The Mexigonia Weekly

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Potholes and Pay-offs

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Elizabeth and Braden had just arrived in Managua and were searching for their hostel. They were already a little on edge because poor Rocinante had to traverse on such horrible roads, resulting in another dislocated muffler incident. Once in Managua, where the streets literally have no names, the travelers were hopelessly trying to navigate their way around.

“On the map, it’s two blocks north of the bus station, but if you get to a busy road with a fountain, you’ve gone too far,” Elizabeth said as she tried to give Braden directions around the city’s maze of streets.

Soon, they had to put their frustration aside as a police officer waved them to the side of the road.

“License please,” he told Braden through the open window, and thus began a 30-minute discussion with the officer as to what exactly what the Mexigonians did wrong.

Circulacion,” the officer asked Elizabeth for the car’s registration. He insisted that the document she showed him was incorrect, despite her pointing out the car’s plate number and vehicle identification number.

“Where is your fire extinguisher?” the officer asked Braden, even though the pair had made sure that it was not obligatory to have one in Nicaragua. The two Mexigonians were becoming more and more impatient as the police officer proceeded to pretend to write them a ticket, but advise them it would be easier just to pay him.

After refusing to pay a bribe and talking with the officer about their journey, Braden and Elizabeth were free to go, without a ticket. They found their hostel and decided to see the capital.

“Where is it?” Elizabeth asked as they roamed the streets in the “downtown” area where they were advised to go. Managua had been struck by a deadly earthquake in 1972, which killed over 19,000 people and devastated the capital. Civil war in the 80s and a hurricane in the 90s prolonged the underdevelopment of the city. Elizabeth and Braden could see the ruins of an old cathedral and overgrown walkways that were once beautiful pedestrian paths. The old National Palace was left un-renovated, and garbage strewn in its front lawn. Furthermore, Braden and Elizabeth were unable to take pictures of the capital because of the overwhelming advice they received from locals to bring nothing with them when they go out, as crime has remained high in the city, although subsided from recent years.

Braden and Elizabeth headed back to their hostel after a tiring day of corrupt police, closed national buildings, and the threat of robbery. They had been conditioned by the city to be skeptical of people, and tensions were high. They wandered into a pizzeria close to their hostel.

Immediately, things began to turn around. Isidro and Rosita, local Managuans whose relatives owned the pizzeria, welcomed the frustrated nomads with their conversational English, a cold refreshment, and stories of Nicaragua. They helped Braden and Elizabeth with their Spanish, gave them insight into Nicaraguan politics, and suggested places to visit. They even escorted the two back to their hostel, to avoid any trouble with the local thieves. Things were looking up for the Mexigonians.

They then embarked on a three-day journey to the island of Ometepe in the nation’s massive Lake Nicaragua. As Braden and Elizabeth put Rocinante on a ship to head to the island, they were still wary of those who tried to help them. Little by little, however, they softened and were able to enjoy their surroundings, and good thing!

The Isla Ometepe (Ometepe Island) is home to two massive volcanoes. The Lake is so vast that it appears to be an ocean, complete with waves. Braden and Elizabeth spent time on the beaches of black sand, rode bikes around the island, and hiked one of the volcanoes. The people they encountered were friendly and helpful, telling them about Nicaragua and its history and beauty. The food was delicious and the sun hot! Nicaragua had some of the most beautiful landscapes for Braden and Elizabeth, and their frustration from the capital began to subside.

As they drove back into Managua, Braden and Elizabeth talked about their time on the island and how much they were loving Nicaragua. They were just about to pull into a parking lot for lunch when a police officer waved them to the side.

The officer showed Braden the alleged infraction in a driving manual, but the two were still confused as to what they had actually done wrong. Braden resolved to receive a ticket, and the officer pulled out a yellow form, which was more promising than the blank sheet of paper that the previous officer had used as a ticket.

She explained to Braden that the transit office was far and they had to pay their ticket at the bank before heading to the station to retrieve Braden’s license. Braden and Elizabeth just awaited their ticket and further instructions.

“It would just be easier if you paid here,” she told Braden.

“What?” Braden asked, wanting clarification.

“Just pay here, and you can go,” and she showed Braden a pocket of the folded yellow ticket in which he could slip some money.

“So, this is tome type of bribe?” Braden asked.

“YES!” she replied, as if she was relieved that they finally understood the process.

Instantly, their frustration returned, and Braden and Elizabeth pretended not to understand, and eventually were waved on without a ticket or bribe. They drove off, taking on the rocky roads out of the country.