Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Secret Tour of Managua

The first half of the day was mostly a repeat. We went to the children’s hospital and passed out more toys and took Polaroids of mothers with their new babies. I heard that the reason we don’t go to the hospital’s second floor is that the building isn't structurally sound. That prompted a discussion on which floor you’d rather be on if the building collapsed.

The process of our group exchanging currency consisted of whistling at a guy on the side of the road. He would hop on the bus, do the conversions with a small calculator, and hand out the bills.

Some of our group went out to the houses in the town to pass out the toys that were remaining from the hospital visits. They predictably had several kids following them all over. They said that one kid even changed his shirt in order to try to get two toys.

After lunch we had made previous arrangements to go on a secret tour of the city. We only told our group leader, mostly because all of the seats in our taxi were already reserved and we didn't want anyone else to feel sour about it. The part of the plan that I was most proud of was that the husband of the principal at the school we’d been toiling at was a cab driver. I thought that pretty much guaranteed protection against any sort of taxi shadiness that can arise when in a foreign land.

My trusty guidebook really shined at this point. I had already read about several places that I wanted to go and check out. Emilio, a local Managuan who works with our group, was also kind enough to come with us and help guide us around.

Our first stop was the Museo Las Huellas(footprints) de Acahualinca. As our beat up taxi arrived at the museum, we weren't completely sure that we were at the right place. The front of the building was entirely caged in and the guard behind the closed gate didn't move a muscle as we approached. He finally lost the staring contest and mumbled something as he swung open the gate. Our treatment by the ticket-takers was similarly strange. They acted like they had never performed this transaction before. One funny thing: I believe it was 4 dollars to get in and 5 if we wanted to take pictures. Since our pal Emilio was Nicaraguan he got in free. Lucky dog, that guy. (I figured that since just about everyone in Nicaragua accepted US dollars that there wasn't any point in going through the hassle of currency exchange, so dollars means dollars kids.)

Well once we got in I thought that the site itself was pretty interesting but the attached museum’s production values were pretty weak. I didn't see much explaining the excavation site either. Not a single brochure was to be had.

The footprints were made 6000 years ago by people walking across volcanic mud. This has got to be the oldest evidence of humanity that I have ever seen.

We drove by the US Embassy. It was like a fortress city, very similar to the one I saw in Colombia.

Next we checked out the national square area. One side had some sort of presidential palace but Emilio said the president doesn't live there. It sounded like a pretty strange situation.

On a different side of the square stood the Catedral de Santiago. It was about as close to ruins as a building can be while still standing. That gave it a definite vampires-live-here sort of spooky quality. It was not open for visitors.

Also on the square was the National Palace of Culture. It was funny because we initially said we wanted to go to the “national palace” and the cab dropped us off in front of the same post office building that we had been at a couple days prior. You’d think there’d only be one national palace per country. Who knows. The first floor of the real national palace held the national museum. This operation was thankfully running much more smoothly than the footprint place. It was cheap, and the guy that took our money at the door then gave us a guided tour of the entire museum. Emilio was kind enough to translate. The museum boasted a good overview of the country’s natural history with volcanoes, rivers, and dinosaurs.

The cultural stuff was probably the most interesting. 

They had an entire room devoted to the costumes used during productions of El Gueguense, a satirical drama performed during the feast of San Sebastián. 

Outside we stumbled on a student parade of some sort.

We left the little square and then Emilio took over in giving the cab driver directions. We went to a nice lookout area that provided a great view of the city below. There was even a gigantic Augusto Sandino silhouette up there standing watch.

The little tank was a gift from Mussolini.

This is the rear of Managua's Crowne Plaza Hotel. According to the guide book a very crazy sounding Howard Hughes lived on the top floor until the large earthquake of 1972. He "spent most of his days sitting naked on his favourite high-backed leather chair engrossed in films". His daily diet while at the hotel consisted of Campbell's soup and Hershey's chocolate bars. 

We then headed over to Puerto Salvador Allende which was a really nice little waterfront area. There were lots of different restaurants and shops lined up along Lake Managua. I appreciated the help choosing the place because it wasn't very well described in my guidebook, and I would have missed it!

Lastly we went to one of the big malls in town, Metrocentro. I thought it would be a nice change of pace in case the girls were sick of doing all the stuff I wanted to do. We did a little shopping, hit the food court, and then headed home. I’d say our double secret trip was a success.

Keeping with the style in Nicaragua, the mall was only sort of halfway contained. There were lots of spaces that opened directly to the outside. Because of this many of the stores in the mall had their glass doors closed with their own air-conditioners humming within.

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