The only countries I had not visited in Central America were Nicaragua and Honduras, and plans were made to scratch them off my list. Bus travel in these countries is very cheap for comfortable Greyhound-type buses, but wisely they do not travel at night because of multiple night driving dangers. Room reservations should be made in advance for the night destination. Border crossing bureaucracy might require up to a four-hour delay because luggage must be unloaded and reloaded, and passports need to be stamped for each country. Private automobiles get preferential treatment.
My first stop in Nicaragua was the town of Granada. It appeared to be a picturesque colonial town located next to a huge lake with cool breezes. Prices were very cheap for accommodations ($25 for a private room and bath at Casa Sacuanjoche) and dinners included drink and tip for less than $10. The bad news is that there was no hot water, the meals were not tasty, and the free Internet at the highest speed available in the country was still painfully slow. Another irritating situation in many Latin American countries is not being able to flush toilet paper because of low water pressure; instead, it must be discarded in an adjacent bin.
A carriage ride tour of the city cost $15 but the driver could not speak English. Almost every foreign tourist knows English but these tourist-dependent workers make no effort to learn. Of course, if they were more motivated they would gravitate to more lucrative jobs. Schools are free but attended by only about 60 percent of the population. The illiteracy rate is very high.
Granada is supposed to be among the cleanest cities in Nicaragua, so when one sees trash heaped in many places and children allowed to urinate in public, one can imagine what other places are like. Their mercado (market) was among the most depressing ever seen.
The huge lake contains rare fresh water sharks but few people have actually seen one. Lake boat rides around several islands with beautiful luxury homes cost only a few dollars. At night a large street, Calle La Calzada, lined by restaurants and bars, is closed to vehicular travel and tables are placed outside to make for pleasant dining. A fermented corn drink called chicha was not very tasty. Always eager to taste local food, I placed an order for Indio Viejo (Old Indian) described as a typical native dish of stew with vegetables and beef. It tasted like an old Indian was in the stew. There was little beef and my taste buds did not like the contents. Children street vendors pointed at my dish and so I handed it to them. They consumed it with relish.
The next day an hour bus ride to the capital city of Managua cost $1 on a “chicken bus” where arrangements had been made to stay with a couch surfer named Sensei Toshio Sasanuma. He kindly had his native Nicaraguan “disciple” assistant, Winston, meet me and drive me to his home. Toshio presents a very imposing figure dressed in a white robe with his long grey beard and hair. Because of his busy schedule, he had his assistant take me on a tour of Managua.
Daniel Ortega, head of the Sandinistas, returned to power by telling the masses they can get benefits for free without work. Free hospitalization and education are provided but both are of such poor quality that most people with any means go to private schools and have insurance for private health care.
Winston told me he avoids driving into very dangerous areas of the city. An earthquake destroyed Central Managua in the ’70s and the solution was to cordon off the abandoned area. One would think there could be a better solution for dealing with the situation. There are two mercados and one is very dangerous for tourists and even Winston had been robbed at knifepoint there. The one we visited is nothing to write home about. When we parked there, someone came up and began washing the car. It is a cheap way to insure the car will not be broken into.
Managua casinos have the usual high house percentages for both slots and table games but still attract a high percentage of Chinese customers. China wants more trade with Nicaragua but since Taiwan has a long history of commerce here, it has not been easy for China.
That evening, Toshio treated me to dinner at an upscale restaurant. He told me he came from a very poor family in Osaka and ran away from home after he finished junior high school. With so little education he could find only menial jobs leading to much unhappiness and a bad attitude. He joined the army for a short time and saved enough money to go to Russia but again was living on the edge of starvation. He ended up in Amsterdam during the winter and could only afford to sleep in the park and almost froze to death. Fortunately, he was befriended by a kind Japanese couple who arranged for him to work odd jobs at the Okura Hotel, enabling him to save enough money to return to Japan.
Still unhappy, he saved enough to come to the U.S. and landed a job with Benihana in Oakland, Calif. and rose to become a manager at several locations. While in Oakland, he took classes to learn English and was encouraged to complete high school. He relocated to El Paso, Texas and several Japanese ladies suggested he attend Tenrikyo, a Buddhist church, where he had an experience much like ‘born again’ Christians. He learned a shiatsu-like massage technique and used it on friends who said they were relieved of much of their pain.
He again returned to Japan where he met a Japanese girl who lived in Brazil and decided he wanted to visit this girl in Brazil. On his way there, however, he stopped in Cali, Colombia — where he met a Colombian woman, fell in love and married her. This allowed him to obtain papers to live there.
He decided to practice holistic medicine incorporating his own shiatsu technique. A child with severe asthma was brought to him and after a few treatments, the child was able to breathe without problems. Within a few days word quickly spread, and he was soon deluged with people with medical problems. A major component to their complaints was fatigue and depression and he said he wasn’t curing symptoms but just helping people to cope. On the side, he started learning martial arts such as aikido and advanced to the point of teaching it.
After 10 years of marriage, his wife left him and he decided to immigrate to Costa Rica, but then decided Nicaragua was more appealing because of the lower cost of living and the warmer climate.
He has built up a huge client base with only word of mouth advertising for his medical treatment that he has coined Kotobuki Therapy (www.sasanuma.zonaxp.com/home.htm). You may want to look at his Facebook page. His fee is $20 per hour and his clients have included the owner of the restaurant where we were dining. One of his most prominent clients was the wife of the Danish ambassador and apparently she was so pleased that he was soon treating many of their staff. He said he even started receiving European and American clients.
He also treated the Swedish ambassador’s wife, and when the two ambassadors returned to their home countries, he said he was invited to visit in October but declined because it was too cold then. The Swedish ambassador was transferred to Namibia and he accepted their invitation to be a guest there, with all his expenses paid except his roundtrip airfare.
While we were dining, he was approached twice by women who requested appointments, but he told them he never accepts self-referrals. Their doctors must refer them so he can discuss their medications and symptoms before accepting them. He said he has also treated many physicians’ wives.
As Toshio’s guest, I was not allowed to pay for anything. He told me he had discontinued his membership on couchsurfing.org because some members took advantage of his generosity and that I was lucky I had written to him some time before he quit. (He later visited me in Las Vegas where I was able to reciprocate his hospitality.)
The next morning I had to be at the bus station by 4 a.m. for the 5 a.m. bus and he had Winston kindly transport me and see that I boarded safely. Except for my stay with Toshio, I had a very negative view of Nicaragua.
Toshio is very content in Managua and doubts he will ever return to live in Japan, but adamantly retains his Japanese citizenship because he qualifies for all its social benefits.
Las Vegas Tidbits
The food truck craze has struck Las Vegas, too. Fukuburger (watch how you pronounce it) Truck is gaining a large following. The name is based on one of the owners, Colin Fukunaga.
His soul brother partner is Robert “Mags” Magsalin, who studied at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Everything is fresh so food preparation may take a while. Their tasty food is only exceeded by the two partners’ bonhomie. They could probably make as much money selling their T-shirts because everyone smiles at the catchy name. Visit fukuburger.com or twitter.com/fukuburger to find their exact location for the day you want to visit. Las Vegas also has a Korean taco truck, Hanshiktaco, at 7411 W. Lake Mead Rd., but I haven’t had a chance to try it. Learn more by calling (702) 249-2255 or visiting twitter.com/hanshiktaco.
The Kaeru Kid writes about his various adventure travels. He lives in Las Vegas and includes tidbits about the city at the end of each article. He can be reached at KaeruKid@yahoo.com.