Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Nicaragua: volcanoes, Hammocks and Traffic Stops

Cops are the same the world over

Following a successful day of zip lining through the jungle canopy, it was time to engage in a little less stressful exercise, touring and shopping. After sleeping in, I met up with my amigo Silvio. Silvio is a former gangbanger (He even has tattoos of his fallen 'homies' on the back of his neck) from LA who for some reason is now living in Granada. Anyway, he had introduced himself to me in the park the previous evening and offered his services as a tour guide. As he was fluent in both Nica-Spanish and English, I figured what the hell, I'll either save $60 or get caught up in some kidnapping adventure. Besides he offered a price that was 1/2 that of the established tour companies.

So, Silvio and his buddy Louis picked us up around noon and we headed off on our adventure. We drove up from Granada to Masaya and stopped at the Masaya Volcano National Park. At the park you drive up to the gaping maw of Masaya volcano and can walk right up to the edge of the crater. The huge crater was active that day and was spewing out steam and noxious gases like Ed Asner after a chili cook off. The cloud of steam and gas billowed up into the sky and when the wind shifted in our direction, sent us all coughing and scrambling for the car. Funnier yet were the broken English emergency instructions given to us at the park gate. It offered these helpful tips:

In case of gas release, move down wind. (Helpful advice for any situation)
When crater spews rocks, hide under car.
In the event of eruption, move away from the lava.

Pretty helpful if you ask me, but thankfully, the volcano gods were happy and no emergency action was needed.

Another nice thing about the volcano is that it afforded excellent views of Nicargua's central valley and one could see Lake Managua, Managua city and the avenue of volcanoes stretching into the distance.

Masaya Market

After the volcano, it was a short drive to Masaya market, noted as being one of the larger handicraft markets in Central America. Truth be told, the market wasn't that big, but did offer a nice selection of hand made hammocks (Nica hammocks are the best), pottery, leather goods and most oddly, small ceramic fruit that when opened up show people in various sexual positions. (which of course prompted me to do my best Dan Quayle impression by stating, "Wow, I bet these are popular with young boys."). Anyway, I stocked up on some of the ceramic porn (as gag gifts....Yes, that gag gifts) and when prepared to leave Masaya to return to Granada.

As we negotiated the street around the town square, a cop suddenly appeared in front of the car and waived us over. Both Louis and Silvio appeared a bit nervous. From my vantage point there wasn't anything in particular that Louis (the driver) had done wrong. The cop started asking for the driver's papers and identification. Silvio translated, punctuating his comments with "this is billsh*t man". The cop finally turned to us in the back seat and demanded our passports. I'm either a savvy or stupid traveler as I don't carry my passport once in the country. I carry instead a copy of my passport. The cop took it and said that he needed proof that we were in the country legally and that this was a big problem that could take some time to resolve. I'm guessing that the 'problem' could have been 'resolved' with a $20 bill or so, but that would just encourage corruption right? So anyway, we co-operated and said that if the officer had to call immigration to establish our status that we'd be happy to wait as we were in no hurry to go anywhere in particular. Some more hemming and hawing by the officer and then we were free to go. Louis and Silvio where mortified and totally embarrassed by the situation. "Dude, this has never happened to me in Nicaragua, ever!" Silvio reported. And from his agitated state, I believed him. None-the-less, this did not taint my view of Nicaragua, its people or the safety of the country. After all, it was just a few years ago that DC's police chief set up a 'safety inspection' on the 14th street bridge to nap commuters and it tied up traffic for hours. Cops are the same the world over....

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