Travel Apps, Maps, and More Bang for Your Travel Bucks


Nothing is ever called Welcome back without a Journey. If you desire to get results, you work it out, rather than hoping and wishing. Hope you understand this my friend.

Travel has always been our passion. Now that we are temporarily homeless due to unforeseen circumstances in Nicaragua, we are planning a six month journey to tropical countries. Although, we have been to Panama, Colombia, and Mexico, we are returning to visit places we haven’t seen before and do a short week of house sitting for friends in Colombia. The Dominican Republic will be a new country for us on this trip.

While waiting for Ron to have surgery ( nothing is ever quick in the U.S.) I planned our trip. Now, that his surgery is over and has been very successful, we are off on another adventure for November-May. Since I am obsessive about staying within our budget, I want to share some travel apps, tips, maps, and other services that have saved me money and time in planning and traveling.

I. Google Flights

I booked six flights using Google Flights. I really appreciate that I can find the cheapest dates to fly using the price calendar and the price graphs. I can track the price of the flights and book when the price is lowest. Also, there are certain airlines I won’t fly and I can check the airlines that I use often. I know you are wondering which airlines I won’t fly, right? American Airlines for their poor customer service and Spirit Airlines are the top two I avoid. Southwest Airlines and AeroMexico, which we fly often, are not listed in Google Flights, so I have to go to their airline websites to find comparable prices. And I have been so pleased with Delta, that I often send them a tweet saying how much I appreciate their service!
Since we are flying internationally, most of our flights are one-way, from one country to another. Most airlines now require proof of exiting the country on a one-way ticket, so I had to book every flight and keep the confirmations in a separate folder in my email so that I can prove we are leaving Panama, or Colombia, or the Dominican Republic. Our Southwest tickets are round trip, to Mexico from the states, so I don’t need proof of returning to the U.S. for that ticket.

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Reverse Culture Shock


“When you travel overseas, the locals see you as a foreigner, and when you return, you see the locals as foreigners.”
Robert Black

“Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a several years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.”

I wouldn’t say I am distressed, but it certainly is different from life on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

You know you have reverse culture shock when…

1. There are an overwhelming number of choices

I am lost and bewildered when I enter a grocery store. Yesterday, I stood in front of the canned baked beans and cried…10 different types of baked beans? In Nicaragua, it was always fun to shop; I never knew what unexpected treasure hidden among the shelves I would find. Dill pickles, pretzels, and dark chocolate were treats. Now, with too many choices, it is more of a frustrating experience.

2. The leaves change color!

Oh how I love fall! In Nicaragua the leaves crumble and fall off the trees without changing colors. The gorgeous displays of the Maple leaves are eye-popping.

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Part Two: Collective Mentality


“From one dog all the dogs bark.”
Marty Rubin

 

Please read Part One: Opposition or Enemy first. I believe it will help you to understand my train of thoughts as I venture into the twilight zone in Part Two.

After six long hours in the brutal heat, the line was moving again. This time, I noticed people depositing their lawn chairs on the side of the road, or carrying them back to their cars. Earlier in the day, Ron went dumpster diving and returned to the line with his treasure…a lawn chair! It now dawned on me why people were leaving their lawn chairs behind. The doors had opened into Freedom Hall and lawn chairs were not permitted inside.

The crowd was subdued and we were all anxious to get a reprieve from the heat. The air-conditioned building was only a few steps away! As we stood in line to have our belongings inspected and pass through the metal detectors, a large screen flashed images of the 2016 election results, along with the faces of Hillary, Pelosi, and President Obama.

Then, the collective chanting began…”Lock her up! Lock her up!”

I laughed to myself. The election was over. Trump is the POTUS. “Lock her up for what?” I asked myself.

People were chatting about fake news, and laughing about a protester in a wheel chair who was allegedly arrested by the police because she dissented outside of the assigned protest area. “She can walk,” one Trump supporter said. “Yeah,” responded the chanters. “She can walk. She can walk.”

There was an announcement over a loud-speaker. If a protester was spotted in the protected area, people were to point at them and yell Trump, Trump, Trump and the police would come and remove them.

I looked around suspiciously. Did anyone suspect that we were the opposition? Did we stand out among a sea of red MAGA hats, Trump 2020 t-shirts, and Finish the Wall signs? Would people yell Trump, Trump, Trump and point their fingers in our direction?

I began to feel tinges of uneasiness, but I brushed them off as silly. How did our friendly line neighbors feel about us? They offered us pizza! They offered to drive me to a bathroom so we wouldn’t lose our parking space! They lent me an umbrella to protect me from the harsh sun!

“Silliness!” I reassured myself!

Yet, the large screen kept flashing propaganda, inciting the crowd, encouraging them to mob together in a collective mentality of anger, revenge, and an ‘us against them’ mindset.

We passed through the check point and metal detector. The security officer inspected everything in my backpack… my camera was taken apart and all my credit cards were removed from my wallet and inspected individually. When he pulled out the large plastic bag at the bottom of my pack he asked, “Why do you have a plastic garbage bag?”

Wisely, I knew not to make any wise cracks, but oh! there were so many answers I had on the tip of my tongue. Instead, I politely responded that the grass was wet, and I used the plastic bag to sit on.

The capacity of Freedom Hall is 8,500 people. We ordered our tickets a week in advance and I had my phone ready for them to scan our tickets. Surprisingly, no one asked us to show our tickets or IDs. Nothing! We were told to go to the sections behind the podium and find seats. The problem with that was that we had been in the hot sun for six hours waiting to see POTUS and the seats were behind Trump. I wanted to see him from the front of the podium.

We found another section closer to the front and convinced the aisle attendant that we were told to sit in this section. Later, we realized that they wanted the seats packed behind POTUS, if there were empty seats in the auditorium.

It was fascinating to watch the crowds file to their seats, the technicians line up the cameras, journalists perfect their commentary, and the Secret Service and local police inspect every detail to insure the safety of everyone.

A wave began! Ron joined in the fun, while I prepared my camera. The crowd was enthusiastic and Freedom Hall was at capacity. I expected the venue to be packed. We live in a very red state.

Yet, when Trump arrived, the dynamics of the rally changed. At first, we were excited to see POTUS. We respectfully clapped and stood when he entered the arena. Up to this point we were feeling comfortable. We had nothing to hide. We never felt like we were enemies. We were here to be a part of history. No agenda, no fear!

Trump was feeding off the energy of the crowd. Maggie Koerth-Baker pointed this out in a fascinating piece at FiveThirtyEight. “The technical term is “emotional contagion,” the same kind of effect that occurs at big football games, comedy clubs, and political rallies.”

I never considered the difference between individual and collective mentalities. But, she makes some interesting points in describing what we perceived at the rally. People tend to mimic the behavior of the group. Ron described it as a mob psychology. In the late 19th century, an anthropologist named Gustave LeBon came up with the idea that “being part of a crowd turned civilized people into barbarians.”

Trump used the Johnson City rally to attack three potential Democratic rivals in the 2020 presidential election. “They got some real beauties going,” Trump said of the potential Democratic field. He criticized Cory Booker, called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”, then went after the former vice president, describing him as “1 percent Biden” until former President Barack Obama “took him off the trash heap.”

He defended Kavanaugh and asked us to pray for his family. I questioned his lack of empathy and understanding for all the victims of sexual abuse and Dr. Ford’s heart wrenching testimony.  Why not pray for them, too? Is praying polarized now, too?

The crowd roared. They booed at the mention of the word Democrats. They chanted “Lock her up!” “Build that Wall!” For me, it was a horrifying display of a crowd gone mad.

Do people lose their will, control, and ability to reason when they become part of a crowd? Have my new friends in our six-hour line lost their minds, too? What about my friend who is an avid Trump supporter? She arrived at 6 am to be sure she and her husband got front row seats in the rally. Was she chanting and booing? Does she think I am the enemy?

“People don’t lose control, but they begin to act with collective values,” says Stephen David Reicher, a sociologist and psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has studied violence among modern-day soccer hooligans, race rioters, and, this year, Trump supporters. “It’s not your individual fate that becomes important, but the fate of the group.”

That sense of collective identity describes why the crowds were subdued while standing in line. Until Trump incited the collective mentality of hatred, intolerance, and division, the people we met were polite, respectful, and friendly. He is a master of manipulation and deceit.

When Trump said, “The Democrats are the party of crime” that was the last straw. I shook with anger and an overwhelmingly profound sadness for our country. We left the rally with a sense of hopelessness and fear for the direction our country is headed.

The Trump rally taught me a lot about relationships. Individually, we can be kind and helpful  to each other as long as we don’t broach the topic of politics. I don’t know if we will ever to be able to talk politics with our friends. Trump has polarized us. The United States has become a place with a sense of fear and anger…fear that what we value will be taken away. Trump incites this fear at his rallies. He shouts that what we value is under threat and will be taken away, that in order to make America great we need to exclude those who threaten our values. Anyone who opposes him becomes the enemy.

His rhetoric amplifies the collective mentality. In their eyes, I am now the enemy, one to be shunned and feared because my beliefs and values do not sync with the crowd. For me, it is a dangerous path to go down. I see no light at the end.

Finally, I have never been to a Democrat Rally. We wonder if we will see the same division and hatred. Probably so! The world is mad! Character assassinations exist on both sides. It truly saddens and repels me. We should all be insulted by politics and lousy corrupt politicians with vested interests. I ache for my country!

Part three is my interview with my friend who is an avid Trump supporter. She has graciously allowed me to ask questions about her perception of the Trump Rally. I trust her and she trusts me. I told her I would not use her name, but I want her honest opinions and I know she will help me understand how we can begin to heal our divisions.

 

 

Part One: Opposition or Enemy?


“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” ~Harry S. Truman

The cover of the New Yorker

Ron and I attended the Trump Rally yesterday. We went with an open mind, excited to be a part of history because the last president to have a rally in Johnson City, TN was Gerald Ford in 1976. Friends warned us to be vigilant and very careful because we would be surrounded by very dangerous people in a rabid crowd.

Now, I can understand the fear if we were planning on diving with sharks or jumping into a lion’s cage…but we are talking about fellow citizens…human beings who share the same wants and needs. Surely, we can find common ground. We weren’t going as protesters, only as silent observers of human nature. As recent evacuees from Nicaragua, we were curious to see how democracy worked…or didn’t work in the states.

One of my biggest dilemmas was what to wear. I couldn’t don a MAGA ensemble…that seemed hypocritical. I was the opposition. I wanted to go incognito…diversified in my thoughts. So, I dressed as a New Zealand Kiwi. It seemed fitting because we were in New Zealand during the 2016 election.


We weren’t sure what time to arrive. The doors opened at 4pm, but in talking with some of my friends who planned to attend, they recommended lining up early in the morning. We showed up at 10 am and estimated that there were about 500 people lined up ahead of us. I knew there would be a huge turnout because we live in a very red state. Better to be prepared with water, lunch, and a blanket to survive the brutally hot day.

My plans were to write hourly updates on Facebook with our impressions throughout the day. My first update taught me a lesson. If I am to be a casual open-mined observer, I cannot be offensive. Everyone knows how I feel, but if I resort to name calling then I am as bad as others. I apologized to my friends whom I offended, restricted them on Facebook until my updates were over ( if I had a lapse of civility again! ) and moved on. Believe me, it wasn’t easy but, from now on, I will refer to him as POTUS.

We talked and joked with our line neighbors. Surface conversations, as I call them. They never expressed their political opinions to us, nor did we divulge that we weren’t Republicans. My biggest concern at the time was the lack of portapotties! Our line neighbors to the left of us sympathized with me, although they were all men. They even offered to have a friend drive by and take me to a gas station so we wouldn’t lose our parking space when I had the urge to go.

It was a carnival-like atmosphere. The line moved sporadically and slowly throughout the day and inched closer to Freedom Hall. Just when we were settled into a routine of playing cards, watching games of corn-hole, or taking turns seeking shade under a tree, the line would move again disrupting our entertainment.

No one suspected that we were the opposition. A guy walked passed us with a Democrat sniffing dog, or so he said. To be on the safe side and not expose our cover, I was ready to distract the dog with my ham sandwich.

Another guy selling bibles lamented that he couldn’t sell any bibles because all the Trump supporters had them. One curious thing we noticed was that the street vendors touting their wares up and down the lines were people of color…the only people of color that I could see at the rally. It was not a diversified crowd.

It was difficult to be nonjudgmental. I suspect it is human nature to judge, however, I was determined not to generalize or offend anyone in any way. I had my lapses…don’t we all? This one in particular. This is a horrible generalization I made. There are so many things wrong with my statement. Once again, I apologized for my indiscretion. Unfortunately, it was too late because I didn’t put all my Trump supporting friends on my restricted list on Facebook and I lost several after this statement.

The point I am trying to make in Part One of my post is that I am human. I have lapses in judgment, I say offensive things occasionally, and I regret my inability to hold my tongue, instead lashing out in anger, while mocking those who have different opinions and a different viewpoint in life. There is a fine line of balance I tread in these times of political division…words do matter! Don’t misunderstand me…I am not saying to be silent. Instead choose words carefully…think before reacting…understand the fears we all experience at times in our lives…and be respectful regardless of different political viewpoints. It is hard! I know! But, if we are to begin to understand others, we must take an introspective and realistic look within ourselves first.

Generally speaking, the people around us in line all day were helpful, friendly, and respectful. One man offered me his umbrella when the sun overwhelmed me. A woman had pizza delivered and offered everyone in line near her some pizza. We didn’t discuss politics, but I wonder what they would have said if I offered my opinions respectfully.

I.Am.Human!

If there is one thing I have learned about today, it is that without political division instigated by the media and POTUS working people into a hateful frenzy, I believe we would be kinder and gentler with one another.

Those were my thoughts and feelings throughout the day…until we entered Freedom Hall. Then, I felt like I entered the twilight zone of a mob raging with anger and hatred. What happened to these kind and helpful people? Had I become the enemy?

…my thoughts in Part Two

 

 

 

 

Coming Home?


“There is a kind of madness about going far away and then coming back all changed.”~ Gypsytoes

Madness describes my feelings about returning home. I haven’t written on my blog for months because what can I say that hasn’t already been said before? With mixed emotions we left Nicaragua mid July. I don’t want to go into all the gritty details of the move. Instead, I want to try to explain the emotional turmoil I have felt since returning home.

Where is home? We have no idea. People say that home is where the heart is, yet my heart is broken for Nicaragua and for the United States, thus I can’t honestly say I am anywhere close to home at this point in my life. The week we arrived, we bought a car and drove to Canada. 5,200 miles later, we have returned to our rented house in the states where we have a little bedroom. Thank goodness we didn’t burn any bridges and our good friends who rent our house feel comfortable letting us stay for a while.

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Not my Circus! Not My Monkeys!


I wrote this blog post a year ago, long before all the problems in Nicaragua. It took a revolution to spur us into action. I have many stories to tell, some very sad, others encouraging and inspiring. Stay tuned. Big changes are in the works for us!

Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua

I watched the talking heads on CNN the other night and suddenly realized that I was screaming at the TV, “Not my circus! Not my monkeys!”  When my anxiety decreased, I became aware that these two simple phrases have a lot of meaning in my life lately. Then, I burst out laughing.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines of the Andes Mountains


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Lines

“Nature creates curved lines, while humans create straight lines.” ~Hideki Yukawa

In Mendoza, Argentina, we followed straight manmade lines along the road which wove into the Andes Mountains. We headed to the boundary of Chile and Argentina, 4000 meters high.

Erosion carved wiggly grooves and furrows into the rocks.


Scored
into the rock, bands of rock like fences reminded me of demarcation lines.
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The Nicaraguan Evolution Continues: Basta Ya!


“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

63 dead, 15 still missing, many injured
I’ve written regular updates to my family and friends on Facebook and others have asked me to share them. So, below, I share my personal reflections on what is happening in Nicaragua.


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Francisco’s Plight


“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy

 

This is Francisco Flores and his family. Francisco has been my taxi driver in Nicaragua for over a decade. But, he is more than our taxi driver, he and his family are our dear friends. I am acting to improve his lot in life after an unfortunate accident that occurred last Monday in Jinotepe, Nicaragua.

A little background information on Francisco from a post I wrote in 2013.
Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua

And another post when we went with Francisco’s family to the Ballpark.
Cultural Lessons from the Ballpark. 

Last week, Francisco returned from Managua after dropping off a client. It was late at night by the time he passed through Jinotepe on his way home. Suddenly, a motorcycle came out of nowhere and there was a horrible accident.

Francisco was fortunate to walk away with no bodily damage, but the motorcycle driver lost his leg as a result of the accident. In Nicaragua, it is common practice to place both drivers in jail until lawyers resolve who is at fault. But, in this case, only Francisco was  jailed in Jinotepe.

When his family told me that the injured driver’s family was requesting $6,000 for his personal injuries, I wasn’t surprised. I know several people, locals and foreigners, who have been in jail because of accidents and they must hire a lawyer and usually have to pay exorbitant amounts to the other drivers, even if the accident wasn’t their fault.

That’s the way Nicaraguan law works. I will never be able to understand it, but I had to do something to help Francisco and his family. Francisco has a large, loving family and many foreign clients. The Rivas taxi drivers took up a collection for Francisco and said that they were expecting something like this to happen to a taxi driver sooner than later. They explained that reckless motorcycle drivers create safety hazards for their clients and drivers. I believe them and have been witness to many dangerous situations and tragic motorcycle accidents due to carelessness.

Francisco’s family collected enough money to pay for the lawyer, but they said it is almost impossible for them to collect $3,000 so that Francisco can be released from jail, and $3,000 more dollars a month after he is released.

To top it all off, his family was frantic with worry when the violent protests in Nicaragua occurred due to a reform of the Social Security and Pension law ( see my previous post ) and afraid for Francisco’s life in Jinotepe, where there had been protests and some fires.

That’s why I am asking for your support for Francisco and his family so that he can be released from jail to go back to work and support his family. Also, your donations will help to support the injured driver and his family because he cannot work.

Here is a link to my YouCare fundraiser. Two Nicaraguan Families in Crisis Need Your Help. 

Thank you so much for your support. I have $2,300 ready to be delivered to Francisco’s family. With your help we can have him released from jail soon.

Francisco’s family wants all the people who donated and shared to know that they are very grateful for your support.

 

Evolution in Nicaragua


                     “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
                       ― Rosa Luxemburg


I don’t know where to begin to tell you what has occurred in Nicaragua since last week. It is a unique experience for us. I think it may be an evolution of the Nicaraguan people. I prefer saying evolution over revolution. Evolution has never been just a scientific theory. Ever since it was first formulated by Darwin, the theory has been used to advance a variety of political projects. Although evolution is a directionless process in nature, in ethics and politics the idea of evolution is joined with the hope of improvement.

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