Sunday, June 8, 2014

Russian Police cars

Having just crossed another border, into Nicaragua, everything had changed again. So far during this trip we have changed to a different currency 10 times. Now we have to think in Cordoba, the currency of Nicaragua. The landscape changed again too, another thing that keeps surprising me. Where the last part of Honduras had been dusty dry and burned, Nicaragua started refreshingly green! The first kilometres in Nicaragua were almost eerie; the road was as smooth as a pool table… nice and winding too… surely this couldn't last?

We wanted to be at our first camping option in Nicaragua before darkness set in, which at this latitude comes quickly. The closer we get to the equator the quicker the day turns into night, not much twilight here. We had been told that of all the corrupt Police in Central America, the Nicaraguan was the worst. So what do you do? Stick to the posted speed with locals trying to run you over from behind or open the throttle a bit and get booked by the Nicaraguan police?
The posted speeds were ridiculous. A toddler on a three wheeler could take corners faster than the posted speeds while eating a peanut butter sandwich! Then again they wouldn't get booked for it…

We decided to keep our speeds reasonable, stuck to posted speeds when in town and pay particular attention to the local police tactics. The first 70 km we didn't see a single Nicaraguan flatfoot… Were these guys really good and invisible to us or does the northern part of Nicaragua not have any police? Just as I was wondering what we were doing wrong I noticed the first policeman… an overweight tubby over-fifty on an old clapped out 125 motorcycle…! You have to be kidding me! These are the dangerous policemen that try to bribe you for everything you have? Seriously?

Looking for an ATM, we stopped at a petrol station where a young lady gave me a lesson in Spanish in Nicaraguan style. Start with Spanish, shift up three gears and floor it. I must have had the dumbest look of the day on my face, which in my case is quite easy to do, as she gave me a very sorry looking smile and pointed me straight ahead for about a kilometre. Having been there it's quite easy to explain, just keep on riding south until you see a sign the size of a billboard that says ATM! Not only did the ATM accept our card, it gave me the option to retrieve Cordobas or Dollars…? I know the US has a few drug related problems with Nicaragua but was unaware that the drug-dollars were freely available via ATMs.

We upped our speed a bit and adapted to the local traffic, which was after the utter madness from Honduras quite easy. I still couldn't believe the roads though… Australian roads aren't this good, that's for sure. The camp spot wasn't an actual campground but a private country club… hmmm. A sign at the entrance alerted me to the fact that I had to be a member to enter… I figured I was. They did too. Yes we could camp, basically anywhere we wanted. The country club had a private function going… a baby shower…! In Nicaragua that means a Mariachi band so incredibly loud that the Mexicans would be ashamed of making so much noise. These guys meant business and whenever they needed a breather the most pathetic disco mix replaced them. Nicaraguans; you have to love them. By now we're used to the continuous noise in the past 5 countries we have been. Don't go to mexico or Central America if you're looking for peace and quiet :-) Yet this was seriously loud, even by Central American standards. We can only hope that the baby itself wasn't present. We opted to camp on the tennis court as it's the only horizontal bit we could find reasonably far away from the Mariachi band. We shared the area with a horse and a barking dog.

The next morning we left for Estelli, looking for breakfast. We hadn't had dinner the night before as we hadn't found a supermarket anywhere and thus our teenager was screaming blue murder for food. He was ecstatic when he saw a Burger King sign. The euphoria was short lived though as it was closed. Woehaa! On Sunday in Estelli the Burger King is closed. That doesn't bother me, but put the opening times on the door Mr Burger! Looking for a supermarket to make our own breakfast we ended up on the other side of town. My stomach has been upset for a week now so I wasn't in for Nicaraguan roadside food right now. Nothing against Nicaraguan food but I needed to settle this stomach first.

We rode onto the parking lot but found the Maxipali supermarket closed as well… you have to be kidding me! Where is everyone and where do they eat on Sunday? Of course there is always a security guard with a shotgun present wherever you are so I went up to him to ask him when they would open, which seemed reasonably soon and we thus decided to wait, rode the motorcycles to a parking space in the shade and dismounted.
Another security guard came to us making a lot of noise. Little man with a bad case of little man syndrome. I looked at him, took my helmet of and explained that we were in a parking bay and in the shade. He couldn't care less and started waving frantically that we had to move the bikes to another parking bay in full sunlight… The whole parking area was empty, there was no parking area specifically for bikes, this little wart in uniform simply had to feel important.

Australian is a great language to express frustration in and if there is anything that I've learned in Oz then it's not to take shit from anyone, especially not from short people with syndromes. I told him in perfect Australian why we left. Up yours and your horse too as our 70 year old cook at the Outback Station where I worked would have said. If you want to know what that means either go to Australia or meet us on the road somewhere :-)

Estelli was getting on my nerves by now. What a dump. I didn't see a half decent human being there. We decided to fill the tanks, have a hotdog (bad idea for an upset stomach) which Mike thought would be funny to order for me in 'extra pikante' form with a stash of Jalapeño peppers thrown in… (let's not discuss what that does to an upset stomach…)

Every country has it's own peculiarities in traffic behaviour. Nicaragua has the horn. They press the horn button to warn others, to express their disgust, to say hello to a friend, to let everyone know they have arrived, to let everyone know they are leaving… in short they use it all the time and for everything. As everyone else is doing the same you have to make sure yours is louder so it can still be heard… This country is by far the noisiest one we've been to yet. Imagine a bus arriving and informing everyone by blowing it's air horn 3 times. When the bus leaves the driver hits the air horn 3 times again. Now imagine 50 buses doing that in an hour… and trucks doing the same… and taxis… minivans... etc.

We also, finally ran into the Nicaraguan Police! They asked us for our license. A seemingly pointless question as you can't enter the country without one, they simply won't let you in until you've proven you have a license. Anyway, we showed him our laminated colour copy, which he accepted and waved us on. One thing I have noticed is how the rank order system works with the Nicaraguan Police. The local policeman starts with a 5th hand Chinese 125cc motorcycle. Promotion will get him out of town and take part in the roadblocks. Your vehicle will then be a Russian Lada…! Further promotion will get you a 4WD made in India! So far no problems with the police in Nicaragua! It was harder to order a simple Coca Cola… on which more in the next post!