We rode into Nicaragua just after noon and made good use of the day. We stopped for gas and a bite to eat at Tip Top, a Nicaraguan fast food chain, and kept riding.
This first day of riding through Nicaragua felt a little strange, though. Earlier I wrote that, at some point, people we met claimed that each country was the most dangerous out there. Nicaragua had never been mentioned, though. So this was our first “safe” country.
That dusk, as the sun started dropping behind the clouds, Aaron and I agreed it might have been the most beautiful sunset we’d ever seen. The road reflected the oranges and reds of the setting sun and the grass and trees caught the light perfectly.
Given only a few moments to appreciate the beauty, it again began to drizzle and when the sun had fully fled the scene we were again cold and a bit wet. The closer we got to Managua, though, the bigger the roads got. As it got truly dark, we took comfort in the traffic and the frequent road signs: we weren’t getting lost and we probably we were probably safe.
The highway became a four lane highway and we became confused soon after. We started seeing headlights up ahead in our lane, despite the enormous median separating the two directions of traffic. With a huge road heading one way and an equally large road headed the opposite way, why would there be headlights in our lane?
It turns out that the answer to this question is, “Chaos.” Despite the roads being fully capable of working properly, the people there do not use them as they were designed and, instead of taking off ramps and turning around, they simply turn through medians and ride into oncoming traffic.
This interesting fact was relayed to us by a gas station attendant we bewilderingly asked when we pulled off the road for a moment.
We did eventually make it to Managua and were immediately impressed by the city. It was lit up with more Christmas lights than I’d seen in years. The closest thing we’d seen to it on the trip would probably be Las Vegas, but it wasn’t quite as big as that.
But befitting the Las Vegas likening, we did stop at a casino to call Aaron’s friend of a friend for a place to stay for the night.
We unwittingly discovered a very useful traveling tip that night. It is this: If you are in a new city and don’t know how to get around, but need to meet up with your friend, have them meet you at the city’s hospital.
You pull up to a stoplight and ask the person next to you if they know where the Starbucks or the library is and they might shrug and point you in the right direction, if you’re lucky. If you pull up and ask them for the hospital they get wide-eyed and start talking excitedly. They ask who’s there. You honestly say, “My friend.” They look worried and don’t just point you in the right direction, but ride in front of you to get you there as soon as possible.
We’ve never received such accurate directions or helpful and interested givers of said information as when we’ve asked where the hospital was.
In good time we made it to the rendezvous point, met with our contact, Andre, and were given a place to camp/squat for the night.
We laid our sleeping bags out on a tarp in a small gated community owned by our contact. We were a bit excited, because there was a pool on the property that we’d been given permission to use. So that first night in Nicaragua, we went for a swim, dried off, and slept inside the construction site of the next house to go up.
Andre came the next day to pick us up and brought us to a nice pork roast breakfast that doubles as a leather workshop. After eating that delicious pig and Andre’s revolver holster was repaired, we spent the day following Andre around. In the early afternoon we went to his country club. You can imagine we did not feel like we belonged there. We’d been camping for a couple nights in a row and hadn’t properly bathed in a while at this point.
To further this feeling, all of our belongings were strapped to our bikes. So, while riding into the parking lot passed the guard, you could see all the nice, shiny cars lined up as we rode by on mud-encrusted, gypsy bikes.
A guard near the doors started calling out to me and I, expecting to draw some attention, decided to ignore him. He was persistent, though, and within moments of parking the motos next to our friend’s truck he was there accompanied by another man.
I was just trying to explain that we were there with our friend and didn’t want any trouble, but I heard the man with the guard say something about guitars. Sure enough, I did have a guitar strapped to the back of my bike. It’d been strapped there since we left home and every extended stop we took, I’d take some time to repair it, because it always needed a lot of repair. In Baja Mexico, Thomas and I reattached the bridge with some gorilla glue. In Antigua, I noticed that moisture had the fret board curling and separating from the neck and I tried fixing that with a clamp and some epoxy.
So when our friend translated and said that all he wanted was to rent my guitar, my reaction was an incredulous, “Really? That? You need that?”
Apparently, he’d just broken his guitar on the bus. He and his friend had a standing gig at the café there and without his guitar, he’d lose it. While I saw him motioning at me across the parking lot and I grimaced, thinking I might be getting kicked out of a country club, he saw me as an answered prayer that would save him from unemployment.
It took him a while to realize that I didn’t want him to pay me for its use. To be honest, I never thought that guitar would be used for performances ever again. I saw the reparation as a bit of a challenge and bringing it along as a hobby. In any case, Aaron and I were amused by how perfectly this odd coincidence was working out.
We spent the next couple of hours sunbathing next to the pool, checking our internet, and eating. When it was time to leave, we met back up with the guitarist and his friend, a dulcimer player. They agreed to play a quick song for us. He had the guitar sounding passable and, from what he said, he did not get fired that day.
The rest of the day we wandered around Managua a bit and met some of Andre’s friends. We went back to the construction site to camp and woke up early the next morning to go to Ometepe, the largest fresh water island in the world.