Saturday, November 29, 2008

Travel Divas, Nicaragua, Part II

Editor's note: The following travel writing was co-authored by Amazing Cheastypants and her wonderful sister Umulu on Thanksgiving Day. Part III to follow tomorrow.

Travel Divas Strike Again, Part II

For those who haven’t been here before, Nicaragua is a country with a rich and storied history – one often intertwined with U.S. history, though not always in a positive way. For example, back in the early 20th century, the U.S. staged a hotly-contested military occupation of Nicaragua that lasted over 20 years and engendered one of the first guerrilla wars ever waged. Eventually, however, we withdrew after setting up a puppet president about whom FDR once famously remarked, “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Several sons of bitches later, the Nicaraguan people would rise up and the Sandinistas would execute the second successful social revolution in Latin American history. Sadly, the Sandinistas danced too close to American fears of communism, and as part of our attempt to “stem the red tide” in the 1980s, the Reagan administration funded the Contra War, with disastrous effects for Nicaragua’s social infrastructure, particularly in the arenas of health and education. This has had predictable long-term consequences for Nicaragua’s political and social development, though with a healthy dose of internal corruption and bureaucratic incompetence (and, most recently, election fraud), in some arenas it seems that the country has hamstrung itself. Today, Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti having won the day in a photo-finish.

Troubled history and present challenges aside, however, Nicaragua is a fascinating place to visit. It possesses the beauty typical of Central America, with lush mountain vistas, brightly colored flora and fauna, friendly people, and a large quantity of semi-starved livestock wandering around the streets. Don’t worry, the locals know who owns them.

The plan was to hit up a few key locations for Emily to see the country, learn some history, and get a tan, while Cheasty relaxes in the wake of some truly frightening post-electoral violence in Managua. Accordingly, the first two days were spent at a locally-famous beach resort named Montelimar, highly recommended by the Lonely Planet. Before continuing, we’d like to pause for a brief public service announcement about The Lonely Planet Tour Guides. Please adhere to the following rule of thumb: when traveling in Latin America, always assume that no matter what the Lonely Planet tells you, the exact opposite is likely true. In 2003, the Travel Divas braved South America with a Lonely Planet guide written by a series of authors, the majority of whom, a CNN exposé would later reveal, had never set foot on the continent. Thus, we once visited an Argentinian town touted in the LP as “the Berkeley, California of South America.” Allow us to assure you this was not the case. To this day we have a running joke that uses the line “the Berkeley of South America,” to signify something so incongruous to expectations as to induce cardiac arrest, hysteria, or impromptu fainting spells.

Nonetheless, we once again find ourselves at the mercy of the Lonely Planet, and suffice it to say, Montelimar was hilarious, mostly because of the terrible food and exceedingly bad mood music. It was the Clampetts go to Maui, except we were Maui and Montelimar was the Clampetts. It was like going to dinner at your neighbor’s house, and she tells you she’s busting out the good china for the meal. Then you look down and find Elvis Presley peering up at you through your peas. Have you ever had fish cooked so hard that when it hits your plate it clatters? What about pasta pomodoro that turns out to be tomato soup over mushy noodles? A pancake that was so hard to chew Umulu actually spat it out? To be fair, all would have been well had we not landed at the tail end of a tropical depression, but instead of sunbathing and windsurfing, the steady rains kept us actively engaged in a murderous bout of Rummy 500 and occasional hysterical bursts of laughter as we pondered our circumstances.

Happily, we have moved on. En route to our next destination, Cheasty disproved years of Umulu’s skepticism about her older sister’s “superior driving skills,” navigating with the skill of a rally driver some of the worst roads either of us have ever seen, even with our combined experience in developing nations. “How bad?” you ask? These weren’t potholes, they were cavernous pits that would’ve taken out the axle out of a Panzer tank if hit at more than 10 kilometers an hour. Tricky going, but we made it, and boy did we make it.

Mark your calendars, folks, for your upcoming vacation to Nicaragua. The Hotel La Perla in León is FANTASTIC. Owner Jim Petersen has done a stunning job restoring this neo-classical architectural gem in the heart of one of the oldest, most beautiful, and historically significant colonial cities in Central America. Here’s where you find William Walker and his Fillibusters, major events in the Sandinista Revolution, the home of famous poet Rubén Darío, and other key historical events and figures, all of which are depicted in beautiful murals throughout the city. Our wonderful tour guide Julio, of Julio Tours, did a wonderful job interweaving his own personal history and experience of the revolution with the broader national historical narrative, and again, we would highly recommend his services should you ever chance this way. Last but not least, we also spent several fascinating hours wandering through the Ortiz Modern Art museum, where Umulu, truly not a fan of modern art museums (no really, ask her some time about an exhibit called “Light Turning On and Off” for the full measure of her disdain) found herself enthusing over the exhibits just as much as Cheasty did. It was really something special. While the art collection itself is widely acknowledged to be the best in Central America, the setting is amazing, and enhances the experience. Housed in a Spanish-style colonial mansion, the interior courtyards, fountains, stucco walls, tile roof, and enormous shutter windows lend ambience and grace to what is already a memorable art collection. We loved it.

This afternoon we whiled away the time with delicious rum and cokes, gossiped and chatted with Jim the Affable Owner, and dined on typical Nicaraguan food at a nearby restaurant. A lazy half hour in the plaza and an unexpected Carnaval-style parade rounded off the evening, and we find ourselves winding down for a long winter’s nap. (ha ha.) Tomorrow we’re off to pick up our friend Meredith at the airport, and head to Granada, another famous colonial city here in Nicaragua. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Love and kisses to those for whom love and kisses are appropriate, and warmest greetings to everybody else.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Continued Adventures of Umulu and Cheastypants

Editors note: The following series of updates from Nicaragua were co-authored by Amazing Cheastypants and her beloved sister Umulu. The story of our week-long vacation will be serialized over the next few days, but here is the first installation, written a few days ago. First, a little background...

Travel Divas Strike Again

For those of you new to this travelogue series, Travel Divas began back in 2003 when Umulu and Cheasty, sisters and friends, took off for the wilds of South America with only a leaky tent, a sense of adventure, their backpacks, and, who are we kidding, several carry-on bags for company. Adventures, discoveries, near-death experiences, and handsome Australian fire-fighters ensued. We would expect no less of Travel Divas.

“But what is a Travel Diva?” we hear you ask. Why that’s an excellent question! Let’s see. Ideally, Travel Divas are laid-back, open-minded, economical, compassionate, and above all, competent travelers. For example, a Travel Diva would never leave her map on the plane (Cheasty). She would never fail to bring water on a bike trip in a desert so dry the houses do not have roofs (Umulu). And she would NEVER trust a travel agent with a walrus moustache, no matter how paternal and trustworthy he appears. (Damn you, Mr. Danannaman!) On the other hand, Travel Divas would take off on bikes with a hand-drawn map instead of signing up for the 15-person guided tour of the salt flats. She would carry her sister’s backpack out of the wilderness when that sister is injured, or lend an encouraging hand when her sister is afraid of heights. She knows when it’s worth it to chuck the Ramen noodles and order a steak and a fine Cabernet, and she knows how to smile gamely and keep chewing when whatever it is you’ve got to eat isn’t really what you’d like to eat. To be a Travel Diva, in other words, is to seize the moment, to maximize the opportunity, all while preserving life and limb for future forays into The Great Unknown.
As independent travelers, neither one of us really lives up to the dream that is Travel Divascocity. Cheasty’s a little too cheap and a little too laissez-faire, while Umulu routinely makes a bee-line for the nearest walrus moustache or Four Seasons Hotel, whichever is closest. Together, however, we are greater than the sum of our parts. As a team, we are Travel Divas, and oh, the adventures we’ve had together.

Which explains how now, in 2008, Emily found herself boarding a plane for Nicaragua, a country that appeared to be on the brink of civil war, with four bikinis, ten romance novels, five U.S. dollars in cash, and a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. The plan was for Cheasty to pick up Ums at the Managua airport at 9pm sharp, but having learned from The Terrifying Incident of Lost in the Desert, not to mention The Astonishingly Frightful Episode of Where is My Scuba Diving Buddy, we had a five-fold contingency plan that involved both the U.S. Embassy, the world-famous Intercontinental Hotel, and 25 different phone numbers. Astonishingly, the one time we were actually prepared for disaster, it turned out to be completely unnecessary, and the next morning we set off for what turned out to be the relative comfort of a slightly sketchy Nicaraguan beach resort.

Turn in tomorrow to see what happens as our Travel Divas take on Nicaragua...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

For My Family On Thanksgiving

Oh, who are we kidding. For my family? Six of the seven members of the AmazingPants clan will hate me for this, but my littlest brother will love it. This is for you, Bug, your favorite song in the world. Delight yourself endlessly.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Wish I were there with you all at Granddad and Julie's place, but Umulu and I will do our best to find a fine turkey dinner here in Nicaragua. Gobble, gobble, gobble!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Of Yogurt and Other Natural Wonders

Do you ever get the feeling that whatever it is you're supposed to be taking away from a certain situation is not at all what you're taking away? I sometimes wonder about myself. For example, all I remember from 7th grade social studies class is that there was a boy behind me whose first name rhymed with his last name in iambic pentameter, and one day he pulled out every single eyelash on his left eye. Shouldn't I remember something more social-studies-ey than that? Shouldn't I be able to tell you the exact powers of the electors in the electoral college? Shouldn't I be able to expound upon the details of the Missouri Compromise? Nope. All I can tell you is that my 7th grade social studies teacher was rumored to be having a torrid affair with my homeroom teacher, who used entirely inappropriate amounts of hairspray. An embarrassing take-away for a student who did her homework diligently, but there you have it. I'm impressed by all the wrong things.

I have the slightly unsettling feeling that this might also be the case for my recent trip to the mountains with Moxita the Amazing Fifi Poodle and Varunski. You see, I know for a fact that we saw beautiful mountains, visited glorious coffee farms, explored cool places and met interesting people. But for the rest of my life I think I will only remember the yogurt.

"The yogurt?" you ask in patent disbelief. "Yes, the yogurt," I reply. You'd have to have seen it to believe it, but I have never had yogurt like this before, and I doubt I ever will. This was a magical and blessed yogurt. Just take a look at this:

I should probably say up front that if you're not a yogurt lover, the glories I am about to describe may be lost on you, in which case I apologize, and encourage you to scroll down to see boisterous photos of our Leap-a-Palooza. But for you yogurt lovers, I will rhapsodize intemperately. Have you ever had a yogurt like this? So light, so textured, grainy and yet smooth, tart and yet slightly sweet, with just the perfect amounts of fat to roll across your tongue; it was an experience that reduced us (only momentarily, I assure you) to stunned silence. Wildest of all, however, was the consistency. I have never in my life had a yogurt quite this sticky, though sticky seems an inappropriate word for it. Like taffy, when you picked up a spoonful, it stretched and maintained viscosity in a stunning and beautiful way. You could stretch it and curl it and whirl it around, and the yogurt wouldn't break, but somehow, magically, it still tasted light as a feather. I will never understand, but I will always remember. For the rest of my life when talking about this vacation I will tell a story that begins with "Oh, and this one time I had the greatest yogurt." Embarrassing, but true.

After Moxita and I had finished our first little bowls of Magic Yogurt, we stared disconsolately into the bottom of our bowls and contemplated crying. Then it struck us: we could order more! Oh, joy, oh bliss! Dance of Immoderate Joy! As the waiter approached with our new bowl of yogurt our fingertips tingled, and sparks flew from the haloes around our heads. My boisterous curls woke up from their Long Nicaraguan Siesta to bounce briefly upon my head. Then Moxita dipped her spoon in and we almost cried. It wasn't the same at all. Oh, it was still delicious and beautiful, but not stretchy, not so grainy and light. I was just your run-of-the-mill very excellent yogurt, and you'd have thought from our reaction that it was the worst thing ever in the history of the universe. What is this dreck?! Where is our Magic Yogurt?! BRING ME MY MAGIC YOGURT!!!!!!!

We hammed it up for a while, filmed a video, which hopefully I can someday put up on youtube cause it's hilarious, and took loads of hilarious pictures like the following one. I love this picture for two reasons. One, Moxita really does feel as bummed out as she looks, and two, LOOK AT MY FACE.

So let me sum up by saying that the rest of the vacation really was wonderful. We cruised around the mountains, then headed out to the lake, and enjoyed a peaceful few last days together in my favorite place in the world. Let me recommend, for any who travel this way, the Crater's Edge, a small hotel/hostel on the edge of the Laguna de Apoyo. Absolutely charming, both in terms of the location, the owner, and the food. I could've died happy there, but it was not to be, thank goodness, and now I'm with my dear sister Umulu on wonderful adventures of our own, which I'll tell you about shortly. Travel Divas strike again. Love to you all, my poppets. I'll end with some fabulous pictures of leaping, because I'm sure you haven't seen enough of those yet. :)

And just for shits and giggles, these two, which I love:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

When Last We Saw Our Traveling Trio...

Hello my poppets, I'm back again with a wee update from the land of volcanoes. When last you read this blog the political situation was a bit fraught, but I'm here to tell you that it looks like things are going to calm down. Amazingly, the Liberal party (who are, funnily enough, conservative) looks like it's going to just lie down and take it from the Sandinistas, who just perpetrated an amazingly brash election fraud. Really, it's hard to blame them; if somebody used the kinds of violence and intimidation tactics on me that the FSLN has brought out against the Liberals, I'd probably put my hands in my pockets, stare at the sky, and whistle aimlessly, too. It's either that or civil war, and I guess they're reluctant to do that. We might see a few more marches, maybe a riotous celebration from the Sandinistas, but for the most part, I predict a coming calm.

So on that note, let me share some more pictures from the Amazing Vacation of Varunski, Moxita the Fifi Poodle, and Cheastypants. When last we saw our traveling trio, we had just left the fabled and fabulous Island of Ometepe and were on our way up to the mountains, to a town called Estelí. It took us a while to get going. First, Varunski had to flirt with every fine lady he met.

Not to be outdone, Moxita and I practiced our best moves of seduction such as The Batting of the Eyelashes, The Dainty Fingertips On the Collarbone, The Touching the Man's Forearm Casually, and, of course, our most successful patented flirting move, The Glance of Unadulterated Seduction:

Sexy, no? Yes, I know. Don't get too distracted, however, I'm still telling a story here. Where was I? Oh yes, we were preparing to depart on our voyage to the mountains. Of course, it was going to be a long bus ride, and we needed drinking water for fortification. It took us a while to find a bottle of water with just the right level of STDs. Not too much, not too little, turns out that 400 parts per million is juuuuuust right.

Ah yes. Now we're ready.

In Estelí we did all sorts of things that I couldn't do the first time I went there on account of how everything was closed. This time I cleverly planned the trip not to coincide with any national holidays or patron saint days, and WA-LA! Everything was open. We went to a cigar factory where they roll those famous puros of Nicaragua.

This excursion was actually way more fun than I thought it would be. They do everything there from sorting to soaking to curing to rolling the tobacco, and except for the rolling part, the jobs are extremely gender-segregated. The women sit in one room around a table where they sort and stack and tear and de-vein, and the men work in curing and building the cigar boxes by hand. The women chatter and gossip in their well-lit room, while the men sit around in dark rooms and stare at a pin-up pictures of very naked hairless women in various compromising positions. Ooh, la la. Most interesting of all, however, was this: my personal lion fetish was never more happily satisfied than on this day.

Also, this was on the wall. Can I just say, on behalf of all deer everywhere, WHAT THE F&CK.

We also did all sorts of fun-to-do-but-boring-to-read-about touristy things, and met lots of fun people, including a fantastic Greek couple that we promptly fell in love with and kidnapped. We took them with us the next day when we rented a car and headed up the mountain to Tisey, where we went to go see the cliff carving artist I wrote about in that earlier post. Oh, it was wonderful, even the second time, especially since this time we got a personal guided tour by the artist himself, who'd been away from home on my first trip. He climbed trees, picked us oranges, and recited his poetry at length while staring out onto the vast expanse of the Nicaraguan wilderness from his cliff-top carving paradise.

Oh, it was grand, just grand. How grand, you ask? This grand:

More photos later of our Leap-A-Palooza throughout the Nicaraguan highlands. Coming soon on this website: The Greatest Yogurt Ever Made In the History Of the Universe. I promise, you won't want to miss this.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Short Update from Paradise

I'm not sure how many of you remember a post I put up in September about a place called the Laguna de Apoyo, but if you want to go see some pictures of heaven, go check out this post. I am there again now, with Moxita the Amazing Fifi Poodle, of course, and we are completely and totally the happiest people on the planet. No tropical storms, no demonstrations, no protest rallies, no noise of mortars being fired in the neighborhood, no riot police. Ahhhh. Just peace, quiet, hammocks, lovely blue-green water, lovely blue skies. Nice people, delicious food, kayaks, free coffee, and delicious bottles of wine. I feel like a noodle.

Moxita and I woke up at 6 and went swimming around the lake, then breakfasted on gorgeous breads, yogurt, fruit, and eggs. Then I took a nap. I have a book to read for my research this afternoon, and I have kayaking planned for the late afternoon. Anybody who was worried about me can relax. I'm in heaven. I'll update again later, and post some pictures from the rest of the vacation with Varunski and Moxita. Over and out for the time being!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oops. Weather Report.

I couldn't check the weather forecast before I headed off to the Caribbean coast? Goodbye riots in Managua, hello tropical depression. I've never actually seen a palm tree bend almost in half before, but now I know it's possible. Leaving on the first plane out, back to western Nicaragua. Might just head to the lake. Internet painfully slow. Might start weeping. Or maybe beat my head on the wall? Also an attractive option. At least Moxita the Amazing Fifi Poodle and I are still making each other laugh. You guys should hear the new funny accent I just figured out how to do. That's me, always exploring new frontiers in boredom-inspired hilarity. Will be performing live in Austin this December!

A few notes to address very excellent and valid points raised in yesterday's comments:

Regarding election violence, it will calm down soon. Additionally, all riots are planned ahead and advertised widely, so they are easy to avoid. I just have to read the paper every day and keep talking to people to stay abreast of current news. As for my friend who was killed, he was in Guatemala, not Nicaragua, and he was traveling on a bus that wasn't a major busline, which I will not do. Plus, I'm not going to Guatemala. As for life here in Nica, I have finished all my archival work now (just waiting for final photocopies to be ready for pickup), and am heading up to the mountains (small towns, safe places, very chill) to scout out some field work locations for oral history interviews. I will not be moving about in Managua that much. Believe me, if I really felt that I was in danger, I'd be on the first plane home. This is work, and it is not worth my life. What all this election craziness constitutes for me is a pain in the ass, but not a real danger. I promise, if that changes, I'm out of here. Thank you all for your concern, I promise I'm doing all I can to stay safe and away from political demonstrations.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Timing is Everything

Well initially I felt a little guilty about taking about 2 and a half weeks of vacation down here, but in retrospect, it turns out that I am a certified genius.  Election violence is really wild down here, and it's been impossible to get anything done in Managua at all for the past week. I called around to the archives, and most of them are closed, or only open for a few hours a day with limited services.  The Sandinistas "won" the municipal elections, but there are widespread accusations of fraud.  As a result, riots, demonstrations, violence.  So far two people have been killed when riot police fired into a crowd, though much of the violence is lower key than that. Moxita went to León on Sunday and arrived here in Managua this morning, as the demonstrations were so violent and huge that she was effectively trapped in the hostel once she got there.  And getting there itself was terrifying, as there were roadblocks, and people kept stopping her bus, boarding it, threatening people, and smashing the bus windows.  Finally the police boarded and the driver decided to continue on to León with that added protection, but it was dicey.  I'm so relieved she's ok.   I checked my email a little while ago and got an Embassy update advising of planned 'demonstrations' (read: riots) in Managua tomorrow (read:  all week). This is an excerpt from the report:

U.S. citizens traveling to or already in Nicaragua are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.
Violent demonstrations and road blockages continue and numerous injuries have been reported. The situation remains fluid. Street protests and/or clashes are likely to continue in the coming days and can be unpredictable in time, place, and intensity.
Activities observed during protests include, but are not limited to tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus/vehicle burning and some degree of physical violence between law enforcement and protestors or between rival political parties or individuals. Activities tend to intensify in violence beginning in the early afternoon. Passersby and observers are not immune from the effects of these protests.

To make the whole situation a little worse, I've just learned that a friend of mine was killed while traveling up to Guatemala (which Moxita and I had initially planned to do). He was on a bus where I guess somebody was transporting drugs of some kind, though the other passengers didn't know about it. The details aren't clear, but essentially the bus was having problems and turned down a less-traveled road as a short cut to Guatemala City. A drug gang stopped the bus, executed everybody on board (15 Nicaraguan tourists and this guy Rob) and then burned the bus and bodies. It had nothing to do with the current election violence in Nicaragua, but still a sobering reminder of the very real dangers that exist for travelers in some of these places. I still feel pretty stunned. I didn't know Rob well by any means, but we spent a day traveling together in a small group of friends to the Laguna de Apoyo. I remember him particularly because we spent hours talking while floating in the lake, bobbing about in inner tubes. So we wouldn't drift apart, we held hands as we floated, staring up at the puffy white clouds in a blue sky. I still can't believe he's dead, and in such a random and violent way. The guy I held hands with for two hours three weeks ago is dead now.

I'm getting out on the first plane tomorrow morning, and will be cooling my heels on the Atlantic seaboard until the weekend. Again, not sure about internet access, though the hotel did recommend we bring flashlights, which I've interpreted as a clue, so no promises for updates until next weekend.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Oh My God, Where Do I Start. Ometepe? Why Not...

Hello my posies, my poppets, my precious petunias! I am back in Managua now, after one of the most splendid weeks of vacation I've ever had. When last I updated, Moxita the Amazing Fifi Poodle and I had just picked up our friend Varunski from el aeropuerto and were preparing to take off for the wilds of Nicaragua. Oh, I was so happy - it felt completely wonderful to have two of my greatest friends down here with me. So we spent an evening giggling and trading stories and catching up, and the next morning, backpacks packed, off we strode to the bus station.

It was election day, and Nicaragua was preparing for all sorts of hooliganism and shenanigans, so it was oddly quiet in the streets, and there were cops everywhere. Poor us. We'd spent the evening before trying to get a beer, but all the bars were closed. We even got racially profiled, as one of them saw Varunski with two gringas and got immediately suspicious. "Hey, little brown guy," he called. "Come over here and show me your identification papers." EEK! With some quick talking we managed to get off the hook. "No hablo español!" Varunski kept repeating, and eventually the cop believed him.

The trip to Ometepe, a volcanic island in the middle of enormous Lake Nicaragua was absolutely beautiful. Here we are on the ferry, looking happy.

Want to know why we look so happy? It's cause on account of that gorgeous volcano. Yaaaaaay, volcanoes! There are two on the island, only one of which is active, but it hasn't erupted properly in about fifty years. Mostly all they get recently is earthquakes and spewing ash, though neither one happened while we were there.

Ometepe was spectacular. We climbed volcanoes (ow, ow, ow), rented bikes of dubious quality to ride about the island and explore the harder-to-get-to-spots. We swam in crystal-clear natural spring pools of aquamarine waters, and stayed at a hostel that had a pet donkey named Fiona, hammocks, and some of the friendliest tourists around. Also, copious quantities of surprisingly excellent vegetarian food.

I wish I could show you all the pictures we took, but some 500 might take a while to load so I'll just show you a few highlights.
On our bike ride to the swimming hole we stopped to leap with joy at the sight of that gorgeous mountain in the background.

Moxita was particularly excited because she lives in the Netherlands and hasn't seen anything higher than two meters in a few years now.

And the swimming hole... God, how can words even capture how unspeakably lovely, how peaceful, how clear and precious that spot is?

So I know, it looks like all we did the whole time was jump around madly, which is sort of true. But we also spent golden sunset hours sitting around and drinking beer and rum, which I consider valuable time. Also, we had impromptu Spanish language lessons throughout our travels. Moxita, for example, learned that the expression "Mucho gusto" can be applied to many situations. Really, it means "much pleasure," and it's used in the same way that we say "pleased to meet you." Do you like the food, Moxita? "Pleased to meet you!" she'd say, and people would smile. Varunski got by by saying "Donde una cerveza" in every situation, which also made people smile. I mean, really. Is there anything more charming than a cute Trinidadian running around saying "where the beer, where the beer?" No there is not. I have many many more stories that I promise I'll share later. For example, Moxita and the Taxi Driver is a great story, as is our lesson about The Suggestion of Reality, but I'm out of time, so I'll sum up in this way:

After three days it was time to go. We hopped a ride in the back of a pick-up truck back to Managua (bouncy bouncy bouncy) where we took a bus up to the mountains of northern Nicaragua, but that's another story for another day. For now I'll say goodbye and run to catch up on the rest of the stuff I need to finish up today before I take off for a trip to the Atlantic Coast and Corn Islands. Yay! Hasta luego!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

We Now Pause For Station Identification

Just a heads up that I'm heading off into the wild and wonderful land of the backpacker kingdom, and it might be a week before I get back on this blog to update. Having said that, I'd like to leave you with a few images of joy and bliss from my recent weekend at the beach with MOXITA THE AMAZING FIFI POODLE!

Oh, it was heavenly. We walked, we swam, we lounged about in hammocks, we ordered fish for lunch and got FISH. As in whole, grilled, head-and-fins-and-skin-attached fish. I love fish like this, but it was a first for Moxita. It came out on it's huge plate, a lime wedge stuck in its befanged mouth, and Moxita looked at me in dead shock. "But Cheasty, that's a real fish!" Why yes, it is. And soooooo delicious!

On our long walks up and down the beach we saw all kinds of natural wonders. Mussels wiggling their way back into the sand, whole conch shells washed up on shore, bleached sand dollars, and best of all, something I've never seen outside a petting zoo. Live sand dollars.


Oh my goodness I was so excited to find these things! I love the way their little tentacles wave and circle, and the patterns they leave on the sand when they burrow underneath it. These were another first for Moxita, too, and she loved them at least as much as I did. Look, she even kissed them goodbye when it was time to go. Goodbye, little sand dollars! Thank you for playing!

After a long and beautiful evening, a dinner picnic on the beach with cheese and foccacia crackers and a bottle of very wonderful wine, and an hour or so of star-gazing and rambling conversation, we toddled off to bed at the positively geriatric hour of 8:30. I know, ridiculous, but we were drunk, tired, and happy, and there was nothing else going on. Today we came back to Managua to pick up our great friend Varunski (pics to follow later) and tomorrow we head off on a week of travels to places with very little internets. How excited am I? I feel like I could dance the Dance of Unending Joy and never ever stop.

So off we go. Wish us luck, wish us happiness, and tune back in next Monday to see how it all went. Hasta entonces, amigos...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Joy, What Bliss!

Well hello there, my pretty ponies, I am the happiest Cheastypants in the world. The sun is shining, Obama will be president, and best of all, my amazing wonderful brilliant beautiful and hilarious friend MOXITA THE FIFI POODLE just arrived to visit me!!! She got here last night and in the 12 hours since she arrived we've laughed so hard we cried. Twice. There is nothing better than a good friend, nothing better at all.

So over the next few weeks I'm taking a hiatus from research to have some fun around here. Initially I wasn't going to take this coming week off at all, but Nicaragua's municipal elections are coming up this weekend, and in an effort to help his party win, President Ortega declared many many days off work. Clearly, this was a sign from God that I must leave Managua and have some fun. Also, they've banned the sale of alcohol for the four days surrounding the election. Crazy. The whole environment here is insane right now with huge spontaneous demonstrations and parades and shouting throngs of crazy flag-waving Sandinistas and lunatic Liberals hanging by the dozens from the rooftops and beds of trucks and buses. And here's something nutty: the Liberals here are actually Conservative. How wild is this country, I ask you? Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a Gabriel García Márquez novel.

Ok, updates to come forthwith. Today, I work, tomorrow I go to the beach. That's as far as we've gotten in planning, but I think it's a good start.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


If you've been reading this blog for longer than, say... I don't know. Two days? Then you will know that I am rarely at a loss for words. I am now. Regardless, I will do my best and sally forth in fine old Cheastypants style. But really, where do I start? I cannot even narrow down what I'm feeling right now to a short list of words. Proud? Yes, definitely. Captain Mommypants spent all day out going door-to-door, driving people to polls out in North Carolina, and I couldn't be more proud of the part she played in bringing Obama to the presidency. Umulu sent in my absentee ballot, and Crasey voted early. Amazed? Yes. The Fairy King, who in his own words would "rather be in church" than think or talk about politics, drove himself an hour away to the last place he'd registered to vote, and brought Obama to the presidency. Stunned? Yes. I am not what you would call an optimist, and I was terrified, absolutely convinced that victory would slip through our fingers on election day. And yet we won in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, and NORTH CAROLINA (hi, family!), something I never thought I'd see happen. Relieved, overjoyed, excited beyond words? I believe I will come up with my own word, since none that I am aware of are quite doing the job. I am stunderfied. Part stunned, part wonderment, part terrified of the great task we have set ourself to. I am stunderfied.

I do not know what a President Obama will do for this country. I am sure that at times I will celebrate and at times I will disagree quite strongly. But I tell you what. Today, after years of feeling that my vote was a futile act, I am proud to say that I, along with millions of Americans, voted for the chance to change, to improve, to build upon hope and energy and an urge to do good both at home and in the world. Regardless of how this whole thing turns out four or eight years down the road, I am proud of my generation and of my country in this moment. I looked at the crowds gathered tonight for McCain and Obama, respectively, and at one I saw nothing but white, well-coifed heads in one of the most luxurious hotels in Arizona. And in the other I saw the diversity in age, race, and creed that is the future face of the United States. We are changing, demographically, culturally, and politically, and seeing those crowds -- hundreds of thousands of people -- gathered in the open public spaces of cities and states around this nation, I was both proud and wistful. Proud that I am witnessing the moment in which the hope for change expressed itself in the voice of the people, and wistful that I am watching history happen in my home from so far away.

Congratulations, President Obama, and good luck.

Ants In My Pants

One of my mother's favorite stories to tell about my childhood is about one sunny spring afternoon when Mom was trying to relax with a book in a lawnchair outside. Normally, as she tells it, I was really good at entertaining myself, coming up with imaginary games and playing with my sister. This one day, however, I was beside myself with energy, and wanted my mother's attention more than anything. So I stood by the side of her chair, and I'm sure I said things like, "Ya wanna play, Mom, do ya? Huh? Huh? How about now, Mom? Now? Now? Mom? Mom?" Except I wasn't really standing by the side of her chair, I was holding onto the arm and bouncing and jumping around like a jack-in-the-box. Finally Captain Mommypants couldn't help herself -- she started laughing, and asked me, "What is going on with you today?! Have you got ants in your pants?"

Apparently, I'd never heard this expression before, and took her quite literally. According to Mom, I looked absolutely shocked and horrified, and I instantly stopped bouncing around. I pulled out the elastic waistband of my shorts and took a cautious peek inside. Then I breathed a sigh of relief. "No, Mommy, I don't have ants in my pants." I told her.

Well, today, 25 years after the day in which I did not have actual ants in my pants, I can report that today, I think I do. It's election day back in the States, and I have never been so nervous or anxious about the outcome of a political contest in my life. I woke up repeatedly in the night just thinking about it, and at 5:30 AM I gave up the ghost when my eyes flew open and the first coherent thought in my head was, "It's election day." I'm completely on tenterhooks, and I need something to distract me. Somehow I don't think I'll be able to focus one lick at the archives, but I'll give it a try anyway because the alternative (obsessively checking the internet) does not bear consideration. I've never been able to sit still for long periods of time, but this is ridiculous. I'm eating breakfast while I type and I've jumped up and down 4 or 5 times already, just from nervous energy. At six o'clock this evening I'm meeting a friend to go watch election results, and I officially forbid myself from sneaking peeks before hand. I've sent in my vote, so there's nothing I can do by hovering nervously besides jinx the whole thing, so I'm banned. Officially, permanently banned from looking. Until tonight.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I'm Getting Married

Oh, at last, at long, long last! For years I've been wondering why I'm still single. Well now I know, and what's more, I now have a handy-dandy little instruction manual to help me find my mate.  All right, so it's written by children, but frankly, all the adults out there aren't helping me out in the least, so I'm willing to give it a shot.  The following came in my email this morning, and let me just be the first to say thank you to the kids who put it together. I am now adequately armed in my quest for happily-ever-after! Hooorayyy!!!

From the mouths of babes... (my commentary in red.)


You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.
-- Alan, age 10

Ah, so that's what I've been doing wrong.  Putting chips and dip on grocery list...

No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with.
-- Kristen, age 10

Ok.  So the really weird part is that I THOUGHT THE SAME THING when I was a kid.  No kidding.  I was scared to use the bathroom for months because somehow I got it in my head that boys not only knew who they would marry, but that God had given the boys crystal balls that they could watch us in.  So whoever I was going to marry one day was watching me all the time, and I didn't want him to see me using the bathroom. Where did I come up with that idea? And how did this kid get the same one? Weird-idea stealer.


Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.
-- Camille, age 10

Oh, great.  I'm older than "FOREVER" old.  Thanks, you little twerp.


You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.
-- Derrick, age 8

Hmmm.  Maybe I should rethink this whole "wanting to get married" thing? When you put it like that, well...  frankly I have more fun by myself.


Both don't want any more kids.
-- Lori, age 8



Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.
-- Lynnette, age 8

Oh, that's sweet.

On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.
-- Martin, age 10

See, Martin, I've been trying that, and let me tell you, it isn't working so well.  Eventually they figure out that my boobs aren't really that big.  Usually it happens when I get hungry and pull a grapefuit out of my bra.


I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.
-- Craig, age 9

Ah yes, the dead columns.  I use that one all the time.  Very effective.


When they're rich.
-- Pam, age 7

True, Pam.  Very, very true.  Never kiss a poor boy, they'll only give you warts.

The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess with that.
- - Curt, age 7

I like a man who's thinking ahead about not committing statutory rape.

The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do.
-- Howard, age 8

Oh.  That's kind of cute.  Howard, I'll wait for you; don't you go kissing any girls before you're 18!


It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.
-- Anita, age 9  

WHAT?!  I had no idea that was part of the job description.  Never mind, I'm not getting married.  EVER.


There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there?
-- Kelvin, age 8

I always find it refreshing to find Puritan conservatism in one so young, don't you?


Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a dump truck.
-- Ricky, age 10

Bring me cheesecake.  NOW.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Oh, Sweet Baby Face, You're Getting Old Like Me!

I will never forget the day back in 2000 when Captain Mommypants called me on the phone. "Hey." she said, forgoing all formalities. "Meet me today at this-and-such a restaurant at 12:30. Your brother has apparently met someone." Met someone. I could almost visualize the air quotes she used around those two words. Our mother is nothing if not protective, and her little boy, who was still in high school, had informed her that he was dating (dot, dot, dot) a college boy. Cue scary music. The Fairy King came out to our family when he was quite young, and while my parents loved him regardless, both were terrified that, being so young, he'd get involved with the wrong people, get stalked my psychopathic pedophiles on the internet, that sort of thing. The fact that he was now, at the tender age of 17, dating an older man was not, in Captain Mommypants's view, a good sign. She was determined to scare the rascal off and, failing that, show him exactly what he was getting himself into. We AmazingPantses can be a pretty overwhelming bunch, en masse, and en masse we were instructed to present ourselves at a mandatory lunch appearance during which we would do our best to intimidate and frighten the wonderful man we now call family. Needless to say, it didn't work. Sweet Baby Face is made of sterner stuff than my mother expected, and he was not to be deterred. For eight years and counting, Sweet Baby Face has been the Fairy King's better half, and I couldn't love him any more if he were my own brother. This is a man who is not only funny, intelligent, careful, and cuddly, but is also absolutely unafraid to make himself ridiculous.

Does he care when we mock him mercilessly for his unswerving belief that automotive excellence reached its zenith with the 2003 Honda Accord 4-cylinder, color beige? No he does not. Does he care when I substitute the last syllable of his last name with the word "fart," or when we laugh at him for the name he gave his dog? (Actually, Riley was The Fairy King's dog originally, but Sweet Baby Face stole her with his relentless charm and snuggly love, and he renamed her the following monstrosity: Her Royal Highness The Honorable Duchess Princess Riley DoodleBritches. We now pause for hysterical laughter.) No, he does not care. He just laughs along and lets us mock him. For this, we love him endlessly. Here's a picture of the whole gang (minus Bug, who was 3 at the time) at ACL Festival last year. He loves us too. You can tell, cause he actually put on one of those matching family reunion t-shirts and walked around with us.

So you see why we love him so much? Also, and this is definitely a HUGE mark in his favor, he looks really good with my brother. And that's what really matters in a relationship, you know? I mean sure, they love each other and work really hard to maintain a strong, healthy, and supportive relationship (I mean, who doesn't, right?), but more importantly, they look so damn cute together. Life with Sweet Baby Face is like going through life with an absolutely perfect set of accessories for every occasion.

So, Sweet Baby Fart, here's me, wishing you the happiest birthday a swashbuckling young man like yourself could ever have. I love you, and I wish I could be there to buy you a drink, but it'll have to wait until December. At which point, of course, it will be my birthday, and then I will let you buy me a drink. Naturally. Smoochies!!