Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lost in Nicaragua… sort of…

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is the second part in a series I’m writing based off of my wife’s and my recent adventures in Nicaragua.  It is unnecessary to read the previous segment in order to read this one since, outside of geographic location, all events are, for the most part, unrelated.

For context to some of my following inner monologues and emotions, just know that we were involved first-hand in a mugging during our initial evening in Nicaragua and it has thrown a bit of a dark flurry over our journey, leaving us suspicious of everyone.

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My wife and I are standing in the lobby of the Hotel Naranja, the place we’d bunked the night previous.  We were just checking out and getting ready to – thankfully – leave the dangerous and violent city of Managua behind for higher grounds on Isla de Ometepe or The Island of Ometepe; a textbook paradise located just 90 minutes by ferry off the shores of Nicaragua.

The woman behind the desk hangs up the phone and says, “I’ve just called you a taxi.  He’ll pick you up out front and drop you off at the bus station.  Take the Rivas Express.  Rivas is a port city.  The ferry from Rivas will take you to the island.”  I nod and she says, “Rivas Express,” and I nod again and she says, “EXPRESS.”

The taxi driver arrives in an unmarked minivan and pushes both my wife and I into the backseat where the cushions are ripped and springs and yellow stuffing are jutting out at odd and painful angles.  The man speaks nada English and drives like a Latino Jeff Gordon.  He blazes through the city, swerving, honking, skirting around bicyclists and pedestrians.  He cuts corner and takes shortcuts, driving with the finesse of a paramedic.

The city flies past us in a frenetic buzz, the buildings and homes broken, vandalized and decimated.

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ABOVE: A completely operational business.

The taxi driver turns into a buzzing market place and stomps on his brakes in the middle of the street, slams his car into PARK and exits the vehicle as a group of strange men (also in unmarked clothes) begin to descend upon us.  Jade squeezes my hand and says, “What’s happening?  What’s happening?”  I square myself off against my wife, blocking her from our assailants as they slide open the door and tell us to exit the vehicle into a crescent they’re forming with their bodies.

Jade echoes herself, “What’s happening?” and I, powerless against them, slowly exit the minivan, preparing myself for the worst and snapping my pack to me so it can’t be stolen.  Jade hesitantly exits, staying near to me while the men begin to bump into us and shout words I can’t understand.  Noises come from every direction.  People are everywhere.  Buses and cars fly by.  Information and stimuli are pouring in from every angle and I’m trying to look for knives and thieves.  My personal bubble is being infiltrated and molested by a variety of strangers and I don’t know how to answer any of them.

A large school looking bus pulls up next to us and I suddenly hear a word that makes sense to me.  One of the large men shouts, “RIVAS!  RIVAS!” and points to the bus.  I say, “Rivas?” and he says, “Si!  Si!”  I push through the men towards the bus and onto the steps leading inside.  My wife shouts, “Johnny!” and I turn around, anticipating her to be following me but instead seeing her through the bus window, still standing on the concrete, surrounded by strangers.  I shout, “Come.  ON.” and wave my arm through the air.

She says, “Are you sure this is the right bus?” and I say, “Rivas?  Rivas?” and the group of men, whose roles in this I still don’t understand, all nod and say, “Rivas!  Si!  Rivas!”  I wave my hand through the air again and say, “JADE.  Come on!”  The bus driver and all of its patrons stare at me as I hold up the show; the bus not being at a stop but at an actual stop SIGN, just getting ready to pull into traffic when I hijacked it.

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ABOVE: ALTO / STOP

Jade says, “Is this the Express?” and one of the men shakes his head and says, “No,” and Jade says, “It’s not the Express!” and I say, “It’s Rivas!  We have to get on!  Come on!” and Jade, finally bending under the pressure, gets on the bus and we both take a seat together halfway down the aisle as the bus turns into oncoming traffic, swerves, and picks up speed.

I turn to Jade and say, “That was intense,” and she says, “Yeah.  Who were those guys?” and I shrug.  The bus stops and some people get on.  Others get off.  The city passes and then falls away.  The bus stops.  People get on.  People get off.  The country engulfs us; acres and acres and acres and acres of wild life as far as the eye can see.  Everything is overgrown and lush and green.  The bus stops and people get off and people get on.

Jade says, “How far to Rivas?” and I say, “I don’t know.”  I nudge the woman in front of me and say, “How far to Rivas?” and she says, “Rivas?” and I say, “Yes.  Uh, si,” and she says, “Si,” and points forward.  I have no way to communicate the simplest thoughts to anyone and this is both frustrating, exhilarating, challenging and also a bit scary.

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ABOVE: JB & JB ridin’ dirty on the bus to Rivas… like, literally filthy.  Everything is sweaty and caked in dust.

I reach into my bag and pull out our Nicaraguan Traveler’s Guide and flip to the translator in the back which gives you general phrases like, “What time is it?” and “That is too expensive,” and, “How far to…”

I nudge the woman again and say, “Cuanto kilometers… Rivas?” which I assume translates roughly to, “What is the quantity of kilometers to Rivas?”  The woman blurts out a few words and my wife and I turn back to our book, trying to figure out what noventa means.  We cross reference every ten digits until we come to ninety and sigh with relief.

We’re definitely on the right bus and we’re definitely heading the right direction.  90 kilometers.  The woman tells us two hours.  The bus stops, people get off, people get on.  To our left, a bus filled with white people passes us.  Jade says, “I think that’s the Express to Rivas.”  Our bus stops again.  More people get on.  More people get off.  The Express Bus never stops.  The Express Bus disappears into the distance.  The Express Bus is gone.

A woman selling snacks from a basket gets on and begins to walk up and down the aisle, chanting her inventory at all the passengers.  The woman in front of  us purchases some candy for a handful of shiny coins.  The merchant gets off at the next stop and more food distributors get on.  They sell bread, drinks and snacks.  People come and go.  The bus never breaks forty miles per hour.  I turn to Jade and say, “Do you think that Express bus just goes from the station in Managua to Rivas?” and she nods and I say, “This bus is way better,” and she nods again.

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ABOVE: Sack o’ Fanta… that I bet the regular ol’ Express Bus didn’t get to try out!

The woman in front of us turns around and offers us some candy.  She holds it out in the palm of her hand and says, “Esposa?” and I take the candy and say, “Que?” and she repeats herself.  She holds up her hand and points to her ring finger.  “Esposa,” and I say, “Oh!  Spouse.  Wife.  Husband.  Yes!” and I lift my hand and show her my pure gold wedding ring but quickly drop my hand, afraid somebody will try to steal it from me (both my ring as well as my finger).

The woman says, “Ninos?” and Jade says, “Tre.  Uno nino.  Dose nina.” or,”Three.  One boy.  Two girls.”  This is how total immersion into a foreign language works; you take the little you know and you begin to incorporate.  Over the next week we’ll add a few words to our vocabulary every day until we’re able to function as tourists on a relatively socially acceptable basis.

The bus stops and the driver shouts, “Rivas!  Rivas!” and I say, “Rivas!  Let’s go!” and The Candy Woman says, “No!” and we sit down.  The man repeats it and I realize he’d said, “Arriba!“, which I believe means “Hurry up.”

The bus enters another city and Jade says, “Is this Rivas?” and I say, “I have no idea.”  I look for signage but can’t find any and, the boards I do find, I can’t seem to read.  At one point I see the word Rivas with an arrow but no numbers or mileage / kilometers next to it.  It’s at this point that the thought crosses my mind that we could actually miss Rivas.  We could actually slide right through it, right past it.  We could end up in an even more foreign land and have no idea how to contact anyone.  The internet doesn’t work on our phones so we couldn’t YELP a taxi cab.  We could enter a business and hope to translate “lost” and “taxi” and “help” and… the sun crosses it’s peak point in the sky and I imagine being stuck in a small village at night…

I ask the woman in front of us where she’s heading and she says, “Costa Rica,” and I nod and say, “If we hit Costa Rica, we’ve gone too far.”  Jade exhales and takes a picture of something with her phone.

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ABOVE: Our Bus Buddies.

Every ten minutes, every fifteen minutes, the bus stops and passengers are traded.  I say to Jade, “What are these places?  Where are they going?” and she says, “I don’t know.”  I look at the bus stops and they’re nothing more than benches in the middle of nowhere.  A random hut or trailer stands all alone in the distance, completely disconnected to any sort of civilization for miles and miles and miles around.  Getting off at one of these places was completely out of the question.

If we passed Rivas, we’d be onto the next city… whatever it was.

I imagine where The Rivas Express could be right now.  I imagine all those tourists hopping on a ferry and laughing and smiling.  I wonder if this is how the entire trip will play out; us trying to do something and failing miserably; us trying to do The Tourist Thing and instead doing The Nicaraguan Thing; us trying to dip our toes in the pool and instead falling in completely.

I honestly can’t say it’s a terrible way to experience a new culture but there is a fear involved in it that coincides with the excitement.  This is more than hitchhiking to Denver.  This is more than going for a stroll through Strange New York.  This is more than taking a road trip detour through Salt Lake City.

This is complete isolation from your culture, from a way of life, from standard and safety.

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When we typically travel we like to Give In To The Process and let happen what may; let the journey bring things to us and carry us through and allow it to live on its own, to be alive but this process and this journey was completely different.  This wasn’t Giving In to the art of acupuncture and letting the weirdness wash over you; this was someone asking to do acupuncture with machetes.  It was the complete unknown with no guidelines, roads or basis of comparison.  We had no contact to any one to ask for advice and the contacts we had, we couldn’t speak frankly to.

I turn my head and look out the window, watching more countryside roll by; more broken homes, houses and yards, wondering how much further.  How much further?  How much is ninety kilometers?  How much is one kilometer?  A half mile?  Two-thirds of a mile?  Everything is foreign.  Even distance is strange.  I can’t even get a grasp on time.

We wait, completely at the whim of Fate and Travel and Journey.

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Suddenly, The Candy Woman turns around and, choking on her excitement for us, says, “Rivas!” just moments before the bus driver shouts it.  We stand up and I say, “Gracias!  Gracias!” and walk off the bus, having no idea how to get a taxi, how to call one, how to get to the ferry from the bus station, how far it is, how expensive it is, how, exactly, the translation from U.S. dollars to Nicarguan cordobas works.  Everything is Grey Zone.  Everything is Unknown.  And I’m jumping off the bus directly into it.

I step down into the dirt and a heavy set man in a red polo approaches me and says, “Ferry?  Ometepe?” and I say, “Si,” and he says, “Taxi,” and points to himself.  I say, “Si.  Cuanto costa?” and he says, “Ocho,” and I say, “U.S.?” and he says, “Si,” and I say to Jade, “Eight bucks to the ferry?” and she says, “Sure.”

We hop in and he blasts Hispanic techno music while driving with his knees and texting on his old-fashioned-Motorola-Razor-looking phone… and I’m positive he’s texting his Boss, telling him he’s got two Gringos in the backseat that are prime meat for the Sex Shop.  I’m sure he’s thinking to himself, “Score!  The first one has beautiful features, soft hands and a delicate voice… and his wife ain’t bad neither!”

He sways into on-coming traffic, over corrects and begins to veer towards the sidewalks, corrects again, evens out, puts down the phone and turns up the music.  He turns onto narrow streets populated by abandoned homes, dark garages and people that look like they’re capable of bad things.  I mindlessly reach for my right pocket where I always keep my pocket knife before finding it gone, realizing too late that I’d left it at home to avoid the TSA from confiscating it from me.

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ABOVE: The airport exiting Nicaragua works on the honor system.  “Dear Passenger, please deposit any prohibited items into case.”  No further inspection required.

The man turns down the music, turns to me and asks something in elongated Spanish.  I say, “Hahah, poco espaniol,” or “Hahah, small Spanish.”  I hold up my forefinger a half inch from my thumb, indicating just how poco.  The man laughs and says, “Ah… Ometepe, si?” and I say, “Si,” and he says, “Cuanto dias?” and there’s that cuanto word again!  I know this one!  I learned it on the bus!  He’s asking how many, how many, how many something.  Dias.  I know that.  It’s familiar.  What is it?  Buenos dias.  Good Day.  Day.  DAY.  Cuanto Dias.  Quantity of days.  He’s asking how long I’m staying.  I cracked the code!  And that’s how it feels every time you figure out what someone has said to you – it feels like you’ve just decrypted a super secret real life code and the message is out and it’s yours.

I, counting silently in my head while staring at my fingers say, “Cinco?” and he says, “Cinco, si, si,” and then we drive in silence until he stops at a tall fence blocking a huge body of water.  In the distance I see the two volcanoes that make up Ometepe.  They are majestic and…. other adjectives will just poison them.  They are truly majestic.  I nudge Jade and say, “Loooooook…”

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ABOVE: Ometepe from the ferry.  On the left is Volcan Concepcion and on the right is Volcan Maderas.  The second is dead, the first just sleeping.

I pay the taxi driver ocho dollars and he gives me his name and phone number so I can call him in cinco dias.  (See, you’re picking it up too!  It’s fun, right?!)

Jade and I walk through the gate, find a poco restaurante and purchase lunch; a single plate of over easy eggs, rice and black beans that we share and jointly chase down with two beers; a Victoria and a Tona, the two major beer brands of Nicaragua.  We don’t know it, but this is what most of our meals will consist of.

The rice and beans are unlike any I’ve ever had.  While I find most rice and beans to be completely bland and underwhelming, this combo was delicious and we would intentionally go out of our way to find some.  I suppose that when it’s your major crop and food source, you find ways to make it more palatable.

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Next to the restaurant is a dirt… road?  Path?  Trail?  Running along… houses?  A school?  Businesses?  Everything is very vague and nebulous; unlabeled but obviously operational.  Buildings.  People.  I’m not sure what they’re doing.  Stray dogs run rampant along with herds of cows and several chickens.  Everything passes right by us, at our table, careless to our presence.

Everything is so different here, even the animals are strange.

We pay our tab; an unheard of three U.S. dollars for both of the beers and lunch and make our way to the ferry; a beat up sea coaster that’s made this journey innumerable times.  We find seats on the very top and gaze down on the land as we slowly pull away from the mainland, pushing out into the body of water, feeling the gentle rocking pushing from beneath us and the vicious sun beating down on us from above.

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We move on and on but Ometepe seems to become no closer.  Jade falls asleep.  I fall asleep.  I wake up.  Jade wakes up.  We take pictures.  We see birds.  A woman sitting next to us drops her digital camera in the water.  Her boyfriends laughs at her.  A bird sits on the rail of our boat, allowing himself to be tugged to the island as well.  Maybe he knows there is better fish over there.

We both fall back to sleep and when we wake up, we are in spitting distance… and everything is amazing and stunning and beautiful and unlike everything we’ve seen so far; it is a land all its own, completely separate in every way from both Managua and Rivas.  It is stunning.

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The steel plank drops.  The engine is killed.  The boat is tied off.

We have arrived safely at Ometepe.

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Next week our adventure continues.  We still have a gypsy circus, The Beach at the End of the World and a man named Urine to discuss.

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ABOVE: First photo taken at the port of Ometepe.

 

“How I Was Nearly Beaten, Mugged and Kidnapped in Nicaragua” … OR … “How I Spent My Wife’s 30th Birthday”

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For the longest time I’ve had this ridiculous hero fantasy wherein I find myself in a hostile situation with various other civilians – the two most used locations in my brain are a gas station robbery and an airplane during a terrorist take-over.  I hear stories about these things happening all the time; I read the news articles, I’ve seen the YouTube clips uploaded from security cameras, I’ve watched the Caught on Tape! TV specials.  Everything is calm and then, just like that, you’ve got a gun in your face, piss in your pants and the register is hanging open.

I always hoped that if I were to find myself in a real life crime-drama scenario that I would be the guy who Did the Right Thing.  I tell myself that I would act honorably and valiantly but there’s a little voice in the back of my head that says, “When sword meets steel, you will fold.  You will hide behind a rack of candy bars and sports car magazines and you will squat down and shiver and pray and wait for it to be over.”

I tell that voice that it’s wrong.  That I’m made of better material but… until it happens… you never know what you’ll do.

Two and a half weeks ago while visiting a foreign country, I finally got to see if The Voice was right…

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For my wife’s 30th birthday we wanted to do something exotic… something extravagant… something adventurous.  We talked about Red Lobster but said, “NO!  Bigger.”  We talked about skydiving but said, “NO!  Bigger.”  We talked about having a Latin American themed birthday party complete with pinata that looked like Jade but we said, “NO!  Bigger…. but let’s save that idea for 31…”

BELOW: A photo journalistic approach to some of the awesome things we thought about doing for Jade’s birthday…

Petting a camel.

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Having a staring contest with a seal.

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Going camping.

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Wearing masks.

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Breaking things.

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Around this time we serendipitously ran into a couple at an ice skating arena one night who told us they’d just returned from honeymooning in Nicaragua.  “Nicaragua?” I say, “Isn’t that a war-torn, poverty stricken, wasteland?”  The husband shrugs and the wife says, “Yes and no.”  They pull out their iPhones and show us pictures of an exotic paradise, photos of extravagant beaches, videos of adventurous hikes, swims and ferry rides.

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We were sold.

“The only thing you gotta remember,” they say together ominously, “Is that everyone there is really poor and they’ll steal things from you… not because they’re violent but because it’s a course of survival…”

Two weeks later we’d purchased our tickets and two weeks later again we found ourselves airborne, somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, heading for a land who’s foreign tongue we did not speak.  I felt like Indiana Jones and my wife was that short Asian kid that follows him around, always helping him out of trouble.

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Neither of us had experienced international travel before besides the one time my wife visited the Bahamas and the single time I was in southern Texas so neither of us really knew what to expect.  Everything was new and revelatory; virgin territory.

On the plane I sit next to a Jehova Witness who just retired two days ago.  To celebrate she was moving to Nicaragua for three months.  Thinking about her I realize that she’s still there now (at the time of this writing) and it makes me jealous.

The captain buzzes over the intercom and tells us we’ll be landing in twenty minutes.  Jade and I push up the window, expecting to see Strange and Foreign Nicaragua, a land covered in jungles and vines and explorers carrying machetes but instead we only see a phosphorescent orange glow emanating from the city; a color that screams the word “HEAT!”  Traffic slowly crawls below us, cars and trucks and motorcycles.  From above it looks like LA at night… or Miami at night… or New York at night….

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ABOVE: Nicaragua by day, which is more what I was anticipating when I opened the window.

The plane lands, everyone stands up, Jade and I grab the only thing we’ve packed – a backpack per each of us – and exit the plane.  It’s then, as I step into the terminal, that it all hits me very hard.  I am in a foreign land.  I don’t know anyone and, most noticeably, I can’t read any of the signs.  Letters that I have been familiar with my entire life strategically reorganize themselves to stand out like strangers on boards that might as well have been blank.

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ABOVE: Bookstore in the airport.

The airport is quiet.  There are few people and no security.

Outside we find a man that the hotel has sent.  He holds a sign with our name on it and, as we approach, he introduces himself as, “Mumble-Mumble, I speak very fast Spanish.”  I place my hand against my chest, feeling like Tarzan, and say, “Johnny,” and he says, “Yonni,” and I nod.  My wife says, “Jade,” and he, like everyone that’s ever met her, says, “Jane.”  It’s good to know that the mistake transcends language and culture, making us feel right at home.

He takes us to an unmarked car and opens the doors for us.  PS, we’d read stories about taxi drivers picking travelers up, driving them into dark alleys and mugging them so i was ready for his attack… if it were ever to come to that…

The man, Mumble-Mumble, drives us through a large city called Managua and it’s unlike any I’d ever seen.  Homes and businesses in various states of disrepair are found on every corner.  Domiciles that most would find uninhabitable are everywhere; we see toddlers walking in ruins, families eating in filth, couples enjoying the night air, surrounded by debris; corrugated steel, cracked wood and rubble.

We pass a street corner where a small gang of eight year old kids are washing windshields for money.  On the same corner are women covered in short dresses, long hair and thin sheets of sweat, selling themselves on a humid night.

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ABOVE: This picture was not taken at night… but all the pictures that were taken at night were dark… so you get some day time photos.

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ABOVE: For the low, low price of just 85 cordobas, you too could enjoy the processed goodness of a quesoburguesa doble!

Jade and I begin trying to converse with our driver.  The three of us speak slowly, trying to find familiar words and phrases; shaping things with our hands.  He tells us he has diez hermanos or ten brothers.  He tells us that the children working the streets are the children of drug addicts who can’t take care of them.  He tells us that Marc Anthony is playing a show in town tonight.  He tells us we should go.  He says, “Trabajo!  Trabajo!” and snaps his fingers and dances but I don’t know what it means.

He turns off the main road onto a dark street and the solitude of our situation creeps under my skin.  We pass abandoned garages and dark homes and broken windows; patched up fences and homes with no doors.  A group of six motorcycles blow past us, their engines tearing through the silence of the night and the driver tells us there will be a motorcycle convention in the center of town tomorrow but all I hear is “There are motorcycle gangs everywhere.  Watch out!”

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ABOVE: The outside of our room at Hospedaje Naranja.

He takes us to Hospedaje Naranja (Hotel Orange), where we’re staying the night, and walks us to the front door, who’s gate is locked from the inside.  A woman cautiously peeks around the corner before recognizing her friend, smiling and pulling the dead bolt.  Jade and I step inside and the woman quickly latches the door behind us with a nervous giggle.

She speaks fluent English, checks us in and asks if we’re hungry.  She suggests three restaurants and, little do I know, but this is the first of several choices that will ultimately lead me to an undesirable end.  We choose the closest; a Peruvian place three doors down the street and our fate is sealed.  The woman says, “Very close.  Very safe.”

We put our bags in our room and walk the half a block to the restaurant.  It’s now 9:30pm and dark.  Every car I hear approaching is a kidnapper, a thug, a villain ready to Do Crimes.  We enter the restaurant and order our food in the best Spanish we can muster.  Jade orders wine and I get a shot or trajo of whiskey.  We order a pasta plate and share it.

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The woman who owns the restaurant approaches our table and asks where we’re staying, asks what our plans are, asks how the food is.  She sits down at the table and tells us that her tablet (knock-off iPad) is broken and it’s erased all of her family photos.  She says something about batteries and RAM and wireless signals.  She asks if we’d like her to pull some herbs from her garden to make us a fresh and delicious tea but we decline.  Jade, because she’s genuinely not interested, me because I’m afraid she’s going to slip me some kind of date rape toxin that will render me useless before I wake up handcuffed to a bed with a man named Tony rubbing his dirties all over me.

The woman sighs, disheartened, and then we take another turn closer to the pit.

I say, “Is there a bar around here?”  The woman looks at me quizzically and says, “Bahr?” and I say, “Yeah, uh… drinks?  Beer.  Cerveza?” and she says, “Bahrr?  AH!  Pub!?” and I say, “Yes!  Si!  Si!  Pub!” and she tells us that there’s one on this very block.  She draws an invisible map on the table and says, “Go right and right and right.  Not far at all.”

The night is young and, maybe it’s my one shot of whiskey or the fact that I’m realizing that my fear of all Nicaraguans has been unfounded and that everyone truly is kind and gentle but the pub sounds like a good idea.  The taxi driver was friendly and helpful.  The woman in the lobby was generous and wonderful.  The restaurant owner and our waiter were both smiling and genuine people.

“This is Nicaragua,” I think.  This is how life should be.  I’m projecting my anti-trusting violent mindset onto these people.  I’ve watched too many movies.  Seen too much TV.  People are people and people are kind.

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The woman says, “I will take you there,” and we say, “Okay,” and she grabs her coat and then we’re in the dark street and then we’re walking towards her SUV and then Jade is saying, “Wait, what is happening?  I thought she was walking us?” and then I say, “Yeah, but she’s driving us.  It’s okay.  She’s nice,” and then the woman is on the other side of her car and Jade and I are standing in the dead street with both doors open and Jade is whisper-shouting, “We don’t know her.  She could take us to some factory and sell us into sex slavery and men will stick it to your maize-hole,” which of course is a Spanish joke if you can translate it and I say, “Don’t worry.  Everyone is so nice!  She’s just going to give us a little ride!” and Jade says, “I don’t want to.  I don’t want to go,” and, looking back… I’m really amazed at how stupid and careless I was about to be, crawling into a car with a stranger.

Luckily, we never saw how that story ended because, like all good stories, the unexpected occurred.

Suddenly, the woman, out of my line of sight on the driver’s side of the car, screams.  SCREAMS.  She hasn’t stubbed her toe or slipped or broken her ankle.  This scream tells you immediately that something nasty is happening.  Again.  SCREAMING.  In my mind, I remember it all in English, but I have no idea if that’s true or not.  It seems like she would have shouted in her native tongue but all I can recall is, “Stop!  Stop!  Stop!  No!  Stop!”

Jade says, “What-” and I begin to hesitantly walk towards the back of the car… and then from out of the darkness a man appears, slightly heavy set, Latino fella.  Late 20s.  The image is blurry and I’m having a hard time processing what is happening; everything has gone from calm and unsure to chaotic and unsure in literally seconds.  I see the man and I see the woman and they are struggling.  The woman is hanging onto something – her purse – and the man is pushing her away from it, trying to break free.  She’s struggling like it’s her newborn child he’s trying to pull away and, finally, he succeeds.  He grabs her dress by the shoulder and violently throws her to the ground.

The entire exchange happens in one or two seconds; I walked around the back of the van and then saw a man overpower a woman and throw her to the ground.  It was very fast.  Everything else moves at an incredible rate… everything else moves faster than I can process; faster than I can make decisions or weigh pros and cons.  It all just…. happens.

But this is my moment.  The one I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

And when it is upon me, I don’t think, “Here is my moment,” and The Voice never speaks up.  There is no internal dialogue of whether I will act or not.  Whatever is inside… just exists.

The man turns and begins to run and I immediately break into a sprint after him, my Dad sneakers slapping the hot concrete like pistons.  And then there is suddenly a motorcycle with a second man in the street, waiting, but I don’t slow down.  I don’t know where it came from or when it arrived or if it was there when we exited the restaurant but I am certain that my runner is heading straight for his getaway driver.

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ABOVE: This was not the robber… believe it or not, we did not pull out our cameras during this ordeal.  This is just a random man on a bike.  Although, the bike looks similar and the man looks similar…. so…. maybe…….

I’m out of shape but The Thief is even thicker in the center than myself so I’m able to close the gap between us just before he reaches the bike.  He pauses momentarily to skip and hop into the air; the plan to land on the back of the bike and his friend to, of course, escape into the darkness with their loot but…

…I don’t know where the truth is in this following section and I don’t know where my wishful thinking is – everything is a gray blur – but I’ll give it to you how I remember it and how I hope it happened.

The Man slows down to leapfrog onto the back of his accomplice’s bike and, as he does so, glances over his shoulder.  This is the first time, I believe, he realizes that he is being pursued… and it shocks and surprises him and causes him to stumble, foiling what would otherwise have been a practiced and flawless landing on the bike.  In the background, echoing, I can hear someone screaming.  Maybe it’s the woman from the restaurant, maybe it’s my wife, maybe it’s both.

The man stumbles and, instead of hopping smoothly onto the bike, lifts his foot up and catches it awkwardly after seeing me.  He lifts his foot again and lands half sideways on the seat, hop-hopping to keep his balance, the back of his left knee draped over the seat prematurely, the driver now struggling to hold things upright.  I catch up to him and, as I’m running, begin to pull my fist back.  I’ve never hit anyone in my life and it’s about to happen.  We are on an impact trajectory, folks.

The Man holds out his left hand, trying to block me and, with his other hand, pulls back his fist and begins to say, “No!No!No!No!” and then this is the first time that everything slows down.  Finally, the fast forward is done and a clarity rolls through my brain.

I see two men standing in front of me that are clearly capable of very dark things.  I see two women standing behind me, the latter of the two pressing 50.  I see myself stopping these two men and then me standing in a street with both of them coming towards me.  I don’t know if they have knives or guns.  I don’t know anything.  I don’t know anyone.  I’m in Nicaragua.

And then I see my children, in my head, clearly.

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ABOVE: The two things that I love most; my children and my hammock……… Oh, and Jade is nice too.

And then I realize that whatever is in that woman’s purse is not worth losing what I have at home.  I don’t care if she has a hundred thousand dollars in there and three gold bouillons and the Busch’s Baked Beans family recipe.  I suddenly realize that that purse is going to go away… and I am completely okay with that.

I pull my punch and take a step back.  The guy sees me hesitate and hops the rest of the way onto the bike.  I assume that our exchange, his entire pause, was roughly seven seconds.  Just enough…

The bike revs and the two men wobble and then take off into the darkness just as a third man appears over my shoulder; this one running directly towards the motorcycle.  Like the others, he too came out of nowhere and it only takes me a moment to realize that it’s the waiter from the restaurant.  He shouts and the bike revs and takes off but he doesn’t stop.  He cranks his arms and chases the bike for a solid 20 feet.  His arms outstretch… the bike picks up speed… he’s closing the gap… as the bike finds its balance… and then just before the bike is out of his grasp, he wraps his fingers into the shirt of The Thief and throws him to the ground, pulling the entire bike sliding onto the concrete with a bang and a hissssss.

Looking back, I wonder if the two criminals were thinking the same thing I’ve been thinking, which is…. seven seconds.  If we’d only had seven more seconds… if that stupid American hadn’t…

In those seven seconds they would have been able to ride free and clear.  As is, they did not.

Two, three, four, six, nine, twelve men suddenly come running from behind me; various restaurant workers who heard the ruckus.  The driver stands up, pulls his bike up, hops on and takes off, leaving his partner in crime lying in the street, alone, as the twelve men encircle him before dragging this would be felon to the curb and begin beating him mercilessly.

Jade and I slowly step backwards, towards the other side of the street and disappear into the shadows, retreating back to the confines of our hotel.  For the remainder of the night we lie in bed and slowly flip through 93 channels of Spanish television, hoping to learn a few phrases for the coming week but the only word I’m able to pick out is ayuda.

Help.

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At midnight I shut the light off and try to go to sleep but merely stare at the ceiling for what feels like hours.  My heart rate has long since returned to normal but I still feel as though adrenaline and fear are pounding through my veins and my brains.  I hear a noise outside and go to the window.  Nothing.  I crawl back into bed and hear a scamper from the room next door.  I listen and wait.  Nothing.  I get up and use the bathroom, make sure the window is locked and secure.  I double check the lock on the door and then peer out from behind the curtains slowly.  I hear a motorcycle approaching and wonder if it’s the same man, coming back to the neighborhood to pick up his limping and beaten friend.

I crawl back into bed, under the cold sheets and wonder what it’s like to live in a world where this occurrence does not throw you into a state of panic and fear and unease.  I think about the men that came running from the restaurants and realize that this wasn’t the first time this had happened.  This wasn’t An Event.  This was A Lifestyle.

This was Managua.

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Bud Light: Heads Up

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It’s been pretty quiet over at JohnnyBeBald for the past couple weeks and I have to apologize.  First, my wife and I were out of the country celebrating her 30th birthday (Insane Adventures of Two White People Who Don’t Speak English in Nicaragua coming soon) and then upon our return I jumped into directing the below Bud Light spot for a commercial competition.

I’d love for you to click the link and check it out.

http://zooppa.com/en-us/ads/16-oz-cool-twist-aluminum-bottle/videos/bud-light-heads-up

In the coming weeks, brace yourself for tales of a mugging I was part of, a gypsy circus we attended and an 80 year old man with a shady past.

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