Good luck with the bad - last days in Nicaragua

Trip Start Jan 23, 2007
Trip End Dec 24, 2007

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Friday, June 22, 2007

Well it wouldn't be fair to call the major event of the last week a fitting farewell, but it certainly did heighten our desire to leave Nicaragua.

The past couple of days have been clearing up some odds and ends, and handing over our volunteering responsibilities to others. Sam had a couple of very quiet days to help the new volunteer learnt he ropes in the pre-school, while Frances had a couple of frustrating days in the 'library' trying to catalogue books.

Again Frances experienced serious frustration, as the volunteer who was supposed to set up the library programme didn't have enough time to finish it, and had only finished cataloguing about 20% the 800 or so books. This would be fine if she hadn't decided to catalogue things using the dewey decimal system - a little bit overkill for such a small library one would think, although that would ahve been fine had she been able to complete it.
Added to this, a huge number of the generously donated books have been eaten by moths and worms - some so badly they will have to be burnt.

Sam meantime had plenty of people to help paint, and a willing volunteer ready to take over painting the inside, although all this only became clear on Thursday the day before we left - whew!

So that brings us to the really scary part. On Wednesday we went to Managua to change our plane tickets, as we have decided to do some reshuffling and spend 3 more weeks in Europe. We had already got our travel agent in NZ to change the dates, we just needed to get the American Airlines agent to change our paper tickets.

What followed, sadly, read like the script to a bad thriller (Final Destination without the gory deaths). On the bus into Managua we chatted away to a man who insisted that all Managua taxi drivers were vultures, and that we should only trust 'old men with glasses' (!). So on arrival we set off - only walking on main roads for the 20-25 minutes it took to get there.

When we got there, the agent told us that all the reservations were electronic and that we didn't need to change anything - they didn't even have the necessary stickers to change our paper tickets. So, we left - Frances suggesting we could get a taxi, but Sam, feeling completely safe at that stage, suggested we walk........(cue spooky thriller music)

So about two-thirds the way back to the bus stop (walking along a busy road) we walked past an alleyway, that had about 15 people of all ages standing around chatting, playing etc. The presence of these people was reassuring, until on passing the alley entrance (this is where the details get a bit hazy) 3 young guys walked out right behind us.
Both of us immediately knew something was wrong and began to quicken our pace without even looking at each other. Frances looked over her shoulder just as they were about to grab us, and so felt the terrible feeling that something seriously bad was about happen. Sam only saw the guys coming from the side for a split second and so didn't even have time to consciously think about the situation but just suddenly felt unsafe. Both of us tried to run, and Sam began involuntarily screaming/shouting as loudly as he could.
Thankfully the guy that was grabbing at him let go, and as he turned round to see if Frances was ok or had got away, he saw one of the 3 (there was at least 2 but we think there was 3) brandished a very big knife above her as he held on to her shoulder with his other hand. (Sam later surmised that this was to keep it from hurting us by accident rather than as a threat, as by that stage they pretty much had us, and neither of us could have seen it before they attacked us as they were behind us)
Unfortunately for Frances they had her bag more firmly than Sam's, and amid the struggle she thought she had better unclip her bag and just get away (she hadn't seen the knife). Once they had her bag, they ran off - with us running in the opposite direction, absolutely terrified.
From the time we first saw them, to the time we were running away, wouldn't have been more than 3 or 4 seconds 

We quickly took stock - neither of us were hurt and Frances bag didn't containing anything important, valuable or sentimental aside from a journal (with our credit card details inside, but we have dealt with this problem) and about $70US in cash - the ironic part being only about $4US was ours - the rest belonging to another volunteer who had given it to Frances to spend at the dentist that day.

About 50 metres down the street we turned back to see if they were following us, but instead all the neighbourhood folk who had been hanging around were gesturing and yelling at us to return, saying they would try to get the bag back. Weren't going back for a second round thank you very much, but we heeded their advice to go and get the police - we hailed a cab and sped around the corner and spoke to a couple of officers standing on a corner.

As everyone else seemed to be, they were most interested to know whether our passports had been stolen - upon hearing they weren't (probably realising they wouldn't have a hope of getting anything else of value back) they lost interest merely telling us 'they would put the word out'. Thanks guys - serve and protect your own skins.....

Knowing it was a lost cause, we drove back to the mugging spot anyway, where the neighbourhood people were telling us to get the police etc. One boy told us he saw the robbers looking through Frances diary, so clearly everyone there knew them and where they lived.

Anyway, despite the experience being terrifying and a real low point in the trip (a close second to Fran's seizure episode), we both realise we were exceedingly lucky. Sam's bag, which they didn't get, had our passports, plane tickets, camera, spare camera card and C.D's with all our latest photos on them. And, given we seemed to be outnumbered and the presence of the gigantic knife (more like a half machete), things could have turned really nasty had they decided to hold onto Frances and start demanding.....

On the way back home to Granada we both felt sick, shocked, angry, afraid - we were feeling pretty crap about the whole situation. To make matters worse, we didn't get home for another couple of hours, so we didn't even get the desperately needed hug we both pined for until we were starting to feel a bit better about the situation.

After quickly shooting off some emails to our parents (a burden shared is a burden halved), we returned home and discussed with our housemates what we should do about our credit cards. Later we emailed the bank and sorted it out, so we aren't nervous about the thugs using the details at all.

Thankfully, Thursday night was a lot lighter in tone, and we enjoyed a nice evening with our housemates eating copious quantities of jelly, icecream and marshmallows.

So all-in-all we're safe and sound - and little bit shaken still, and a lot more jumpy when walking down the street, but otherwise ok. We consul ourselves with the thought that perhaps the three lads got so smashed on booze and glue that they didn't rob anyone else for a few days (there was a hell of a lot of money for that kind of thing - would buy about 50 litres of beer or 12 litres of rum here), or more positively, on seeing Fran's diary they threw it away (with all the money inside) and some curious little girl picked it up and found the money to help her and her family out for a while - we live in hope.

Until better days in Costa Rica. Hasta Luego!
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