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Friday, 24 February 2012

Granada at night - Muy Sketchito!

So thinking it was Friday night, I decided to explore about. I went and played a small ($5 entry) poker with a nice bunch of guys in the back room of the delightful Euro Cafe only to find it was thursday night. But the poker was on, and I got knocked out pretty quick. I suppose I wasn't taking $5 seriously. The cash game (the real game) was to be at a guys house down at the bottom of Liberdad street. I went back to hotel and changed up some money, and while we did it me and the hotel guy had to shoo away a sketchy looking glue sniffer. Anyway he saw the readies, and as i happened to be walking down a backstreet to the poker (with $300 in my pocket) out he came from the shadows. Well I don't know if any of you guys have been robbed in sketchy backstreets before, but you can kind of feel it before it happens. You cross the street he crosses the street etc etc. Behind me was a neighbourhood even more shady and with not so good street lighting, which I absolutely didn't want to wander into with my gringo flip flops. Scottish jokes can only go so far down here...

And ahead of me was this glue sniffing monkey who knew i had a bunch of cash on me. So. Not really knowing what to do, and knowing if I just stood there like a dick, he'd bring out his knife and relieve me of everything, I found myself treating him like a cow. I ran at him, making lot of noise clapping my hands and shouting, feigning to smack him one just before i got to him. (i had flip flops on so kicking would have been a bit lame) The poor guy didn't know what the hell was going on, so quickly i found myself on the right side of him and moving towards the safety of the main drag before he could say 'loco gringo'. Well, I guess he got someone else later that night.

But more than any place i've been to in Nicaragua, Granada seems to me the most sketchy. Street kids are everywhere, sniffing glue in the main square and begging for money. And getting peado'd on. Seems another negative side affect from the tourists.

The main drag is annoying and loud from the kids doing their show every fifteen minutes (its a cross between punch and judy and 'throw the jew down the well') with loud drums much to the annoyance of ALL the tourists except of course redneck Nicaraguans. (I saw western tourists with their fingers in their ears on numerous occasions) Anyway, the bottom line is that these kids are ruining the main street. Its great for the other places though - like Garden Cafe and its neighbour, the gringo owned (and therefor grossly overpriced- $5 a vodka) Imagine across the road from it. At least this is a safe little oasis that is one street back from the main drag, thanks to security guards, but don't wander too far off it, especially down towards the lake, you may not come back...Imagine last night was quite ok, i.e. full of gringos because of the high prices. But even the 2 dutch guys I met went out and sneaked in some alcohol from elsewhere.

At 6am this morning, for some reason outside our hotel, a group of people decided to bang drums extremely loudly and blow trumpets. For 30minutes. I have no idea why and will probably never have.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Granada, Nicaragua

So today I took a bike (its about $6 for half a day) and cycled round this (surprisingly small) city. I went around all the lovely old buildings and down to the lake. Lake Nicaragua is pretty massive and i'm surprised there isn't more use of the place as its a pretty nice backdrop to the city (together with one active volcano) and fortunately it's not filthy from pollution, like the lake at Managua (im sure the citys sewage goes in there somewhere mind you, its just that its a bigger lake!)
Yep, you guessed it -it's another messed up Church

Kinda what everyone sees on the brochures....(except for the levitating bike on the right)

I sat here for a while and considered writing a melancholy poem about the windswept lake and so on and so on but then a beggar came up to me and I kind of lost my mojo about it

Im sure these shanty town dwellers are happy that the governemnent spent the money on a statue of some General or other rather than a proper sanitation system

Down at the bottom of the main drag, you take the right along the promenade, and get to the 'centro turisco' or something like that. Like most things here, there isn't anything actually for tourists here. Its a row of restaurants and bars set in a nice lakeside park, where they in theory charge you $5 for entry (although i just cycled straight through, waving at the locals.) I cycled right along to the end, and thankfully didn't see a single white face. I had lunch in a restaurant called El Ranchero and where a boatman offered to take me round the archipeligo. He wanted to charge me $15 for an hour which included an island full of monkeys. I got him to $10 and so he took me a '45mins' trip which basically was 20mins with no monkeys. Was pleasant enough though and i got a bit of the sun today.

Where horses go when they die

Fiesta de Pederast 

I really liked this tree. Probably my favourite spot, just outside Granada (notice no white people or beggars)

The fruit pickers, here in the 14th century

Organic Food

The start of the jungle !

10mins later i was eating him

Anyway for recommendations - I'll add to this page later, but i'm staying at a well located little hotel called Hospedaje Cocibolca (not to be confused with the hotel of the same name) the rooms were clean but nothing special but it has its own kitchen you can use and w-ifi and is has nice rocking chairs downstairs for some peaceful writing when your not being noise polluted to death by Harley riding men with tiny penises. As for food, well on the main drag the food is much the same, unless you fancy something special then jump into the Dario Hotel which is the only remotely classy joint on the main street (which by the way is the street leading East down the hill towards the lake from Parque Central.)
For Brekky I went to The Garden Cafe this morning to avoid the noise - a little oasis, and of course like anything that is good here in Nicaragua sadly, foreign owned. I actually cycled round sweating like a pig and thirsty as hell trying to find a place to get a drink that didn't have any whiteys in it. But failed and ended up buying a fanta in some random local butcher shop which smelled awful.

Granada without Gringos or street kids or pointless noise

Flora and Fauna...finally....

No crappy chichichi music here...

or here....

When my beard grows longer I will move here...

And make it like this. all solar panels and fridges and stuff...

So im not finished yet with Granada. Tomorrow I'll check the market which looks quite tedious, (unless fake Abercrombie t-shirts are what i'm after) check some ruined but beautiful old building i saw on the way in (where are those NGO's when you need them?), try to find a cafe or restaurant with no white people, and play poker with some locals. I did the same in Leon in the sketchy poker club, so it will be interesting to see what its like here. I don't trust the locals here though, they've been too exposed to the gringo. White man has basically ruined this lovely city (he says as a gum chewing american walks in, drawling like a true trailer-parker)  I'm sad to say. But at least there is edible food and paved roads. Gringo is treated like a walking ATM here, just like Tallinn back in the day. A veritable festival of choices dear friend but a pandoras box nevertheless.

This is the Nicaragua I want to see more of 

Lunchtime, Nica style

The view towards town, from the Malecon. Nice and peaceful I must add

It is a great place for inspiration if you happen to be writing a post-apocolyptal novel

This is what regular Granada looks like.


I can just imagine some tinpot dictator strutting about here once

Highlights of the day?  Well apart from sitting down under a very attractive tree at the waters edge, with neither a white person or awful chichichi nicaraguan music (whatever it is but its involves guys with moustaches and sombreros i'm sure) anywhere to be seen not heard. Or right now, where bizzarelly the bar across the road has started playing AC/DC's highway to hell....I haven't heard that song since...the hell of the desert Marathon Des Sables where they played it every morning at the starting line now for a well deserved $1 beer....

Someone just renovate these please 

Nicaraguan Funeral

Ok this is the last church for a while...

Spot the gringo! Mercado area

Thats it. Im going to pay lonely planet to tell people not to come to Nicaragua, that its dangerous and they hate Americans and North Europeans. So i can get the place to myself, finally.....

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Granada first impressions - Pederasts and W*nkers on Motorbikes

Central Americans and peace and quiet are not things that go together.
Actually this happy group of pickpockets (being escorted to prison) is in Managua - they were at UCA bus station, be careful there!

However my hotel seems to have been taken over by middle aged gringo arseholes who think its funny to just sit on their motorbikes revving them up and making loud noises all night. Guys. You don't do that back home in Basingstoke, so don't do it here. Its not funny, really. Everyone just thinks you are a tosser. And as I sit here trying to hear myself think, Im wondering, is there a connection between this and the fact that this town is full of rangy old men who are into boy love?
Nice view from my hotel though - and at $16 great value (I'll write more on next post on this)

I took a walk up the quite saddening main drag here tonight. Annoyingly smug backpacker couples with their lonely planet Spanish language guide trying to order up some authentic fried corn and beans. Bespectacled German peados drinking beer and giving a little too much attention to the street kids. And large groups of white tourists spending money in Western owned Restaurants (there is even an Irish Bar..sigh..where the Irish owner tonight was shooing away the local kids who were putting on (a quite rubbish, too loud, and very annoying) show to make enough to eat.) Top this off with white hippies making and selling crappy beads (just to make sure locals get exactly zero income from the tourist industry here) and you have an extremely depressing first impression of Granada, Nicaragua. Well for me at least.

Its a good looking city though, loads of renovated and beautiful churches and old colonial buildings. But it seems to me that, unlike Leon or Estelli - the beauty is very skin deep.

Ok i will now abuse the next 50yr old Canadian who decides to sit outside and rev his harley davidson.

Maybe i'm wrong about this place and my criticism is based on me just not being such a big fan of random needless noise pollution. And its not all negative. For example, I did have fun tonight though with the word 'Pederast'. What a lovely sounding word. I always thought it sounded kind of Lord of the Ringsish, you know..Pederast the Green or something. Jodi assumed it was a spice. (just throw in a dash of Pederast, and voila!....)  but come to think of it the thought of these vile creatures having a funny name just depresses me more...oh well....lets see what tomorrow brings, I'll write more later....

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Las Penitas, and Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado, Nicaragua

Las Penitas, a sleepy little row of houses on the beach 20 minutes from Leon is a great place to escape for a few days.
Who needs roads anyway

Its next to a great nature reserve where you can kayak, be eaten by Alligators, watch hatching sea turtles, and so on, called 'Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado' You can book all sorts of trips there from the hotels there and in Leon.

Dont come to Nicaragua if you like crowds

The village was destroyed by a tsunami in 1992, which is probably why it consists almost entirely of tin shacks, but its got a great vibe, even though the surfing isn't so great and the sea has a pretty dangerous undertow - (pretty frightening, like your trying to get back in to shore and you aren't actually moving anywhere except further out to sea)

I stayed in 'Barca de Oro' in a dorm for $7 a night. I got eaten alive by ants but thats par for the course i think. It was clean and comfortable, and you can get nice cabinas for $30 too.

There aren't many other options actually. This place has the only decent food in town (unless you want to eat rice and beans in a tin shack) And there isn't much in the way of internet either. The place across the road charges $1 an hour for internet, which of course is ludicrous for the 3rd world, and the 'Oasis' hostel on the beach makes a charge too. Its another option to stay, its got the 'backpacker' vibe,  but everyone seemed to come to Barca de Oro to get drunk, especially on valentines (sorry girls i totally forgot about that) where i ended up getting blind drunk on cheap rum and telling dirty/bigoted jokes with a bunch of guys who's girlfriends had gone home in a bad mood for them getting drunk.
Could read - Vita decided to shut me up by slicing my head off. But actually reads something about getting a Haircut from a fully qualified bartender (who actually gave a good haircut too)

Anyway. Come here if you are in the area and want to chill out for a few days. Buses run every hour from Leon ($0.50) and any taxi will take you to the bus station there for $1.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Identifying Uninspiring Twats no 1 - The Coldplay Test

So…we’ve all been there, you find yourself in a place all alone, but then two or three other ‘travellers’ turn up and order some food. Hmm ok theyre speaking the local lingo – possible twats, that’s for sure, especially if you’re in Tibet or some random country. But not definitive. Ok they ordered the Vegan option. Again – probable sign of twatness. In fact 90% sure. But not always, there could be a legit reason, although I cant think of one.

So how do you know for sure and accurately every time that those brand new people who you may find yourself hanging out with are legit and not totally dickwads who you would want to avoid in every circumstance? You know them, or at least you suspect but want to be sure. The guys with ribbons in their beards. Perhaps called Jules or something even more twattish. Maybe with the silly ‘ethnic’ disk earring, squandering a fast dwindling inheritance because they can’t make it in the real world (although actually many of these guys are quite cool) Or, shock horror, they are on their gap yea...

I have found the solution. Ask yourself this – have you, or do you know any man who admits he likes Coldplay – and is not a twat? I mean a slap yourself on the forehead, what a dick, kind of twat? Well, there you go.

So. Be polite. You don’t want to hurt feelings. Even a twats feelings. Why not drop something like ‘yeah you heard the new Coldplay album?’ subtly into the mix? And wait for the response. Then you will know, for sure, if that person/people are worth spending a moment more of your precious time with.

Ok girls of course. You can like Coldplay. You’re girls, you can do anything and we still won’t take you seriously(WHAAT?)

You can cry, shop, emote, wear suntan oil, Play the ‘im a girl’ card. No problem. We’ll still love you, fools that we are. They are a silly manufactured band, invented for to exploit girls.  Like a boyband for people over 25. But if your boyfriend doesn’t understand that, and wants to join you at the Coldplay gig, I’d start checking what else is on the market if i were you….

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Leon, The city that grows on you like a stray dog

At first I didn't like Leon. Another dull one horse Nicaragua town where all the streets look the same.
A street in Leon, yesterday
But as I stay here longer, I'm finding there's a lot of Leon under the skin to find. The people are warm and friendly, even though most foreigners here are 'do gooders' and probably irk the locals somewhat (yes, of course 20 year old western NGO's know how to run a country much better than locals) there has been nothing but smiles and local prices all round.

Some Courtyards are lovely

Some are grubby

Others are classical

And others just chilled
And, to my pleasure, it turns out that all these ugly looking houses have lovely (or not so lovely but at least with potential) courtyards and gardens. Its a whole other city within a city.
Random nice House

Leon is full of these kind of 'diamonds in the rough'

Crocket shows off his gun, while Johnny Depp, newly homeless after 'The Rum Diaries' looks on in the background

There are dozens of good restaurants, ranging from cheap and cheerful ($5max a dish like Antonios Pizza) or posh but still quite ok price like Meson Real, its about $10 a main course, for an English speaking owner who understands service and well presented grub or El Mediterraneo (if you prefer overpriced food and truly awful service) What there isn't though, is anything in between (or at least that I've seen yet)

The foreigners seem to be here either learning Spanish or on NGO/Peace Corps 'missions' to save the world or at least save the poor Nicaraguans from themselves (Actually this may not be fair as they are mostly decent people, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions if you ask me)

The post apocolyptical filmset which is Leon

This is life for lots of people

Amazingly this church while looking like shit from the outside is beautiful inside. Just like Leon. Or like an ugly woman.
A local farmer shows off his cock on the bus. He's taking it to the Cockfight tonight
 Being a university town (with 6000 students, quite a lot for a 3rd world country) there's alway lots to do. They had Opera in the main plaza last night. And tonight there is a cock-fight. I met a random old farmer (in the pick) on the bus back from the beach (20mins away, lovely...) He was bringing his prize cock to the cockfight tonight. Well i can't go to Nicaragua without going to one so...more later on that!

The main positive thing here though is the people. All these places that look extremely sketchy, are not at all. I went to play Poker on Friday night in probably the most dangerous looking Poker House i've ever seen, but the people were courteous and kind and were truly awful players. There seems to be no greed, no locals trying to stitch up foreigners culture, even the real estate people were decent, which is a sign...
Of course shops have the ubiquitous latino 'armed guard' just in case

As for places to stay...the whole range is here - 5 star El Convento where for $90 you can have the fun of being locked out of the hotel as the guard snoozes the night away and doesn't hear you ring the gate (true story) I stayed in Lazy Bones where a dorm is about $10, a room $20 and with en suite $30. I stayed here, its a kind of hotel/hostel combo, a little quieter than the party scene hostels like Bigfoot, but with pool, wifi, hammocks and a nice relaxed atmosphere and usually running water...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Managua, Nicaragua- The City Without a Centre. First Impressions

Homeless guys live all around what was once a lovely park in the centre. They keep their spare clothes under their 'beds' - the benches you see around

Managua, capital of Nicaragua, has that feeling like I imagine is the case in some of these war torn West African Child Soldier countries. After an enormous earthquake in !972, over 250 city blocks were destroyed, which basically comprised the whole central part of the city.

Ruined Church and Totally Deserted Square. Sometime after World War 3

I don't know what it is though (maybe the abject poverty everywhere) I've travelled a lot and been in some really dodgy places, but it hasn't been often that i've felt that 'danger' vibe during the day in the centre of a city. Anything could happen here when you're the only gringo (apart from a handful of Bible thumping volunteers) in town and a potential source of income for years in a country like Nicaragua. So i've sadly taken to taking taxi's everywhere at night, even 200 yards, and if i have my laptop or camera, or bankcards,  during the daytime too. Except thats not really true. I should have done though. Hopefully my mum stopped reading by now.
You don't really want to be here at night. 

It's the kind of city where every kid in the ghetto parts (where you shouldn't be wandering anyway, even in the day) everyone's whistling and following you. Maybe they're just being friendly but no, its not a place to pull out the old Pentax digital and start snapping away.

So after the earthquake, a series of US inspired civil wars (world peace...madonna...I couldn't help smiling at the irony at the superbowl last night as the warmongers of the world bring newspeak and mass-hypnosis to new levels - read a few Noam Chomsky books like 'what uncle sam really wants', 'world orders, old and new' and one that will make you see the USA! USA! machine really for what it is
Propaganda and Control of the Public Mind and then switch on your TV set ;o)
Why is a mutated Estonian flag flying over a shady bar at Managuas lakeside? the earthquake, there basically wasn't a city centre. And since they had to spend all the money arming themselves to defend the country from the USA funded Contra rebels, the city, to this day has no centre, its just a jumble of random impoverished suburbs and slums, with a bunch of empty space in the middle. And a hell of a lot of private security guards. Like Guatamala. Every business, shop, office, and even some houses, have a little fat guy in uniform and a gun sitting outside them.
Celebrating Toy Soldiers round the world (and tinpot dictatorships)

The 'centre' down by the lakeside consists of a whole bunch of litter strewn empty spaces, stray dogs, and sketchy hustlers. Like some kind of dystopian post apocalyptical ruin, people eke out a living selling pieces of corn and watermelons. and robbing Scottish idiots who walk off the main road. A row of ramshakle huts/bars line the lake and blare out some kind of nasty regathon/mexican combo music, and fat chicas sit around, sometimes serving beer and greasy food that you don't really want to check the ingredients too closely. I was only there in the daytime so far and it was seriously sketchy.
Watermelon Anyone? Lakeside bars/shacks to the left are all thats left in what was once Managuas Downtown

The sad truth is i'll probably go round there for a beer tonight with a mate, to check it out, which I know, I know its asking for trouble but I wont be wearing anything I cant afford to lose. I heard about a guy who got robbed down there recently and they left him naked and penniless except his underpants. I mean  comeon, it's not the end of the world, and you have to check these weird places when you're down here in the third world. And the beer is 2 for a Dollar.

The star system is maybe used more loosely in Nicaragua