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.
Sitting in LA 11 is difficult in itself, as fluorescent lights flicker and sap all motivation away from the day’s busy schedule — finish grant, finish documentary, pay parking ticket, pack, pack and prepare…oh yeah maybe learn spanish too.
I should be listening to the professor who stands at the the stage of the room, explaining how primaries, caucuses and elections work in the American political system. I have a final on Monday. I am unaware of the course content, which means I’m unprepared for the exam.
All thoughts point towards leaving to the developing country of Nicaragua, which recently had an election that was the opposite of fair. President Daniel Ortega used executive power to change the constitution, so he could run for a third term. He won with 80-something percent, but the country is protesting. Something is wrong there; something more than FairTrade coffee. Do we hear about this in America? No, why should we care? Did we cause these problems for Nicaraguans? Depends on individual views of Iran/Contra and the history of American Imperialism in Central America. Whatever the opinion — they don’t like us, and we ignore it.
The reason for this random rambling is that two American journalism students (myself and friend, Hannah J. Ryan) are going to Nicaragua to write and photograph the coffee trade between the United States and Nicaragua. Not only will be attempt to report stories and photograph, but doing so we will have to avoid tourist-hungry taxi drivers, panhandlers and sticky-fingered marketeers and do it all with a language barrier for 28 days. My first destination outside Managua will be a market, and my first purchase will be a sweet knife (just in case). Hannah thinks that is dumb (And this will be my first developing motif. We’ll call this foreshadowing).
Traveling is something I love to do, but I’ve been to Australia and Canada. Seriously, how close to America could I go? This is an entirely different nerve I feel, and something that is slowly creeping up on me, as classwork deadlines are met and final grades are developing.
My packing is in stage one. Shit stacked in the corner of my room, hiding my guitar that’s covered in dust from a semester of no use. In a crate I have my backpacking gear: poncho, leatherman, sunscreen, bug spray, dry bags, trail shoes and chacos (probably can leave the bear spray for this trip. Although it would teach those taxi drivers a thing or two). Next to the crate is my camera bag, extra memory cards, two dozen AA batteries, lenses, strobe and chargers. I’m terrible at packing, so this will be the way my room looks until Monday night. I’ll be taking Jerry’s, not Karen’s, packing advice.
I doubt there’s any way for Hannah and I to completely prepare for this trip. Packing is one thing, but how do you prepare for what Managua’s airport will be like at 9:30 pm, when we’ve been flying all day, and the local language will no longer be English, and locals themselves will be looking for tourists for an extra dollar or two? Our parents are nervous that we don’t have an itinerary past check point #2 (1= make it to Managua, 2= get the fuck out of Managua). I’m nervous, and I think Hannah is too (well maybe. She is more badass than I am). But it’s what I want to do. Travel, meet people and tell stories that are more interesting than what’s happening in Missoula.
Over the past two years in the journalism school, we’ve all been hammered with tools and techniques on how to do journalism; what the future holds; and hypothetical situations on what to do if we get caught in some muck. But this is real. This isn’t for a grade. This for experience and something more than a couple good photos and clips for a portfolio. It’s for getting lost and looking for the trail for 28 days, and when we return, there might be a story or two to tell. It might look something like our Kickstarter video or Joe Durso grant query, or it might look like my joke I’ve been telling: “Oh my plan is to get kidnapped by some drug dealers and uncover the inner workings of a Nicaraguan drug cartel.” My bet is that it will be closer to the first idea, or at least let’s hope so.
Well anyways here’s a taste of what to expect on this blog. I’ll be updating it as often as possible, depending on internet availability, and I’ll be uploading photos as well, if I figure out how to use WordPress.
And if you feel like my ramblings enough, please donate to our Kickstarter page, and if you don’t have the cash, please share this on Facebook or word of mouth to someone who might like to learn a thing or two about FairTrade coffee and Nicaragua in general. Hannah and I have spent a lot of money to get to this point, and we’re hoping to break even after Kickstarter and selling our stories when we return in January.
Here’s the link to our Kickstarter (it will be launched ASAP): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/97690654/371574647/edit#define-your-project
Cheerio! (for those who have read my blogs before. And there will be rum featured one or two times.)
Oh and here’s an awesome photo our good friend Sally Finneran took of us.
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