2010
09.25

So far I have been to five different countries in Central America, all of which have been both very similar but completely different. I have slept on mountaintops and lowland valleys, warm beaches and cold high elevation towns. Slept in fancy hotels and crappy hostels, in my bivy and under the stars. I’ve been through many thunder storms and nearly struck by lightning more times than I care to remember. Crossed many countries for under ten dollars on some of the one hundred plus chicken busses I have been on. I even splurged for a luxury bus once to get from Guatemala to Nicaragua which costed more then all other chicken busses I had taken prior, combined. I have been to doctors offices and hospitals more times than I care to visit because John is accident and disease prone but at least we have good insurance. I have taken many taxis and had many interesting drivers whom we were happy didn’t try to rob us, could’ve swore they were going to try. It has been a fantastic experience so far hopefully with many more to come. Here is a dozen things that do not surprise me anymore.

    1. Police pulling your vehicle over looking for a bribe. Usually five dollars can get you out of most situations. This happened a lot in Nicaragua.

    2. Along with police there are the guards you have to watch out for. Some will try to screw you over by making you pay for something that is normally free if you do not know any better. For instance a few days ago in Costa Rica, John, Christine (a german we were traveling with) and I went to Catie. Catie is one of the leading agricultural research centers in the world. Both the guide books we were using said that it was free to enter but the guard told us, in Spanish, we would each have to pay seven dollars. Then we tried bargaining and he got someone on the phone who spoke English. They english speaker said that he would go down to six dollars without a guide but no less. When we said that was too much he started being a jerk so we left and tried to hitchhike unsuccessfully. We began to walking to the next town but after only a few hundred yards saw another entrance to the park. The guard let us in for the price we saw in our books, free. We asked if there was supposed to be a charge and he said no. John and I were really angry with the guard that tried to screw us over and John let him know it when we left out his gate.

    3. Cold water showers are the norm. Hot showers are a luxury and often surprises me when I get one.

    4. Other people you have to watch out for is the taxi drivers because they try to screw you over. I always know to bargain now before getting into one because I got screwed over a few times. It doesn’t happen often anymore but it does not surprise me when it does.

    5.Staying on the taxi theme, the other day I got into a taxi with a one legged driver. I thought that he might have some sort of device that he used with his hand to accelerate and break but that device was his crutch. One crutch on the gas and foot one the brake makes for a jerky and scary ride, but it did not surprise me at all.

    6. Chickens walking over the pots my meal was just cooked while still on the stove is normal. Just like when chickens peck at my feet while I sit at the kitchen table.

    7. Many, many kids do not attend school in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Families cannot afford to send their kids to school and it is not provide for by the government. One girl I met was not going to school. I asked why and she said that her friend was on a field trip. Apparently the two girls shared the same uniform because one had class in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This meant the girl I was talking to could not attend classes for a few days.

    8. Being asked for money by children and adults alike is common in the countries north of Costa Rica but Nicaragua is definitely the worst. I had meals in restaurants where I was asked for money by three different people who would come and stand at my table with their hand out. I will NEVER give people money no matter how desperate they look. They have to offer me something in return for my money be it gum, information or entertainment and here is why; I was in Granada Nicaragua eating at a pizza place. I opened up the menu and saw a white piece of paper saying not to give kids money or food because it was damaging to their development. Kids in Granada Nicaragua are not starving and they do not absolutely need the money to survive. In fact, some of the kids begging on the street are kids that are rented out by bad people to other bad people who use them to profit from because the kid looks poor or like they could make a lot of money begging. There is a food pantry in Granada that makes sure the kids are all fed. Many of the kids would rather have the ‘rich’ or ‘western food’ because they see it being food of the upperclass and refuse to eat at the pantry. Many of these kids do not go to school and wind up being drug dealers, addicts or the girls turn into prostitutes at a really young ages.

    9. The first Wendy’s I saw after a month and a half of no fast food was like OMG I have to have it. But now seeing places like Subway, McDonald’s. Wendy’s and Burger King is normal. Especially in the big cities and even in some smaller ones in Costa Rica.

    10. Buying two eggs from one person, bread from another, avocado and tomatoes from another, and meat from yet another is normal. It is also something that should and probably will become more popular in the United States in the upcoming years as buying local good becomes more popular. It is better for the community, better for the environment and better for your health.

    11. Buying beer by the bottle instead of the case. Beer is really cheap in the bars compared to back home but the price you will pay in the bar is only slightly more than what you will pay in the grocery stores or gas stations. We’re talking like twenty five cents more. It is about a dollar for a 12oz but only two dollars for a liter (about three beers worth).

    12. Beer bottles are reused! It is a fantastic idea and something that should be implemented in Wisconsin where I live because we down a lot of beer. The bottles have a light colored ring around them. Almost white, where they have smack together so many times while getting refilled. It is so much better for the environment.

Down here you just have to roll with the punches because things are much different than in developed countries. Many things that are normal here, like the chickens in the kitchen, corrupt police, and shifty taxi drivers all of which would be completely unacceptable and not tolerated in the United States. However some of the things that are being done down here we in the developed world could take notes from like the purchasing of foods and reusing beer bottles. You cannot get mad when you take a taxi and the driver charges you more than you know he should because it was your fault for not negotiating ahead of time. Negotiation is not something that you should just reserve for taxi drivers and at the market, it is also a very important when dealing with tour guides or people offering help in the streets. They will try to get as much as possible out of you especially if your not alert.

One problem that I do sometimes have down here is that I think something is normal and well, it’s not. This happened once on Isla del Tigre in Honduras. A dog attacked a drunk and I didn’t really think anything of it other than the drunk probably had it coming. I looked quick and then ignore it thinking everyone else would do the same. I was wrong, everyone ran to see what was happening as the drunk was lying in the street crying. Another time I had just crossed the boarder between Nicaragua and Honduras and was on the Honduran side. From where I just had come, a gun went off. I really didn’t think a whole lot about it because I had grown up my whole life around guns. Apparently it was out of the ordinary because everyone was looking and some started running towards the gunshot. I still do not know what happened but it might be for the better.

  1. Seth man, I think I like this article the best so far. I really wouldn’t know what’s different down there or what is surprising vs normal. And even the fact that you don’t see fast food places. I seriously thought Micky D’s was on every corner in every country. I was wondering if you guys all drink central american beer? or where is it from? I don’t ever see any coors, miller, or bud? Do you miss light beer? Oh, and good job on not giving them little bastards money, and for finding a humane reason for not doing so. LOL, no just kidding, but that is an interesting post you found in ur menu. I do understand it though. Good luck dude, have fun and be safe.

  2. Nick I didn’t know you were reading my posts. We drink all Cenrtal American beer, mainly the beer in the country I am in because it is cheap and really good. I do see Miller Lite, Coors Light and Budweiser, but no Bud Light. I do not drink the American beer though because it more expensive. I can get a liter of beer for two dollars and it would cost about two dollars for an American Beer. I have seen some Sam Adams and Heineken down here as well. I would expect you to say something like that about giving money to the kids! Only you. Take care man.

  3. Many shocking things. I cannot even imagine them.

  4. Most of the world reuses bottles. I have been to Europe a couple of different times, and they all use refundable bottles, much like California Maine and Michigan do (to an extent). Its handy but cumbersome, but yes… it would be nice to have here in Wisconsin. The gun shot thing was interesting… I’ve heard a few up here in Green Bay, shakes ya a bit, but I dont worry about it as much as I did while living in Milwaukee.

  5. Cold Showers!!! Yay! And the local food sounds awesome man! The idea is catching on in America and hopefully it will be common place in the future. At least I hope so.

    Keep on keepin on

  6. Yeah Ryan I love cold showers now. Half the time they are not cold enough. Like today, I got use to it too quick! I think the farmers market shopping will be common in the south. The north is a different story with the whole winter thing. I hope they will be more common because it is much better!

  7. It would be interesting to get to the real bottom of if it is good to give the kids money or not and why they are begging for it. That would be a great research topic, because you only have half of the story so far. I’m not saying it is ok or not, but it would be great to hear the other side of the story.

  8. Laura – It is definitely not good to give kids money. It’s enforcing bad behavior. Going around begging for money is something that can set kids up for begging the rest of their lives like many people in Nicaragua do. If tourists and even locals would not give beggars money, they would not beg. It’s as simple as that. If the beggars knew that they were not going to get anything, they would take the effort they are using to beg and put it towards work and finding a job. it would be a interesting research topic to investigate why the people are begging vs trying to find a job. My guess, from what I have seen and heard, it is more profitable to beg than to work. The average daily income in most the countries I visited was about ten dollars a day. I have seen women come on a bus with their kids who have health problems, tell a story and walk off the bus after five minutes with five to ten dollars they didn’t have before. I am not saying weather that is wrong or right but it happens all the time. Old people will walk onto the bus, say a few words and walk down the isle with their hands out wanting money. Not appearing to have any problems at all and they still walk off the bus with some cash. I do not give people any money for these issues because I do not trust their stories. I see that the kid could use some help but is this kid rented by the woman to make money or is the kid passed from woman to woman lugged from bus to bus all day long jut to make some money. I see that as exploiting the kids issues and I do not think that the money is actually going to help the kid. Maybe I’m too skeptical but if I was promoting the exploitation of the kid I would feel pretty bad. If I wasn’t heading somewhere I needed to go, I would have stayed and followed the woman, talked to her, and found out what her story was before giving her money.
    As far as the beggars that come ask for money in the restaurants, there is not a chance I will give them money. Not even to make them go away. I have had old men stand there and ask me for money which I always say I don’t have any. One time my change came right after I said I didn’t have any and the waiter set it on the table next to the food I was eating. I just stuck it in my pocket and ignored the old man watching me eat my food. I am not going to promote his poor management of money, alcoholism, lack of ambition to get a job, or poor fortune. I feel that there is always a solution and sometimes you just have to look hard for it. People are resourceful and can make money, and do make money when they need it. Now this is not the same for all regions but in a place like Central America, there are always options. The beggars could save a dollar, buy four bags of water and make some money off of them to buy five, then maybe six, and soon they will be making money selling water. It’s a much better option then begging. There are always options and begging is not the answer.