Vamos a Estelí

It’s the hora de siesta in Estelí. The shops and vendors close momentarily, the streets slow down and all the roommates in the hostel dorm are taking a mid-afternoon snooze.

It’s been two long days of travel. Hannah and I arrived late last night to Managua, and I think we may have had the Force on our side. Immigration and customs went smoother than I ever thought possible. Our bags were one of the first off the baggage claim, and as we walked out the front door of the airport, feeling the thick-tropic air for the first time, our hotel shuttle pulled out in front of us as if it was expecting our arrival. It was a blur from when we landed to when we sat at the hotel bar and chatted with the bartender in my minimal Spanish, as he handmade our mojitos.

I don’t think it would have mattered if I would have spent every day studying Spanish, the local customs and contemporary culture — I would still be just as dumbfounded with a loss for words.

Managua’s a bustling city of 2-plus million people — of crooked streets and unorganized traffic — where the tallest building could be three stories, children run into the streets at stoplights to wash windshields and motorbikes pull through the smallest windows of opportunity.

Everything priced at our tourist trap hotel will remain our roof price (our three hour bus ride cost half as much as last night’s mojito). Breakfast was 500 cordobas for “painted rooster,” a rice and bean dish, huevos, plaintains and pancakes with a cup of coffee. The taxi cost 270 cordobas (about $7) and took us a few blocks down the street. 

When we reached the bus station, we were bombarded by merchants selling Fanta, water and pollo, but Hannah kept pushing through. A nice Nica man grabbed our packs from us and tossed them under the bus. Hannah trusted him so I followed suit. Then as we stepped up to a vender to purchase a ticket, the man steered us to the correct window, and as our turn came, the bus honked once and the man was in the bus waving us on. We paid 20 minute later as we drove out of Managua.

Hannah napped, as I wrote and wished I could snap photos of a man texting on his Blackberry with an antennae, another man handing out prayer cards or los niños jugando fútbol outside. It’s not like pulling a camera out in Montana. Here it’s impossible to get a candid shot, when everyone I focus the lens on stares back at me with wide-eyed curiosity.

The air smelled like a mix of the sea and stale water, as if the ocean flooded into the highlands. Out the window, rice and wheat fields were soaking at the base of volcanic mountains, where Estelí resides. It’s said that the Gods chose Nicaragua to grow tobacco and coffee, because the soil here is so rich(though neither are indigenous). Estelí is a cowboy town — known for leather, cigars, coffee and horses that mingle with motorbikes and cars.

When the bus pulled into the south terminal in Estelí we still had a 20 block walk to the hostel. We followed and passed locals paralleling the Pan-American Highway, until we finally crossed the street and entered the city. I could have sworn we were the only gringos in the city until we passed another tourist — her head down only glancing up to cross the chaotic intersections.

Hannah and I meandered through venders, shops and panhandlers, selling cheap Abercrombie and Fitch, sunglasses, electronics and fruit. Every so often Hannah would step into a shop asking for the main plaza, and every answer was norte, so we continued walking through the hot muggy air that we are not used to yet. 

Relief didn’t settle in until we made it to the hostel. We were met with kind faces and even some English, and we were shown to the dorm. It didn’t take long until we were back on the streets.

Estelí is much quieter, relatively speaking, than Managua. Children are replaced with ferrel dogs barking and begging for scraps of food. Each building is painted in a separate bold but bright color — in yellows, reds and violets. Policia stand on guard outside banks, as trucks and tractors re-cobble a main road — shop owners look on.


We found the PRODECOOP, the co-op that will take us to a plantation in the morning, and drank fresh juice in an open-air café.

All that’s left tonight is a bottle of rum and coke, mingling with our hostel roommates and coming up with a plan to report in Spanish, which will be a different experience.

hasta luego,



2 responses to “Vamos a Estelí”

  1. JRYAN says :

    Your writing is beautiful and it is a pleasure to follow you and Hannah on your adventure in Nicaragua. Take care of each other and keep writing!!
    Love to you both,

  2. Karen says :

    You’ve already found your travel writer’s voice, Mike. I can hear it in your words.

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