Cat-Calling Colonial Nicaragua

I have spent quite a long time traveling for a 45 minute plane ride to Granada, Nicaragua! The initial plan was to spend about a week in Costa Rica then make my way to Jinja Island in Panama, but I made a last minute change. I was actually looking forward to meeting Graham Hughes, the man who travelled 220 countries without flying, but getting to him proved to be more challenging than I anticipated. The flight out of San Jose to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, is quite expensive, more than $500, and the bus ride is about 12 hours. As much as I have enjoyed venturing solas, the thought of spending half a day on a public bus during one of Central America’s busiest seasons, La Semana Santa (Holy Week), freaked me out a bit. Instead, I decided to fly into Managua, Nicaragua. The flight was cheaper and the country promised beauty, sunshine, and culture left unexplored.

Flight 

  • I booked my flight through Volaris instead of Copa because I wanted to arrive before dark.
  • Volaris delayed the flight by almost four hours without ANY prior notification so instead of arriving in Managua at 3:08PM, we landed close to 7PM. They did not offer to discount my ticket for the terrible service.
  • I arranged a pick-up with the Hostel that I am staying at. The ride out to Granada was about an hour from the airport.

Hostel

  • It’s quite beautiful. I’m staying in a shared dormitory that takes eight people. I can pass the name along once I’ve left Granada, so message me if you’d like it.
  • It cost me $10 per night which includes a shared kitchen, a small library, a ceiling fan that sounds like calming water fountain, four private showers, shared spaces, and acrobatic cats.

Culture 

  • Granada is very beautiful — it’s a Colonial town full of colors, music, late night restaurants and street performers. I went to check out the Downtown with two ladies from Canada. It was quite nice to explore at night, have a beer, and chat with others — I’ve missed that. Parts of the trip have been quite lonely because I’ve avoided going out after dark for safety.
  • I have found the cat-calling incredibly surprising. Before arriving, I spoke to folks who have traveled in Nicaragua and read a number of blogs that addressed cat-calling and sexual assault in Nicaragua; they were not lying. I intend to be much more vigilant here than I needed to be in Costa Rica.

What about the rest of your time in Costa Rica 

  • My last three days in Costa Rica were amazing, but I have been so exhausted that I have not blogged about them yet. Worry not, I will. Come back to find out how my stay in La Fortuna, Alajuela was, and what happened when I finally ventured out at night in San Jose. 
  • For those who intend to check out Arenal Volcano, definitely stay in Hernan and Alejandra’s airbnb (click for link). More to come on why. For now, I’ll say this: clean, comfortable, incredible staff, amazing food, and amazing views.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Feel free to leave any tips on how to deal with cat-calling, what I must see while in Nicaragua, or whatever else!

Creating empathy one guest a time

If a song played every morning when Gabriela wakes up it would be Beyonce’s Run The World. I have no idea if this Costa Rican badass feminist actually listens to Queen Bey, but what I do know is that when she moves its with the same purpose those drum beats prepare for Beyonce’s entrance on the record.

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Gabi, 37-years old and born in Alajuela, Costa Rica, is one of Air BnB’s most sought-after San Jose hosts.
If it were not for her mother, Gabi would not be a native of Alajuela, the province home to famous hot springs and Volcano Arenal.  

“My parents were migrants in Ohio, they were looking for the American Dream.”

Six months into her pregnancy, Rita, Gabi’s mother, decided she could no longer handle the quest for the dream or the weather — the family moved back to Costa Rica and three months later Gabriela entered the world, drum beats and all.

Becoming an AirBnB host can be a lucrative opportunity, but not everyone does it and those who do are not always successful. Frankly, not all people are cut out to receive guests, but Gabi manages to master the work in a manner I haven’t seen before. 

“I feel at home when I am with people who are different and diverse.”

Gabi goes on to say that “diversity is our most developed state of civilization, so I am always in need of coming together with different people.”

The key here is that Gabi doesn’t only treat AirBnB as an opportunity to make more money. Rather, she focusses on the importance of building a global community. According to AirBnB’s website it’s a “trusted community marketplace for people,” Gabi puts intention in creating community and because of that more than 400 travelers have wish-listed her home, the lovely house, light, hush and air!

Air Bnb
Gabi has been an AirBnB member for five years, but became a host three years ago.
More than 3,000,000 homes are listed on AirBnB. Gabi decided to join the community three years ago. She made the decision because she feels her home is beautiful and wants to share it with others.

“You don’t know your guests, but you care about them.”

That’s not something Gabi had to tell me; it’s something I felt from the moment she messaged me back.

“I’m a bit nervous because this is my first solo vacation,” I typed to her back in March.

“I totally understand you being nervous…but Costa Rica is lovely and you will find a lot of people to help you!”

I can be quite needy, it’s one of those personally traits that sneaks up when my independence takes a nap, but I truly haven’t needed anyone else but Gabi. The reason? She prepared me with a full page of information four days before my check-in. When I arrived, Gabi sat me down to review a map of the neighborhood and handed me two pages of things to do and see in Costa Rica.

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Among my belongings: a map Gabi made, a country-wide draft itinerary, and a full page of things to do and see locally in San Jose. 

 

Gabi is such a great host that one wonders if she has any other jobs. It turns out, she has four. In addition to being the chosen of AirBnB’s marketplace, Gabi prints lamps, works as an anthropologist for Civil Society Organizations and Teachers Unions, directs graduate student research at a local university, and does private sector consulting.

Lamps
On her free time, Gabi prints and sells lamps.

Of her five jobs, AirBnB hosting is a family business. Gabi’s mother, Rita, is also a host. Seeing Gabi talk about her mother is comforting; she sort of glows. “My mom is kind of amazing,” she says smiling beautifully, “I think she is a feminist and doesn’t know it.”

Rita has six other children. She raised all seven while building a career and remaining an active member of her local catholic church.

“My mom truly feels enthusiastic when people are doing well, and she has built her feminism according to her catholic values.”

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“Equality is something you build everyday, it is not given for granted,” Gabi says reflecting on how Rita, her mother, has helped mold her feminist theory. 

 

 

To close out our conversation, I asked Gabi this, “if everyone you have hosted could only write a one-sentence review about you, what would they say?”

“Thinking of my guests, I would say…” — Gabi starts to answer, but after a few words, she’s brought to tears. It’s clear that those who have shared her home are family, many of them having become lifetime friends. With her global family in mind and through quivering lips, Gabi says she’d review herself with this sentence…

“Always grateful and always looking forward to meeting again, no matter for how long.”

To book with Gabi, click here.

“AirBnB is amazing, it goes beyond the shared economy. It goes until the very point of allowing us to learn collective intimacy and instant bonding, through that we create empathy. “

–Gabi, AirBnB host of three years

 

I hope Costa Ricans don’t speak their Spanish as fast as the Flight Attendant

“How do I get it to work on airplane mode,” he says to me pointing at the curved lines on the top left of the iPad.

I have been sitting an empty seat away from him for about two hours while I finished The Farming of Bones quietly, taking short moments to cry then wipe my tears away.

“It’s not you, we don’t have access to wi-fi on this flight.”

He smiles and takes a breath before responding with a grainy voice. I wonder if he’s an expat, one of those Americans who has come to find solace in a foreign land because the place we’ve claimed as United is much like the break terror takes when its hand grows tired from the sling of the whip.

“You young people know how to do these things better than I ever could.”

“It’s not you,” I remind him. We smile at each other as the flight attendant announces that we’ll need to fill out two immigration forms.

This is my first solo trip. It is also my debut as an American and I have a dark blue passport to prove it. Earlier this morning when Lorrie, my adoptive Florida mom, drove me to the Tri-Rail station I was quiet with nerves. I mean, I am super pumped — it’s my first solo trip out of the country by my damn self. But it’s also scary. Last night, I stacked a first aide kit on top of medical tape, praying that I won’t have to use any of my precautionary items.

I am excited to use my grammar-less Spanish.

I can’t wait to wander into small-town markets and local museums.

I want to reward myself with the legs of mountains as I stare down at a small town from the top of a volcano hike.

I look forward to my words thriving — I write best when god and the universe converse quietly with me in my travels.

I am grateful to be millennial rich, the kind of affluency that allows for Airbnb rentals, day trips and a few days on an island in Panama for the price of a hammock.

Right now, sitting in my window seat with Beyonce singing in my ear, I am proud of myself. Happy to know that I am the kind of woman who will challenge herself to live outside of comfort. The kind who searches for humanity in new lands. It’s what we were meant to do, you know, rather than capture, kill, rape, and seize (sorry, it’s hard to quite my justice brain).

Anyway, come back here over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share my journey with you.

Helpful nuggets on day one:

  • I am spending my first full week with Gabriela; it cost me only $183. I could have stayed in San Jose for much less or much more. The reason I decided to go with Gabi’s place is because it seemed to have a homey feel (and it delivers!) and other women who had travelled alone left her outstanding reviews. Within moments of contacting her, she responded and has not let me down since.
  • The immigration line is efficient, I moved through it in maybe 15 minutes.
  • When you arrive at the airport, you get access to internet for free so let your family and friends know you’ve arrived safely. If you’d like, you could also purchase an internet card for a couple U.S. dollars. I decided not to because I heard there is wi-fi everywhere is Costa Rica — so far, that holds true.
  • You can “cambia plata” or exchange money in the airport. I exchanged $40 which made out to a little over 19,000 colones, enough to cover me for a couple of days. Most places seem to take U.S. currency though.
  • When you get outside the heat will hit you immediately and you’ll be met with dozens of people standing with signs. There will also be a hoard of (unofficial) taxi drivers ready to bargain with you; all men. One offered to take me to Los Yoses for $30 and another quickly added that he’d take me for $20. After giving him my location, I realized he was not an official driver in one of the orange-red vehicles so I turned him down. I suggest not telling a random man in a foreign country where you’re going just because he has a sign that reads “TAXI.”
  • I took the public bus. If you don’t know where to find it, ask airport staff; they’re quite helpful. It cost 1,000 colones. Once I arrived in Los Yoses, San Jose, I took a taxi for less than 3,000 colones. I knew where to go and how much everything would cost because Gabi sent me a detailed email four days before my trip.
  • Once I settled in with Gabi, she explained the neighborhood to me and showed me an incredible map that she designed herself. I’d describe the map and accompanying directions as a marriage between your maps app and Yelp. Using her map, I was able to make it to “Automercado” successfully, but did get lost on the way back a couple of times before finding my way (to no fault of hers).

Thank you for reading about day one! I’m off to write up my itinerary for the week. See you back here tomorrow.