Just to say everything that happens, happens in Spanish my translation here is at times Spanglish in order to convey the story. My dictionary has barely been touched and my grammar books are on the phone to Bookline to complain about their abuse – not opened in almost three months.
End of an era
My right arm, my sidekick, my partner in crime Teresa has left. She’s been a very good Spanish teacher and my Nica-sister. Only destiny could bring together a mop-carrying Spaniard and an anti-bac-carrying Brit. Card-carriers of the cult of clean. Sadly, there was one poor person, one disease and one disaster too many for her to put up with. She took up cigarettes and started chain-smoking, upped sticks and fled to a luxurious boutique hotel to think things over. Two weeks later we said our farewells and I waved her off as she headed home to Spain via Costa Rica – she had to do it in style, didn’t she? It’s been a strange time because I’m even missing the presence of those people I thought I’d be glad to see the back of.
So, here I am working out how and where the journey takes me from here. I’m still thinking of my objectives: improve my Spanish, meet Nicas and help the children… and a daily/regular practice of Bikram yoga (oops). And you know what? Things happen. They just keep cropping up.
Sars, sarna, something beginning with… ‘s’
Connor came down with Denghi fever, Anette was mauled by a dog and had to have Rabies jabs, Victor, Leo and many others had extremely bad bouts of diarrhoea and sickness – I told Leo she might have dysentery (that’s what the internet symptom searches are for, aren’t they?) But it’s not that bad here – even if I do inspect the children for unnecessary signs of life such as lice, dirt and general grime, with a very beady eye, before offering a LyndalooHugsfromNica.com squeeze.
But it just wasn’t clean enough for Teresa whose role in the movie is still up for grabs (Susan Sarandon?) Seeing so much poverty was too much and too depressing. Our trip to Matagalpa was both delayed and then cut short. Teresa came down with a mysterious virus. She barely got to say the word ‘fever’ because I’d thrust my digital thermometer under her tongue. Yes, as Dr Lyndaloo suspected it was a corker – 38ºC+. My temperature is only 36ºC (I know, with my Caribbean blood, the heat here and all that time practising Bikram yoga I’d have thought it would have been higher too).
In Matagalpa Teresa barely ate – I ate on her behalf. Then she started itching with no signs of a rash. We left the bedrock of the Sandinistas on election day after less than 72 hours. The look on Teresa’s face, when she came back from seeing the doctor, was priceless. I thought she’d been given moments to live. “The doctor says I’ve got sarna,” she said to Ana (Angelina Jolie). She told me to look it up! She was armed with special soap, antihistamine tablets, some other medication and had been given an injection of I-don’t-know-what in I-don’t-know-where. Scabies. I don’t remember reading about that in the guidebook but then we’ve already established that my guidebook isn’t even good enough to pass for toilet paper. Ana wasn’t perturbed and I wasn’t so fussed either. After all scabies is what soldiers got during the Great Wars, right? Scabies is apparently commonplace here. But not commonplace enough for Teresa who moved into a beautiful hotel moments from La Casita. She called me to say she had four pillows and a balcony. A very big deal. I wake up daily with a crick in my neck. Remember the pillow I bought? It’s disintegrated.
Teresa went to Managua for a second opinion. Scabies-schmabies. It was a virus. Mind you, it didn’t make a jot of difference because when she returned from her sojourn in the fancy hotel she decided enough was enough and she was leaving – after a little persuasion from her daughter and the prospect of seeing her two little grandsons sooner rather than later.
Up the road trip
It was Teresa’s intention to leave Nicaragua with memories of luxury and so she booked us into a boutique hotel on the beach. We took to the road with Carmen who’d recently arrived from Madrid and had moved out of her house, El Martirio – other accommodation for volunteers – after only two days. With that attitude she shaped up nicely to join Mrs Mop and Mrs Anti-Bac on the road. Furthermore, she’s a public health inspector in her day job. Tres eran tres, las hijas de Elena, tres eran tres, niguna era buena.
Off we trotted – or rather cruised – in a $100 taxi ride to Diriamba and back. The hotel did not conform to my idea of boutique. The first room I was shown stank of bleach. The second had a hole in the roof where a large ceiling tile was missing – I’m a bit paranoid about Nicaraguan wildlife falling on my head so I declined that one too. The third room had bird droppings on the floor. I put on a brave face and didn’t bother to ask for another room. By that evening the hotel – which normally saw virtually no trade – was fully booked. We drew quite a crowd.
The not so boutique hotel by the sea
I had a side street view of a large pig wandering down the road – sadly, when I tried to take the picture a truck appeared blocking the evidence. But what characters there were inside the hotel as well. “Hi,” said a brash nearly-dead north American man, “Buzz, Doctor Buzz. Are you Nancy Wilson?” Dr Buzz was 99 if he was a day and looked to be precariously dangling one foot in the grave. He said I looked like a famous jazz singer who lived on the Corn Islands off Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Dr Buzz lived up the road, had retired to Nicaragua and cruised annually. Teresa rolled her eyes. It seems Nancy Wilson is a good friend of the hotel-owner – a handsome Frenchman named Patrice who winked at me. Teresa tutted. Teresa believed Patrice was a money launderer. Our Nica taxi driver said, the winking hotelier, was one of a growing breed of expats who came to Nicaragua, fell in love with the country and or a Nica, invested lots of money and then found themselves trapped as the business didn’t go as well as they’d hoped.
I met a lovely Nicaraguan family. Arnulfo Senior was there with his son Arnulfo Junior and his daughter-in-law Nohemy. Arnulfo Jnr and Nohemy have been married for almost 40 years.
All-in-all it was a very relaxing day and a half – until Carmen turned green and blamed a dodgy hotel salad. Did I mention her public health credentials?
Girls’ night out
Seven of us gathered for Teresa’s last night. We were supposed to catch the sunset on the lake but our driver misheard what we said and started to take us to Mombacho. It was a good 10 minutes before we realised he was going the wrong way. The sun had set. We went to a luxury lakeside bar. The luxury ended on arrival as we were attacked by a swarm of insects, bitten in places we didn’t know we had and left consuming our drinks and the insects in one sip. Not before Teresa complained very loudly about the cost of cocktails – 75 pesos. They’re only 25 pesos in Granada. ¡Mega caro! (which translates very easily to ‘mega expensive’), she shouted. I think the people in Honduras, Panama and the Caribbean also heard her. Of course we all laughed. People would pay money to see Teresa in Nicaragua.
We went back to the centre of Granada and ate some food. Teresa hated the peddlars and the people who stop at your table to sell their merchandise. When she nipped off to buy an ice cream we detained some passing singers and made them sing to her on her return. It was worth every peso. We didn’t give them much maybe 10-15 pesos each – about £1.50 in total. It made me think of how little they make since most of the time people tell them to “bog off”.
There were promising sounds on our walk back to La Casita -a double base, claves and a trumpet. At the end of the musical rainbow was Clave de Sol . I danced as they played my favourite salsa track Un Monton de Estrellas. The band invited me to their 7pm live performance on the Friday. Wisely, I asked if they meant 7pm Nica-time (NT) – the real hour plus at least one more. Something to do with the strength of the rum.
♫ Teresa, farewell ♫
My Nica-sister got up at the crack of dawn to catch the Costa Rica bus.
Mr Detour, the driver from the night before, was supposed to pick her up at 6am. No, he didn’t show. I suspect he’s currently on a diversion. Luckily enough there were plenty of drivers around.
But what I learned was that life starts early, explaining why the neighbours have their sound systems at concert level from at least 7am. I saw the milkman. He arrives on a bicycle with an urn of milk. People then come out and fill up their pots with the amount they want. My friend Hetty Daffodil wanted to know why he didn’t just milk the cow at the doorstep. One step at a time, Hetty. One step at a time.
To be continued…