Wanna Get Away?


“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.” — Al Gore

Isn’t that the truth? Purchasing airline tickets is a complicated digital-aged process. Adding the hours I search for the best routes and the lowest prices for airline tickets online, it totals 200 hours a year. That is over 8 days of searching for airline tickets!

Yes, we travel a lot! So, I thought I would give you some helpful ideas of where and how I buy our round-trip tickets from Nicaragua. I love Google Flights because it gives me more information than other travel search sites.

1. Find the cheapest months to fly. 

In Google Flights, it is a breeze. Choose your location and destination and then select “flexible dates.”

Below is a flight from Managua to Los Angeles using a random date.
Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 8.15.29 PMAnd flexible dates from Liberia, Costa Rica to Los Angeles.
Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 8.16.16 PMSo far, it looks like Managua has the cheaper flights to Los Angeles than from Liberia, Costa Rica. But, wait!

2. Choose an outbound flight to check the best flights according to the time of departure and the length of the flight. 
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Somali Refugees: A Burden No One Wants to Share


While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives. ~ Antonio Guterres

I’m back! Back from a long journey in which I learned the art of letting go. But, before I write about what I learned from those experiences, I will start at the beginning of our journey.  We used to fly out of Managua because the tickets were cheaper to the states, but now Liberia, Costa Rica beats the airline price from Managua by at least $400 for each round-trip ticket for our route.

We packed light knowing that we would return with many supplies and books for my children’s library. Leaving Nicaragua at the border was easy. We simply showed our residency cards, paid 200 cords apiece to leave and walked to the Costa Rica side of the border.

The closer we got to the Costa Rica immigration office, the more armed and shielded police we saw. What was going on? We knew the Cuban refugees who had been detained at the border were gone. Overturned garbage barrels, trash littering the streets, and stray dogs running with bits of garbage treats they scavenged reminded me of a scene out of Mad Max Thunderdome.

IMG_1795At the Costa Immigration office, we were the last ones to have our passports stamped. I thought it was strange because there are usually long lines at the border. The officers appeared to be distracted and they never asked us for proof of leaving the country, so we gathered our luggage and started to walk out the door to catch the bus to Liberia.

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Wet Foot, Dry Foot: Cuban Refugees Halted at Nicaraguan Border


“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” ― Carlos Fuentes

 

Standoff at the border. Álvaro Sánchez/The Tico Times

Standoff at the border.
Álvaro Sánchez/The Tico Times

The scene at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border this past weekend is reminiscent of a Syrian refugee camp, but on a much smaller scale with about 2,000 Cuban refugees who are walking to the U.S. hoping for permanent residency.

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An Unseasoned Ground Surfer


I am unseasoned when it comes to earthquakes, but on Wednesday, September 5, at 8:40 am, I encountered my first ground surfing experience due to a 7.6 magnitude earthquake off the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. I felt awkwardly inexperienced, while watching my neighbors calmly balance their babies and young children in their arms, waiting patiently for the deep waves of the temblor to pass. I stood ..uneasily.. in awe of these expert ground surfers, for they have experienced many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on Ometepe Island.

Unfettered by the newness of the experience, I was eager to explore and share my feelings about the earthquake. I wondered what kind of Teutonic plate collision was the cause of my uneasiness. I wondered why I still had an eerie feeling of a loss of equilibrium 30 minutes after the 20 second quake; I wondered if it would happen again.

I found an interesting article by geoscientists, who retold the story of one man’s experience during the 1950 Nicoya Peninsula earthquake.

The sky dawned dark and cloudy on the morning of October 5, 1950. It was rainy season along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. In scattered coastal villages, farmers and ranchers gathered along the shoreline waiting for the cargo launch to arrive from the port city of Puntarenas. Their ox-carts were full of freshly harvested corn, ready for shipment to the mainland. Near the village of Garza, Don Daniel Ruíz Matarita was riding on horseback along the beach with several other men. The horses were skittish, and the nearby rainforest echoed with the roar of nervous howler monkeys. Suddenly, without warning, the ground heaved violently, trees and branches toppled over, and the beach exploded with geysers of water and sand. “Earthquake! We’re done for!” shouted one of the men. Their horses bolted in terror, throwing the riders to the ground. Huge chunks of rock toppled off of nearby cliffs, crashing into the water with a tremendous splash. Certain they were doomed, the men prayed for salvation. When the great earthquake finally subsided, Don Daniel and his companions were amazed and thankful to be alive. As they stood up and looked around, they saw that the ocean curiously had withdrawn from the bay, leaving a wide expanse of barren rocks, seaweed, and flopping fish. Seizing the moment, the men snatched up handfuls of sea bass, content at least that their bellies would be full in this time of disaster. In the days following the earthquake, Don Daniel recalls that the sea did not return as they had expected. He heard stories from others that the same thing had happened all along the central Nicoya coast. Don Daniel remembers one place where the drop in sea level was particularly obvious, a rocky headland known to local fisherman as “La Raspa Nalgas” (The Butt Scratcher). Prior to the earthquake, it had been impossible to get around this rocky point on foot, as it was under water at even the lowest tides. But, after the quake one could walk around the headland without entering the water, indicating a drop in tidal levels near a grown man’s height. Don Daniel recalls that it took nearly four decades for the ocean to reclaim its former level, quickly during the first few years, then slowly thereafter. High tides now reach further inland in many places than they did before the 1950 earthquake. (Marshall, 1991)

The Pacific coastline off the Nicoya Peninsula, September 5, 2012.

Just like the 1950 earthquake, the tide rolled out and the beaches were expanded by at least 30 meters. Maybe the man in the photo is gathering the flopping fish for his dinner.

In my search for the type of earthquake which caused my uneasiness, I encountered many new terms such as: subduction Megathrust, subduction trench, tsunami generating earthquake, and sudden geomorphic changes.

The Nicoya Peninsula is unique because it is one of the few landmasses along the Pacific Rim located directly above the seismogenic zone of a subduction megathrust. Due to its proximity to the subduction trench, the Nicoya Peninsula is particularly sensitive to vertical movements related to the earthquake cycle. (Marshall,J., Cal Poly Pamona University, 1991)

Can someone explain in laymen terms what this means?

Illustration: U.S. Geological Survey

Since I am a visual learner, this simple illustration  explains how the subduction trench (area where the plates are stuck together) ruptures when one plate slides over the other ( a Megathrust), releasing pent-up energy, and causing major expansions of beaches and tsunamis ( sudden geomorphic changes). Simple, right? There were several tsunami watches broadcast, but they were canceled later that day.

Now that I understand the dynamics of a Megathrust earthquake, I am still curious about the feeling I experienced..that of a loss of equilibrium and a minor balance disorder. Standing outside our house for the 20 second duration..which, by the way felt like 20 minutes, I felt a deep wave rolling beneath my feet. I spread my legs apart to gain a sense of balance. I was slightly nauseated and dizzy. This was ground surfing in all its horrific glory. I wasn’t afraid, only disoriented and awed by the power of the swaying ground waves rolling gently below me at a depth of 23 ft. Why did this annoying dizziness continue for about 30 minutes after the quake?

Even we humans are affected with disorientation, giddiness, nausea, uneasiness and feelings of impending calamity prior to and during a quake. Scientists suggest that this is the result of human sensitivity to ground waves, and to electrostatic effects  (including the Serotonin Irritation Syndrome or Serotonin Hyperproduction Syndrome) and electromagnetic forces. In other words, observations have shown that we humans are sensitive to the Earth’s nervous system impulses, too.( Pasichnyk, R. M., http://www.livingcosmos.com/earthquakes.htm)

So, I discovered there is a name for my weird feelings, a syndrome! Some reports indicate that people have an aura before another earthquake…a feeling of unease, a little nausea, and dizziness. I awoke this morning, two days after the earthquake, with these same symptoms. Maybe I’m answering my third question…Will it happen again? There is a “green alert” issued for Nicaragua today. See report here: Green Alert

I’m not sure exactly what a “green alert” means, but if my wooziness is any indication, I may have become a more experienced and seasoned ground surfer. Expect the unexpected….I’m moving my fragile treasures to the floor.

Important update to the Green Alert: I knew it wasn’t my imagination!  Nicaragua’s Capital Prepares for Major Earthquake

Crossing Borders


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I’m tired of being a perpetual tourist! Without residency, we must renew our visas every 90 days, which means crisscrossing imaginary lines, waiting patiently in long lines (only to have people shove in front of us because they bribed an official), and providing a fake round trip airline ticket to prove that we will not stay in Costa Rica forever. We have no intentions of staying in Costa Rica forever. First, it is expensive! Prices for everything are comparable to the states. Second, in my humble opinion, the Ticos are so accustomed to rude tourists, that they return the rudeness in triplicate.

Our days of crossing borders are almost over. At least I think so. But, one never knows in Nicaragua. The rules change daily. The Immigration official visited our house last Monday to check our documents for residency. Until our residency is approved, we cross borders and zigzag across imaginary lines, where passports are stamped, bribes are received, and AK 47s are prevalent.

We’ve crossed many borders in our travels. They are all the same in my eyes…dirty places filled with annoying beggars with a screw you attitude and victim mentality. Any type of help requires a hefty fee. I was accosted by teenagers shoving the immigration form in my face as soon as we entered the arena, like a scene out of the “Hunger Games.” When I politely declined, (because the forms are free at the custom window), I was called “pinche” (cheap), which if you know me, I consider a great insult!

Clenching my passport tightly, we prepared for the next onslaught at the Nicaraguan custom window. I smiled politely, filled out my form, and as I slipped it through the plexiglass slot, I felt someone tugging at my sleeve. “Dame moonie,” an old woman  demanded. (Give me money) I tried to ignore her, but she persisted in tugging at my sleeve. When I turned around and gave her the finger wag for “NO”, she indignantly stomped away.

I detest the begging mentality! Bluffing and smirking have become forms of pressure exerted by beggars at every border, bus stop, and crossroad throughout the world. I swear they take classes in begging techniques, trying to outdo one another. Women approach benevolent looking people by exploiting the looks of innocent children under the age of five, toothless old men with tattered clothes hobble around on one wooden crutch, and insolent teenagers offer to guide fearful looking tourists through the maze of border crossings.

We avoided eye contact, pretended we didn’t understand Spanish, and walked rapidly through the maze of beggars, officials with AK 47s, and travel weary tourists to the Costa Rican border. The heat of the day engulfed us. We were drenched in sweat. I wondered how the hoards of backpackers lugging surf boards and 50 lb packs survived the long walk to the Costa Rican border. I wondered what that horrible stuff was they were spraying on the trucks as they passed through a large truck wash contraption. I was nauseated from the fumes of the spray.  How do older tourists ( like us), lug large suitcases almost a quarter of a mile to the border? My flip-flop blew out and I got a cramp in my toe that caused excruciating pain. I was dehydrated. I’d make a fine beggar at this point in my border crossing experience!

We were stopped several times at passport checks and offered same day entrance and exit stamps for a sum of $25. We graciously declined because we like going to Liberia, CR for an evening of air-conditioned luxury. We knew, after countless border crossings, that the rule is 72 hours before returning to Nicaragua. We also knew, after countless border crossings, that rules are made to be broken for a price.

At the Costa Rica custom’s office, we waited impatiently in another long line. I knew from previous experience that the custom officials in Costa Rica may ask to see a round-trip ticket either back to Nicaragua or back to the country of origin. Since most tourists don’t carry their return tickets with them, it’s another way for custom officials to collect money, since they don’t charge an entrance or exit fee in Costa Rica. The guy in front of us didn’t have a return ticket, so he had to go outside and buy a fake TICA bus ticket for $25 that he probably could never use.

I was prepared with my fake airline ticket. I just copied and pasted an old airline reservation into a Word document, changed the dates, and printed the reservation form. The custom’s agent asked to see our return ticket. I proudly handed her our fake ticket, our passports were stamped and we were on our merry way to Liberia, home of our favorite restaurant, a McDonald’s mocha frappe, and air-conditioned luxury.

Expect the unexpected! In Liberia, our favorite hotel was full, our favorite restaurant closed about a month ago, and McDonald’s stopped selling mocha frappes. We ended up paying $70 for a hotel with a pool and air-conditioning. It was a disappointing trip. My only purchase was a new pair of flip-flops at a huge dollar store because all prices were comparable to the states, maybe even a little more expensive. A bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo cost $6. I used the bar of hand soap in the hotel to wash my hair. I felt like Ayala, of the “Clan of the Cave Bears.”

The reason that you are not seeing a slideshow of the border crossing is because I was afraid to take pictures. Once in the Tokyo International Airport, I whipped out my camera while standing in the custom’s line and was reprimanded by a Japanese police officer. I can’t imagine what would have happened at the Nica/CR border. I suspect they wouldn’t be as polite. Not wanting to end up in prison or have my camera confiscated, I only took pictures of the bus ride back from Liberia.

At the 6 KM marker, long lines of trucks were parked and waiting to cross the border. Truck drivers were napping in hammocks strung under their trucks, barbecuing, and peeing along the side of the road. I heard that they wait days to cross the border with their trucks. Don’t they run out of gas? We passed many air-conditioned trucks that needed to keep their produce cool. How do they stand it? It must have been over 100 degrees in the shade. They wait days?

Finally, an hour and a half later, we reached the border and did everything again, only in reverse order. I hope our days are numbered for the border crossing. I’m getting too old for this! But, then again, you never know..rules change daily…people continue to cross imaginary lines…bribes are received…and beggars accost benevolent looking tourists standing in long, tiring lines. It’s what makes the world go round..and round…and round. Sometimes, I think many of our problems could be avoided if we lived in a borderless world! Don’t you agree?