Well I was fortunate enough to get bumped to First Class for the 4-hour flight here. It felt more like going to California than London.
Arrived and wanted to get some local currency for walking around money and to bring back. Found a bank of ATMs but didn’t remember the conversion rate and didn’t want to accidentally pull out like $5,000 USD. So I went over to a little cafe and asked if they spoke English and if they took American money. They indicated that the answer to both was “no.” So I tried in my best bad Spanish to ask if they knew the conversion rate so I could get money out of the ATM. They indicated it was roughly C$20 to the $1 USD and offered to sell me a coffee for USD. Good deal. I’m sure they took pity on my for speaking such poor Spanish. I learned that I’m no better at Spanish in Latin America than in Spain. Uf, que lastima.
So I did end up pulling some cash out – C$2,000. I probably won’t spend all of that but I can change it out at the airport when I leave. I used that cash to buy some plantain chips with lime, chile and salt flavoring. I skipped the chips/pork rind mix.
Driving from the airport to Chinandega was a nice tour of the country and the way the people live. There was lots of graffiti, and most of it propaganda courtesy of the Daniel Ortega leadership. “Viva la Revolucion” “Viva Daniel” “Viva la Juventud” I understood. “JS:19:J” and “FSLN” I didn’t.
Dinner was rice, a shrimp dish to pour over it, beans and salad. It was really great! After dinner we sat around a little bit and some folks played guitar, others kicked the soccer ball or threw the football. It was nice and relaxing and a great way to aid our digestion.
After that we headed into town. It was about 2 miles. Walking along the streets we drew quite a few curious looks from folks. Any group of 40 or so will tend to do that. Past the old church, a left here and a right there, down to the Central Park.
We strolled around the park on our own. It was a vibrant place. Kids playing, young parents pushing their kids along in strollers and ice cream vendors (heladores). There was a small gated area in which a few kids were playing soccer. The group spontaneously converged on a little outdoor beer garden for a cold drink. Tona is a “lager especial” and went for about $1 per bottle. It was cold and good and cold. We drew a crowd of onlookers and folks standing outside the fence trying to get our attention.
On the way back I stopped and grabbed some of that carne asada with something that was like a vinegar-based cole slaw, something like a spicy chow-chow (that’s a Southern thing) and fried plantains to share with the group as we walked back. The steak had some kind of lime marinade and was delicious.
The city reminded me of some of the places I’d seen in China a little bit. Soot covered the street (though in Chinandega it’s from the volcano, not dirty power plants and factories) and there was an acrid odor of open fires. Little shops were open selling things and street food vendors dotted the sidewalk selling carne asada.
When we got back we hung out in the main area for a bit before crawling into bed. In a room with 27 friends down near the equator, your fan quickly becomes your closest friend. The breeze it generates as well as the droning noise are great aids to help you snooze. And snooze I did. It was great.