Market comedor (diner) prices then and now. These are very price sensitive, competitive places that are not catering to tourists (though they attract plenty). Cordoba prices have risen roughly 20% since 2010 when the first picture was taken, but the Cordoba has also devalued by almost exactly that much, so the prices now, valued in US$, are basically the same (around US$1.57/breakfast of eggs, gallo pinto and some trimmings and US$2.35/lunch of chicken in garlic sauce, rice, beans, slaw and some trimmings, for example). This alignment is no coincidence; the Cordoba is on a consistent, scheduled devaluation against the dollar. During our stay in late 2010 we were exchanging at 21.6 Cords/US$1. Now I get 25.5. This number climbs every week or so, but for math purposes I stick with one number for my records over a given visit.
Price of beer in a bar: I was in an ‘expat’ bar the other night with the gaul to charge US$1.57/bottle. Them’s beach prices and I was not on the beach.
Song currently stuck in my head: Water Fountain (Tune-yards)
San Juan Del Sur has been observing an on-again/off-again festival for the last 3 weeks to celebrate St. John’s Day, the local patron saint. The Girlfriend was educated in Catholic environs but I don’t pretend to know if this is a local thing or a wider Catholic thing. I could probably look it up, but to me researching religion is like majoring in astrology so it’s not atop my admittedly meager to-do list. The Nicas seem convinced that Old Johnny Boy is catching a celestial nap and it’s their duty to wake him, because above all else they honor him with noise. I’ve seen this style of observance before, it’s really the norm in the region and perhaps in Catholic conquered lands beyond. Here’s what you can expect:
Parades: Some are grand, some could be mistaken for a small pub crawl. There will be a vehicle in front with either 1) a gas generator powering a stereo system of some kind or 2) some type of religious graven image. Sometimes it’s #2, but there’s no truck and the icons are carried on foot. An uncoordinated crowd of people will shuffle behind. They’ll either be jubilant or reverent. There may also be…
Marching Bands: Not always marching, often just riding in the back of a pickup truck, they canvas the town at pre-dawn hours (here that means 4am or so) blaring horns and beating bass drums. It really is like an outtake from a slapstick cartoon where someone has a headache or is making a souffle and a marching band takes the scene for no apparent reason. This usually happens in the absence of ancillary activity. It’s just a marching band driving around with the goal of… uh… early morning Catholicizing? They only know one tune, but it’s absolutely soothing compared to…
The bombs: They light off explosives, because apparently God’s into that kind of thing. They boom loud, shaking everything for blocks and setting off car alarms, which add to the festive spirit. In The US this would have to be done on an expansive property, far away from private homes and businesses, because no one allows this kind of noise. I’m pretty sure my hearing is damaged from being in my home within 2 blocks of ground zero, where the loudest bombs concuss the structure and shock my spine. I lived in earplugs off and on for three weeks. Earbuds with music playing did nothing. Again, while there is no discernible pattern, this often happens early in the morning. I can’t imagine who *wants* this. And the thing is, they have actual, functioning church bells, which seem like they would be so much more appropriate for creating a reverent yet celebratory sound.
The street parties: Bands (sometimes quite good) and DJs (seldom any good) provide a musical backdrop for greased pole contests, beauty pageants and other events familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a 4H fair, though I don’t think they’re selling livestock. Vendors roam the crowd selling a wide array of things that light up and otherwise amuse children, grills are fired up and plates of tipica are on offer. It’s not a bad time, but without good company you habituate to it quickly.
This all built to a climax on Tuesday (Jun 24th, these post on a delay) with a great band (I mistook them for Mexican, mostly based on their sponsor and their shoes), but Rumor says they’re a big deal Nica band. They gave the crowd several great sets over the course of the afternoon and evening, but when they weren’t on stage the quality of music cratered. Popular music in this region is *awful* and has been as long as I’ve been traveling. Now understand, in 1980’s Nicaragua, the Contras (who The US Government backed) used to take over a town, herd everyone into the square and publicly execute the few people with local influence and power (priests, mayors, etc) and I’ve seen a room full of guys who were there pass around a backpacker’s acoustic guitar and sing softly in unison about it. It will crush you. Some of the most moving and entrancing musical experiences of my life have Latin music to thank. Cuban music transubstantiates into it’s own dance partner. The Argentine’s might be the only culture still turning out dependably good rock (last I knew). But the stuff that reaches a critical mass down here makes Pitbull seem listenable.
As the browning of America takes hold in earnest, expect our food to get better and our music to get way, way worse.
Current Location: Second Floor Patio, Iguana Bar/Restaurant, San Juan Beach, San Juan Del Sur, Pacific Coast of Nicaragua
Price of a beer in a bar: I’m in a beach front tourist bar that’s advertising $1 beers, which probably means closer to US$1.20 or so because 1) the exchange rate they use is probably tuned to their advantage and 2) the posted price doesn’t include a tourism tax that is, I think, 15%. Pay in greenbacks if you can, especially if you order a lot of them. I’m drinking a US$0.40 cup of coffee, but they should start a 9am happy hour.
Song currently stuck in my head: Yellow Bird (Chris Isaak)
I’m sitting in (Henry’s) Iguana, on the upper patio section, of course. If you arrive early, while the sun’s still entering the water at low angles, you can mistake the beach for Caribbean. I’m enjoying a consistent breeze while I watch the wobble of boats mored in the harbor, the waves crashing the rocks on the outer edge of the bay and the bar tender occasionally crack his newspaper back into shape.
God I love it. But let me tell you how I got here.
In my last report I was killing time in Leon, waiting for my afternoon shuttle. Travel around here always has even odds of being terrible and there’s very little you can do about it. You can throw money at the problem, but that makes the lows so much lower. When I travel on the cheap my expectations are generally too low for anyone to fall short of them, but when I pay extra I can actually get disappointed. This time I paid extra and got disappointed. I booked my shuttle from a small office a few doors down from Via Via; it might have been called Nica Time. I waited out the final hour until my scheduled departure in their office/storefront and I realized the place was owned by the infamous Bigfoot Hostel. I try to avoid doing business with Bigfoot as they have a pretty rough reputation for enforcing a strict “No Nicaraguans” policy in their bar/restaurant which has earned them no small amount of derision from Nicas and local volunteers. But they already had my money and my dislike is based on rumor and online reviews (no first hand experience), so I carried on with the plan. Plus this is the only direct bus to SJDS from Leon (and vice versa), as far as I can tell, and that’s pretty persuasive talk to me.
Some Gringa who seemed to be in charge let me know that my departure would be delayed by about 30 minutes due to mechanical trouble with a connecting bus and I was more impressed than disappointed. This is not the kind of thing you usually get advance notice of around here. My bus ended up leaving a little over an hour and a half late, but not because of the connecting vehicle. I’m still not really sure why we left an hour late, but we were all there by 3:30 so it wasn’t because we were waiting on people to arrive. I learned along the ride that some enterprising girls got together a group of 11 and booked this bus for this run. They were given the impression that is was, more or less, a charter bus ride and would leave when they wanted, stop where they wanted and generally cater to their whims; that it was their bus. I still have no idea who actually owns/operates the bus (people bought tickets from several outlets, the bus its self bore no insignia), but the operators decided to sell off the extra seats without mentioning any of this. Fair enough, I’d have still bought in, though some notice would have been nice.
It turns out one of the people they sold an extra seat to wasn’t going to SJDS, she was going to Granada… and now so are the rest of us.
So that adds some time. Plus leaving 90 minutes late puts us in Managua during rush hour, and that also adds some time. I hear a lot of conflicting reports about how long that trip should take, but 4 hours (or something) seems to be the consensus. It took us 7.5. There was some traffic, but the vast majority of that time was just senseless “not bothering to keep moving while complaining about how long this is taking.” We were originally scheduled for 3, ready around 3:30 and left just before 4:30. We stopped for food *twice* on what was supposed to be a 4 hour trip, the first time before even leaving Leon, when we sat in a gas station parking lot for 25 minutes while some girls stood around outside eating hotdogs. I have no idea why we weren’t moving. This scene repeated its self twice, the most frustrating being near the end of the night, about 30 minutes outside of SJDS, when we spent well over a half hour watching fellow passengers eat ramen noodles in another gas station. I don’t know if waiting 30 minutes was just too tall of an order or if they just really enjoy Nicaraguan gas station food. On all of these occasions we lingered until everyone climbed onto the bus; the customary “We leave in 15 minutes” situation (normally managed by the driver) was not observed because this was, in some sense, a charter. So people just stood around outside going “I guess we’re not ready yet” while people sat in the bus going “why aren’t they ready yet.”
I’m pretty sure the driver got lost in Managua. I know he got lost in Granada, where everyone else vacated the bus even though we were only discharging one passenger, this was the first replay of the gas station scenario and one girl insisted that she should go full on GROCERY SHOPPING a few blocks away while we waited. The driver seemed to be lost in SJDS as well, but at that point I spoke up and requested he stop and let me out. We’d made a circle in town and were now heading away from my destination; I wasn’t going down with that ship. The bus stopped and I did that thing that friends from the military mention where they immediately take stock of how they’d exit a room. I’m not sure why, I have no military training nor did I feel threatened, but I was so close and I didn’t want anything new to impede me. The girl to my right was more than happy to clear the way, but the guy by the door hesitated in a way that surprised me for an instant and then concerned me greatly. As I feared, he started dithering and arguing with me. He didn’t want me to get off of the bus. I’d barely spoke at all on this trip and never to this guy, so there was no existing issue between us. I had done nothing to cultivate an air of tension on this trip, though plenty of people had been vocal about their dissatisfaction. But there’s this weird thing that happens with groups of people when no one takes the lead; they become personally attached to the indecision and when someone begins taking action, even action without wider repercussions, it disrupts the established (lack of) order and they get… edgy. People hate change, even on a micro level. When you single one of them out, like I had to in order to get this guy to open the door and clear the way, they dig their heels in.
Honestly, for a solid chunk of seconds, I foresaw this whole thing was headed sideways and moving toward violence. I didn’t foresee fighting the guy, so much as having to force my way physically through him to exit. And every second he wasn’t reaching for the door I felt this likelihood increasing. At first he was just acting confused, like he didn’t understand that I was leaving. Then he started arguing about how it would take too long to retrieve my bag from the roof so I shouldn’t leave until we all got where we were going. The crowd had already made it clear that their destination was not getting decided anytime soon. I think they probably ended up outside of town, far away from there I headed, and nothing could compel me to come along. We were in SJDS, a tiny town of a few blocks, and they couldn’t figure out where they wanted to go and god knows they hadn’t decided when they made their arrangement nor during the seven and a half preceding hours.
They didn’t *disagree* about where to go. That would have required at least 2 opinions and they hadn’t mustered half of that. I would not be the least bit surprised to find out it was another hour and a half before they unloaded; they had reached a kind of standstill where something had to decided and that was definitely not their strong suite.
I explained to this guy that I had my bags and they wouldn’t have to wait while we untied my bags from all of the rest. I used as few words as possible, giving him a simple mantra to concentrate on.
“…because all of the bags are on the roof..”
“Not mine. Open the door.”
“Open the door. Literally open the door. It’s that simple.”
“Let me out.”
This asshole shrugs and sighs, like I just can’t be reasoned with. He reaches over and slides the door open, but I’ve seen enough terminally ineffective people to know I’m not out of bus yet. I can’t possibly make it around this guy politely, he’s blocking my path in it’s entirety. He needs to step out and when I alert him of this (in as simple of terms as possible) I receive another prolonged shrug and sigh and I have my last pang of anger about to be made audible. I struggled to maintain, knowing anything I said would work against my exit; especially what I had chambered, which was a terse “LISTEN. TO ME, YOU. PIECE. OF. SHIT. I SAT. IN. a GAS STATION. PARKING. LOT. and WATCHED YOU. EAT NOODLES. for TWENTY FIVE. FUCKING. MINUTES. I don’t WANT. to HEAR. a. FUCKING. WORD. OUT of YOU. ABOUT DELAY. YOU. are HOLDING. US. UP. RIGHT NOW.
I suppressed the urge, a point of minor pride since it’s a habit that few would consider “well developed” in me. I stepped off the bus, checked my pockets, bid farewell to that rudderless clusterfuck and 15 minutes later I was moved into my guest house and out enjoying fritanga fare against the faint sound of rolling surf from two blocks away.
I’d do it again; the only thing worse than that journey was the irritation that’s promised by traveling that particular route via local buses (or, possibly, traveling by regional bus in The US). Plus I’d have a better idea what to expect.
Now where was I?
Oh yeah, reasonably close to paradise.