Growing up I thought I had done a fair bit of travelling. Been to Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa (major cities near me) and with family, I travelled to eastern Canada. In the United States I had been to Florida, California, NYC and a few other major east coast cities. I flew solo for the first time at 11 years old (yes, you could do that at the time) to see my father in the US. I had been to many different places in Canada and the United States. Yet, nothing outside of North America.
As luck would have it. My job offered me the opportunity to travel to….Nicaragua. A place I, nor anyone I knew had ever planned on visiting.
Wow, my first time out of North America and it’s to a place I never would have imagined going? What is there to know about Nicaragua? I knew nothing. And for this experience I didn’t want to research my first experience “off the reservation” Well, twelve hours divided in to three flights and layovers later. I arrived late in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua.
The terminal was small and pretty much empty. I remember walking out to the baggage claim area and waiting for my bag. Nothing really out of the norm so far until I look up from the rotunda to see a 30 meter (approx 100 feet) window of people glued to the glass waiting for the passengers. Wow… what are they all doing? I thought…. However my bag appears first and breaks up my thoughts. I grabbed it and headed for the exit. The doors open and a mix of heat and Spanish crowd noise hits me like a wave. There must have been 15-20 cab drivers offering me a ride. Others offered to carry my bags and if I wanted to meet girls. My instincts kicked in. I put on a solid face, look as many of them in the eye and spit out “no gracias” like a broke record. This helped make me a path. Amid the crowded confusion, I see a guy at the back of the crowds holding up a sign for my hotel. Woohoo! We greet, get my bag in the bus, he gives me a bottle of cold water and put’s me on the air conditioned bus. Nice! After a few others join, we’re off.
Now it was pretty dark but I can see the general landscape of the city was spread out. The roads are in disrepair as are some of the buildings. The hotel and accompanying mall across the street are well kept and fairly modern. A quick observation from a Canadian is “Hey, there’s no doors to go in to the mall” There’s a canopy like roof but that’s it. It occurs to me that I guess it doesn’t get cold here, so… why have doors? In Canada, we need two sets of doors to keep the cold out.
The next morning I had a better chance to take everything in. The hotel was clean and modern. The room was well manicured with a good view of the city. However, I had trouble figuring out why most of the buildings where not over three stories. I asked the hostess at breakfast and it turns out Managua is prone to earth quakes. When was the last I asked? Oh, not too long ago she said. She smiled and walked away. Alright I thought, well I still had one more day before I started to work. It’s time to EXPLORE. Man, I love that word.
Now, in retrospect, maybe I should have dressed differently. Maybe I would have drawn a little less attention to myself. (This is a mistake I made again in Amsterdam, more on that in another post) What I had on was a pair of camo pants, black T shirt, bandana, shades and air walks. Camera in backpack, backpack on back. I picked a direction and started walking. I’m walking down what looks like a pretty fast moving road. I see a church off in a field. I notice it’s pretty empty so I snap a few photos and depart. Now as I’m walking. Minding my own business I notice something out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know if it’s possible to have tunnel vision in the corner of your eye like that but I see, something, coming right at me. I retract my neck like a turtle, my chin coming right back in to my neck as I watch this object, in what seems like slow-mo, cross right in front of my eyes. W. T. F! I look up to see a pickup truck kicking up dust where road meets dirt shoulder and a group of people yelling something at me from the truck bed. Uh, what did I do? I find the object not too far from me and it was some kind of, very hard nut. Possibly left over from a big piece of fruit. (I know my logic is astounding eh?) Were it not for my ninja like reflexes I pretty sure this would have caused some damage. However, it does not deter my eager exploration.
I keep walking until I reach a round-about (traffic circles) and get a sidewalk to provide a path for me. I look to my left and see several piles of trash with two people, one adult the other a young child looking through the trash. My heart sinks a little as I stare at what this child must conceive as normal. They never take notice of me as I keep walking. Internally I can’t help but wonder what makes Nicaragua have such poverty. In the distance, I see what looks like a compound. High walls, nice yard and modern buildings. There should be something of local interest there. As I approach, two guards are close to the wall. First thing I notice is while they are dressed the part, they don’t appear to be armed. One is smoking a cigarette and doesn’t seem to be paying attention to anything. The other is sitting on a bench and, at least from what I can tell, hitting on a girl. This struck me because I watched a lot of those 80s action films growing up. And this scene in front of me is taken right from a film. Do I now wait and see if Arnold comes to save the day? They take no notice of me walking up the street yet once I am in view, they both stopped and stared. I can see some hostility in their eyes yet their body language did not change. I put on the same solid face I had at the airport, I give the guy on the park bench a simple nod. He nods back and I continue up towards what looks like the gates of the compound. I do a shoulder check every few steps just to see if I was of any more interest to the guards. No followers. Apparently I arrived at a place called the Major Generals compound. No way in. Gates shut and everything. I’m going to go out on a limb and say there is nothing of interest here. So now what?
I pick a new direction and start down that path. Not too far down here I come across a slum. It is a fairly large cluster of shacks pieced together from scrap metal, cardboard and other materials. Now I am on the opposite side of the street but I can see adults and children moving throughout the alley ways and paths. However, the frequency of these activities is picking up as I walk further and further down the street. More and more heads are turning their way at me but no one has stepped beyond the cluster of shacks. My nerves get the better of me at this point. I’m pushing my luck and the feeling that I need to get out of this area asap was growing. Luckily, I see a cab coming in the distance (I later learned there is always a cab going by in Managua) I flag him down and take a two dollar cab ride back to the hotel. It was lunch time now, and I see the buffet is open. However, so is the bar. I bet you can guess where I went first.