That Nicaragua was going to live up to its tagline (Nicaragua - Unique...Original) was clear as soon as we got to the airport in Managua.
First, everything was spotlessly clean, even the bathrooms which were supplied with ample quantities of toilet paper, not a given in Latin America. Granted, we still had to throw toilet paper in a garbage can rather than flushing it, but some things never change.
Second, the people were so quiet and polite. Rowan and I were supposed to be met by a driver from our hotel, Camino Real, but I expected to be bombarded by taxi drivers as we always had been in Mexico and Peru. They were there, but their cries of "Taxi! You need a taxi?" were calmer and quieter than I was used to, and as soon as I shook my head and said, "No, gracias," they immediately left us alone. Thankfully, our shuttle van was there so I didn't have to try to negotiate a cab ride in Spanish after 18 hours of traveling (not counting the drive to Anchorage).
Why Nicaragua? You may ask, but I can't really give you a good reason. I realized last fall that Rowan was going to have a two-week spring break this year. She's done some traveling and I've done some traveling, but we've never really gotten to do any together. I'd been hoping to arrange a trip together before she got any older and too busy to take the time to explore the world with me. Anyway...two-week break. I started checking tour schedules. I knew she wouldn't like a bike-only tour, so that left out WomanTours and Adventure Cycling. I was impressed by Adventures in Good Company when I went with them to Peru (my posts for that trip are here), so they were my first choice when I started looking. It just so happened that they had a multi-sport tour (enough different things to do to keep Rowan interested) in Nicaragua which had perfect timing. My next stop was Travelocity to check on flights. Holy crap, I could get tickets from Anchorage to Managua and back for just $539 each! That sure made the decision simpler. I immediately sent off deposits and bought tickets.
The most common reactions I got when I said we were going to Nicaragua were "why?" with a skeptical look (this mostly from people who remembered the Sandinistas and Contras from the 1980s) and "where is Nicaragua?" I have to say I was more than a little appalled that the latter question came from more than one person - geography teachers somewhere need to be spanked. Anyway, to clear up the situation, here's a map I stole from the internet:
Nicaragua is in Central America between Honduras and Costa Rica. We were on the Pacific Ocean (western) side of the country during our trip. We flew into the capital city, Managua, on March 11, 2016, and stayed there for two nights. More geography lessons on Nicaragua will be forthcoming.
With regards to the skeptical question of "why" with its implied "is it safe," I was confident that AGC wouldn't schedule trips anywhere even remotely sketchy, and I'd talked to a few people who'd traveled there on their own in recent years. I checked out the CDC website to make sure Rowan and I got all the recommended vaccinations (Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, malaria), and we took lots of bug spray since there's no vaccine for the Zika virus. As always, I did some reading first, although not as much as normal. I wasn't really interested in the civil war between Samosa and the Sandinistas, and I wasn't able to find any books on the indigenous people, older history, natural history, etc. What I found, however, indicated that Nicaragua was currently safer than many of the other Central and South American countries. It seems to be becoming the place to go if you think Costa Rica has become too "Americanized."
Rowan and I planned our first day perfectly. That is to say, we planned nothing at all. Our hotel had a restaurant and pool, and we didn't need to meet up with our group until 6:00 in the evening. We figured after a full day of traveling, some time to unwind would be needed. As it turned out, our AGC guide, Anne, and three or four of the other women were already at the hotel, so we hung out with them while we relaxed in the sun. Honestly, the most exciting thing that happened that day was that my iPad overheated. I left it lying in the sun while I swam for a bit, and when I went to resume reading No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley all I got was the message "Your iPad must cool down before you can use it" under a big red thermometer. I took that as my sign to retire to a shady area for lunch and a Corona with lime. I think it took nearly an hour for it too cool down enough, and for that I had to take it out of its case.
There were 11 adventurers in our group. (I can't quite figure out what to call us. Clients or customers seems too cold and impersonal, but we weren't really guests, either, since we were all paying for the trip. Whatever. I think I'll just use guests from here on out if I need a term.) To keep us on the straight and narrow were the aforementioned Anne, our AGC guide, and Nohelia, our Nica (short for Nicaraguan) guide. We also had Alejandro as our driver. I'm not sure if he considered himself lucky or not to be the only man, but as he didn't speak English he was spared most of our nonsense.
At 14, Rowan was the youngest person to ever travel with AGC. I think they may have been a bit apprehensive at first, but she acquitted her generation well right from the start. There were two of us guests in our 40s, and I would guess the rest ranged from early 50s to late 60s. I find my ability to judge others' ages waxes and wanes as I get older. It doesn't really matter. Everyone was great fun and from the first evening it was clear we'd all get along just fine over the next nine days. Goofball senses of humor and intense curiosity about the world abounded. My kind of people!