The Trooper

I had some minor [major] car troubles yesterday, while Justin was out of town, and it reminded me of this early experience I had in Nicaragua…

Shortly after Justin and I moved to San Juan, he took off for a weeklong bachelor party in Colombia.  I knew the trip was planned before we even set foot on Nicaraguan soil, but I don’t think I truly believed that Justin would actually leave me sola in Nicaragua just 5 weeks into our adventure, until he did.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to be the girl who stood between Justin and his best buddy’s bachelor party, even if it was 1,000 miles away.

We had just purchased our new (old) car – a 1997 Isuzu Trooper, so I drove Justin to the airport in Managua and then planned to drive back to San Juan on my own.  Even now, after 4 years of life here, I can’t believe that I actually agreed to drive back from Managua, on my own, with absolutely no knowledge of Managua, the route to San Juan, or the transit “laws.”  I did it anyway.  Thankfully, our new friend, Baldo, was in Managua the same day and offered to ride back with me.  So after leaving Justin at the airport, I went to meet Baldo at Metrocentro, a mall just 15 minutes away and also a place I’d never been, but was certain that I could find easily.  A mere 4 hours later, I pulled into the parking lot and we were on our way.

I handed the keys over to Baldo, exhausted from my half-day trek around the winding streets of Managua, and we set off for San Juan.  As we neared Rivas, and dusk, our new (old) car began to show signs of distress.  First the interior dashboard lights began to dim and shortly thereafter, the radio stopped working.  Baldo assured me that we were fine, so we continued on our way.  We rounded the corner at La Virgen and embarked on the final passage home.  These days, that last stretch of road takes about 15 minutes to cover, end to end, but 4 years ago, that tiny stretch of highway required a 45-minute commitment thanks to giant potholes and endless desvios (detours).  So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that shortly after we made that turn, the sun set, the car stalled, and our headlights went out.

I encouraged Baldo to pull over – perhaps we could call a tow truck, I suggested.  Baldo just laughed and pointed out that not only were we in the black hole for cell phone signal, but it would be a long wait for Triple A.   Instead, he hopped out, push-started the car, jumped back in and we continued down the highway.  This time, Baldo only accelerated when climbing a hill.  The rest of the journey, we relied on dear old Newton and his Law of Motion, chugging up hills, using the gas, and coasting down hills using sheer momentum.   He did his best to get behind other vehicles (which were few and far between) to light our way home.

To reassure me [and to calm my intermittent hysterics and quiet my naïve mechanical suggestions], for the remainder of the ride, Baldo regaled me with stories of his teenage years.  He’d been in this very situation before, except that when the headlights went out, his buddy walked alongside the car, illuminating their way home with a Bic cigarette lighter.

At one point, the wind picked up, swirling dust into the car, so [naturally] I closed my [electric] window for protection to which Baldo sighed loudly and reminded me that we were trying to conserve the car’s energy, not deplete it.  You can imagine how thrilled he was when, a few minutes later, I began to lower the window to relieve my forehead from the beads of sweat forming across my brow.

Eventually, we rolled [quite literally] into town, stopping at the Texaco to charge up the Trooper’s battery for the final push up the giant hill in Pacific Marlin, where we were staying with friends.  Barely in the door, I burst into tears, cursed Justin and our dear Trooper, and fell into a dead sleep.

The following morning, I rose early in an attempt to get a jump on the day and a jumpstart for the car.  I walked out the door only to find a flat tire and decided it was the Trooper waving her white flag in surrender.  I laughed to myself, turned around, walked back inside the house and gave her a nice 7-day rest.  Because a Trooper she is.

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The Comedy of Errors, Which is Our Life in Nicaragua*

San Juan del Sur is a colorful town and I’m not talking about the buildings, though that is also true.  No, I am referring to the people: the colorful and often crazy-ass people.

On Sunday, after a lovely anniversary weekend with my darling husband, I rolled our car into a cement wall and broke the rear windshield.  It was certainly unintentional, but entirely my fault just the same.  Justin, meanwhile, was waiting for me at Bambu Beach Club with a specially prepared dinner, courtesy of our wonderful chef friend, German Eric.  Yes, we call him German Eric, not because there are other Eric’s in town, which there are, but simply because he’s German and thus deserving of the distinction…I guess.  There are plenty of other people in this town with similarly obvious and/or wonderful nicknames, including Irish John, Irish Peter, oh and Irish Paul.  There’s Yoga Larry, Bitchin’ Bill, the Chicken Lady, T-shirt Kathy, Hot Carl, the list could go on…

But that’s not who I’m talking about either…I am actually addressing the mentally distraught crazy people in this town.  Judge me for my lack of political correctness and empathy, but it’s true.  As my dear friend Sarah put it, “San Juan imports crazy people, remember.”

Today, not 24 hours after we got our car back from the mechanic with a glistening new rear windshield, someone threw a rock through it and broke it again.  Someone out for vengeance?  Nope.  Someone trying to break in and steal our radio…oh wait…that was stolen last year, so no.

I found out after Justin messaged me “guess who just smashed our rear windshield?”  Naturally, I assumed he was joking since we had just repaired the thing yesterday.  “Please tell me you are kidding,” I wrote back.”  “I am NOT kidding,” he says “Naked Guy.”

So, in typical Facebook-Dependant Style, I posted incredulously…”sooo…just repaired a broken rear windshield yesterday. Had the car for less than 24 hours and today, crazy guy in the street threw a rock at it and broke it.  Seriously? Really need to catch a break here…”  Those who live outside San Juan or Nicaragua replied quickly with “oh no’s” and “that sucks.”  One friend even suggested that I throw a rock back.  But those who live within the walls of this colorful little town inquired, “is the crazy stone-thrower back??” and “was it the semi-naked blond or the tall dark one??”  In a small town of just 18,000 people, we actually have such an array of certifiable residents that it wasn’t clear to anyone which crazy guy I was talking about.  “Always something interesting,” said George.

As Blue added, it “does make you wonder….I think those of us that live here have a line item in our budget ‘Nicadness’ which includes damages by crazy naked people, voodoo doctor requests etc.”

With little faith in a response or action, Justin made his way to the police station to report said crime.  In a surprising twist, they told Justin that they were aware of the problem, they’d received more complaints this week, and they were looking for the window smasher.  They even said they’d take him to a hospital in MGA to get some help.  Then the policeman added, “you should have just beat the shit out of him and thrown him in the estero (estuary).  At the very least, as Cesar put it, “These guys need to find a new hobby.”

[* kudos to Julie for the fitting title]

A brief follow up to our bad car karma – while the mechanic was working to repair the second broken windshield, he managed to smash our rearview mirror…

Stuck in the Mud

There are two consistent things about living in Nicaragua:

1) If you own a car here (even with 4WD), it is guaranteed to get stuck at some point – in the mud, in a river, in the estuary – somewhere, sometime.

2) If you do get stuck, hordes of people will help you out…and a few will sit and watch the process!

At a time when I was feeling incredibly homesick for the convenience of things in the States, the amount of help we received renewed my faith in living this different lifestyle.

For the new car owner, I suggest purchaing the following items for your car (all easily found in Managua at either PriceSmart, SINSA, or a local ferreteria:

-Durable chain with a hook (for pulling your car out of sticky situations – ropes tend to break)

-Flashlight

-Tire pump (these can be charged at home and then carried in your car or you can plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter)

-Jack

-Jumper cables

-Large jug of water (cars tend to overheat easily here – it’s important to check your fluids regularly and refill your radiator before this happens)

-Patience – can’t buy this one, but be sure to bring plenty with you!