Posted by: Todd Yeates | January 4, 2013

Saving the best for last: Manuel Antonio National Park

Hostel stools re

My last few days in Costa Rica were quite compressed. My language classes ended on a Friday with my Dec 19th departure looming on the following Wednesday. I was determined to squeeze in one last genuine Costa Rican scenic experience before leaving this part of the world. Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific side, one of CR’s oldest and best known parks, was the most accessible of CR’s most prized eco-gems—a mere three hour bus ride away. It would necessitate sleeping in a dorm—something I’d been scrupulously avoiding this entire trip. I hadn’t shared a dorm since my twenties and with my highly idiosyncratic sleeping habits, that was the one element of this side trip I was avoiding and secretly dreading.

The hostel, Vista Serena, located on a hillside overlooking the Pacific and claiming to have the most beautiful sunsets in the world, was deserving of its lofty rating in the Lonely Planet. Filled to the gills with young people from around the world it wasn’t exactly my ideal crowd, but this was one of those times when you really have to just go with the flow, man.

Another first for me on this trip was paying for a guided tour–in this case an all day tour of the Manuel Antonio park–beginning at 7:00 AM!  Finding myself still awake that night in a somewhat noisy atmosphere (it was Saturday night) I tried to bail out of the tour, but was assured by the friendly hostel operator that whatever misgivings I was having now, to put them aside, because the tour was worth it, and I would regret not going later.  And she was right–it was worth it, and it was the highlight of the entire trip.

Public beach next to MA park

Public beach next to MA park

The park proved to be everything I expected and more. A small (just 12 km2) but exquisite jewel encompassing a tropical rain forest filled with wondrous critters, 3 distinctive beaches of varying quality and some interesting rocky headlands jutting into the Pacific. Its immediate surroundings are highly developed for the moneyed gringo set, as well as wealthy natives.  It’s not hard to see why so many flock to this tropical gem.

Into the main forest of Manuel Antonio.

Into the jungle

The resplendant Toucan

The resplendant Toucan

The mighty Toucan. ( Poorly captured by a second hand telephoto lens that gave me focus issues throughout the trip–indeed, so many of my shots suffer from crappy focus, that it’s the biggest problem I have to correct before my next trip)

Some light penetrates through the canopy

Light through the canopy

Two big females and their much smaller mates

Husbands and Wives (the husbands are the little ones)

One of the many local squirrel monkeys.

The leader of the squirrel monkeys

The guide was great at finding examples of local wildlife, including these colourful little stinkbugs.

Cute blue bugs

A duet in blue

Finally we emerged out of the woods and on top of a rocky promontory overlooking the vast bosom of the Pacific.

Flop sweat hill overlooking the Pacific

Flop sweat hill overlooking the Pacific

Thankfully, we soon broke for lunch at the park’s main beach.

Manuel Antonio beach 1

Manuel Antonio main beach

Parasols on MA main beach


After lunch the tour continued along the coastline which is dotted with a number of arresting and unusual rock formations.

Volcanic rock

Volcanic rock

Fossil formations re

Fossil formations

"Pandora" like rock outcroppings.

“Pandora” like rock outcroppings.

Manuel Antonio coastline

Manuel Antonio coastline

It was time for the beach. I broke up with the tour and cultivated a little niche in the sparsely used Beach 2 (can’t recall its official name) one of the loveliest dollops of tropical paradise I’ve ever seen.

Driftwood in the sands

Driftwood in the sands

The crescent curve of Manual Antonio's second beach

Beach strollers

One last look at paradise

Last days in paradise

I was soon joined by these friendly iguanas.

Iggy and son (or daughter)

Iggy and son (or daughter)

Iggy stardust

Iggy stardust

Soon the park gates would be closed, and the exodus out of the park had begun.  But not before getting dinged about 4 dollars by the opportunistic boat operators to cross a 20 foot wide channel  infested, apparently, with crocodiles. (At high tide–funny how high-tide and the park closure occur so conveniently at the same time!)

Crocodile crossing

Crocodile crossing

That night I traded war stories with some of the others at the hostel (while a noisy NFL football game blasted from the oversized plasma screen in the main common space.  Football and paradise…why? Because there were Americans at the hostel and it was Sunday night)

I also got talked into staying another night. 

The next afternoon I met up with some of the fellow inmates from the hostel at a local beach (as the park is closed on Mondays) It would be my last day in paradise.

Some company from the hostel

Lads and Lady from the hostel

One last sunset to savor and it was all over.

"World's finest sunset" (according to ad)

“World’s finest sunset”

And just like that, it was over.  Had one last melancholic night in the “Ghandi” room at Casa Ridgeway, San Jose, before departing the next day for my snowbound home.

Bags packed and ready to go.

And like that he was gone…


…to YYZ, Toronto–land of RUSH and snow.

There may be one more post in this blog if I can come up with some kind of meaningful summary of the whole experience. Overall, it was a good one, something I needed to do. I have a large mental list of things to do or not do for the next long adventure.

Happy New Year and thanks for following!

Posted by: Todd Yeates | December 28, 2012

San Jose, one last time.

Parque Morazan dome

Looking over this last series of shots of San Jose from the wintry, Christmas saturated confines of the great snowy north, I can’t help but feel  a little despondent that it’s all over.  The last three weeks were a bit of a blur, with my time devoted to Spanish classes in San Jose and a jaunt to the scenic jewel of Manuel Antonio park. 

The search for an ESL position didn’t really pan out as I had hoped–every query I placed regarding employment was met with a rather officious, “Do you have a work visa?” What’s the Spanish word for “No”? Of course, to obtain a work visa, one must already have a signed letter of commitment from the school. A classic Catch-22.

Truthfully, I was flabbergasted and quite devastated by that chilly response. I really had half expected them to roll out the red carpet and invite the National Orchestra to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as soon as I so much as hinted at my willingness to accept a teaching position in one of their humble learning establishments. But, alas, the reality was jarringly different from the fantasy. To make a long story short, I just didn’t have the time to wait for all that yucky red tape unravel itself while I cooled out in a cheap hostel watching my bank balance slip into negative territory.

Okay, so maybe I should have researched this matter a little more thoroughly before taking the plunge, but, truthfully, it probably wouldn’t have changed my mind much. I needed this adventure to build up my travel legs and erode my perpetual fear of the unknown–and in particular, uncontrollable nocturnal noise–a Latin American specialty.  (Did I mention that I have a serious sleep disorder?  If not, it will be fully addressed in a future blog.) Any major undertaking requires some preliminary training (“Poco a poco” as they say) and with this trip I think I bagged at least two or three pocos and likely some pocitos as well.

Now, back on my posterior in donut land, I’ve decided that Asia is a better bet for establishing my nascent career/fantasy/destiny as a globe trotting ESL teacher. With this modest trip now tucked under my belt I feel a little more confident in my ability to fence my way through the bristling unknowns of such a daunting proposal. So, with that said, let me unspool here another photo roll of every Costa Ricans’ (and visiting gringos’) favourite whipping boy, the under-appreciated city of San Jose.

Clogged arteries of San Jose

 Capital City!

My language school — Universal de Idiomas–is across the street from the ubiquitous Coke sign.  The three hour (sometimes 4) lessons per day were a hoot–there’s nothing more engaging and mentally satisfying than learning a new language in three weeks. (A reader may ask, “Why’d you wait until the end to learn Spanish?” In time I may have a logical answer to that, but for now let’s just say the circumstances didn’t favour that outcome, and move on. There are many things I would do differently and more sensibly on a repeat of this endeavor–like having a compass and a reading light! But that’s why we do things kind of half-assed at the beginning–it’s how we learn from our mistakes–and grow wise in the process)  Anyway, on Wednesdays we would take field trips to various museums and places of cultural interest.

A decent room at last

Finally, a decent room!

OK, okay, so that room was in the National Museum and not some fancy local hostel. The next two pics are from the Costa Rica Art Museum, located in the green expanse of Parque La Sabana–at onetime Costa Rica’s international airport. (The art deco control tower has been tastefully integrated into the gallery.)

Costa Rica Art Museum

Costa Rica Art Museum (previously: the Airport)

Wood and shadow

Ms Maya Wood and her ever bouyant shadow

Groovin in Chinatown

Feelin’ (not so) groovy

Reel around the fountain

Reel around the fountain

Ancient tree with companion

Shelter from the horns

When not in class or looking for warm clothes for my return to Toronto I scoured the streets for imaginative graffiti and street art–something they do extremely well in San Jose. It actually became something of an obsession for me.

Rat in a hat

Belle the cat

Father and Son (It's not time...)

Father and Son (It’s not time…)


The Doppelganger Effect

A final museum beckoned–the world renowned “Jade Museum”, famous for its pre-Columbian artifacts carved from… Jade.   Admission was not cheap for a relatively low caliber gemstone ($9!? Seriously?). But where else can one satisfy one’s craving to see giant ceramic, pre-Columbian dildos?

Size always an issue

Size, even then, an issue

The future looks grim

Tooth Fairy still not responding

Just a model. No one had to die for this.

Just a model. No one had to die for this.

On the advice of my Spanish instructor I ventured to the neighbouring town of San Pedro to partake in the bohemian vibe generated by Costa Rica’s most prestigious university. (According to my instructor–who taught there–or in the area.)

Sunflower College, otherwise known as University of Costa Rica

Sunflower College, also known as University of Costa Rica

Not the most photogenic place, but I did find a decent vegetarian restaurant and more cool graffiti (or murals, or street art–not really sure what to call it).

Losing his head.

Losing his head.

If these walls could talk

When wall and Id join forces

Purple Rain

Purple Rain

Back to bright lights of the big city.

San Jose's unofficial symbol.

San Jose’s unofficial symbol.

Multi coloured National Museum (fer Christmas)

Christmassy lights on the  National Museum

The pulsating streets of San Jose

The pulsating streets of San Jose

Christmas lights on Avenida Segunda

Christmas lights on Avenida Segunda

Feliz Navidad!

Feliz Navidad!

I actually spent Navidad up here, in snow white land. A month earlier, swimming in the vast embrace of the Pacific, I had been laughing at all the poor saps up here with their bone chilling damp and depressing overcast clouds.  And two nights ago I was shoveling the snow from my Mom’s endless, small town driveway. Is that irony or just a bummer? Or a great big kick in the pants to get started on my next adventure?

Coming up: lizard and bug photos from Costa Rica’s most famous National Park!!


Posted by: Todd Yeates | December 2, 2012

Adios, San Juan and Nicaragua!

Sun descending...

Although I have been back in San Jose, Costa Rica for almost a week now, part of my heart still lingers in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It was a melancholic departure for me, as it felt as if I may never return to its affectionate shores.

With its ocean caressed location, the town and its environs possess a gentle sensuousness and overall ease with life; and though I often felt like I was slumming a bit during my three months of repose there—and possibly not squeezing the full measure of life out of out of every passing moment–it was that lackadaisical, unhurried pace of thought, intention and action that allowed for the gradual mending of my unraveled self.

To go back in time somewhat, let’s just say that Toronto had not been good to me in recent years, or I had not been good to myself in Toronto, or I hadn’t capitalized on the things that Toronto could offer, or I just didn’t fit in to the Toronto lifestyle. After years of unsatisfying jobs and grinding poverty, whatever hope and sense of purpose I once contained had pretty much faded away and my life was becoming, to quote John Keats, “a posthumous existence”: a needless extension of time that promised little more than a continuation of the same.  I recall a dream I had a couple of years ago in which I walked off from my security desk and somehow ended up in a tunnel that resembled the air ducts in Alien. There were doors and escape routes along the way but all were locked or impeded. Finally, an opening presented itself at the end of the tunnel. It led into a tiny enclosed room which contained a nicely appointed open coffin meant for me.

This trip offered one alternative, if temporary, escape from that trap–a bit of a Hail Mary pass into an unfamiliar endzone as well as a reboot of some “glitchy personal software” (as a previous shrink had pithily descsribed it).  I had no idea if this mad gambit would work or lead to any kind of new self-awakening. But slowly, and almost imperceptibly it induced, as if by osmosis, a lightening of my mood, an awareness of simple pleasures, a diminishing of regret over the choices and decisions I made in life that got me into this predicament, and most importantly, an acceptance of who and where I am now, and the realistic options that I have left for any kind of personal fulfillment.

For a younger version of myself, it was about big dreams and ambitions, exposure, awards, a career in the film industry as a writer, editor, anything with my name prominently in the credits. That has all pretty much faded away, as has the soul destroying envy I carried for the people in my circle who had achieved their own similar ambitions.  I’ve believed for some time now that achievement, fame and fortune ultimately mean nothing, and that the prize at the end is the same for everyone, but now I really feel the vast, cosmic purposelessness of accomplishment for its own sake, and that the grandest legacies ever carved into the Earth have no more significance than a well organized sock drawer. To paraphrase Keats again, our names are written on water (I just saw “Bright Star”–a regrettably weak biography of the man, which nevertheless seeded some poetic quotes into my mind).

I know this is the kind of stuff depressed teenagers write in their diaries, but to become profoundly aware of our total non-significance at this stage in my life feels  strangely liberating–as if a portal into a new dimension of limitless freedom has opened up and I can wander about beyond the fringes of the game, engage or not, as I please.   I’ve discovered, or rediscovered, on this trip a yen for travel that had been dormant for a long time, as well as a reignited passion for photography.  The internet didn’t exist the last time I did any extensive traveling, but it has added whole new element to the mix, making it possible to craft a personal narrative on the fly, and make it available to all online for free.

Where will any of this lead? Who knows. Maybe it’ll open a new door somewhere down the road, or maybe the last door currently open will close during my absence.  Who can say?  But there is nothing better for me than feeding my curiosity for the new, being happy in the moment and creating something that is personally pleasing on some level. The challenge, of course, now and in the future is to improvise a way a life that can maintain the direction I wish to keep going in.

I’m currently taking Spanish lessons at fairly decent language school in San Jose—learning a new language, btw, is hard—harder even then surfing.  But the school is a good connection for finding information regarding local employment possibilities as an ESL teacher.  It’s even possible they may have an opening in the near future.  Although San Jose is not my favourite city in the world it does have job prospects, and is well situated between various scenic destinations that can restore the city jangled mind. Best of all, because of its high altitude it is pleasantly warm during the day and comfortably cool at night.  True it rains a lot and is oppressively cloudy during the wet season–but the dry season is just around the corner and I’m told it’s a vast improvement.  And it never snows.  It may even have a functioning, non-batshit crazy mayor.

So, now that that’s off my chest here are the last set of photos from San Juan del Sur:

Low tide w kayak re

Town beach, low tide…

High tide

…high tide

A month or so ago I attempted a bike ride to one of the nearby (!) surfing beaches—a 10km trip each way, beginning on the town beach, then along some of the worst roads I’ve ever been on. Only managed a couple of shots on the way as I was in a rush, but still had to abort about 500m short of the goal due to rain, oncoming darkness and an insurmountable final hill.  I finally did get there a few weeks later on a truck and with a surfboard.

Cycling on the beach

Cycling on the beach

Craters with connecting road

Saw these cute guys/gals on the way though, which made the whole trip worthwhile.

On the way to Playa  Masela

Two bovine beauties

I will now segue from these lovely, sweet doleful animals to my favourite restaurant in town–a vegetarian and juice café owned by a young Spanish couple. The fare was simple but savory and arranged with such precision and tenderness that it kept me coming back everytime my vegetable supply ran out (which was often). When they shut down during the slow season (October) I was so denuded of reasonably priced food I had to leave town. 

The best plate of vegetarian food in San Juan

The Jugoso plate: meat not required

Laura y Jugos re

Jugoso owner Laura with smoothie and sandwich

On the subject of restaurants, there is another spot that warrants an entry: El Colibri–generally regarded as the best and fanciest spot in town–which I felt I had to try at least once on account of its #1 rating on Tripadvisor.  The vegetarian curry, seen here, was superb.

El Colibri: the fanciest place in town

El Colibri: the fanciest place in town

And then there was this place:

I didn't even want to ask

Dog Burger

The unlucky fella you’re about to see was the largest non-human entity (with the possible exception of one or two of the ceiling geckos) to visit my humble abode during my time there.  I tried  shooing him under the door but he wouldn’t fit. (Why I didn’t think of opening the door for him I can’t recall) Regrettably, there just wasn’t enough room for the two of us. (The razor is just there for scale–it wasn’t the instrument of execution.)

Gregor and the Big Shave

Gregor and the Big Shave

More random San Juan shots that have been accumulating on my hard drive:

Sandanista election rally

Sandanista electioneering



Surfer mounting wave re

Lez see you do that on a 10 foot wave, dude.


The Girl from San Juanita

The Girl from San Juanita


Beauty and the beach

Beauty and the beach


The Big Ship

The Big Ship


Smaller ship

Some smaller ones…


Pink lifesaver

Pink lifesaver


Twilight duet

After the waves


Downtown on a Saturday night

Downtown on a Saturday night


After midnight


One last sunset

One last sunset

A final and lingering Adios to Elizabeth and her wonderful daughters (and grand-daughters) for all their kindness and assistance. (Love the t-shirt on the littlest one.)

Elizabeth and her matriarchy

Elizabeth and her gals.


Do you know the way to San Jose?

Do you know the way to San Jose?


On the bus to San Jose

To be continued…

Posted by: Todd Yeates | November 25, 2012

Surfing for beginners…

Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Finally, I can scratch surfing off of my bucket list. And not a day too soon as my time in charming yet affordable San Juan is swiftly drawing to a close.

To be more accurate, however, I should write “attempted surfing” as I managed very little actual surfing on that red letter day last week. Hanging on to the surfboard for dear life would also be pretty close to the mark. But,let’s back up a bit to the start of the day and see how it all unfolded.

I had been kicking myself for the better part of the past two weeks to haul my butt to one of the surfing beaches that dot the shoreline for miles north and south of San Juan. There is a bit of a procedure and expense involved as it requires being transported about 10km over some nasty dirt roads to the eventual beach– Playa Madera in this case–a surf lesson (essential) and a rather early departure time. (9AM!) It wasn’t until last Tuesday that I finally managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to make it to the departure site, Casa Oro.

Unfortunately, the regular surf instructor wasn’t available that day and suggested I return the following day for the complete package. The hell with that, I thought, for surely it will freeze over before I can get up that early two days in a row. I decided to rent the board and take my chances with whatever instructor might be available at the beach. I was given a rather gnarly, beaten up 9 foot longboard and assured that it was the best they had on offer for first timers.

North beach Rocket

No going back now!

After a butt hammering half hour on the North beach Xpess we arrived at the destination: Playa Maderas–a true surfer’s beach , with long sweeping waves uncoiling emerald manes across the wet glistening sand, while just off shore dramatic rock outcroppings loomed like indifferent sentinels to all the human comedy before them.

Within moments I was on the sand, battered surfboard in hand, scoping the surroundings for facilities and an instructor. Fortunately, there was a local surfing hut, with a willing instructor, Jose, available for a pretty penny, and a place to stash my valuables.

Surf maestro, Jose…

…and his greying protege.

On land, Jose took me through the basic positions and maneuvers: the prone paddling, the “Surfing Pop-up” and the standing/surfing stance—which, as it turned out, was rarely needed. I practiced the all important “popup” countless times until my arms were weary—it is a maneuver much more difficult than it sounds.


“The surfing popup is essentially an explosive pushup. This is how you get to your feet on a surfboard!”

“Easy steps to a popup:
• Place your hands flat on the board at the bottom of your ribcage.
• Push your chest off the board with your pelvis and upper thighs still in contact with the board. (Don’t do a full body pushup with your weight on your hands and toes)
• Without relying on your knees, bring your front foot forward under your body to approximately where your hands are. This step is hard to explain, but your lower torso will twist a little to the right if you’re regular or to the left if you’re goofy.
• Your back foot will naturally follow—just check to make sure that your feet are parallel to your board’s stringer.”

After ten or fifteen minutes of practicing this on dry land, Jose signaled that it was time for the waves.  But first he reminded me to velcro the unbilical-cord like surfboard leash around my ankle. (Which is more for surfboard recovery than rider safety.) Then into the breach we went.

Once the water was deep enough I draped myself along the board, and assumed the paddling position. Jose was nice enough to pull me through the gurgling surf until we approached the break. After swinging the board around, I got into position. Jose released the stern of the board, then hollered “Paddle!”, followed a second later by, “UP!!”

I think she’s got it!

I’m not sure how she managed her “Popup”; It’s one thing to do it on land, but successfully completing the required steps in the blink of an eye while being precariously balanced on the rickety cow-catcher of a shape shifting liquid locomotive was close to impossible for me. In the first dozen attempts I got up as far as my knees before comically wiping out in countless ways. Neither Jose nor the rock sentinels were impressed. I had to up my game.

Easier said than done. With each pathetic slip, wobble, dunking, tip-over, face-plant and wipe-out it became increasingly apparent to me that the source of all this trouble lay not with your narrator, but, quite possibly, with the board itself. I didn’t care for it from the start and surfing it was like trying to ride a drunk, jittery porpoise.  I attempted to convey to Jose some of its flawed characteristics but was unable to overcome the language barrier and the relentles pounding waves. I even considered asking him if we could exchange boards but thought better of it as it might violate some unspoken surfing code.

Amazingly, however, after about the 30th wave I did manage to “Popup” and get into the surfing stance, not just once, but twice (that I can remember) for a combined duration of about four seconds. But only at the very end of the break; I wasn’t even close to surfing the curl itself. Nevertheless, Jose responded with applause—and surprise—both times.

After at least an hour of this Jose could tell I was tiring and suggested we take a break to which I nodded my hearty assent.

Once back on shore I was able examine the board for possible defects.

Belly of the 9 foot beast

It may be hard to see from this angle but I’m pretty sure the board’s fin was bent out of alignment. Note also how the hull appears slightly warped in a way that would undoubtedly affect its integrity in the water. There’s no telling what I could have accomplished with a proper board. But, of course, a true surfer never blames the instrument for his perceived failings, lest that disturb his karmic standing in the cosmic firmament.  It was time to leave the surfboard and dig out my camera.

Starting early

It dawned on me that maybe I’m a little long in tooth to be learning such a challenging, physically demanding activity. Perhaps web-surfing is, in fact, more appropriate for someone closing in on fifty.

Receding tide

Water, rock; rock, water

I must say, the surrounding landscape was generous with its photogenic offerings. From certain angles it offered a slightly otherworldly, surreal look, like a videogame background or one of the planets in Star Wars.

Someday her ship will come…

Stuck in the sands of time…


Hangin’ five 

As the surfers returned to the rising break I decided I wanted one more chance at the elusive “Popup”. I scoped the beach for Jose but saw no sign of him—likely he was out in the waves with the rest of them. I stashed my glasses and valuables back in the surf shop, grabbed my board and headed for the waves.

I spent some time in the shallows, riding the entrails of the break in the prone position, just trying to get familiar and comfortable on the board. Then I paddled towards the break struggling to not getting flipped over. It was actually quite fun catching the sweet spot of a decent curler and riding its propulsive thrust. I could feel why some people were so drawn to this activity.

I continued paddling out, until I was well past the break. Now I just wanted to stand up on the board and establish some sense of balance. Nothing doing–it was like walking on ball bearings with banana peel shoes. I might as well have been auditioning for the Chicago Orchestra.

I watched some of the fellow surfers for pointers until I realized that they had all receded from view. I squinted towards shore with my non-existent vision and realized that I was drifting away from the shore. This must be what the “Rip-tide” warnings on the beach were alluding to. I paddled furiously towards shore and within a few minutes made it to the edge of the break. The waves had risen significantly in the interim and getting past the break now was not going to be easy. But I had the board with me–my wonky uncooperative nemesis, now all of a sudden my best friend in the world. Onwards we went.

After riding over the hump of the last wave before the break, I lined the board up to be perpendicular with the next one and held on for dear life. Then it arrived, a frothy green wall that appeared to be at least as tall as my 9 foot board. I held my breath, shut my eyes and waited. The wave took no prisoners: it flinged aside the board aside like a matchstick, clipping my forehead in the process, then sucked me into its curl and pounded me down to the sandy bottom, a sensation not unlike being in a spin dryer filled with wet cement. Seconds later it was over and I popped up to the surface, unharmed and grateful to be be breathing.

I had had enough surfing for one day and paddled to the shore

I retrieved my valuables, intent on taking some more photos. Unfortunately, my cursed camera battery had also decided to pack it in for the day. I dug around for my cell phone to see how long I would wait for the next Rickety Rocket to town. Then I realized it had probably still been in my pocket when I went out in the afternoon. Looks like the wave took it and gave me a pocket full of sand in return.  Fair trade.


In the end, the waves always win.

Posted by: Todd Yeates | November 7, 2012

Leon part 3: Viva Museums!

Finally, for the last installment on Leon, some photos of the city’s treasure trove of museums and galleries. (Well, the small handful that I visited) For a relatively small city of 150 thousand people Leon punches above its weight in this department. This is especially impressive in light of the fact that Nicaragua remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America and there is virtually no government funding available for museums leaving them entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers, volunteers, donors and families (who may work and reside in the facility).  Despite all this (or maybe because of it) two of the three museums I visited are among the most moving and eccentric I’ve ever seen.

First, the not so moving, relatively opulent fine arts museum: Fundacion Ortiz. Occupying two buildings, each arrayed around a tasteful courtyard, the collection of paintings and sculptures spans the years from the colonial era to the present. Nearly all of the works are by Latin American artists and closely reflect whatever Western style predominated at the time of its making. Thus, there are lots of cubist, abstract expressionist, minimalism, pop-art styles beamed through the lens of a Latin American sensibility.

I should note that due to a strict no photography rule in effect the only shot of the artwork I managed to get was  this gem–a mash-up of two Spanish icons: Picasso’s Guernica and Velazquez’s Las Meninas.

Picasso/Velazquez mash-up

After this point a vigilant gallery guard kept her eagle eye on me–though I was begrudgingly permitted to take some shots of the charming courtyard.

Gallery courtyard with paintings (hee-hee)

Flower pots

What’s especially frustrating about the no-photo rule is that there was almost no literature on hand about the artwork, no gift shop for reproductions and, as far as I can tell,  no gallery website. How can awareness of the gallery or the artists be spread if there is no way to convey its contents. Seems counter-intuitive to me. Fortunately this silly rule was not in effect at any of the other museums.

Next up: the fascinating, quirky and somewhat disturbing Museum of Myths and Legends. Housed in a former prison once used by the Somoza regime National Guard to torture political prisoners, it offers the beguiling juxtapositions of real jail cells—many of which come adorned with murals depicting the suffering of its prisoners—and a vast collection of life-size, somewhat primitive papier-mache figures depicting local historic myths, folktales and urban legends.

Step right up (Don’t let the prison walls scare you)

Many of the grim folk tales on display are, naturally, based on various iterations of the deadly sins, and perhaps served as a cautionary tale to scare young children or gullible adults from doing things they might come to regret. Thus, the infamous “One breasted lady of Leon” warns those against the harms of lust and “La Chancha Bruja” or The Pig Witch, portends some grim outcome of greed.

“One Breasted Lady of Leon”

The Pig Witch

The odd relationships between the museum site (a real prison), the disturbing murals (added after the prison closure, but before the current museum’s occupancy) and the items now on display are presented without any evident acknowledgment of each others rather discordant presence.  Indeed it seems like a quirk of fate that it all ended up together.

Prison cell storage room for dolls

But, surprisingly, it works; it seems fitting to have these contrasting versions of horror –one playful and imaginary, the other grimly real—presented together in such an off kilter way; whether intentional or not it does convey in its own quirky manner, the often irrational and incomprehensible nature of fear, horror and cruelty and the unpredictable way in which we deal with them.

“Caravan of Death”

On another note, I believe the museum is a family run affair as is evidenced by the little kid posing in one of the jail cells and possibly Dad or an uncle or family friend bagging some Zeees on a chaise lounge in the “front yard”.

Perchance to dream…

Not sure if it would be the greatest environment to grow up in…

I thought I might get a taste of prison while I had the opportunity.  I found an available cell with a functioning door and shut myself in.  Of course it wasn’t quite the same thing since I could always leave…

…or could I?

Finally, a museum with no ambiguity in a location befitting its rather spare contents: the tremendously moving, “Museum of the Revolution“.  What was at one time the National Palace of Communications under President Somoza, was taken over by the Sandinistas during the 1979 revolution and was the scene of intense fighting. Virtually untouched since then, the site now houses a small collection of memorabilia, photos, newspaper articles and a few combat items, and is maintained and financed by a small (and diminishing) group of Sandanista war veterans who also act  as personal tour guides, explaining in great detail the origins of the Sandanista movement (and much of Nicaragua’s history in the process) and the particulars of the revolution itself. 

Museum of the Revolution (and 3 heroes)

Proud Sandanista veteran, “Jorge”  was recruited for the personal guided tour.  Naturally the presentation was in Spanish and I know maybe 50 words in total. But this did not deter the detail or richness of his narrative. Indeed, I found it kind of endearing how he didn’t react in any way to my not comprehending his delivery or view it as any kind of impediment. It was as though he knew that his confidence and passion were enough to engage my understanding and appreciation of the events on display. And they were.

Historical overview with war veteran Jorge

Vast empty rooms

Walking through this site was an eerie experience.  A ghostly almost sepulchral  atmosphere pervades the expansive, largely untouched interior spaces of the building and the walls remain riddled with bullet holes. In fact no restoration work has been done in the thirty three years since the war’s end and it’s easy to imagine the sounds of gunfire echoing throughout the dimly lit expanses.

Jorge, window, bullet holes

There was something quite moving seeing this grizzled war veteran gazing out a window that years ago he would likely have exchanged gunfire through. It’s even possible some of those bullet holes in the wall over his shoulder were meant for him. The demonstration with some of the crude weaponry was also a nice touch and a fine photo-op.  FSLN, by the way, is the name of of the Sandanista party which currently forms the government.

If I had a rocket launcher…

We concluded the tour through the exterior grounds and its many war related murals.

Brothers in arms.

(On a side note, I had no idea that John Belushi was a one time Sandanista leader.)

Leaving his mark

Finally, it was time to head back to my temporary home in San Juan del Sur.  But, I won’t forget Jorge, the One Breasted Woman or these guys:

Some of the fine folks at The Sonati

Hasta Luega, Leon!

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Posted by: Todd Yeates | November 1, 2012

Impressions of Leon: part 2

Urban heart surgery

The timing of my visit to Leon was perhaps a tad unfortunate as the city’s expansive central square is currently undergoing reconstruction and, in the words of The Dude, that square really tied the town together. Nevertheless, the city’s heart retains a pulse, with the action that would be occurring in the plaza, pushed to the surrounding streets and squares.

Many of Leon’s most notable attractions are either adjacent to the square, or located within a one or two block radius. This includes Leon Cathedral, the central market, an assortment of unique museums and the numerous political murals which adorn the facades of several buildings in the area. As such, much of my time was spent in this zone, circumnavigating the blockades, or taking the ad-libbed pathways across the open ditches criss-crossing the area.

Digging in the dirt

An obvious place to start is Leon Cathedral, which lines one entire side of the plaza and, according to Lonely Planet, is the largest in Central America. Though not especially tall, there is something almost unseemly in its  monumental girth, and one can almost read the sweep of time across its grand, majestically aging façade.

Leon Cathedral and central plaza

Don’t mind the lion

Once inside I was struck by the sheer expanse and exquisite beauty of the interior space—particularly the interplay of soft light on the architectural and decorative details. There was a kind of solemn and reverential hush over everything, like some powerful, cosmic force was shushing everyone who ventured within the these walls. I felt such surprising calm and serenity in there, and felt I could linger for hours without any awareness of the passage of time.

Facing east

Flame and altar

Sad blue Mary

…at least, I think that’s Mary–my knowledge of Catholic iconography is mostly limited to what I can remember from The Godfather.

On another note, somewhere in this cavernous space is the resting space of Nicaragua’s most famous poet, Ruben Dario. Accompanied by a sobbing stone lion, it shouldn’t have been hard to spot–for someone else.

Distant doorway

Behind the cathedral is the always liveley central market, which sprawls inside a number of enclosed structure and along the adjoining streets. A point and shoot camera would’ve been great to have in these cramped, congested, sometimes dingy confines. With my clunky SLR I didn’t manage to squeeze off as many good shots as I would have liked.

Market lunch with purple drink

Central market with mysterious onlooker

The kid in the striped shirt in the above shot would often en up in my orbit if I lingered for any length of time in the city centre with my camera. He rarely spoke and only once appeared to be selling some crafts and never asked for money the other times. I always felt terribly cold hearted when issuing my fractured Spanglish rejections of whatever it is he wanted.

The work never ends

Mamon chinos.

As mentioned in my last post, Leon is noted as something of a political hotbed for various liberal, and revolutionary causes throughout Nicaragua’s turbulent history. This quality is proudly on display in the abundant political and war murals that adorn the facades of numerous structures in the central area.

Message and reality

Women always welcome for combat

Large mural, presently being ignored

I had anticipated taking a lot of night shots in Leon – as I had done previously in Granada – since I often find them to have the most arresting imagery – lots of atmosphere and sharp contrast with light, colour and darkness. Alas, few of the city’s photogenic facades are lit up at night, and as I mentioned, the central plaza was completely off limits. I managed to snap a few night shots, but have loved to have had more opportunities for this.

Entrance lights

Playing with light

End of the night

Stay tuned for the thrilling final installment: “Leon, Part 3: museums!”

Posted by: Todd Yeates | October 27, 2012

Impressions of Leon: Part 1

One thing I neglected to mention in my previous Managua post was that on my second last day in that city an eccentric, highly voluble, chrome domed Caucasian American of roughly my vintage dropped into my orbit– somewhere in the vicinity of the hotel pool I think– and proceeded to regal me with stories of global travels, his prolific artwork and expansive plans for an international travel network geared to edgy, off kilter, unconventional expats like himself.

Sadly, and somewhat inevitably, it transpired that “Miguel”–as he took to calling himself–was flat broke and trying to cobble together a few dollars before winding up his grand tour in Leon. After squeezing a free lunch out of me at Feed Bag Central in exchange for a Spanish grammar book, he set to unloading on me some of his middling artwork (mostly doodles of young curvy women) as well as the remaining contents of his beaten up travel sack. Out came the sundry items accompanied by his sales pitch for each: a hammock… “five dollars, man, take it wherever you go and sleep like a baby”…a leather wineskin…a miner’s headlight, and, finally, an aerosol can of Tinactin foot spray—“Use it like mace, man; coupla dudes jump you from a motorbike, spray it right in there face and run!”

I nodded sympathetically throughout his animated pitch, then finally shook my head, explaining that I was just another poor wanderer like himself. He considered this for a moment, then remarked, “Three dollars for the hammock.”

When I let slip that I was also going to Leon, Miguel spewed forth a torrent of information on where to get the various buses (local buses, shuttle buses, micro-buses…) how much each was, what the schedules were, before helpfully offering to catch the bus with me. “We could share a cab to the bus station,” he enthused. And the fare would be on me, I silently added.

During the two hour trip to Leon, in the sardine can “Micro-bus”, Miguel continued to bray on about his remaining travel plans, his strategy for returning to the USA penniless as a newborn, and whether there might be a hostel in Leon that would accept a Visa card. (He didn’t specify his Visa card). Meanwhile, I figured out a strategy to lose him once we touched ground in Leon. (I had no desire for his artwork or athlete’s foot spray)

Finally, the bursting at the seams bus shuddered to a stop in Leon’s teaming Mercado, immediately drawing a quivering phalanx of pedicab drivers, bristling for our business. I quickly nabbed a friendly driver, hoisted my bags into his cab and commanded him forth with the one hostel name I could recall from the Lonely Planet bible. “Hostel Sonati”. Miguel, meanwhile, was trying to explain to the locals in fractured Spanglish his cash and Visa card predicament. My driver pedaled away and I was free…well, for now, anyway—Leon is a small place.

Golden Sonati honey from nature’s friendliest bees

Hostel Sonati turned out to be the ideal choice. Once inside its gently welcoming confines, I was immediately set at ease by both the remarkably pleasant and helpful volunteer at the desk, and the peaceful, sociable vibe of the place. Arrayed around a rustic, tranquil courtyard, and peppered with the artwork of local children, the place just exudes tolerance, peace, and good will from its every pore. I would even venture that the golden organic honey for sale at the front desk is harvested from the world’s friendliest bees.

Unfortunately, all the private rooms in the main building were occupied so I had to settle for a Spartan little broom closet in the annex building across the street. Well, nothing is ever really perfect when traveling on the cheap; it would do for the night.

I hurriedly unpacked and set about an immediate plan to find a vegetarian restaurant while there was still daylight – not an easy task at the best of times in Nicaragua. Come nightfall, my horrid sense of direction, lack of familiarity with the city, combined with the total absence of street signs and no recognizable land marks would render me as lost as a rat in a maze. 

I got the name of a nearby place from the helpful evening desk volunteer, Carlos, and proceeded into the darkening grid of streets. But the “Real Earth Cafe” simply didn’t seem to exist where it was supposed to be. I tried other streets, took photos of various street corners on the way – my form of digital breadcrumbs – to orient my way back. Soon, the sunset dimmed for good and with it the one landmark I could depend on. Why couldn’t there have been a compass in the bottom of Miguel’s magic travel bag?

First digital breadcrumb

After circling around some more I found myself back at Sonati.  How did Stanley ever find Dr. Livingston I wondered? At the front desk I sheepishly confessed my failure to Carlos and had him place a prominent dot on the map where the restaurant should be. Out into wilds once more I went, determined to succeed this time. Then I spotted the name “Real Earth” scrawled in tiny letters on a sidewalk chalkboard, contradicting the big permanent sign that blared out, “Volcano Café”. OK, so they changed their name and didn’t tell anyone. Of course I had walked past this place at least three times prior to this.

Once inside I didn’t need to be told that this was strictly a pizzeria, not a veggie place, though they did have vegetarian pizza. Well, alright, I’ll kick the non-gluten regimen for one night and gulp down an extra glass of Metamucil and ground flax when I get back to the hostel.

Tasty glutens in Volcano Cafe

The pizza was actually pretty good–not worth getting hopelessly lost and having an existential crisis over, but pretty damn tasty.

Back on the nocturnal streets, I decided to abandon any more exploration until tomorrow, and headed back to my broom closet for the night, checking my digital breadcrumbs along the way.

Blue lights heading home.

Be it ever so humble

The Sonati annex was nearly empty that night and so it was remarkably quiet–which was a relief because I needed the sleep. I had heard a lot of good things about Leon and that in many ways it is the heart and soul of Nicaragua and was itching to explore the city and come away with some decent photographs. I was also keen to see how it contrasted with its historic sister city and eternal rival, Granada. If one were to typecast Grenada as the preening, vacuous, arch-conservative, gringo pandering daddy’s girl, Leon would be the rebellious, gritty, artistically inclined black sheep, more interested in fighting for social justice and political change, than polishing her fingernails and waiting for her American ship to come in.

While the cities endlessly fought one another in the 1800s for possession of the national capital (which they both ultimately lost to Managua) Leon emerged in the 1900s as an incubator for the anti-Somoza movement, initiated by local hero Augusto Sandino. The successful 1979 Sandanista revolution would be partly fought in Leon’s streets and federal government buildings. (The moving Museum of the Revolution is located in one–an upcoming post will detail that site)

The contrasting personalities are reflected in the general look of the cities. Leon, though less photogenic on the surface than Granada, is drenched in atmosphere and a kind of gritty, decaying charm. The compact, lively streets, bustling markets, and myriad churches offer a richly varied palette for the eyes and camera.

A dash of colour

Crooked tree market

Pulling his own weight

Nica street food for a dollar

Leon is know for its variety of impressive cathedrals and one of the most distinctive is the Iglesia La Recoleccion, or The Yellow church as it’s more commonly known. Located just a couple of blocks from the hostel, it’s colourful facade served as a conveneient landmark for orienting myself near homebase.

School girls at “The yellow church”.

The surface details seem reminiscent of Gaudi by way of Dr. Seuss. (Well, to this eye at least) It’s plaza is also a fine place to stop and observe the passing scene, and, if necessary, check the time on the recessed clock.

A glance across the plaza

Little show off

4:03 PM

On a slightly different note, and a subject I’ve been meaning to mention since the beginning of this journey, is how frequently I find myself with a heavy heart when exploring the various towns and cities of this region due to the unavoidable presence of so many street dogs.

The street dogs of Leon

Sadly, there is little available money or will to deal with the problem humanely, and in the past the local authorities would resort to mass poisoning to cull the exploding population–though apparently this tactic is falling out of favour. Check this link for more information on the issue.

No blue ribbons for this little guy

I returned to the hostel early that day to confirm that a room in the main building would be available. It turned out to be the largest room in the place, and the most unique of the entire trip.

It was during the process of shuttling my belongings from across the street to the new digs, that I heard a familiar voice, a bellowing American twang coming from one of the dorms lining the courtyard. The subject of hammocks was being discussed. (Well, it was a pretty sided conversation.)

And then that great bald head popped out of the dorm. Miguel gaped at me, wide eyed for a moment, then blurted out in disbelief what great luck it was to find me here and what a chilled out groovy hostel this was. He then resumed auctioning off– to whoever was in earshot– his various belongings and artwork–which I was already overly familiar with. One of the other hostel guests emerged from the dorm, regarded me quizzically, as in “you know this guy?” or, more damningly, “He’s with you?” I shrugged, and muttered, “it’s a long story…”

Turned out that he had arrived at the Sonati shortly after I had, but as I was in the annex our paths didn’t cross until now. No doubt he’s been busting everyone’s chops with his auction efforts, but not finding any takers, he resumed course with me. I finally relented and gave him 5 dollars for the wineskin upon which he threw in the Athlete’s Foot spray for free. “Carry it with you, man! You can use it like mace!”

“I know, I know, but we’re not in Managua any more”.

Miguel receded back into his dorm, while I set things up in my new room. Then a funny thing happened: while I was back in the courtyard, chatting with some of the other folks, Miguel came out of his dorm with his travel sack, winked at me as he glided by, made a beeline for the exit and slipped away, never to be seen again. Turned out he hadn’t paid his bill. And his real name was Michael. Guess that’s not much of a stretch.

Even though the bill was only ten bucks or so, I felt guilty by association, not so much for his first coming here, but watching him sneak off and not saying anything. Sonati is not the kind of place you want to stiff—they radiate nothing but peace, good will and responsible environmental stewardship. Just taking a shower with the recycled rainwater can make one feel slightly less cynical. Indeed, the place doesn’t even bill itself as a hostel but, rather, an art and educational project for local kids; bailing on the bill isn’t like stiffing Howard Johnston’s, it’s more like making off with the orphanage milk fund.

The happiest water tank in town!

Nothing is wasted

Communal kitchen with CD mosaics

Well, with Michael out of the picture things felt immediately more peaceful. I explained my brief history with him to some of the other volunteers and guests (in many cases they are one and the same) until the conversation segued into other, more interesting subjects. Some time later, a fierce game of Texas Hold-em poker with various small items (toothpicks, mixed nuts) as winnings broke out, the cheap rum flowed, and a merry time was had by all.

Truth is, this has been a pretty solitary trip since Clemente’s departure–which seems a lifetime ago now–and it was nice to interact with others–especially this crew. Though most of them were much younger than me, they were also quirky, creative, fun and non-judgemental. In most backpacker hostels I feel like an aging, clueless imposter, and am inclined to be somewhat aloof. But not at this one. Imagine that.

At night, in my art and mosaic festooned room, I studied the extensive shell collection and felt strangely at home.

My favourite room

Heart of glass

Within these shells…

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Stay tuned for “Leon, Part 2″…

Posted by: Todd Yeates | October 14, 2012

Nicaraguan road trip, Part 1: Managua!

Managua and it’s water filled crater, Lagos Tiscapa

I recently arrived back here in San Juan after an 8 day road trip to the country’s capital city, Managua, and the progressive cultural centre, Leon. I had been feeling a bit like a beached whale, lingering here in surf-city without much movement beyond the immediate horizon. My photography and writing felt stymied and pointless and generally I was questioning what the objective of this trip was. I needed to get moving again.

I had heard so many positive things about Leon–Grenada’s old colonial rival, and twin sister in so many ways–that a visit seemed an essential part of getting to know the country as whole. Arguably Nicaragua’s heart and soul it’s the birthplace of revolutionary leader Augusto Sandino and poet Ruben Dario, and an incubator for what would become the Sandanista movement and its national party the FSLN who currently form the government.

But to get to Leon—indeed, to get just about anywhere in Nicaragua– one has to pass through Managua, the country’s sprawling, allegedly crime-ridden capital city. If Granada is the place the gringos and expatriots love, and Leon is where artists, students and activists gather, Managua is the transfer station that no one loves and tries to get through as quickly as possible. Indeed, the advice from nearly everyone here at home base in San Juan was to spend as little time as possible in Managua and to not pay its mercenary cab drivers one cordoba more than 50 for the trip across town between bus terminals.

Being the contrary person that I am, as well as a habitual rooter for the underdog, that was enough of a dare to entice me into at least a couple of nights in its tattered, gangly armed embrace. Could it really be that bad?

The mean streets of Managua

To the uninitiated, Managua can be a baffling, frustrating place to get around in. To be fair, the city has suffered through a remarkable series of challenges and catastrophes throughout its fractured evolution. In 1972 a massive earthquake leveled its traditional downtown and left nearly half a million homeless. Deemed geologically unsafe, the old downtown was permanently abandoned and subsequently replaced by a series of shopping malls built on the city’s outskirts; and all future growth was directed outwards along wide arterial roads. This unplanned, haphazard urban model gives the city a somewhat random, placeless quality, like a small version of L.A. but without the money or bright lights (or street signs). Cabs are essential when trying to get from one far flung spot to another.

It is not a comfortable place in which to take photos – especially with a conspicuous camera like mine which screams gringo and (inaccurately in my case) money (If only they knew!). Time and time again I was warned by the concierges at my hotel about the grave danger of venturing out into the mean streets with a visible camera or even a knapsack. Once outside this warning was reaffirmed by locals on the street who would exclaim, “Cuidado!” (careful) when they walked past. When I returned from these walkabouts the concierge invariably assured me I was lucky to still be alive and that taxis are the only safe way to travel—even for short distances. I think if had heeded all the protestations I would be taking a taxi from my bed to the washroom and back.

Danger abounds beyond the hotel’s perimeter wall

Is it safe?

And yet, apart from all the bluster and incessant warnings, I never felt myself to be in any danger at all when out in the urban jungle. I did, however, heed some of the recommendations after the first day: I left the camera at home, stuck to major streets, avoided eye contact with anyone, and tried to appear as if I knew where I was going. As a result I took far fewer photos of the city than I would have liked.

Looks like someone’s been here before.

Rooster Run (outside the local police station)

Brothers in Arms: Che and Sandino

There are numerous likenesses throughout Managua of two of the country’s guiding lights: Augusto Sandino and Che Guevera.

The Great Sandino and his trusty burro

Despite Managua’s generally unwelcoming facade, scratching beneath the surface can unveil any number of sweetly surprising and uplifting pleasures. The first one was my hotel, Los Felipe, located in a rundown district – Barrio Martha Quezada – near the old, abandoned downtown where a number of bargain hotels/hostels and cheap restaurants have gravitated due to its proximity to the international bus depot. (which I never ended up using). The hotel is both charming and affordable in equal measure–a tranquil oasis with a pool, lovely gardens, and quirky décor and artwork scattered about the grounds. And, moreover, so miraculously quiet at night—-no car alarms, traffic noises, street dogs or squealing kids–that the purest, best sleep I have had on the entire trip was here.

Mellow waste bin.

Workin’ by the pool

Doing the catwalk

One morning I was surprised to find my Dad in the courtyard sitting under the ceiba tree…

Under the ceiba tree

–Wait, SNAP never mind… I guess it’s true, that at a certain age we turn into our parents.

A bird in every cage. (Hope they’re happy in there)

Pretty leaves catching some rays.

Another nice surprise was the lunch-style cafeteria, “Comida a la Vista”. This busy spot, less than a block from my hotel door, is feedbag central for the locals and gringos on a budget. A full plate of hearty cafeteria style offerings–including plenty of ensaladas, veggies and fruit–can be had for less than three dollars.

Feedbag Central with a view to boot

And it was a nice spot to bone up on my non-existant Spanish between feedings. Alas they closed at 3pm which meant a lot of meals (breakfast, brunch, lunch and early supper) crammed into a short time frame. This spot more than anything else was what kept me in Managua for three days.

And then along came Comidas Sarah. This friendly sidewalk restaurant magically appeared when I approached a matronly lady, sitting on the front steps of her porch with her family, and inquired if “Comedas Sarah” was nearby and/or open. (Some signs inside the front porch suggested this could be the place). Indeed, it was. Within seconds tables and chairs were set up on the sidewalk, cutlery and condiments arranged, menus offered, and orders taken. It was a lovely moment and perhaps a fine example of the spontaneous magic that can occur in a totally unregulated urban environment.

From sidewalk to family restaurant in seconds

Moments after taking this shot, Sarah asked, very politely, if I could keep the camera out of sight so as not to attract robbers. Dinner (vegetable curry) was delicious. And so it was back to the hotel room for an episode of “Mad Men” (In English with Spanish subtitles!) and slumber.

Another quiet night in Managua

In a silent place

All in all Managua was not a bad place, really. It had ample cheap food, quiet nights at a charming little hotel, a nearby shopping mall with everything I really needed including a bedside lamp (a rarity in Nicaraguan hostels) for my domicile in San Juan.

Alas, Leon beckoned and I had to press on. No doubt there were attractions that I missed, like the waterfront and the old downtown (too dangerous for gringo observation according to the conceirge). Well, next time I’ll be more brave (or foolhardy).

The biggest Sandino in town. (and his sidekick, Ugly Sign)

Adios Sandino! I’ll see your likeness further up the trail. Adios, Managua. You never know, I may be back.

Coming up next: Leon!

Posted by: Todd Yeates | September 22, 2012

San Juan photo roll 2

Here we go again: photos from the last three weeks or so. (Plus a surprise bonus from earlier in the trip.) All photos by author unless otherwise stated.

*Click on image to enlarge*

These chairs were meant for rockin’. 

Be it ever so humble…

Ceiling buddy and fly-catcher extraordinaire.

Couldn’t tackle this fella though. (Note to self: in tropical countries always check beverage before drinking.)

Lonesome pebble waiting for some waves…

Fido and family on the beach.

And he’s off…

From Here to Eternity–the reboot.

Until next time…

The Hallmark Couple drop into town.

Mayor Bird on a tight schedule.

San Juan’s used surfboard recycling initiative…

…deemed an unqualified…



Still more sunsets…

Night swimming…

One last catch…


Tiempo de aprender un poco Espagnol!

Aww, the hell with it…


The dream…

…and the reality.


Big Sandino is watching…

* * * *

Finally, a couple of historical shots–dating back through the mists of time to the first week of this adventure–rescued from the memory banks of “Clemente’s” cell phone–a technology barely in use any more. (For details, see the Aug 5th post, “Down the Re-birth Canal.”)

Me and Clem at Volcano Poas, Costa Rica (Photo by D. Moore)

It’s sulfurlicious! (Photo by D. Moore)

* * * *

Stay tuned for more adventures of “The Gringo and Big Papayahead” (or her currently ripe equivalent)!!

Posted by: Todd Yeates | September 14, 2012

San Juan del Sur photo roll, Week 1

Some Images from the first week in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Click on photos to enlarge. (All photos by the author unless otherwise indicated.)

The Pacific Ocean at last!


San Juan harbour and main beach from promontory (big J’s shadow visible in lower left).

The faded yet charming Hotel Estralla (first 2 nights stay) and handy tourist map.

A small first step in a small town…

Ooops…left my hat in the room.

Some necessary ingredients for a toast: ocean, sunset, tasty beverages…


The first of many fine sunsets.

They’ve got the right idea: Super Frutto, my current guilty pleasure.


The next morning, a moveable feast of tasty waves…

A little light yoga to warm up. (Shouldda worn a shirt and some sunblock.) (Photo by D. Moore)

Clemente, sizing up a shot…

Who’s zooming who?

Beach volleyball with the big ref keeping score.

The Big Ref flashing the peace sign over El Pacifico.

On some faraway beach.

Reason for concern…

Storm clouds a brewin’… time to head indoors.

That fork really ties the table together. (El Gato Negro bookstore/cafe)

Buy before reading… (Photo by D Moore)




Crescent moon over harbour.

Parrot over me. (Photo by D. Moore)

Clem receives word of a gig back home on his emergency phone…

…and ponders his imminent departure.

A final farewell to a friend… (Or is it…?)

It is. Adios amigo!

Coming up: week two! (And some leftovers from week 1)

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