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Don't Get TOO Comfortable

     O.K, first of all it's a pleasure reading all of these wonderful accounts of how great a place Nicaragua and the rest of Central America is, the idyllic lush green jungles, the active majestic volcanoes, the interesting exotic wildlife, tbe food, the women, the surfing, etc, etc.  However, WHEN does a person visit or even live in a foreign country for an extended period of time and just because nothing has happened to him/her for however long they are there and expect to somehow wake up one day with a Teflon coating and somehow RELAX?  The answer is:  NEVER, EVER let your guard down in any foreign country, including Nicaragua, espeically if you are a White AMERICAN.

   As a Nicaraguan born pseudo-American I have lived in America all of my life but I have visited Nicaragua 7 times in my life, and I have lived there for extended periods of time over the past 16 years and my miost recent trip was back in June of 2008.  Let me tell you my friends Nicaragua has taken a turn for the worse, and although Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Taiwanese, and all the other people who visit and invest time and money to live and relax and do business in Nicaragua are enjoying daily sunbaths and trips to the beach and cheap thrills with Nica chicas there is a deep, festering well of resentment slowly creeping up in most of Nicraguan society, especially the " proletarian masses " who see all the money being thrown around by Americans and other foreigners and all the ass-kissing that is going on by the Sandinista government, the smiling Cheshire Cat-like grin of Comandante Daniel Orttega and his FSLN brothers and sisters telling all the gringos and gringas " Si, por supuesto que es seguro que pueden derrochar su plata aqui en Nicaragua, todo esta seguro para ustedes, somos sus amigos, Nicaragua YA NO ES UN ENIMIGO DE EE.UU, TODO ESTA EN EL PASADO " BUT as far as simply visiting this lush, fertile, rich and charming little haven of a tropical paradise it's all good. 

     In pure economic terms, with the Nicaraguan Cordoba Oro at roughly 19 to 1 United States dollar and at an even better exchange rate for the Euro ( slightly and even in the midst of all this global economic turmoil, especially since Nicaragua still has it's monetary standard riding on the dollar's coattails ) it's a good deal to visit Nicaragua.  If you visit any large, American-style supermarket such as La Plaza Espana in the Martha Quezada neighborhood ( where ALL the tourists seem to stay most of the time, at least the frugal road-warrior type ) you'll find that American-style packaged foods are CHEAP compared to American standards, while average Nicaraguan food and the fare you'll find on practically every streetcorner is practically given away to anyone who can afford it ( but not to any poor Nicaraguan in rags, boo-hoo ).  The relative cost of living in Nicaragua as compared to the United States... no comparison at all!  Unless you factor into account how much you pay for commercial goods such as stereos, computers, DVD players, etc. all things that NIB are ridiculously overpriced there, and strictly because Nicaragua and the rest of Latin American with the most notable exception being Venezuela simply does not produce finished goods, having no natural resources to speak of to produce such things, no mineral wealth, nothing except coffee, bananas, sugar, coconuts... get the idea?  I saw a post here by a guy named Peter Christopher who asked if there was any legitmate way to make money in Nicaragua... damn, you are GOOD!  THERE IS NO WAY!  AT ALL!  Every foreigner who has lived in Nicaragua for an extended period of time has found out everybody is doing something they shouldn't be doing or would go to jail immidiately if done in the United States.  People are running prostitution rings, illegal counterfeiting operations, smuggling, and yeas, there are street gangs and organized crime rings but they keep things hidden away like they do here in the States.  If you go looking for trouble in Nicaragua, you'll find it quicker than the supposed porters at Managua International Airport will snatch your luggage if you aren't looking.  Nicaraguan men are EXTREMELY MACHO, and I mean EXTREMELY.  Why do you think Reagan didn't invade Nicaragua in the '80's... does Vietnam ring a bell?  Think of Nicaraguans as the Vietnamese of Latin American...  shunned because of poverty, looked down upon because of their provincial, backward ways and their insignificant little country that has never produced anything of any renown, yet fiercely loyal, close-knit, family-oriented, proud and pissed-off.  If you go down to Nicaragua with an arrogant Gringo attitude and get into a Nicaraguan's face, and you have DEEPLY done something to offend him or her, don't be surprised if the next time your family see's you it'll be at your funeral.  Assaults, kidnapping, street violence all happens even in braod daylight, but as a traveler just TRAVELING here are the hints and tips I can give you:

1.  Don't EVER flash anything valuable around, NOTHING WHATSOEVER.  That includes a watch, camera, IPOD, any kind of electronic device, jewelry, wallet, etc. Just look inconspicuous as possible and you should be fine.  Sometimes I wonder if the Americans who dress like bums down there do it cos they don't wnat their valuables stolen, but it's a general rule for any coutnry, I guess.

2.  RESPECT the local rules.  Don't act too boorish, rude, offensive, be cordial, geinal, nice and corteous to everybody you meet.  They'll have a better opinion of you in general cos Americans in general are seen as repugnant and extremely arrogant, the only thing that stops a Nicaraguan from knocking an American's head off is the simple fact that he's an American and that implies power, status, recognition, etc.  Otherwise...

3.  TRY to NEVER go anywhere alone.  Always go with someone.  The chances of ANYBODY getting mugged in Nicaragua are extremely high. no matter what anybody here tells you.  If you can read Spanish and bother to read local newspapers or turn on La Nuevo Radio YA! or another radio station there's always reports of some sort of violence going on, someone got hurt or beat up or robbed or something, try to go out with at least another person, or 3 or 4...

4.  Don't ever get into a taxi alone.  Most of the taxi drivers are crooked and will not only try to overcharge you for the ride, some may rob you, mug you or worse.  ALWAYS call a taxi from your hotel or hostel and always go through a reputable, certified taxi service, the taxi drivers on the streets are justt too risky to flag down most of the time.

5. Be VERY careful when you go out at night.  Managua is very, very much alive at night as are most of the other cities but since Managua is the capital and has an active nightlife it's easy to get caught up in the boozing, womanzing, partying, etc.  The same things that can happen to you here can happen over there, and it's also not unusual for there to be fighting and rowdy behavior and violence in nightclubs and other places where people congregrate.  Always stay safe!

6.  Always do your shopping as early as possible, especially in places like the mercados where some of them are dark and you don't know where to turn and they seem rather ominous.  A lot of them close early and there are always pickpockets and riff-raffs around so be careful.  Always watch your wallet or purse, always.  Theives are very good at stealing things in Nicaragua, believe me!

7.  Watch what you eat, always have it cooked to U.S. standards and be sure to drink purified water or if there is no purified water avaiable heat it until it's boiling.  The water in Nicaragua usually isn't safe to drink, especially from the tap.  The Sandinistas are cleaning up Lake Managua with help from the Spanish goverment so I've heard but who REALLY wants to drink water from a lake that has been a dump for human excrement for 3 decades?  And also don't be surprised if you get sick the with a very painful stomachache when you first eat the food down there, again... there aren't ALWAYS the same health standards in every nation, if you know what I mean.

8.  Try not to do ANYTHING in Nicaragua that will make you get seen by a physician.  The medical care there SUCKS BEYOND BELIEF, you don't want to see a surgeon down there, believe me!  So if you go surfing, jungle exploring, hiking, whatever read as many manuals and handbooks you can find on the country, there are animals, diseases, plants and other things in Nicaragua found nowhere else in the world and since it's not an oft-explored place most of the data is scant or non-existent at best.  Try to stay safe in your physical activities, including sexual activities or anything else.  Nicaragua has the lowest AIDS rate in Central America but has been rising for a while now.  It's still 100 times safer to engage in sexual actiivity in Nicaragua than in Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador combined but always use protection ( I don't have to tell you that one but had to throw it in there ).

9.     If you suspect someone is trying to shake you down like some of the other reports here, use common sense.  Just use basic survival instincts when it comes to your passport and important documents like that, never hand them over to ANYBODY unless you are certain they are legimately employed by the government, and even then most of the people employed in the government are corrupt and will usually take a bribe to stop harassing you and if you don't pay up it could get ugly.  There's always ways of getting out of things but just assess the situation and always act on your best instincts.  Several times I have been there I have been in cars where the police has stopped the driver, never with foreigners but it's the same thing everywhere:  Money. 

10.  This one is purely for you college types, but take a look around you when you are there.  Police on every streetcorner with walkie-talkies and armed with semi-automatic weapons, Net cafes with cameras, phones with survaillance devices, the party hacks on the state-run government news channels shouting " Death To America ! ", Iranians, Venezuelans, Cubans, North Koreans, Russians, and a lot of other people you have never seen in your life around you... just remember Nicaragua has gone back to the it's old U.S.S.R. ways, even though it says it hasn't.  Stay safe, people.

     I hope you enjoy everything Nicaragua has to offer, the food is especially good.  Try the nacatamales, vaho, vigoron, cacao, pinole, horchata, pataya, tiste, sopa de pescado, and some of the exotic animals like iguana, armadillo, and garrabo if they're available.  If you ARE going to live there for while and can find an exotic pet consider buying it, those are getting hard to find now but it's going to be very expensive to export back to the U.S.  If you need something shipped always use a trusted U.S. or private carrier, the Aduana ( Customs Office ) officials like to rummage and search for valuables in some rather tantalizing-looking packages from time to time.  And that's about it!


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