The fast-becoming characteristic colors of Nicaragua are so very, very agreeable to me. All of Nicaragua is agreeable to me, in fact, so much so that its agreeableness extends even to the process of getting here.
It started will our taxi ride from Miraflores to the Lima airport, generously arranged street side by the woman from whom we rented our apartment (apparently only about 1 in 10 taxis in that neighborhood have the appropriate licensing to be able to enter the airport for proper passenger drop off; our hostess hailed and subsequently waved off seven that didn’t make the grade before finding one that did). From the airport we proceeded to move smoothly to our gate, and I burned through some of the leftover time and local currency savoring six pieces of tuna nigiri at the airport sushi bar. Then our six hour flight, which seemed to fly by with tunes, e-books, and an episode of Sherlock.
Upon exiting customs we were greeted with immaculate timing by our Miami hosts, Katie and Ryan, a couple that Tracy photographed a few times back in St. Louis (including their ’07 wedding) and who were so bold and generous as to answer Tracy’s facebook post, a simple note about our pass through seeking whomever might make our 22-hour layover more pleasant in exchange for the company of some vagabonds with tales of travel to share.
Man did they make our 22-hour layover more pleasant.
I’m talkin’ a ride from the airport, choice snacks back at their lovely home (including a Colorado micro brew or two), laundry privileges, and a guest room so comfy and well appointed it made a delightful reminder of how nice the standard of living in the US so often is. On top of that, it turns out that for me (who was meeting them for the first time) they were ready-made friends, absolutely the kind of couple we should hope to have double dates with whenever in the same town. It was all we could do to buy dinner and offer up a gift of a tin of Vizios, super tasty chocolate covered almonds smuggled in from Peru. With other nuggets like water bottles ready for us as we got in the car, an offer for a Target run in case we needed anything, and the house wi-fi password written up on the chalkboard the whole situation was a show of some serious hospitality, the kind that inspires Tracy and I to up our own game as hosts1.
In the morning we were blessed by another instance of being taken care of by rad people. Greg, my best friend from childhood, came down to pick us up for some hang out and catch up time, ending with a ride to the airport to see us off to our next country2.
At the airport I still had a handful of soles, coin form which neither travels well nor can be exchanged. Luckily, just down from our gate, a flight to Peru had its passengers congregating about. After a miss talking to a small family in awkward Spanish (who was actually going to Honduras), I found a nice group of older women who were playing cards and were, in fact, Peru-bound. “Yeah, I’m about to fly to Nicaragua and they won’t take these for exchange. It’s like five bucks US, I figure better to give these to someone who can use them. Would you mind? Cool, yeah, have a Cusquena on me–it’s the beer from Cusco, really tasty. Thanks, have a good trip!”
“Did they think you were trying to sell them your soles?” Tracy asked after overhearing the exchange. “Oh yeah, that would explain their initial reluctance. Wow, I didn’t even think about that.”3
Our flight to Managua was swift, and our progression through customs and immigration was the fastest I’d ever experienced. Back in a Spanish speaking country after a 22 hour hiatus my Spanish seemed well rested and ready to roll again, and it got its first practice in negotiation with the cab driver who insisted that the price to the bus station just happened to be the most common note in an American’s wallet, $20USD. “Bueno, pienso que esto es un poco caro, entonces me voy a pergunta un otro manihar de taxi.” Okay, I think that’s a little expensive so I’m going to ask another taxi driver. $18. “That’s still a lot.” $17. Sigh. “Fifteen and we’ve got a deal. If that’s too expensive I completely understand, and I’ll just go ask over there. And who knows, if it turns out that $15 really is too cheap, I’ll be right back here and we can go at $17.” Pregnant pause, lasting I’d say about 8 seconds. Ok, $15. “Bueno, vamos.” But I don’t have any change, so you need to have exact change, our driver stated. Turns out I had a five and a ten on me, so no worries. He seemed a little defeated to learn as much.
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that locals pay something closer to $5USD from the airport, but it still felt good to stand my ground and chip away a relatively steep gringo tax, all in Spanish.
From the airport we were taken to the bus depot, where two fellows immediately started vying for our business, yelling in sync “Granada, Granada!” but literally pulling me in opposite directions, one towards a conventional bus and the other towards the express bus, a mini-van, both a dollar4.
The callers for this sort of transportation are amazing. As our mini-van got on he was hanging out the side calling his war cry, “Granada, Granada!” to anyone on the street who looked even remotely interested in going to Granada. And before long he filled that mini-van. It felt like a striking model of efficiency of carpooling, self organizing in real time with driving and caller working together, and ultimately getting a lot of folks to their destination with a just single vehicle5. I found myself rooting for him to get people even though if meant cramming more into my seat.
Granada was suggested to us by Gene & Terry back in Agaus Calientes, a charming colonial town that had much to offer while being plenty cheap. It did not disappoint. Our meals were all quite good, my favorite being the dishes at El Gordito6. One example: a pile of pork on a pile of fried yucca root, topped with a shredded cabbage salad and served upon a banana leaf. Add in fresh pinapple banana juice and charge 80 cordobas for it all (about $3.50) and you’ve got me quite happily as a regular.
This would be an experience which I label as having a high “Thunder Quotient”. The “Thunder Quotient” is my own device for rating experiences7. It’s the absolute amount of awesome/goodness/flavor/enjoyability/whatever that you get from experiencing something, and then divided by the dollars you paid to experience it8. So, for example, if you have a darn good steak but paid $50 for it, that’s a low Thunder Quotient. But if you have a darn good pile of pork on some fried yucca and pay $2, the Thunder Quotient is quite high. I find I generally experience more happiness from high Thunder Quotients than from high raw enjoyment, probably because my brain extrapolates future enjoyment for things that are cheaper, because given finite cash one can do those things more often.
So far Nicaragua seems to be really high Thunder Quotient all over the board. After a really great lunch with sandwiches and smoothies ($6 covered both Tracy and I) we were welcomed to loaf in the hammocks in the gorgeous courtyard of that colonial estate. Late one night I went out for a snack and $2 got me plantain chips, sweet fried bananas, and a piece of chicken all wrapped in a banana leaf. Throw in the entertainment of begrudgingly sharing with children asking earnestly for a bite and turning down prostitutes who assure me it’s okay that I’m married, and you’ve got another wicked-high Thunder Quotient night. These experiences keep coming up.
Topping it off quite literally are the blue skies. Apparently we’re here in the off season, most tourists cleared out two weeks ago due to the now regular rains. But it only seems to rain for maybe an hour in the afternoon, and maybe again at night. And it all happens out of big, blustery clouds that roll in, do their thing, and then move along again. None of the incessant dreariness of Lima’s winter to speak of, most of the day is bright and sunny with blue skies and superb sandal weather. For visuals on the situation, see Tracy’s photography of Granada.
Yeah, I’m quite liking Nicaragua indeed.
- This game may have to wait a year to be exercised again, unless someone takes us up on our offer to come stay with us wherever we are whilst World Touring about. ↩
- He was also a sport and indulged us a run to the local FedEx office, that I may send off my alpaca slippers to their new home in Chicago with my sister. ↩
- It’s fun to make the world a little weirder, like dabbling in the unexpected realms of the expectations of others. Exchanges of random, reason-less generosity are as good a way as any to do just that. ↩
- To put our 15-minute private cab ride into perspective, this dollar was the price of a 40 minute ride on shared transportation. ↩
- In the US just 2 people in a car earns the perk of the carpool lane. In comparison to this, that seems like a paltry excuse for carpooling. ↩
- Literally, “The Fat Kid” ↩
- The roots of the name lie in Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV, where he reviews and rates wine. Dubbed “The Thunder Show”, he expresses the awesome of wines by how much “thunder” they pack. ↩
- Probably better to divide by dollars plus one, so that your brain doesn’t explode from infinite delight when you divide by zero for enjoyable free stuff. ↩