Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Journey Home, Part II

So, expensive plane ticket for Panama in hand, I went to the Managua airport for the last time in the foreseeable future.  I checked the two bags I had remaining to my name, and held on to my campesino saco as my carry-on, smelling conspicuously of sweat and the fungus that had taken long-term residence in my clothes.  Then the woman at the counter handed me my first class boarding ticket, and my pass to the VIP room.  I groaned internally as I assumed they had accidentally charged me for a business class ticket when I was sure (in my pinche way) I had bought coach.  I started to try to clarify and switch the ticket when another woman came over and said, "no, this is just Copa's way of thanking you for being such a good customer."

So, uh, thanks Copa.

I was suddenly giddy, ran to the VIP room where they checked my id two times, sat down on one of the many plush sofas, and realized I had suddenly entered some sort of live action game of "which one of these is not like the other?"  Spoiler alert: it was me.  There I was, sweaty, no makeup, with my rough woven saco that is most commonly seen as a means of transporting small livestock, sitting among Managua's finest.  Ladies with nary an eyelash out of place, and sky high heels gave me the side eye as the waiter came over to take my order.  Knowing that I had a few weeks of traveling ahead of me, and that this ticket had already pushed me over my budget, I asked as delicately as I could, "um, would it be possible to see a menu with some, um, prices?"  The poor man gave me the most sympathetic look he could while faced with my baseness, and explained slowly that the first drink in the VIP room was complementary.

I was liking the VIP room a lot at this point.

When I actually boarded the plan, I barely had time to enjoy the huge comfy chair, free meal, and warm towels they pass out to wash your hands before we had landed.  I did, however, have excessive time to embarrass myself with how excited I was with all of these luxuries.  For a girl who was just thrilled when she didn't have to wash her clothes in her shower, this was a big deal.  None of my neighbors seemed to be all that impressed though, and especially not with my occasional giggling fits.  Their loss.

An hour and a half later, I was on the ground in Panama City, with my taxi driver pointing out all of the sights.  The first thing that struck me was the amount of skyscrapers in the city's center, standing watch over a calm ocean front.  The second thing that struck me was what my driver then told me.

"I'm going to have to take a back route to your hostel, since the main street is blocked off for the free concert Daddy Yankee is giving tonight."

It turns out I arrived at the end of the presidential elections, and Navarro, one of the candidates, decided to invite Daddy Yankee to perform as a final play for votes.  Now, I'm not the biggest reggaeton or political fan, but I was not about to let this opportunity go.  I had enough time to check in, throw my bags on my bed, and peace out for the concert while the other guests still sat around talking about other hostels they've stayed at around the world.

The concert was awesome.  There were tons of people, especially families, dancing up a storm as Yankee free styled raps about Panamanian girls and Navarro, and his dancers were on point for the nearly hour and a half he performed.  It was great to be out late in the evening, seeing so many people simply enjoying the night, and feeling completely safe.  It was a definite change from Managua where the sun goes down, and you stay inside if you know what is good for you.  I strolled along the well-lit ocean front back to my hostel and thought that it was probably for the best that I didn't get on that TicaBus after all.

Friday, August 22, 2014

COS and Ringing the Bell

COS in Peace Corps speak is Close of Service, when you are done with your two (or three) years.  On the administrative side of Peace Corps, it mostly means completing a huge check-list of tasks, from turning in training books to talking to the Country Director.  In other countries, I'm told, you turn in your check-list to prove you've done everything, and then, welp, you're no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer.  In Nicaragua, we do things a little differently.  When a Volunteer becomes a Returned Volunteer, you ring a bell in the middle of the office, so that everyone who hears it can come out to applaud you in the best and most embarrassing way possible.

I'm very uncertain if I want to do this or not
 Luckily, I had some friends in the office when it came time for me to ring the bell, so it was even more special that I was able to celebrate with them...and cry just a little bit.  Because just like that, I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I'm afraid my life will never be as challenging or interesting as it was then.
But then, maybe not.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Journey Home, Part I

After three years in Nicaragua, you'd think I would have learned that planning something a certain way is by no means a guarantee that it will go that way.  Despite that, I had planned my trip home to go down like so:

Bus from Nicaragua to Panama
Fly from Panama to Ecuador
Fly from Ecuador to U.S.A

My flights were all booked, I only needed to buy my ticket for TicaBus.  It's website was down, and their number wasn't picking up, but I felt confident, hearing enough from other travelers, that I would get a ticket at the office in Managua a few days before I needed to go.  Two days before my travels, and the employees at the front desk told me that they were booked solid for three weeks.  I later learned from a fellow traveler that when he took TicaBus the very same day I meant to travel, he had a whole row to himself, so I have no idea what info they were going off of, but they refused to sell me a ticket to Panama.

"We can get you a ticket as far as Costa Rica, and then you can figure it out from there," the lady at the counter said.  "I just need to see your id."

I handed her my residency card, and she started processing my ticket.  It wasn't until her coworker, who leaned in far too close to her, instructed her on the finer points of checking identification that we ran into some problems.

"Now, see, did you check when her residency expires?"
"No, let's see-it expires in two days, on the day she wants to travel."
"Now, see, we can't sell her the ticket."
Wait, what?

"But my visa is good for another three months, and I'm leaving the day my residency expires, I don't understand why this is a problem," I protested.
"Now, see, we've had this problem before, we've sold tickets to people and we've gotten in trouble for it."
"How could you possibly get in trouble for it if I am leaving the country on the day that I am no longer a resident, and three months before my visa expires?"
"Now, see..." at which point I just stopped listening.

When I got back to the office and told the staff, they said they had never heard anything like that before, and if it were the case, no volunteer would have been able to leave the country at the end of their service.  Ever.  So I guess that made me special.  I sure didn't feel special when I had to shell over about four times as much cash I had intended to pay to book a last-minute flight to Panama...but the next few days were soon to change that.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


This was my friend, Ili's, version of just a little bit of soup.  An entire river shrimp.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bus Stop Concert

Waiting for the bus, just as riding on one, can be a very long process.  It is often made more tolerable by reading a good book, daydreaming, or - if you are waiting with a pair of musicians - listening to live music.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Puro Lodo

My first site, Los Chiles, consists almost entirely of dirt roads.  We paved one road this past year, and it was a huge deal.  It was quite the orchestration though, so the chances of paving the other dirt roads are very slim, which is a shame, because dirt roads mean dust in the dry season, and in the rainy season...
mud.  Lots of mud.  Mud everywhere.  Puro lodo.  And you would think that I would have learned to wear better shoes, but on the day when this photo was taken, I had rushed out the house in flip flops without thinking about the consequences.  Eventually, they got so caked in mud I couldn't walk in them anymore, and walked barefoot the rest of the way to my friend's house where she had a good laugh at me, and lent me her much more sensible shoes to wear for the day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Accidental Videography

Back in November 2012 when my parent's first visited me, we actually started our travels in Costa Rica to see my uncle, aunt, and two cousins for Thanksgiving.  Afterwards we traveled north to my region of Nicaragua, all with my mom's new camera.  The thing about this camera was that we hadn't checked the settings on it, so it was set up to simultaneously take video as you took a photo.  What resulted was this patchwork video of our travels from Arenal, Costa Rica to Sabalos Lodge, Nicaragua.  Watch and see a monkey, lots of birds, pretty flowers, an absurd amount of iguanas, tourists, vehicles almost running over said tourists, a pineapple, the Rio Frio, my mom posing for photos, mud, the other Los Chiles, my butt, a tona, the Rio San Juan, San Carlos, my beloved (now defunct) pizza place, a river shrimp, my dad and me trying our best to smile for the camera, and a beautiful sunset over the river.  Not necessarily in that order.