Sorry for not updating in a more timely manner. I have found myself in many internetless situations.
I am somewhat shocked at the way my journey is unfolding. Usually a party animal I expected my days of adventure to be punctuated by nights of drunken debauchery. Perhaps a mix of my hyper sensitive, overly analytical social consciousness and hypochondria I’ve cloistered myself. I haven’t had a crazy party night since the 17th.
The expensive gringo new agey, yoga, surfer take over of Costa Rica made me feel ill. I crossed into Nicaragua. Immediately the comfortable safety net of Costa Rica was removed.
After nearly getting pickpocketed at the border I waited in a long, rowdy line to cross over. Once in Nicaragua I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I hesitantly consulted my travel guide.
Two immediate options: 1) go to San Juan del Sur and be near the ocean in a growing party hearty tourist destination, or 2) go to the island of omotepe, an island in the middle of lake cocibolca to look at volcanoes and agrarian life. Perched at the duty free for half an hour I eventually chose the latter.
Confused as a motherfucker I wandered the market of Peñas Blancas with my backpack looking for the bus to Rivas. As a little boy was pushing my bag into the lower compartment of a nice tour bus, a fat man yelled “are you stupid?!” grabbed my pack and threw it on a chicken bus. On most of the busses I took in Costa Rica I was surrounded by other dorky looking tourists with huge backpacks. In Nicaragua this was not the case. I was initially scared when I saw I was the only dumb fuck on the bus.
I sat close to my shit.
My guidebook told me to.
Walking over to the boat to Omotepe from San Jorge, a couple stopped me and started speaking to me in Spanish. It’s a couple from Managua who were taking a small vacay on the isle. The woman starts to reveal little bits of information, “I’m 41 and he’s 28… He’s an artist and paints boats for the wealthy… We met in rehab.” I was mildly interested until we started talking to an older couple from Iowa (in english) who sell soda tab bracelets to raise money for a school and how they want to retire on the island. Bored I slip away to enjoy the rocky boat ride and talk to locals about their thoughts on tourismo (mostly positive), and don’t think much about the Managuan couple. Little did I know how they would be a large part of my time on Omotepe.
Omotepe consists of numerous small, rural villages and two larger towns, myogalpa and altagracia. The main economic drivers are tourism and agriculture. Tourism has proved so profitable many of the island’s main roads are getting paved and a controversial airport is in the works. Islanders make clear distinctions between the mundo tranquillo on the island and the chaos of life on the mainland. Hailey, a local elementary school teacher who studied at the U of Managua told me that people on the island are poor but are content because they know how to grow food so they are never starving like those in the city. She said she saw many brutal situations in Managua and has never fathomed going back despite the limited job opportunities on the Omotepe.
The island is littered with 20 something backpackers. I am disgusted with myself. Once again I hesitantly open my guidebook. I don’t know where I’m going. I wander around the main town, myogalpa for a few minutes. I get solicited by a million business proprietors. I say no a million times. I drink a bag of strawberry milk. Unimpressed by the main village, I get on a bus for Altagracia. Over an hour later I arrive. I go into the first hostel I see, Hotel Central. For a whopping $12 after tax, I get my own clean 1 bd cabina, complete with a rocking chair and bathroom. A cold shower later I hit the rockin streets of altagracia. Five minutes afterward I walk back to hotel central. I see a shaggy haired gringo in aviators on a rocking chair on the sidewalk in front of the hotel drinking a liter of Toña. It looked fun so I grabbed a beer and joined him.
Turns out his lady friend and him were from the east coast of Australia and had been traveling down through the Americas for the past 6 mths. They are the 1st of many long term travelers who I’ve met. A scooter stops in front of me. It’s the Managuan couple. They tell me they are staying at villa paraiso. That is the most expensive place on the island. They zip off.
Next I get introduced to Stanley, a landlord from Michigan in his 50s or 60s who had googley eyes and a treasure trove of travel stories. Stanley tells me that he used to do dope, well actually still does sometimes, doesn’t drink hard alcohol because it makes him an asshole, travels have taught him to fear nothing, and he loves the farmacia. Stanley and I go for a little walk to go get some diazepam. Unsuccessful in our quest, he offers to buy me a drink. I tell him I want to go back to join the others at the bar by the hotel.
Tito bar has dirt floors, marco Antonio solis videos on the TV, and a bitchin deal on rum. Six dollars for a bottle 1.5 liters of rum and a bottle of coke. Nicaragua has a lot of cheap rum. I was elated. The Aussies were down to rage, but I learned the aussies are insane and always down to cause mayhem.
Jonay, a local volcano guide also joined us. The Australian woman and a German friend had attempted to climb volcano concepcion earlier that day. The guide also invited his girlfriend, an engineering student from the u of Managua helping with the new airport. She tells me it’d be cool to find a job in the tourist industry. I notice she is the only one not drinking any alcohol. Almost all of us get shitfaced.
Suddenly Jonay starts hitting on me. At first I ignore it. He persists. I then tell him no. This is when he starts getting aggressive and mean. Mind you he’s doing this in front of his lady friend who is a million times smarter than he is. She eventually gets up and leaves. I start go off on a feminist rant, yelling at Jonay. The Aussie guy and I are near ready to start a drunken brawl. In my haze I wasn’t ready to deal with machismo regardless of where the fuck I was. Stanley tells the bartender. Jonay gets kicked out.
A group of locals come and apologize, telling us they love tourists and most islanders are not like that. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. I head back to the hotel. Jonay is sitting out front. I run back to my room and freak the fuck out.
Cloister no. 1: I wake up the next morning feeling that partying is not good. I catch a bus to the town of Balgue and hike up to the famed Finca Magdalena, a working coffee farm and hostel owned and operated by 27 families. There’s a lot of Sandinista graffiti all over the island. On the walk up to Magdalena I feel like I’m in a new world. There’s a dead bat on the road. Men are on horses. A goat and it’s kid chew on some grass. Cool. It’s the country. I made the right choice. I get up to the Finca set up my hammock and fall asleep. I paid $2.75 a night. I wake up a handful of hours later and catch a breathtaking sunset.
All the guests gather on the porch to order dinner from the kitchen. I get some tostones con queso aka fried plantains topped with a square of dry rubbery white cheese. I order a liter of Toña. The Managuan couple stumble in with a very handsome, yet short in stature blond haired blue-eyed man. Turns out they gave him a lift when they saw him walking down the road. The Managuan woman, Claudia, started whispering to us after her mate walked away to eat a bowl of fish soup. “he doesn’t love me. I’m an alcoholic.”. I’m just thinking oh god end this, I’ve attracted another crazy. I wanted to know more about their passenger, a Chilean near licensed as a psychologist, Jose Miguel. They leave and I come to find out he hates American tourists. Oh well. I spend the next few days hiking volcanoes, mountain biking, and bumping into the Managuan couple wearing matching hotel paraiso t-shirts. On my last day at Magdalena I wake up from a nap in my hammock to see Claudia next to me almost in tears.
“I’ve come looking for you. I don’t know what to do. The police and my cousin came to the room and took everything because I escaped. I broke my toe.” Turns out Claudia is from a well to do family of jewelry makers. She had been kept under lock and key at home by her mother because of her substance abuse issues. Although Claudia is 41 she looks, acts, and is treated like a child.
She starts telling me her lover has left her and all she wants is him. In coming to drop her off they crashed because they were drunk and she broke her toe. Ten minutes after telling me he’s never coming back, her lover pulls up on the scooter with Jose Manuel. It’s all too much for me. I listen to their upper class drama for the next 2 hours until Jose Manuel walks off when they make it known they are Pinochet fans. This is my out and I go sit with Jose Manuel and talk about the power of now.
I leave the next morning.
My brain was back in party mode. Side note take great caution eating the food sold on busses. Nicaraguan churros are no Mexican churros. I got sick. I get into San Juan del Sur an head to the most infamous party hostel in town, the Naked Tiger. Opened a year ago by two east bay expats, the hostel is basically a big beautiful house filled with beautiful people. I sign in reluctantly, my stomach in pain. One of the owners a sexy short porn star of the man, has me take a shot. I drink for the next five hours, unable to get my mind fully in party mode. The people at the tiger are rad. If you ever want a good time head there. I freaked out the next morning when I woke up.
Cloister #2: I go to the surf shop asking where I can find somewhere tranquillo on the beach. I am directed to playa maderas, specifically this spot called matilda’s. I have to hike 10 minutes down a beach at the end of a dirt road. There were a lot of Canadians escaping winter by spending time in Nicaragua living a Jimmy Buffet dream. The first night I was there some forty something Canuck was pouring red bulls into a can of Toña. He then skied some slopes if you know what I’m saying. His eyes were bugging out of his head by the end of the night. Despite the partying I kept to myself and went to sleep around 930 for three or four nights.
I enjoyed it.
Up next… I return to San Juan del Sur.