Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nicaraguan Tourism

Hi Everybody,


Well, predictably, since Tom showed up on May 30, I’ve been really busy with things that I’m observing at the cooperative.  In consequence, Tom has spent a lot of time in the hammock, reading, practicing his guitar, and wandering around Matagalpa on his own.  We got away for a mini-vacation last weekend, though, going to the beach and to Granada, Nicaragua’s “backpack Mecca”, according to my guidebook.  It is a beautiful little city, and we had fun hiking and paddling around an archipelago of the enormous Lake Cocibolca in kayaks. But as obvious tourists (tall, light-skinned, wearing good shoes and talking with funny accents) we were treated with obvious kid gloves.  Restaurant owners shooed beggars away from us, and there was even a pretty heavy presence of police with “policía turística” (tourism police) written on their uniforms.  We saw them inspecting restaurants, and we felt safe in assuming their main job was not to keep the tourists in line.  At the beach at San Juan del Sur, I’m not sure we saw any Nicaraguan-born people—our hostel was full of these incredibly tall, incredibly tanned, incredibly blond surf gods and goddesses.  When we feel like going to the beach again, I’ll probably search out a much less-touristed place, even if it means less convenient transportation. 


Transportation for the two of us, unfortunately, hasn’t been made any easier by my motorcycle.  I had a mechanic lower the shocks so that I could more easily reach the ground, but this has made it so the poor thing can’t really handle the weight of the two of us.  So Tom patiently folds himself into the seats of the fleet of underpowered second-hand United States school buses that makes up the bulk of the public transportation in the country.  I really love these buses, actually, despite the many discomforts.  Most of the time, the new owners have made a lot of modifications—luggage racks are welded onto the top for bulky bags and agricultural products, a radio and speakers are installed, a handle runs down the ceiling over the center aisle, and there are usually racks above the passenger’s heads for smaller bags.  They almost always have air horns.  The outsides of the buses are often painted, with the bus’s usual destinations prominent on the front and back, and there is usually a name, either of the bus or of its driver, or a phrase saying things like “God Bless this Bus and its Passengers.”  Some bus owners also decorate the insides, with colorful fringes across the top of the windshield, cloth seat covers, and ribbons wrapped around the steering wheel, door-opening lever, and inside luggage racks.  In this way we lurch around and through the potholes, passengers crowded together clutching children, bags, and the occasional chicken, Reggaeton dance music blaring, ribbons swinging.  On steep hills, pedestrians sometimes outdistance us. 


Hmm, I actually intended this entry to be about the organic certification inspector, whom I observed for two days last week.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to post about him soon.




Burns said...

The busses sound like large versions of "Jeepneys", described in hilarious detail in chapter 59 of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. The one our hero rode in is named "Grace of God".

Joanne said...

There were similar vehicles in Nairobi called Matatus...although they were generally of the size of VW Buses. They would have people hanging off the backs of them and were always blasting fun music.