I Got My Deposit Back

I was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to blog about on my last night here. The last two days have passed uneventfully, with me mostly working during the day and walking around at night in the lovely evening air.

And then at 9:45 tonight, the landlord showed up.

He brought with him “Doug,” the expat Canadian who has lived in Granada for 12 years and is taking over property management duties. Doug had been by the house a few times in the last week to poke around and do minor maintenance and otherwise interrupt the peace.

The landlord proceeded to do an extended walkthrough of the casa, featuring the following:

  • Joked that the people next door had told him that they heard lots of glass breaking all week.
  • Joked that a piece of pottery had a crack in it and that would cost me $50.
  • Asked me if I broke anything.
  • Asked me if anything broke while I was here.
  • Asked me if anything in the house was broken.
  • Asked me if anyone urinated in the bed.
  • Carefully examined the insides of the kitchen cupboards, just in case I was smuggling the $1.49 set of dishes home to finally complete my Franklin Mint set of Crappy Plasticware of Central America.
  • Disappeared with Doug into the extra bedroom for 20 minutes for reasons that were never explained.

At the end of all this, he sat down and faced me, and in his speaking style that can only be described as “deliberate,” once again encouraged me to post a review of the house on the online rental web site, saying “It certainly couldn’t hurt.” Perhaps he may be underestimating my narrative skills.

In the end, I got my deposit back. Tomorrow I get picked up by a shuttle bus at 9 a.m. (I hope) and I will lock the front door and throw the keys through the bars of the front window. That’s how checkout rolls in Nicaragua. I am sorely tempted to break all the stemware and smuggle four giant ceramic chickens home in my luggage, but alas I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.

And so ends another trip. Walking home from trivia at the café tonight — I finished 4th of 6 after identifying a Bee Gees song as Captain and Tennille — it was fun to notice how different Granada feels after two weeks. My first nights here the town was foreign and confusing. I clutched my money tightly when I left the house and walked with my eyes darting from side to side, imagining that at any minute a stranger might jump out from a doorway and mug me with a rabid goat. Tonight, as I strolled about the town I felt carefree and happy, my laptop loosely dangling from a backpack on one shoulder. I felt safe, happy and peaceful. It’s always amazing how fast a new place can feel like home.

Until my next adventures, thanks for reading. It’s meant a lot to have you with me.

Granada Nicaragua
March, 2012 

Shirt Fishing

You know how you sometimes do something where you know it’s a bad idea but you do it anyway because you’re too lazy to do the right thing? No? Perhaps you don’t live in my head.

I had my latest willfully stupid moment yesterday when I did some laundry in the shower (that’s not the stupid part) and hung the laundry on the balcony railing to dry, thinking to myself “If any kind of wind comes up my clothes are going to blow off the balcony onto the adjacent roof.”

I should add that one of the hallmarks of Granada is gale force winds coming off of the nearby lake.

Sure enough, when I returned two hours later, my clothes were dry, and one of my shirts was taunting me from the adjacent rooftop. Ten minutes of shirt fishing later, I had my full wardrobe back. This casa has a suspicious number of available shirt fishing poles.

In other news, Roberta the housekeeper showed up yesterday and announced that it was to be her last day on the job. She had decided to start taking business administration classes in Managua, commencing immediately. She didn’t seem too broken up about surrendering her lucrative career in cleaning houses for lunatic American landlords.

She and I sat in the living room for a few minutes while she detailed her career plans. I nodded and smiled and interjected with the occasional “Sí” or “¡Como no!” to create the impression that I could understand more than half of what she was saying. Then I gave her a tip that was somewhere between “token gesture” and “my life savings.” I still haven’t gotten a strong handle on the exchange rate.

After sending her on her way to the big city, I walked over to get a foot massage at Seeing Hands Massage. This is an organization that trains blind people in developing countries so they can earn a living giving massages. The massage was on the upper balcony of the Euro Cafe, both me and the masseur in rocking chairs. It was a very excellent massage, and all of $6 for a generous 20 minutes. 

Today I took a sunset tour to Volcán Masaya, a semi-active volcano about a half hour from Granada. Despite assurances to the contrary, all the signage at the volcano led me to believe that the volcano might be more active than the tour company is letting on. Its last full-blown lava-spewing eruption was allegedly in the 1700s, but then they casually mentioned during the tour that there was some sort of “event” in 2001. I should mention that they insisted on pre-payment for the tour.

From the parking lot (or “Death staging area,” as I believe it should be known), we hiked up 170 steps to a cross overlooking the crater. It was a pretty spectacular sight, definitely showing the power of the previous eruption. The volcano was still steaming and bubbling and you could hear it rumbling down below. Our tour guide suggested we should sacrifice a virgin; there didn’t seem to be any candidates.

For the next hour or so we hiked around the various craters on the volcano, and like the tour participants themselves, some were more dormant than others. We watched a lovely sunset from the highest crater rim, with spectacular views as far as Managua and Lake Nicaragua.

As dusk settled in, we donned hardhats and flashlights (well, we didn’t technically “don” the flashlights) and hiked a through a copse of trees to the entrance for a lava tube. We spelunked our way a few hundred yards into the lave tube, with bats whisking over our heads as we walked. Deep inside the cave, we pointed our flashlights at the ceiling and saw bats hanging upside down by tree roots. I cannot even express how adorable this was.

After we left the cave we hiked back up the trail a little ways and detoured into the entrance of a smaller cave opening, where we sat quietly with our flashlights off as hundreds of bats flapped and whisked past us just inches from our heads. Every so often we’d turn on a light just for a second to see swarms of bats flying past. It was stunning.

Moments later we all trained our flashlights on a slow-moving Mexican porcupine, which was both adorable and very much not close to Mexico.

Our final stop on the tour was a chance to peer down into the main crater from the lower rim. At night, you are sometimes able to see glowing magma. Alas, we were not, but we still had to don protective gas masks just to leave the van. Even after just one minute outside the van wearing a gas mask, my lungs and eyes were burning from the sulfuric acid. This part of the tour wasn’t mentioned in the brochure. I don’t know how you say “irreversible respiratory damage” in Spanish.


I’ve been packing in the sightseeing over the last few days, since I’m leaving Nicaragua on Wednesday. Life is good. The power has stayed on. The internet has stayed up. The landlord has gone out of town. Even the mosquitos have done their part to make sure that I don’t ever get lonely.

I decided to pay a visit to all of Granada’s museums in one day. Luckily, Granada only has two museums and they’re right next door to one another. They’re also free and largely deserted. This makes it very easy to pack a day of high culture into about 45 minutes.

The first museum I visited is called Mi Museo, and it has four rooms exhibiting pre-Columbian pottery. I can report that pre-Columbian pottery definitely has more character than post-Columbian pottery, primary examples of which are exhibited at the Museum of Pottery Barn.

The most interesting thing at Mi Museo were a series of large burial urns created by the pre-Columbians. They are shaped like a pregnant belly, with decorations on the sides that look like fallopian tubes. The belief was that the people whose remains were interred in these urns would be re-born. The pre-Columbians thus demonstrated a grasp of human reproduction that was just slightly less primitive than that of Rush Limbaugh.

This was just the warm-up museum, because the main event was waiting for me next door — the ChocoMuseo. Yes, an entire museum devoted to chocolate.

After making the long five second trek to the adjacent building, I discovered that the ChocoMuseo had the complete history of chocolate, from its discovery by the Mayans, refinement by the Aztecs, flavoring by the Spaniards and bastardization by the Hershey company. OK, I made that last part up. But there was a lot of chocolate history. Purportedly, the Spanish were the first to figure out that chocolate would taste good with sugar in it. Apparently they had never spent time with a six-year-old and a handful of sugar packets at a diner.

There were also posters touting the health benefits of chocolate. From the museum’s perspective, chocolate is the healthiest substance known to man. And boy were they selling it without a prescription. They had chocolate bars, chocolate pieces, chocolate syrup, chocolate powder, extra-strength chocolate capsules. It was a chocopalooza.

I learned a lot about how chocolate is harvested and refined. The chocolate beans grow in giant pods, and are harvested, soaked, skinned, dried, hulled, roasted and crushed. I have no idea how the Mayans figured out that the big pod with the bitter seeds would be delicious after all this processing. They must’ve had a lot of spare time when they weren’t predicting the end of the world or building sets for Star Wars.

Naturally, the museum grows, processes and refines their own chocolate, so in order to do some quality testing I ordered a hot chocolate from the ChocoMuseo’s café. It contained one part milk and approximately 700,000 parts chocolate syrup. I considered whether it would be easier to eat with a fork and knife. It was also delicious. Sort of like Swiss Miss Instant Hot Chocolate but the exact opposite.

My sightseeing adventures continued today with a tour of Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua. There are 365 (or so) islands near the shoreline of the lake, ranging in size from many thousand square feet to just a tiny rock jutting out of the water. They are all privately owned, and many of them have homes ranging from “quaint shack” to “Oh my God, I think that’s Johnny’s Depp’s vacation home!”

At the tour office I met a few of the other sightseers — a pair of gals from Sweden who are on a month-long trip backpacking around Central America, and a guy from London who wore an off-color t-shirt and complained about the quality of pizza toppings in Nicaragua. At the last minute, a group of three women and one man from Miami showed up, and they proceeded to spend most of the tour discussing the TV show Hoarders in loud tones.

We all piled into a tour van and made the 10 minute trek to the boat launch. There were a lot of random cows by the side of the road on this day. At the dock we climbed into the boat and our tour guide, Francisco, introduced himself. He was somewhat less garrulous than the last tour guide I had, by which I mean he occasionally stopped to breathe.

The isletas reminded me a little bit of how I imagine the Florida Everglades must look, only with fewer crocodiles. We boated through marshy areas, around small and big islands. Francisco pointed out many amazing birds — herons, kingfishers, ospreys, leggy shore birds and and the montezuma oropendula, a beautiful bird that builds spectacular hanging nests. Francisco made sure to point out that, unlike most birds, the male of the species builds the nests. The gals from Miami responded by discussing dead cat skeletons on Hoarders.

Francisco was a big fan of flowers. When he saw a flower he wanted to show us he would instruct the boat driver to pull over, and then he would pick the flower and bring it on board. By the third time he did this we were pleading with him to stop picking the flowers, but he wanted to show them to us up close and personal. I don’t know how many tours he gives per week, but he is personally deforesting Nicaragua.

A few minutes later we reached Monkey Island, where four spider monkeys were once deposited and now make their home. I half expected Francisco to spear a monkey and bring it aboard to show us, but instead he just tossed a half piece of fruit to one of the monkeys, who came running over excitedly when it saw the boat coming. The Hoarders gals took a break from discussing reality TV to coo over the monkeys, and the Swedish girls called out to the monkeys in Swedish. I suspect it was something along the lines of “Take a chance on me.”

After the monkey encounter we docked at a small island that contained a restaurant, macaw, parrot, two dogs and a pool. The Brit and one of the Miami gals went swimming in the lake, the Swedes sat near the pool drinking beers and I took a nap. I’m not a big swimmer to begin with, and considering the near-black murkiness of the lake, you couldn’t pay me enough money to go in there. Apparently the sharks are gone, however. Francisco said that some Japanese fishermen showed up a few years ago, caught 20,000 sharks out of the lake to make soup, and they (the sharks, not the Japanese) are only just now starting to come back near the mouth of the San Juan River, which is across the lake from Granada.

(If you just came here from Google, I can’t promise that anything in that previous paragraph is true. I’m paraphrasing a Spanish conversation carried on between a cheeky tour guide and two Swedish girls. Some details may be off.)

Eventually we piled back back into the boat and sat out in the middle of the very choppy lake for 20 minutes watching the sunset and getting rapidly seasick. We then docked and drove back to the tour office, stopping on the way to hop out of the van and photograph a Catholic procession, which apparently happens each of the 40 days leading up to Easter. Again, some of these details may be fuzzy, as both my Spanish and biblical knowledge are shaky.

I have another tour coming up on Sunday, and then a couple more days in Nicaragua before heading home. A last note: I discovered The Simpsons in Spanish on TV last night, and the voices sound just like the voices in English. It is hysterical to hear Bart Simpson sound like Bart Simpson, only in Spanish.


I’ve managed to go my entire adult life without ever having the power company knock on my door, demand payment and then abruptly shut off electricity to the house.

It took seven days for this to happen in Granada.

Some backstory:

Two days after I arrived here, a note from the electric company was slipped under the door that said — I’m paraphrasing from the original Spanish — “You must pay us three hundred thousand trillion Cordobas for your past due electric bill or we will shut off your power next Tuesday.” I dutifully reported this to the landlord and thought nothing further of it.

Two days later, a representative from the electric company came by in person and handed me a second note that said — in the most respectful Nicaraguan style — “Thank you for being such a wonderful customer. We very much appreciate the opportunity to serve you. It would bring great sadness to everyone in our office if we were forced to shut off your electricity next Tuesday.”

I reported this to my landlord as well. I personally handed him both notes on one of his many unannounced visits.

Today, at 10:37 a.m., they came and shut off the power.

It’s not like I haven’t gotten used to living without power here. Blackouts are a regular way of life in Granada, and yesterday had been the worst day yet. The power was out for a good 4-6 hours yesterday, so I spent the majority of the day in my favorite café near the Parque Central, sipping on orange juice, eating a spinach salad that contained 42 pounds of cashews (estimated) and availing myself of the free wi-fi.

The irony of having the power purposefully shut off today was not lost on me.

Luckily, when the power company employees came by with a truck, ladder and big official-looking wrenches, Roberta the housekeeper was here doing her semi-hourly cleaning, so she called the landlord on her cell phone and he said he would rush right over and take care of it. He and I may have different interpretations of the word “rush.”

I think I’m a pretty easy renter. I’m quiet, respectful, careful. I gently attack any bats in the house with pillows instead of, say, firearms. I really don’t ask for much more than peace, quiet and not having the utility company send people over to shut off the power. I’ve had good luck renting places over the Internet, but I should have listened to my instincts on this one. There was something a little bit off even before I booked this place. For instance, this was one of the emails from the landlord when we were going back and forth on dates and prices:

Because you seem a most desirable renter – conscientioius.intelligent.single and probably jewish like myself – i am offering you a (unrequested) discount of $—/week if you transfer the two weeks amount of —- or $—- within the next three  business days.

For an American, he sure writes like the guy who authors the Nigerian scam emails.

Moments after I sent payment, he responded with this note:

I have an unusal question for you,which has only arisen due to several
factors,but mainly two:
1) That I have been here since Nov 25 ,my return ticket is for Feb 18
BUT i have recently considered extending my stay either in my house or
elsewhere.. 2) That the house has two bedrooms, each one on a SEPARATE
FLOOR. My question is , Would you consider me staying in one
bedroom,you in the other  and sharing the rest of the house to SAVE
RENT MONEY (Id send a partial refund via paypal.) You can read all
about me on VRBO.COM.Also let me add I am not gay. If you have
some interest we can further discuss it AND YOUR REVISED PRICE. Also I
can call you from here for just 5 centsa minute. So let me know.
Do NOT feel any pressure concerning this. Your decision will have no
affect on anything. IT COULD WORK OUT WELL OR NOT WELL! If we were
incompatible Id move out quickly as I have various places i can stay.
If we share the house we will not enter one anothers bedroom, AND  I
will do my utmost not to be bossy or act like HEAD of the house. I am
a conscientious,careful person who has practised Buddhist meditation
for about 30 years.- so I am pretty aware and compassionate .
Also please note that a Cleaning lady will come in 5 days/week  from 9
to 11:30 and keep the house very clean.That should eliminate many
roommate type conflicts over sloppiness. She is nice person and does a
bang up job. She leaves rentors alone and just does her job. I pay for
her,you dont pay a cent.
So let me know and its entirely your choice-  plus if u r open to it I
suggest we have a 1 or 2 phone conversations.

I nixed this suggestion just as fast as my fingers could type. I had no interest in getting involved in Real World: Nicaragua with this guy.

Since I arrived here he has been by the house almost every day to drop something off, always without calling or emailing ahead. I just hear “Andrew!” through the open window and there he is. Two days ago he arranged for a backup property manager and another friend to meet him here, and they all hung out in the living room. Later he handed me his Nook e-reader and asked if I could figure out why it was dead.

So I wasn’t 100% surprised when the power company came by this morning to create my own personal blackout. In fact, I would put my surprise somewhere closer to 0%. I don’t know how things work in the states, but it turns out that in Nicaragua you have to pay your electric bill for all the months you have service, not just some of them.

Eventually, ninety minutes after the power was killed, the landlord showed up and explained in great detail how the electric company was in error, and swore up and down that the power would be back on that afternoon.

I took that to mean “some time in March.”

He also gave me the phone number of Roberta (the housekeeper) “in case some problem with the house” came up while he was out of town. The example he gave was a wild dog running around the inside of the house. He suggested this with an entirely straight face, and I’m pretty sure he was not kidding. He said it would be fun to watch Roberta chase a wild dog around the house, wouldn’t it? Roberta smiled in the manner of someone who was waiting to get her weekly pay from the gringo boss, but I’m pretty sure that Indoor Dog Wrangling isn’t among her Hobbies and Interests on Facebook.

After hanging around for an hour and asking if I’d be willing to receive the return of my security deposit by PayPal instead of by the cash I had paid, the landlord left and once again swore that the power would be back on that afternoon. Or maybe by the next day at the very latest. And by the way, he was leaving town for the rest of my visit.

Chance of me ever getting my security deposit back: 0%.

So I gamely headed back to the café for another afternoon of work, and when I returned to the casa around 4 p.m. you could have knocked me over with a wild poodle when I discovered that the power was actually back on. Figuratively shocking. Apparently the power company is wildly efficient when they’re, you know, providing power.

The bright spot in all of this is that I’ve become a “regular” at the café. The gal working the counter knew I’d be ordering an orange juice, and today I got it in a tall, sexy tropical glass, because I look like the kind of guy who would want an orange juice in a tall, sexy tropical glass.

The café is a nice place, with a huge open air courtyard in back away from the street noise. Last night, while working on my laptop, some Americans came around and said they were having trivia night and did I want to play? Heck yeah! There were four rounds, and the categories were:

  • General knowledge that Andrew knows nothing about.
  • Obscure 15th century Portuguese explorers.
  • Enrique Iglesias song lyrics that even Enrique Iglesias probably doesn’t know.
  • Rebuses that a five-year-old could solve.

I aced the rebuses, flailed on the rest of the categories, and came in a respectable fourth out of six teams. Since I was a team of one, I considered that a win.

One of gals running the trivia night stopped by to chat with me while I was in the middle of making up names that sounded like plausible 15th century Portuguese explorers (“Vasco de Ferens”) and I found out she was in Granada for six months with a program called Soccer Without Borders that teaches impoverished Nicaraguan girls that Americans don’t know the right word for soccer.


One last fun detail about Granada for tonight: There are very few cars here, but a huge number of people getting around on bicycle, especially teens. More often than not, there are two people to each bicycle, and often it’s (what I presume to be) a boyfriend and girlfriend. The boy pedals the bike, and the girl sits sidesaddle on the top tube in front. No helmets, of course. How this is not an unstable invitation to death is beyond me, but there are hundreds of couples riding around like this all the time, day and night.

For those keeping score, here are the updated odds of what I am most likely to die of on this trip:

Murder: .000001%
Donkey Trampling: 6%
Bicycle Collision: 8%
Taxi Collision (pedestrian): 7%
Taxi Collision (passenger): 10% 
Self-injury while attacking fruit bat: 12%
Lake Shark: 4%
Collision with housekeeper chasing wild dog in house: 9%
Unrefrigerated eggs from outdoor market: 29%
Jogging: 14%
Mosquitos sucking literally all of my blood out of my body through my feet: 11%