In 1972 Managua was almost completely flattened by an earthquake. The country is poor and the city still has not recovered. Large areas of downtown are flat and devoid of buildings. Poverty is a real issue in Nicaragua. 80% of Nicaraguans live on less than two dollars a day 🙁
Be careful when you walk the streets of Central America. The sidewalks are often in very poor condition – or non-existent. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tripped and almost fallen; that includes this morning’s walk.
While in Managua I intended to do day-trips to León and Granada. I may not do that. I’m feeling a bit lazy and I’m enjoying staying in the gym and exercising 🙂
When I arrived in Managua I walked directly to a nice looking hotel for a beer and a nice dinner. I had worked out the walking route to my Airbnb. I verified the route with my waitress. She was very troubled by it. She insisted I take a taxi. I was surprised. Really? It’s only a 15-minute walk.
She went and got two other waiters to back up her stance. They all insisted I should take a taxi. They said it was far too dangerous.
Dangerous? No way. I had no idea what they were getting at, but it seemed ridiculous to me. A 15-minute walk in a taxi? That would be what? A three-minute drive? Silly.
I sat and ate my meal. 30 minutes later I was finished, paid the bill and prepared to leave. My waitress asked if I’d reconsidered the walk. I said I was sorry, but I was going to walk, “para ver lo que sea”. In order to see whatever there was to see. She wished me luck.
She was worried because it was the beginning of the weekend – late Friday afternoon. I didn’t know it, but government opposition parties were planning a weekend of marches. The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, said there would be none of that. All major streets in the city, including the area I was in, were packed with all-black clad riot police with guns, batons and plexiglass shields.
I spent three days walking the streets and quite a few times I walked right past them. I always greeted them and they greeted me back. No problems 🙂
Sadly, no photos of the police here. I almost got arrested in Morocco once for taking a photo of a policeman and I don’t want to repeat that.
I set my alarm to wake me up at 03:30. My bus from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to Managua, Nicaragua was scheduled for a 05:00 departure. I planned on a 40-minute walk to the station. So, I wanted to be out of my Airbnb rental by 04:00. As I was leaving the flat I looked at the time: 04:15. Shit!
I needed to get moving. I walked onto the street and it was really dark. There were no people and no cars in sight. I started to walk fast.
Ten minutes later I see in front of me, on the left side of the street, a group of five guys and one girl smoking, drinking and yukking it up. Directly across the street from this group on the right side of the road there were about five other guys doing the same. Each group was talking to the other and they seemed to be friendly towards each other.
I thought, “This is not my finest moment of planning”. I’m running late, I’m in the #2 murder capital of the world at 04:25 in the morning and I’m about to walk through a large group of thugs on a pitch-black street. Great! Why aren’t these guys in bed?????
There was a side street on my immediate left, but I figured it was best not to take a detour. It wasn’t really on my route, it would delay me, plus I would look to them like I was afraid and that’s a bad idea. I decided to keep walking forward through them to show I wasn’t concerned.
They didn’t do anything. They just watched me walk by. About ten steps past them a car approached me from ahead and it gave the international “beep-beep” that taxis use to let you know they’re available. I put out my hand.
Sweet!!! I scored an unexpected taxi. I was going to make it to the bus on time. Of course, I always barter a price before I get in, but I would have paid whatever he wanted. I just really didn’t want to walk the next thirty minutes in dark and dangerous Tegucigalpa.
The only downside was that he was a HUGE Jesus freak. It wasn’t a long ride, but I got to hear all about how Jesus saved the world and paradise was awaiting for all true-believers. He even gave me a pamphlet to study on my bus ride.
Thanks, buddy. I appreciate the reading material 🙂
Honduras has an edge to it. In general, the people are nice and friendly. But, it pains me to see how they treat each other when they’re behind the wheel of a car. They have little courtesy to spare for one another. Walking in traffic is horrible. There are no pedestrian crosswalk signals. Crossing a street means constantly risking your life. It means tempting fate to deal you a serious injury. Drivers see pedestrians as something beneath them. Woe unto the pedestrian who gets in their way.
I could go on about my experiences trying to walk in Tegucigalpa, but there’s no point. It’s not good. I can’t recommend Honduras based on my experience. I’m sure there are much nicer places in Honduras than Tegucigalpa, but I like big cities. I feel the character of the people in the city is a reflection of the character of the nation’s people as a whole.
I found a nice coffee shop near my Airbnb rental. It opens at 6:30 every day and the baristas are great. But, the wifi is shit. You sit there waiting and waiting for a single page to load. Total crap. The music in the coffee shop, “Coffee Lab”, is very nice, but between each song they play an extremely irritating disco-style advertisement for the very coffee shop you’re sitting in. What is the purpose of that? If I’m sitting in Coffee Lab, apparantly I’m already aware of its existence. I don’t need an add every three minutes reminding me of where I am. I’ll be looking for another coffee shop tomorrow.
Today I had to walk to the office of “Transnica” in order to buy a ticket for my trip to Managua, Nicaragua three days from now. I could have taken a taxi, but I wanted to understand the route from my flat to the bus station for the 0500 departure. I can’t guarantee I’ll find a taxi that early in the morning, so I want to be able to walk to the station and know the route well. It was a 40-minute walk. The walk from hell. The auto traffic was ridiculous because it was, “la hora de pico” – rush hour. Traffic was heavy. On my travel day I’ll be starting the walk at 0400. The difference between rush hour and 0400 should be considerable.
I’m not looking forward to the bus trip. It’ll be about an eight-hour bus ride. But, with a 0500 departure, I’ll arrive in Managua around 1300, so that’s the good part. I also plan to buy two seats so I have room to spread out a bit and not be cramped next to someone. It’s 30 bucks a seat, so a total of $60.00 USD.
Frankly, I’ve never had a huge desire to see El Salvador or Honduras. On Friday I’ll be in a much more interesting country – Nicaragua. I have hopes it’s better than El Salvador or Honduras. After Nicaragua, I’ll be in Costa Rica and Panama. I have even higher expectations for those two countries. I plan to spend a month in Costa Rica just relaxing and recharging my batteries. With luck, it’ll be nice.
Right now, I’m sitting by the pool of a cheap hotel. Hotel Alameda is attached to the bus station office. I had no idea when the ticket office might open and I got here about an hour too early. Luckily the restaurant was open and I was able to have a small breakfast of “casamiento” and orange juice. Casamiento is lovely. It’s rice and beans mixed together. Casamiento is the Spanish word for marriage – rice and beans are married to one another to make the dish. It’s a tradional food in Honduras. Love it.
On a related note, “huevos divorciados”, is a Mexican dish – divorced eggs. It’s a dish of two eggs and each egg has its own sauce. One egg in green sauce, one egg in red sauce. The eggs are separated, or divorced.
On Thursday I’ll buy a few pupusas (see previous post) and some bottled coffee drinks for my Friday bus ride. Pupusas are a great food for traveling. You don’t need utensils (cubiertos) and they’re not messy. Pupusas and cold coffee drinks – yum.
I feel a bit under duress in El Salvador and Honduras. The two countries are a little gritty. I’m eager to get to Nicaragua. I need a change of pace.
Well, the bus office should be open by now. Time to get my ticket and get a taxi back to my flat. I have absolutely no intention of walking back through that urban nightmare. Taxi! Taxiiiiiiii! 😉
It’s just about time to get on the bus from San Salvador, El Salvador to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I’ll be traveling from the world’s #1 murder capital to the #2 murder capital. Well, I suppose that’s an improvement 😉
The U.S. Department of State warning concerning El Salvador says, “Violent crime, such as murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery, is common. Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics and arms trafficking, is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”
The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador reports, “Crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. Since a rise in violence in the summer of 2015, the current murder rate in El Salvador is among the highest in the world, an annual rate of 103.1 murders per 100,000 citizens for 2015. In comparison, the U.S. rate is 4.5 per 100,000. While U.S. citizens are not singled out as targets, the pervasive violence greatly increases the chance of someone being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Since January 2010, 38 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador. During the same time period, 449 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen, while others were victims of violent crimes.”
It’s hard to argue those facts. My experience in El Salvador has only been positive. When I compare Salvadorans to other Latin Americans, Salvadorans win the friendliness competition. They’re just EXTREMELY friendly and very curious about gringos. Sure, even small convenience stores have so many bars on the doors and windows that they look like prisons and it seems like half the jobs here are dedicated to private security guards brandishing huge, scary-looking shotguns. The guards are everywhere protecting even the smallest of businesses. But, the guards are all super-friendly and love to say hello to anyone passing by.
The woman at a local grocery store I shop at always calls me “Corazón” – heart. I was in a mall two days ago and a security guard went out of his way to wave his hand high in the air right at me. I thought maybe I was breaking some rule and he wanted to correct me. I approached him and he said good morning and asked how I was doing. I said I was good. He asked if there was anything he could help me with. I said no, I was just wandering around, enjoying the day, “Es que, estoy deambulando, disfrutando el día”. He said that was great and he wished me a good day.
I’ve had a few encounters where people just really wanted to know my story. Where am I from? Why am I here? Why am I visiting El Salvador? They can’t get enough of my stories. They’re just honestly, innocently curious. Very nice people.
I walk all over the city – the parts adjacent to the neighborhood where I’m living (San Benito), and I’ve felt extremely comfortable everywhere I go.
The border crossing from Guatemala to El Salvador was interesting. As we approached the border, the driver made a long and difficult to understand announcement over a raspy speaker. I didn’t catch all of it, but I think the gist was that we would have to leave the bus and go into the immigrations office to have our passports stamped. He reminded us to avoid taking photos with our cellphones. Shortly after, we pulled up to the border station and stopped.
I zipped up my backpack nice and secure for departing the bus. I already had plenty of U.S. cash in one pocket just in case there were any fees to pay. I didn’t think there were any, but you never know what to expect. I waited to see what the locals did and I followed suit. As I stepped off the bus I was mobbed by about 30 guys screaming, “Cambio!” “Dólares!” All of them had huge wads of U.S. currency in their hands and I suppose they wanted me to exchange my leftover Guatemalan currency for U.S. currency. I just kept repeating, “No, gracias”, “No, gracias”, “No, gracias” as I made my way through the throng. I followed a bunch of people into the immigrations and customs office and stood in a line. There were about 30 people in front of me, but it moved very quickly. Man, I feel like a skyscraper next to the locals. They are not tall people. I really stick out in a crowd with my relatively pale skin and nearly two-meter height.
When it was my turn, I walked up to the window and handed over my passport. The lady looked it over while chatting with a friend on her cellphone, stamped a few things and handed it back. As I was walking out I handed a very short, old, wrinkled, woman beggar my extra Guatemalan coins. I bravely crossed through all the guys offering cambio again, got back on the bus and we drove off. I assumed we were good to go and we’d drive right into El Salvador, but not quite. The bus only drove a few meters across the river bridge, “Río Paz” and parked again. I guessed the bus driver had to do some paperwork on the El Salvador side of the border. So, we sat waiting in the bus parking lot for about 20 minutes. I wanted to take photos, but there were lots of security guards standing outside the bus and I didn’t want trouble.
Eventually, a Salvadoran border agent came aboard and spoke to us individually, looking over our passports. He asked me a few questions (in Spanish, of course), “Who are you? Where are you from? When did you arrive in Guatemala? Do you live here or are you a tourist?”
He left and then five minutes later a more serious looking official dressed in military-style black fatigues came on board looking for passports. He wasn’t interested in speaking to locals. He came straight to me. I assume this was because I was the only foreigner on the bus. He basically asked the same questions as the other guy had, but a little more detailed. I explained I was traveling through Central America on my way to Panama. He seemed happy with that, handed my passport back to me and that was that.
Then we drove into San Salvador. Easy peasy.
San Salvador seems very nice.
Oddly, my Airbnb rental is only a five-minute walk from the bus depot. The Sheraton downtown doubles as a Pullmantur bus station. I got off the bus, handed the driver 20 quetzales as a tip (he was surprised) and walked to my flat. I arrived there at 11:45. I didn’t know it wouldn’t be ready until 14:00. No problem. I walked back to the Sheraton and had pasta and beer. It’s a beautiful hotel. I sat outside by the waterfall/pool and had an excellent time.
El Salvador is the first country I’ve visited that uses the “voseo” form of Spanish. It’s a dialect I’ve never studied, never used and never even heard before. I’ve heard the Argentine accent in films, but it’s not quite the same thing. So far I don’t notice much of a difference, but we’ll see how it goes.
Sure enough, they use U.S. dollars here. That’s so unusual. They even give change in U.S. coins. I wondered about that. Using the dollar bill is one thing, but an entire country using U.S. coins as well? I’m surprised. Coins are extremely heavy in mass. They must bring change into the country using heavy-lift aircraft. I wonder how it was all done initially in 2001. For an entire country to use the dollar, you must need billions of dollars in bills and coins. It would seem a significant logistical problem. I need to look into it.
Shortly after finishing my meal and choosing to sit back and relax with a beer until 14:00, a bunch of hens arrived in the restaurant. They were big and did a lot of chirping. Naturally, they just waltzed into the restaurant, because obviously, they own it. Either they knew they owned the place or they just had an attitude since everyone knows now that they’re not birds, they’re really dinosaurs. They stared at me expecting, what else, food. The waiter chased them out and they left without complaining. You could tell they were thinking, “Stupid mammals. We’re dinosaurs!!!” The mammalian waiter went back to the kitchen and came back with a few bread rolls. Then he proceeded to tear up the bread into small pieces and feed it to them – outside the restaurant. I think if you don’t want dinosaurs in your restaurant, you don’t feed them, but I’m just a foreigner here. It’s none of my business 🙂
There’s a pathologists convention in the hotel. They have posterboards all over the place complete with photos of diseases. Gross.
Guatemala City is the first city I’m visiting on this trip that has the honor of being in the top 50 murder capitals of the world list. It comes in at #24. Tomorrow I board a bus for San Salvador, which has the distinction of being at #17 in the world. Salvadorans must laugh at a low placement of 24. Guatemala City is clearly a lightweight when it comes to murder. They need to work on their game.
After eight days in San Salvador, I plan to be in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Tegucigalpa is way down the list at #35. Clearly, a much safer city 😉
I haven’t felt threatened or uncomfortable in Guatemala City, but I’ve done my best to not look like an easy mark. I’m constantly aware of everything and everyone around me. I keep my valuables in a money belt under my clothes and I also have a phony wallet with bills sticking out of it in one of my pockets. If I’m robbed, I’ll hand it over – but not too fast. I plan to make it look like I really don’ t want to give it away. I’ll keep my head on a swivel for San Salvador and Tegucigalpa.
If I disappear tomorrow, I was supposed to be on the 6:15 Pullmantur bus from Guatemala City to San Salvador. It leaves from in front of the Holiday Inn.
In case you aren’t aware, the Quetzal (“ket-sal”) is Guatemala’s national bird. It’s arguably the most beautiful bird in the world. It’s not only the national bird, but it’s also the name Guatemala has given to its national currency. Instead of dollars or pesos, they have quetzals or “quetzales”
It takes a couple of days to get set up in a new country, but I’m good now. Yesterday I bought a local phone chip for my iPhone and I got a few hundred quetzals to use for spending money. Yay 🙂
Quetzal notes, of course, have the Quetzal bird on the front and in the upper right-hand corner of the bills are the ancient Mayan symbols for the denomination the bill represents. Very nice.
On 8 November I leave Guatemala and get on a bus for El Salvador, so my currency and my phone chip will be useless.
Would you like to guess what the national currency of El Salvador is?
Go ahead, guess.
What do you think it is?
If you’re a savvy bugger, you’ll know it’s…
The U.S. dollar 😉
Among others, El Salvador, Panama and Ecuador use the U.S. dollar as their national currency. Interesting, eh? Interesting and strange.
Yesterday I decided to walk into downtown Guatemala City. I’m in Zone 10. I had to walk from Zone 10 into Zone 4 and on to Zone 1, which is the old center of the city.
At the end of the day I had hoofed it for more than 19 kilometers. I took an Uber back to my flat 🙂 I’m such a wuss.
The ride back was good. My driver was very curious about the gringo in his back seat. He asked lots of questions about all the countries I’ve been to. His heart’s desire is to some day be at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I told him it’s a nice view from there.
Is Guatemala City dangerous? You’d certainly think so from what you read on the internet. I have to say I feel 100% comfortable here and I don’t feel one bit unsafe. Then again, I don’t plan to visit any extremely poor neighborhoods 😉