If You Drink You Will DIE!

12 08 2010

For the umpteenth time this trip, post-alcoholic maladies meant that any plans to leave were shelved; put in the refrigerator; and donned dark sunglasses. I’d finally got bored with waiting for two badly infected bites on my legs to heal (they’d been weeping pus onto bed sheets since at least Costa Rica and I’d acquired them in Colombia) so I took Caleb with me to the pharmacy (in case I needed some help with the Spanish). She gave me a course of 20 antibiotics that I needed to take morning and night for the next ten days.

¿Es possible tomar bebidas alcoholicas?” I asked in my best Spanglish. “NO!” came the response. “If you drink alcohol you will die!” I went back to the hostel and asked some of the girls there for a second opinion: Laura, Lara and Cori were all medical students. “It won’t do you any harm,” they said, “but it will reduce the effectiveness of the drug”. Okay, I’d wait until well into the evening before I started drinking then. I much preferred their bedside manner to the Nicaraguan pharmacist’s proclamations of doom!

The boys were also far from ready to leave due to alcoholic malaise, so we instead went back to the comedor from the previous night for some breakfast. Like the previous day they had no electricity but this also meant no fans or any way to mitigate the oppressive, sticky, morning heat of Granada; so we instead went to the central park where Jack, Romain and Caleb tucked into some yucca with pork on top. I couldn’t face the idea of strange street food and just stuck to a Coca-Cola.

Robbie and I instead decided to get some hummus and pita at the Eurocafe. This turned out to be quite small; although the hummus wasn’t that tasty and the pita breads were covered in so much flour that it was pretty much all I could taste. After breakfast I decided to go and get a haircut and a beard trim. At least this time the guy used a proper cut throat razor for my beard and spent ages over-stylising my goatee. Still, I looked neater for a change.

I was quite prepared for a lazy afternoon in front of my computer but the guys decided to go to the lagoon again so I went along. Much to my disappointment we got dropped off at the same place as Antonia and I had been deposited two days beforehand. Instead of walking half-an-hour down the road we decided to stay by the first hotel and use their “beach”. After a quick swim I lay down and read my book again on the stony ground. The others finished their swim and went back to the hotel to get some drinks: much as I wanted a beer I stuck to Coke; doctor’s orders and all that.

It looked like rain, so we decided to leave early. We’d got the taxi-driver to wait for us for up to 2 hours so it wasn’t a big problem. Romain, in common with the previous evening, seemed to be always searching for something to eat: I think the guy has worms or something! So the rest of the boys went off to get something to eat. I instead decided to disregard any medical concerns and played Janiv with the girls and started on the beers. There was a big cocktail night on at Casa Bohemia that night so after the game of Janiv was over we headed down there.

I had quite a lot of cocktails in the bar so I’m pretty sure that the efficacy of the drugs was no reduced to zero; and I also ordered a chilli con carne which tasted awesome and had quite a kick. At one point Lux came and joined us but she had to get off into town to ask a bar about another potential job. Eventually Jack and Robbie found us and at one point “Roxanne” came on. Jack and I had a quick go at the drinking game but neither of us had much booze left so it didn’t last that long.

We went into town again but it was dead. I was also surprised not to see any sign of Tara and Aisling. We decided to try El Club again. Contrary to the previous evening it was full to the rafters with people but they also wanted a $5 entrance fee. I’m sure the locals don’t pay that so we refused and headed back down the road. Our club from the previous evening was empty so we again went back to the hostel for a few beers. At the hostel there was a crazy old woman hanging around the bar. She told us all how beautiful we were but Caleb got special treatment: he was told that his face was horrible. Much as we didn’t want to ruin Caleb’s hopes of eternal love, we all headed off to the bar from the previous night (well except for Romain, who once again went to bed early).

It was still relatively quiet at the club that night and I wasn’t really feeling it. Robbie left before me but Jack on the other hand was definitely having a good time, so Caleb and I left him to it and headed home. Caleb had another pleasant encounter that night (it really wasn’t his day) and one of the locals told him that he wanted to kill him. I can’t imagine anything that a mild-mannered Caleb could have done to inspire such angst: it must be his horrible face; and we spent a lot of the journey on the way home checking that he wasn’t following us with a knife or something.

Dark Clouds Descend

11 08 2010

In the morning Jack, Robbie, Caleb, Romain and I set out amidst the drizzling rain to a cigar factory around the corner. I said goodbye to Antonia once again before we left (she was heading back to Tegucigalpa to pick up her stuff and then I’d hopefully see her in the bay islands in a few days time). Jack and Robbie had actually been to the cigar factory the day before (Jack seemed to have been to every museum in Granada at this point) but now that we had a Spanish translator in the form of Romain I think they got more out of it. We had a go at rolling the cigars but the workers did the majority of the work for us — otherwise I’m sure mine would have been unsmokable.

Me rolling a cigar

After the cigar rolling experience we went to a nearby church and climbed the short staircase to the top so that we could look down on Granada from above. Then we went to get some breakfast from a restaurant around the corner from our hostel that did the equivalent of a full English with pancakes. Unfortunately they ran out of bacon and there were no sausages either. Still it was tasty enough.

I spent most of the rest of the day trying to get some blog entries written and speaking to various people on chat. At one point my wife complained to me about my relationship status on Facebook still being “Complicated”. When I pointed out that Facebook is hardly replete in different statuses — there is no “Separated” or “Soon to be Divorced” — we actually discussed the d-word for the first time. I’m not sure that FB chat is the most appropriate channel for such a discussion but it was very light-hearted so it seemed all right at the time. I also got word that Julia was in Granada; as were Tara and Aisling. Surprisingly they were all staying in the same hostel. I was supposed to meet the Irish girls in Ometepe days beforehand so that we could carry on our travels together and, although I was pleased to hear from them, I was a bit annoyed that I’d once again worried about their whereabouts.

To further improve my mood, the Internet went down in the afternoon; so I just spent the rest of the day drinking a few beers in the hostel and hoping that the rain would actually stop at some point. In the evening we finally found the cheap comedor that the boys had been searching for for days. And then we were going to head to the pub quiz at one of the Irish bars which we assumed started at 8pm. At this point, my usual bright and breezy mood was subjugated by an irritable melancholy: and as I watched Romain order plate after plate of food, knowing that we were going to be missing the quiz, I got even more ratty. Eventually I decided to head off to the pub quiz with Robbie and leave the others behind to catch us up. We got to the pub quiz at almost 8:30; it had actually started at 7pm so we’d missed it almost completely. After a beer at a random bar on the main stretch we went to Jimmy’s bar where I met up with Tara, Aisling and Julia.

I don’t know whether it was my tiredness, the first discussion of the divorce, my annoyance at Tara and Aisling for not travelling with me as we’d agreed or any of the other small irritations of the day but by now my grouch was in full-sway and I don’t think I was the best company for anyone that night. It turned out that Julia had been with the Irish girls on Ometepe and, although it had taken them a while to realise their mutual connections to Barry, it almost felt like they’d ganged up on me by not telling me they were now travelling together. The live band in the bar were too loud and it was hard to carry a conversation but given my monosyllabic, aggressive responses that may actually have been a boon. The girls left early (another annoyance!) and the bar emptied out so we decided to head to a club (or rather El Club) next to our hostel.

El Club was empty so we went back to hostel for a few drinks on the patio in the hope that it might fill up a bit after a while. There I roped myself into a game of Janiv with Daniel (Israel), Tamara and Marleen (The Hague), Cori (USA) and Laura and Lara (England). There is much to be said for the recuperative effects of Janiv: the dark cloud of irritability that had so fogged my evening finally lifted and I began to have a good time. After the game was finished, I headed back to El Club with the boys. Romain at this point decided to go to bed (we never actually got him out in the whole time in Granada). El Club at this point had finally decided enough was enough and closed its doors. Even though this was obvious from the darkened bar and the locked doors from halfway down the street, Jack still insisted on walking right on up to check.

We found another bar on the way back and had a great night there drinking and dancing away. There we even ran into blonde Aisling from San Juan del Sur and it turned out that she wasn’t that annoyed with me about my potato famine comment.

Hitching a Ride and Rolling with Gangsters

10 08 2010

Once again apologies to both avid readers of my blog for my tardiness in keeping it up-to-date. After my frenzy of blogging activity in Antigua I decided that since I was on holiday I should probably get away from the computer for a bit and maybe do some travelling and enjoy myself. Anyway, I’m back now for the next thrilling installment of my adventures in Latin America.

The plan for my first full day in the colonial city of Granada was to head to Laguna de Apoyo — a lake (apparently in the crater of an extinct volcano although I can’t corroborate that) between Granada and Masaya (this town name prompted many lame jokes on our part about “He’s not the Masaya, he’s a very naughty boy”). Unfortunately I’d managed to leave my microfibre towel behind in Puerto Viejo when I left so the first order of the day was to buy a towel for the beach. After at least half an hour of frenetic bargaining with obdurate stallholders I finally managed to secure an ugly green towel covered in parrots and God knows what else from the market. We then negotiated a reasonable taxi price to take us both to the lagoon and set off.

I was actually quite disappointed with the lagoon. There wasn’t much in the way of a beach — more a thin, rocky, grassy area at the side — and it took us half an hour’s walking before we reached a tiny stretch of “beach” where we could relax under a tree without being surrounded by a gaggle of other tourists. After a quick swim in the lagoon (I’m still not the world’s best swimmer and since fresh water lacks the buoyancy of salt water I feel even less comfortable swimming there) I lay down under the tree and read my book. The tree we were sheltering under seemed to be home to an ark of strange bugs and we spent most of the afternoon examining the strange beasts as they landed on us.

At one point I mentioned to Antonia how scary it was that most of the locals carried machetes and how defenceless we’d be if one of them approached us brandishing his blade. Antonia, having spent 3.5 months in the dangerous metropolis known as Tegucigalpa, was quite blasé about it. Obviously with my record in Ecuador I feel slightly less secure about the intents of the locals. At one point I looked up from my book in some trepidation to see a samurai-sword-toting local striding towards me; fortunately he walked straight past us into the jungle with little more than an “Hola”. My momentary panic was forgotten..

It started to get a bit late so we decided to head back. We ran into a Dutch family en route and chatted to them for a bit: although he either thought my Dutch was crap or was speaking in English to include Antonia. He was quite chatty and was telling us about how he’d spend at least a few weeks each year in Nicaragua: some of his family was from there. Eventually we managed to break away from the conversation and wandered back along the road towards where we were dropped off. There were absolutely zero taxis in sight and after receiving an exorbitant quote from the hotel for a ride back to town; we gave up and started walking the long way back.

After a while we tried hitching a ride but most of the trucks were already full. Finally we found a family who were heading to Managua that would take us to the main road. They seemed to be scared to roll down the front window so that the gringos could tell them where they wanted to go. We sat in the back of the pick-up and got dropped right at the main road. There we started to negotiate with a taxi-driver about a rate back to town but he was trying to charge us more than we’d paid for the whole way there. In the midst of the negotiations we saw a regular bus coming past and left him behind as we quickly ran to get on. It was dirt cheap getting back on the bus.

Antonia wanted to walk to the lake, which she assured me was just at the end of the street with all the bars on it. I agreed to accompany her and then complained most of the way that the road was extremely long. The bus had, after all, dropped us off at completely the other end of town and then the road went on forever. At the end of the road we got an average view of the north-western shore of Lake Nicaragua and then had to walk all the way back to our hostel. If Antonia had been an Aussie; at this point she’d probably have called me a whingeing pom.

Antonia and I at Lake Nicaragua

Back at the hostel, Jack and Robbie headed off early to the Chinese restaurant again but I was more keen to start drinking. Robbie was feeling a bit under the weather and had taken some tablets which completely knocked him out and Jack almost had to carry him back from town. Jack joined Antonia and I in another restaurant on the main strip where we both ordered fajitas. I was appalled: the tortillas were tortilla chips! Neither of us particularly enjoyed it and Antonia started feeding her’s to some of the street kids. When they started to hang around our table as they ate, however, she started packaging little food parcels up in paper napkins so they could go away as they ate. Her first supplicant was a short, fat kid who didn’t need food handouts so much as a good few weeks at the gym. Eventually word got out and we had a steady stream of visitors to our table eager for a couple of tortilla chips, some salsa and whatever vegetables Antonia had left.

Antonia was feeling tired: yet another evening that she failed to come out; so Jack and I walked her back to the hostel and then set out again. Robbie by this point was dead to the world, thanks to his heady concoction of pharmaceuticals, so we headed off on our own. At this point the heavens opened and there were not enough eaves on the way, so we got thoroughly drenched going to Imagine bar. There was a live band playing that night but they were a bit of a wallpaper band: we spent most of that part of the evening shivering in our wet clothes and wondering why we were in a bar that charged ¢38 for a beer; the usual price is around ¢20. In the bar we met Caleb (USA), Romain (French) and Lux (Swiss), who I’d already chatted to a bit back in the hostel.

Once the rain and the unobtrusive band finally stopped, we went to Kelly’s bar for a drink. There we were entertained by a local guy who’d lived for a long time in Miami and had the gangster tattoos to prove it. He was regaling us with tales of his gangster history. He was actually quite scary and I’m glad there were a few of us and that we were on friendly banter terms. He’s certainly not someone I’d want to meet in a dark alley on my own. On the way out of the bar he offered us drugs and women and when that didn’t work he tried to hit us all for a few Córdobas. I was rather worried that he might follow us home but, to my relief, he stopped trailing us after a bit. Back at the hostel I sat around in the kitchen area with Lux, Jack and Caleb drinking a few beers whilst Jack and Lux did some laundry in the sink there. Eventually we called it a night and headed to bed.

Post 200! I’m Sure You’re All Thoroughly Bored By Now

9 08 2010

So this is the 200th post in my blog: another milestone in the world of self-aggrandizing twaddle. And more evidence that the best way not to wake up in an iced bathtub with some stitches in your belly is to advertise the fact on the interwebz that your liver is well-used.

I woke up fairly early to see Antonia off but she failed to get up for the first bus anyway. Alan knew of a guy that could take us into town for $20 and we were going to book him but he only had room for 4 people. So when Antonia decided that she’d also come with us, instead of getting the cheaper but slower bus, we booked the more expensive minivan with much more capacity.  At the last minute, the capricious Antonia changed her mind again and left us with a much heftier bill! It was much too late to cancel at this point: thanks Antonia!

Whilst we waited for the bus to turn up I hung out with the Barcelonan girls for a while. After checking out (I barely had enough money left and had to pay with a combination of dollars and córdobas) we set off into town and got some much-needed cash out at the ATM. Alan recommended an English-run cafe to us — The Corner House — and I managed to rush down an amazing steak sandwich with caramelised onions and fresh bread before we dashed down to the docks to catch the next ferry. On the boat I fell asleep once more as I read my book and then we got a taxi to Rivas and then a bus to Granada, our next destination.

Sleeping on the ferry

At the bus station a little kid asked me how much my trainers cost and I suddenly realised that it was a bit stupid travelling around in glowing white trainers (they were a new purchase back in Panama City). It would definitely not be appropriate going through more dangerous places like Managua and Tegucigalpa! At Granada we got escorted all the way from the bus station to our hostel, La Libertad. Even when we stopped off in the central park for a quick drink, he waited around for us! Since we already knew exactly where we were staying this seemed a bit unnecessary but he managed to collect a commission from the hostel for recommending the hostel! (Even more ironic when he was trying to lead us elsewhere initially!)

At the hostel we met another German girl, Martine and a Swiss girl who worked there, Lux. She later acquired the prefix “dirty” (as in “Have you been getting any dirty Lux?”) although whether she was or not is not something I have any experience of. I also ran into the German couple from San Jose (it seemed to be a popular German destination) and a French trio I’d been running into since Puerto Viejo. Antonia arrived at the hostel about an hour after us (the bus having taken longer than our private taxi) and then the four of us went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t as cheap as the others hoped but it was pretty good food and generous portions.

After the Chinese we went for a few drinks at a bar on the main street. Robbie and Jack’s other brother had practically been jumped by one of the Nicaraguan girls there a few weeks beforehand. That evening she wasn’t in the same drunken and frisky mood and actually looked a bit sheepish when she recognised them. Since it was a Monday night and there wasn’t really much going on, we all went to bed quite early.