Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

My Trip to Nicaragua: Final Thoughts February 24, 2008

Overall, I would have to say that my trip to Nicaragua was pretty darn amazing. I met cool people, looked into volcanoes, ate tasty meals, and spent time with my really good friends.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you ever go to Nicaragua (or go on any other trip, for that matter!):

You might find yourself spending lots of money because it’s so little money by comparison. I know that was a bit of a problem for me. The exchange rate was so much in our favor that we definitely splurged a bit. Besides, we figured we might as well spend a lot, since we don’t know if/when we might go back. Also the country is rather poor, so I think we looked at spending as something beneficial to the society. Maybe that’s a little pompous sounding, or something, but I don’t mean it to sound that way at all!

Get a guidebook. My friends and I had two books. One from Lonely Planet and one from Moon. I think it worked out pretty well to have multiple guidebooks so we could find out more information (some information was only in one of the books, and we could get multiple angles about a certain place). I recommend reading through your guidebook to some extent, just to know what you’re in for. I especially recommend reading the intro to the country section (in the Moon book, it’s called “Know Nicaragua”). That way you know details like exchange rates, entry fees, medicines/shots you’ll need (and should plan on getting a certain amount of time ahead of time), customs, languages, safety, etc.

Know some Spanish. While you do run into a few English speakers, you’re going to want to know enough to know at least some middle school/high school Spanish that will help you find what you need (food, lodging, restrooms, etc.) and you’ll want to know numbers so you know what prices you’re agreeing to! Or if you don’t know Spanish, at least travel with someone who does.

Don’t be afraid to haggle. At markets, in cabs, etc. you can haggle for a price that seems more reasonable to you.

Taxis are different from what you experience in the states…you agree on a price before you head out. The good part is that you know they wont drive your around randomly just to run up a tab. I can’t think of what’s bad about it, except if you are unable to haggle for a good price.

Just as a recap, here are the links to each day of my trip:

Day 1: Fort Lauderdale (to Managua)

Day 2: Masaya (from Managua)

Day 3: Ometepe (From Masaya to San Juan Del Sur)

Day 4: San Juan Del Sur (to Managua)

I’d love to hear of your travels, as well!

[Edit:  If you're wondering what shots, immunization, or medicine you'll need on your trip, check out the CDC's Traveler's Health site.]

 

My Trip to Nicaragua: Day 4: San Juan Del Sur February 20, 2008

We woke up the next morning, to see the aftermath of the storm: everyone was sweeping up, cleaning up, washing the mud off of their steps.

We headed downstairs for breakfast…got the “traditional Nicaraguan breakfast” (again! I just love it!)

It kept raining on and off, shifting into downpours every once in a while. I guess you could say the weather was pretty bad. L and M stopped at an internet cafe to check some email and a few other things (L even sent me an email, telling me to remember how awesome Nicaragua was!)

Then we went to El Gato Negro. It’s an awesome, English-speaking cafe and bookstore. We figured with all the rain, we wouldn’t be able to go to the cloud forests or the volcanoes, so we decided to take our last day in Nicaragua as a day for relaxation. We spent a good part of our day there, reading the magazines, ordering tasty drinks (smoothies, fancy coffees, teas) and food (hummus plate, fruit plate, sandwiches, brownies). We met and chatted with the owner and some of the other visitors there. There was a black cat that roamed around the bookstore (the shop’s namesake) that we played with. The funny part (maybe only to me) was that I kept wanting to call the cat, and the cafe, “Le Chat Noir”, since I learned French in high school I suppose that confusion happened a lot to me…I would want to say “Merci” instead of “Gracias”.

I think because it’s an English-speaking cafe, locals know they can find tourists, and tourists tend to buy souvenirs! I have to admit, they were right! Two guys came to us (twice, I think!) and tried to sell us pottery they had made. I decided that this was going to be a good a time as any to buy something. They were all very beautiful pieces, mostly vases, jewelry boxes, and candle hurricanes. I went ahead and spent a good chunk of the cordoba I had left ( I didn’t have that much left at that point, anyway!) on a vase with turtles etched into it. It had the blues, greens, and browns that are found in my bed linens, so I figured it would be a good match. My friends bought a few things as well.

We stayed pretty much until closing (3pm) and headed out to find a cab that would take us back to Managua, to the airport. Before we got the cab, I stopped in to a shop to see if I could buy one more thing: an ornament (or something I could convert into an ornament). I had decided that I wasn’t going to spend a lot on souvenirs, but I also decided that my new souvenir policy would be to get an ornament from every place I visited. That way, every Christmas, I could recall all the great places I’d been! I bought a small magnet that I knew I could attach a hook to. Perfect!

On our journey back, we drove through Masaya, past volcanoes, and along long winding streets. Halfway through the journey, our cab driver actually switched out with another cab driver. I think it was because he usually doesn’t go that far north, so the two men set a deal so that they’d split the money from our fare and drive half way.

It was sad to go back up to Managua: We knew our journey was coming to a close. It was also upsetting to see just how much devastation the storm had caused. We drove by many people who were trying to fix things after their homes were flooded. We saw pools of water most likely 2 feet deep in places!

We finally made it to Managua, and stopped at a restaurant for dinner…our last meal in Nicaragua! I don’t remember the name of the place we at at (sorry!) but it was pretty good. Towards the end of our meal, a musician began to set up and play. It was very nice guitar music.

We then caught a cab to the airport. While we were waiting, M and L napped, and A and I got involved talking to a business man from NYC. He told us how he does business both in the US and Nicaragua, as well as many other places in Central America. He gave us his business card, and told us if we were ever back in Nicaragua, that we should let him know, and he’d have us over for dinner (the best Indian food in Nicaragua!)

Boarded our plane, and headed home!

 

My Trip to Nicaragua: Day 3: Ometepe February 12, 2008

Filed under: Travel — Stephanie @ 6:42 pm
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We left our hotel and headed over to the nearest supermarket in Masaya. We each picked up some breakfast and snacks. I got some yogurt and cookies (the cookies were a recommendation from L, who had tried that brand before on a trip to Costa Rica). We then headed to the bus stop to catch a bus down through Rivas to San Jorge to catch a ferry to Las Isla de Ometepe.

We had a beautiful view on a nice ferry. There were nice balconies to stand out on to look at the bright blue skies and the volcanoes in the distance as we floated across Lago Cocibolca. Apparently, some people were on the boat filming a tourism video for Nicaragua. They asked us if it would be all right if we were in it (they could tell that we were tourists!) There were people from all over the world on the ferry that day. Some people were from Nicaragua, others were from the United States (like us) and there were even people from as far away as Israel!

As is the case at many transportation terminals, there were many taxi drivers awaiting the ferry passengers. Some were offering complicated tourism packages. We were just looking to do something in the time we were there. We had read on the schedule that a ferry would be leaving the island at 2:00pm, so we didn’t have too much time to explore. We wanted to see the petroglyphs, but we wouldn’t have enough time. The taxi driver we hired luckily spoke English, so we were able to chat with him more. He drove us to Charco Verde (Green Lagoon) Nature Preserve. The lake there is said to be enchanted. They say if you swim in the lake, you will never want to leave. The interesting part about the lake was that it was very silty, most likely from the volcanic rock.

We ate a hearty lunch, and then got back on our way to the Ferry. Unfortunately, the departure time for the ferry was an hour later than what we and the taxi driver thought it was. So we waited on the island for another hour. We interacted somewhat with the local people there, including a little boy that liked to throw leaves at us, but we were all pretty warm and tired, so we mostly sat in the shade drinking copious amounts of water.

The ferry back was not nearly as nice as the one we took to get to the island, but it ran, and that’s all that mattered to us. We got a cab right off the boat (there were plenty of cabbies there waiting for us), and headed off to San Juan Del Sur. We stayed at hotel Estrella (i believe), which according to a guidebook had a bunch of bats. This hotel made me the least happy of the hotels we stayed at. I think there actually were bats…and the beds maybe had some guano on them from them. Also, the cost of the place seemed to change from one statement to the other. And they said that they would hold on to our key while we went out to the beach. They warned us that if you left stuff out, it would get stolen (at the beach). Leaving our key with them, combined with one other thing, is where I think there was a big problem…I announced to my friends that I would pay for dinner that night because I had 500 cordoba on me that I needed to spend. I’m almost certain I had that money….and when I went to pay for dinner that night, it and perhaps a US $20 was missing from my wallet. So, note to everyone…don’t talk about how much money you have on you. It’s a dumb thing, I know, and I guess I really wasn’t thinking. You live and you learn!

I think in total I perhaps lost$50US from that theft. In the long run, that’s not too much, but it would have been nicer to not have lost it, and deal with the upsetting idea of someone stealing things from me.

At any rate, we did go out to the pacific ocean, and played in the big waves. The coast there is known for its beautiful sunsets; we managed to show up during a cloudy sunset, but it was still beautiful!

We had dinner at a nearby restaurant, again taking advantage of the relatively cheap cost of everything. One of the fun facts (for my friends and me, at least) was that the guys working at the restaurant were watching a Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees game!  We were disappointed to find out that they were most likely Yankees fans!

Towards the end of our dinner, a huge lightning storm moved in. We saw amazing lightning over the waves, which seemed to light up the entire sky! Along with the lightning, of course, was a bit of a downpour! The roof of the restaurant started to leak, so we paid our bill and got ready to leave. Our hotel was literally right across the street. We booked it across the street, and managed to get completely soaked running through the already flooding 10 feet of street!

We all changed into dry clothes and just headed to bed. We went to bed a little bit sad…it was our last night in Nicaragua!

 

My Trip to Nicaragua: Day 2: Masaya November 2, 2007

Filed under: Travel — Stephanie @ 4:21 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday:

Like I mentioned in my last post about my trip, the hotel came with a complimentary breakfast! We could choose among a list of meals (some were more “American” than others, since the hotel is popular with business travelers). We all picked the Nicaraguan Breakfast (red beans, rice, scrambled eggs, cheese, corn tortilla, fruit juice, coffee). We checked out of the hotel, and off to a pharmacy to look for some aloe, as well as some more sunscreen. Due to our not-perfect Spanish, we ended up getting some diaper rash lotion that contained aloe. Close enough, eh?

Took a cab to get to the bus going to Masaya. At a couple of the stoplights, people came up to our cars, trying to sell us bananas, cell phones, birds, and baby turtles, among other interesting objects.

The bus (well, it was more like a van) to Masaya was a bit crowded, but we all fit in there pretty well.

We found a great hotel, Hotel Monte Carlo, which had rooms for $10 US per night! (You could splurge and get air conditioning for an extra $10)  The woman running the hotel was super friendly. She hailed a cab and made a deal with the driver for a trip up to Masaya Volcano National Park.

The volcano was AMAZING!!! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The park rangers handed us gas masks because there was sulfur emitting from the active crater. I definitely coughed quite a bit before we put those on! We went all the way up to La Cruz de Bobadilla (The Cross of Bobadilla)…though I think there was a sign saying not to go up there! We read in a guide book that there were demon parakeets that lived in the volcano…they were able to survive even with the toxic sulfur gas, an interesting adaptation. There was also a dormant volcano that had been so for centuries. It looked very different: instead of brown and gray rockiness, it was green, grassy, full of trees and flowers.

Back to the city for a tasty buffet for only 38 Córdoba, which is about $2 US!

We wandered around the market for a while. I obsessed about what to buy. I knew I wanted a hammock and an ornament (or something I can turn into an ornament). Now before you think I’m some silly tourist, let me explain the ornament thing. I realized that a big part of decorating the tree at Christmas is remembering where all the ornaments came from. And since I also don’t have any ornaments up here (they’re all at my parents’ place), I figured this would be a good way to start.  I’m pretty sure we all bought hammocks.  M bought a few paintings as well.   We also grabbed some ice cream before heading out!

We relaxed for a bit at our hotel, and then ventured out to Lake Masaya, to see the sunset. It was beautiful to see the sunset over the volcano and lake.

We had a late dinner at a nearby restaurant. We were the only people there, and by the end, the guys working there had gotten ridiculously drunk and giggly, which was fun, cause some of us were getting giggly too!

M and L headed to an internet cafe to check on some things, and A and I headed back to our hotel to get a good nights sleep.

 

My Trip to Nicaragua: Day 1: Fort Lauderdale October 27, 2007

Filed under: Travel — Stephanie @ 11:14 am
Tags: , , , ,

So, finally, as promised, I’ll be posting about my vacation in Nicaragua. I’m thinking I’ll end up posting a wrap-up/summary after all these.

So, our trip to Nicaragua actually starts with the best ever layover. We flew out of Boston at the crack of dawn. We landed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s where we ran into our other two friends that we were traveling with to Nicaragua.
We picked up our rental car and headed to the beach! We grabbed some pizza at a nearby pizza shop and ate it on the beach, under the shade of some palm trees.

Partially because of those new rules about sizes of sunscreen, we ended up skimping on the sunscreen. I had bought some combination bug repellent and sunscreen, but figured that would be silly to wear on the beach…so end result was we all came out pretty burnt! I almost always wear sunscreen (my dad worked at a company that made sunscreen) so I wasn’t used to burns.

The water was so incredibly warm. It was clear, light blue, and really the temperature of bathwater! This was to be our first body of water of the trip.

We got some tasty gelato at a nearby shop. Mixed berry and chocolate….mmmmm! We drove up and down Las Olas Boulevard for a bit trying to find a place that wasn’t too expensive but would have something we’d all like (including decent vegetarian options for one of my friends). We settled on Mangos which was pretty tasty. I got the mango chicken sandwich.

Then off to the nearest bookstore to buy a good beach/travel book (I had bought one before the trip, but it just didn’t seem to be working…so I picked up a collection of O’Henry’s short stories. Short stories really are perfect for traveling. You can read one or two while you’re going somewhere, or right before you fall asleep, and you don’t have to worry about continuity.

Then it was off to the rental car place to return the car, and the shuttle to the airport.

The trip actually was originally suggested by one of our friends (we’ll call her M, I don’t know if I should post full names?) because she gets listings for cheap flights and vacations. We just had to jump on it. So we took Spirit airlines…they get to be cheaper by charging you for everything (checked baggage, drinks or snacks on the plane), but we didn’t mind, since we were just bringing carry-ons and would just sleep through the food and drink services anyway.

We quickly went through customs, paid our $5 entrance fee, and proceeded to the exit, where taxi drivers practically blocked the doorway. They were all standing there, waiting for the oblivious Americans (like us)

Two taxi drivers actually started fighting over us! The figured out who was going to take us, and so we went with the winner!

Now, when I was in middle school and high school, I only ever took French for my foreign language classes. This lack of Spanish language skills would have crippled us on our trip. Luckily, one of my friends, L, knew plenty of Spanish. The taxi driver gave us a tour of Managua (the capital) as he drove us to our hotel, he showed us where a church used to be (before an earthquake), a statue of Sandino, and told us about the protesters we saw camping nearby (they were against a pharmaceutical company, I believe).

Ended our taxi ride at our hotel for the night, Hotel Mansion Teodolinda. It was by far the priciest hotel we stayed in (it cost more than the rest of our our hotels combined!) They originally gave us two rooms, but we pointed out to them that we only needed one (there were two full beds in the room.) M had made the reservation in advance, since she figured we would just be tired and wouldn’t want to be wandering around looking for a place to stay, so overall, it worked pretty well. Plus they had complementary breakfast!
It wasn’t until I was about to hop in the shower that I saw just how burned I was. Standing naked, I saw in the mirror what looked like a red-colored person with a white two-piece!

After a refreshing shower, it was time to head to sleep for my first night in Nicaragua.

 

 
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