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What I learned in residence in Central America, 2007

Last meal - Nica Buffet!

This is essentially a summing up of our ten month experience in Nicaragua. During which we have had a fabulous time, and we intend to come back at some stage because it's a really great location to spend time, learn new things, and have some awesome experiences you just can't get in Australia.

Things that we learned

  • The culture of honesty. Everyone, including gringos who live here, kept telling us about how brutally we were going to get ripped off. Didn't happen. Everyone was really nice, and made sure we got a good deal. We only got ripped off once and that was in Costa Rica, so it doesn't count.
  • The unique system of advertising. You can hire one of several cars for $10 a day to drive around the city, announcing your pre-prepared ad live and loud, with backing music. Highly invasive, and I would imagine the guys that do it go deaf fairly quickly. You can announce anything from funeral times to supermarket specials to when the water will be off next week. It's like forcing the whole town to listen to radio ads. Awesome.
  • The building techniques - like carving patterns in the concrete. Want ornate pillars made out of cement in front of your house? Generally, in Australia, we'd buy them prefabbed from a mold.. but not here. Here some guys get up there on the scaffold and use a chisel to carve out the concrete.
  • We found the best non-gourmet pizza EVER. So the food here isn't exactly awesome in a general way, but Telepizza kicks the ARSE of all the takeaway pizza joints I've ever eaten at in Australia. AND they're cheaper. And the handle large groups... with reservation.
  • The way the Catholicism works. Most Nicaraguans are Catholic, but not scary Catholic. It's as though they live their lives devoted. These are not lip service Sunday church-goers! They also hold the virgin in the highest esteem. They quite like Jesus, but Mary is really the one. She has a billion festivals, her picture's all over the show, and they love her. It's great because the Catholicism here doesn't give us that uncomfortable feeling. We have been seeing the odd Mormon floating around the place... I don't think they're overly successful though.
  • The attitude of the police. In Australia, we tend to feel guilty at the sight of a police officer, even if the worst thing we've done in the last ten years was do 53kmh in a 50 zone. The cops here are pretty cruisy, even though they have AKs (maybe that's why)... they chat, wander round, look amicable, and even get dinks on civilian bikes when they can't get a lift any other way. Sure, it's a small town, but it contributes to a feeling of cohesiveness.
  • If you go into a pharmacy, they look at you funny. Because you're a gringo, you are obviously going in there with the intention of procuring drugs that are prescription only in the U.S. So going into a pharmacy fills me with dread, even if it's just for Panadol.
  • Talking about money. Beggars excluded, talking takes a long time. Firstly, the conversations are incredibly circuitous. Everything has to be repeated in slightly different ways about three times before an accord is reached. Then, if money is involved, a long and apologetic tirade has to be launched into before the question of money comes up. Even if that person is providing a service that requires payment. For example, Kaleb's school bus driver confused the hell out of us for months by coming to the door, dicussing the price of petrol, difficulty with tyres, the door breaking on the bus, before finally asking us for THE AMOUNT WE ALREADY KNEW WE HAD TO PAY MONTHLY ANYWAY. And she wouldn't actually ask for the money, we just were supposed to KNOW that's what she wanted. Obviously a cultural thing, but complex to those of us with poor Spanish skills!
  • Work ethic. The people you see working work ridiculously hard. Running a shop in your front room for twelve hours a day every day is no joke. Neither is selling stuff on the street from sun up to sun down, often carrying a heavy basket on your head. And doing it for little to no money? Furthermore, the road workers here, unlike in Australia, actually work in the holes they've dug, as opposed to standing round them smoking. Impressive, really!
  • Fairly benign attitude to cross-dressers. We assumed that the combination of the machismo culture and Catholicism (and homosexuality still being technically illegal) that boys had to be... well... boys. But no. There's quite a collection of very pretty boys around Granada who dress impeccably in women's blouses, and pluck their eyebrows, put their hair in curlers, and use mascara and eyeliner. And, apparently, that's cool with everyone. Random. I don't think they'd fair so well in quite a few towns in Australia on a Friday night!

Things that people told us to expect to happen that didn't

  • Getting robbed. Or even an attempt. Maybe we look poor or something, but nobody so much as tried to lift our wallet. Or camera.
  • Getting offered cocaine. Here we were, smack bang in Cocaine country, and not so much of a whiff of it all year (pardon the pun). We were offered pot and ecstasy, but where CAN'T you get those? I mean, really. Dave was offered cocaine once, while he was walking Kaleb home. As you can imagine, the guy was met with a frosty response. I like that he really put the effort into doing his drug dealing in English, and that he really thought that nine year old would go for it. Good on him.
  • Getting kidnapped by a militia group and taken to the hills. Hell, and we had the insurance to cover it and everything. Disappointing!
  • Catching malaria/rabies/hepatitis/other... I literally only got one mosquito bite the whole time we were here! Also disappointing. However, Dave and I both have food poisoning anecdotes to liven up any party...
  • Having somebody with a knife slash our packs and steal our possessions because we didn't buy the special Peruvian mesh ones. Once again, no violent slashing.
  • Getting heavily involved in cigar smoking. In the words of Bill Clinton, we tried it once and didn't inhale. Although obviously with cigars you aren't really s'posed to... But they were a but much really. Ah well.

Things that we will miss

  • Seeing a volcano in the distance when we walk out the front door. It's really cool!
  • Balmy weather all year round. I've forgotten what under twenty degrees celsius feels like!
  • Summer rain. It's just so lovely being able to walk around in it and not feel cold, hanging out in a hammock and watching it fall and not having to wear a jumper or see your breath steam out...
  • Seeing horses in the street. It's just so novel!
  • 50c taxi fairs. Okay, often the taxi is shared with up to five other people, but that's cool. You get to see the town!
  • Insanely cheap meals out.
  • Insanely cheap alcohol.
  • Insanely cheap but classy hotels.
  • The Spanish colonial buildings. They are absolutely gorgeous, and give the whole place a sense of character. There's nothing quite like pleasing asthetics when you're wandering the streets!
  • The salespeople on the street, bringing everything to your door, from icecream to fish to veggies to gas cylinders to brooms to razors to pillows shaped like Winnie the Pooh.
  • The zany cable TV announcers proclaiming "estas viendo" and prouncing all the names of the American shows in enthusiastic and unique ways.
  • The male attention (okay, so that's more me than Dave). While it does get tiresome being whistled, hissed, and kissed at all the time, I think I might've been getting used to it. In fact, when I get back to Australia I'm probably going to wonder why all the boys aren't staring. I may even develop a complex...
  • The insanely fast, cheap internet. Sure, we had a few weeks where the service was shit, but the unlimited download and general speed of the cable for $50 a month? Definitely going to miss that!
  • Families on bicycles. Nothing is quite so cute as a little toddler asleep on the knee of a guy riding a bike with his girlfriend sitting on the cross bar and maybe even a kid on the pegs.
  • Piñatas. SO COOL! I saw a giant spongebob squarepants the other day...
  • The festivals and celebrations. The firecrackers, marching bands, and church celebrations, which are incredibly frequent and fun, give the whole town a sense of atmosphere.
  • The relaxed lifestyle. The streets pretty much die, especially on Sunday, in the afternoon. Siestas are incredibly sensible in my opinion! Also, things get done, but there's no point stressing, because people don't respond to stress here. It will happen when it happens. This can be frustrating, but you learn to appreciate it.
  • Deregulated shopping hours, and shops in houses. Everyone sells everything. The lady across the street sells foodstuff, drinks, alcohol, vicks vapourdrops, bras, stationary, toiletries... all from her front room. AND she has a tortoise out the back. AND she's open almost all the time, and when she's not you can just knock on her door and she'll answer the door in a nightie and sell you stuff anyway. Since when does Coles freo do any of those things??

Things that we are looking forward to upon our return

  • Constant water and power. It's the little things, you know?
  • Having a washing machine. While I just love the whole cement washboard and bucket experience, it does tend to lose its charm after a while...
  • Hot water showers. Not that you need them in Nicaragua, but there's just something a bit luxurious about a hot water shower...
  • FOOD! Don't get me wrong, there was some good stuff here. But we are just so spoiled by the benefits of multiculturalism and our proximity to Asia in Australia. Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Italian... I'm so looking forward to it!
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Hello Bridget, I have been reading your blog for most of the day, and it has been very entertaining and very informative. I will be heading to Costa Rica and Nicaragua for 3 weeks in March. I had planned to only spend a little time in Nicaragua, mainly to visit a village north of Managua where I sponsor a child with World Vision, but maybe rather than going to La Fortuna and Monteverde, would it be better to do similar things in Nicaragua? nyway, much food for thought. Luckily my daughter, who will be accompanying me, speaks good Spanish, so hopefully we will be able to get around OK.
Thanks for all your blog entries, much appreciated.
Joy Owen, New Zealand

U are always a good writer.
The way u write is awesome.