Thursdays are normally yoga days in which I talk about something at least related to yoga. But I returned a few days ago from a trip to Nicaragua that lasted almost three weeks. I’ve been spending the week recouping and catching up on missed sleep (it is HARD to sleep in the intense heat with roosters crowing at 4am). There are a million things on my mind about my trip. Lots of memories that make me laugh, and unfortunately, a few memories that make me cringe.
I’ve decided today I will share.
I always talk about being honest about my travels — I share the good stuff and the bad stuff. I don’t like to sugarcoat things or make it all sound perfect. Because it’s not. Some things are amazing, and inevitably, some things are less so.
I returned from my trip a few days earlier than planned. Nicaragua’s a rough country at times. It’s hot. There is a noticeable lack of air conditioning (expected, but still rough at times). The humidity is stifling (I live in a desert. Humidity? What’s humidity?!?). I found myself constantly dehydrated and not feeling so well. Food seemed to upset my stomach on the regular. Nausea. Dizziness. No fun!
I still did have lots of fun though! I did some awesome things and saw some beautiful places. I met some really great people.
But what I’m going to share with you today is the crap stuff. I feel like getting it off my mind. Not to mention, people keep asking me why I came home early.
So here goes.
What ended up being our last full day in Nicaragua was a nightmare. We were in Leon. Our hotel was in a quiet place just outside the city. When we arrived, we were in heaven. The first day, we didn’t leave the confines of our hotel. We had a sweet bungalow, the food was great, and the pool was such a welcome respite! The second day, we decided to venture into Leon. I’d heard a lot about the city — the colonial architecture and the markets. We planned to walk around, take pictures, and maybe buy a couple things. We took the bus into town without any problems, and we took the bus back. The bust stop was a short walk to our hotel. Less than a quarter mile. Likely much less…I’m terrible with estimating distance.
There’s a main road on which the bus drives, and a turn off onto a dirt road where our hotel was. We turned onto the dirt road and began to walk “home.” There were three guys walking near us. I had noticed them, but I didn’t think much of it. My friend was a bit ahead of me. The guys were off to the side, a bit ahead of me also. For a brief second, I wondered where the guys were going. Then a guy that I hadn’t seen came up from behind me. He held a machete above my head, threatening me with it, with his finger to his lips to be quiet as he glanced over at the guys in the front. They didn’t seem to notice him.
What the fuck do you do when a guy threatens you with a machete? I still don’t know the answer to that question. But I…I froze.
For a brief second I was very confused about what was happening. I looked to the guys ahead of me, still walking, thinking this guy with the machete was planning to do something to one of them.
I don’t know why I thought that, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
I quickly realized this had nothing to do with them at all. This had to do with me and my friend.
The three guys ahead suddenly surrounded my friend. They started grabbing at her things. She was struggling with them, unwilling to let go. She had her phone in her hand. I saw them grabbing at that. All the while, the guy with the machete stood near me, holding the knife up.
All I could think was, this guy has a big fucking knife.
The three guys ahead got what they wanted and began to run off. The guy with the machete saw my friend attempt to run after them. He ran over to her, pulling the knife back, threatening to hit her with it. She fell to the ground. He threatened her further. She continued to try to get up, to fight him off. I suspected she hadn’t seen this guy to begin with. I suspected she didn’t realize this man had a knife over her. A big one. I shouted, “He has a machete!” At which point, she looked up, saw the knife, and froze. She stayed on the ground.
When he realized she wasn’t going to move, he ran off too. They weren’t far from us, and there was no one around. I ran up to my friend, she got up, and we started to run. We reached the front of the hotel, which of course was locked. All the hotels in Leon seem to keep locked. You have to knock, and they have to see you before they will allow you in. We banged on the gate shouting to be let in.
And that’s how the day started. We got mugged.
We talked for a bit at the hotel, and we decided we didn’t feel safe staying there. We certainly weren’t going to walk around again, as we didn’t feel safe on that empty dirt road out front. And we weren’t comfortable sleeping there. The four guys knew we were staying there, and they knew we had expensive things. The bungalows on the property also weren’t completely enclosed. Each of the bathrooms attached to the bungalows were open to the outdoors, meaning anyone could walk in through the bathroom. Plus, the door didn’t close all the way, thus you couldn’t lock it. It was a cool feature when we checked in, yet a rather uncool feature when we started worrying about our safety.
It was only two days until our scheduled departure. We decided to simply leave early and head to Managua (where the airport is).
We settled the bill with the hotel. They made us pay for all the days of our intended stay, even the days we did not stay. I’ve got to tell you, I was ridiculously unimpressed by this. Two women are mugged in front of your hotel, they choose to leave because of safety concerns, and you force them to pay for unused nights? I could understand this under different circumstances, but in these circumstances? Um. Yeah. You’re an ass. But we didn’t argue. We just wanted to leave.
We asked the hotel to arrange for a taxi to Managua. They had done so on our way in, and we thought it would be safest to take a taxi they knew was trustworthy. They said the taxi would be there to pick us up in an hour. We packed our things and got ready to leave. The woman that owned the hotel then came into our room and told us she was going to personally take us. I thought this was exceptionally generous of her and felt less annoyed about paying for unused nights.
In a few minutes we were loaded into her SUV, and headed out of Leon. At least we thought we were.
Suddenly, the woman stopped at a bus station. We looked at her, confused. “We thought we were getting a taxi to Managua,” my friend said. “Oh, well, you can get a bus or a shuttle from here to the airport,” the woman replied.
Here’s the thing. We weren’t going to the airport. We were going to a hotel 20-30 minutes from the airport. We didn’t want a bus to take us to the airport. We wanted a taxi to take us directly to our hotel. We explained this to her. She shrugged and told us we could find a taxi here too. And she dropped us off and left.
Great. Now we had to find a taxi to take us to an obscure residential neighborhood in Managua that they may very well not be familiar with (Managua is two hours from Leon).
We started talking to taxi drivers, giving them the address of where we were headed. A taxi offered to take us, and we were off. When we reached the outskirts of Managua, the driver started looking at his watch. He attempted to explain something to us. Our Spanish isn’t great, but we do understand some things. It had been enough to get us around. I listened to what the man was saying, and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I decided I must be misunderstanding. Because what I thought he was saying was that he didn’t want to take us to our hotel anymore because there was too much traffic. So he just wanted to drop us off here, in the middle of this random highway. No. He couldn’t possibly be saying that. I must be misunderstanding. And then he he stopped the car, and I could no longer be in denial. I looked around. The sun was going down. We were on the outskirts of Managua. We were not in a safe area. And we were rather frazzled, as we’d just been mugged. We argued with the man while sitting in the taxi. We attempted to appeal to his personal side. What if someone did this to your daughters? Dropped them off in the middle of some random highway, lost, without a way to get anywhere? He didn’t give a shit. At which point, I lost my cool. I started screaming at the man, got my luggage, and told him to go fuck himself. I’m fairly sure all of Managua heard this little white girl arguing with her taxi driver.
We stomped off down the road. After a minute of walking, my friend and I looked at each other. Without stopping, we said, “What are we going to do?” “I don’t know. Keep walking. We’ll ask someone for help.”
And so we walked until we found a gas station. There was a taxi at the gas station. The only location we felt sure we could convey was the airport (as our hotel was a small hotel in a residential neighborhood we weren’t familiar with). So we asked the man to take us to the airport.
It was dark by the time we managed that second taxi ride. We were both on edge and ridiculously alert. He started driving through random residential neighborhoods, and I could tell we were both concerned. At one point, the taxi driver pulled to the side of the road and stopped the car. He didn’t say anything. We glanced at each other and started watching everything around us intently. Great. We’re going to get mugged again, aren’t we? We didn’t. He soon continued the drive. I started seeing familiar landmarks. A wave of relief washed over me. We arrived at the airport, paid the driver, and decided to head across the street.
When I first arrived in Nicaragua, I stayed at a hotel directly across the street from the airport. It was a Best Western, it was safe, and the staff spoke English. That’s all we needed — a safe place to rest for the night. We reached the lobby, and it was filled with a large group on a mission trip. That was not a good sign. As suspected, when we reached the lady at the front desk, she informed us the hotel was sold out.
And this was where my breakdown ensued. “I have had the worst travel day of my life. Can you please help us?” My eyes filled with tears. My friend joined me, adding, “We were mugged by four guys and threatened with a machete, and then our taxi driver dropped us off in the middle of the highway and wouldn’t take us to our hotel, and we just need a safe place to stay.” We were both half crying at this point.
The woman at the desk was wide-eyed, and her mouth dropped open. She asked us to wait a moment and went to talk with a manager. She came back offering us a box of tissues and asked us to wait a moment more. She came back again, telling us she couldn’t get us a room there and all the hotels near the airport were booked, but she could get us a room at a hotel 20 minutes away. She then suggested we have dinner there, as the hotel she found did not have a restaurant (and I’m fairly sure she had a sneaking suspicion we really didn’t want to leave). We had dinner and came back to have her arrange for another dreaded taxi ride. When we came to the desk, she informed us that they were able to “find” a room for us in the Best Western. We were so excited, we nearly jumped across the front desk and hugged her!
Turned out, they really did have to find a room. They found a staff room for us. It wasn’t one of the hotel rooms, and it had one double bed, ants, and small holes in the walls. We didn’t care one bit. We were just happy we didn’t have to leave. We took our cold showers in the dim bathroom and got ready for a restless night of no sleep.
And that, my friends, was my last full day in Nicaragua.
It was a travel nightmare. It sent me home early. And it made me exceptionally grateful for the lovely life I’ve built at home.
…And I promise. My next story about Nicaragua will be about something fun!