First this thought: I often think of Daniel Boone as I’m traveling and how he would mark his trail so that he would be able to return, trailblazing with a slash in the tree. I wondered today how far he would go before he slashed another tree. It would seem that he would have to mark every 100 feet or so. He would have to mark it on the side facing away from where he came so that he would be able to look from one tree and see where he had marked the previous one.
Not that I’m Daniel Boone, but these daily logs are my marks on time. I have in fact looked at my notes that I wrote on my way down to decide how I would go back. But I took a different path as soon as I crossed into Costa Rica, and I know that most of my trip back will be in different territory until I hit the Emerald Coast in Mexico.
So I thought I wouldn’t have anything to write, but wait until you get to the notes of this place.
I had no regrets leaving my hotel in Rivas, Nicaragua. It was a place to sleep—and that was it. Let’s just say there was water on the floor of the bathroom, and I had to fix their toilet. I wrote my notes and went to bed, gladly. I had some interesting dreams. I woke at seven and, as is now my custom, lay in bed for an hour, thinking. I had a slow breakfast, made a few notes, and was out by ten.
For the first hour, the drive was nothing, heading toward Managua. But I took a right before I hit Managua and headed for Tipitapa, the northern route that would allow me to skip El Salvador and one extra border crossing. This route for an hour was also uneventful until I took a couple of wrong turns and ended up in the center of Masaya. The traffic was thick and the streets complicated. But I enjoyed being there and more or less making my way through to get to the edge of town again. I enjoy stopping and asking people where I am and how do I get to where I’m going.
I did the same thing in another town, and then I was in clear country, driving around the east of Largo de Managua.
I got a different impression of Nicaragua than I had on the way down. The roads were good, but the people were very poor, tin shacks, a lot of garbage on the side of the road. But when I got outside the influence of Managua, the road started climbing into the mountains and the countryside was clean—deserted. There were few cars on the road—we were going into serious country. There were NO hotels, let alone towns. I thought I could put my tent up in a place like this and probably be all right. I went up and up and up. It was beautiful, although here and there were collections of tin shacks, pueblos. I love these isolated roads going through the mountains. I could drive them forever. I thought these were places where the Sandanistas must have fought under Ortega. I imagined the drama.
But I was also noticing that I had been driving for a couple of hours and not seeing anything that resembled a hotel. So I was getting into my Lola, we’re sleeping in the car tonight mood. My GPS was kaput, but I was keeping track of where I was with my map. I love maps.
It was 2:00 when I hit Sebace, a town with hotels. I thought of trying some hotels there, but decided to drive on to Esteli, higher in the mountains and nearer to the Honduran border. So I climbed for another hour, taking another chance on finding a place to stay with Lola.
I reached Esteli. It’s a typical large pueblo. Cobbled streets, poor casas, lots of cars. I suppose if one wanted to romanticize it, one could. But it’s really pretty ugly. Don’t come here if you’re looking for a beautiful place to visit.
I didn’t want to go farther, because I’m close to my northern route to the border, so I started stopping at hotels and asking. No, no perros a tres hoteles. It wasn’t looking good. I was driving down narrow, cobble stone streets. Checking hotels. I saw a sign for hostel Azul (hostels are better bets), but couldn’t find it—and I was on the edge of town where the houses are not so good.
Here’s the thing: when you ask for help, some people go way out of their way to help you. So I’m at the end of the street and realize there are no hotels here. I roll down my window and ask a man in the street, hay hoteles cerca de aqui que permite los perrors?
He goes into action. He tries to answer, then gets on the phone and thinks he finds one, called Rancho San Sabastan. He tries to give me some complicated instructions, but sees that I don’t understand, so he, his wife, and daughter get in his truck and have me follow them. When they get to the last turn, they tell me directo—straight ahead.
That’s only the start of the story. The place is strange. It is in the country. Beyond this place lies nothing. The walls are high and topped with the kind of razor fences you see in prisons. There is no way to get into the gate. I try to open the gate, but there is no way to open it. Some people, like two women and one young man, are sitting on the porch to the main house, and then the three of them come down to the gate and ask what I want. “Un habitacion por mi and mi pero.”
It is a long quasi conversation. They try to tell me there are no rooms that are working. And the dog can’t stay in a room if it was working. There is quite a bit of back and forth, starting with my asking whether I could at least pitch my tent on their lawn. Eventually they give in, sort of. They open the gate and let me drive my car into their fortress.
One of the women shows me a cage in which Lola can sleep the night. We then work out that Lola can sleep in my car parked outside the minimal room where I will sleep. She invites me to let Lola out of the car and run around, although they have about six little dogs. Lola leaps out of the car and proceeds to chase the little dogs who regroup and chase Lola. This goes on for sometime. Lola doesn’t try to fight, and they see she is a good dog. We work out that she can sleep on her bedding outside my room.
I can’t describe how weird this place is. They have a guard with an AK-47. Like all guards, he is dressed entirely in black. He’s actually a very nice man and likes Lola. They must have thirty rooms here, and it seems as if I’m the only person staying here. The owner, Harold (also simpatico), is a lawyer, an AA member, and gets home at about six. He bought this place about six years ago to start a hostel, but at most, one other person is staying here.
I have a small room. The bathroom and shower are a couple of rooms away. For a sink, I have to use the laundry room.
I am writing in one of the covered patios—the one next to my room. People come out and want to talk to me while I write. I have long conversations with everyone in the family, including, Harold, the owner, and Harold, his seven-year-old son. After an about an hour with Harold II, I tell him that I need to write and I have enjoyed talking to him. At seven, the woman who works her (and talked to me for at least two hours) brings me dinner, piles of rice and beans, chicken, lots of cheese, mango, pinapple, and bananas (seems a staple fruit mix). I eat my dinner quietly. The night comes quickly. I talk to Lola for a while, and now I’m heading for bed. It has been a mixed day: some good and bad driving, ending in the search for a place that will accept Lola.
I have often thought of how foolish it was to bring Lola with me on on this trip. She costs money at each border (usually about $40.00, with the exception of Panama), and she makes it hard for me to find a hotel. But I love her and I love having her with me. At the end of the day, when I have found a place, no matter how low-life it is, she lies quietly on the floor while I write, and I am glad she is with me. I think what I just wrote is what love is all about.
Goto Day 11: The Meaning of Home