Trip Start Oct 10, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Thursday, February 28, 2008

If you rent a car in Nicaragua it's more than likely to be a Toyota Yaris. If you rent a Toyota Yaris in Nicaragua you are more than likely to damage it by driving through a pot hole or by driving too fast over a sleeping policeman (speed bump) which you hadn't seen until it was too late. If, like me, you spend the entire rental period worrying about the car and the possibility of your credit card being charged for damages then I would strongly advise either taking the bus or, if you're feeling particularly wealthy, renting a vehicle which was actually built to deal with Nicaraguan roads. I suggested the following advertising strap line to the rental company when they quoted me for a 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser: "We're called what we are because when we give you a quote it really HERTZ". I thought I was being hilarious and very clever but I think my joke may've got lost in translation. I rented the Yaris.

After familiarising myself with the controls I drove around Matagalpa trying to work out who has right of way at the intersections. My wife explained it to me and, of course, her explanation made no logical sense whatsoever. What was I thinking? Did I expect logic from a Latin American? The heat generated by the ensuing argument was no match for the car's air conditioning system so we pulled over outside our favourite coffee shop and dosed ourselves up with caffeine and cake. Anyone reading this and planning to a trip to Matagalpa MUST go to Cafétin Guttierez in the barrio (neighbourhood) 2 de Junio . They do the best coffee in Matagalpa and amazing cinnamon rolls.

Once we'd both calmed down we started planning a road trip. Nixi wanted to visit her father who, as I understood things, lived somewhere north of Jinotega in the countryside.

The next day we rounded up various members of the family and, after much chaos and confusion about who exactly was and wasn't going on the trip, we set off with the following people: my wife's mother, Carmen; my wife's Aunt, Gladys; my wife's Cousin, Harvin, who very untypically of a Latin American male had taken on the role of acting as nanny to our 2 year old son, Joshua.

Prior to setting off I had interrogated my mother-in-law about the condition and type of roads leading to our ultimate destination. I knew a Toyota Yaris could just about cope with the road to Jinotega and she assured me that the roads north of Jinotega would also be fine. We would need to cross a couple of small streams, she told me, but that too would be fine as it was the dry season. A small nervous knot formed in my stomach.

The road from Matagalpa to Jinotega climbs its way higher and higher into the mountains, passing the old rusty tank which guards the entrance to the German owned and (very) German themed Selva Negra Coffee resort. My passengers enjoyed the stunning views and I kept my eyes firmly on the road ahead pretending to be the world's best rally driver. Never mind pot holes, more like pot caverns. Harvin had taken a travel sickness pill which he'd told us would literally knock him out for the journey. He had plans to wake up in the arrivals lounge. No such luck. As we climbed higher he sunk lower in his seat and looked less and less happy. His previously dark brown complexion now matched that of the interior décor of my lovely Yaris, a kind of greyish beige. We nicknamed him the human chameleon and laughed at him and he responded by throwing up out of the window.
In Jinotega we stopped for supplies: food and drink, before continuing onwards. Shortly after leaving Jinotega we turned off onto a smaller road which ran alongside a beautiful lake called Apanas.
We passed small villages and homesteads dotted along the shore. Fishermen fished from small boats and families walked alongside the road selling their catch. For me, this felt like a real find. There were no tourists, no backpackers. I had found somewhere of my own. I had left the gringo trail. I felt privileged to witness this idyllic rural scene, people living off the land, children playing in the water, not a jet ski in sight. My Nicaraguan in-laws brought me back down to earth with a bump by reminding me that these people probably earn less than $1.00 per day and are fairly unlikely to be presented with many opportunities in the foreseeable future. Tourism, they said, would probably be a good thing in this region. The road turned away from the lake and climbed upwards. We rounded a corner and sitting on its own in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lush vegetation was a rather grand stone archway with a set of double gates. The archway didn't seem to yet lead anywhere and so seemed to serve very little purpose except for to announce its existence to the world. A sign in English, which read only 'Apanas Lake Estates' told me all I needed to know. I pictured the on-line advertising blurb: 'exclusive, gated, secure, condo development with 24 hour security, restaurants and clubhouse. Make your retirement fund go that little bit further and enjoy some of the best views in Nicaragua'. I felt resentful and at the same time wished I had some spare cash to invest.
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