Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The Saga Begins.
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I arrived very late last night in Managua, but didn't want to take a cab in the dark, so I checked into a local hotel for the night. Getting through customs and immigrations took no time at all. While on line I started talking with an older women next to me. I thought she looked like someone visiting from the bay area; actually, I thought she looked like someone you might see riding on the back of a motorcycle as part of Dykes on Bikes. I think I might have been wrong; she was a nun and worked for an evangelical charity.
She pointed me towards a shuttle that would take me to "The Mercedes", a part of the Best Western Chain of hotels where I could spend the night. On the way over I met Wim, a very nice man from the Netherlands, who was working for an NGO doing charity work in Nicaragua. When I got to the hotel, there were two people in line in front of me. Both of them were carrying very large, well thumbed bibles. The man behind me was chatting on the phone about setting up a prayer meeting. I may be the only unbeliever in the entire country. They put me in room 666, but I'm sure that is just a coincidence.
So, no trip is complete without at least one horrible cab story. This leg of our journey started with the front desk person telling me it would cost $150.00 for the taxi to drive me to the marina. "Okay", please ask the driver to come here", I say, knowing already how this is going to go. He doesn't speak English. "Explain to him that I will pay only $150.00 and nothing else, and he must take me directly to the marina." I tell the clerk. They chat in Spanish for a few minutes.
She then tells me that he doesn't know the way to the marina, do I have a map. I show him the stuff I got off the marina's website. He says he doesn't know how to get there, but that the roads are impassible. It is amazing that he can both not know how to get there, and also know about the road conditions getting there, but this kind of Zen knowledge is part of the Cabbie From Hell job qualification. He tells me he can only go as far as Chinandega, the closest major town, but will only charge me $100.00. I explain that that doesn't help me at all, I need to get to the marina. The desk clerk asks for the number to call the marina, so I begin to look it up, but the power fails, and all their internet connections drop. I've got a map off the marina website which is almost as useful as the Microsoft Help Desk. I realize that the webpages I have saved off don't have the local marina number, and my cell phone doesn't work in Nicaragua yet so I can't call Ann to ask her for this info, and "telephone information" is a new concept in Nicaragua.
Realizing that I'm just wasting time waiting around for the power to come back, I decide to get in the cab and head to Chinandega, but I'm not feeling comfortable about the situation. As we are driving past another hotel I see a huge sign for car rentals, I realize that cab rides for the crew are going to add up, and I could just as easily rent a car. I tell the cab driver to let me off at the next hotel we come to, and I inquire about rentals. The price is $10 a day for the car, and $14 a day for the minimum insurance. That is still cheaper than what it is going to cost me, AnnMarie, and Robinson in cab fares, plus I'll have the ability to go into town when I want. I rent a car and head off into the jungles of Managua.
Now, most Americans will find this hard to believe, but there are no maps for sale in Managua, or parts near by. The reason for this is that there are no street names in Managua, or in parts near by. The idea being that if you don't already know your way around here, you are probably a foreign spy. I thought it was odd that the directions listed on the marina web site didn't mention street names, and included comments like "turn right when you see the rock shaped like a bear", but it didn't occur to me that I'd be navigating my way there. Had I known I would have brought my compass and GPS/Chartplotter along. I stopped about twelve times along the way, each time asking for directions.
Nicaraguans don't like giving simple directions, probably because it takes a lot of Spanish words to say "turn left after you've gone past Jose Gomez's barn that fell down". The fact that I speak eight words of Spanish which don't include "right", "left" or "road" didn't help. Basically, at each fork or intersection, I'd stop, find the most anal retentive looking man I could, and ask him to draw a map. Fully fifty percent of the maps were wrong. I'm sure that if given enough time, I will be able to find my way back to the airport, but I think I may need to hire a guide for the first trip. It is really quite impressive. Even CalTrans could hold their head up high compared to this place.
On the way to the marina I was stopped by police. At least I thought they were police. They were wearing police uniforms, and had guns. They were pointing at my car and directing me over to the side of the road, so I pulled over. There were two officers, and it turned out they wanted a ride up the road. They were not police, but guards at the local factory, and were on their way home. Hitchhiking while fully armed and in uniform is a new one for me. None the less, I spent a few tense moments realizing this, then another ten minutes wondering if I'd just made a really stupid mistake picking them up. They turned out to be very nice folks, we tried our best to communicate, and I even learned the word for "farm", which is all we saw as we drove along, but I've since forgotten it.
Eventually I found my way toward the marina grounds. At about this time the paved roads became gravel roads, and gradually the gravel roads became dirt roads, and then ruts, and then ruts filled with water, and then parts that were just water. At some point along the way I realized I'd made a horrible mistake in not renting a 4x4, preferably a truck. Or maybe a HumVee, if not a tank. The ground was saturated, and I found myself having to do some pretty tricky driving to get past some bad spots. On top of that, it was starting to get dark and I really didn't want to get stuck out in these parts at night. About a mile from the marina I encountered a really bad patch of muck, and pushed the poor little rental car to its limits getting it through. By the time I was driving down the marina driveway my vehicle looked like I'd just finished a Baja cross country race.
As I drove up the driveway I encountered Ron & Diane on bicycles coming the other way. Ron had been watching my boat for me while I was away, and I was bringing down some boat parts for him from the states, so it was a delightful accident to bump into them just as I arrived. Ron is a bit of a character; he is tall and lanky and always making jokes with everyone. He is the kind of guy that somehow knows everyone by name, and is able to befriend even the most reluctant natives. He and his wife Diane have been teaching English to many of the locals, and they have come to recognize his goofy antics and also make fun of him. We hit it off immediately, and have been teasing each other ever since. Its fun to watch him interact with Diane, who just shakes her head at his jests and rolls her eyes as if to say "Can you believe this guy?" They are a very cute couple.
They were bicycling along the road with another cruising couple, Tom & Ann, and were all on their way to dinner at a near by restaurant. We ate at a palm covered palapa overlooking the ocean. The hilltop sloped down to a beautiful beach with what, as I'm told by the local surfing tourist, Brad, is an amazing left break with two hundred yards of run that tubes most of the way. At least, I think that was what he said. I don't speak Surfer any better than I speak Spanish. I just pretended I understood and nodded dumbly. He had brought his guitar, I borrowed one from the restaurant and we sat and jammed after dinner. Eventually we hiked back to the car and I drove into the marina parking lot, glad to have managed to get this far.
So, I've made it back to the boat, which is still floating and doesn't seem much the worse for wear. The battery was dead when I got here, but that was because one of the marina workers decided to shut off the power to my boat but didn't turn it back on. When ever there are serious blackouts and the marina needs to use their own generators, they walk along the docks shutting off everyone's boat that isn't occupied. This is something they've started doing and it really is the only problem I've had with the marina so far. Power is such a rare commodity here that the folks will do anything to reduce their load. Unfortunately, it killed my battery. I've plugged everything back in and started charging it again, but it isn't clear if it will come back. I've decided that batteries are like small infants. They will die unless constantly attended to.
Beyond that, and being unbelievably tired, things are good. I trust the same holds for you, and hope everyone is enjoying themselves as much as I.
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