A relative and a friend complained about the sudden unavailability of certain special medicines. One for Parkinson’s and the other for Lupus. Of course, they point fingers at DOS, but it could be Big Pharma pulling back on the subsidies for a shaky Nicaragua. Or nothing at all. I still find all the generics I’m looking for. Supermarkets are full. Fresh veggies and fruit aplenty. Prices creep up. There are more empty, available taxis on the streets than ever, because the usual fare is now 30 cords/person. (A typical driver pays the owner 600 cords/half-day and must return it tank full & clean.)

Downtown Leon is being renovated. Some streets off Parque Central will become pedestrian walkways. La Cancha - a youth gathering spot for basketball, street soccer and skate-boarding - will be covered. The university center CUUN, destroyed by fire during the 'crisis', is being rebuilt. During the Easter break, Leon becomes a ghost town. Tourists are still largely absent.

Eating out it’s getting more difficult to find restaurants with good meals at reasonable prices. ‘Ya Voy’ was once dependably first rate at $15/person with plenty of Nica suds; now the plates look bigger than ever as the food portion on ‘em have shrunk. I love ‘Pan y Paz’, but the ham on their ham & cheese sandwich is a single, translucent slice. Don’t take me wrong, the bread and fixins are delicious, but I can’t taste no ham. McDs is where the beef is. A/C’d and spacious with wifi and free drink refills and a great kids’ party room, McDs is where Leon goes for value. (Including fried chicken whatnots - practically shutting down Tip Top & Pollo Estrella.) McDs - a pinnacle of American consumerism - sits beside the great Cathedral of Leon - a truly living monument to the universal Christian religion, that regularly offers the symbolic blood & body of Christ as sustenance for the faithful. Which is not to say that there’s an on-going competition.

In Granada I got gouged bad at one joint on La Calzada (Don Alias?). Prices were ridiculously high on common fare, which I made the mistake of not checking beforehand. They even charged me double on what I had asked the price for, and was the reason we sat there. I made a scene. In one place, all prices on the menu were in dollars, but when paying it had to be cords at their rate of 33.8/$ when it was 32.5/$ online. These are hard times. Forget relaxing and coasting along on a few US greenbacks in the old Nicaragua. Be extra vigilant for shysters abound these days. (Are they’re buying up property on the cheap? If so, welcome to the whirlpool named Nicaragua.)

A month ago, with many nearly vacant spots on las Penitas beach, one was full - of Euro trash. I say that with total respect. My kid & I walked thru the hostal. The clientele were all tall, slim posers in hep attire. None looked us in the eye or talked with us. Only the Nica working on his knees, digging a new path was friendly. The place was full. Felt like a museum of lost souls. Those beaches will be full during this long Easter holiday, of hard-living Nicas. They may go swimming in their underwear, but they’re a lot more real than those narco-wastrels from the lost continent.

Last week I notice an unusual number of burly-fit men in downtown Leon. Not in groups, singles dressed in plain street clothes. Cuban extras? This tense situation does tend to fertilize my imagination. Saturday in Managua, a group of 7 or so red-beret soldiers stood inside the MetroCentro entrance by Buffalo Wings. They looked sharp. I didn’t see any heavy weaponry. There were no incidents in the mall. The shopping crowd seemed lighter than usual, but the food court was packed (nice facilities). The display of police standing at intervals on roadways and traffic circles was impressive.