Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Gringo in Paris

An American in Paris. Ok. Please forgive me for the title. I know it is cliché. But it is true. This weekend The Gringo Guy went to Paris. It was just a short stopover on the way to Germany. But, as always Paris captivates my imagination and makes me think I can be a philosopher, writer or just about anything.

This was my seventh trip to the city of lights. I always love going being a tourist and basically just a visitor to the city. Two of my favorite places to visit are the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe shown above.
While these monuments are fascinating and always amaze me, I really love the city’s metro system. The trains run most all day and much of the night. They are amazing. It is like an underground city unto itself. People are going by a breakneck speed. There are musicians playing for tips. Shops sell everything a traveler would need. The metro always fascinate me.

I love the people of Paris. Most Americans say they find the French to be rude. I always see them to be kind and welcoming, especially since I don’t speak much French. I had the chance to visit some friends and their families. What started as a “snack” with a friend's family quickly turned into a feast of “Frenchness”. They called it a snack. Two glasses of champagne and two types of res wine. Four courses of food not counting dessert. You can see that little remained of the wine and cheese.

 I always think of France when I see red wine and cheese. For me France is incredible food, amazing sights, and the speed of the metro. That combined with wonderful people make Paris so special for me.

It was rainy and cold. But, hey it was Paris and as you can see the city of lights always puts a smile on my face.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

I am currently in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I have mixed feelings about this city and Honduras in general. There are many aspects of the place that I like and many more that I don’t.  One thing I really like in Honduras is the old-time newsstand. They still have those here, which display the headlines and encourage folks to buy and read the newspaper. Albeit the news is not good in this photo (Ex-policewoman killed) it does attract attention to the newspaper.

This is a colonial city. You can appreciate the colonial beauty while looking at all the trash that fills the streets and the river. I do not like the streets. They are too narrow and cars drive like crazy. A taxi ran over my foot here.

Tegucigalpa (known as Teguz) does have a very nice and taxi-free pedestrian zone. There are plenty of restaurants, internet cafes and street vendors here.

If you like cool tropical weather this is the place to visit. It is surrounded by mountains and temperatures dip into the 50s (Fahrenheit). I have visited this city twice. I don’t know that I will come back. I might. I did celebrate my birthday here today. Cake and coffee.

Here’s to another year, here or somewhere else.  I drank coffee today and read all the Facebook wishes from my friends. Gracias por todo! I have the best friends in the world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Esteli, Nicaragua

I am going to tell you a travel secret. Esteli is my favorite city in Nicaragua. The air is fresh and the streets are clean. The city is in the northern, mountainous part of the country. It is about halfway between the capital of Managua and border with Honduras. The people are incredibly nice and it is not overrun with tourists. There are tourists here, but you are hard pressed to find the tacky American or European visitor here. Most of the tourists who come to Esteli want to learn Spanish or volunteer at an NGO or they are lured by the lush mountainous vegetation surround the city.

Above is a photo of the incredibly beautiful waterfall at the Tisey Nature Reserve found near Esteli.

As I mentioned before the city is clean and the air is fresh. Here is a picture of the low-key central park found in front of the city’s cathredal.

My favorite part of Esteli is that you see the most incredible murals everywhere you go. I have included a couple of cool ones here for you to see.

I have also included some pictures of my favorite hotel in Esteli. It is called Nicarao (named after a famous chief of the Chorotega tribe). Rooms range from 7-20 dollars depending on your needs. There is free Wi-Fi a great kitchen, friendly people and José the duck who might quack at you (he does not like me very much).

This is a city of art, bohemian coffee shops and tourists who give a damn. Surprisingly, most tourists I meet here speak some, or good, Spanish. This is a great place to practice your Spanish and get to know a cutting edge city. Did I mention the weather is fantastic? The average temperature is about 68-70 degrees on any given day.  
This is also the country’s home to cigar production and the cattle industry. This is cowboy country. Here is a picture of the horse parades that take place in the city.

So if you want to be a good tourist, please visit my favorite city in Nicaragua. If you don’t give a damn, just stay home.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


When you hear the name Nicaragua you probably don’t think of it as a primary destination. However, Nicaragua is gaining in popularity as a destination for North Americans, Europeans and Asians.

 The country actually reached a unique goal in 2010: 1 million tourists. Here is a link from the newspaper The Nica Times about Nicaraguan tourism.
If you fly into Nicaragua you will land at Augusto Sandino International Airport, named after the symbol of resistance against American military incursions in the 1920s and 1930s. The current Sandinista party is also named after him. You can see all the Sandista flags below at a July rally held in Managua.

I would like to say that Managua is a beautiful city, but I can’t. It is anything but pretty. The city is hot, dirty, dusty and incredible. I know it sounds strange, but I love Managua. There is always so much going on and the city is such a contrast between old and new. It is common to see horses (or mules) pulling a buggy while a car drives by.

It was a busy, teeming city when an earthquake destroyed the city center in 1972. There was no time to rebuild after a revolution overthrew the Sozoma dictatorship and civil war (the U.S. backed the Contras) consumed the rest of the 70s and all of the 80s in Managua and the rest of the country.
While Managua is anything but beautiful, it is a worth a visit. It is vibrant and energetic. You can find the poorest of the poor and the very wealthy. The city has some incredibly pricey places to shop.
One of my favorite films is called La Yuma and shows in great detail the everyday life of one of the city’s typical poor neighborhoods. The film is about a young female boxer who desperately tries to get herself and her siblings out of poverty. I have included a Youtube link to the trailer (with English subtitles). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqM-253doTU
 It is crazy and disorganized. In short, it is like the world as we know it upside down. Stop over on your way to a beach or volcano and visit Managua.
I always visit. I find Managua to be a fascinating city.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One hell of a trip or a trip from hell: Catching a ride on a cargo ship

Hola. I am now back in Managua from Corn Island. What a wonderful place and what an adventurous (miserable trip) back. While I am in Managua my bag is stuck in a place called Juigalpa. I decided to take the adventurous i.e. cheap way back. Instead of spending 110 dollars on a plane ticket, I opted for the 15 dollar trip. You can see from the picture below that I had luxury accommodations.

Yes, I slept on the slatted, backshattering deck of a cargo ship from Corn Island. The trip took me 6 hours across the open sea and four more hours up the Rio Escondido to the river port of El Rama. While my wallet thanked me, my back and neck did not. I was one of the lucky ones and had found a piece of cardboard box to sleep on.

As you can see it is not exactly a thriving metropolis here in the river port city (town) of El Rama.

You might think the bus accommodations would get better after making landfall. But they did not. Busses here are not that comfortable. However, this is all included in the above-mentioned $15 trip price. It was only a short 7 hour bus ride (with a transfer in the city of Juigalpa where my luggage decided to stay overnight).

Oh well, clean clothes and deodorant are overrated aren’t they?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Corn Island

Hola. I am writing from the incredibly picturesque island of Corn Island. There are actually two islands: Big Corn & Little Corn. This is a very remote part of Nicaragua. The islands are about 50 miles off the Caribbean coast of the mainland. Unless you come by plane the trip is not far the faint of heart. From the capital city of Managua you have to take an overnight bus ride of 6 hours. You take the bus to where the road literally ends. If you take the overnight bus you can arrive at the river port city of El Rama in time to take the panga (speed boat) for the two hour trip to the Caribbean city of Bluefields. From there it is merely a six hour ferry ride (usually a very rough trip across the open sea) to Big Corn Island.

The islands (and much of the coast) were part of British Honduras during the colonial era. The islands were long neglected by the government in Managua and have remained relatively isolated.

Folks speak a Creole dialect of English as the main language. Many Spanish-speakers have moved here recently as tourism has brought jobs to the local economy. The islands run on their own time.

The boats which leave the port may or may not leave on a given day. You just have to go to the port each day and ask the each boat captain. Don’t bothering asking the port office. They will tell you they don’t know.
There is a lot of good food here. You can eat fried plantains, fresh lobster, shrimp and coconut bread. My favorite dish is lobster in coconut milk.

The landscape is incredible. The water is a crystal clear turquoise. Palm trees line the pristine beaches. My personal favorite story is when I wanted a coconut dish and the cook said “Ok, just give me a minute to get a coconut off the tree.”

If you come here, come with time. Nothing happens quickly. But, who cares you are on a mostly unknown Caribbean island. Life is good.