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Managua, city of crazed motorists.

When we arrived at Nica international airport in managua, it was: very hot; all in Spanish; somewhat like landing in Launceston airport but not as green. Nothing screams international airport like a couple of dusty hangars and a small (mercifully airconditioned) building.

What carousel for luggage? Well there’s only one. So… It was such a welcome relief from the American airports. We messed our way through customs and immigration (no English speakers there!) and wandered in a dazed fashion up out into the air… and were accosted by taxi drivers all vying for our attention. We had previously chosen a hotel out of the lonely planet book - one of the midrange ones that offered internet, aircon, and hot water. We selected a driver and hopped in his what looked like an early eighties commodore. Awesome!

Being a passenger in Managua is my destiny… I will never drive there. Firstly, they drive on the right and that totally freaks me out. The traffic lights are over the intersections, which is weird… and everyone just cruises along, beeping at the cyclists, donkeys, donkeys pulling carts, people pulling carts, fat men walking in the middle of the road, hawkers who run into the middle of the Pan Am and try to sell you everything from blocks of ice to mangoes to mobile phones through the car window. The buildings are all fenced in with seven foot tall iron fences, often with spikes or barbed wire. The buildings are brightly painted, and lots of them have ads on their side walls facing the street - I saw one house with a blue wall and ‘Kotex’ written in white on the side. Dave explained in broken Spanish to our driver that we drive on the left in Australia and that the whole driving in Managua thing was a bit crazy. And the beeping! So far, I have acertained that sounding your horn means hello, goodbye, get off the road, i’m approaching an unsigned intersection, i’m going first, no you go first, no really, you go first, pedestrian on the footpath! We have decided that a Nicaraguan standoff is what happens at the t-intersections around here - there’s rarely stop or give way signs, so cars just meander up slowly, beeping in a jovial fashion, and then everyone just crawls into the intersecion at once until someone jams on their breaks and lets the other one through. It’s all very exciting. Like watching someone play chicken in slow motion.

Our hotel was extremely pretty. When we pulled up at the iron gates the guard came out to meet us - he was about five foot and carried a baton with was at least half as tall as him. He took our stuff inside and we staggered in after him. The building was a sort of pinky-ochre colour, with a yellow tiled path leading to the front door, and mown, bright green lawn and bouganvillias everywhere. Nicaragua is so bright it hurts my eyes! Inside, there was a sunken living area, cool tiled floor, a back yard with a fountain, lots of tables and couches and bookshelves, and a crazed architecture whose theory was obviously that four sides was a good amount in a room, but the walls should never be of equal length. There was also a very small, very orange kitten that skitted around the place. Luckily, the Senora spoke English. The only room they had left had three double beds and a private bath and an airconditioner - and we got the whole things for $70 a night, breakfast included. Excellent compared to Australian prices, total ripoff for Nica - but hey, we were in the wealthy area in Managua, and we were barely upright. So we paid for three nights (as we wanted to get over our jetlag before we moved on) and promptly slept for sixteen hours.

The next morning we ventured out of our room for breakfast. Hello, rice and beans! It is the traditional staple, after all. While we were breakfasting, and feeling much happier and able to face the world after sixteen hours sleep, a guy came and sat at the big table. He’s been in Nica for three years, and has just finished service with the peace corps. And he wants to move here. We had a chat with him, and he took us to the bank so we could change our money into the local currency, being cordobas. There’s about 18 cords for every 1USD. He also told us how to tip, how much we should expect to pay in a taxi, and how we should NEVER pay in US dollars and always insist on cords. He was just what we needed on our first day. He also gave us his cell number (yes, they are called cells here) and said we could look him up if we ever went to the town he lives in. So with a newfound confidence and a sense of adventure we set off to find Intur, to get brouchures, and find buses to Granada, our next destination.

The walk was interesting. We were going from the wealthiest area (with offices for PriceWaterHouse, and huge houses, and expensive cars) to one of the poorer areas in a twenty minute walk. Around the wealthy area, there were security guards EVERYWHERE. For example, at the bank our bags were checked, we went through a metal detector, and you can’t use a cell or a camera in the bank. They have like five guards out the front. They also have security guards out the front of all the businesses, and they all have batons and at least a small hand gun… but some of them have what look like automatic rifles. We walked up past the University (UCA) and all of a sudden things changed… from big houses to the university on one side of the dirt road and a huge field on the other side, with a couple of tin shack houses, burning scrub, and what looked like a sanctioned rubbish dump. Then we got up to another main road. There were heaps of people and hawkers all over the place. One thing about Nica is the streets don’t have names. Only the main streets are named, and all the others are referenced to landmarks (two streets east and one street north of pharoahs casino, for example). It makes like pretty confusing when you speak so little Spanish that asking directions is almost futile. Luckily, we had a little map that meant we almost found it, and then with the help of some friendly security guards we made it.

We decided not to walk back, it was dusty and hot and we were thirsty, so we caught a cab. Dave managed to talk to him in Spanish and we got the trip for 40C (which is about $2.50, which is actually very expensive but hey, we aren’t up to haggling yet!). The rest of our time in Managua primarily consisted of eating at different locations. It turns out that the local beer (Tonya or Victoria) costs aproximately the same as bottled water. Which is less than $1US. It is cheaper than juice, cheaper than coffee, cheaper than… okay, it’s the cheapest drink you can get. And it tastes good. Phew! The bad news is, I don’t think girls drink it much. Oh well. I’m not afraid to break convention. So a restaurant update (food is VERY IMPORTANT!): Girafo Joes = excellent. It was just down the street from our hotel, and sold quesilldias and pizzas and burgers and stuff, was reasonably priced (most expensive meal about $10US) and was obviously where all the wealthy locals thought was the cool place to eat. We went there twice and it was full of locals, so we figure that’s a good sign. The menu was in both English and Spanish (yay!) and by then we had worked out all the food ordering stuff in Spanish anyway. We are now confident food orderers! We also went to a vegetarian restaurant that was tucked away down some side streets. The ambience was good, the music was good, the menus were in English… but it had only expats, no locals, and we think that noone ever mentioned salt to them. Why? Why ruin a perfectly good pasta with no salt? I mean really.

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No salt? Thats bullshit. You ought to write to the embassy or something. I don’t remember Launceston airport being hot or all in Spanish. It has been a couple of years though…