Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Food: The Sequel

One thing that people may not realize about Nicaragua is that although it is the second poorest country in Central America, it is not a bunch of destitute shacks. Before the massive earthquake in 1972 that destroyed most of the city and killed around twenty thousand inhabitants, Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, was the most advanced city in Central America. Despite the set backs of inconvenient natural occurrences and the corrupt spending of reconstruction funds by the ever popular Somoza dictatorship, it has still pushed forward, and is now privy to some of the first world's greatest technological marvels. Coke-Cola, Refrigeration, and Fast Food.

If rice and beans has got you down and you are feeling homesick for some artery clogging American food you can go to MacDonalds. You can order a McNifica Burger, which I theorize is the Spanish version of a Big Mac, and scarf it down with a large fries and a coke. It will be the same greasy quality that you would find in the states. For variety you could go to Burger King, or if you're looking to try some new Fast Food you can go to Tip-Top, a fried chicken venture.

Subway is also present in Nicaragua, as well as Pizza Hut. Both staying true to their American business practices of being relatively unappetizing. TGI Fridays also has a restaurant in Managua. With prices higher than those in the states, it is likely they have to import most of their frozen, to be fried, food from the U.S. It is surreal and a little disconcerting to go into the Fridays and witness same decorative miscellanea stuck on the walls that I have seen in Boston. My guess is that there is a factory somewhere dedicated to producing the "homey" scooters, fake books, street signs and other crap that covers the walls of TGI Fridays. They must have send those down along with the shipments of buffalo wings, chicken tenders and oversized Margarita glasses.
Along with the imported food and decorations, we were also subjected to the Disney channel, which has also reached it's diabolical tendrils into Central America, but it was mercifully turned off halfway through the meal.

Eating at the Fridays was quite strange. With the prices stated in dollars and most of the menu in English, it was almost exactly like the sub-par dining experiences that Fridays offers in the states. Though I believe the wait staff was friendlier, and they were more enthusiastic about singing to celebrate our fellow patron's birthday. Aside from the (almost) entirely Nicaraguan staff and diners, one could easily mistake it for any of the hundered of TGI Fridays present in the states.

The disparity between life in Managua and life outside of the city is striking. While there is an abundance of restaurants, clubs, stores and other places representative of development inside the city, outside there are people who exist without electricity, without plumbing, and some incredibly unfortunate souls are even without internet access. While some Nicaraguans have access to, and enjoy the results of an advancing world, many are still without them. There are people who are fortunate to own a refrigerator, who have to pump and then carry water up winding mountain paths. Nicaragua has felt the presence of progress but it is still not universal.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To Keep From Being Misleading

Perhaps I should talk about the food. This does, after all, claim to be a blog about food. Yet I don't think I have done much aside from upload a picture or two and make an off handed comment. So here's a window into my recent culinary adventures.

One of my first "Nicaraguan" meals was lunch at El Porvenir, a small coffee growing co-op about three hours off of any sort of paved road and up a mountain, it consisted of a tortilla, farmer's cheese, beans, rice, a mixture of fried egg and other beans and a section of squash type vegetable.

Rice and beans are a very common meal item, often appearing together as Gallo pinto, the national dish of Nicaragua. A combination of fried red beans, rice, cilantro and other flavorings, it is one of the more delicious ways to stock up on protein and starch. Gallo pinto is generally served at both breakfast and dinner, though it often shows up for lunch as well.

Another frequent face at meals is that of the fruit juice, generally called Refresca. Made from just about any of Nicaragua's abundant fruits, the Refresca varies greatly in taste and color. From sweet pineapple to the vibrant pink pitahaya (dragon fruit).

Speaking of pineapples, one thing I found interesting was that the pineapples native to Nicaragua are white, the yellow pineapples that I am used to are called Dorados (Spanish for gold) and come from Costa Rica.

Surprisingly enough, as it turns out, tortilla chips are made from cut up corn tortillas that are then fried. I'm not exactlly sure why I did not make the connection earlier, but if you get the opportunity, I highly suggest them.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

We're going to take a brief break from Nicaragua based news to discuss, well, in a very liberal perspective, one of the reasons why I am even writing this blog, and arguably one of the reasons as to why I am in Nicaragua. That reason being, of course, Douglas Adams.

Those of you who known me in the recent years have likely heard me go on about Terry Pratchett and could assume, without being completely incorrect, that he is my favorite author. Others that have known me for longer may be aware of the awe with which I have held Douglas Adams in for quite some time.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the rest of it's five part trilogy were the first books that really spoke to me, that inspired me to consider them beyond simple entertainment. The way Douglas Adams structured his scenes, the absurd yet amazing descriptions, his seemingly irrelevant yet infinitly important details first made me appreciate writing as an art form, as something more than just the mere telling of a story.

An avid traveler, a dedicated environmentalist and supporter of emerging technology, Douglas Adams showed me that being an author did not simply mean sitting behind a desk and plinking away at the same carbon-copy plot structure, switching up the names and settings every now and then. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in a Rhino suit (to be wholly truthful, he traded off wearing the suit with the other members of the expedition) in order to raise awareness for the endangered animal, played back up guitar for Pink Floyd, and appeared in Monty Python's Flying Circus. Just to name a few of his feats.

I write all this, because I have finally mustered the courage to read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, the sequel to Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and the only novel in the painfully small list of works authored by Douglas Adams that I have not read. It was surreal to learn of Douglas Adams' death in 2001, even more disconcerting because considering his status as a vehemently outspoken atheist, I figured there was little chance of meeting him in the afterlife. Since then I have done my best to slowly move through his works, and now that I move onto the final book, I have all but exhausted the work of my literary inspiration. What remains that I have not read are a few compilations and other short works by him, but no other fully realized stories.

Douglas Adams has unfortunately passed and gone on to whatever fate he didn't believe awaited him. But so long as his work exists, and continues to hold sway over his audience, to wiggle it's way into their minds and make them twitch and bubble with strange and unusual thoughts, then he still lives in a somewhat flowerly and dramatic sense. Even if it is only evident in myself, he has had one of the biggest hands in shaping who I am and who I want to be.

One of my biggest regrets is that I will be unable to meet him and tell him of the impact he has had on me, the next best thing is to release it to the internet that he had looked toward with such enthusiasm and hope. I can turn others onto his works, and hopefully they will impact them the same way they have effected me.

Now I must go, I have a book to read.

P.S The concept of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, of an electronic encyclopedia about everything, that is updated by roving reporters at a distance, shares some very similar traits with that of the increasingly popular Wikipedia. Admittiedly Wikipedia is written less humorously, but the functions are quite similar. Just some food for thought.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The More Natural Side of Nicaragua

Last Saturday we spent the day playing witness to Nicaragua's abundant natural splendor.
We drove out to Volcán Masaya, a series of volcanic crators, some of which are still active. The San Tiago crator bollowed out huge plumes of smoke over the entiery of our visit.

Named the Mouth of Hell by the conquistadors who "discovered" it, the San Tiago crator remains one of the more active volcanos in Nicaragua, last erupting in 2001. In order to contain the evil, the Spaniards errected a large cross overseeing the volcano. The original one has long since been destroyed by the motions of the volcano, but they have replaced it since it last fell.

In keeping with the volcano theme, we then drove down to the Laguna de Apoyo, a huge lagoon that now fills a once active crator. The sulfer from the volcano continues to pass into the lagoon, which is apparently the cause of the intense aquamarine color of the water.

The laguna is home to a myriad of hostels and vacation spots. We patronized one called Crater's Edge, which is awesomely beautiful. Fitting a stereotype of a tropical paradise retreat. They offer massages, a lagoon-side bar, and most importantly, wonderfully warm water to swim or kayak in. They served us omelet sandwiches on banana leaves, which we enjoyed from the rocking chairs overlooking the lagoon.

Much clearer than what I am used to swimming in, it was strange to be able to see the bottom of the lagoon, but be unable to swim far enough down to reach it. The depth increases rapidly as you move away from the water's edge, twenty feet from the shore I found myself unable to reach the bottom despite my best efforts.
In keeping with it's surreal, paradise feel. Crater's Edge plays haven to numerous animals. There are numerous cats lounging around the retreat, as well as two squirrels that the owner has begun feeding after their mother abandoned them in the aftermath of one of the many rainy season storms. Having been somewhat domesticated, the squirrels had no problem approaching us, one quickly scaled my leg and disappeared into my shirt. Eventually lured out with the appearance of it's own lunch.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I have made it to Nicaragua. For those interested in my survival, I continue to live and function normally and have not been kidnapped or acquired some horrid disease, at least to my knowledge. I arrived in Managua around noon yesterday, having missed my original flight to Nicaragua due to my connecting flight needing to under maintenance for their malfunctioning air-conditioning. I ended up spending the night in Miami, American Airlines was kind enough to put me up in a local hotel and give me twenty five dollars worth of airport food coupons. The night was uneventful and I made it south of the border with little incident.

The view from the plane was amazing. The picture does not do the view justice, trying to appropriately represent the beauty with a picture taken from an airplane window is a difficult task. I spent a good amount of the flight in awe of the turquoise ocean below me.

I am unsure of what to talk about in my blog. There is far too much to know where to begin, so perhaps I will start with the basics and gradually work my way up.

For those that do not know, I am working with the Center for Development in Central America, which you can read about at http://www.jhc-cdca.org/

Located in scenic Ciudad Sandino, outside of Managua, the compound sports a number of buildings encased in a rather imposing fence. The volunteer dorm is toward the back end of the compound, and is a two story building. The long term volunteers stay on the second floor and the short term delegations stay in the bunks on the bottom. It is also where we gather for meals. Here is a picture of my room. It's rather spartan but all I really have need for is the bed and fan. I have not had much time to become otherwise established, but I'm sure it will only get less organized as time goes on.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Story So Far

The sky was awash in the gold of the breaking day as my mother dropped me off at Boston's Logan Airport, where I would take the first step in a long and convoluted dance from Massachuseetts, to the Carolinas, and eventually Nicaragua. As the sun slowly rose I made my way through the newly improved security screening area and into the long boarding line. Like industrial livestock the Air Tran personnel herded us into the plane and to our tightly packed seats. I stashed my backpack above me and then promptly fell asleep.

Two hours later I walked out of Charlotte's Airport and into a wall of heat and cigarette smoke. Though it usually measures higher than that of Massachusetts, I have found the heat of Carolina to be easier to endure than that up north. Perhaps it is because one expects the heat, as opposed to in the north, where the weather is fickle and unreliable.

From Charlotte I made my way to Asheville, and after two weeks of lazing about and visiting friends I found myself traveling yet again to Edisto Island, South Carolina. Two days later I arrived at my current location, the lovely Charleston International Airport, where I am currently waiting to board my 3:50pm flight to Miami. I am scheduled to take the 5:50pm flight to Nicaragua today, however I don't think that I will make my flight.