Manhandling Managua

I need to take a moment to brag a little here…

Justin and I crushed it in Managua last week.  I mean, we freaking rocked.   Anyone who has ever ventured into Managua on a day trip understands this accomplishment.  If you plan on 4 hours to complete your errands, you can expect it to take 8.  If you hope to get home before sunset, you should assume that you will return before sunrise the following day.  If you dare to say “this shouldn’t take long,” it will take longer.

Managua days are tough for San Juaneño transplants.  Us Expats are used to having 5 malls within a 20 mile radius.  But not here in Nicaragua.   Two hours there, two hours back, and 14 hours of navigating labyrinth-style roads, stop-light window washers, semis and oxcarts in between.

Normally, we leave San Juan later than planned and get home much later than we hoped.  But last week, we put Managua to bed.  Just like that.  We got out of the house by 7:30.  We rented a [reliable] car with functioning a/c and managed to drive more than 80 kilometers per hour without fear of a breakdown (car or mental).  We rolled into Managua just after 9:30 and were so early that we even had to wait for stores to open.  In 7 hours, we accomplished this:

-Bank
-PriceSmart
-Doctor
-Migracion (visa renewal – arrived to find a minimum 2-hour wait, but jumped the line thanks to the awesome migracion ladies who remember and adore Lucy from her passport application
-Lunch (I resisted the BK urge that often accompanies stressful MGA days and leaves me feeling nappy)
-Transito (paid a multa from our last trip to Managua)
-Lab (pesky thyroid)
-Stop and Go (a little slice of heaven for Expats craving Dr. Pepper, red curry paste, Butterfingers, and anything else that you can’t seem to find anywhere else.)
-Bavaria (sausage kings)
-La Colonia (stocking up on Cheerios and chocolate)

And we still made it home in time to put Lucy to bed, too.

La Costanera

Slow but steady progress is being made on Nicaragua’s Coastal Highway Project making the border with Costa Rica all the more accessible.  “La Costanera” will eventually be a paved road stretching from Montelimar in the north to the Costa Rican border to the south, a total of approximately 131.5 kilometers running close to the coast line, following most of the existing dirt road.

Photos (taken June 26, 2011) below show a 4 km stretch of road, paved with “Somoza Stones” (named for the former dictator who owned all the concrete factories) between San Juan del Sur and Playa Coco, to the south.

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Comida Tipica

Typical Nacatamal

Despite its tasty Gallo Pinto and Nacatamales, Nicaragua is not often recognized as a culinary capital of the world, but here are two links that have found the hidden gems of Nicaraguan cuisine – and some of the pitfalls of its politics.

Goodwin: Discover the culinary delights & flavors of Nicaragua

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Black Tie Optional

When friends and family come to visit, they often ask what to pack and how formal the dress code is here.

Here are my everyday shoes:

And here are my dress shoes:

Any questions?

P.S. if you  are coming between May 15 and November 15, bring a raincoat.

The World’s Top Retirement Havens For 2011

Nicaragua leads off the list of the world’s top retirement havens for 2011 in Kathleen Peddicord’s recent US News and World Report article:

“As we move toward the start of the new year, it’s time to take a look at the world map to identify the world’s top retirement havens for 2011. Depending on the size of your retirement budget, here’s where you should be looking to realize the adventure-filled retirement of your dreams.

Super Affordable

1. Nicaragua—specifically Leon, Granada, and San Juan del Sur. Nicaragua is more attractive than ever for one important reason: It’s a super cheap place to live. I’ve been a fan of this misunderstood country since my first visit nearly 20 years ago. Property values, especially for beachfront property along the Pacific, reached bubble status last decade. Today prices are more realistic and more negotiable. In the meantime, the cost-of-living has remained seriously low. And last year Nicaragua inaugurated a new and improved foreign retiree residency program. For all these reasons, 2011 is the time to put this country at the top of your super-cheap overseas retirement list.”

See the full article at:  http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/On-Retirement/2010/11/15/the-worlds-top-retirement-havens-for-2011.html

Can “Survivor” redefine Nicaragua’s image? – Tim Rogers Article

Can “Survivor” redefine Nicaragua’s image?

Nicaraguans like that “Survivor” is highlighting its harsh environment.

By Tim Rogers — Special to GlobalPost
Published: September 7, 2010 06:45 ET in The Americas

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — “Survivor” contestants are infamous for their petty catfights, but Nicaragua’s tourism industry is holding out hope for something more.

When 20 American contestants face off for the $1 million grand prize on “Survivor Nicaragua,” about 13 million Americans will tune into watch — giving the country a level of pop-culture exposure like never before.

The Emmy award-winning reality TV show, which begins airing Sept. 15 on CBS, has promoted this season with a dramatic trailer highlighting Nicaragua as an exotic and untamed land of “impenetrable terrain” and “savage wildlife.”

But following Nicaragua’s only other experience on American prime time television — the brutal U.S.-funded contra war in the 1980s — a show focusing on Nicaragua’s harsh and uninviting environment is considered positive press here.

And tourism boosters are thrilled. That’s because the American audience that tunes in each Wednesday represents the otherwise “impenetrable terrain” of a mass market that Nicaragua can’t possibly tap with its own resources — a paltry $2 million in annual promotional funding.

“The country does not have enough budget for promotion and marketing to reach an audience of this magnitude. Therefore, the filming of “Survivor” in Nicaragua constitutes a huge opportunity for us,” said Javier Chamorro, executive director of the Nicaragua’s investment-promotion agency ProNicaragua, which played a key role in convincing the producers of “Survivor” to come here.

For a country whose tourism industry has yet to reach the 1 million annual visitor mark, even a relatively small boost from curious “Survivor” fans could have an enormous ripple effect on the economy here. Tourism Minister Mario Salinas notes that if only 1 percent of “Survivor” viewers decide to visit Nicaragua, it would represent a 50 percent increase in American tourists — Nicaragua’s main market.

Salinas said the government and its public-relations agency in Los Angeles are already working to answer the increasing demand for information from U.S. travel agencies that are experiencing an uptick in interest about Nicaragua as a result of the thousands of articles that have already been published to promote the new season of Survivor.

And Salinas said he’s not worried about the show labeling his country as “savage.”

“I don’t think it has a negative connotation — it’s associated with pure, virgin nature that is uncontaminated,” the tourism minister said. “In other parts of the world, nature is domesticated, designed and arranged. But people don’t want that from nature; they want it to be authentic. And that’s what we have in Nicaragua.”

Lucy Valenti, president of Nicaragua’s National Tourism Chamber, agrees that the country could use “Survivor” to spin its “savage” image into a positive catchphrase — similar to Colombia’s recent campaign to turn its perception as a violent and dangerous place into the catchy tourist slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay.”

Valenti said the reality show could also give Nicaragua a unique chance to showcase its underdevelopment as an unexplored tourism destination for adventure and nature.

The truth is Nicaragua can use all the positive spin it can get these days. Since President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007, stories about Nicaragua in the international media have focused mostly on the Sandinistas’ political shenanigans, claims of electoral fraud and tiresome tales of political crisis and ungovernability. While tourism continues to grow in Nicaragua despite all that — and even during a global economic downturn — the number of American tourists coming here is showing signs of leveling off for the first time in many years.

So the dirty tricks and cutthroat politics of Survivor contestants in the reality show competition will come as a welcome distraction from the real thing in Nicaragua’s government. Plus, by becoming part of mainstream American TV culture, Nicaragua will be able to reach out the large segment of people who otherwise may never have considered this country as a place to spend a week’s vacation.

“’Survivor’ is a unique opportunity for a host nation to reach out to the world,” said Leisa Francis, the show’s co-executive producer. “The show is created in a way that highlights the host nation’s scenic beauty, its wildlife and its culture. Survivor delivers a video postcard of the host nation. The promotional value is extraordinary.”

That’s particularly true for Nicaragua. With remote white-sand beaches and lush tropics — all within a two-hour flight from Miami — Nicaragua hopes to benefit from the “‘Survivor’ effect” more than previous countries that are either too large to notice any effect, such as China and Australia, or too far off the map to be helped by reality TV, such as Gabon, Vanuatu and Samoa.

Realtors — a motley group of national and international salespeople who haven’t had much to cheer about for the past three years — report that “Survivor” is both a selling point or something to refrain for mentioning, depending on the potential client.

“Most clients assume that the show will bring good publicity to the area, thus making their investment now a good idea to get ahead of the rush,” said Justin Fahey, of San Juan del Sur’s Aurora Beachfront Realty.

However, he added, “Some clients couldn’t give a crap about a reality TV show that is in its millionth season, clinging to relevancy. Many people come to Nicaragua and buy land here to retire or vacation away from 24/7 news cycle and rat race. So mentioning ‘Survivor’ to them might be construed as a negative — they want to experience authentic Nicaragua as a contrast to life in North America.”

But for people who already bought here, Fahey said, “Survivor” has become a bragging point among their friends and family back home in the U.S.

Expats and investors now “feel legitimized” in their decision to buy here, Fahey said. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Ha! My friends back home said I was nuts to invest here, but now I tell them, ‘You can see my beach this fall on “Survivor!”‘ ”

The Comedy of Errors, Which is Our Life in Nicaragua*

San Juan del Sur is a colorful town and I’m not talking about the buildings, though that is also true.  No, I am referring to the people: the colorful and often crazy-ass people.

On Sunday, after a lovely anniversary weekend with my darling husband, I rolled our car into a cement wall and broke the rear windshield.  It was certainly unintentional, but entirely my fault just the same.  Justin, meanwhile, was waiting for me at Bambu Beach Club with a specially prepared dinner, courtesy of our wonderful chef friend, German Eric.  Yes, we call him German Eric, not because there are other Eric’s in town, which there are, but simply because he’s German and thus deserving of the distinction…I guess.  There are plenty of other people in this town with similarly obvious and/or wonderful nicknames, including Irish John, Irish Peter, oh and Irish Paul.  There’s Yoga Larry, Bitchin’ Bill, the Chicken Lady, T-shirt Kathy, Hot Carl, the list could go on…

But that’s not who I’m talking about either…I am actually addressing the mentally distraught crazy people in this town.  Judge me for my lack of political correctness and empathy, but it’s true.  As my dear friend Sarah put it, “San Juan imports crazy people, remember.”

Today, not 24 hours after we got our car back from the mechanic with a glistening new rear windshield, someone threw a rock through it and broke it again.  Someone out for vengeance?  Nope.  Someone trying to break in and steal our radio…oh wait…that was stolen last year, so no.

I found out after Justin messaged me “guess who just smashed our rear windshield?”  Naturally, I assumed he was joking since we had just repaired the thing yesterday.  “Please tell me you are kidding,” I wrote back.”  “I am NOT kidding,” he says “Naked Guy.”

So, in typical Facebook-Dependant Style, I posted incredulously…”sooo…just repaired a broken rear windshield yesterday. Had the car for less than 24 hours and today, crazy guy in the street threw a rock at it and broke it.  Seriously? Really need to catch a break here…”  Those who live outside San Juan or Nicaragua replied quickly with “oh no’s” and “that sucks.”  One friend even suggested that I throw a rock back.  But those who live within the walls of this colorful little town inquired, “is the crazy stone-thrower back??” and “was it the semi-naked blond or the tall dark one??”  In a small town of just 18,000 people, we actually have such an array of certifiable residents that it wasn’t clear to anyone which crazy guy I was talking about.  “Always something interesting,” said George.

As Blue added, it “does make you wonder….I think those of us that live here have a line item in our budget ‘Nicadness’ which includes damages by crazy naked people, voodoo doctor requests etc.”

With little faith in a response or action, Justin made his way to the police station to report said crime.  In a surprising twist, they told Justin that they were aware of the problem, they’d received more complaints this week, and they were looking for the window smasher.  They even said they’d take him to a hospital in MGA to get some help.  Then the policeman added, “you should have just beat the shit out of him and thrown him in the estero (estuary).  At the very least, as Cesar put it, “These guys need to find a new hobby.”

[* kudos to Julie for the fitting title]

A brief follow up to our bad car karma – while the mechanic was working to repair the second broken windshield, he managed to smash our rearview mirror…