Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.
emo_snal

Field Report: Arriving in Nicaragua!

Wednesday, August 23rd, Melbourne, Australia - "Where are you from?" I ask the taxi driver in Melbourne, since he's mentioned his wife immigrating
   "Africa" he says as if that should be a satisfactory answer
   "Where in Africa?" I ask
   "East Africa" he says as if he doesn't know why I'm bothering to inquire further
   "Where in East Africa?"
   "Ethiopia" he says like it's an "I told you so" that it wouldn't mean anything to me
   "Where in Ethiopia?"
   "Addis Ababa" he says as if this is starting to get a little weird.
   "How do you like the new light rail in Addis?"
   "Oh. oh. .. Uh ... They should have repaired the roads first" I relish the look of shock in his eyes that I'm current on Addis happenings. Anyway it turns out he thinks the rail system is poorly planned. He thinks they should have improved the roads first. I think getting people off the roads and onto mass transit should be a priority in every big city.

   During my 14 hour overnight layover in Melbourne I crashed at the place of an American couple I know from the Americans in Melbourne facebook group.

Thursday, August 24th - Departed Melbourne for a (two?) hour flight to Sydney at 8am. Short layover there and then 15 hour flight to LAX. Flight very empty, had a whole row to myself (cue angels singing). Even though it was an entirely daytime flight they had everyone close all the windows and tured the lights way down to simulated night mode. I understand flights are more bearable if you're asleep and we bother flight attendants less when we're asleep but I hate it when they do that.
   Watched several not-very-memorable movies and The Accountant which I rather liked, it's like Rainman if Rainman happened to pick up being a badass cold blooded killer as a random hobby. Watched Episode 5 of the current season of Game of Thrones on my laptop and would have watched Episode 6 but apparently the version I downloaded turned out to be unreadable.

   Flight arrived late into LAX so I had only an hour to catch the continuing flight, and of course had to go through passport control, collect my luggage, go through customs, drop it at the transit luggage window, find ourselves popping out on the curb outside the terminal, go back through security again, and get to the gate. Those of us with flights in the next hour were given priority passes through passport control and customs but no help getting through security. My backpack got flagged for additional screening and as it sat getting ignored on the side table with fifteen minutes till my flight was supposed to LEAVE I implored a TSA agent if they could at all prioritize clearing my bag and they semed to relish giving me a very abrupt and cavalier "NOPE!!" I swear the US TSA is the worst and rudest in the world.
   Literally ran from there to my gate and found the aircraft had had a delayed arrival coming in from Sydney so it was still boarding .... it was my same plane!!!
   Also I was a bit confused to find the gate alternating listed destinations between "Managua" and "Atlanta." My ticket and itinerary hadn't listed Atlanta as a stop so this was the first I was aware I'd be going there.
   Also it was during this flight that I discovered the fatigue of this arduous journey had rendered me no longer able to read even with my reading glasses for more than five minutes at a time before my eyes hurt too much. Hopefully it was just the extraordinary fatigue but I also fear my eyesight it going fast. ):

   I don't know, some number of hours flight to Atlanta, also had empty seat beside me. It was only like a three hour flight but the guy with the window seat (I was the aisle) got up to use the bathroom like four times. Jesus people don't drink so much coffee, or whatever you're doing.
   Did have to change planes in Atlanta. Just enough time in Atlanta to get to the gate. I think there were only two of us from the LAX-ATL leg continuing on to ATL-Managua, if its not the same plane, not really the same passengers, I'm not sure why it even is "the same flight."
   This time didn't have an empty seat next to me, and having been traveling for over 65 hours, no longer able to read, no movie screens in this plane ... it was several hours of relative hell..


Managua, Nicaragua - first impression on stepping out of the aircraft door and being hit with the warm humid nighttime air (it was around 8pm) was that it smelled like a hedge. And then inside the terminal it somehow smelled like a winery. And out in front of the terminal it smelled like steaming spinach. Shuttle from the hotel picked me up for a humerously short trip to the hotel literally across the street.
   This area of town doesn't seem to have anything else in walking distance so anything I can't get at the hotel I trot across the street to the shops in the airport terminal.


Friday, August 25th - I had been recruited a few years ago for a project in Nicaragua I didn't end up doing, but I emailed the guy that runs that little organization before arriving and especially when I learned I'd have Friday free made plans to meet up with him. He happened to be going to the National Agricultural College just outside town for a beekeeping presentation being put on by a Dr Van Veen out of Costa Rica, so he picked me up in a pick up truck driven by a friend of his. He and I sat in the back -- Which I'd never actually done before since that's generally illegal in Western countries but it was really nice! Who needs a convertible when you can ride in the back of a pickup!
   The city doesn't seem to have any highrises that I've seen but kind of seems a vast sort of not quite suburban but, light-urbam? small urban? is there a word for this? Small cinderblock houses that barely have enough open space around them to call it a yard, but with trees and bougainvilleaa climbing the surrounding walls. We went down a bunch of residential roads rather than the bigger seemingly arterial road, I don't know if htat was to avoid traffic or what. There were a lot of little sort of bicycle-powered taxi vehicles where the driver sat behind a seat with room for two. The kind of thing you sometimes see on tourist boardwalks but this seemed to be a major source of local transport.

   Agricultural campus out outside of town to the north. Some thirty or so students in attendance in a building with lots of ceiling fans, while outside other students herded cattle past. It was pretty hot except directly under the fans. Presentation was in spanish so I could only barely get the gist of it by typing the words on the powerpoint slides into google translate. Seemed interesting, especially since he had a whole segment on the native stingless bees which I'd have loved to be able to understand.

   On our way back into town on the main highway traffic came to a complete and utter standstill. We were given Dr Van Veen and a colleague of his a ride to the airport so we were about anxious about this traffic. I'm told there was another highway they knew was also at a standstill and the only other way around would be an 80 mile detour. I don't know what's normal around here but I noticed a dark black plume of smoke had emerged from a nearby volcano, and it seemed ominous and possibly related but no one mentioned it so maybe not. After about an hour people had all gotten out of their cars and were talking to eachother and our driver got the down low of a secret route through back streets and we drove on the wrong side of the highway a few hundred yards (not a problem, no cars were coming from that way and plenty of others were doing the same as us) and drove into a narrow alley where we just barely barely fit after folding our mirrors in. Other cars had gone ahead of us and it seemed even more were coming behind, apparently word had just gotten out. There followed another interesting hour of proceeding down labyrinthine narrow back streets, sometimes having to back out of an impassible route. It was certainly interesting. Finally we got out on wide open back roads back out in countryside, where there were eerily few cars on the road, and always that thick black ominous plume of smoke ahead.

   But finally we came back into the city and actually got to the airport in time for the flight!!

   That evening I finally downloaded the most recent (Episode 6) episode of Game of Thrones and, not to spoilerize it, but I felt like it was markedly more badly written than previous episodes/seasons, in my opinion. Like nothing surprising happened, and that cliche thing where you think a main character has definitely died but it turns out they didn't happened several times (also happened in Episode 5 a lot). Later I came across an Onion article saying they basically no longer are following any script at all so I guess I wasn't the only one.
   After this my laptop battery was pretty much used up and I once again am unable to charge it since I still don't have a universal plug converter for the Aus plug on my laptop and now it needs to plug into US shaped sockets here!

Saturday, August 27th - The plan was that I'd meet with the country director on this morning and find out what the plan was. When he arrived I was surprised to find him to be a young fellow looking to be in his mid 20s -- usually the country directors are older and I imagine the job description calls for a masters degree and ten years of management or something like that, so I assumed he must be a real whiz-kid. As it turns out, I have no reason to doubt his competence but I guess it's just that they don't actually have an actual country director at the moment at he's the senior staffmember (of two, where there should be four) and therefore acting country director. Found out I'm not going to the Field till Monday. On past projects I might be upset to be cooling my heels for three full days before going out but I felt and feel like I needed the time to recover from that ordeal of a trip here.
   Apparently I'll be going north and it sounds like a nice area. I'm looking forward to it!

   I was also introduced to two volunteers who he had jut brought back from the field. An older woman (fifties ish?) and a younger woman who had actually just a few months previously finished her Peace Corps posting here in Nicaragua. They were working together on some marketing related coconut oil project.
   Spent most of the rest of the day with the women, in particular the former Peace Corps Volunteer (Eliana) was a wealth of knowledge about Nicaragua.

   Also of note, in the afternoon while I was swimming at the hotel swimming pool I made my 101st rescue. Having been a lifeguard through high school, I am forever imbued with an urge to yell at kids for running on the deck by the pool or diving in in the shallow end, and catching the merest hint of the distinctive jerky wallowed flail of a distressed swimmer out of the corner of my eye grabs my full attention and sets me to red alert. A "distressed swimmer" (ie someone who is attempting to drown), isn't like they are in TV with big splashes and calls for help, and as is too often the case even though she was in many people's field of view no one else seemed to take notice. I was swimming laps at the time and got to her just as her head disappeared below water, pulled her up, put her arms on the pool edge which was actually just right there, she slipped off again, put her back and held her there ... and several minutes later her family actually noticed and hurried over, got her out. Another misconception perpetuated from Baywatch: people NEVER shower you with gratitude for rescuing them. I think something that sounded vaguely grateful, in Spanish of course, but it might have just been "I just need a minute" or something.

   Last night at 11pm, an hour after I'd gone to bed, there was a pounding on my door like a god damn stormtrooper was there. As I pulled on some pants and opened the door I found someone from the hotel bar trying to explain to me I had to pay for the margarita I had had that afternoon that I thought I'd put on the room tab. I don't know why they couldn't have made it more clear at the time that I needed to pay it off that afternoon, or couldn't sort it out when I checked out like normal hotels, nor do I understand why this hotel seems to have nearly no english speaking staff despite being the premier tourist hotel in the capital. I found this nocturnal payment demand quite irksome. I'd complain to the front desk but... even the front desk guy doesn't speak English quite fluently enough that I'm confident I could make my complaint clear to him.


Sunday, August 28th - The two other volunteers left this morning and it turns out the older one was borrowing a laptop from the Organization, so now I'm borrowing the powercord from that laptop. Just taking it easy today, but starting to get my fill of "taking it easy" and really looking forward to shipping out for the field tomorrow!!


PS: I almost forgot, but for posterity, I find it's often interesting to recall what world events are going on at the time, because at the time it feels contemporaneous events are indelibly linked but of course they are not. So for the record, lots more people fled Trump's White House in the last week due to his bizarre support for white supremists, and just the other day he apparently pardoned the controvercial Arizona ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio and even a lot of Republicans seem pretty upset that he skipped the usual review process, that this seems to condone racial discrimination, and that Arpaio being a friend of his this seems pretty shameless abuse of power. Every week there seems to be more opinion articles claiming "this is finally impeachmentworthy."

Tags: air travel, field reports, lifeguarding, movie reviews, nicaragua
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