And The Poop Wins!

I think what might surprise people is what tourists remember of their city.  Yes, we see the pretty vistas and the beautiful buildings and the nice museums.  Then we see the real city and that is what we remember the most about your country.

Nicaragua has to be one of the dirtiest countries I have ever visited.  The trash was everywhere.  I also never once felt safe while in the country as a whole and Nicaragua is not on our list of countries we would return too.

In Panama you can walk the streets and have the person in front of you toss their trash right at your feet; to them the whole country is a trash can and someone else will clean it up.  Sadly, no one does.  Panama is a beautiful country and has things to see but cleaning the country will be a big undertaking.

Sarajaveo will long be remembered by me for its beggars and how much of a turn off it was to try to walk the streets.  I would have loved to have walked any street without being confronted by some pretty aggressive families begging for money, but that was not the case and Sarajaveo comes off my list of places I would return too.

Iquique, Chile will long be remembered by me for its charm along its waterfront and its attention to keeping families together along its beaches.  They have done an excellent job in creating a great family environment for everyone along its waterfront.  The rest of the city however is another story and the further you get from the waterfront the less safe the city streets become until you are in some neighborhoods that some gangsters might be afraid to go to.

Santiago, Chile was a real surprise.  Loved this city.  Loved its vibe, its great attractions and the streets were pretty clean as well.  Yep, this city stays on my list and I could see myself going here permanently.

Rome will always be the place where Mike got pick pocketed.  It will also be the place where we remember that we tried to tell the police more than once what happened and no one cared enough to take a crime report.  It is a shameful and disgusting way to treat tourists and we heard from residents it is pretty much the same for them so why would I ever want to return to this city.  I don’t’ and I won’t.

Torrevieja, Spain is turning into the dog poop capital of the world.  So many expats walk their dogs here and many more dog owners do not pick up the poop that their dogs leave behind.  It is a mine field out there on any given street on any given day.  You can’t look up and enjoy the scenery because you run the risk of stepping in dog poop almost immediately.  There is no block that is not covered in dog poop somewhere.  Frankly, it’s revolting.  There are campaigns and laws on the books now about dog owners being fined for allowing their dogs to poop on the streets and then not picking up that poop.  Not sure what good that does.

So while you think that your city tops the list of one of the most beautiful places on earth to live; next time look at your city as if for the first time and see what tourists might be saying about your city.  It’s not too late to fix those things that might be wrong with it; we haven’t been everywhere yet.  And when we visit we’ll be sure to let you know what we think of your city.  I mean, if I need a pooper scooper to visit your city; I don’t think I’m coming to visit.

Florence Lince

Visiting Nicaragua

Or, Never Again

When Mike said that he wanted to add the country of Nicaragua to our list of countries to explore I had my misgivings.  Turns out I was right. We toured the cities of Estelí, Cerro Negro, Granada, Leon, Masaya, Ometepe, Matagalpa and San Juan del Sur.

Upon landing in Managua the staff at the hotel wouldn’t let us leave the hotel without an escort.  We said we were only going to walk a few blocks away to the cinema and they told us that even that would not be a safe thing to do.  It was broad daylight.  That was enough for us.  We never left the hotel.

Our only picture of Managua is of the water cooler in the hotel lobby.

Our only picture of Managua is of the water cooler in the hotel lobby. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince



The following morning we were picked up for a seven day escorted tour of the country.  Our driver and our tour guide were both friendly and wonderful people.  Even they however gave us warnings about places to go and what time to be back inside our room.  Sitting in a café one day looking at one of the countries most famous beaches I remarked how empty it was.  We were then told that the water was actually polluted with sewage and locals won’t use it.  Lots of expats build expensive homes on this waterfront and I wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole.

One of the safe beaches frequented by locals

One of the safe beaches frequented by locals © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Since we were exploring Nicaragua for 21 days we had rented a car for the last 14 days of our trip.  Bus travel in Nicaragua is spotty at best so it was deemed safer by our tour operator to do our own driving.  We were also headed to some places that would have been nearly impossible to find or get to without having our own vehicle such as the coffee finca Selva Negra in Matagalpa.  Our time in Selva Negra is well documented and we wrote our first children’s book about our time there.  This truly was an oasis in the middle of a no man’s land.

We stayed for four nights in Leon using it as our base.  The wonderful women at the hostel we stayed at insisted that Mike park the rental car behind the locked gates at night (and before dark) so that it would be safe.  In Granada we watched people eating out of garbage cans because they were starving.  One of the hardest things to watch was people standing around and watching other people eating and when those people got up to leave those who were watching would swoop in before someone else got to the plate and take the uneaten food to have something to eat.

In Granada we also met an expat who married a local woman.  He said he hardly ever leaves his home because one day he dared to ride his bike outside the safety zone and he said he knew he had ridden too far that day and before he could turn around he was pounced on and they took his bike, his camera and his pride.  They hurt him only a little bit.  He said he will never do it again.

We watched in first fascination and then in horror as people would do tricks or cartwheels or other dangerous routines at red lights.  While people were waiting for the lights to change those desperate for money would do something to earn a coin or two.  And then of course there were those who would blatantly walk up to your car windshield to wash it to earn money.  These people are at every street corner and to get them to stop you simply turn your windshield wipers on and they go away.

Sound harsh to you?  Three weeks of people begging for money, of seeing the filth and trash thrown in the streets and the constant car horn honking will turn even the most civilized person into a hardened tourist.  I asked Mike to get me out of Nicaragua.

The people we met and dealt with at hotels and restaurants were warm and friendly.  This fact however does not make up for the constant bombardment of begging that we were subjected too.  If the leader of Nicaragua would spend more on his people instead of wasting money putting airstrips on Ometepe Island or in building a canal to rival Panama’s perhaps his people would not be starving in the streets, or doing dangerous things at red lights or even in eating other people’s leftovers.

They are putting in an airstrip on this beautiful island so that tourists can get to the island faster.  They are plowing up beautiful rainforests to do it.

They are putting in an airstrip on this beautiful island so that tourists can get to the island faster. They are plowing up beautiful rainforests to do it. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

If you wish to see the country of Nicaragua take every precaution imaginable and stay safe.  Stay with an escort and keep on the beaten path.  Our paths will not cross in Nicaragua.  Been there, done that.

Florence Lince

The Butterflies of Cuernavaca

Living in Mexico was sort of an afterthought.  It really wasn’t on our list of countries to live in, it just sort of happened.  We needed a place to live after our exodus from Panama and we needed it quickly.  We had already been in Latin America for two years exploring through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina and we wanted to live someplace new.  We had met some people on a cruise who were from a town called Cuernavaca so we decided to investigate what it had to offer.

Cuernavaca is called the “City of Eternal Spring”, which we never actually saw.  Instead we were surrounded by more butterflies than I have ever seen in the wild in my life.  Our yard was filled with them in every shape, size and color.  I never knew that butterflies came in so many colors.  We found out that Cuernavaca annually has thousands of butterflies that descend on it so we had come at the right time of year.

As is normal for us we had no car while living there and it is not easy to get around.  Yes, they have buses and taxis that were cheap enough but the town is built on hills and while it was great exercise, not everything was paved so the simple task of walking to the grocery store was a full exercise event.

We met and rented a flat from not only a local but also a fellow expat.  Professor James Horn taught about Latin American studies at Brockport University well before it was fashionable to do so.  Professor Horn had retired to Cuernavaca some years before and he rents out the floors of his house to fellow travelers.  We were lucky that he had an available flat and we left for Mexico.  Professor Horn is also a fine dining patron and a Mexican wine connoisseur so we were invited to go to some of Cuernavaca’s best restaurants on a weekly basis – thank you Jim.

Contrary to what the news media will report, we never once felt unsafe in Mexico.  Now, we didn’t do anything stupid like buying or dealing drugs or taking part in prostitution or using a gun, and we were always home by dark but we never once heard a gunshot, and we always felt safe.

We did a lot of touring around this section of Mexico during our 5 months in the country and we loved it all with Mexico City, Taxco, Teotihuacan  and Xochicalco standing out for me with some great memories.

The people of Mexico were warm and friendly.  When you tell a local that you are living in their country the look of first, surprise, and then pride, that shines through is worth the price of a passport.  The people of Cuernavaca were helpful in sharing with us the best places to eat and visit.  It is also incredibly helpful that my husband speaks Spanish since in some of the smaller towns there wasn’t a word of English to be heard.  This is after all their country so speaking Spanish, or at least understanding it, is the way to go.

We lived incredibly well while in Mexico and we would have no hesitation in promoting its charms, or its people.  Viva Mexico!

                                                                                                Florence Lince