We feel so welcome here, relaxed and lazy, that is hard to leave the resort’s grounds even for a brief excursion to the neighboring town.
With a herculean effort and some encouragement from our fellow cruisers Larry and Sandra, however, we finally unglue ourselves from the pool’s chaise lounge long enough to go visit Chinandega.
Senor Idulfo picks us up in the Hotel’s van at 8 in the morning and drives us to town, about an hour’s ride away.
Chinandega is a very busy, somewhat crowded and very colorful town, home to about 125,000 people. It is also a center of agriculture, producing and exporting sugar cane, bananas, cashew nuts, peanuts, oranges, sesame seeds, grains and wonderful beef.
It is also a fishing and shrimping center, with a salt manufacturing plant. On top of that, it’s also home to the largest sugar mills and Rum factory in the country: International Award-winning Flor de Cana .
To finish it all off, they’re also famous for their incredibly detailed leather goods.
These people work hard, let me tell you. We’ve seen many men armed solely with a hammer making gravel from big volcanic rocks, all day long. We’ve seen people bent over in the sugar cane fields armed with just a machete, all day long.
In the States, not even the convicts in jail work so hard… But they should.
If you ever happen to wander in Central America, leave your American ways at home and open your mind. This is another world, so unimaginably different, yet certainly not inferior to our more developed one. We just have more money, tools and technology. The less means one has available, the more ingenuity comes out. I see it here, as clear as day.
Last month in El Salvador I was shocked to see a campaign to stop illegal human trafficking; today I’m looking at a campaign to end Child Labor in Nicaragua. I’m also looking at an Elementary School proudly announcing Potable Water for their children, a rare achievement. Basic rights that we take for granted, and they’re fighting for them every day.
I have a lot of respect for these people, who despite their challenging life keep a smile on their faces. Walking the streets of Chinandega, whenever we happen to make eye contact with someone we receive a wide, sincere smile and a warm “Hola”.
The locals are curious about us, I’m sure they don’t see a whole lot of our kind here. Or maybe Tom’s towering height and Nordic looks attract their attention, who knows. I’m curious about the great number of red-haired heads I see all around and so many light-colored eyes…
In any case, we manage to strike brief conversations with the locals and are surprised to hear many of them speaking excellent English. Good, because my Spanish –which I thought adequate- appears useless here … I can understand maybe 40% of what they say, even when I ask them to speak to me much slower… I feel like such a retard!
The streets of downtown Chinandega are one big, colorful open market. I ask if today is Market Day and am told no, it’s like this every day!
Mercifully, very few cars are roaming around the center. The streets are narrow and a little muddy, thanks to the nearby volcano who occasionally belches out a cloud of ashes and the few raindrops that fell last night.
There are economical “taxis”, basically a modified tricycle , vastly used to transport anything: people, supplies, furniture. I can’t help thinking: these guys must have buns of steel!
Sandra and I see a supermarket and go in to check out what’s available. Ah, air conditioning! This particular store, Supermercado Selecto, is at least two blocks in length and filled with anything you could wish for, including plenty of produce I have never seen before. We file that info away for future reference…
We lose ourselves in the crowds for a few hours. Thankfully it’s a cloudy day; I can’t imagine doing this in blazing sunshine. No wonder this town is nicknamed “Hot City” (Ciudad Calida). Even on this “cooler” day, I’m liberally using my sweat rag to the amusement of the locals.
We’re pretty satisfied with what we’ve seen so far, although I know there’s much more to see. But we’re already tired as it is, and we still want to return to that huge supermarket to get groceries. But first, a little snack to replenish our strength is in order.
Our guide/driver/ guardian angel Idulfo -who drove us here this morning- meets us at his sons’ little restaurant, Cafetin Carolina. During a simple, tasty and incredibly economical brunch, I tell Idulfo that we need to go back to the big supermarket for groceries. To my surprise, he gently dissuades me, saying that he’ll take us somewhere else.
And boy, am I happy we listened to him! We visit “La Colonia”, a very modern, American-style supermarket with an amazing variety of groceries. And everything comes with a 30% discount this week!
We don’t need much, but we make sure not to miss the chance to buy some wonderful local Filet Mignon for the equivalent of US$ 6.90 per kilo.
Afterwards, while loading the van, I thank Idulfo for his suggestion. We finally manage to have a conversation where I learn that he is in charge of much more than just driving the Hotel’s guests around… Actually, his official job title is Purchasing Director: he’s in charge of buying everything: from land to expand the resort, to all the supplies needed for running it.
Later in the day I learn from Robert –the resort’s owner- that soft-spoken and even-tempered Idulfo is nothing less than his Right Arm, excellently skilled at negotiating land purchases and smoothing away legal hurdles, and has been working with him for fifteen years. I am very happy to see how much Robert appreciates his Number One. They do make a great team.
We are all very grateful that Idulfo took the time from his busy schedule to drive us around, and I’m wondering where he finds the energy. Here I am, barely able to drag my feet and groceries to the boat, while Idulfo returns to his office with a spring in his step.