Money in Nicaragua
In Nicaragua the official currency is the Cordoba, which at this time is at 27.5 Cordoba to the US Dollar (or just under four cents per Cordoba.) This is not the easiest conversion to have to do day to day. Nearly everything in the country works on Cordoba. In tourist areas it is extremely common to find US currency in use and even some restaurants or hotels with prices listed in USD. Street beggars and street sellers nearly always ask for US money since they almost universally target Americans. Sometimes you will hear them asking for pesos if they mistake you for Mexicans.
ATMs in Nicaragua will generally dispense either Cordoba or USD. Cordoba are written either as C$ or as the two characters merged officially but few character sets have that character so C$ is more common.
Cordoba come in coins of C$.50, C$1 and C$5. Paper cash comes in C$10, C$20, C$50, C$100, C$200 and C$500 denominations. ATMs typically only dispense C$500 notes.
That means that the largest note that you will see in Cordoba is worth just over $18.
Many places in Nicaragua do not take credit cards so be prepared to have cash on you at all times. Most places will take credit cards, but certainly not all.
Chip and pin cards are just coming to Nicaragua now in 2015, so while you see these advertised heavily you do not see many in practice yet.
Fumigating for Mosquitoes in Nicaragua
Mosquito fumigation is a major concern in Nicaragua. Mosquitoes are prevalent because the entire country is covered in tropical rain forest and tropical diseases tend to be pretty nasty; malaria is only one of many things that mosquitoes tend to carry and while it is probably the worst it is not the most common. Mosquito-born diseases are no laughing matter. So in this area they tend to take the eradication of mosquitoes very seriously. (It should be noted, too, that the infamous Mosquito Coast is partially in Nicaragua.)
After last week's adventure in getting fumigated while in the house and without any warning, today we were paying attention, saw the fumigation spraying up in clouds from the courtyards of the neighbours right behind us and were listening for the sound of the leaf blowers. When the fumigation team got to our front door Dominica had already hustled the kids upstairs into a front room and sealed themselves off with nothing but street facing open air and I let the fumigation guy into the house for the full treatment. We have had many mosquitoes and have figured out that we have not been getting the fumigation that we should have been getting and we really wanted to have this done.
It is, of course, everyone's responsibility to help with mosquito removal. It only takes one house with standing water to have mosquitoes breed there. It is critical that as a community we all work together to eradicate them to protect everyone.
Getting to watch them fumigate the house was intense. The fumigator started at the back of the house by the pool and worked his way forward. I ran into the dining room, grabbed my phone and filmed what I could. Rapidly the house filled up with the mosquito poison, to the point where I could not even see through the house. The house went instantly from sunny to dark. I was only able to breath to keep filming by holding the phone behind me while I pushed my face out of the front door's grating to get what fresh air that I could from outside of the house.
It got so dark in the house that I could not see the open doors or even my own feet. At one point I tried to run from the garage door to the front door which are along the same wall and only twenty feet apart at most and I could not find either door or the floor even with what should have been broad daylight coming through the open doors! It was very intense. I have no idea how these crews do this all day long. It is really impressive the lengths that the city goes to to keep the mosquitoes under control.
It took at least twenty minutes before I could venture back into the house and nearly at hour before it was starting to get back to normal. We got to watch the crews go down the street blowing fumigation through the drainage pipes, into the storm drains and in the houses. Houses that had had it done were "smoking" for a really long time after being treated.
This is definitely one of those unique Central American experiences.
Hope for our kids: a veteran teenage traveler's blog
I found a new blog this week written by a teenager who has been traveling full time for the past 10 years. He's awesome, and he gives me hope that no, we aren't "wrecking" our kids by giving them a lifestyle outside the norm. Check out Sincerely, James.
Begging in Granada
One of the more surprising and upsetting things in Granada is the beggars, and I don't mean the ones out on the street, those you would see anywhere and I cannot say that I see any more here than I would anywhere else in the world. I guess if I really think about it there are fewer here than I have seen in Europe and fewer than I have seen in other Nicaraguan cities but no fewer than I would see in the US and not nearly as many as I am used to from Texas or California cities. So that seems normal. No, what I mean is the beggars that come to your home and forcibly beg from you while you are in your home in your own space!
This has to be the worst aspect of Granada. And it is not an occasional thing, if we keep the front door open to let the breeze through, as everyone in town does, we must get an average of five beggars a day. It could be someone visibly poor - we have learned to recognize the regulars and most do indeed seem pretty poor, or it might just be someone random walking by who sees you and decides to beg. I kid you not, normal people walking by will just stop and beg opportunistically as if it is the most normal thing in the world. Imagine commuting to work and seeing someone through their front window eating breakfast and if you catch their eye calling out "can I have a few dollars?" Then going on your way. It is surreal. And then there are the kids. Affluent private school kids or just any kids will walk up and randomly beg through your windows and doors. They are just bored kids around town doing this instead of playing, in many cases. Sure the city is loaded with the poverty stricken, it is disheartening, but these are not the ones that we find coming to our door. It's kids in fancy clothes that we know live in expensive houses who attend private schools that just stop by and ask for money when they get bored. And people don't just beg, they won't stop. You tell them to go away, they will stay. They will camp out. They will return. They will interrupt you while you are working, even when you are on the phone. They will act like they need water or food or directions, then start saying "one or two" meaning dollars. Some will even bang on the door and make you come outside to see who it is. Someone will try to push their way into your home or block the door.
The begging alone is enough to not recommend Granada as a city for long term stays. It is a great city but the high density of expats and tourists has turned it into a beggar's paradise. One of the local restaurants has a full page explaining the begging situation, how bad it is and why you can't give money to the kids and where to give money to help through charitable foundations. It is becoming an epidemic in Granada because there is so much money to be made by harassing the tourists that people are quitting jobs and kids are dropping out of school because it is better to beg. The problem is is that it is kids who earn the most money so are often exploited and it leads to the problem that they earn their money when young and by the time that they are teens no one wants to give them money anymore but they have already given up their chances to go to school and have no job prospects anymore - by choice. There are even rising healthy issues caused by tourists giving away leftover food. It is the danger of too many rich tourists in a rather poor area. The disparity causes some serious issues. It is sad because giving money isn't the answer, but there are real people needing help, too. But the ones begging are not likely them.
It's sad and it is frustrating. If you visit for a weekend the tendency is to just give them money in the hopes that they go away. It's just a day or two, right? But this is what fuels it. Then for the people who live here, it never ends. And it starts to shape the economy. The kinds of people you need to move into the city to change things start to avoid living there. The people who actually need to beg and need help cannot be identified and saved. The money and the assistance moves out. The poverty increases. There is no good answer.
Refugees at the Border
Just our luck that on the very day that we want to go to Costa Rica from Nicaragua that there is a humanitarian crisis going on and thousands of Cuban refugees attempting to make their way from Ecuador and Panama, through Costa Rica and up through Nicaragua would be trapped at the border blocking the roads.
Apparently something like two thousands refugees had made it to Nicaragua and had been turned around and sent back over the border and are now causing issues in Costa Rica and the border is essentially closed. So if we make any plans or take the bus we might get stuck too. So we had to rule things out for tonight. We are going to reevaluate the situation in the morning. But we are not going to attempt the seven in the morning bus no matter what. So holding tight until then.
These are the kinds of travel surprises that you are a bit more likely to run into in Central America. We would never have guessed that something like this would affect us going to visit friends this week.
Most Amazing Picture of the Iberian Peninsula by NASA
Just saw this and had to share. This is the most incredible picture of Spain. It's so good you can easily make out exactly where our village was where we lived earlier this year. This is probably the best picture of the peninsula that I have ever seen.
The First Sign of Moving.... Cleaning Out the Fridge
I am quickly becoming accustomed to the regular packing up and moving from one country to another. We are now on a full year of moving as a family (our first move was across the US from New York to Texas before moving on to another country entirely) and I have learned that the first sign of an impending change of location is the stopping of grocery buying and the cleaning out of the refrigerator. All of the leftovers need to be eaten or thrown out, no new food can go in because there is no time in which to eat it and all food decisions need to be made based around eating whatever has accumulated around the kitchen. The goal is zero food left behind, but of course, that never happens.
A year into this process and the reality is is that we still dramatically overbuy our food provisions for wherever we are. It feels like we have so much time in which to eat it all, but there just isn't. When you live in a single place for years at a time you don't think about the fact that your ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, cereal, salad dressings and more last for months or maybe years. Spices even longer. Vinegar, cooking oil... you collect this stuff and use it in small quantities over a long period of time. You buy based on how long food while keep from spoiling not if you can eat it and match it all together before moving on. We are facing a whole new world of food acquisition challenges that we had not foreseen. Leaving Nicaragua we left behind a kitchen completely stocked with food. We are getting better, but it is a learning process, to be sure.
Now I know that the first sign of us preparing to move on to a new place is our changes in food habits. In reality, we need to condition ourselves to begin this process much earlier, at least two or three weeks before we leave somewhere rather than one or one and a half. There are so many unknowns going into the "home stretch." Right now, it is the Christmas holiday, but there is always something. Food management is a problem that we had never really thought about and short term travelers rarely face and long time relocators do not face but those of us doing the constant movement from one place to another have to deal with it constantly.
It's been three days without coffee at this point. Over the years I have adjusted to avoiding caffeine, something that I normally intake a lot of, in the days before flying. Jet lag gets the best of us and caffeine adds to dehydration and lowers your body's ability to regulate and adjust its sleep patterns around changes - plus it increases the total amount of sleep that you need, the opposite of what most people think because it makes them more awake at the time that they are taking it. So when doing long distance flights, like we are today, getting the caffeine out of the system and being able to handle rough sleep schedules is essential.
Today we fly from Houston, Texas all of the way to Istanbul, Turkey and then back to Athens, Greece. The first leg alone is twelve hours in the air! And eight hours of time zone changes to absorb as well. This is going to be the roughest flight we have ever had, for any of us.
l am very much looking forward to my first coffee on Crete.
Did You Charge Everything?
If you are getting ready to travel, one of my standard last minute checklist items is to get anything and everything charged. We travel pretty heavy compared to most people being a family of four and going for six months at a time away from "home" so our needs are different than those of most people but the basics still apply: you need your electronics to be ready to go. It's easy to forget because it takes potentially quite a bit of time and you can't get it done if you aren't prepared. Phones, tablets, laptops, camera batteries, video camera batteries... the list goes on.
New Travel and Guide App from Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet is bringing out a new travel app for your phone that might be well worth checking out...
You have to sign up now to get on the waitlist to test it out. Submit your email and select your platform (Android or iOS) today.