May 26 2009

Nicaragua day 2: Sunday, May 17 2009

cimg4287Very good morning to you all..
Few rosters woke me up early in the morning, it was only 5am for Pete’s sake. Did Zhou Bapi 周扒皮 live in Nica too 🙂
*in PJ*
Wow .. the view from the bedroom is spectacular.
I rubbed my eyes ..
rolled out of the bed
went downstairs
I wasn’t the first one who got up ..
unwashed face
unbrushed tooth
unkempt hair
Who cared?
We were all basking in the soft morning glow ..
the golden hue ..
the dews ..
the mango ..
the coconuts ..
p1030433 p1030432 p1030438

Couple of Ocean Sixers went to hunting .. .. and soon returned triumphantly, fully loaded with mango and coconuts ..

Coldwell Banker Real Estate as well as Century 21 have presence there..

Lou's busy at work cimg4298 cimg4324 05-17-mor-13

Her house is lovely, woody, Mahogany is everywhere.

My little dingy Casio camera wasn’t good enough, so Lou let me use his spare one. The pictures taken from now on are from his Panasonic Lumix with Leica lens.

The entrance to DQ’s house

Thou shalt love thy neighbour

The neat road between the haves vs haven’ts is paved by hexagon bricks, “Somoza stones”, after the dictator who bought them from himself by the millions.

one of the better ones ..

The other side of her house faces the commoners, the plebs .. she and the expats hire a night watcher. My gut feeling tells me that the Nica is relatively unspoiled, people are nice and don’t yet know the common ills that plague our modern society. Bernard the Madoff is a light years away for them.

First thing first: heading to Jockey Club for couple sets of tennis.
dsc_1030 dsc_1073 dsc_1080 dsc_1052

Group pics .. watching Larry to sweat it out there .. The club has a lap pool but was abandoned, what a shame! A local family was in the pool, a lady with few kids. Not sure they were the caretakers’ family or the club member. The two tennis courts were paved with bricks, was fine to play.

p10301051 p1030110

We headed to downtown Granada.

The food ..

The busy market is just couple of blocks away from her downtown home Quinta Granadina. All those one story homes reminded me of siheyuan in Beijing: monotonous from the outside but behind the closed doors, there are quite another world, with elaborated layouts/courtyards and stories.

p1030108 p1030100


As we were lingering in the house (three bedrooms), a group of six girls walked by – originally from Michigan now living/working in New York – looking for the hotel they had reservation. They walked around the block twice but failed to find their hotel. Clay told them this house’s for rent, so they walked in, and loving it. DQ charged them US$60 per night for the entire house.

The living room, dining room and kitchen are open-air style. The bedrooms are conventional enclosed with bathrooms and a/c. Washer and dryer are out door too. dsc_1228 p1030188 bedroom living room
Big deal to plugging down 3 Andrew Jackson.

p1030190 p1030196 dsc_1235 p1030122
Next door to her house is an Internet Cafe.

where to .. a bmw

Masaya marketWe headed to Masaya market for lunch and shopped there too. The little castle looked pretty neat. The fish soup was good. The bill came for 8 of us was US$122. Cohiba cigar with Cuba printed on the label cost US$25 for a pack of 25. Again, they take US$. I bought a fun table and few pieces of wood jars. One of them was broken: me, Irene, never look/check .. and would never learn. I’m too old .. you can’t teach an old dog a new trick 🙂
Shouldn’t the vendor tell me that? I think they should.
If wasn’t for the group was waiting, I would have gathered more junks.
Thank lord I showed my junks to Juan: he spotted the broken and glued jar that was intended for Pumpkin..


First thing you should know when visiting a volcano: park your car facing the exit .. just in case.

Come to think of it, how useful will it be? Will the four wheels out run the lavas?

The smell of sulfur, like rotten eggs smell from the hydrogen sulfide at Masaya Volcano was strong.

At the top – Bobadilla Cross, DQ climbed to the pole in no time.

“The view is great ..”

So .. we asked a Dad to do the same. I was bit worried: the Dad didn’t look as fit as DQ .. but he complied without hesitation.

dsc_1328The sign reads ..
Welcome to the Trail
Lookout Bobadilla Cross
This is an active volcano that offers adventure tourisms. So that to visit this viewer that has 177 steps you assume the risk.
the sign reads ...We suggest you
Time for stay is 15 to 20 minutes.
When gases affect, leave the area.
If you have health problem don’t climb up.
This viewer has a capacity for 20 people.
Students climb up in groups of 20 with a teacher.
Kids less than 12 years old must be accompanied by an adult.
By your security this lookout can be closed any time.

According to Wikipedia, Masaya Volcano is a Shield volcano located 20 km south of Managua, Nicaragua. It is Nicaragua’s first and largest National Park, and one of 78 protected areas of Nicaragua. The volcanic complex is composed of a nested set of calderas and craters, the largest of which is Las Sierras shield volcano and caldera.
the family
After the photo, Lou climbed up and reciprocated ..

The parents said very little, to themselves and to us. They might not be English speakers. The son needed to be coaxed into the picture. I thought only my kids are allergic to photo taking .. guess it’s universal children disease 🙂 and we parents have camera totting syndrome.

was I laughing or crying? dsc_1347
Was I laughing or crying? Very amusing.

The last event of the day, before dinner (food, under any circumstances, would not stay far from my mind .. Nainai used to say .. 吃货 .. and I don’t suppose it’s a compliment) was to visit DQ’s little hide out, her island – La Isleta de Phoebe.

her little paradise

Lake Nicaragua (Lago de Nicaragua) is the largest lake in Central America, has sharks, sawfish, tarpon, and least 16 species of endemic cichlids.

Bull shark is known for entering freshwater elsewhere around the world. It had been presumed that the sharks were trapped within the lake, but this was found to be incorrect in the late 1960s, when it was discovered that they were able to jump along the rapids of the San Juan River (which connects Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea), almost like salmon; the journey takes as little as 7-11 days.

the drink

It has 365 islands – mostly owned by Americans/Canadians. The water taxi took us to her island in about 10 minutes. Some island owners have their own speed boats.

SF a well-developed island monkey her neighbors

The largest island in the lake has 40,000 residents, a commune.

the escape boat on her island

The year around owners of the islands cable in the electricity, pipes in the water and the sewage goes into the lake.

the shark

I jumped into the lake in no time, intended to swim to few islands. But the water was too warm to swim. Ok, it’s my third excuse. The most on my mind was the sewer. The shark was the distant second.

The sky was getting darker. The cloud ruined our opportunity to watch a specular sun set.

Larry didn’t catch a fish. But we managed to buy few, 7 Tilapias for $1 and made soup out of them. Nainai used to lightly fried the fish and then boil with radish. Before we left, we asked the taxi driver take us to another island to buy couple of hens that grow the old fashion way. The two skinny things cost $10. How did we eat them?

More pictures on FB .. few more pix .. Day 3

May 26 2009

Nicaragua day 1: Saturday, May 16 2009

Day One – May 16, 2009 Saturday
I didn’t have much sleep that night – given the fact that I rarely missed a night of sleep in my life – because DQ requested us to report for duty at 4:05 for the 6am flight. Simon and I picked Lou up then met her at her house in Flushing. Parked at her house and headed to LGA. Our flight (which was packed) from La Guardia airport in New York left prompto and dropped us off at Miami 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled arrival.
We rushed out of the gate and got into a cab, telling the driver head over to Tropical Parks Tennis Courts.
The nice driver with heavy Hispanic accent looked lost.
“It’s not safe .. lots of blacks.. ”
After learning that we were bunch of tennis nuts trying to get a game during a layover, he suggested Flamingo Park instead.
So there we went.
A swimming pool that was free to the locals but $6 for us on one side, with a 25 yard lap area and $8 per person on the Har-Tru, “North-American” clay court on the other side. It hosts (or hosted? The last year on the wall was 1996) Orange Bowl International.Ocean Six's first group photo
20 minutes into our play, the rain drops began to pound the little earth beneath us. The sky elsewhere looked pretty clear and bluey. The pro at the shop was nice enough to refund us half of the fees we paid. After shower, the sun came out blasting.
La la la la la ..
Waiting at the curb side for our cab, we began to take pictures.
Seven cameras in total.
Birds on the tree. Shoot.
Trees on the ground. Shoot.
People walking. Shoot.
Group pic .. shooooot. wait .. we need a photographer.
An elder man with a tennis bag was walking by.
“Excuse me .. would you mind taking pic for us?” Louis asked him.
The gentle turned around, reached into his pocket, and pulled out wade of cash. Took one dollar bill and handed to Lou .. while kept a poker face.
Was pretty funny. After few pics, the gentle went one step further, telling us how should we post for him .. .. 05-16-4
That’s the last hearty laugh I had of the day.

The cab arrived, with a younger driver. As we were about to speed off, the older gentle knocked on the window. .. Lou left his precious bag behind that contained fancy camera (Irene knows her math, Lou brought two) that could capture the pores on my face and movement on the moon, and his two laptops.

the past champs cimg4162
cimg4145 the pool ..


It’s bit early for the airport so we asked the bubbly driver take us to the South Beach’s Ocean Drive. The Pow Wow travel show was going on. Too bad it’s way too early for the topless crowds – still sleeping from the night before. Ocean Drive is very much alive at night. a hostess’ longing for customers
Not sure the cab driver makes better living or he has other business (the way he talks makes one think that he has other income ..) as we were driving on Washington Avenue, China Grill’s tower came into view. He mentioned that he ate there couple of times. Ok, it’s no Masa or Le Bernardin that you have to break your piggy bank to dine there, but it isn’t cheap. What’s interesting is the New York (on 53rd Street) one is obscure while the one in Miami Beach is in your face. the cute little red riding hood
Aleksandr Ishchenko the driver came to US at age of 15 from Ukraine. He’s worldly 世界仔 in Hong Kong lingo, or simply articulate. He was ready to provide the purchasing/selling prices of Gianni Versace’s mansion (at a profit) where he was gunned down execution-style, and many other condos and hotels. Overall, he was a great guide.
Back to the airport, we were ready to fly. Only to be told that the flight was delayed.
Delayed again.
There used to be a direct flight between New York and Managua because Astoria (New York) houses the third largest Nicaraguans after its country and Miami. The connecting flight killed all the fun. This goes with any no none-stop fly.
The reason for the delay was maintenance. That, really, shut us, up [from asking].

The flight between Miami and Managua is only a little over 2 hours. Both ways to and from Managua were delayed and were about 70% full.
The small bottle of wine would have cost US$6 but they provided for free due to the delay. Oddly, one of the flight attendants looked me in the eye, demanding $6.
What an airhead.
cimg4194 cimg4196cimg4195 cimg41991
The capital airport has a staple of rental car companies.

The one DQ selected (I suspected others too) is one man operation: he fronts the desk and then goes to retrieve the van for us. It took forever.cimg4241
The first word I learned is .. mañana.
Well, others might say that we’re losing the fun of
.. slow dance ..
.. slow meal ..
… slow seduction … 🙂

Simon was designated driver but Lou insisted on being behind the wheels, and he did most of it. Thanks a lot! .. with five of us, at one time, he had to remind us graciously ..
“Stop being backseat driver .. ” 🙂 Sorry Lou. Can’t take New York out of New Yorker.
As soon as we got on the road, there was an accident. So we had to turn around ..

First few glimpses of the capital. DQ warned me that it’s like China 30 years ago. Hmmmmm .. she’s right mostly .. but Beijing was far more grandeur – you can’t take Beijing out of me either.
Let’s the fun begin.
What’s the heck.
Just experience it, live it, enjoy it.
cimg4229 cimg4235 cimg4225 cimg4253

Nica gets dark by 6pm. So there wasn’t any touring. Beside we were all very worn out after a long day. We just hit the supermarket Pali first before going up the mountain.

cimg4260 rice milk fruits and veggies

We bought a lots of papaya, a chunk of Filet mignon .. the local business accepts US$ without hesitation. The winding road leading up to her house was narrow but nicely paved with hexagonal Presidential bricks: after the earthquake of 1972, Somoza ordered all the roads to be rebuilt, using only Presidential bricks, the Somoza bricks. wood, mahogany wood is everywhereMany shacks were dim or even dark, not that they don’t have electricity but to conserve it. Wrestling with a sticker shift, Lou got us there safe and sound, and in time for a delicious curry chicken dinner, cooked by DQ’s housekeeper Kamijo’s wife. The rice was really delicious. You can’t take Chinese out of Irene. Alright, it gets corny. I will stop here.

It’s late and dark and I’m tired. Lets get to her house tomorrow, mañana .. remember what I learnt?
Good night and sleep tight 🙂

Day 2

May 18 2009

Nicaragua Day 3: Monday, 5/18/2009

Catching the sun rise has become my routine. More pix on FB

I’m an early riser and always have the urge to get up. Couldn’t wait to wake up might be a better way to say it.
Those few frames were taken between 5:27am to 6:04am (the date/time stamp of 8:27pm-9:04pm must be Beijing time).

I promised the guys that I’d make pancake to extinguish their homesickness, food wise. Simon started cooking the instant noddle already.Nainai's pancake
The pancake receipt was from Nainai. Yeye loved it: flour, eggs, milk with dash of salt and pepper. Jancis, Professor Kamijo’s pretty young wife was following me around in the kitchen and watched. She’s really a good maid. After making the batter, I went elsewhere.
dsc_1012The next thing I knew, the pancakes were coming. Although they were bit too thick for my taste, but I really liked her initiative and the willingness to be of help. She told me that she learned, by pointing to her eyes. A very sweet girl.
This is their adapted son. Jerry’s a bright six years old boy, always placed first or second in his school.
His Dad Kamijo built him this table that facing the lake.
“How can you not being the first in the class when you have such lovely view?” DQ exclaimed.

p1030479 the view from the table

We visited Kamijo’s home, a few houses down the dead end street. The hexagon presidential brick paved road was almost immediately over as soon as we passed Terry, the developer’s last house, that’s on the market for US$200,000.

p1030449 p1030450

According to DQ, on her first night at the house, the electricity was out. Kamijo came knocking.
“Would like to stay at our house?” He asked.
“You have electricity?” DQ asked.
“No .. ” but they could keep her company. He thought she might be afraid. A very thoughtful man.

The walk’s very short, 3 minutes tops.

A world away.

Kamijo’s a Japanese, a water treatment professor who still teaches at university few hours a week. Since the chance meeting, DQ hires him to look over her two of her three properties there for US$190 a month. His wife Jancis cleans and cooks at the mountain house and wife’s sister Lillian who lives with them takes care of the house in Granada at US$140 a month (incl the $40 bus fare). It’s 2 hours bus ride each way in to the city. When there are tourists, they take care of them and provide meals upon request, that’s between them and the tourists. He acts very deferential and always on his toes. There were few moments that’s slow and I wanted to talk to him. But the language barrier had kept me from asking. I really wanted to know why would a man comes from the top three economy in the world, settles in the third world. But again, I knew the life I enjoy with the New York Library and Lincoln Center as back drop isn’t for anyone and I understand that perfectly, and very glad to know there are other school of thoughts.

This group of photos are taken by Lou

Apparently the barrier didn’t keep the guys: according to them, Kamijo is the only Japanese in Nica who doesn’t work for the Japanese embassy. In the beginning, the ambassador would invite him to the annual party. When he showed up with his pretty young wife, the mood changed a little. They required suit the next time .. ..
His property line extends into the woods few hundred meters. he takes his sweet time to explore and mange it. Discovering new spices .. He might just be the happiest man alive for all I know.

读万卷书不如行万里路 ..


paparazzi is staking out .. Kamijo’s waving a sayonara

I truly believe in it.

The tour ended when Juan came in his motorbike. He swiped DQ away in a hush, reminded me of Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Juan is from an upper class family who’s Dad is a medical doctor. He spent part of his youth in Florida when his dad was doing AID research. His mother is a shrew businesswoman who runs the family. The first thing I heard about his was that his ex-wife lives with him with her second husband. Hmmmm .. Well, it turns out pretty reasonable: the grandmother wants to see her granddaughter and the ex-daughter-in-law isn’t the most clear head lady in the world. … Soon her husband ran off with a younger woman … and she left too. Juan has the daughter.

He is one of three persons in Nica that had the presidential certificates (??) to be the official tour guide. His credential was earned by attending two years travel industry related school funded by the government of Luxembourg in Mexico. There’s flood of illegal immigrants to the EU. By developing the tour industry in the third world, they’re hoping to tame the waves. And I’m hoping I got this right here.

His reason for returning to Nica from Florida:
“I just like being back home.”
Many young Chinese at AFS are looking forward to ultimately going back to China too, soon.

He does cruise ships, 43 each year. This year due to the Swine flu, there was only 10 thus far.

He’s a good conservationist.
p1030588 p1030587 p1030583 p1030575

Our first destination was Iguana Beach, in the southwest Nica by the Pacific Ocean, 2 hours ride from where we were. DQ wanted to take golfers there so she checked out the golf course. What’s the verdict?
The last 12 km was very tough, on dirt.
The school children in Nica are required to wear white top and blue pants.
We pit stopped at his friend’s place. His mother had purchased a huge farm which she or they intend to turn it into a resort or sanctuary.

We hailed a boat for US$85 (include $10 as tip) to the Iguana Beach resort which is still in the process of developing. The sales office’s too far away on foot. So I suggested to borrow workers’ bikes. The construction guys were readily agreed. But what’s so embarrassing was that Irene couldn’t ride one. I returned to the beach sullenly and hanging out with Simon and Lou. Larry went to fishing. The water was warm. The waves curled me up, flatten me, sent me to the top then sucked me back in. Jones Beach appears, aside from crowds, isn’t so bad after all, it’s only 20 minutes ride.

Captain Jack Sparrow a boatload of NY refugees

condos on the beach

on the beach

Larry didn’t catch a fish, came back empty hand. Too short of time. The few buildings looked very vacant. I only saw one couple. Not sure there are many golfers who’s willing to rough it out. Hmmm .. there was this dude, Andre Tolme who took his 3 iron and went golfing in Mongolia in 2004. And yes, the New Hampshire civil engineer wrote a book about his adventure – I Golfed Across Mongolia: How an Improbable Adventure Helped Me Rediscover the Spirit of Golf (and Life).

My feeling toward beach is: I love beach because it associated with water (lame … da …). If the beach is packed like Jones Beach, then I’d rather stay ashore. I can’t and don’t want to deal with parking then walk a mile to face the crowds. It’s not relaxing. It’s hard work. To me, a perfect place is a somewhat private place where you don’t have to mortgage your house to enjoy it.

This Iguana Beach seems to be a fit for me. No crowds, not a soul for miles to see. Remote and reclusive, you can park on the water. But then I’m creaming: where is everybody? After a day of work, whatever that might be, golfing or fishing, scrub diving, swimming, tennis. At end of the day, I want to enjoy a good meal and nice conversations. Not isolation.

I want and need my space yet I crave good company.

New York has it. It is what NY has to offer that dazzles me, in good times and bad.

New York has it all.

Why was I thinking about New York when I was on vacation for 6 days? No one asked me to move there. 山八

We passed by the active Volcán Concepción in Lake Nicaragua, which looks like Mount Fuji. There are 6 active volcanoes (out of 25) in Nica. A woman was washing her clothes in the background.


We had late lunch at restaurant El Timon at San Juan del Sur.

The water was warm and calm. I did few laps. There was a custom house to the left, a gift from Jap government in exchange of Nica’s vote on whaling. Jap lost out but Nica got to keep the building.

Currently, Taiwan has the formal diplomatic relationship with Nica. Juan said whenever China comes, the government would tag a spy or two, following Juan, making sure he stays in line.
Whenever they pass by a building that’s built or donated by Taiwan and adorn with its flag, the spy would say …
“… … China would donate a bigger one, right?”
Ha ha ha …

gun man tiger

Gunmen are everywhere, guarding the banks and even post offices. The result of their revolution.

The sun set ..

sun set

Day 4

May 11 2009


Please double check all important data before your trip. The info here are reminders for myself, might be old and out of date ..

– Check your US bills to make sure that each is not worn out and have no marks on the bill. Otherwise we may not able to use them.

– Call your credit card company to find out which card does not charge a foreign exchange FX fee. After you have decided which card to bring over, you should call that credit card company to make a record that you are going on a vacation to somewhere from sometime. Alert them that you may make purchases in somewhere. This is to ensure that you can use that credit card when you need to. Credit card FX fee schedule:

Chase 3%
Citibank 3%
American Express 3%
HSBC no FX fee
Capital One no FX fee

May 11 2009

The budget

Rough estimate for each of us to Nica:

Van (rent for a 15-seater plus gasoline) $110
Food $200
San Juan del Sur Boat ride $50
Montelimar admission $45
Tourist Guide $16
Attraction Admission $29

Total $450, excl airfare

~ . ~ . ~ . ~

Actual expenses per person (total), in USD:
$0 – Visa
$18 – Taxi to airport: (La Guardia/JFK $27, shared by 3 travelers)
$406 – Round trip air on AA – NY (LGA) to Miami to Managua, back to JFK
$15 – Cab rides during the layover in Miami ($36 + $50)
$100 – Van & gas
$98 – Food/meals
$45 – Montelimar admission
$12 – Attraction Admission
$3 – Lake Nicaragua Boat Ride ($20)
$14 – San Juan del Sur boat ride ($86)
$20 – Tips for the professor
$20 – Guide for two days ($120)

Total: US$751 ($406 + $345)

May 7 2009

Beijing’s Moscow Restaurant 老莫, now and then

The Moscow Restaurant, we Beijingers dab it as Lao Mo 老莫, opened its door in 1954 in celebration of 5th anniversary of young China.

LaoMo in 2003..



Lao Mo in 1979

and Lao Mo in 1966

May 7 2009

Check list

Ticket – very funny
Map, tour book
Books to read
Shampoo, conditioner, lotion
Nail clipper
Toothbrush/paste, dental floss, Listerine
Summer clothes, water proof windbreaker. A foldable umbrella is useful.
A visor, a hat, sun block oil if you do not like to get a tan.
Old sneakers: some places are muddy and sandy.
Tennis racket, swimming gears.
Your favorite shampoo, soap.
Medicine. There are many pharmacies but .. ..
Mosquito repellent like “Off” there. Please bring your favorite mosquito bite ointment.

Passport and driver’s license: Bring both.

May 7 2009

Vancouver 2008

We took Cathay Pacific leaving JFK at 11pm. The upside it’s an Asia airline with better food/service but the down side is getting to Vancouver at 2am. No traffic 🙂






May 7 2009

Purple Bamboo Garden – Zizhuyuan Park

May 7 2009

Maps of Nicaragua

3 maps


map of nica