Accidents Will Happen: Nicaragua 2012
Updated: Jan 4
March 16, 2012
Travel, as in life, invokes a series of risks. When we wake up the morning you never can tell what the day will bring, good or bad. When you travel, the risks are compounded, especially if you step off the beaten path.
I have had my fair of incidents in my years on the road, including a motorcycle wreck in Marrakech Morocco, and too many close calls to mention, including crossing dangerous mountain passes in Nepal, Mexico, Guatemala and other harrowing routes (note to self- there are no atheists on a Third World bus); being robbed in Turkey, Greece, Thailand and Mexico; and even just driving around chasing the Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.
I fell off two ledges in complete darkness, once in Morocco where I was saved by a swimming pool, the other in Honduras where I landed on a pile of rocks which inflicted injury upon my person. I have been threatened with personal harm from unscrupulous characters, been abused by touts and con artists, taken a few wrong turns at the fork in the road, but managed to come up for more.
If you don’t believe in Guardian Angels then spend some time on the old dusty road and if you pay enough attention, you may become a convert.
Case in point, our side trip from Costa Rica to Grenada Nicaragua. Our friends Paul and Lorri own properties in Playa Coco we rented for a couple weeks. migrate stay here six months every year, and as their 90 day visa in Costa Rica had expired, they were required to leave the country and re-enter to avoid fines or deportation. After some discussion, they decided to cross into the nearest border at Nicaragua and visit the charming town of Granada Nicaragua.
We had vacationed in Granada in 2008, renting a sweet villa with a pool for 19 days. You can read more about Granada here, but suffice to say we loved the small city, with its deep historical roots, and its architecture that harkens back to the Conquistadores. So we jumped at the opportunity to travel up to Granada with Paul and Lorri, and off we went.
Paul owns a Chrysler Hemi pick-up with a king cab he imported from Florida to Costa Rica. His visa run routine is to drive to the border of CR and Nica, park the truck, walk through customs and then grab a cab to Granada. Total driving time of about two and half hours; the border is an unknown equation- they have waited as long a five hours getting visa- but we were hoping for the best.
Off we were on another adventure, a beautiful Guanacaste morning, clear, hot and windy. Soon we found ourselves at the border, passing a long line of trucks by driving along the on coming traffic lane. After dealing with a gang of touts, Paul negotiated a price to park the truck, and we made our way through the lines at Customs in both CR and Nica in under a half an hour- a record for Paul and Lorri who do a Visa run every year.
I won’t go into details on the hassles with touts at the border but suffice it to say they get in your face and there are a lot of them. Paul and I are both large dudes so this helped but they are relentless, providing false information at every turn in order for us to become reliant on their service.
After negotiations and a pleasant taxi ride in a somewhat beaten taxi, where we drove along Lake Cocibolca, the world’s twentieth largest lake, passing two magnificent volcanoes on the island of Ometepe, Concepción and Maderas, joined by a low-slung isthmus to form one island in the shape of an hourglass as part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
We also spotted Mombacho, the volcano that looms over Grenada at every turn (we climbed it on our last trip- very cool). Eventually we were deposited in the centre square on a blistering tropical afternoon, no worse for wear. We climbed aboard a horse-drawn carriage, still used as taxis, and seeking lodging for a couple of nights.
This was little trickier than planned as Granada has become a tourist hot spot. The places we checked were full and eventually we ended up right back in the square at Hotel Alhambra. The rooms were just so so, but the lobby and terrace over looked the main square, which was a great way to pass time.
Soon we were established in our new residences, lounging by the hotel pool, shopping for trinkets and dining at one of the many fabulous Granada restos, more expensive now than four years past, but still great values. Walking along the cobbled streets, listening to horse hoofs, is a definite “set the wayback” moment.
Scenes from a Banana Republic
So it was on a fine Sunday morning, after enjoying breakfast on the terrace overlooking the main square in town when Paul came up with the suggestion we rent bikes. The city is mostly flat and easy to bike, a great way to tour about, something we had not done four years previous. The bikes were only $1 an hour so after handing over a piece of ID to the obviously stoned proprietor (red flag?) I hopped on a mountain bike which had crappy brakes. In hindsight this was a very bad call but at the time it seemed like a good idea.
Our first stop was at Dona Alba, a cigar factory and outlet. After sampling a local hand roll, we moved to the outskirts of town and found the baseball park. Baseball is serious in this country, in fact the game is an obsession, which you can read about here.
It cost us .50 cents to watch a pick up game. The stadium was grandiose, the grandstands in shade but the cheap seats showed no mercy in the brutal sun. On this day, the crowd was sparse; the home team had played a big game the night before. We watched the game for a couple of innings, enjoying the big band that played between innings. The players and umps had all the mannerisms of the pros, from the stance to the arguments- very entertaining.
Paul wanted to check out a restaurant for our evening dining pleasure, so we got directions, rode our bikes through the traditional market, and turned toward the volcano. Heading down a steep hill, up ahead a boy kicked a soccer ball into the road, a car honked its horn, I hit my brakes which failed me on the steep decent and I hit the soccer ball dead on. This caused my bike to flip me into the air, and I landed hard on the road, which did not offer any cushion. This trick is normally difficult to pull off, hitting a ball head on while riding full speed downhill!
Like most accidents this one happened in the blink of an eye. I picked myself up, Paul turned around, but the news was not good. My elbow looked like hamburger, bleeding profusely.
We had just passed a woman who was washing her car, so I limped back up the steep hill. She washed out my elbow but it was apparent a hospital was in order. The family all came out the see the gringo’s injury, and they provided me with bandages and antiseptics. Guardian Angel #1.
Her son, who spoke good English, said there was a pharmacy up the street, and then walked us up there. The pharmacist took one look at my elbow and said: "hospitale!" My arm was a mess, but she wrapped it in gauze for less than a dollar, and the bleeding subsided. Guardian Angels 2 & 3.
Surprisingly, I was able to ride, having gouged my knee in three places but no breaks as far as I could tell, so we rode to the restaurant where we were to meet up with the women and informed them of the tragedy. The restaurant owner said it was best to go a private clinic, called them to ensure they were open, and then called me a cab.
Guardian Angel #4.
At the clinic, which seemed closed, not a sole in sight except a the staff nurse who said the doctor was in his way. Paul kept my spirits up with jokes and commentary on my ability to hit a soccer ball on a bike, the nurse kept us company as well (Angel # 5) and soon the doctor arrived, stitched me up, and I was good to go. Walking was a challenge as I apparently bruised the bottom of my foot somehow. This foot bruise in fact would prove to be the most painful injury, as it made walking a challenge.
The next day, reversed our tracks and headed back south to CR. I was banged up pretty good but managed to shuffle along with everyone. The good news is, nothing was broken. The bad news is, no swimming for the next week or so.
Coulda been a whole lot worse!