Author Archives: Lemba

About Lemba

Non-conformist Writing Soul and Language Geek from the Lowlands with a South London accent, currently living a nomadic, location- independent lifestyle. While executing the Big Fat Writing Plan I’m invading cyberspace with my views on 'expat living', travel and other lifestyle choices, current affairs and other randomness. Welcome to the Dark Fairy Zone.

Into the New Year from heat to retreat to Rio Beat

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Beach at Paraiso Secreto, Islas Rosario

My Caribbean boating adventure, which seems like a lifetime away, brought me from Porvenir in Panama past the San Blas islands to Cartagena in Colombia. The colonial town was as beautiful as during my first visit, more than two and a half years ago and it sure was hot. People who, have known me for more than a decade know, that I totally used to dig hot weather. Something happened on my way back from my adventure at the African Med seven and half years ago, and during my stay in Mazunte I have experienced weather too hot the handle, much to the surprise of old friends. In Cartagena I played outside until 1 pm and hid in my small, but cosy and airconed hotel room in Getsemaní during the afternoon, only to get out again at around 5.

 

Cartagena vs. Medellin

After a few days in Cartagena and a couple of nights on the main island of Islas del Rosario, a paradise archipelago and natural national park an hour and a bit by speed boat from the city, I made my way to the city of eternal spring; Medellin. As I had also been during my first Colombia trip, I didn’t do any sight-seeing and ‘just’ engaged in yoga and parked myself and my laptop in the cool cafes of Medellin’s hipster hood el Poblado. The weather was most pleasant, day and night, yet despite yoga and the availability of plenty of hippy food, the city just doesn’t have Cartagena’s charm. It has to be said, though, that Medellin is far more digital-nomad friendly.

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Coolest hostel on the block: Rango Boutique Hostel, Medellin

The Failed End-of-Year Retreat

Just before Christmas I made my way to the outskirts, to La Ceja, a town in the mountains an hour from Medellin. I had booked myself a yoga- meditation retreat several months in advance to spend my time between Christmas and New Year in contemplation and reflection, rather than indulging in all sorts of earthly goodness. The retreat turned out to be quite a disappointment. The natural surroundings were tranquil and beautiful and the other retreat participants an eclectic and really interesting bunch. The retreat, however, was quite different than was advertised. I received an email with literature to read in preparation and when and how to get there, two and a half hours I was due to arrive. Instead of only silent evenings, the whole retreat was silent. Yet, it was okay to great each other in the morning and it was expected you answer the lady, who cleaned and cooked at property, when she asked how you were and how you had slept. After my silent retreat in Mazunte, where the idea is, that you do not speak a word or even make eye contact for ten days straight, this idea of mauna, noble silence was totally half-arsed in my not-so humble opinion. The yoga classes were rather peculiar; as if the instructor had done an awful lot of it himself, but didn’t really know how to teach it or give a class with a proper structure. Furthermore, we were unlucky with the weather, as it rained a lot and it was cold and damp. None of the indoor spaces had heating. There was a programme, but besides the yoga classes, none of the sessions were led. Food was good, but portions very small for a healthy eater. The retreat leader talked about the principle of ahimsa, non-harming and we were encouraged not to do harm, not even touching a mosquito or other insects, yet chicken was served for dinner every night. On the day of my return to Medellin, I ate for three people and hooked up with one of retreat participants and his friend, who had just arrived from Austria, happy to satisfy my appetite and not being cold.

Moving on

The next day, the last day of the year, I spent most of the day at the airport in Bogotá and the transition into the new year on a plane high above the Amazon rainforest on my way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

1 January often tends to be a day that doesn’t really exist. After a night of partying one tends to sleep through the day and/ or generally take it very easy. Although the Avianca crew had made a little party on board for the occasion, it was by no means a mad house. The flight from Bogota to Rio is only 5 hours and a bit, and as I seldom sleep well on night flights, at around 11 am in Rio, which is three hours behind Colombia time, I absolutely felt like crashing. The hostel I stayed at, yet another disappointment, had a relatively early check in. By 1.30 pm I was sound asleep. I woke up at 7-ish, went for supper with some newly found friends and had a fabulous night sleep after that. I guess I most have been really tired.

Top image: Juan Francis
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From Beach to Beach through Kuna Land

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A Guna Yala (San Blas) Island

After two weeks in Panama City, where I could enjoy some urban delights, like regular yoga classes and hippy food, the smells of Casco Viejo got the better of me. So I travelled to Playa Venao, a remote, but therefor not less touristy beach a five to six-hour bus ride south of the capital. Although I was grateful for the hippy food and the excellent ashtanga yoga classes in town, I was very much done with the city. There are some interesting aspects to La Ciudad, like the neighbourhood of Casco Viejo and the Miraflores locks of the Panama canal, which houses an interesting museum. Yet, although the city is popular with digital nomads and so-called expats- which are just migrants, from western countries, who are predominately white- I do find Panama City quite overrated. Therefor my earlier statement about Central American urban vibes not being all that, still stands.

Life is a Beach at Playa Venao

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Playa Venao Residency

I spent more than two weeks in Playa Venao at a chilled surf camp, to enjoy sun, surf, and kind and fit men. After more than a month of Panama, I left the country touring the San Blas islands and making my way by boat to my beloved Cartagena in Colombia. The San Blas islands are a very popular tourist destination, visited by locals and foreigners alike. People, who are short on time, do a day tour from Panama City. Many travellers on the backpacking trail tend to take a four or five day boat trip to Capurguana, just across the border or Cartagena in Colombia.

Indigenous Panama: San Blas/ Guna Yala

The San Blas islands, which since 2011 are officially called Comarca de Guna Yala, are an archipelago of more than 300 islands,  which are scattered in front of the Caribbean coast of Panama’s mainland. The islands are inhabited by the Kuna people, who are Panama’s native population. The Kuna have a distinct culture, which is reflected in their language and the women’s distinct sense of dress. Most, if not all islands, are very small and you can walk around them in 15 minutes or less. The Kuna seem to have a simple lifestyle living in modest accommodation, but I suspect they make an absolute mint from tourism. Touring the San Blas islands is by no means cheap. When entering a harbour to visit any of the islands you pay a 20 USD ‘entrance fee’ as if it were a zoo. At the dock you pay a few US dollars ‘docking fees’ and you pay transportation fees varying from 5 to 30 USD depending on where the boat you will be sailing on is moored. Then you pay the captain of your boat, the price depending how far you travel, how long you are on the boat for and what is included.  You have to pay ‘entrance’ to every single island you set foot on. It’s not that every island has a ticket booth, but the captains of the boats have to pay for their passengers and that is obviously reflected in the price they charges. I have heard of people with less time on their hands, who did day trips from Panama City visiting a couple of island and ended up paying between 200 and 250 USD for the pleasure.

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Kuna Women

To Boat or not to Boat

During the five-day boat trip on Perla del Caribe, with eight other people and a fantastic crew of two, we visited six islands in total, which have all terrible clear waters and are great for snorkelling. The islands furthest to the west and closest to the mainland are very popular, especially this time of year. Touring the islands and being on a boat, was a very chilled experience and besides reading, eating, laying in the sun and swimming and snorkelling, one doesn’t do an awful lot. During our ocean crossing we were accompanied by dolphins and another type of fish of more or less the same size I couldn’t identify, which I thought was pretty cool.

Are the island worth visiting? If it’s in your budget and you have yet to actually visit a tropical island paradise, I would say, ‘yes, go for it’. If you’re already rather spoiled having visited several tropical islands in the Caribbean and/ or Asia, I would say ‘save your money’, as you might not be that impressed. It’s very difficult to travel from Panama to Colombia overland and it’s not recommended, as the border region consists of dense rainforest and there is no official road. There is also considerable trade in illegal wares in the region and getting accidentally caught up in dodgy traffic is not ideal. Unlike in Europe, where air travel within or just outside the continent can be very cheap, it’s not easy flying on a budget between Central and South American countries. If you are hard pressed finding an affordable flight from Panama to Colombia, do consider the boat, which might not be a cheaper option, but at least lodging, all meals and a chilled adventure are included with transportation.

bottom image: mexika.org

Out of Tico Land into Panama

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The Domincal office; Hipster Jungle cafe Mono Congo 

When it comes to beach bum towns in Costa Rica, it seemed a case of fourth time lucky, although in Dominical too, it was still low season. The hostel I stayed at was pleasant enough, yet, with a few exceptions, my roomies weren’t terrible social. After I connected with my dear friend Rick in Lowlands Country via Skype, as it was his birthday, I started to notice I missed a sense of community or at least more in-depth social interaction. I’m living my desired lifestyle, for which I’m very grateful, yet, like any other lifestyle, it’s not without its challenges.

Finding a Tribe

Despite these challenges and the occasional rain, I really connected with Dominical’s laid-back vibes. I had set up office in what I could call a jungle hipster cafe, with fantastic hippy food and views over the river mouth of rio Barú and the jungles beyond. My calls for more interaction were answered when two Spanish chicas came to stay in the dorm and another Spaniard had checked in sleeping in another dorm. In general, I’m very fond of Iberians, as they tend to be chilled, social and always up for a party. The four of us hit the sleepy town, where night action on low-season weekdays seizes at 10 pm. We talked about Spain’s latest constitutional crisis and the monarchy, us chicas being rather staunch republicans and the only male more ‘moderate’ and in favour of the royal family. The next morning I found male Spaniard Carlos at the soda next door – a soda is the Tico equivalent of the British caff- and we talked travel and location independent lifestyle.

Travelling on

I planned to travel to Puerto Viejo at the Pacific coast to get some more Caribbean vibes, but after my latest public transportation frustration, I decided I really couldn’t be bothered to spend ‘half my life’ travelling to the other side of the country via the capital San Jose and back again. When entering Costa Rica one needs to produce a ticket out of the country. For that purpose I bought a ticket from San Jose to Panama City in San Juan del Sur, which was expensive enough not the waste it. Puerto Viejo is close to the border with Panama and if it wasn’t for the bus to Panama, that departs from San Jose, I might have considered travelling to Puerto Viejo and from there to Panama. I left Domincal for San Jose, which, besides the hostel I stayed at, located in a beautiful colonial building and chats with a couple of interesting people, I found terribly uninspiring.

After two days of San Jose, I boarded a bus to Panama, only to do the exact same route back down south past Dominical. I arrived at Panama’s City’s main bus terminal at four in the morning, which is never an ideal time for a solo travelling woman, but besides being at the mercy of the taxi driver and especially the price he sets, three times the usual day rate for a local, nothing dramatic happened.

Casco Viejo de Panama: old versus antique

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Plaza de la Independencia, Casco Viejo de Panama

I had booked a dorm bed in an establishment that is a hotel offering highly overpriced rooms and very affordable dorm beds in the neighbourhood of Casco Viejo or Casco Antigua as it prefers to be called. Casco literally means helmet and could also be translated as shell. The neighbourhood prefers to be labelled as classic or antique, rather than old ‘cause ‘old’ is just dusty and smells of decay and ‘classic’ has an air of timelessness. Interestingly enough, the neighbourhood has bits of both. There is both a lot of dilapidated as well as beautifully renovated building in bright and less bright colours. It is Panama city’s  historical district, and like so many old neighbourhoods in cities across the world, the place is gentrifying at a scary pace. Not that long ago the neighbourhood was considered a no-go area. Now there is a large military and police presence, making the prettiest parts of the neighbourhood safe, yet there are still parts of the hood, where traveller- tourists are advised not to go, even during the day. A certain degree of gentrification can be great to bring life and money to poorer and dilapidated neighbourhoods. Yet, there always seems to come a moment in that process, where the scales tip and the place becomes too expensive and too hipster and the residents, who lived in the hood in the early days get pushed out. This happens across the world. Just like Costa Rica, Panama and Panama City and the neighbourhood of Casco Viejo in particular, is popular with gringos and especially those with money. To my great astonishment, a fair amount of Americans that have been living in Panama for years and own businesses, speak very dodgy Spanish, if any Spanish at all. As a follower of the Yogic Path, I shouldn’t judge, but it’s work in progress and I do judge. Sure, in my native Lowlands Country they have been- and still are people- who came from southern Europe, North Africa and other places. They have been in the country for decades and owned or still own businesses like shops and restaurants and their Dutch is very poor. Yet, Dutch is a far more difficult language to learn and Dutch society seems far less open to non-western foreigners, especially since the early noughties. At the turn of the century it came fashionable ‘om te zeggen wat je denkt’ or speak your mind about those bloody ‘foreigners’, including the ones, who were born in the country or have lived in the Netherlands all their lives, so are not foreigners. But I’m digressing.

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Casco Viejo street art

Panama City is considered Central America’s most forward-looking city and with a bunch of shiny high-rise buildings, and a strong presence of ‘expats’ and gringo pensioners, one can see why. There is a yoga studio a stone-throw away from my hostel- hotel and I have been indulging in a more vigorous style of yoga almost every day for a week and a half. There are some very interesting aspects to Panama City, including that engineering wonder that is the Panama Canal. Yet, I’m still not feeling the Central American urban vibes, which is okay, as the beach is calling.

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View on Panama City (rain is coming)

 

Costa Rica: Beach-Bumness for a Price

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Playa Hermosa near Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

After my stay in the fancy dorm with beach view in Tamarindo, I had made my way to Santa Teresa. I had been told that place would be a far more laid-back and less gringo-dominated affair. It’s still low season in Costa Rica and in Santa Teresa it clearly showed, as a lot of establishments were closed for the season and the place I stayed at for a week was dead quiet and I was the only guest for the majority of my stay. Surf and yoga and yoga and surf are big in Costa Rica. Santa Teresa is another surfer town, where one can have plenty of yoga action too and to be a true original, surf and yoga and yoga and surf was the purpose of my stay.

Santa Teresa; Rain, Mud and Good Vibes

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Funky Hipster Cafe and Gallery Zwart, Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a town along a stretch of dirt road, that runs parallel to the beach. There is a very good vibe of surfistas and yogi(ni)s from all over the world. Santa Teresa is connected to playa Cocal and playa Hermosa to the north and playa Carmen to the south, by a stretch of road of about 8 km in total, lined with hotels, hostels, resorts, restaurants, bars, shops and jungle. Because of the distance, ‘greater Santa Teresa’ is not very walkable and one needs some sort of vehicle. Many residents use quad bikes to get around. Because it is low and rainy season, life in Santa Teresa was pretty dull and roads rather muddy, but I had some excellent food and managed to improve my action on the waves and on the mat.

To Dominical: another ‘Monster Journey’

The plan was to move on to Dominical, yet another surfers’ beach-bum town at the Pacific Coast, but on the mainland,  rather than on the Nicoya Peninsula, a bit more than 200 km south of the capital San Jose by road. This time I wanted to do it the cheapskate way and take public transport. The distance between the two beach-bum towns is about 260 km and despite having left at 6 in the morning, I got stuck half way. The bus from Santa Teresa to Paquera, where I took the ferry was a straightforward 2 hour ride. In Paquera we waited 40 minutes before the ferry departed, which took us across to Puntarenas in an hour and 15, if I remember correctly. In Puntarenas I had a good connection to Jacó, where I thought I was able to take a bus to Dominical. After a cloudy, but dry morning, it had started to rain when I arrived in Jacó. When I asked around where to get a bus to Dominical no one really knew what the score was and as I had already been travelling for almost 7 hours, I decided to set up shop. Yet another storm was to pass the region and although Jacó is also a beach town and surfer destination, I didn’t want to spend my time in more laid-back beach bum town Dominical in the rain.

Tico Gringo Land

Jacó is like Tamarindo, only considerably smaller. The main town revolves around a stretch of road parallel to the beach and is full of a certain type of Americans: The males all wear the same outfit- shorts, tank top and flip flops or sneakers as if it’s a uniform- and either gender speaks little to no Spanish, even the ones who live there. I was recommended a hostel by a cool British- Brazilian surfer couple I met in Santa Teresa. The hostel was pleasant and everything, beach, supermarket, hippy cafe, was close by. While I waited for the storm to pass, I did some work, some yoga and indulged in hippy food, which cost an absolute mint in Costa Rica (I’m talking at least double European prices).

Tico Public Transport; Another Lesson in Patience

After more than a couple of days, I got a bit fed up with Jacó and after the weather cleared, I took a bus to Quepos, an hour and a bit further south, from where I had to take a bus to Dominical. Once I arrived in Quepos,  I was to find out that my connection to the destination of the day was two and a half hours away. Then it started to rain and I got rather annoyed. Travelling by public transport was no longer and adventure on the cheap; it was a bloody hassle and I wondered why straight-forward and better connected public transport wasn’t the country’s idea of ‘pura vida’, as the country is both expensive and educated enough to justify a decent network. Despite being annoyed, the hours passed by pretty quickly, as I kept myself entertained by Maya Angelou’s words. When I arrived in Dominical, again taking me an afternoon to travel a piss- distance, it rained, obviously. As Dominical is all dirt roads, I hid into the hostel until the follow morning.

top image: hotelroomsearch.net
middle images; hollylovespaul.com

Costa Rica: Pura Vida for a Price

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View from de San Juan del Sur residency

I initially had planned to stay in Nicaragua for six weeks or so, for the main reason that it’s cheap if you can live of a decent western European salary. Sure, there are some tourist traps, especially in places like Granada, where a drink or a meal would cost the same as in Europe, but in general, the country is most affordable.

Living and Leaving Nicaragua

When I had just arrived in Nicaragua and was on my way from the airport to Granada, I admired the stamp in my passport and checked the tourist visa, that was a small loose paper. I noticed, that the border person at the airport had given me a 30-day visa, rather than the standard 90 days, so I had to reconsider my plans. Quite a few people, after giving me the same weary look, when I told them about my 30-day visa, suggested I do a visa run. Yet, when my visa was about to expire, I felt I was done with Nicaragua. Although I had a good time and had met lovely people, I  just wasn’t quite that captured by the Nica vibes and felt ready to move on.

I had spent the last week of my month in Nicaragua in surfer town San Juan del Sur, which is only 30km or so from the Costa Rican border. The plan was to go to another surfer town across the border, very popular with a certain type of American tourist and affluent pensioners, officially called Tamarindo and mockingly named Tamagringo. The town is not that far from the border, but I spent the whole day travelling, queuing and waiting nevertheless. Travelling all day to cover a short distance seems to have been a theme for me in Costa Rica, but more about that in future posts.

Making the Journey into Costa Rica

After a pleasant taxi ride from San Juan del Sur to the border and some formalities at the Nicaraguan side that were dealt with swiftly, I had to queue for an hour and a half to enter Costa Rica. The Costa Rican border formalities were dealt with by a female official. Not always, but in many cases, dealing with ‘sisters’ on these occasions is even worse, when it comes to unfriendliness and exercise of perceived power, than being at the ‘mercy’ of their male counterparts. So much for ‘pura vida’, which is the county’s catchphrase and literally means ‘pure life’. Like any cliche, there is a sense of truth, but a big fat cliche it is nevertheless. Female border official was by no means representative for the general population, as Ticos, as Costa Rican folks are called, are incredible friendly, easy-going and on most occasions always up for a chat. They are also a very mixed people when it comes to shades, from white folk with light brown or even dark blond hair, to morenos with Dark-Fairy shades. Because of that and because Ticos are so used to Americans and other gringos of all shades, I was considered far less exotic than in Nicaragua and there was no need for stares or cat calls.

After the Border Bollocks

After I got my stamp I was able to board a bus to the town of Liberia, that left pretty much straight away. For most bus journeys in Costa Rica, you don’t need to buy a ticket at a window, but you pay the bus driver directly. After a journey of an hour or so, we arrived at Liberia’s main bus station. I had missed the connection to Tamarindo by 10 minutes and had to wait two hours for the next bus. A taxi driver was really selling himself and his vehicle, starting at $40, lowering to $35 after several of my ‘nos’ and not accepting the $32 I offered. An hour later, when he had found trade in the form of two traveller-tourists, he lowered it to $15, as I would be sharing with the couple. But I was in stingy mode and I reasoned it was worth to wait another hour to pay a fraction of the price. While I was waiting, I struck up conversation with a young mother and tried a local snack called rosquillas (say rosKEEyahs, rosKEELyahs, or rosKEEshahs, depending on the accent (Tico, Spain- Spanish or Argentinian-Spanish). It is a corn snack with cheese flavour in the form of a square framework made up of several small circles with holes, like dry mini donuts. The woman I was chatting to told me, that people tend to have the snack in the afternoon with coffee. I thought it was bit dry, but quite tasty.

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Coffee with rosquillas (different types and shapes)

En Route

After the bus had finally arrived, it took another two hours to get to Tamarindo, where I arrived at 18.30, having left San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua at 10 in the morning and only having covered about 200km. The bus stopped right in front of the hotel/ B&B, where I had booked a dorm bed, which was a bonus. The dorm had fancy B&B standards and was one of the best dorms I ever stayed at. Well designed, balcony with sea view, large ensuite bedroom and comfy beds with quality bed linen. Breakfast was amazing too. I only spent two nights in town, which came down to one full day. Besides a fantastic beach, with good swell, a view on howler monkeys swinging through the trees from the garden and some decent eateries, charging western prices, I really didn’t think the place was that special. It’s full of Americans and other gringos, many of them actually living in town and for that reason English is far more widely spoken then in Nicaragua or Mexico and even if a Tico speaks little English, most are willing to make the effort, with the little vocab they have.

My next stop after Tamarindo was Santa Teresa, further south on the Nicoya peninsula, where I was to indulge in some yoga and surf. I initially planned to take public transport, as tourist shuttles are quite pricey, but decided against it after getting some advice. It would have taken me several busses and the whole day, if I was lucky, that is. At a certain stretch on the route there wasn’t even public transport available, so I was happy to have chosen the comfort of the shuttle travelling with foreign wanders and Ticos alike, which made it an entertaining journey.

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the Beach garden at Casa Aura, Tamarindo

top image: sanjuandelsurbackpackers.com
middle image: pinterest
bottom image: tripadvisor

Catalonia and a Farce called Democracy

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Catalan flagsAs a former news junkie and politics geek I don’t seem to concern myself much with the news nowadays. I’m too busy deciding what my next destination is going to be, which hostel to stay at and where to set up my office for the day. I do scan the headlines of the British left-leaning ‘quality’ press, that flog us just as much bollocks as other outlets with whichever inclination or paymaster and I’m not quite sure why I actually bother. One recent news story I got rather worked up about is the faux-democratic shenanigans around Catalonia’s independence  referendum.

The faux- Democratic Diet

We folks in ‘western democracies’ are being force-fed so-called liberal democratic ideas and ideals pretty much from when we are able to read and write. We learn about the French Revolution, nationalism, the emancipation of the working classes and how political rule has transferred from the few to the many. Besides that we, the people, apparently rule ourselves, we also have so-called freedom of speech, freedom of press, the rule of law and all those other wonderful aspects a ‘free-society’ should have. Then we have the EU, which has been in the making since the 1950s. What started out as a small economic association grew out to a political union, in which the perceived rule of the many was transferred back to the rule of an unelected few. We get to freely move, study and work within the EU prison, which seems a bone juicy enough for most to pliantly accept the EU dictatorship, but I’m digressing slightly.

It must now be quite obvious, that not only when it comes to countries with brown and black people and plenty of natural resources, the so-called beacons of the free world turn a blind eye to non-democratic aspects and (in)action. Even in Europe, the will of the people can be forcefully denied if it’s not to the liking of the state. In the case of the Catalonia independence referendum, Spain might as well still be lingering in Franco- fascist- dictatorship times.

Democratic Terror State Spain

A bit less than a month ago, the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia held a referendum on its independence, which was approved by the Catalan parliament, yet declared illegal by the Spanish state with the argument that it was in breach of the Spanish constitution. The referendum was held nevertheless and voters were forcefully removed by the National police and the Guardia Civil. If this had happened in Russia or any other’shady’ state, this action would have been universally condemned. With a voter turnout of 43 per cent, 92 per cent of the votes were cast in favour of independence. Now you might think, that if less than half of the electorate could be bothered to vote, could one consider that a mandate? In the first place, many voters were forcefully prevented to cast their vote, so we don’t know what the turn out would have been if the brute that is the Spanish state would have allowed and actually encouraged a truly democratic process. In the second place, in American presidential elections, on average 25 per cent of registered voters- so not 25 per cent of all the people, not even 25 per cent of the electorate, but 25 per cent of the registered voters– get to decide via an electoral college who the country’s president is going to be. That is considered a free and fair democratic process. In the UK about 30 per cent of the votes decide, which party gets to rule the country. That too is considered a legit process in a liberal democracy.

Instead of declaring independence straight away, Catalonia has been dragging its feet and wanted to negotiate with a state that displays terrorist tendencies. Then, yesterday, the Spanish terror state dissolved the democratically elected Catalan parliament and calls new elections, with the argument of ‘restoring democracy’. Opposing the will of the people to restore people’s rule, is a case of double speak not even George Orwell could make up. A Facebook friend made the analogy of an abusive relationship; while Catalonia wants a divorce, the Spanish state uses violence and abuse to maintain the union and at the same time claims how much respect it has for the autonomous region. Meanwhile, leaders of the ‘free world’, US, UK and the EU super state, force-feeding ‘democracy’ abroad, have stated they won’t acknowledge the democratic will of the Catalan people. In case I was still hanging on with a pinky finger, I got off the fake-democracy band wagon for good.

Democracy is a farce. There is no such thing as people’s rule, only the appearance of it. Let the walls of prison dissolve.

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top image: dw.com
bottom image: sceptical scot.com

Leon; Revolutionary Vibes and more colonial Shabbiness

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Signs of a Revolution, Leon

After spending a week in Granada I took a shuttle, which basically is a small van transporting tourists, to the city of Leon, which is another colonial town in Nicaragua. Lonely Planet describes it as an off-beat, political town and a more left-leaning and quirky rival to Granada. The distance between the two cities is no more than 120 kilometres, yet it took us half the day to reach our destination. Upon arrival, I was yet again underwhelmed, as Leon even looks shabbier than Granada. Despite it not being love at first, or even second, sight, I stayed in the city for more than a week and the place did start to grow on me.

 

Dutchies Galore

I was taken by surprise by how many Dutchies I met in town as both residents and traveller- tourists. In the almost three months I spent in southern and eastern Mexico, I could count the Dutchies I had come across on the fingers of one hand and wondered where they were all hiding. “In Nicaragua” might have been the answer, as on average I met a bit less than a handful of fellow and sister Lowlands People everyday. Norwegian travellers, in my experience a rather invisible travelling force, were also well presented in town. Like Granada, Leon has a shed load of churches to find salvation or refuge from the rain or heat and pleasant cafes and eateries to set up office.

Leon and its Place in History

The city was founded in 1525 about 33 km to the east of its current location. In 1620 the city was damaged by  earthquakes caused by seismic activity from nearby volcanos and the Spanish invaders, who lived in the city decided to relocate the settlement to its present location. The old city was slowly covered by ash and other volcanic sediment from several volcanic eruptions and was only discovered in the late 1960s.

Leon had been the capital of Nicaragua since the arrival of Spanish greedy bastards and remained  the capital when Nicaragua became an independent nation in 1839. In the first decade after independence the capital shifted between Leon and Granada with more conservative administrations favouring the latter and liberal rulers giving the preference to Leon.  As a compromise, neutral Managua was chosen as the capital of the young nation in 1852.

When I was growing up Nicaragua was synonymous with dictatorship, revolutions and civil war. Besides that, air travel and therefore travel outside Europe was considered terribly exotic and a rather distant dream for most and the only people, who would consider travelling to Nicaragua, were war journalists. Nowadays, tourists numbers in the country have been increasing year by year and for most travellers, the civil war is just a history lesson, if the awareness is there at all.  For decades Leon has been the epicentre of political left-winged activity and a fair amount of, mainly mature, travellers, are interested in the city, because of its prominent role in the revolution.  Because of its left-leaning inclination, Leon always had strong links to the Sandinista movement, that formed the main opposition to the Somoza dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to the toppling of the regime in 1979. If the revolution to overthrow the dictatorship wasn’t bloody enough, the Contra war, that followed, brought extended suffering to Nicaragua, claiming tens of thousands of lives. This Contra war was waged by Sandinistas and by US-sponsored right-winged opposition groups and made Nicaragua a major proxy war battleground during the Cold War.

Leon; the Verdict

Leon still carries its revolutionary colours with pride and the city has a museum dedicated to this turbulent episode in history. Besides political, the city is also very intellectual and is, as one can imagine, a major student town. Alongside the politics and the intellectualism, the city does literature quite well too, as it has been home to the country’s most well-known poets Rubén Dario, Salamón de Selva and Alfonso Cortéz, and still houses a great number of bookshops.

Although, as stated earlier, the city grew on me in the course of the days, despite a rich culture and plenty of good and very affordable eateries, I just wasn’t able to catch the vibe. Would I recommend visiting Leon? If you are interested in churches, Nicaraguan recent history and the revolution in particular, then yes, definitely; go. Would you like an urban base to visit the many volcanoes in the region and the nearby beaches, whether you go for the deserted beach of Salinas Grandes or the closer by playas las Peñitas and Poneloya, then yes, consider it. If you are expecting a ‘cool’ Latin city like Medellin or Panama City, which are both considerably bigger, or even Xela in Guatemala, which is more or less the same size, than just forget it. Although I will report on Panama City’s in a few weeks’ time, perhaps Central America is just not so much about cool ondas urbanas.