Monday, December 30, 2013

10 observations

In anticipation of not having internet connection for a few days, here are 10 observations about Nicaragua...

1. You can expect to eat lots of gallo pinto and tostones.

2. Nicaraguans love their dodgy backyard fireworks.

3. Like the rest of Latin America, don’t try to flush too much toilet paper down the loo…you will cause a flood.

4. If you are driving and you happen to stop at the traffic lights at a major intersection in Managua, expect to have your car windscreen cleaned – even if it has already been cleaned at the same intersection by the same kid less than a day earlier.

5. While waiting to get your windscreen cleaned, don’t be surprised if three or four people walk up to your car and attempt to sell you something (e.g. sunglasses, drinks, fruit, steering wheel covers).

6. The concept of a street ‘address’ (as we know it) does not exist in Nicaragua [I have no idea how mail gets delivered here].

7. Don’t be surprised to see people carrying machine guns or machetes (Even their statues carry them – see above example). 

8. If you are dining out, save some food for the dogs and cats that will come to your table begging for scraps.

9. The smell of smoke is ubiquitous in rural areas (people love raking leaves into small piles and setting them alight).

10. A laid back attitude is the best way to enjoy this amazing country and its people. 

Nicaragua day 14 - shopping in Managua

We managed to get quite a bit done in Managua yesterday. We headed straight to the Metro Centro shopping mall, which looks a lot like an Australian shopping mall (minus the Myer or David Jones department stores). We took the opportunity to stock up on a range of essentials like toothpaste, insect repellent, sunscreen and potato chips (for my student; not for me).

After shopping, we stopped by at a cafĂ© that seems to cater to rich Nicaraguans and foreigners (prices are in US dollars). I tried to order a tea but it somehow got very complicated in Spanish so I settled for a chai latte instead (which literally turned out to be a drink comprising a mix of chai and cafe latte).  

We ended up having an early dinner so that my colleague and student could make their concert. We went to a fast food place called Pollo Estrella.  It’s a bit like KFC – but with a Central American twist….You can choose to have refried beans, rice, or pickled onions as side dishes (rather than the chips or coleslaw that most of us would be familiar with at KFC).

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel (rice and beans) and are going to head back out to Metro Centro to grab a few more things that we forgot to get yesterday before heading back to Xiloa.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nicaragua day 11-13 Lake Xiloa

We left Lake Apoyo the day after Christmas and have now arrived in Lake Xiloa (pronounced as ‘hiloa’). This will be my main base until I leave Nicaragua. We have several fish experiments planned here.

Like Lake Apoyo, Lake Xiloa is a crater lake and is teeming with fish. The surrounding scrub is a lot drier compared to the tropical forest of Apoyo. In fact, it looks a lot like parts of Australia (an illusion enhanced by the presence of Eucalypts).

We are staying at a privately run ‘research station’, several metres from the shore. There is a woodpecker living in a tree in the courtyard (will try to get some shots for a future post) and I saw my first scorpion on my way to the Lake (it may have fallen out of my colleague's diving gear...a good reminder to carefully check clothing and equipment beforehand).

We are back in Managua today (Saturday). My student and colleague are going to a concert after dinner. I will have a relaxing night catching up on internet.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nicaragua day 10 - Christmas

The festivities in the village started bright and early with fireworks and lots of people everywhere....such a contrast from yesterday when the place was practically deserted. There is now a very noisy reggaeton concert taknig place.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Some pictures from the trip so far...

Meeting fishermen on the shores of Lake Managua in the wee hours of the morning to buy our scientific samples. Yes, it's a volcano in the background.

An example of the fish we are after. Note the big lips. Reminds me of Lisa Renna from Melrose Place.

The place where we are currently staying, on the shores of Lake Apoyo. 

These are begonia, which are a popular house plant in Oz. I though it was interesting that these were growing on rocks rather than in the soil.

Nicaragua day 9 - toucan update

The toucan has sure been consistent with its calling…6am sharp ­­– every day. 

Well, as it turned out, today would be the last day we’d have to put up with his loud calls because the caretaker has taken him back into the forest to be released.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nicaragua day 8 - choko

Not sure about the dinners at the place where we are staying. Tonight’s meal was boiled choko and rice. Might eat out tomorrow night.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nicaragua day 7 - the toucan

I woke up at 6am to the call of a bird that sounds a lot like someone jumping on a squeaky spring mattress. It turned out to be the resident keel-blled toucan. 

We are preparing for our experiments today, with the goal of starting tomorrow. Otherwise, it’s been a relaxing day so far (except when the toucan decides to start calling).  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nicaragua day 6 - Lake Apoyo

We said goodbye to our Spanish collaborator today who is returning to Madrid for Christmas. She has been great value and has managed to sweet-talk our way out of having to pay a penalty (i.e. bribe) for ‘scratches’ to the side of the hire car and negotiating taxi fares so we wouldn’t get ripped off.  We are now without a native Spanish speaker so will have to rely instead on what I have learnt from Dora the Explorer.

Today we arrived in Lake Apoyo, a beautiful lake formed inside the crater of an extinct volcano. The lake itself is surrounded by lush jungle. It is really beautiful.

In contrast to our beautiful surroundings, the accommodation we have organised is a bit on the ‘basic’ side (truth be told, I think some Australian prisons are probably more luxurious). 

I’m a bit concerned about the bugs that might be already in the room, and the ones that are thinking of creeping in during the night….my collaborator already discovered a big whip spider on his bed (imagine a cross between a huntsman and a scorpion). And ‘no’, my collaborator didn’t manage to catch it so it’s still in his room, which, I guess, is a blessing because it means it isn’t in mine.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nicaragua day 5 - machine guns, bats and iguanas

We went to a fancy restaurant last night that specialised in local Nicaraguan cuisine (which, of course, involves, bananas, beans and rice). The restaurant (in contrast to our hotel) is in a nice part of town. It was quite some distance and, not feeling terribly confident about driving at night, we decided to go by taxi.

The taxi pulled up in front of the restaurant right next to a guy carrying a machine gun. I couldn’t quite figure out whether the guy was protecting the restaurant patrons or something/someone else but there were other people standing with machine guns at other street corners nearby.

The dinner was ok (I don’t think Nicaraguan food is in my top 10 of most global cuisine). I was more interested in the bats that were flying around our table. The bats were pollinating the banana plants flowering in the garden beds adjacent to where we were sitting. It was like seeing a David Attenborough documentary – but in real life.

Today we went to one of the major markets to look for some materials we needed for an experiment. Hmmm…how to describe the market experience? I guess it’s a bit like the Queen Victoria markets but more crowded and dirty and full of smells that make me want to gag. The worst part was definitely the section that sold meat…it almost made me want to become a vegetarian. The saddest part was seeing live iguanas (giant lizards) tied up for sale.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nicaragua day 4 - back to Managua

I haven't had access to the internet for the last three days, which is both a blessing and a curse. We are now back in Managua so it has been catch up on what's been going on in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it's mostly work related stuff. My colleagues and I are sitting in a nice cafe being completely anti-social.

Nicaragua day 3 - fish!

We have fish. We started the day at 5.30am by going to the shores of the Lake to meet the fisherman as they were returning back with their catch. We basically went from boat to boat searching for the species that we wanted. The locals must have thought we were crazy.

The fisherman we specifically asked to go out for us the previous night wasn’t terribly successful but we still gave him money for his efforts. He felt really bad and offered to go out again to have another go.

It’s not an easy life, rowing back and forth out to the middle of the Lake under extremely choppy condition every night to fish.

I’d be keen to give our study species a try (they seem to be very a popular food fish among the locals) – but maybe at another, less polluted lake (my colleagues tell me that a factory had, some years before, released huge volumes of mercury into the Lake when it closed).

Nicaragua day 2 – pigs, dogs and cats

Today we headed to a village located on the shores of Lake Managua. We are staying at a nice hotel owned by a Nicaraguan woman and her American husband, a Vietnam veteran. Nice couple. The hotel property, with its lush tropical garden and crazy sculptures, is very different from the poor rural setting of the surrounding neighbourhood though. 

Soon after arriving, we headed to the shore of the Lake, which has a spectacular view of a smouldering volcano on the opposite side. We managed to find a fisherman who has agreed to set his nets in a particular location near a small island overnight to collect the fish that we are after.

In the evening we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. We decided to go by foot, which turned out to be a mistake…Half way to the restaurant, I had a close encounter with a very large pig, who decided to come right up to me and then proceeded to rub its wet, smelly snout all over my legs (while my colleagues watched with amusement). Welcome to rural Nicaragua.

After the stand off with the pig (which lasted several minutes until it decided to trudge off into the night), we arrived at the restaurant…I think it was previously a public swimming pool judging by the fact that there was a large swimming pool in the middle of the restaurant.

For dinner, I ordered fried chicken, which was served with deep fried banana. Even though I have only been here less than 24 hours, I have noticed that it is quite common to have stray animals come sit next to your table while you are eating. Tonight, a cat and two dogs decided to join us for dinner while bats (did I mention that Central America is home to vampire bats?) circling around our heads.

After returning to the hotel after our delicious meal, I went straight to the shower to wash away the smell of swine. 

Nicaragua day 1 - first impressions

After a long journey, I have finally arrived in Nicaragua. First impressions: chaotic, colourful, noisy, exciting.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

trip preparation

The foot is much better today. It looks a bit wrinkly but I guess that's a sign the swelling is going down.

Today I must start preparing for the trip. I have to pack my bag and write copious instructions for Nathan to follow while I'm away. I also need to back up all the stuff laptop onto my newly purchased Time Machine. I hope it will be straightforward because I am hopeless with technology. Oh, and the dog. I will need to brush the dog before I go because Nathan definitely wont be doing that when I'm away so I should at least try to get out all the existing knots in anticipation of the new ones the dog will accumulate when I'm away.

I haven't really thought much about the trip itself, other than having to write a very lengthy security and safety plan for work – because Nicaragua is a country that has a higher DFAT warning (even though it is the second safest in North America after Canada, and the fact that we are not going to any of the dodgy areas).

I'm really looking forward to the plane ride this time. Am flying the Qantas A380 from Melbourne to LA. I booked a seat in premium economy. I thought 'screw it'. I have the research funds, I might as well  go in comfort. I also put in a request yesterday for an upgrade to business on frequent flyer points (I figure I might as well try to go in even more comfort if I can get it). The flight attendants will be wearing their chic new uniforms. Should be a nicer experience to what I am usually accustomed back in economy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Stuck in bed today trying to get over a case of gout in my right foot.

The problem surfaced when I was in Queensland last week for a marine biology field course and I had no idea of the underlying cause. The foot swelled and it was difficult to walk.

I went to the doctor on thursday and after a bunch of tests (which included getting a needle stuck into my ankle to extract the fluid for analyses) I was diagnosed with gout.

I am desperately trying to get back to normal – especially as I am due to fly to Central America on Monday.

So far, the drugs are working a treat. I have also been drinking heaps of water to help flush out the toxins and eating cherries (which are suppose to be good).

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

the birds

I am up on The Great Barrier Reef this week for a field course. One of the student has a bird phobia. I didn't realise people can developed bird phobias. It is known as ornithophobia.

Poor student. The island is full of birds. They are absolutely everywhere. You can hear them chattering all day and all night. Sometimes they even fly into you. It's the unpredictability of the birds that the student finds most minute they are sitting on the ground and the next they are flapping everywhere.