Nicaragua – February 2015

Toothpick Art

Over the years we have brought back some unusual items from our travels. They are usually large and fragile and not the easiest thing to pack.

A massive King Cake from New Orleans, gently placed (yet still squished) in the overhead, plaster statues of Hindu gods stuffed into carry-on bags from Delhi, a ‘Bird Girl’ garden statue from Savannah and even didgeridoos from Australia, (via London!) bubble-wrapped in the hold. Sometimes we have to buy more luggage and yet it’s still touch and go whether the treasure makes it home in one piece.

So I was already wondering what huge, and most likely delicate, memento we would be bringing back from Nicaragua.


Museum signage!

We had spent the day walking the small streets of colonial Granada, and were headed back to the hotel when we passed a six-foot tall papier-mache bear with an empty rum bottle taped to his hand welcoming us to ‘Mi Museo’. Clearly, it looked too strange to pass up, so we went in.

The one-room museum was filled with dozens of small glass cases and large paper-mache creatures. The young women, who only spoke Spanish, showed us around the cases filled with individual toothpicks encased in glass test tubes. Each one was precisely carved and painted to represent the famous, infamous and not-so-famous; Barack Obama, The Simpsons, and friends and family of the artist. Even with the supplied magnifying glass at each case, they were still hard to see.


La ingles rubio

After a few minutes, a small man walked in and introduced himself as the artist. He had wonderful, bright eyes, and was more than willing to talk about his art in animated Spanish. (We figured it out though a mixture of grade school spanish, a dictionary he kept on-hand and a lot of gesturing.) He continued his in-depth tour of the studio, pointing out to us who each toothpick was. We moved to the wall, where we finally noticed his paintings  – each no bigger than the size of a postage stamp. Again we used the magnifying glass to examine volcanoes, dreams, and anti-war images, in all their tiny glory.


The artist

After an hour, the tour was still in full-swing and we had picked out a microscopic volcanic painting and a toothpick statue of a blonde English woman he had once known! We finally tore ourselves away, and he signed some documents to state that they were authentic and they carefully wrapped them into a tiny paper package.

Finally, at last, something easy to get home! Usually we have to worry if there will be enough room, but now we had a new problem – losing it in our luggage!


Pequeño pero hermoso

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Play ball! – Nicaraguan style.

Are you sick of paying the high prices of Major League Baseball? Tickets, beer, concessions? Try heading South, way South.

Granada Stadium

Granada Stadium

We went to a baseball game in Granada, Nicaragua, home of The Sharks. (Los Tiburones.)  The previous day, we asked the nice man at the hotel front desk when the next baseball game was. He made some calls on our behalf only to conclude “It starts tomorrow morning around 9.30 or 10, or maybe 10.30.” What?!

We walked to the field early Sunday morning, the streets were deserted, the city was just waking up. We arrived at ten; just as things got underway. Perfect timing.

Go Sharks

Go Sharks!

It turned out to be a Sunday morning Double-header. That was just the first difference between MLB and Nicaraguan baseball. Here’s some more!

  • Average ticket price at Fenway park this year: $53.38. We paid $ 1.40 per ticket. And that was for both games.
  • Stray dogs wander around the stadium looking for hand-outs. One ran onto the field in the bottom of the second causing a short delay of game.
My new friend.

My new friend

  • Mets fans pay $6.25 for a hot dog at Citibank Field Park. We got a plastic bag full of yummy home-made fried plantain chips with salsa and Nicaraguan coleslaw, for just 35 cents.
baggie of fried plantaines.

Bag of fried plantains

  • Instead of massive HD TV screens, they had a band at the back of the right field seats. As many as eight rotating members, with tubas, trumpets, a drumset and bass drum. Between innings, they blast out funky Latin songs.
Bleacher band

Bleacher band

It was now 11 AM, still a little early for beer. So I headed to the concession stand to see if I could get us some refreshing rum cocktails. I massacred the Spanish language trying to accomplish this; The closest row of fans tried to help me out, but it was no use. I ended up pointing at things; cokes, ice. I then pointed to a bottle of liquor gesturing to see if they had anything smaller? No? Ok, I’ll take the big bottle: Turns out it wasn’t rum, it was Nicaraguan sugarcane liquor in a plastic bottle.

How many U.S. stadiums do you know of that you can buy a fifth of booze?

A little help from my friends

  • You want a local micro brew at Safeco field, Seattle = $9.75.
  • At Sharks stadium, 2 cups of ice + 2 cokes + A fifth of sugarcane liquor
    = $6.50.  And it’s the Coke that’s expensive.
Sugar cane liquor, cup of ice, coke

Sugarcane liquor + cup of ice + coke = priceless

At the end of the eighth inning, both teams came out and shook hands. The game was over after only 8 innings? I guess it was because they were playing a double-header. Bizarro.

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Surfing Nicaragua

It has been a few years since I almost decapitated myself and received forty stitches to put my upper lip back together surfing in Malibu.  But strange as it may seem, I was eager to try it again. We were in the surf capital of Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur visiting with my childhood friend, Sean and his parents. I figured this was the best place to put the past behind me and jump back on the waves.


Playa Remanso

There were five of us on this excursion; myself, Helen, Sean, his daughter Vega and her B.F., Tabor. We bumped down a dirt road that ended at a picturesque beach tucked into a small bay bordered by palm trees. There were two small open air beach shack cafes that sold beer and food and rented surfboards. They were just as you would imagine, thatched roof, hammocks, laid-back teenage bartender and Reggae playing over the dated sound system. They made the best grilled fish tacos we had all trip. This was our one beach day; we had the beach (& the bar) to ourselves. This place was perfect.

Macuá cocktail at the beach shack


Sean and I got geared up and headed out into the water, thankfully the surf was small, as, turns out, I am a rubbish surfer.  Even just waiting for the right waves to come in, I can barely even sit on the surfboard. As the perfect set rolls in, I fall off.

My paddling ‘technique’ to catch a wave was a frenzy; frantically flailing my arms, splashing about and basically going nowhere. Miraculously, somehow I would occasionally catch a wave, but standing up was a different matter. I would get to my feet, off-balance, and instantly tumble head-over-heels into the water.

It’s slightly embarrassing and somewhat surprising given I have spent years of my life snowboarding; it obviously doesn’t translate over. Even Vega and Tabor were able to stand on the surfboard longer than me and they are nine and ten years old.

Surf’s Up!


Anyway, I don’t care I’m a crappy surfer; it was a great beach day hanging out with a good friend on empty foreign beaches. And best of all no injuries – I am just glad I’m still trying, even after my surfboard lobotomy!

(Pictures and stories from my Malibu surf accident: not for the squeamish.

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Volcano boarding

With the Pacific NorthWest having lowest snowfall in history, I decided to try my luck ‘snowboarding’ a little further south – Nicaragua.

Cerro Negro is one of the 28 volcanos in the county and the only one in the world you can ride down on a board. You can slide down either sitting on a rudimentary toboggan or standing, like on a snowboard. Helen was very excited to do this, but I was a little more skeptical, It sounded like a recipe for disaster.

Ceda Negro

Cerro Negro crater

Cerro Negro last erupted in 1999 and the jet black dried lava contrasts sharply against the green rolling hills that surrounds it. We saw multiple small craters as we slowly climbed up, past small vents emitting wispy clouds of steam. The trail climbed 1500 feet in elevation and as the temperature was above 90 degrees, thankfully only took an hour.

Top crater.

At the top!

We reached the top and walked over to look into the dormant crater; the smell of sulfur was strong. When you scratched through the first layer of dirt, the ground below was hot to the touch and steam started to rise from the hole. We had a 360 degree view of the Pacific Ocean, numerous other volcanoes and the lush countryside of Nicaragua.


Ready to roll.

But now it was time to descend! So we put on our over-sized jumpsuits for protection and I strapped on my board. We had the latest in high-tech equipment; plywood cut roughly into a shape of a board with worn linoleum on the bottom and basic strapping to attach it to your feet.

Helen volunteered to go first on her plywood toboggan. She was off in a cloud of dust and she quickly was out of sight over the steep incline. When it was my turn to go, I had to basically point straight downhill to get going, with a gloved hand at the ready to catch my fall.

Helen in mid-descent.

Helen mid-descent.

It turns out that volcanic ash and rock is a little more resistant than snow. I can’t say I was ripping down the mountain, but I slowly got the hang of it, stood up and ground down the volcano, fighting to stay upright. When I reached the bottom I was boiling hot and just relieved that I didn’t take a tumble.


Grinding down the hill

While the riding was not exactly like a powder day at Mount Baker after a massive dump on a bluebird day, it was a novelty to ride down a volcano. I don’t feel the need to do it again, but I’m glad I gave it a go; it was something I will never forget.

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