Feb 14, 2014

Extra Vacation Days? Go to Nicaragua!

I know I know.  I've been a horrendous blogger and haven't updated in a couple months.

First, I was insanely busy, mostly with decoration and planning and trips and all that stuff.  So I'll get into that.

Second, workwise, I've been in a mixed bag bad place.  Not like my first year bad place of "Flee medicine and take up professional scuba diving!  Everyone is horrible!  I'm horrible!"  Instead, it's been a weird mix of mismanagement, schedule horrors, and budget issues that has me regularly swinging back and forth between "I hate this I hate this; this is wasting my education" and "everyone here is awesome and my friends, and every program has drama and this is just our particular brand of it", but I didn't want to do a blog post where I'm like "BADNESS!" when it truly isn't, but I didn't want to do one where I completely ignored work and just posted about how awesome Asheville, North Carolina is, and how their hospital should hire me in a couple of years so I have local access to breweries, hippies, and mountains.

I'm not sure if I should go in chronological order, or if I should go in order of what's probably interesting.  Maybe reverse order.  We'll start here and end with Christmas.  If you get bored before Christmas, you can watch the Game of Thrones season 4 trailer obsessively on youtube until the show starts back up in two months, because that's what I do.  This will likely be divided into at least a couple of posts, because it really has to be.

We'll actually start a couple weeks ago.  Uhh... look!  Monkeys!

I'll also get to them in a minute, but this should hold your interest through the vacational whining I'm about to do.

Nicaragua was amazing and the people there are amazing, despite having the biggest string of difficulties from start to finish.  Ostensibly, we went there for the surfing, since my friends live at Folly Beach, are addicted to it, and I decided I didn't have enough dangerous expensive hobbies on top of ice skating, horseback riding, kayaking, hobie catting, and scuba diving.  I also like the bonus chronic injuries I inflict on myself by running regularly, which is really one of the most abusive things you can do to your body under the guise of good health short of eating unpasteurized cheese and rejecting vaccinations.  I had actually planned on running while in Nica, and we'll also get to why that didn't happen.

Getting there: Oh Atlanta!  Both Delta's main hub *and* completely incapable of dealing with any weather pattern people in the midwest would call "Spring".  There were 11 of us going total.  Two were planning to show up on the 31st.  The rest (us) on the 30th.  Boyfriend was coming back from a business trip, or at least he'd been planning to the day before we were going to leave.  With a stop in Atlanta.  Which is where he got to spend the next day and a half.

Our trip also required a stop in Atlanta, so imagine our shock when despite a thaw in most regions (including Charleston) by our flight departure time, it was delayed delayed cancelled.  No worries.  We're going for nine days.  But there were many of us, so we were getting answers of "Uhh.. some of you tomorrow, some the next day... last person in by Tuesday".  This was unacceptable.  Planner of the trip managed to sober up from our flight-delay bloody mary festival in time to get in touch with the exclusive airline people and managed to find a flight that could take us to Managua through Miami.  By way of Charlotte.  For reference, Charlotte is about four hours away.  With boyfriend still passport-less in Atlanta.

We waited for him to be freed from the deep freeze at Charleston's new Ethiopian restaurant (Oh thank all that is good and wonderful in the world!) and piled 9 into a big van to Charlotte for a cozy late night stay in the local per-hour quality motel.

At the airport, since boyfriend had been in the departure city but was with us, he was booked from Miami instead of Charlotte, which is a problem for about 17 hours worth of reasons, so he managed to get back on an original flight and hit us an hour later.

But we arrived in Managua!!  And got rental cars and made it to our overnight stay there without being stabbed or running over a motorcycle.  Nica beer, rum, and late night gas station snacks were had by all, we met all members of our party and headed out for our incredible beach house in Playa Colorado with its amazing staff.

Near our arrival, surfer #3 aka also "guy getting married on trip" was not doing well, and was confined to quarters with an illness I'm referring to as the "James Island flu" since we apparently brought it with us.

Despite his infirmary, the beach house was kicking:

We hit the pool the first day, because duh, and heard one of our party exclaim from the backyard about the monkeys.  Remember the monkeys?  There were monkeys.  If you've been reading since I went to Costa Rica (you poor poor soul), you know that despite having an anthropology degree with a primatology adviser, everywhere I've gone that you're supposed to see wild monkeys has been utterly monkey free.  Until now!  Ha!  Howler monkeys!  In the trees!  With babies!  And hooting in the morning!  Awesome!!!

We had an awesome woman that cooked for us, provided beer and rum, and cleaned.  I am happily full of rice, beans, fish, and plantains for a while.

We saw our first sunset in Nica, played in the water, and headed for an early bed.  While we were wrestling in the surf, a local warned us to be careful of stingrays.  This was good advice. 

The next day, it was time to rent a surfboard and try out the waves!  The woman that runs the surf shop should be called "the getter".  She's never surfed, but can recommend any type of board, but more critically, she can get damn near anything.  And by anything, I mean cough syrup, flowers, white pants and a jacket, and a Catholic priest willing to marry a Mormon to a Baptist.  This is exactly what I mean by "anything" and yes, that is exactly what we asked for.

So round one of surfing... I was not doing well out in the lineup, particularly since it was full of good surfers and I can't really stand up.  So on the advice of planner, I took my surfboard into the surf break zone to try and clumsily ride the white stuff and get a feeling for it.

I was struggling with it, and my boyfriend was standing next to me in the water (which shows you how well I was surfing) at which point I clumsily kind of fell off the surfboard and stood up (I do everything clumsily on a surfboard) and felt something slash open the bottom of my left foot.  I then jumped off my left foot onto my right foot (as you do), and landed on a surface that felt exactly like a startled piece of wet rubber being yanked out from under you.  Fortunately, the ray I actually fully stepped on was more forgiving than his buddy, and did not light up my right foot.  Then I saw a huge ray with a long sharp looking tail go streaking directly in front of me.

I don't really scream as a rule.  However, it's not because I'm a bad ass or anything, it's just not a sound I make much, which means when I'm scared, injured, and startled, I kind of yell, but was also trying not to step on rays with both feet.  I tell you this, because to my boyfriend, his girlfriend went from being frustrated on a surfboard, to leaping from one foot to the other making angry chicken noises.  He was confused until I said something helpful like "Ah!!!  Ahh!!  Ray!!  F-ing ray!  F-ing stingray!!!" and gesticulated wildly toward the water, at which point a fourth ray went streaking in front of him.

Only I would attempt to take up surfing and wind up doing so directly in the middle of a stingray pride rally.  We shuffled and squawked out of the water where I inspected a large, bleeding, sand impacted gash running directly across the bottom of my foot.  Thanks, jerk.  Fortunately, it didn't leave a barb in me, but it was still starting to hurt, so after... I'll be honest, about a second and a half of trying to flag down my friends to warn them they were going to come in surrounded by venomous pain monsters, we gave up and limped back.

I was rinsing what I'm calling my "ray hole" in the pool when Maria (our housekeeper) came out.  Since I didn't know the word for "ray" in Spanish, I was trying to elaborate that I'd been attacked by a bad fish with a knife when she said "raya?"  Of course.

Then she said "agua caliente?" which didn't sound like what I wanted to pour on an open wound (hot water) but it denatures stingray venom, which is just... a really really good thing to know.  So that helped, and with no barb in, I did not get to experience the "labor intensity pain" of legend, but I definitely wasn't going running any time soon.

So that was all right.  Next day, doofy pink boat shoes on, I headed back to attempt surfing!  Honestly, awful marine life is something I got mentally accustomed to while diving, so I think of that as not really being a surfing thing, but as a "their habitat" thing.  Unfortunately, about ten minutes into attempting to ride waves into shore, I did what's called "pearling" in surfing, only did so in shallow water, so the board was ripped from me and I landed directly on my head, which would be fine, but then my body collapsed on top of me and I heard a popping sound at the base of my skull.

For about half a second, this was my train of thought "That's like C2-C3, that's it.  I'm paralyzed.  This is the moment.  I hope my surfing friends see me in time to pull me out of the water because I wonder if my diaphragm is even going to work and even if I can breath without a ventilator I'm not going to be able to get out of the water and will I be able to and is there an evac chopper I wonder if steroids will lower the damage..." and then my arms and legs moved and I drew a deep breath having only popped a couple fibers in my trapezius (only time I'll be glad to say that) and that was the moment I gave up surfing, because stingrays come and go but being too clumsy in a sport with a steep learning curve and paralyzing yourself or brain damaging yourself on the 9 foot long hard sharp object you're literally tied to is forever.

So that's cool.  Nicaragua's got a lot to offer, hiking trails to limp down, volcanoes, and tiny farm towns, so I'll do that.  We drove to one cute town the same night (one of our party was a massage therapist, thank goodness and worked on my neck) and it must have been the dust on the road because I started coughing.  And coughing.  And sneezing.  And hacking.  And being in denial.

By the next morning, with the fever, I was beginning to suspect my problem was not the dust on the road, but the illness of our party.  So I laid in bed shaking, sleeping, sneezing, coughing, and blowing my nose, for the next 24 hours.  My boyfriend increased his already impressive relationship stock by staying with me the entire time.

The next day, I was getting maudlin.  My foot hurt, my neck hurt, and I was still coughing up cups of crap.  I was well enough to ignore all symptoms so we went out to hike a dry creekbed and climb around for more monkeys and take pictures of dragonflies.

This was also the day of the wedding, or as I say "if you're going to get married, do it this way".  This was essentially, an on-the-fly, licensing already done, let's see what we can do wedding.  We weren't certain we could get a priest that would marry our friends, and certainly not one on 48 hours notice.

Wrong.  For the price of "whatever you wish to donate to the church", we got a priest, Spanish Bible, full Spanish ceremony on the beach at sunset, and then everyone all came back to the house for dinner and drinks and said priest taught us how to do tequila shots in Nicaragua which is "Arriba!  Abajo!  Alcentro!  Aldentro!" and then drink.  That is full service.

But for all the horrors we'd (I'd) faced up to this point, that night was so incredible and special and locally intimate (not like that) that it really made the trip.  We were later joined by some surfers from Spain and a full on party commenced.

So it steadily improved from there.  For me.  I hiked (limped) to an incredible vantage point over the beach and saw tons of wildlife.  We traveled to San Juan del Sur, which is an adorable town with amazing drinks and cheap lobster.  It was just prior to this that boyfriend started looking a little rough so stayed home, while I lowered my girlfriend stock (at his insistence, I swear!) by going to town anyway.  But I bought him pharmacy drugs, so that counts, right?

We wanted to do some horseback riding as it was listed for 20 dollars, so we booked that with the getter!  I didn't realize how much getting there was.  Two hours later, the horse guy appeared... on horseback, trailed by three horses.  Because that's how long it takes to ride that far without a car.  Gangsta.  I was puzzled, because we'd wanted four horses, so he gestured to the four horses, hopped off, and handed off the one he was riding.  And that's the story of how I led a beach trail ride as I was the one with the most experience of us (meaning, I rode horses regularly about 8 years ago), really hoping we wouldn't fall off or get lost.  My horse had a slight attitude problem, as I like them, and a halter as a bit, which makes me a little more nervous.  After the hour, we paid our cowboy, gave him a beer for the efforts, and he began the two hour ride home.  Egad.  And that's the sort of thing that makes me feel bad when I whine that being a doctor can be thankless and annoying.

For reference, by the way, this is what the beach looks like from horseback:

And somewhere in all this, Superbowl (not on horseback).  The night of the Olympic opening ceremonies, we headed to the surf bar for some drinks, and as I sipped my watermelon mojito, my boyfriend timidly said "When you finish your drink, do you mind if we go back to the house", and that's when *he* got to experience the full blown fever mode.  Poor guy.

But we did get to experience sunsets every night that looked like this:

So there's that!

We planned our last night to sleep in Managua again because airport, and decided to hit Granada on the way there because after living in Grenada for two years, how could I miss it.  Granada is an old colonial town with awesome buildings and cheap delicious food:

We branched off in all directions and met back at the three rental cars.  Like educated travelers, we paid a local boy to watch the cars with the promise of half now half later that works decently.  Unfortunately, as we returned, we came back to three cars and two intact passenger side windows.  Someone smashed out our friends car and took their bag.  D'oh.  Oddly, our youth was still around, though wound up going from being confused (which may have been real or not; we still don't know) to having someone pull a knife on him, which we found less likely, particularly since he seemed as surprised as we were by the broken window and the missing bag.

This led to a series I'd like to call "Ishie having to deal with the police in countries where she's unfamiliar with the native language" though we were fortunate enough to have excellent speakers with us.  I'd be more critical of the crime and such, but for one smash and grab in a third world country that could have just as easily occurred in downtown Charleston, we eventually ended up with six police officers and a ride to clarify the report at the police station (for my friends; we eventually bailed when we realized we'd be dealing with darkness in Managua).  For reference, I had one extremely disinterested police officer and a misfiled police report where I was listed as a juvenile for the arguably greater crime of arson in South Carolina, so point Nicaragua.

I know I know.  Arson again.  I bring it up now because when I went to register my car this year upon returning, I was informed that I owe 400 dollars in registration for the arsonized car despite being reported, written off, and disposed off by the state.  This has not contributed well to my state of mind when I mentioned my attitude problem of late about 10,000 words ago.  It's now been reduced to 16 dollars after digging through all my paperwork (yay memories!) and getting my old insurance company to write a letter, but I've reached that point where I'm really wanting to be past it, and it makes me angry.

Other point Nicaragua... despite it being horrible and everything, the cost of the damage on a car that, if it was like ours, had about 5000 miles on it and automatic windows, was about 260 dollars to the rental company.  I may be crazy, but that seems incredibly reasonable.

So it was a weary, well-earned pina colada night in Managua, in which our friends also arrived safely not long after we did.  Managua also not as bad as advertised though I maintain that huge traffic circles in capital cities at rush hour are the most hypertension-inducing creatures on the planet (even before stingrays!)

The boyfriend and I are still coughing up crud, but we're happy and alive, and I would definitely go back to Nicaragua.  Except for the smash and grab (which again, could have happened anywhere), all conflicts were country-unrelated, and the people there were some of the most amazing individuals I've encountered.  Friendly, funny, and helpful, not to mention, they speak Spanish relatively slowly!  Which is extremely helpful for people with a toddler level of understanding, such as myself.

Part 2: "Christmas is Magic" will commence at a later date.  Stay tuned.  Or don't.  Watch Game of Thrones.  Or get someone else hooked on it and record their reaction to the Red Wedding because I never get tired of those videos.  I'm still waiting for old roommate to make it to that point in the third season, because this is a girl that walked out angry during the whole Drogo thing back in season 1.  Mwa ha!