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Archive for the ‘Nicaragua’ Category

A gringa gets off the bus and they flock around, yelling, shuffling each other, ¨Taxi, taxi, taxi, bus, bus, hotel, hotel, hotel, they swarm like bees. The shouts are not always the same, the taxi is always there, ready to take you away, at inflated prices, and you wonder by how much, as you negotiate your fare and destination. At other times, it is for a bus, a tour, a hotel, and at sometimes you have not even had the chance to step outside before they start, yelling in through the window as the bus or van pulls in, so ready to help you, ready to take the knapsack off your back and place it into the trunk, or take you by the hand to their place, or the place that gives them the best commission.

And some will help, and some are honest, or at least not bad – charge a dollar rather than 75 cents but others you do not trust, and you are thrown off kilter, no chance to get your bearings, to think clearly and focus on this new ground before you get off. It is true, it is not always like that, but it is all too often, and you begin to dread it. Try to focus as the bus pulls into town, breathe deep, know where it is that you want to ge, try to find out what the fares should be or if you can walk or take a public bus, and look at the map to see where you will land. Still the dread comes in, and you want to hide, envision the chaos, the yelling, bantering etc that surrounds, the noise that messes up your brain, and you want to sit still, imagine a breakdown, of curling up into a ball and screaming go away, and at times i have – i need a moment please and they stand around, and follow you and wait and wait. Still you do not break down, and have not been ripped off too badly, and you make your way – so content when all is calm (and those times when you cannot get a cab when you need one)

The first time it happened was in monteverde, entering into the centre of a tourist town – was not buses there, but the competition among the hotels and there we several of us, so the sellers divided among us. I had not expected it, had not experienced it, taking local buses, or getting off in front of a hostel in a tourist town, or in a place like punteranas where you had to search out the info from the side street you were on. It was more insistent in Liberia, the calls for taxis who meet the buses, knowing that they can get a higher fare from me, it is they who yell while i need to find information about another bus not far away – someone stops, is helpful.

At the border it was insane, calls for buses, but mainly for cambio, cambio, exchange exchange exchange from the currency sellers with wads of bills. The one border on my own was the hardest, did not know where to go but had read up on it, cambio only in nica where they were regulated  – and gave fairer exchange ‘ i knew the rates so i felt safer exchanging a bit. In the towns of granada especially, on the corners near the banks and squares, in leon a bit, the calling for cambio, cambio, cambio  – but the rates are posted so it is o. Coming north at every border when we got off the ticabus it was the same, cambio, cambio i hear it as i type, passed through honduras so did not need any, and el salvador is on us dollar, but coming into guatemala i needed a bit. They call out to all, but surround me – the rates flucuate, the calculations they give do not match the rates they quote, the immigration office has a sign no money changers inside, but they lurk outside the doors and follow you back to the bus  – i change a 10 at a bad rate but i need a little to get me through the city – i know the cab will want dollars but the local bus will want quetzals. They hang onto you and want you to change more, the rates change and you pin them down as they perform fancy maneuvers on the calculators all in hand.

But the taxi, taxi is in many places. It started in Managua, when i got off a bus my first time through, taxi, taxi they yell – no the other bus – arranged it so i do not need to transfer stations, someone is nice and takes me over to where the other bus is. I get through, my head is swarming – i not good at so much noise. I get off before the station in Leon and only one cab is left as i get off last. I walk the streets in granada, leon and it is always taxi, taxi. In Esteli they just ignored you and it was hard to get through the jostle of people competing for a cab pushing you out of the way.

It was my trip back south where it got to me – from leon to ometepe. It was not the usual jostling and noise of the stations, the food vendors yelling out refrescos, snacks etc or the drivers who shout out the destinations of the buses – the chaos that exists in the parking lots of school buses they call terminals. In Managua it was taxi, taxi, taxi and you hear to always take a cab, but also you hear about the robberies that occur in cabs when another person gets in the collectivos and take you away by gunpoint driving around to the atms. I take the way recommended by thebusschedule.com, another minibus to masaya where i will transfer once again, almost overcharged, as i walk towards the van the offers for taxi do not stop, i make my way, some people tell me where to get off to flag the next bus down on the highway – a taxi driver actually points the way to me as i cross the street. In Rivas the taxi, taxi, taxi, a pamphlet for a hotel as they swarm around. i become overwhelmed, delay, finally give in, the taxi to the boat as much as the rest of the trip. Coming back it is the same.

Managua is the worst – i came into on of the markets in the sprawling city – needed to take a cab to tica bus this time – tried to find another who was going my way but alas no – they swarm, the prices start off so high, i say no, they get frustrated, i wear them down to half the price (still double the local fare) but i am stuck and unhinged – it is 3pm and i have been on the road since 630am. I make it there, i trust this one, the licences seem ok, we go, i make it and pay. The second i get out in front of the station a brochure is put into my hand, hotel, hotel – another comes near, no i say, the bus station. I go in, hoping i can get a ticket out the next day – thankfully i can.

The tica bus hotel inside the station is more expensive so i look outside, the guy is there waiting for me – i have the book, a few places within a block seem decent (i need to be at the station at 4am the next day), i agree to look, another joins in, and then another, the first was in my book but smells, i go to another that looks under construction, one guy speaks english – a rarity in Nica – and understands – part of his spiel i know but says how you are surrounded by so many who see you as an atm – recommends one more – i like it – the woman who runs it seems decent as does the one guest i see – though take the second room offered at 10 instead of 8. I settle in, and then head out. they are outside again – do you need to eat. I do, the nice one shows me a place – where i end up eating later in the day but not then as i head off on my own again to offers for taxi, taxi. – he said it was open but i later find out it was closed – two other women from the ticabus station are at that resto with me at night, had been shown in as well, guy gets his commission, it is good.

And at the borders it is the same, but with the calling

But with the chatter, and the loudness that overwhelms you shrink back – hard to get your bearings – just where do you go, and how do you find that peace within with the clutter that is being thrown at you. Some trying to scam you, many others just trying to earn a living, and others are honestly helpful, but when there is that around you, you begin to get wary and pull away and don’t know who to trust – different information thrown at you in a language you find difficult to understand.

I came in here and all was quite – took the chicken bus instead of a shuttle from the airport so i came into the market where few hang around. Only one was there, gave me a map and offered me tours and schools (the big thing here – i have my collection of flyers), but pointed the way and let me go – i think they may have learned not to push. I was so relieved, after Guatemala City where i was swarmed much more than others and i was tired. I know it will happen again, when i exit the container of any bus and step out into the world. May i get the peace inside to deal with the chaos outside.

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Tica Bus

I travelled from Managua to Guatemala City by Tica Bus, the international bus company that runs from Mexico down to Panama. A well-organized bus company, with finer buses, you know, with air conditioning, comfortable seats that recline, movies and bathrooms and curtains for the windows to block out the midday sun should you wish. And it was a comfortable ride, my day and a half on the bus, and am glad i took it – crossed three borders during those days, and while honduras, el salvador and guatemala are all part of the C4, the bus company made it all easier – at times took our passports to the immigration desk for us, at other times, entering or exiting a country, the officials boarded the bus to check our papers, or we drove up to the office and lined up en mass – and it was so much easier than negotiating the complexities and disorganization of these crossings on my own. And cutting through the corner of honduras that seemed harsh, or riding the divided highways of El Salvador where police in black with large guns seemed to pull over many cars, i felt protected. Yet, somehow, i felt more distant from the land that we passed through than the times travelling on the chicken buses, bodies often pressed tight, vendors coming off and on the buses selling food, the windows wide open letting in the air of the places we passed through, and the frequent stops where you catch a glimpse of those getting off and on, and a still look at the places. And the tica bus was so much higher off the ground, and a luxury bus compared to those others we passed by. And while i was on it, i was glad for the comfort, and wondering if i could stand a chicken bus (ie school bus) again – yet, when i got to guatemala city, and passed through by cab, not wanting to take an expensive cab ride to antiqua (and i trusted the cabbie less than i trusted the ¨dangerous bus¨ , but when i got on the latter bus, i felt just as comfortable, though for a while we sat 3 to a seat and had to hold on tight as we turned the corners, and stopped in many places, it felt more real and connected to the land and people around.

And the ticabus was a container – and for me who stared out the window, less so that for those who sat with drapes closed watching the movies on the screens above. And it made me think about containers, even the cars we ride in, which distance ourselves from the world around, creating our own unique environments, separated from that outside. And how we are split off. And once we are there, how hard it is to step outside, for we imagine the discomforts and the dangers and remain where we are in a privileged world. On the bus, the goal is the destination, put up with the journey in as much comfort as possible – and you get where you had planned to go safe and secure.

I write this from Antiqua, another container, one that is comfortable, but where dangers lurk on the hills outside, and you do not venture out there on your own, and i think it is kind of the same thing. Or when we lock ourselves away in our communities or ourselves, in that which is comfortable, standing above, and on the straightest route, and do not see or interact with that which is around. Or i wonder, do we need to do that in order to make it to our destination unchanged.

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There are people of the earth, embedded in the land, as much as part of it as the trees and the plants around, the dust and dirt of the ground, and the animals that wander around – the chickens and pigs and dogs and cows and butterflies that make up the land. They seem a part of it, grown from the land, like corn, or molded from clay or dust, nurtured and formed by it, inseparable – though we have too often split them off as we ourselves are cut off from the earth from which we come – the peasants of the lands, the hunters and gathers from time before, those who are a part of a place and a place a part of them with feet attached, like the roots of trees, integrated with the fauna, no real difference between inside and out, all a continuation, a whole, a village, animals wander in and out, horses for transport and motor bikes, the new coming in, like the tv or the stereo or the single compact florescent lightbulb, homes blend into yards into fields, all united, are part of the whole and the whole a part of the one. Like the bananas that once did not grow here but are everywhere, the corn that was part of them, but is often now pinto gallo the food that is them, along with the coca cola. I stand on the road, on Ometepe, in another world – men with machetes to harvest bananas, a oxcart, ride the horse, the bicycle, load and unload, up to the coffee fields, narrow paths through the bananas, coffee, elsewhere, that lead to simple homes, wash the clothes by the river. The peasantry of here, of europe of asia even once upon a time in america – and what have we lost,. i look on, knowing i am not part of the place, an outsider who passes through and observes. The poor yes, but there is something there – men, women, children, the old wrinkled woman comes through, babes in arms, kids wanders free like the animals – there is something there.

The salt of the earth, the people who are embedded in place. Yes the poor will always be with you, the humble poor, who get by, and live and know their lives intimately, know the land from which they come and where they will go – not an east live, but it flows on, it flows on, nothing in a hurry, nothing seems to rush, work gets done, toil is hard, but is for a reason, the necessities of life, a beingness i sense there, a presence in the place. Moving calmly, know where and when the moon will rise and set, and what the clouds bring in – connected to something more. Poverty a fact of life, how you live, may want for more, but life is life, at the moment life is peace – it has not always been that way.

but then i travel through zones where the land seems more harsh, harder to eke out a simple life, faces harder, something else is there.

And when this life is removed from the land, the growing slums of the cities and towns, or even just the neighborhoods, where life seems different – though try to live the same – the market women with the aprons around the waist, baskets in arms or on the heads, plastic coolers, and plastic lunch pails of tamales or corn, but the more urban you go, the less whole and important and grand these women seem and the workaday clothes of the men seem shabby and the reason for living, the basis of who you are, seems less secure, less rooted in place. I see that going into the towns where it is messy, clothes hung out on lines or draped over bushes to dry no longer seems in place, though it is there. And the market women seem like the shop girls of home, gossip, no longer grand – and with money does the life slip away, more comfortable, but less rooted.

And when they are stripped out of the land, what is left, a decline, a loss and rootlessness for the roots that were firmly planted and nourished life have been yanked out, the root shock, drying, shrivelling, drying, how strong are they, how well can they thrive in the new land, and how much transplanting can go on.

And there are people of the sea, for whom the salt is part of the blood, the tides rising and falling, out to sea, to catch a fish, communities build by the water.

And i have not been rooted, and so many of my ilk are not- i take it to the extreme, wandering the lands, not connected to a place, but yearning inside for that place i belong.
In the north it seems so many have been stripped away for so long, no longer know what is there, don´t know the rhythms of the earth, sky, water and air, though many yearn for it, the camping, hunting, trips to the countryside or nature resorts, and i wonder what we have done – how much is really an advance. I think of the decline of farms in North America over the last generation, of fishing towns, even of places where people lived by stripping away trees, of the natives i met in alaska, the way of life no longer there, and i sense a collective loss a loss of knowing who we are – but we were all connected for there have always been those who have been removed through wealth, and life, the elites of the land, protected from the dailyness, and i know that those of us who have never been there cannot go back, for there is no back.

And walking around the island, and riding the dilapidated buses, i had some hard looks – as well as friendly hellos, and i wonder if it is resentment over the wealth i represent or if i am seen as a threat to the lives they lead – for land is being bought up and north american values and things enter in. And there there is helpfulness, room for more on a bus, sharing, and family. And how can you bring in the best of the new while keeping the best of what was there – adopting only what you wish – yes, cell phones, internet in the towns, lights for night, trucks and more without losing the soul.

I am now in a city, but i know as i travel this new land, i will encounter this question more, out into the villages, many which were wiped out and the maya here put into ¨model villages¨in an attempt to strip them of their ways in the 80s. I wonder what i will encounter.

For people of the world, lived as the salt of the earth for how many thousands (millions) of years, and being in these ¨third world¨ places i also wonder to what extent we may have lost our way.

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leon city

the key is to build up what you have
to create today
through it may not last through tomorrow
keep the core alive
a center
where it is defined
churches spread out around the city
18 of them,
at least one in ruins
still viable and used

take care of what is yours to use
do not take it for granted
a few changes of clothes
that fit the body
but freshly washed and pressed
a stoop is swept
and floor are washed
hair is brushed, pulled back or simply cut

Though the market is a lively place
yes, much stuff bought and sold
but a center of life
and the bus station
out on the edge of town
a chaotic place, but alive
calls to buses
taxis pull in and out
the yellow bluebird school buses crowd the gravel parking lot
stacking the goods on top
bags of oranges, packages, 2 overstuffed chairs
luggage tries to fit inside
ticket sellers and drivers abound
and those who sell snacks for the ride
flavoured water out of plastic bags
and the sweet fatty snacks
and the soft drinks of course
board the buses to sell
the battered buses
with numbers painted on the seats
5 across, a school bus fits 84 (+)
there is room for more
maybe not a seat
babe in arm
but there is room.

At the market,
on the streets
people walk on,
stop to talk or watch,
a historic centre and around
but one that lives
not a museum, but viable
recreated in every moment
hotdogs sold in the square and on the corner
outside the churches
people lounge outside

in the day
pedestrians crowd the shady side of the street
make room on the narrow sidewalks
taxis, the covered trucks that take people to pueblos, a few buses
few private cars
for this is poor here

i stand outside
is not my place to join
i and the other tourists pass through
a few here to work,
but if they stay elsewhere in the country most likely
but do not dominate
the land or the centre is not created for us,
yes, a few of the cafes, nicer restos
hostels and cheaper hotels
a few tour operators, many who give back to the land somehow

but generally us outsiders are ignored
something that is here
accepted but nothing more
part of the life of the land
as is the heat of the day
and the history of the place
we might stay or go
nothing is known
many changes have been seen
have the feeling that what is is
not a passive acceptance in this land
the revolution started here in 79
an engaged population
but does not seem to cling to the past
lives the day,
so many changes here
the city the place of the historic liberal elite
granada was the conservative elite,
and now the capital in managua
the sprawling centerless city
that all try to avoid
though most buses go there
the city that had its heart ripped out in 72
and where it was not rebuilt
a sprawl to negotiate
and try to get through safely
but here there is a centre
small from above
and the city goes on
paved roads turn to brick, cobblestone and dirt
homes become poor
kids play ball in the cemetary
a few shanties on the outskirt
but people seem decent
not take from one another
create a life
a city, yes poor,
but one that in many ways seems so rich.

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Christmas Eve in Leon

Christmas in Leon is a huge lively gathering – at least christmas eve. The central square and surrounding streets are full of people – families, friends gathering in their sunday best (people dress well here – may be a few changes of cheap clothes but always pressed and cleaned, and men tend to have shirts with collars) gathering in the square, in and out of churches, celebrating, buying food from the vendors on the street, hotdogs, icecream bars, soft drinks, some meat, and the christmas apples and red grapes which they seem not to eat on the street. it is 1030pm and people wander both too and from the squares, others sit on stoops or inside watching and talking, enjoying the night.
Went to one mass, or for the last part of it, here people wander in and out of churches, cut through the cathedral as a short cut, kids walk up and down the aisles – one i attended – smaller but my favorite of those in the center of town, a longer mass – cannot understand the words, but with singing, i in the doorway with many others. At the end the large mannequins on stilts enter and dance, drums going, a celebration, as fireworks and firecrackers go off outside. They just came by this street, performing as they go – a disco party with strobe lights in what has become the museum of revolution on the main square – market and vendors outside the cathedral still busy selling toys at 9pm, and in the main square, jewelry and temporary tattoos as well as food. I believe that all go home to eat at midnight, and then the fireworks or crackers go off en masse. The police unblocked one block to vehicles as i walked back here – the town is alive, an energetic air – i like it here. At midnight, the sounds of firecrackers in the street. The party should go on all night – and then tomorrow they sleep – i think.

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I leave Leon today – feel that i must write an entry – but i do not feel – my mind chatters on endlessly, how to be calm for i am caught in frenetic motion again, how to have a slow steady motion, calm inside, not so intense. Maybe i do need a beach, but i can´t stand the heat. the tourist card thing eats at me, why did i only check the stamp, what is it on my passport that makes them hesitate – the 30 days flows me into motion, and this motion is hard, i tire of travel, but in this beautiful but hot city i do not know what to do, i go on, it is not a place to relax. i feel out of kilter, play tourist and do not commit to anything and it is that lack of commitment that has gotten my in trouble, but then when i want to feel that i am not wanted, or the situation i am unable to – where is the balance.

Yesterday, i felt calmer for a while. walked and sat in some of the grand churches, wrote a bit which will hopefully end up in the other blog, and maybe for this blog that will turn to be what it should be – but in order for that to happen i need to get clear and be able to see. I sat in the cathedra, high curved ceiling of white, i stopped for a coffee, and then i went to the art gallery – Ortiz Gurdián Foundation – which made me smile. It was primarily the works by the latin american artists that grabbed me – those that captured the human element, vibrant colours, abstract with the universal designs, influenced by petroglyphs and by the Europeans – the designs of our imagination – klee, miro, picasso etc. shit i cant write. but to take the time to create – how we think of these s nations as all poverty and glorify the peasants, but it is usually the upper classes, not the conservative elites, who create the art, who have the time to. even the revolution, the leaders and ideas come from there.

Leon feels better to me, a traditionally liberal city, one which had a more real feel – i wander many of the 18 churches each with their squares.

I take a tour in the afternoon.

I continue this message – am back in Leon after a day in Esteli and i am glad to return – in a new hostel – this city feels better – more open, dynamic and honest – Esteli had a harder vibe, was hoping to like it, but did the retreat. Maybe need to be more on the gringo trail, around a few other travellers – had heard about esteli, the harder faces and it is true – is in the mountains a bit cooler but something is lacking.

I am back – yet the party crowd from Monteverde follows me to what was supposed to be a tranquillo hostel – lord, i want peace and understanding, i want love and belonging, i want calmness inside. Why lord, why?

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Why here?

Well i made it to Leon today, another colonial city but with a mellower, realer feel. I took the microbus and passed through the sprawl of Managua – it took just over 3 hours and cost $4 including the cab from the station into town here. It is a more weathered town that Granda, even more interesting buildings but not as maintained. It felt nice in the afternoon, a surprise rain today which kept all cool, exploring the central square, the museum of the revolution – not much of a museum just tattered photos and newsprints stuck on the wall of a building that was once a presidents home, and now sits empty, and worn, in need of expensive restoration and repair -but climbed out on the roof with my ¨guide¨ who knew little but seemed to want to relive his glory days back when, and had a magnificient view of the city and the volcanoes off to the distance.

I still wonder if i should have gone back south to the Isla de Ometepe – that island of twin volcanoes – one still active – that sits in the middle of lake nicaragua – about at 15 km boat ride from short – it would have been more peaceful a slower pace of life which is what i think i may need, but something about volcanoes in the middle of a choppy lake made me wary. It is a large island, population about 35000, with several hostels, fincas, and other places to stay, and recently a paved road between the 2 towns, all else is gravel and it is also an island of many petrogliphs and an energy about it, but as i looked over the lake on the ride up, and as i thought about my long ride and ferry trip to Montuzuma which was a disappointment i decided not to. but if as i said i wanted to write about the energy of places, should not i have gone there, see what it feels like, even if it is uncomfortable – people say it is wonderful.

And maybe it is because i do not really feel the energy anywhere – (or do i) what i feel is my own sadness and lonliness and yearning for a home – a home where i belong and am accepted for who i am, wanted and loved – and i feel like going north again though i have no place to go, and i have been up and down that coast too many times. And that yearning claims me, and influences all that i see, and all that i fail to see by not being present, alive and appreciative in the moment. I feel that i have drifted from what my path is meant to be, that i have thrown too much away, and that sadness claims me again as i return to the wandering mode. I feel that i have fallen away from god and the spirit – i look at all the wonderful cathedrals and chuches in this town, and wander in, but they do not claim me – are less ornate inside than out, high ceilinged and pale – often white, inside. It is almost christmas, but i do not attend mass, i stand outside and look in and walk on. Here, i feel that i have wandered far away from the spirit inside. I do not light the candles and write in my other blog, the one that over time, began to feel more real, feel like my call.

I feel alone here, as i have on my other travels, but is something that i have not wanted to admit. I feel somewhat like i did in Mexico almost three years ago – off kilter and out of place for when i am out of gringa land i stand out and while much is wonderful i know this is not my home, it is a place to pass through, and i ask why am i doing so?

A few answers have come to mind.

The first has to do with fear and the entry i wrote yesterday – here is central america i have been much more fearful of place than i have at home – i felt that may happen but came anyways, wondering how i would react – in buffalo before i left i felt caged with the different areas where you do not go when you go into town. And here it is greater. But i cage myself in so many ways, with the fear, in my life have felt like an animal pacing a cage. And with travel, that is what i am often doing, pacing up and down, nothing more – and i have travelled as a way of avoiding the real fears, the panic and utter anxiety that sets in when it comes time to stop, fear of being unwanted, cast out, alone, a fear that overcomes me and takes me over, and takes me over, and it is a fear that i have been unable to pass through alone and have not had anyone to hold me hand. And when i have tried i have failed misreable, like at the school in Orosi – cast out once again, so i move and i move and i am tired, i am in a city, like in other poor places, there is nowhere i really belong in the country except at the beach, and that is too hot. I am lost, and i wander. And in avoiding one fear, i learn to pass through others.

And what was the purpose of this, to be with god? But i am so far away now- I wonder – or was it like my return to Buffalo, where i had felt that i was not allowed to go for so long, just the feeling of the need to do what was disallowed. A journey to my past ideals. A journey that never was – and was meant to be different. Coming into this town, the liberal town that has been at the forfront of sandinista power, the tour of the museum of revoluntion, the ideals of where i must go, is all part of my past, a forbidden journey of long ago, one that i wanted to make with a purpose but did not. but now i no longer have that purpose, do not volunteer or save the world, and being here i realize how little i knew with that for i was grasping at straws then and it was not my path at the time.

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I have walked around the centre of Granada too many times, circling the central squares, walking the restored streets in the centre of town so many times that i should know them by heart by now. Finally had the guts to walk down to the lake, had been wanting to for several days, but i felt afraid to venture beyond the zone, the zone that is marked in darker green on the tourist map. Still, i have not really felt the energy here, have not really looked, too consumed by the voice in my head that says “what the fuck have you done now – just what have you gotten yourself into this time girl.?” wondering just what i am doing here, why i have come to this land.

What is it that i hope to see? What is it that i have to prove? I pace the streets, the same ones over and over, feeling like a street walker of sorts – see a few others who do the same.

Maybe it is because i have not really met anyone since i arrived despite moving between hostels – the first one empty, talked to a couple, her mainly as he was sick for a day and a young german girl who i could tell felt as caged as i but i was exhausted that first night and just wanted to sleep. It was recommended by the woman who i met on the bus, attached to a non-profit centre which felt good. Yet it was the people who used the centre who took up the common couches in a group and i felt like hiding in my private room – a guys bonding and tv watching and i felt lonely. I walked around, not in the present, wondering where to move to and checked out the other places – most seemed just as bare except 3 – one a party place, the other a pothead place, and the one where i am now – a much younger crowd and i do not seem to bond with any – more in groups sticking to themselves – and many who are on the way to the beach and spend intense late nights at the bars – so that may influence how i feel here.

But i also feel like Granada is a large tourist city – an old montreal, a quebec city where you do not venture beyond the walls. Is it because i have entered a poorer country and notice the difference, the street dogs are skinny not like in Costa Rica, and when i do see the side streets and look inside the homes i see it, as i did when we crossed the border and the simple country homes of costa rica (which looked poorer as we approached the border) became shacks. Is it just a city vibe descending upon me? Is it a new culture shock? Or is it travel without a purpose? My plans messed up by the time on my tourist card 30 vs the 90 in my passport so it is hard to commit. I spend time sitting in cafes, in front of the computer, yes, maybe this is gift i had been given since i said i wanted the time and focus to write and it has been forced upon me. Or is this a realization of what i have felt before, travelling, observing, standing on the outside. That the difference between those who visit and those who reside is so great – and i am on the other side.

I visit the churches – magnificent outside, but so plain within – high ceilings but devoid of much decoration. I climb the tower in one and look out over the city, much greener than it appears from the street, as all the trees are in the courtyards to the homes. The centre area is nicely restored, smoother sidewalks, fresh bright paint of blue, orange, yellow etc. on the buildings you walk beyond, sidewalks crack and paint fades. It does not seem dangerous like a big city, few policemen or armed guards, just outside the banks where they sit bored, watching the money changers who patrol the corners outside.

It is dusk, i hear the birds sing outside in the park, gathering in the trees.

I was not the only one who feared the walk to the lake – just a few blocks beyond where the dark green zone and the pedestrian area of Calle la Calzada ends. I went today, a Sunday, and a few families walked down the emptier boulevard. I had walked some side streets on my way there – past homes, a few horses grazing on an empty lot, kids playing ball in a street. There is little down there at the lake, polluted is seems. A few from the hostel were wondering about going down and had been told to be careful so it was not only me.

My new hostel is on the edge of the market area which goes on for blocks – narrower streets with vendors selling shoes, lotto tickets (everywhere) food, bras, DVDs with tvs set up on the street which at night a few sit on chairs and watch, taxis (not the uniform red of Costa rica) but a variety of cars, many beaters, most older, some independent, others granada taxis, and a few buses mainly longer distance, and the bicycles other with more than 1 person, and the mini bikes and motor cycles, a few horses with carts (the nice horse-drawn buggies do not include the busy market on their route), and the people, buying, selling, bread comes out at night, a few men carrying large bags on their heads, and a few women baskets, all walk on the shady side of the street (it is hot here and the sun is strong) and the sidewalk is full of vendors, so it is a mix of pedestrians and vehicles. The market building itself is dark inside and a bit of a maze – i enter breifly – in the front section many bras, tshirts and shoes, yes more shoes.

I venture beyond to the bus area to Rivas where i might go, a block beyond the market down a narrow side street. All are helpful, i look at the unpaved lot with old yellow school buses, a crowded one pulls out, and i wonder about the romance of bus travel in this area. The expresos that go to Managua and then with a transfer to Leon, while cramped mini-buses with open doors to let in some air, do not seem so bad.

I shut myself down and hide inside quiet a bit. Most are friendly, the vendors are not agressive, a few beggars, and a few kids that seem to be trouble, wanting food from the table at restos, but seeming strung out.

So many kids, in arms and all. the sidewalks and streets vary from packed to empty with little in between.

Still i wonder why i am here? That as a poor gringa i am a rich nica and can enjoy the cafes and places to stay that i could not at home? What do i want to do here – write but about what if i shut myself down and do not reach out? I feel caged – makes me appreciate the freedoms of home.

I do not know what to do with myself? Volunteer – but where – i want internet connection so not an isolated farm. my time here is shorter than i imagined – need to cross north or south and that has been eating at me. but with that, have wasted at least a day, which has become valuable, mulling over it. I am not as in love with Granada as i had imagined. Yes, the colonial centre has been restored, but i had been expecting something more, had rushed up here, had built it up in my mind perhaps too much so.

I have taken few pictures here – do not feel as comfortable pulling out the camera. Do i head north up to Leon another colonial town or down to isla ometepe? Only tomorrow will tell. Or is this just culture shock?

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I started this entry a week and a half ago. I have changed countries and the unease continues – i limit myself, stick to the centre and the tourist places, limit myself and my journeys. I stick out, solo gringa, for all  to see – and while i am a poor gringa i am a rich nica, and i see eyes of resentment upon me. I fear, and that limits me and consumes me, i create a shell around myself, a small world, and am hesitant in all. This is what i wrote in Costa Rica and i have experienced it since, in a sleepless night in Montuzuma, in walking a few empty streets in Liberia with all my stuff, and here in Granada, as i leave the tourist zone and i dont like feeling this way – for i limit my boundaries, and do not reach out. Try to plan a trip so i do not need to cross Managua at all, for all one hears about is crime, and maybe even taxis are not to be trusted. People are friendly, and it is not healthy to approach others with distrust, it eats away at the soul. I do not venture out, sit in courtyards, in restos in the interior safe spaces. There was a brief break from this feeling in the national parks in costa rica, especially in Monteverde, where i got over this fear when on the trails alone, and could commune with something larger. And i long for the places where i used to camp alone, walk down the two lane highway, beaches, or trails by myself, and explore the corners of the towns. The places where i would feel sure and confident – even though that would be an illusion and others would sometimes ask are you not afraid. And the answer was generally, not really, maybe a bit but it feels fine. Here i fear, and how much is real and how much is me – like in Alaska where i did not hike much because of my fear of the bears, and looked behind my back.

When fear increased in the US after 911 i used to poo-poo it, and much of that fear that was put forth was a scare tactic – and how much of what i hear here is, and how much is real caution. But what is real is the way it eats at you, and changes you. It is not a definite fear, it gnaws at you slowly not one large bite, away of your surroundings. If nothing else i understand this feeling that others have had, i feel it. But i do not know how to move beyond it. And yes, i have this feeling in other areas of my life – the anxiety about belonging, trying new things, being accepted, and maybe some of that that i had slowly moved beyond, i thought, has come back in another way, to remind me. Yes, i have moved beyond my comfort zone – can i make this it, or do i run back to the zone that is familiar and comfortable. will it ever be here?

Well here is the entry that i wrote

I tossed and turned last night, unable to sleep, thinking about this place and moving on – about travel and safety. About safety and security and fear. And here i feel unsure, i watch myself, my belongings, i do not walk after dark. I have felt this fear in myself and in others and i do not like it. Where i am now is safe, or safer, a tourist enclave, but still signs everywhere not to leave your belongings unattended.
Yesterday i met a guy who had been mugged his third day in quepos, the owner of the hostel where i stayed in san jose – a native tican (though blatantly gay) had been mugged the night before i got there – and the muggings were not just give me your money – but violent – the first had 7 stitches in his foot, and the latter had bruised ribs. Both were alone at night coming home from bars but still. I miss the safety of my native lands, of being free to come and go as i please, to poo-poo the fear that others have, to camp alone and walk alone and hike alone.
And here the road to the beach twists and turns, narrow with no shoulder, and is unsafe to walk, not out of human danger during the day, but with cars, i walked on monday when the park was closed and the traffic light, but it is crazy. Not like the roads in orosi, also narrow, but with less traffic and mainly local and accustomed to locals walking on the side of the road.
And here places are not barred and gated. Yet it seems like a bit of an illusion. Maybe it was my first arrival in the country coming into Alujeala after 10pm, when all was shut, metal sliding grates like in New york cover all the shops, bars on windows and compounds. It was quiet, too quiet.
And there is talk of crime everywhere – some of it country vs city folk, in orosi and environs, actually everywhere, talk of crime in the capital, the tican on the bus warning about crime in Jaco – the drugs, prostitutes, and gangs, the beach in quepos apparently filled with crackheads – much like in america, but so often i have felt safe, now i feel the unease.
And costa rica has been a safe country, not the history of wars in places that surround, and maybe that is what it is, building compounds and walls, abolished the army in 48, no wars. the water is safe to drink.
but this fear, is this what it is like so many places, i move beyond it, it is random. but i have rarely felt it before.
and is that why people grasp for safety.

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I crossed the border yesterday, traveling from Costa Rica to Nicaragua at penas blancas by public bus. I wanted to beat the holiday rush, but did not quite make it, the international buses were sold out with Nicas returning home for the holidays in droves, so many working in their neighbour to the south. Yet the crossing was both simpler and more chaotic than i imagined.

I made it though the confusion – sort of, and now i am wondering what the rush was and why i am here. There is something about a border, a line drawn between two nations that is symbolic as well as real. It is about a crossing over a line, a zone, a movement along, and within yourself – a breaking down of the borders within us. Something that holds us back and urges us to go forward, something that makes us wonder what is on the other side.

And the border here is not like those i have encountered in North America – well organised and official – not like central american bus terminals it is chaotic and confusing. Thankfully in the first line i met two other women who had been traveling alone (they met each other on a 430 am bus) and we went through together.

I had gone from Puntarenas to Liberia by bus the previous day to ensure that i would have an early start. Checked out the departures the day before from Liberia – about 1 1/2 hours to the south, and am glad i did, as they did not depart from the terminal listed in the guidebook – but then again very little in Liberia was where it was in the book. It was an open terminal, the one where i arrived, out on the edge of town (a five minute walk but worlds away with emptier streets near the pan-american highway), and i the only gringo there. I was first walked the block and a half to the other station where the guide book said the international buses departed to see if on the off chance i could procure a ticket – the window was closed and the station was empty except for three americans onthe way to the beach and some shipping workers. A man told to go to the hotel guanacaste (where i had thought of staying) 2 blocks away – went – no tickets and the woman was busy, so i went to another hotel and then back to the first station without my backpack. I asked (or tried to) the driver on the penas blancas bus that was in the station what the schedule was and if you needed to buy tickets in advance. Thankfully, the guy with the bullhorn calling passengers forth to the different buses, spoke english and gave me the info – no you pay the driver, and hourly beginning at 5am. I decided to aim for the 7am the next day.

The city was nearly empty in the morning – so i took a cab to the station – at 1.50 it was nearly as expensive as the bus for the 1.5 hour, 43km ride to the border. I grab a coffee and a bakery goodie and a big bottle of water for the trip. I am the only gringo in the station, the bus seems full of Nicas who are going home. I have a window seat, and nobody wants to sit beside me – it is the last seat taken on the bus which has several standing. The guy with the bullhorn gets on and announces a change in schedule for the holidays beginning the next morning. Off we go, making frequent stops on the road. In Santa Cruz- the closest town to the border, 2 blond girls with backpacks get on, but i do not speak to them as they head to the back of the bus – but at least i am not alone.

We drive for a bit, and the land gets a bit lusher, and then it comes, a line of trucks parked on the one side of the two lane road (yes, the is the panamerican highway) waiting to cross the border. We drive past the trucks on the other side of the road, sharing a single lane with cars and trucks coming in the other direction – it is tight – but it works for a while. After a kilometer or 2 there is a snag, we need to merge into the endless line of trucks. The guy with the big red cab behind us, does not want to let the bus in, had a loudspeaker and makes comments. We sit and sit, people get up to look out the window to see what it is all about, a truck up ahead coming the other way cant get through, is it stalled- after what seems like ages it finally squeezes by us, with several vehicles on its trail, we move on – a few vendors go up and down with carts selling food and drink, and the truck drivers stand outside chatting. In the 3 or 4 kilometers to the border we pull into the line of trucks 2 more times. Finally the bus stops and we get out. It is a dirt parking lot, and a see a simple locket hut with a bathroom sign. Step off the crowded bus, grab my bag from underneath, and then the money changers arrive and those who want to sell you the forms that are free. No,no,no – it is choas, i see a line of people, more buses pull in behind us, and i run tothe line to get the exit stamp from costa rica.

There are 2 gringa women ahead of me – we begin to chat – and go through the process together. They had met at 430 am at a bus stop, and had just got off the bus that pulled in behind me. We join the crush, one man is there directing it, it moves ok, 20 people allowed in the building at once – money changers keep coming up to us – heard that it ws better on the nica side of the border which it was – finally we get let in – put your packs outside the 2nd door, we hesitate – all we have been told about not leaving baggage unattended and not an official telling us we must – are 2 lines, one for entry stamps and one for exit stamps, all in the same room. We get stamped and wonder where to go.

It is about a 5-10 minute walk down a dirt road with cars parked on the side until we get to the nica side – just keep walking on, a few officials, and some guys with carts helping a few with their luggage. A few sodas by the side. A metal fence, a narrower walk, show our passports with the exit stamp, and then look around – no building in sight – only trucks – someone points across the parking lot, we cut through the parked trucks and then i spot a bigger building with buses parked nearby. That must be it.

More money changers though were are in nica now. And people trying to sell us the forms and offer a pen. I see a sign that says buses and passengers (in spanish) so we go around. Offers for cabs and buses abound, talk, talk, talk at you. The german women who has the best spanish gets us the forms. A woman is at the window sorting through a pile of documents – she has been there for a while. Another around the side opens up, the official waves us over – there is no one directing the people traffic. In fact you could easily bypass this building all together – and with the short cue i am sure that some have.

I go over first – it takes a few minutes – i ask for 90 days. I wait, he pauses on the computer, stamps my passport, takes my 7 USD and gives me two forms. I check the stamp in my passport, it says 90. it is only once i get to granada that i realize the tourist card is for 30 only – need to re figure my plans. The other two women finish, one wants to take one of the NICA international buses that now has room – she is going all the way to Managua, i to granada and the other women only to Rivas. I desperately need to pee – i go looking for a bathroom – find the nica tourist office and how to get to granada by public bus – over behind the blue wall they say. I go back to say goodbye – to you want to get on it is ready to leave – this bus takes the passport number, and i pay 10 rather than the 2, but it is spacious and air conditioned (and not a school bus) and direct. I make it to Granada before 1pm.

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