Monday, July 29, 2013

More of "This Is Travel"

Got up at 4am, to catch my 5am shuttle to the airport.

At boarding time, our gate was empty -- never a good sign.

Then the board reflected a change -- our 7:15a flight would now leave at 12:15, missing ALL my connections.

An employee of the VIP Lounge kindly offered to call American, and get us some employees to sort things out.

I WILL fly out at 12:15p, and -- with luck -- make my Miami and Dallas connections, WITH my backpack.

I'll be picking up my rental car at nearly midnight, after my 16hr day.  I can see NO reason why a visually impaired, tired guy should have ANY problems negotiating Southern California traffic.

BUT ... if I were you ... I'd avoid the Orange County surface streets between about 11:30pm and 3am ... just in case :-)

Dog bite is healing nicely.  Shakira sent me a nice apology note.  Very thoughtful, particularly with a dog with no thumbs.  Unsure how the space bar worked, but ... it did :-)

The "only a half a day behind" denizens of ... The Gulag.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hotel Camino Real Managua

Very short update ... at least for now.  I'm digesting a BIG plate of Gnocchi (uh ... YUM !) and chillin' before my 2pm massage.

In my lavish hotel room.  In my air conditioned hotel.  Maybe I'll visit the deer that live on the grounds, later.

Yesterday, I spent the day and the evening with Elise, a student of Pitzer College, and ... really ... just a pretty incredible young lady.  Think she's heading into junior year of undergrad.  It's her 2nd time in Nicaragua.  She's been quite a few other places, too.  These younger folk kind of amaze me.

I knew her from La Mariposa, and she reached out to me when she was headed to Granada ... for which I'm thankful.  We roamed the streets, had lunch, ate ice cream, had dinner, went up the bell tower of the ollllld Cathedral, and stared out at Mombacho Volcano.

She's from Davis, California, but ... her school is in the L.A. area.  I warned her that -- if I was still in town when she got back to class (September), my mother and I would hit her up for a campus tour.  Maybe let her buy Mom and me lunch, too.  Who knows ??

It's important to note that Elise LOOKS like this:

I warned her about that whole "stop that, or your face will stay like that," but she has a wild side, and would not be dissuaded.  Besides, it rather suits her personality.

At Hotel Casa Barcelona, I met -- but didn't talk with -- a German couple, two nights ago.  They were downing -- I mean DOWNING -- Flor de Cana rum with Coke.

Apparently, after they got all liquored up, they walked into town, from our sketchy neighborhood.

Okay, so far.

Then they walked back FROM town, TO our sketchy neighborhood, about midnight.

Not so okay.

They were held up by three guys with machetes, and robbed of what they had, including her purse, with its ID, credit cards, and Passport.

Not good, and why I either get home early or take taxis in sketchy areas, and pretty much NEVER wander the streets of these towns after more than a beer or two ... which I only occasionally have, anyway.

I hope they're okay.  I'm sure they're freaked out.

This morning, I went to pet the hotel dogs in the lobby.  What I didn't realize is that one of them was sitting a foot away from a bowl of food, hidden under the table next to her.

She attacked me, and got a bite of my shin, as I pulled my hand back and jumped rearward.

No biggie.  I cleaned the wound, and put antibiotic ointment on it, then telling the lovely hotel owner ladies that it was "just another souvenir from Nicaragua."

They felt really badly.  They made me promise that I'd forget the dog bite, but remember them :-)

I told them that THEY had left an impression, but not a scar.  I THINK the Spanish worked ;-)

I'm not 100% sure that it's 100% cool to have a hotel pet that will attack people, even in perceived defense of its food, but ... not my call.  Had I seen the food, I wouldn't have approached the pretty puppy.

And Shakira and me (Apolo, too) were buds, the night before.

Dogs can be so fickle.  Almost like cats :-)

I'm going to eat a LARGE dinner in the hotel, tonight, have a couple of pops, and go to bed early.  I'm reluctant to run the a/c.  A/c and I haven't seen each other in a long time, you know :-)

Tomorrow is a very long day, starting at 4am, leaving the hotel at 5am, boarding a flight at 6:30am, and not landing in Southern California until some 13hrs later (layovers in Miami and Dallas).  I've rented a car in Orange County, and am really hoping that I'll be physically able to drive.  Seeing ... is kind of a big deal, you know :-)

And I pretty much have to keep my eyes closed at all times, on airplanes, so ... I have to send a shout out to my inner Buddhist:

    Ommmm Shanti.  Peace.  I wish they served free drinks.  Ommmmmm.

And so on.

So ... Ciao for now ... from the redunculously opulent Managuan weekend villa of ... The Gulag.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Some More Pics .....

So ... I've checked out of Hotel Terrasol -- a wonderful hotel with excellent breakfasts, hugely genial owners (Viktor and Katya), and a perfect location.

Sadly, when they called me a taxi to take me to my next hotel, the C17 (Nicaraguan Cordobas) ride ... turned into the driver telling me it was C40.

And that he didn't have change for my C50 note.

Ripped off.  Didn't argue with him.  Just told Hotel Terrasol, who will never use him again.  Penny wise, and pound foolish, on his part :-)

I'm now in the Hotel Casa Barcelona -- a really lovely hotel, about 10 minutes' walk to the South of town.  It's a sub-optimal location, and in a pretty gritty area, but ... ah, well.

On a true downside -- at least for me -- I'm being bitten, again, for the first time since I hit Granada.  Whether mosquitoes or no-see-ums ... hardly matters.  I'm spraying myself with DEET, and soldiering on.

Two nights ago, for Bill & Tiffany's last night in Nicaragua, we all went to Charly's Bar/Restaurant, along with their friend, Julie -- an architect who's doing project management on people's construction/remodeling projects.

Charly's was phenomenal, as was the draft dark German beer that I quaffed !

Not wanting to say goodbye to Bill & Tiffany, I made them promise to meet me at the Dutch-owned Nica Buffet for a last breakfast and a great cup of coffee.  Then, I had to let them go :-)

A couple of nights ago, Bill, Tiffany, and I stopped by the office/hotel of their general contractor.  It's being run by two of his sons, right now, while he's back in the UK battling prostate cancer.  Toby is about 28 years old, and a very decent sort.

We invited him to join us for dinner and drinks.  We had a couple of pops on Gringo Gulch, then taxi'd to Las Colinas del Sur, where nobody (except me !) was thrilled about their food.  What can I say ?  I got lucky, AND  was able to help others get rid of their food, including yummy rice and french fries :-)

Toby was supposed to meet Bill at their house, the next morning, but called to say he had Dengue Fever and was headed for the hospital.

Uh.  Really.

You see why mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance for me ??  You do NOT want Dengue Fever.  Trust me.

The last two days, I've been really tired, and ... have some sort of strain/sprain thing going in my right big toe.  It's slowed me down, but hasn't yet stopped me.

And I've only got just shy of two days left, so ... I'll make it work.

Tomorrow, I'll be having lunch with Elise -- another student from La Mariposa.  My pick of locations, since ... I've now eaten at every restaurant in town :-)

On this morning's sojourn, I grabbed a chocolate bar for DJ and one for my Mom, and ... two bags of coffee, ostensibly for the same ladies, but quite likely for me (Kidding !!).  Of all the things I'll miss, I'll miss Nicarguan coffee among the most.

Luckily, I can buy it at home :-)

Last night, I had Hotel Casa Barcelona make me dinner at their restaurant:

- El spaguetti a la Bolonesa con verduras
- una ensalada de queso
- una porcion de helados vainilla

Spaghetti Bolonesa w/veggies, a salad with cheese, and vanilla ice cream.  And a BIG can of Tona beer :-)

It was delicious.  Rather than walk into town and eat, tonight,  I may just lather up with DEET, and eat here again.

I wimped out on having my laundry done.  I took one of my compressor clothing sacks, and used it as my washing machine.  This hotel room has a wicker wastebasket, which -- to my way of thinking -- doesn't hold water ;-)

My clothes are April fresh, and -- with luck -- will be dry before I need them.

I've done Granada to death.  Okay, I did NOT go to Ometepe, and should have, but ... que sera sera.

So ... a few pics:

Tiffany, with a dragon fruit martini.  It was just incredibly good :-)


I rarely take food pics, but my desert (fried pineapple w/ice cream), at the Ciudad Lounge, was THAT good !

Spotted along my walk by the lake.  Deej ?  Frogs !

One of the restaurants on the Central Park. 
One of the hotels on the Central Park.

The gazebo on the Central Park.

Fountain - Central Park.

Statue on the West end of town.

Hey.  That's my Nicaraguan ophthalmologist !

The cemetery where most of Nicaragua's presidents are buried ... before a frantic lady warned me that guys on bicycle were stealing tourists' cameras ... and ... I left ;-)

So ... as always ... Ciao for Now, from the food-and-walking intensive annals of ... The Gulag !

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's a marathon, not a sprint

Just back from a 5.5hr walk ... along the Western shoreline of Lake Nicaragua.

NOTE: I did NOT get all the way to El Paso, and can't really be sure how close I came, but ... trust me: long walk :-)

View Larger Map

Lots of locals.  A fair number of cattle herds, being driven by real-world cowboys.  A million dollar view of the beaches.  Very few houses.  Not even a tienda that I could find.  Relatively cool weather with great lake breezes.  Just a beautiful walk.

I'll be resting, now.  Drinks with Bill & Tiffany @ 4pm.  I have to get my thirst on.

Last night's dinner, at Ciudad Lounge, was simply sublime.

Dragon Fruit Martini
Organic Mixed Green Salad with avocado, cherry tomatoes, black olives, and a balsamic dressing
8ozs of absolutely perfect steak w/veggies and mashed potatoes
A side OF mashed potatoes (why not ?)
A cinnamon covered, fruit sauced, fried pineapple with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it
An Argentinian Malbec wine.

It was ridiculously expensive, but indescribably good.

I think Bill, Tiffany, and I have one more ludicrous dinner in us before they go home.  I'll have to find some other suckers -- or just go stag -- after they leave :-)

Chow for now ... from the "I'm sure I walked off THAT dinner" rationalizers of ... The Gulag.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Granada: Counting Down The Hits

I think this is the end of week one in Granada, Nicaragua.

Granada is a beautiful and charming city.  Its colonial architecture, great selection of restaurants, numerous Spanish schools, and phenomenal coffee ... leave nobody wondering why Granada is firmly ensconced on the Gringo Trail.

As much as I enjoyed my stay in La Mariposa (eco-hotel/Spanish school), this is the kind of place that makes my travel much easier: interesting places to walk, life (in the form of a 90,000 person city, with most people just living normal, daily lives), and endless great places to snack, sit, grab coffee, or just watch the world go by.

I spent a fair amount of time with Karen, a fellow La Mariposa student, and my friends Bill & Tiffany (also from La Mariposa).  Tiffany's been coming down here for about nine years.  Together, they bought a house in the absolute best part of the city.  It's rented for now, but their plan is to retire to Granada, eventually.  They're good people, and good sources of info for both Granada, specifically, and Nicaragua, generally.

Tiffany teaches Occupational Therapy in the Pacific Northwest.  Bill taught English, primarily in Saudi Arabia, for the last few (or more) years.

Tiffany has been arranging trips for her students to come to Nicaragua, and work in the charity-funded senior homes (hogares).  On this trip, she was scouting potential new locations, including a Spanish immersion program (La Mariposa) for part of the next students' stay.

Very cool.

On Sunday night, the three of us are going to Granada's "best" restaurant, La Ciudad Lounge.  Entrees are up to about US$28 -- a LOT of money by local standards -- but I'm told it's sublime.

And I'm leaving the country in nine days, so ... having been pretty frugal the entire four months ... I can pry my wallet open a time or two :-)

A couple days ago -- having walked the length and breadth of town more than once -- I simply headed out into cattle ranching country, on foot, not seeing another soul for a couple of hours.  A gentle up-slope eventually gave me a beautiful view of both the lake, to the East, and the volcano, to the South.  Good landmarks, both, and allowed me to make a big loop back to town on marginally passable muddy roads.

On the way back, I went through what must be among Granada's poorest areas, a painful reminder that not everybody makes a "good living" from the vagaries of tourism.

But the people were friendly, and/or surprised to see me wandering through their part of town :-)

Without further ado ... the latest batch of pics, and annotations where I can.

Bill & Tiffany's house.  I think it widens after you walk in.  I sure hope so :-)

The oldest church in Granada ... or ... something ??

What my hotel owner lovingly calls "Gringo Gulch --" the principal tourist street-- hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and bars !

The gazebo on Parque Central.

A few pics of what's called the "Old Hospital."  I don't see anything wrong, here, that a coat of paint (okay: maybe primer, too) wouldn't fix.  Lots of waste in health care -- in Nicaragua, too !

The municipal market.  You either love these or you hate them.  I love them.  I'm an odd duck.

A soldier, carrying a fully-automatic weapon, and taking a wizz in the bushes :-)

A bad pic of Tiffany with her (Granada-based) Spanish teacher.  I also got a GOOD (flash) picture, but ... rather than copy it off my SD card, the school cut it.  Look for it, soon, on their website :-)

After this morning's walk, I made it back to my humble abode just in time to duck the rain -- pretty much a daily affair, pretty much lasting an hour or so, and usually accompanied by great lightning.

Of course, it can also take out power, or -- more regularly -- cable and the internet (my salvation, during my hotel hours !).  Ah, well.  Such is travel.

And such is life ... on the Gringo Trail ... on the long and serpentine journeys of .... The Gulag.