Friday, June 30, 2006


diplomas in the beauty salon

I am invited to a large house near the cathedral square. The owner is a North American of my age. He has lived in Granada for three years. He is married (or has a partner) who is British. The invitation is for tea or perhaps a drink. I have been on the road two months. I need sprucing. A corner beauty parlour displays an impressive pyramid of diplomas. With luck, one of the diplomas is for returning youth to old faces.


parade outside the cathedral

Granada boasts many examples of Spanish colonial domestic architecture; there is a great need for maintenance. The cathedral is simple and spacious. School students attended a sung High mass today. The girls paraded after mass, marching back to school to the beat of drums. Stick whirlers led the parade. Next marched girls waving red plactic pompoms. The whirlers wore gold mini skirts, the pompom girls wore red. A Conservative pope reigns in the Vatican. I wonder what his views are regarding minikirts.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


I sat at a sidewalk cafe and sipped papaya juice. A threesome occupied the next table: two European women and a Nicaraguan man. One women had bought an island. She had overrun her budget in building a house on the island. She was off to London and Sydney to buy two further properties. The property market in London was already high and she had little expectation of making a profit. She had high hopes of the Australian investment.
An old lady with badly bowed legs hobbled bye and asked for alms. The Nicaraguan, a handsom man in his mid thirties, told the old woman that they didn't have any money. The old woman shuffled on.
I appologised for interupting. Curiosity impelled me to enquire what sort of island: eight acres with palms and perfect beaches off Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.


Granada is a mad house. An elderly North American beckoned me onto the terrace of his small house for coffee. He had forgotten to fit his false teeth and was difficult to understand. He was one of twins, so he recounted. His mother and twin brother died in child birth thru the incompetence of his grandfather, a doctor with cataracts.
The American had rediscovered his mother on a coffee finca in Costa Rica six years back. She had been reborn as a coffee picker. He showed me photographs and related a series of dates that proved that one of his reincarnated mother's children was his reincarnated twin brother. I was confused by the dates and the math. The American seemed confused as to which of two lit cigarettes he should smoke. He held one in each hand and waved them in emphasis of the crucial proofs in his family history. One cigarette was tobaco the other was herbal.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Improper volcanos


A chain of volcanos runs the length of Nicaraua. Volcanos explode. Earthquakes are frequent. You would expect Nicaraguans to be jumpy. They seem very much at ease. Two good roads leads from Leon to the capital, Managua. The northen road runs beside the smaller of the country's two vast lakes and is less busy. I avoid capitals. They are noisy, polluted and often dangerous. Helpful drivers pointed me on the road thru to Granada. I booked into a hotel recomended by Frenchman, Patrick. I have a double room with a fan and good sized bathroom: $13 a night. The electricity was off in that segment of town. It was on in the center. Parking in the Cathedral square, I found an airconditioned internet cafe. A tornado hit the square while I wrote up the blog. Tiles off a hotel roof lay scattered in the gutter and on the roofs of parked cars. The Honda was on its side.
Electricity was back on at the hotel. I showered and chatted with the German owner before riding down to the lake where the hotels were in darkness along the waterfront. Later I found a comedor near the hotel. A beer, steak, Christians and Moors, fried bananas, cabbage salad and banana chips cost me $2.50. The food was good. Lights went out while I was eating (memories of Cuba). Back at the hotel I chatted more with the owner until the lights went on. This is a daily occurence - great boost for tourism - though many of the North Americans residents are too old to know whether the lights are on or off. A front page scare story in the local English language newspaper warned: SEX TOURISM IN GRANADA. A sexual thought would put these Oldies in an ambulance.
I lay in bed and watched a rerun of the France/Spain match. One goal each was the score midway thru the second half when I switched off the TV. I learn this morning that the match ended with two great goals by the French. That's the way life goes.


TUESDAY, JUNE 27Volcanos come in all shapes and sizes. This is a proper volcano.


Hah! Dream away, kids!

I was out of the hellhole at 6.15 and at the beach by seven. The sky was overcast. Beach resorts need people. They require smiling faces and an amplitude of tanned naked flesh. This was midweek, out of season, and rain had been falling much of the night. The rain had dyed the dirt road and the beach a dung brown and weighted the broad leaves of the sea grape trees so that the branches appeared to droop with depression. I turned right and rode one street in from the beach. A couple of fiberglass fishing boats were dragged up at the creek the far end of the beach where palm thatch palapas dripped last night´s downpour. The uncertainties that tipify a Nicaraguan existence were evident in the quantity of buildings abandoned in mid construction.
I had dreams of breakfast. I found a young Brit couple loading packs onto a bus outside a backpacker´s haven. The kitchen was shut. Everything was shut. I rode in the oposite direction. I can scent a lone Frenchman in the middle of the Sahara desert. Patrick, owner of the Oasis was easy. He was half asleep in a hammock. He made coffee that was coffee. The sun came out while we exchanged life experiences. His cook produced scrambled eggs and fresh orange juice. The beach dried. Sand was transformed from dung brown to rich gold. Trees perked up. Abandoned plastic bottles gleamed.
Patrick´s rooms are large. You can ride a wheelchair into his bathrooms. He has two bungalows. Everything is clean and orderly and practical. Surf breaks a hundred metres out from the beach. I took photographs to arouse the jealousy of the boys back home in the rain: Jed, Josh and Josh´s friend, Ben.

Riding back, I slalomed the potholes, vegetation brilliant in the sunlight. A bridge divided a lagoon. Two men were fishing with a net, two others swum and splashed in the muddy water, maybe driving prey. The men were laughing. They waved as I passed. I stopped to ask whether they were fishing for fish or prawn.
"Prawns. Big ones," one of the men shouted, spreading his hands.
The men were having a ball.
So was I.
Where am I now?


I packed last night. I was eager to leave. I washed myself one last time in a shower ingrained with grime, lept across the pools leaking from beneath the lavatory bowl, slipped into sandals to keep my feet dry of the seepage that flowed across the room´s tiled floor. Did I discribe the ceiling of moulting hardboard? The bugs? The odour of sewage damp? The terrifying electrical fittings? Better not...
The information I gained from the students was priceless. $6.50 a night for the room was outrageous overcharging. I deserve a medal for staying the course.
Breakfast at the beach will serve as my reward...


I stayed in an peculiar hotel in Leon. I wouldn´t recomend the dump to a dead dog. To be in character, the woman owner should have been drinking gin out of Tenesee Williams tea cup with a broken handle. I stayed for the opportunity to talk with two young university students. One studies computer sciences. He qualifies and Nicaragua won´t see the flash of his departure. The other is the youngest of six. His older siblings have marketable qualifications and have already gone. He is commited to study law. Nicaraguan law is moderately useless inside of Nicaragua. Outside, it is totally useless. He will have to stay. Clever Mum...


Rain fell hard this evening. I was caught in the storm while sipping juice and talking with a Spanish volunteer. Volunteering began in Nicaragua during the romantic period immediately following the fall of the Somoza dictatorship. It continues: mostly young people from Europe helping in schools.
I had been invited to dinner. I went and got soaked on the way. The other guests had cancelled. I was stuck with the clockmaker. Heavy and pesado have similar dictionary meanings. In common usage they are very different. Heavy suggests seriousness while pesado is best translated as Turgid. Turgid is what I suffered for nearly two hours: politics at its worst, a stream of platitudes. I have been thru this before and refrained from interjecting so much as a cough less I prolonged the lecture. The clockmaker took my silence as evidence that I was left wing - I have no idea why. No food arrived, not even a nut. I had brought a bottle of rum which stood on a tray unopened. I had brought fresh limes, Hierba buena. The tray was within my peripheral vision. Such cruelty...

Monday, June 26, 2006


I took coffee this morning with an elderly Nicaraguan maker of grandfather clocks. He is also a fan of BIG Band music. Heavy rain fell all last night. Trapped in my hotel, I went to bed at 7 p.m. In Guatemala or Honduras the electrcity would have failed at the first clap of thunder. I waited for my fan to stop whirring. I foresaw sweltering thru the night and being devoured by mosquitos. To the contrary...I required a vest and pyjama trousers against the chill.
Nicaragua is not logical.
Today we enjoyed a fine sunny morning. The clockmaker and I were back in his patio sipping coffee and listening to Glen Miller. The electricity failed.


Cathedral lion without British lion

I was interviewed today for Nicaragua TV astride my bike outside the cathedral. Directly behind and above me stood a large stone lion. The photographer gestured that I should pull in my belly.
Tonight I am invited to dinner. I shall present my hosts with a bottle of rum and a bag of fresh limes. Later, I will inspect myself in the bathroom mirror back at my rather odd hotel. Perhaps the rum will have made me slimmer.



I have uncovered a crime commited by the UN. UNESCO, a UN agency, funds restoration of World Heritage sites. Leon competes with Antigua, Guatemala, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in Spanish Colonial domestic architecture, though not in funding. I was delighted to find a building housing UN offices and restored by the UN.
I should have stayed outside.
The pillars supporting the patio terrace have been resculpted with cement to resemble the trunks of palm trees. The pillars are painted shit brown and varnished. The patio is desecrated by a kidney shaped plunge pool painted pale shiny chemical blue. The walls of the pool rise two feet above the floor of the patio thus destroying the space. The conference area to the left is seperated from the patio by concrete block with holes in them. The blocks are painted gloss white.
I could continue...


note the Toyota - names change, Empires go on for ever

The politically commited are seldom commited to accuracy. My female informant (ex secretary to Sadinista leader) told me that workers in the Tax Free zones earned a dollar a day. I checked. The average wage is $120 a month, surely sufficiently low not to require exageration. All employers pay health insurance and pension contributions. Some supply free housing.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


a few words on a wall

BUSH GENOSIDA is written in huge letters on a wall facing across the central square to the cathedral in Leon. Bush is not guilty of genocide. Mostly what he does is make mistakes. We all make mistakes. Being President of the most powerful nation in the world, Bush´s mistakes are naturally on a large scale. Both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair distorted intelligence. They lied to their own nations. Secretary of State Powell deceived the United Nations. This is proven fact.
Deception is not genocide.
Though innacurate, at least the scrawled message is specific in whom it accuses. It doesn´t accuse Americans or even America. Bush is the target.
My personal dislike is Haliburton and those in the present US Adminstration who continually award Haliburton contracts that are licenses to print money. However, those employed by Haliburton must be average Americans and I have more close American friends than I have Brits.
I have an American adoptive daughter whom I adore and an ex to whom I am close and who is always generous and supportive. My daughter´s brother is another Jed (though not a Jedediah) and I believe we connect. Certainly I had a great time in his company when I was last in Providence. These are a type of American I have heard referred to in the Southern States as those Jewish people - as is my agent, a kind, gentle, cultured man of absolute integrity.
My friend in Dallas, Don, is perhaps more what foreigners picture as an American. A big, tall man, he is a product of Texas A&M, a Good Ol´Boy, third generation Dallas, third generation to live in the same home. A day spent driving round his construction sites is both instructive and a delight. He has wisdom and a slow dry sense of humor. He knows his clients and he knows his work. He is wealthy because his workers like and respect and trust him and don´t let him down. His workers are Mexican.
I write this lest readers believe my own views mirror those I report. This a journey of discovery. I am not in the judgement game. I have repeated to Central Americans again and again much of what I have written in this blog: the importance of avoiding generalisations, of not labelling people.


Workers in the Tax free zones earn $1 a day. See the knock-on effect in the central square. There is one cafe across from the splendid cathedral. The prices are resonable by the standard of such cafes: $1.25 for a beer $1.80 for a large glass of fresh juice. Saturday evening and few tables were occupied. Sunday morning I drank juice there after attending mass in the cathedral. Two couples and a single man were the only other customers. The square is superb. Mexico you would have queued for a seat.
I have walked five blocks West, five blocks East, five North, five South. The architecture is Spanish Colonial: single story houses built round a central patio, high ceilings, pantiled roofs. Some are grand. Some have been restored. A convent has been transformed into a hotel of which the the central garden is beautiful and groomed. I saw no guests. Perhaps they were all young lovers and spending the day in bed. I ate last night at a fish restaurant to which I was recomended by a plump lady. I ate a red snapper, fresh and perfectly fried. I was one of three customers. Leon was the first caspital of Nicaragua. It has never been wealthy. Meanwhile I see from the newspaper that Granada is suffering from sex tourism. My informant of last night claims to prefer penury to beeing overwhelmed with foreigners.


The highway from Honduras to Managua, capital of Nicaragua, is good, as is the highway from Managua to Leon. I turned right at San Isidro to cut the corner. The road must have been good once. Now the tar is crumbling. Short stretches are dust and gravel. Other places you weave between elephant traps. At a guess this is a countryside of big ranches and poor villagers, a land where the landowner´s horses are better fed than his workers. That is how it appears. To the left rise a chain of volcanos. One is a perfect cone. Made of rubber and minaturised, it would serve as a golf tee.
Leon is a bigger version of Antigua, Guatemala, except that it is short on maintenance and there are few tourists.
No tourists = no shops.
Nicaraguans don´t earn shopping money. They have been sold cheap by the Government to Japanese and US multinationals and work in factories within Tax free zones. Seven such zones are the pride of the Government. The multinationals send all profit home. Nicaragua earns nothing. I am told this by a woman who was adminstrative secetary to one of the leaders of the Sadinistas. She assures me that she will always be a Sadinista in her heart. She no longer votes Sadinista - she hadn´t expected the speed with which power corrupts. I will check her figures.


Poverty was obvious close to the border. I rode thru a dry area of rain shadow. The nearer I came to Leon, the more affluent were the farms and houses in a countryside of spiky hills scattered with trees and rich fields. The truck of a very fat Nicaraguan driver was parked opposite a comedor on the left side of the road. The driver´s girth was recomendation enough; I pulled in for breakfast. A pretty waitress in her mid teens brought me the standard fare of eggs, beans, avocado and fried bananas, big tin mug of fresh orange juice. Unusual was a massive cup of strong unsweetened coffee. The fat driver was telling stories at a nearby table. Here is a snap judgement: Nicaraguans are noisy.
The highway was in excellent condition. The sun came out. I felt great. I sped and was stopped by the cops, five of them in a pick-up. Three-hundred Cordobas is the statutory fine for crossing a solid yellow line while overtaking a crawling truck on a hill. A cop showed me the paragraph in a pamphlet on road safety. The fine had to be paid at a bank. I pleaded my age. I pleaded poverty. The cops settled for one-hundred paid in cash - approximately $6.50.


Honduras and Hondurans have been kind to me. Danli has a great feel. Yes, it´s a dump, but the people are warm and open. The chain on the Honda reaquired adjustment and the bike needed a check-up. Carlo the Kikuyu was recomended. I found his shop. We chatted while he did the necessary - may be half an hour´s work for which he refused payment. Contributing to my adventure was sufficient reward!
Crossing from Honduras into Nicaragua took 30 minutes. I was folloowed by a pleaenr kid who I let push my papers thru the window I was already standing at - much to the amusement of the officials. The Honduran customs officers (two women) chased me out of their office amidst hoots of laughter - all I wanted was a kiss. In Nicaragua, insurance (obligatory)is $12 plus various small fees = $25.