Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Adios Sunset

This is the end of my ramblings about our trip this winter. Thank you for indulging me in a month or so of slow, meandering memories of our month in Nicaragua. I really want to have all of this here for the kids to look back on one day, so this was my best shot at regurgitating most of it. I'll leave it here with photos from the best place on Ometepe Island to watch the sunset. It's called Punta Jesus Maria. You take a tuktuk or a nice walk a few miles from Moyogalpa, across the airstrip, and out to this little point of beach sticking out into the lake.

There's swimming and playing on the black sand beach...









There's rusty, old playground equipment...






And there's the sun setting over the lake...













Adios Nicaragua! Gracias!


Monday, March 23, 2015

An Ode to the Chicken Bus and the Land of No Seat Belts

For a brief moment I went through that First World Mom conversation in my head. You know, the one where you're already over packing and you ask yourself, should I bring a car seat for Naia? At 4 years old and 33 pounds she is still in a proper 5 point harness at home. Maybe I could just bring a booster for her. What to do, what to do?

Well, now I laugh in the general direction of that moment. Car seat, booster, whatever... there is no point. There are no seat belts. Why bother? I am happy I talked myself out of it.

Our first ride was from the airport to the house we were renting, about 45 minutes away. I was nervous about little Naia sitting in the back seat with Zach, looking like Lily Tomlin in the old Edith Ann sketches on Sesame Street, with her wee legs barely making it to the edge of the seat. But our driver was so very careful, driving slow and easy. And as we went I realized that nobody was driving fast. And there were barely any other cars on the road. Mostly horses and cows and kids. And I was able to exhale a little.


I can count on one hand while still holding a cup of tea how many cars we rode in during the trip. We did lots of walking. Lots and lots of walking, because thankfully Granada is a super walkable town.

And we took the chicken bus. If you've ever been to Central America you know what I am talking about. Chicken buses, as gringos nickname them, are old standard North American school buses that have come south seeking sunshine and style. They are always painted in wild colors, often with murals along the side. And inside there's more color, stickers, decorations, and of course music. And as the name implies chicken buses are not just for people, they are for anything and everything you can jam into or on top of the bus. Pigs, beds, baskets of fruits, arms full of tools and supplies, and of course chickens. If it fits you're good to go.

There is the driver, and then there is a helper guy who literally hangs off the side or back of the bus yelling out, again and again, where they are headed. The chicken bus that passed by our house was, "Masaya, Masaya, Masaya, MASAYA!"






Zach loved how people would jump on to sell things, and then jump off a few blocks later. Mostly they were selling food and drink, a few pennies for some plantain chips or other local goodies. One time a guy came on and gave a very impassioned speech selling some sort of miracle vitamins. It was like a rolling Spanish infomercial.




What's fabulous about using chicken buses to get around aside from the unbeatable local color and character, is the price. You can go an hour or more outside of town, what would cost $20 or more in a taxi, and pay about 30 cents a person, no charge for the little ones.

Zach and I are still dreaming of starting a chicken bus here in Annapolis one day. We'll paint it with rainbows and sailboats and osprey and play Jimmy Buffett music really loudly wherever we go. It's just that hanging off the back yelling, "Eastport, Eastport, Eastport!" does't have the same flare.

The other way to get around town for shorter distances is tuktuk, or mototaxi. These are sort of  tricked out motorcycle tricycles with a canvas top. You usually pay about $1 (kids ride free some of the time) and they end up being like a clown car, our record being 9 at one time in something that looks like it should seat 3. Often relatives, random little old ladies, or other paying customers are all crammed in for a short ride.




Naia thought this was the most amazing thing... ever. Open air, no seat belts, bumping along like Mr. Toads Wild Ride, near misses with cattle and low hanging branches. She loved tuktuks. Deeply.





Most places we went had just as many animals driven modes of transport as motorized ones, and the poop-mobiles were often in the majority. Horse carriages of all shapes and sizes, driven by children as young as Zach and old guys tanned like leather. Carriages carrying produce, dirt, household appliances, kids, tools, lumber, you name it. And the obligatory tourist carriage rides touring around Granada.





It was a wild and wonderful month in the Land Of No Seat Belts. The peak was on Ometepe Island where there isn't really an established chicken bus system and the tuktuks can only take you so far, so we had to hire a van for the day a couple of times to see things farther afield. This is where the untethered girl started practicing moving vehicle gymnastics. She was moving from seat to seat as if playing music chairs, she'd lay down, spin around, flip over, dance, jump, reach...it's a miracle she made it one piece.

I am grateful there were 98% cows and horses on the roads of Ometepe Island and about 2% other vehicles. Yes, I know. As the mother I should have not allowed such behavior. You're absolutely right. But it happened. And she lived.  And I am glad I wasn't dumb enough to pack the car seat.


(rush hour.)





Coming home after a month of this to a proper 5 point harness seat was a big adjustment. But we're all grateful for the seat belts here in Gringolandia.
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