Life for me in Granada


Anything can be had, simply by wanting it.  When more than one being want the same thing, it goes to the one that wants it most.

The ant-head sized black pepper looks larger than usual on the potatoes.  They are cubed to the size of Travel Yatze dice.  Still glistening from the hot oil, the color is not too white, not too brown.  Not a crunch but not a mush either -more of a subtle resistance to my enamelic demand.  No hint of salt, although much was used in cooking.

The bread is a little on the dark side.  Pre and post butter proves crucial.  The freshly cut bakery creation disappears too quickly to be thoroughly documented.

The fluffy, folded egg doesn’t need to be spiced; the insides carry the flavor like a good vodka cocktail.  Hot Mexican sausage slipping through creamy cheese accompanied by chopped bell peppers, jalepenos, onion, garlic, and salted tomato cubes.  Himalayan pink salt and crushed peppercorn are hidden along with the cumin and basil.  Or maybe I am just too hungry to notice.  It’s our loaded omelette and it’s tasty.

The restaurant is just for fun.  That’s all it really can be, because it doesn’t bring in enough cash to be a good investment.  Just enough to keep my belly full and give me plenty of practice cooking.  I enjoy it.  The designated food cost used by most restaurants is 35%.  Our food cost is more like 65%, but the only overhead is a 10% commission to the hostel manager, and because it’s easy to live on $5/day in Nicaragua, we keep cooking.

Bad Day Bias (The drawer came up short 1800 Cordobas when I was working last night, I couldn´t prove who stole it, and I take responsibility for my mistakes)

The culture really takes life day by day, and I believe one reason is the weather.  With no natural predators and no seasonal natural disasters (they don’t get hit by hurricanes, which only leaves volcanoes and earthquakes), the next necessary cause for planning would be inclement weather.  The only seasons here are wet and dry.  Buy an umbrella.  Done.  A long time ago some Scandinavians said, “I really don’t want to lose half of my family again next winter, let’s prepare a little.”  Today they have pretty much the highest standard of living.  Maybe the constant loom of a random volcanic eruption feeds into the Nica’s “what’s the point” attitude.

In Nicaragua, people are lazy because they can be.  There are no reprocussions except to continue their seemingly comfortable existence.  This laziness feeds into their general lack of morals.  If someone can grab a smart phone and put it in their pocket, then they actually believe it belongs to them.  If a smart phone is chained to the ground, and they can cut the chain and put it in their pocket, it’s their smart phone and chain.  The funny thing is how it is so nonchalantly accepted in their society.  Here are some everyday examples of being laid back to a fault:
– Two guys were hired to do work on the bathrooms throughout the night, when the toilets are not being used much.  Instead of getting started, they hang out in the lobby drinking and watching YouTube videos for the next 8 hours.  Around 7am, when people start waking up, they remember why they came to the hostel and hurry to work on the bathrooms.  The workers occupy 4 of the 5 stalls for the next 2 hours, while the 40+ travelers start their day.

– A wild 9 or 10 year old in the audience at a baseball game is running amuck, throwing food, kicking strangers, fighting with other kids, and just being an eyesore, but I guess only to me.  The security guard standing next to the boy doesn’t even notice.

– Kids are playing tag and hiding under shelves at the grocery store.  No one seems bothered.

– One of the employees at The Bearded Monkey has a box with trash on top.  My boss asks her what’s inside.  She says, “Trash.”  My boss lifts the trash and there are 4 new rolls of toilet paper underneath.  She does nothing.  This is actually reasonable, because firing an employee for any reason means you will get sued by the ex-employee.  Everytime she gets rid of one of her thieves (a quick look at the books will show they steal twice their wage nightly), she goes to court and spends hundreds of dollars, which here is quite a bit.

There are some wild attempts to use the judicial system to enforce anti-laziness.  I’m not sure how the Nica’s managed to leapfrog us on ass-backwards policies, but check out this 1984 parallel.  My boss has a dog on her back porch.  She is at work a lot and the dog can’t always go out to drop a deuce.  There is a Department of Heath official that goes into her backyard, peeks through her window, and writes her a ticket for her unclean back porch.  This is the same neighborhood where houses are made of fence posts, chicken wire, and whatever scrap wood was laying around.

The people seem beaten and down.  I noticed this throughout Central America by the lack of eye contact.  It is a little depressing and the only conclusion I can derive is that “rich” tourists have been showing them how “poor” they are for the last few decades. 

If this information seems scattered and hard to follow, it means I have succumb to the random, grabasstic, moving-target ways of the Nicas.  There are no systems.  There are no schedules.   As I write this, I don’t know if I have to go to work in an hour and a half.  I’ll find out in an hour and a half.  Everyday the policies of the hostel change, along with the prices.  The mood of the manager dictates the level of service given to her customers.  I have seen this all over town.  At the ticket booth for a ferry, the clerk looked at me and pointed to her sandwich.  I stood in front of the wndow, waited no less than 5 minutes for her to set her clean plate aside and say, “Hola!”  It is funny, ridiculous, exhausting, and sad.

My mind races looking for the answer to the question, “Where is the incentive for these people to change their ways?”  Another question: why should they?  They´re the ones laughing and smiling all the time.

A Good (typical) Day

Knock, knock, knock, knock.  Eyes open, cover up with my sheet.  Teal; there is no color coordination in Nicaragua, which keeps your eyes pleasantly busy.  The door is forced open from its wedged position.  The night watchman tells me in Spanish that a guest ordered breakfast and hands me a ticket.  My voice cracks and the frog in my throat is made of sand.  ¿Que hora es?  ¨8:30,¨ he replies and walks out.  The restaurant opens at 8:00, but last night was a good one and the watch I bought last week for an alarm keeps resetting to midnight.  

Burrito.  I go take a long leak first, wash up, and turn on the light in the kitchen/my bedroom.  I tri-fold my mattress and slide it under the pancake table.  One burner on low for the wrap.  One on high for the filling.  Sausage and potatoes sizzle for a minute.  A handful of chopped green peppers, onions, and garlic are added and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Some oil helps cook it evenly.  I grab a plate out of the unplugged refrigerator (our dry storage) and prep cheese.  The peppers start melting, tomato chunks are added and spiced (salt breaks down and softens), plus garlic and chili powder.  Refried red beans glue the cooked cubes into a rolling pan shape as I scoot the pan to toss the temporary colloid.  Three eggs and a heavy splash of milk are samurai diced by fork and my twitchy wrist oscillation.  The cheese stats melting as I tuck the corner like a tightly fitted bed sheet.

Orders trickle in.  Chopping veggies and practicing guitar fill in the rest of my waking mind´s limited focus.  510C$ leaves me about 150C$ after groceries and commission.  This is enough for food, but I´m gonna eat cheap so I can better enjoy my birthday.

The only time I put on shoes and socks is to run.  This week I got Montezumo´s revenge and haven´t exercised my heart in a health focused way for 5 days.  My chest cavity feels small as I soak up the mixture of fresh lake breeze and rusty burnt fuel particles.  It´s possible that the grassless neighborhood inhabitants recognize the dreadlocked jogger.  The sun is pushed back by enough clouds so my shorts aren´t soaked when I reach the supermercado.

Temperature change glistens my skin and the metal basket handles slide on my my under forearm as I separate two bags from the roll.  Two tomatoes and a green bell pepper.  Buying two half cartons of eggs is cheaper than a whole one.  You always have to pay attention to price per quantity.  Bobbing and weaving across the shiny white floor, I circle through savory aisles in search of a pouch of refried beans.  The quickness with which my replenishment routine is completed suprises me.  Aloe vera drink and yogurt are my treats.  Including sausage, bread, and cheese, the total comes to 312.33C$.  A hundred cords in my pocket (the treats were 40) after 4 hours of work.  I´ll make another C$50 working the desk for 5 hours.  With a free place in which I like to live, I don´t complain often.
The walk home has a perfect record of reminding me why I remain in Granada.  The sky is uniquely clear around the top section of Mombacho today and the overlooking volcano must be saying the same of this town.  Nodding to some elders carrying random straw-woven sacks of common goods on their backs, I hold my plastic bags at my sides and turn the corner.  My favorite bakery is full of transactions.  I decide to grab a snack from the pulperia across from the hostel for lunch.  Tod is cooking me a curry chicken dinner with variables undetermined.  Crossing the street is a 360º observation game.  Granada, and much of Central America that I´ve seen, is about flowing around, over, and through moving obstacles.  A decaying Japanese sedan-turned-taxi breezes past the back of my t-shirt while I wait for the horse pulling a man above the waist-high axels to pass.  On the last left turn, I slip through two opposite moving bikes, one motorized, to get the full view of my favorite building portion in the city.  The feeling of a small sack of gold coins landing on the floor of my stomach is always welcome.  Darkly outlined, rounded, red bricks missing mortar beg the question: will the wall last another 5 minutes or centuries?  Below, the sparsely grassed earth dives swiftly to the river bottom some 35 feet below.  Colorful plastic, paper, and styrofoam give a pleasantly appropriate accent to the scene.  It lets me know I´m in someone else´s homeland though sometimes I want to believe I´m not.

Nicaragua and The Bearded Monkey

San Juan del Sur sits on the Southwestern corner of Nicaragua.  The steep walls of the quarter-mile circular bay nearly close off a cluster of sailboats from the Pacific.  The grid system of narrow paved roads and colorful, aged bed & breakfasts are connected to the bay by 30 yards of sand and smooth, two-foot waves that are as long as the beach.  I have the dumb idea to sell pancaces by the beach somewhere.  I run energetically around town checking prices of propane stoves, and ingredients. Sunset beers every night.  The town is kind of a run-down tourist trap.  Not much soul.  After a few days, we head for Omatepe.

Twin volcanoes in the largest freshwater lake of the Americas after the Great Lakes.  We´ve been traveling too fast, so its 99.9% local population (this is the only place I´ve been, since the Himalayas, without pizza) is sure to chill us out.  We chill.  We hike a volcano.  We chill.  We ride bikes to the beach.  The locals go all out for Inmaculada Concepcion and I feel the wrath of a $1 bottle of rum.  We chill more and talk about pancakes.  Next to my hotel apears a shelf of various propane stoves.  Accross the street, more propane stoves.  (Alright, I get it! I´ll buy one.)  I buy one.  Boat, taxi, bus, Granada.

First Look at a Central American jewel

Five-hundred year-old colonial architecture and every house has an interior courtyard like you used to make on The Sims.  Tile sidewalks and vibrant, randomly colored buildings.  From the bell tower of La Merced Iglesia, you can see palm trees poking through the middle roofs all over the city.  Beautiful city.  We go to a ballgame.  Granada vs. Leon is like Chicago vs. LA for Nicaragua.  We refuse to pay the $1.78 and are the only gringos in the away section, which sets us back $0.85.  Weird ballgame food.  Half cooked potatoes, unchewable cabbage, and ketchup in a big green banana leaf.  Beer is cold and the home team loses 4-1.  Half of the stadium leaves between the 8th and 9th, because it will take seconds, if not minutes, to get out of the parking lot.  Seriously, there might be 200 fans at the game.  Afterwards there is a crowd of Gringos at a local bar.  We play a long game of ¨Oh, you´re buying me a drink?  Well here´s two.¨  I promise two pancake deliveries por la mañana.  At 7:44AM I walk to the Super Mercado for Nutella, PB, mix, eggs (one order is crepes), and chocolate chips.  Next door goes 5 walkin-rolls of various flavors.  Across town I run over a Nutella and a pineapple-coconut crepe.

A guy who is part of the first group, passed out at the second group´s apartment.  He woke up to one of my crepes, winded his way across town back to his hostel and ate one of my pancake wraps.  Comprende?  Weird.  Lesson: if you cook it, they will come.

A Second Chance

A bee landed on my beer at dinner.  I reprimanded him as he tried to fly back up the neck.  Not enough pitch; if I tilt the neck, he will get swamped.  He denies the knife ladder I offer and ends up floating in my beer.  I finish drinking the beer about 15 minutes later, careful not to touch the bee.  I dump him and the last few drops on the table.  He lays there motionless for what seems like seconds.  He twitches his legs.  The drunk finds his feet and tries to dry his wings, but is too intoxicated to fly and stumbles around instead.  I share the miraculous tale with our server, who, in turn, tells other members of the bar´s staff.  His story was probably about a different drunk at my table.
-Places don´t matter.  Only the states our minds are in.-tmf
The Bearded Monkey

It´s hard to find a bad hostel, because the people staying and the owners are usually all travelers.  I´ve stayed at 50 or more hostels throughout Europe, Asia, Central America, and one in Georgia.  In my experience, every 10th hostel is not just another hostel.  I look for setting, vibe, and people.  Some travelers are just looking for bag storage, and expediently devour all of the regional offerings.  Some expect their $5 accommodation to include hot water, breakfast, and unlimited wifi bandwidth.  The vibe at the first hostel in Granada sucked.  This could have been solely due to the unfriendly travelers, but I believe it stems from something deeper.  Maybe long developed structural vibrations still echoing through the walls.  Nobody is happy.  Hilary and I are ¨left hanging¨ by a total of 6 guests with our attempts to strike up conversation or simply say good morning.  I cook pancakes at the community kitchen using some oil, which is often provided by hostels to preserve their pans and improve cleaning.  A girl snatches up the bottle and storms off.  When she returns I explain the confusion and offer to pay for the oil that I stole.  She just looks at me like I am an idiot.  Hilary and I walk around to find a new place to stay.
A week and a half ago, Hills and I decided to split up in Granada.  Today, we walk up and down streets, looking at half a dozen hostels around the city.  She likes Entre Amigos.  I like The Bearded Monkey, which is next door.  I could have chosen any one of the city´s 30 hostels, but this one seems right.  We hang out for another day and a half and she leaves for Leon.  I decide to give her a few days head start to avoid paranoia of an awkward accidental meeting in another city.  We were traveling together for a month and each need to regain our independence.
Inside Bearded Monkey is a 25´x25´open-air section of dirt, plants, and stone protected by 6 hammocks, 2 single-rope woven swing chairs hanging between twelve 16´ wooden columns supporting the edge of the inward-sloping, tiled roof.  Beyond the hammock fence is another 15´ deep perimeter of rustic red and white tile floor, covered with tables, leading to the 25´ tall walls.  The walls divide the open space from four 12-bunk dormitories, 5 privados, and the back half (kitchen, baños, 2nd courtyard) of the hostel.  Spending an afternoon in a hammock here has caused many travelers to extend their stay beyond original plans.  
I don´t love Granada.  I mention to Tod, the Texan ex-pat working the counter, that he has a cool job.  The next morning, Yolanda (Nica manager) tells me I can get a free room if I work the desk 4 days a week.  With my mind on track to reach Caribbean islands and an end-of-the-world party at some Mayan ruins, I don´t want to commit a lot of time to Granada.  I ask her for how long.  Four days is her reply.  Great.  I want the experience of working in a hostel and will be free for parties on the 21st.  Training takes 10 minutes and Tod says they want to re-open the kitchen for breakfast.  I write a menu on the chalk board and sell some pancakes and crepes the following mornings.  On the fourth day, I tell Yolanda I´m gonna leave for 4 days and then come back and work some more.  With a smile, she says, ¨Si.¨  Her reaction is my first glimpse into the laidback mindset of Nicaraguans.
Back to Omatepe I go with a very, very cool French chick called Sarah.  We camp near the hotel in the town of Chaco Verde, which lies on the southeastern foot of the north volcano, with 20 or so other festival tenters.  Two days of electronic music on the beach to celebrate the western contortion of the Mayan calendar.  The 25lb, yellow propane tank hanging from a blue nylon rope around my shoulder is not welcomed by the two Nicas running the festival.  They put it into storage and I put my stove in the tent, relieved that I can just enjoy the festivities.  The pancake nomad will have to revise his methods in the future. On day 3, I reclaim my tank and ride on the roof of a van back to the port town of Mayagalpa.  Boat, taxi, bus, and I´m back in Granada.  The day after Christmas, I ask Tod if he wants to take the restaurant seriously.  He does, so I decide to stay through the busy season.  I´ve made thousands of Cordobas selling omelettes, huevos rancheros, pancakes, and french toast.  The exchange rate from $ to C$ is 1 to 24.  After the cost of food, I´ve pocketed $60.  I spent $100 on a new mini fridge for the kitchen.  The busy season goes from the beginning of January to the end of March.
The characters that stay at and travel through the hostel make the place.  Bobby Love plays piano in the corner when he´s not arguing in his old school New York accent with some young backpacker.  We exchange light, philosophical comments and he extends his culinary knowledge from days of chefdom.  He is a riot and occasionally sleeps on tables around the hostel as a result of demasiado mucho cervezas.  After 4 months of living here, the only piece of information about his past that has been extracted is that he is from East Timor.
Tod and I have some pretty intense jam sessions when we aren´t riding around town on the bouncy roads in a truck with virtually no suspension.  Instruments sound great reverberating off concrete walls.
Mauricio takes me on his boat tour for the free through islets with a group of backpackers. He´s a local pool shark with smirking white teeth and eyes of a bandito admiring the fruits of his latest heist.  He and his Scandinavian girlfriend, Marion, teach me Spanish as we barbeque in the back courtyard.  
Yolanda´s oldest son, Francisco trades me Spanish for martial arts lessons.  I cook her youngest, Kevin, breakfast most days, and we stay up past our bed-times watching Hollywood movies in Spanish.
For Christmas, we made a pot-luck dinner for 10 and put tables together under the stars.  By New Years, Tod´s ribs are perfected and there are 7 tables lined end on end.  Even Bobby Love makes his self-proclaimed potato salad.  Primo.
We are a temporary family and this is my current home.