Current Location: Cafe Rosita, Leon, Nicaragua, apparently about 10′ from the surface of The Sun.
Price of a beer in a bar: US$0.86/12 ounce bottle
Song currently stuck in my head: Plush (Stone Temple Pilots)
I’m traveling light and most of the clothes I packed were near the end of their careers. At best they could look forward to a boring retirement in a rag pile under the kitchen sink or in a special drawer for things to wear when I climb under the car, but instead I decided to give them one last fling. I tend to dress down on these trips, especially on travel days when I’m a one-stop-muggers-shop for a wad of cash, all my possessions and a US passport. I also tend to dress in shirts with collars, as it gets you noticeably better treatment from the locals. In the past I inadvertently dressed just like older Central American guys; button down short sleeved shirt and a pair of slacks. Sometimes my shirt was even a guayabera, just because I liked the look. Old guys on the street would look me up and down and then lock eyes and nod approvingly. The compliment meant the world to me, not because I was looking for acceptance but because I wanted to rip off their style and this indicated I was on the right path. My shirts were usually from Goodwill or their slightly creepier counterpart, the religious militants over at The Salvation Army. If you’ve ever dealt with them at the organizational level, you know they take that “Army” part seriously; they have ranks and shit. They also have good prices. Anyway, I used to be able to buy up neat, clean collared button downs in a range of colors for less than US$2/piece. That fit my travel budget just fine. They were usually white, blue or light tan and tagged with names like Montgomery Wards. I’d take a little ribbing from the other backpackers, but nothing mean spirited. Meanwhile their cotton Ts were mangled beyond recognition by backpack straps, excessive perspiration and aggressively repetitive, frictious contact with concrete washboards. My shirts did just fine. They were
Since then I’ve given in to the siren song of high performance, moisture wicking polyesters and nylons, but I’m about to give up on them. They make great base layers, but it’s 100 degrees here and if I could peel off my skin (Nature’s Base Layer) I would. The good? They’re easy to wash, quick to dry and they keep their shape. The bad? They smell like someone filled your jock with unpasteurized cheese and hung it as a sachet. The smell washes right out and if you’re a “wear one, wash one” kind of traveler these are still the best option, but if you’re a “build a load of laundry and pay 3 dollars to have it done” kind of guy, like me when I do these 30 day visits, then these garments force you to seal your dirty clothes in a plastic bag to avoid filling you entire apartment with hamper odor. The shirts aren’t even comfortable in the heat. The briefs breathe poorly.
As with anything (and perhaps more than most), your mileage may vary. Exoficio has made a mint branding their shirts and underwear as wearable for several days at a time while traveling. Other items have insect repelling and odor (bacteria) controlling nanoparticles “infused into” (“sprayed on”) the fabrics. These advantages will eventually wash out, but they’re said to last quite a while. I have experience with some of the higher end items, but only in cold weather. My sub tropical bus wear, as well as most of what’s in my pack, is chosen specifically to minimize the chance that I’ll care if it gets stolen or destroyed.
Here in Leon I feel a little under dressed. I wear shorts, as do most of the gringos and many of they younger Nicas. No one really bats an eye at that unless my knees are visible, but then they take notice. They don’t scoff or anything, you just see their eyes dart for your knees when you get near them. I assume this is what it’s like to have breasts; no big deal. I don’t think I’m offending anyone, it’s just an unusual sight. Since most of my shirts were coming undone, I decided to upgrade to some locally available apparel. Almost of the clothes in Leon fall into one of three categories; 1) used stuff that’s filtered down through outlets in the US, like Goodwill, and arrives in bulk bundles that are bought, sorted, displayed and sold. 2) New stuff that’s similarly filtered down through retail outlets in the US and 3) Counterfeit goods manufactured in the region (I’m guessing in the CA-4 countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, who have a trade agreement), knockoff Levis’ and polos embroidered with logos that would triple or quadruple their market value in The US. It’s worth taking a close look at the black market apparel. Sometimes it’s straight from the same assembly line, made from the same materials by the same workers as the real thing. Running an unauthorized night shift and selling the goods out the back door probably makes you more money (per unit) than the Nike contract your filling during the other two shifts.
So I went shopping. I’m experimenting with some cotton/poly and cotton/lycra blends (yeah, I’m going to Hell, but after a summer in Leon I’m not sure I’ll notice) in hopes that they’ll keep their shape better than cotton alone. At the same time, old habits die hard and I’ve found some high performance stuff I couldn’t pass up at this price. Expect a picture or two on Wednesday of the new hotness.
If you’re a permanent beach dweller in a climate like this you can totally pare down to a couple of pairs of shorts, a sarong, a couple tank tops, a long sleeve shirt and a pair of sandles. It’s attractive in it’s simplicity, but it also assumes your laundry gets done constantly. I’d rather have one washer’s worth + one outfit. It’s more to keep track of but so much less to worry about. Every few weeks or months I drop off a load, pick it up dry and folded and climb back into my hammock.