I just demolished some a platter of chicken and rice made by some lovely Nicaraguan princess doubling as a street vender. My experience on the road has taught me this much: Street food can be risky, but it sure as hell can be rewarding. I just chowed down on a full sized plate, that would normally go for around $5 in the USA, for $1.50 and it came with a drink made of fresh fruit – instant bliss in the heat that devours the Nicaraguan country side. Of course, the amount of food may be questionable for it´s price, but let´s not forget this is a Third World country and usually the less questions one asks the better. Sure, there may be some strange bacteria growing in my stomach right now and it may even be incurable, directly caused by unsanitory preparation methods and, of course my favorite, poorly stored meat. If that´s the case, then pain and suffering shall soon follow, with immense weight loss a certainity and death even a possibilty. But I will retort accordingly: Nothing will ever replace the sweet sense of satisfaction that fills my body right now, no amount of discomfort can take away from my elated state after consuming such freshly prepared food, even if it may mean my doom in a matter of a few hours. It´s not ever day that you get to experience the life´s work of a Nicaraguan mother, as she carts around her livlihood attempting to profit on a recipe that has people lined around the corner. It´s like supporting an artist by paying for her creation. Worth the risk? I think so.

Now, a few details are in order to fill in the dots and explain where I am right now. I think the last blog post, if I am not mistaken, referred to Panama and it´s majestic beauty: Mountains, valleys, greenery, dense vegatation, Cloud Forrests, etc. Panama was a great place, no doubt about it, and I miss it tremendously. Aesthetically one of the finest countries I have been to yet, aside from Bolivia which still reigns supreme, with the infastructure to make traveling as easy as it would be in, could you imagine, the USA. With a little bit of luck and the avoidance of any major natural catastrophes, one could get from one side of the country to the next in some 8 or 9 hours direct. Compared to the other place´s I have been, that´s like winning the lottery.

But, it should be said that I didn´t embark on this trip with the ease of transportation being my primary focus. For if it were, then I would have never set out on the journey in the first place, considering how uncertain the arrival at point B can be after leaving point A at any time. 4 hours can turn into 6, 6 into 10, and 11 into 16 without any justifiable cause, almost as if schedules are rough guidelines and created on a whim. It does leave, however, an element of surprise when venturing aboard any vehicle in South or Central America. You never know what you´re going to get, in all honesty. Today, for instance, to move a whopping 80 km took 4 hours. That´s slow, like really, really slow. Painful, but it´s what you get when the roads are one way and there is two way traffic throughout, made of dirt and volcanic rock when it´s the middle of rainy season, and a majority of the streets (more like paths)  that are available happen to be under construction (the construction being comprised of dumping more dirt on top of the pre existing dirt, thus why I think path is more adequate). Usually, it´s my fellow passengers that help me get through it all: Today, it was a pig wrapped in a blanket and placed in a small vegetable bag, followed by an elderly woman transporting a few chickens underneath her skirt in the seat next to me. The medley of animal sounds can actually be very relaxing when combined with the engine of a repaired school bus from the 1970´s, chugging along the dirt road and sending every passenger bumping as it shoots over the next pot hole.

It may seem that I am babbling right now, but I am not. There is a point to this nonsensical banter about the poor transportation that is rife in Third and Second world countries. I made short work of Costa Rica for the exact reason I had been describing above, maybe just in the opposite sense. Costa Rica is a fantastic place. It´s coasts are lined with some of the nicest beaches in the world, it´s interior blends east and west into a mixture of gold, brown, green, and orange that rolls like waves in the ocean, and it´s people are more than willing to help a foreigner if the opportunity presents itself. Yet, along side that picture perfect beach sits a Pizza Hut or McDonalds. The goods that are produced from the soil are reeped elsewhere, abroad in the U.S.A. or maybe even Europe. Most of it´s citizens lie around and wait for the tourists, as they provide the only means of consistent business throughout the country, adbondoning their culture almost like it never existed in the first place. This Central American country is being overrun with American culture, in the form of television, advertisements, and even consumer products, at a scarry pace. For the vacationer, it´s an ideal place to bring the family: Nice beachfront real estate, more developed than any of the neighboring countries, easily accessible from the USA.  To the backpacker it´s a whole different ballgame: Expensive, hardly authentic, and lacking the quintessential Latino vibe  that pours out of it´s neighbors. Maybe a place that I visit in twenty years time with my wife and children, but until then I do not see myself going back: Far too Americanized for my current tastes and preferences. I do admit, however, that it will become even more popular now that the Gulf of Mexico will be ruined for years, thanks entirely to BP and it´s dimwitted engineers. An influx of foreign investment is likely, considering how ideallyic the scenery is, its proximity to the States, the stability of it´s government, and it´s safety compared to less developed nations like Honduras, Nicaragua, or El Salvador.  I´d look here for the next booming real estate market, where most of the capital will be sent from Gulf side properties that have lost their value in the USA. Not 100% sure, of course, but it seems likely until the Gulf Oil spill gets resolved – something that doesn´t appear to be happening any time soon.

The slow pace of Nicaragua has began to grow on me. Ever since entering this country, leaving Costa Rica in my wake, I have come to appreciate it´s charming beauty and simplistic way of life. This is a land of many firsts: The first time I have gone an entire week without running water, the first time I have had to hand wash my dirty clothes, the first time (and hopefully last) I have had a roach and a beetle as bedside partners when I woke up the next morning. For these reasons, and many others, the first word that comes to mind when describing Nicaragua is RAW – or more specifically, in a phrase – raw, undeveloped madness. Yet there is something so charming admist the chaos that anyone who failed to venture within it´s realm would be at a loss.

I spent the past week on a volcanic island, La Isla de Ometepe, in the middle of Nicaragua´s largest lake, Lago de Nicaragua. The living conditions here were a bit crude, somewhere along the lines of the indigenous of Bolivia, but allow one to immerse oneself in the culture completely. I think my moment came when, after asking where I could get laundry cleaned, the matriarch of the household showed me a washboard and a bucket, then pointed to the well. I looked at her in astonishment, asked her for tips, and she just laughed. Or, perhaps the day before when I asked where one could take a shower, and the home owner nodded to the corner where there was a curtain and a garbage bin full of water; the elotted space provided by the architect for cleansing oneself. It is hard to move beyond the ordinary comforts of more developed nations and dive head first into the commonalities of crude rural living such as these, but a little digging will show that many rewards lie beneath for those capable of enduring some discomforture along the way. You learn this first hand, when staying with those families and becoming exposed to their friendly mannerisms, strong moral fiber, and ethical standards in dealing with the hardships of life. Everywhere I have stayed I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by honest, dedicated individuals who care  about you, your story, and your well being above anything else. Entire families working together to build a homestead adequate for travelers, then pouring their lives to it´s maintaince and sustainability in order to help those that are passing through for very little cost – hardly ever asking for more than what is necessary for their survival. Down to earth, good hearted people are Nicaraguan, some of the finest I have met on my trip yet.

The landscape, no doubt, would satisfy one´s needs even if the locals were not as sensational. There has been very little urban development in Nicaragua, meaning that alot of it´s natural setting remains intact. Thus, an 80 km bus ride like today will take 4 hours or maybe even longer depending on the weather, but it´s painless if you look outside your window: Calm, clear waters surrounding a prehistoric island, with two active volcanoes casting their shadows over the ripe farmland that rests just above, percisely 1800m. I had been on the Isla de Ometepe for a week, trapped within it´s secluded environment, and it has been wonderful. My means of transportation, aside from a rickety old school bus, has been a pair of Nike´s that have probably taken me some 30 miles since arrival. I climbed both volcanoes, visited waterfalls, and went to the Ojo de Agua, a picture perfect swimming spot that is hidden by dense jungle vegatation and rests just below the cloud line. I also probably lost some 30 pounds of water weight admist the heat and ate beans for every meal, including breakfast. It´s been a great time.

Now, I am heading back to the mainland in an effort to reaquaint myself with civilization. I have lived the life of a recluse for the past week, and I am starving for some companionship and conversation (in English). I could also use an ATM, seeing as the only one on the island is broken. I plan to head to the beach tomorrow, via the morning ferry, then up north to a colonial town called Grenada. The place is supposed to be very nice, and safe, so I am looking forward to spending a few nights on the town. In the few weeks after, I will primarily be floating around cities in the Northwest of Nicaragua – areas known for the astounding architecture and plentiful coffee beans. I assume, like everywhere else I have been, it will be fantastic. Will update accordingly. Chau.