Hanging with the locals
Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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For me, the highlight of Managua was meeting William, an uncle of a former student of mine. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip since we arrived and I was not disappointed. William, and his daughter, Ilsa, met us at our hotel and took us around Managua for an entire Saturday afternoon and into the evening. Our tour would have continued, but Todd, Katie and I were all a bit tired from our travels. William, our gracious host, would have continued to show us his home city. I particularly enjoyed meeting William's family and visiting his home. So often we travel to places, we pass through the roads, we relax on the beaches, we hike the trails, but we do not have the opportunity to meet the people. William offered us such a generous glimpse into not only Managua, but also family life in Managua. This glimpse was more than consistent with the social grace of the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan people
The Costa Rican people call themselves Ticos and many of the Nicaraguan people refer to themselves as "Nicas". I have found the citizens of both these countries to be extremely hospitable and happy to help. Somewhere in one of our guidebooks, I read that "a smile goes a long way" even if one's Spanish is a bit rusty. My Spanish is VERY rusty, but people have generously and patiently waited for me to stammer out the question or sentence and they have answered kindly. Although it's very helpful to know some Spanish, it is a relief that the locals respond with such patience. Katie and I have wondered if Americans are as patient with non-English speaking tourists who visit the U.S.
Managua is a town that can be tough to grasp. Originally when it was laid out at it's founding, it had a neat grid plan. A few centuries of unbridled growth and two cataclysmic earthquakes later you have a metropolis that through haphazard rebuilding and no zoning has organically grown into a huge perplexing sprawl. Most of the streets in Managua do not have names (was this the place U2 was singing about in their hit tune?), which makes this city of over 3 million people completely unnavigable to anyone who doesn't live here.
Thankfully we were shepherded through the Managua maze by William, an uncle of one of Julie's former students who has lived here most of his life. It is difficult to express how welcome it is to be shown around by a local
A few of the highlights of the afternoon included a stop at the pre-earthquake of 1972 downtown of Managua, now a rather empty area dotted with a few surviving buildings and a spookily large amount of open spaces that once housed the thriving heart of the city. The Monumento de la Paz (Monument of Peace) is a moody and forlorn structure dedicated to the end of the Contra War and composed of thousands of buried rifles and a tank all covered with grey cement and sticking out of the walls of an open plaza. The earthquake damaged remains of a huge cathedral nearby add to the apocalyptic setting of the old downtown. We also visited a small park that contained the petrified footprints of a family that had been left in the mud over 7000 years ago (making them the oldest human footprints found in the Western Hemisphere). Call me a sentimental simpleton if you may, but these simple tracks were so much more real and meaningful than sterile museum displays of early humans that I've seen in dozens of places over the years.
Since William is a professional geologist, much of the tour included insights into the unique and highly volatile geographic setting of Managua. Visits to sunken crater lakes, fault lines, and panoramas where he explained geologic events were items on the tour that we would have never been able to encounter on our own. All in all, it was an extremely engaging and interesting day!
Early tomorrow morning we are off to our final destination on the trip, beach time in the nation of Honduras
Hum...those two didn't leave much material to work with, did they?!? Well, I wasn't really as enamored with Managua as Todd and Julie. It was great to have William taking us around, and we certainly saw more of the city than we would have on our own. However, Managua is not a place that I see myself just clamoring to go back to. It had a strange mix of over and under development, combined with pretty substantial infrastructure issues. But I did find out what the deal is with the constant power cuts. Apparently, several key decisions that should have been made 20+ years ago to invest in hydroelectric or geothermal energy plants were passed over by the government in favor of private enterprise "get rich quick" scheme. Why significantly invest in the future of the nation when there is serious cash to be made now supporting privately owned oil powered energy plants (these private owners were also government officials...get it)? This was all well and good when the price for a barrel of oil was cheap, but with the dramatic rise in the price of fuel over the last several years, the private companies can't afford to run their plants. So the answer... rotating power cuts. The government has declared that this is a temporary energy crisis, has asked the people to deal with it, and committed to having the situation resolved by January 2008. Construction is currently under way on several alternative energy plants.
Anyway, I am just trying to enjoy our last 10 days because pretty soon we will be back to work, and this trip will only live on in photos and our memories.