June 24, 2011 - 8:10 AM
Greetings from Granada, Nicaragua! It has been an amazing couple of days and I have a ton to blog about. I've come a long, long way and am so happy to be on the road. I almost can't believe I'm actually here, actually traveling. Then I remember that everything here feels so strange and so foreign, and I know it's true--I'm on the road.
The travel details of my adventures so far aren't terribly interesting. I took my first red-eye flight from Portland to Huston, and will probably try to avoid that in the future. But the ride from Huston to Costa Rica was fine, and ended in the unbelievable beauty of breaking through the clouds and seeing the jungles and small, brightly-roofed villages below me. It was green as far as the eye could see, until the plane banked and then there was the coast beneath me, with surf breaking on the shore. So beautiful.
San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is not known for any particular beauty or culture. What struck me most as I took a taxi from the airport to the downtown area was how many American companies were being advertised on the billboards. Then, in downtown, I saw that I could easily choose a different American fast food restaurant each meal and still be going after days. McDonald's are everywhere now, but I also saw Subway, Wendy's, KFC... not to mention car rental companies, Mac advertisements, and on and on. I don't really know how to feel about this--as my taxi driver said, the investment is good for the country. But what my studies and my gut tell me is that this is a dangerous trend, leading to less local control of the economy and national prosperity.
In any event, I had a wonderful chat with my taxi driver, proving (I hope) that my Spanish is still servicable, and that I haven't lost the knack for making quick friends on the road. He told me about his family, his business, politics, and food. He also told me that the hostel I'd picked from a quick look in someone's Lonely Planet in the airport was a bad choice--that it was a long way from the bus station I would be going to the next day. So he took me to my first major surprise of my trip: Hostel Pangea.
It was perfect. It was painted like a co-op in Eugene (which is to say, brightly and irrationally). It had a cobbled-together, tree house feel to it, complete with a restaurant on the second floor which required not only several sets of stairs, but also passing through a bathroom (no joke). But it was welcoming, comfortable, full of really nice guests and helpful staff, and made for a great afternoon and evening. I walked around San Jose briefly, and spent the rest of the evening fighting exhaustion from jet lag and chatting with other travelers. They gave me lots of tips for Nicaragua, for which I am extremely grateful. It's hard to stay lonely or ill-informed on the road.
And now, an eight-hour bus ride later, here I am in Nicaragua. I am staying with a friend of a friend, which came together at the last moment and means I am here, sheltered in a lovely home in the center of the beautiful colonial city of Granada. On Wednesday I walked around town, including residential neighborhoods (with small shops huddled next to brightly-colored houses) and down to Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America and home to a population of freshwater sharks. I ate a wonderful meal in the Central Park, and returned to my bright blue home, which already feels legitimately homey. The only real downside of the place so far was how hot it was that first night. Even with the fan, I woke up sweating bullets and couldn't do a darn thing about it. Then I got to participate in the morning mass from the church across the street, listening to the sermon through the windows.
Yesterday, two of my host's friends took me around the city. We visited museums, ate delicious meals, saw the old architecture, sheltered from the rain amidst beautiful stone carvings, and spent an evening out sipping mojitos in the street, and then listening to Ranchera music in a cool little neighborhood bar. I even got to dance a little, which was really, really fun. My salsa needs some work, but with enough joy you can make up the moves and people forgive you.
Either tomorrow or Sunday I'll head to Tegucigalpa where my real summer begins. For now, I'm looking ahead to another day of being a tourist, guided by locals and increasingly letting the Spanish flow without so much self-consciousness. Wish me luck! And I'll keep writing.
PS I think I'll keep a list of the "Things to check off my life list." So here we go:
1. See a scarlet macaw.
2. Go to a chocolate museum.
3. Marriage proposal from a stranger.
4. Each chicarron (Fried pig skin. Once was enough)