipeline going to be built nearby. Well, the pipeline didn’t work out and most of Buddy’s other plans around the hotel fell on hard times too.
One of his motives, he says, was to provide work for an adult son who was having trouble finding work in the oil patch. The son hated the work in the hotel and his job prospects picked up with another offer and there he was gone and Buddy finds himself running a hotel in small town Southern Alberta a long way from his home and his wife in B.C.
Perhaps that is overstating things.
Buddy wasn’t really running the place. He soon realized that the people running the place were the long time employees. And they ran it the way they wanted to.
The hotel was one of the big employers in town and depended on the townspeople to patronize the place, whether it was the liquor store part, or the coffee shop, or the convenience store, or any other part of the business except maybe the rooms. And therein was Buddy’s dilemma. The person in charge of cleaning rooms and doing the laundry services for the hotel was carrying a bag of laundry detergent out one day. Buddy confronts her and asks what she is doing. “Well, I have none at home and you have lots.” Buddy’s life flashes before his eyes. If he fires her, half the town is related to her. His revenues will plummet if the locals boycott his hotel. Nobody in town would take a job as her replacement, either. They don’t want to be shunned. He lets it slide. He doesn’t want to be changing beds, mopping floors, and laundering linens.
He noticed the cook was cooking extra thick ham steaks for some client’s breakfasts and multiple patties in the hamburgers at single burger prices for friends and family. And she is related to the other half of the town’s population so the same rules as the housekeeping lady apply. She stays and does things her way.
Henry Ford said that if a man thinks he can do something or he thinks he can’t do something he is probably right. Buddy sure felt he couldn’t. It would be easy to second guess Buddy’s perception or his willingness to confront or his decision that these were not the ditches to choose to die in. All that matters to his story is that he felt stuck. Maybe frozen is a better adjective than stuck. This, after was a town on the frozen Canadian prairie with winter coming on. A savior appeared wanting to buy the place and Buddy saw the offer as his way out and back home to the much less frozen B.C. lower mainland and he took it.
The cash up front was twenty or thirty thousand which was a very small part of the cash Buddy had invested. The balance was to be paid back monthly over a few years. Buddy didn’t get many payments and then nothing and then it took eleven months of legal action to get the property back. What was left of it. His buyer had milked it for the full time for cash flow and then stripped it of any fixtures and equipment of value. Checking out the buyer after the fact Buddy learned that this had been done by him more than once. The things we learn after the fact. Is that hindsight? Comments would be hindsight, as well. So I won’t.
As the recently late Wayne Dyer said, we don’t live in the universe where we should have done something only in the one where we did or we didn’t.
We fell into a retirement life routine this week. Up relatively late, walk uptown to breakfast at the No Name Café, Back for a couple hours of surfing and reading and a bit of writing and then off to lunch followed by an hour or two of walking around town. Then back at the hotel we surfed and read and napped and dined in on cup of noodles and then more surfing and a bit of TV. Rinse and repeat. Nice once in a while, but a week is enough.
Much of our time surfing and reading was in the “dining” room of the hotel. I guess they once served breakfast but no longer include that in their offering. There is still the dining area with four tables and sixteen chairs. It was a pleasant place to hang out. We interacted with staff and guests and if peopled could retreat to our room. We got to know the daughter of the owner better as well as their main employee, Dinora. Thursday night we went to Dinora’s church with her. It was a bit more enthusiastic than we are used to, but the Word was accurately preached and the message was definitely aimed at building up people for their Christian walk.
Early in the week we got news of WOTC’s well drilling plans and we cancelled our planned Sunday night stay and made plans to travel to Granada on Sunday. We worked out a refund of the prepaid day, booked our hotel in Granada, booked a hotel in Managua for our last night in the country and e-mailed One on One Tutoring that I’d be back interfering with Roger’s chances to sleep in.
February 21, 2016
Matagalpa to Managua to Granada
After breakfast we finished packing and left the Villa Hermosa Hotel in Matagalpa and walked to the end of the side street where it lives. Shortly a cab picked us up and dropped off at Cotran Sud, the south bus terminal in Matagalpa. A Managua bus was pulling out through the gates and we got on it before wihout even entering the bus terminal. That was quick. The conductor threw our bags onto the engine hump next to the driver. As the bus lurched through the streets I managed to throw one bag into the overhead bin. The driver motioned me to leave the other bag where it was and then we sorted ourselves out on the front right hand seat of the bus, one of the few double seats not already occupied by one or two people.
The ride up out of the valley of the mighty Matagalpa river (Rio Grande de Matagalpa) didn’t take long and then we were over the hump and on our way down out of the mountains towards the plains. We passed several trucks and horse trailers headed uphill toward Matagalpa. Today is a big day of horses and horse parades in Matagalpa. We had passed several booths being set-up and a reviewing stand near a park on our way to the bus terminal.
The bus stopped a few times to drop off passengers, but never stopped to pick anybody up. Not even in Sebaco, the crossroads town with its colourful markets. Normally a bus picks up a food vendor or two on its way through Sebaco and drops them off when they have finished patrolling the bus aisle selling their wares and then they hop on a bus going the other way. Not today. Maybe they don’t bother at mid morning.
Rather than ride the bus all the way to the Mayero terminal in Managua we hopped off across from the airport and a cab stationed in front of the Best Western half a block back noticed us and came and picked us up and took us to the UCA bus terminal. The driver offered to take us all the way to Granada for sixty dollars. We declined his kind offer. At UCA we found the washrooms and took turns watching the luggage. While I was waiting with the luggage a cabbie approached me and offered a ride to Granada, explaining how far the Granada bus terminals were from the central park and the hotels. This was maybe partly true depending which bus you end up taking, but all the buses go past the central park or within two blocks at most. I wasn’t interested. His price dropped from $US 40 to $US 30. Still not interested. He left. We walked to the buses. One bus was too full to consider. The bus next to it had seats too close to the floor and I didn’t want to put our two carry-on bags on the roof. That bus filled and left and we waited for another bus to show up. Another cabbie came by and dropped from an initial $US 30 to $US 25 to take us to Granada. Sometimes I can be too cheap for our own good. I still said no.
Third time is the charm. The next bus had no more room under its seats, but the conductor agreed that I could stack the two bags next to me and Juanita could sit in another seat and we would pay three fares. We settled in until the bus filled and then went across the road where it parked until it was overfilled and then we proceeded in halting fashion to Granada. Total time from Matagalpa to across from the airport about two and a half hours. Total time from airport to UCA to Granada. Not much less. Sometime during our stay in Granada I will research where the big (school style) buses go in Managua. I think it is to Robert Huembes terminal which is closer to the airport and they have overhead racks inside and space under the seats. In future we will either do that or go to a cab stand and do an auction with the gathered taxistas. There is also a bus directly from Matagalpa to Masaya but there are only two buses a day and they are late enough in the day that you arrive in the den of thieves of Masaya after dark.
We were cheerfully greeted at the Hotel Jerico, turned on the AC, paid and settled in.
February 22, 2016 to February 25, 2016
Adventures in Well Drilling in point form:
-Lesson at six, breakfast at seven
-Bus to Masaya
-Torrito to Shiloh
-Get rig ready for drilling, mix mud, mix more mud, use up all grey water, use fresh water,
-Drill until after dark from 100 feet to 147 feet
-Pull out all drill stem by flashlight, check bit, okay
-Get ride to La Colonia supermarket in Granada
-Buy water and snacks and soap and laundry soap
-Wash muddy, filthy, sweaty clothes and fall into bed.
-Lesson at six, breakfast at seven
-Bus to Masaya
-Torrito to Shiloh
-Fix base plate
-Dig trenches between mud pits lower, dig screens lower
-Wait for water
-Replace drill stem to bottom of hole (twelve minutes)
-Drill to 201 feet
-Pull out sixty-three feet of drill stem and raise bit another seven feet off bottom for 70’ total
-Get ride to Granada
-Lesson at six, breakfast at seven
-Bus to Masaya
-Torrito to Shiloh
-Remove rest of drill stem
-Build slip plate
-Let pipe “slip” through plate, hear pipe drop in two stages
-Lower flashlight - pipe at sixty-seven and a half feet (now about 11:30)
-Build fishing tool
-Lower to hundred feet and get stuck
-Modify fishing tool and try it a few times
-Lower to seventy feet
-Pull pipe out of hole (almost 5 p.m.)
-No vehicles on site
-Walk past school meet with torrito
-Torrito takes us back past camp twice and then to Masaya
-On last trip past camp pass first vehicle coming back
-Get on bus driven by teenager in Cuba tee shirt drives like Parnelli Jones
-Not so muddy so stop for salad on way home
- Lesson at six, breakfast at seven
-Bus to Masaya
-Torrito to Shiloh
-Lower pipe using two methods to prevent dropping (belt + suspenders)
-Lower hose to 201’ – pull back five feet
-Wait for water
-Add more water
-Start packing up equipment
-Catch bus going by
-Crammed buses at routunda, “un pequeno”
-Finally ride on bus. Squeezed so tight one can feel pulse of people either side
-Back at hotel, end of another day
After those days of strenuous non-productive activity we settled in for the rest of the month and rested up, getting ready for our flights back to Canada.