Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Brasilito's rodeo madness

Playa Tamarindo

Checked in to our new hostel at Playa Tamarindo and spent the next few days swimming, reading dancing, dancing and more dancing...and recovering from a series of mammoth hangovers (couldn't afford the good rum so settled for second - or fifth- best. Always a mistake). Already missing Nicaraguan rum. Didn't get much of a culture fix in this part of the world (lots of surf shops, boutiques, cafes and tourists), but...we did make it to a rodeo...

Heard there was a rodeo in a small town called Brasilito, so a bunch of us taxi'd out there and watched the crazy evening's events unfold. It was the National Championships, and the riders were wearing their funky matching outfits. Our crazy Norwegian friend had set his mind to riding a bull, for the first time in his life, here at this National Championship. He had a look of determination (and sheer Norwegian craziness) in his eye that made it impossible to change his mind. Here began my uneasiness for the evening.

We watched our friend's eager communication with the owner of the bulls, lots of laughing and passing of comments like "what a crazy fucker" (in Spanish of course) back and forth. Very luckily, at the last minute, he was talked out of it, and offered a visit to the farm of the bull owner later in the week, where he could ride to his heart's content, with a slightly less agressive bull than what was on offer this evening. Phew!

So, we took our seats behind the ring ("Phew!" again) and started to witness the effects of the evening's (and all afternoon's) alcohol consumption... punters and riders alike. Crazy! How on earth can they have their quick, life-saving defences when they're drunk? Exactly!

The first bull broke out, rider atop, and low and behold...he could ride that sucker! He was being thrashed about, like I've never seen, way more than on one of those mechanical things, and look mum! No hands! As much as I don't like to see animals used and abused...this guy was good! And...he survived. Made it off safely, was given a huge applause, and left centre stage for the downward spiral of health and general well-being.

We witnessed much more thrashing that evening, but unfortunately not so positive in nature. There proceeded to be 4 or 5 (I'm slight on details, I think shock has prevented me from recalling exact numbers) men in various states of unconsciousness who were taken away by ambulances. A few who would wake up, sore...very sore, but alive. Another would wake (hopefully) with a broken neck, perhaps never to move again (and possibly with several crushed ribs, as he was sat upon by a bull after we heard his neck snap), and another would wake with a hole where his intact kidney once was. He was the man who befriended our posse that evening. He tried (successfully) he get our crazy Norwegian friend into the ring, to wave a flag in the face of the bull, and then managed to get what seemed like half of the spectators in our area to buy him a beer. He was so, so drunk, I began to cringe every time he approached a bull, watching his reflexes slow to a speed that you could see would lead to an accident bigger than he was ready for. His last hoorah in the ring was when he stumbled towards a bull, huge, snorting and pissed off, red tablecloth in hand that he'd knicked earlier that night from the nearby restaurant. The bull rammed him, he fell, he was instantly unconscious. Never before have I seen anyone lose consciousness so quickly, and then to have absolutely no self defence and be trampled on repeatedly, impaled, and then thrown into the air at a height which looked like the next day would bring a new meaning to the word "pain". I think it was made all the worse by the fact that this was the man who we'd spent most of the evening with (albeit trying to lose him and not encourage his show-off antics). To this day I have no idea if he woke up, and if so, with what injuries. Needless to say, if he does make it back to good health again, I don't doubt for a second that he'll be back in the ring for round 2...beer in hand, grin as big as you like! Ready for the fun to begin again...

Bling baby!

As soon as we both woke up from our powernap on the bus, not long after crossing the border into Costa Rica we instantly noticed change. People were better dressed, dared to wear their jewellery and mp3 players in public without fear of being robbed, the buses had rubbish-bins in them, and there was no pollution to be seen by the side of the road. To this day I'm still not sure whether this is a result of enthusiastic clean-up efforts, or the result of a very effective education campaign. Whatever the reason, it was a real joy to see. The people were super friendly and keen to offer assistance, and we were escorted to our next bus, bound for our Costan Rican beach experience.

Nicaragua to Costa Rica

Caught the buses and taxis we needed to to get to the border, then when we got out and the first of the crowd started telling us where to go and offering to show us the way, I thought "no, we don't need to be lead 10 metres away only to have to pay an exhorbitant tip", so I shooed them all away and we started our walk to the border. Coudn't quite figure out what the big queue was when we were leaving Nicaragua, and could only see signs referring to arrivals, not departures. So, we kept walking and 1 km later reached the Costa Rican entry point (so, so hot and sweaty and not enjoying carrying 20kg 'bag o' shit). As soon as we got there we saw a mammoth queue, that looked to take a couple of hours to get through. We thought we'd be safe and ask a fellow traveller the procedure, and she showed us her exit stamp...Oh! So that's what that queue was for. Crap!

So...we walked all the way back, waited for our passports to get stamped, then walked the kilometer back to the Costa Rican border and waited in the sun for another hour. Oh what fun! Realised that that's the longest I can walk (or waddle) with my 'bag o' shit' without stopping. We took a bet as to how long we thought the queue would take, and luckily for us the eternal optimist (me) came a close second, saving us all another hour of waiting.

Jumped onto another bus and headed over the border to Costa Rica. Very, very sleepy.

You just know when you're at the beach

Continued down to the coast again, this time to a place called San Juan del Sur. Checked into an old hotel that would have been quite lovely in it's hayday. Our windowless room could have been anywhere in the world, but somehow we both knew that we were across the road from the beach, so had no hesitations spending hours indoors reading and passing the time.

Tried my luck at surfing again, and and had such a great time. Caught a lift out to remote Playa El Romanso, with only a few folk sharing the same waves, and a perfect break for a beginner on a longboard. What luck! After 20 inutes or so a local guy swam up to me and asked if he could give me some advice. Of course!! He recommended that I roll the board on top of me to avoid hitting my face time and time again as I ducked under the waves. Then he said "because you have been hitting your head, haven't you?" Ummm, yes I have. Thanks so much for the tip. So, I rolled and ducked, and managed to stand, if only for a few seconds, and totally loved the sensation of catching a wave, except maybe when I accidently surfed into rocks, because I haven't quite got the nack of turning.

Anyway, the day turned out superbly, me leaving with the most minor of injuries (considering what I'm usually capably of) ...only sunburnt knees and a singular cut from the rock incident. Qué suerte!

Isla de Ometepe - town of old men

Caught the cheapo ferry over to the island, and sat down-wind of the boat's exhaust. Managed to get in 3 good, deep breaths and quickly realised why all of the locals had made our seats available so easily.

Unfotunately, our first encounters on the island happened to be old, expat men, living their dream, and hiding from whatever reality is. I have to say tha this kindof tarnished our experience here, and although it's a beautiful place and we didn't really give it much of a chance, it seemed a bit sad with some strange old-man energy.

So, after catching a bus to the other side of the island, eating beans and rice, then catching the first bus back again, we left this place, quickening our pace with eagerness to arrive in South America as soon as possible.

(wished my Spanish was as good as it is when I've had a few drinks ALL the time! Had a great chat for a couple of hours in perfect Spanish with a Swede who spoke with an accent from Spain. So easy to understand, and a conversation I would normally have in English. Hoorah! We have inguistic progress - if only when I'm tipsy)

Rancho Tranquilo

03/07/2008 - 06/07/2008
Left León behind for a traquil getaway. Battled our way through countless chicken buses and arrived at our detsination: "Rancho Tranquilo", Los Zorros via Jiquilillo, in the very north of Nicaragua (although I took to calling it "Rancho Relaxo" very early on in the piece).

Arrived in the arvo to be told that Tina was out of town until a bit later and to make ourselves comfy. Had the obligatory refreshing swim and met our host as soon as we got back. HAD to hook into our rum as soon as she returned, to catch up with her and her several previous hours of drinking (she left us no option...really). She was positively sloshed, and a couple of us were wandering where our myriad of buses had led us. Proceeded to have an entertaining night on the beach, I then woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of crabs climbing over the base of the fan. I hoped they wouldn't grab my toes in the wee hours of the morning and scare the shit out of me.

Stuffed our faces for every meal, day in, day out, with huge vegetarian feasts - thanks Janet - (would be rude not to finish what was on our plates wouldn't it? Oh yeah, we served ourselves, I remember...but it all looked so good). Don't think I'll ever tire of beans and rice.

Met my favourite dog so far on this trip. Sweet "Canela" and her seriously ugly underbite. A face only a mother could love, but lucky for the both of us we met under the cover of darkness, so were friends from the start.

Tried my luck at surfing, but only had whitewash to play in. So exhausting, with no real chance to even paddle, just lots of board carrying and wave ducking. Watched our friend surf under a barbedwire fence, missing it by milimetres, and luckily saving herself from a possible need of facial reconstruction. The ranch we borrowed our boards from was built right on the beach, the owner not seeming to have any idea about coastal erosion, or seeming to mind for that matter. Not sure why the barbed wire was out the front, not going to offer much protection from the ocean, and perhaps not even a gun weilding maniac. Have to say though, that that was the first time I've seen anyone surf under a barbedwire fence, and will hopefully be the last...

Spent a few days doing what you do on a beach, then left Tina-the-Strange for Granada and more sight-seeing.

Arrived in Granada on 06/07/2008, and although it was very pretty, didn't have the same connection with the place as had done with León, so hit the road again for Isla de Ometepe (although I must admit that I did go a tad snap happy with the Colonial architecture before I left).

León - Rum and Rotten Eggs

Ran away from Managua as soon as possible and arrived in León, where one can stroll around town with ease, and even enjoy oneself. Had an older woman take my hand and guide me through the political murals in the centre of town, kept thinking that this experience would be so much more meaningful if I understood more than 30% of what she was saying to me.

Found a great street stall that had the greatest selection of vegetarian dishes. Ate way more than I could handle because it was first time the street vendors have offered me so many options. I fugured it'd be rude not to. Had to waddle to the bar afterwards. That's what I get for being overly excited.

Partook in a pub quiz with newfound friends and jointly won a bottle of Nicaraguan "Flor de Caña" Rum. This kickstarted my new obsession for the final duration of my stay in Central America.

A little mousie kept me awake all night, rustling through my plastic bags. That'll teach me not to be one of those irritating backpackers who keeps everything wrapped in offensively loud plastic.

Rotten Egg burps. Oh oh! Anyone who's ever had giardia will understand my anxiety. This bout kept me busy for the next couple of days.