Paradise by the dashboard lights

It wasn’t that far to where we wanted to go on the Peninsula, but it’s a little off the beaten path, so it ended up being a day for all types of transport to get there.

First, we caught your standard chicken bus back to León. These big old yellow US school buses still all have the original (read, un-serviced) parts including ridiculously uncomfortable seats which were designed for 7 year olds. Their one redeeming feature is truly godawful 80s music blaring from tinny sound systems.

We left our big packs at the Quetzal Trekkers base & grabbed a late brekky. We then jumped on the back of a truck with a tarp-covered tray & two bench seats. It reminded me of hanging off the back of a cable car in San Fran except there were A LOT more people and the driver was clearly starring in his own reality version of Grand Theft Auto. It’s a cheap thrill at just 3 cords (12 cents).

After that, we caught a microbus to Chinandega. These are just like your regular collectivos elsewhere in Central America except they do not stop every few miles to pick up twice as many people as the bus can fit. I have seen 9 people squished up into the front bit of one of these vehicles which normally seats 4. Nine. Sheer luxury to have just one person to a seat and no crotches or arses in our faces to deal with.

We then jumped in a ‘pedi cab’ which is a bicycle-driven tuk-tuk – except instead of sitting in a covered bench seat up the back, you sit in an uncovered bench seat up the front. For better clarity on your imminent death, I presume.

And finally we got on another chicken bus, which was delayed for quite a time while dozens of hawkers filed in through the front, and out through the back – selling all manner of things. Fried food. Cool drinks. Gum. Batteries. Phone chargers. Kitchen utensils. Machetes. Bras. I kid you not.

On the way back, we heard what sounded like a pig squealing in extreme pain. I thought we must have run over a stray one in the street but, no. The pig was on the roof of the bus and they were just belaying him down the ladder. As you do.

I love public transport here. It’s fucking mental.

So, the bus dropped us off to a place Skye had sourced, called Rancho Tranquilo in the tiny fishing village called Jiquillio, which is on the Cosigüina Peninsula (in the North West). Only a few hundred families live here in thatched roof huts with dirt floors. They do have electricity and cell service, but there’s no wifi or hot water. In fact, I haven’t had a hot shower since I left Guatemala a month ago.

It was a very simple set-up at Rancho Tranquilo: a couple of bamboo huts and a very basic dorm room, which Skye and I would have to ourselves. At the top end of the yard, there was a bar with picnic tables & benches and a raft of lie-down and sit-up hammocks.

The weather had come good for our arrival, and Skye & I were a bit excited about the prospect of doing more of what we’d been doing down south, but this time in the sunshine! The clean black beach was absolutely deserted. We set down our bags and immediately went for a body bash. The waves were just perfect. The sun was perfect. The water temperature was perfect. It was all perfect.

Back at the Rancho, we met one of the two other guests – both of whom had separately been there for two months.

Simone was an eccentric German with a sense of humour (!) I put her in her late 30s. A petite lady with a big-heart, she was taking a 3 month sabbatical to volunteer on a Tortuga rescue project. Evidently, she was a keen animal lover as when we met her she was wiping the secreting vagina of one of the many dogs who lived there. Most of the dogs seemed to have a medical issue of some sort. One appeared to have a goitre on the side of his neck. Another had a tongue that was permanently stuck out to the side. And apparently the dog Simone was tending to, had an infection. I love dogs but how one discovers this sort of thing unless they’re a vet, is beyond me.

That night, we enjoyed a simple vegetarian curry made by ‘Mummy’ and then went out walking with Simone on the beach to look for nesting turtles.

We didn’t find any. What we did find was an empty turtle’s nest and no sign of her tracks back to the beach. A sure sign that poachers had taken her. Very sad indeed.

It was just inspiring to meet someone so impassioned and learn a little more about these mesmerising creatures. 6 of the world’s 7 kinds of turtles live in Latin America. 3 have been found nesting on this one stretch of beach. A typical ‘clutch’ will range from 80-120 eggs. The obstacles are so numerous (eg, poachers, dogs, birds) for baby turtles that only about one in 1,000 will survive to become a grown-up turtle.

Turtles have existed for over 100 million years. All are in grave danger of extinction. I think sometimes, we forget that extinction means forever.

If you’ve never seen a turtle up close & personal, then I truly hope one day you do. These guys really know how to make a day feel super special. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s their gentle ways. Maybe it’s their ancient faces. Don’t know. Don’t care. I just know this features somewhere on the scale of Important Stuff.

What was also interesting to see was the beach transform from an undiscovered piece of paradise into something far more sinister. The moment it gets dark – this small community of people who would know each other very intimately, suddenly become suspicious strangers in the night.

The people on the beach at night can be divided into those who are hunting eggs to eat or sell on the black market. Or even worse, those who are after the turtles themselves for their meat and / or shells. Then there are those who are seeking out eggs to save and hand over to the rescue projects for a better chance of survival.
But who can tell the difference? Flashlights are quickly snapped off, and distances widen. Everyone is hesitant to talk to anyone in case they might recognise the voice, or the motive behind the voice. In the dark, I tried to guess who the good guys were & who the bad guys were.

The next day we were up early for another swim in that perfect sea, and we then we went & met Marlon and his daughter down by the river. I had read we could hire a dugout canoe & a local guide for a trip through the surrounding bird-filled estuaries and mangroves. I drowned myself in DEET (my new best friend since The Sandlfy Incident) and we set off in one very leaky dugout canoe made from one very old tree.

We were treated to spectacular views of the Volcán Cosigüina, which used to be the tallest volcano in Nicaragua until an eruption wiped out the apex. At one point, we stopped for a small hot climb to the top of a hill that afforded us amazing vistas of the surrounding waterways, the local villages and faraway volcanoes.

We were back in time for a pre-lunch swim and then more of Mummy’s delicious cooking. She had invited us to her home for a fish dinner that night which I was well excited about.

That afternoon we got to know the other guest: a gay boy who had changed his name from Michael to Sky (note, the absence of an ‘e’ for easy distinction from my travelling mate Skye). He was an Indian (feathers, not dots) who was just one year older than me but had clearly lived a far ‘richer’ life than I, in so many ways. He had been travelling through Latin America for 8 years. I asked him if he was an heiress. He told me his family owned a “small corporation”.

He arranged for a lady up the road to come & give us both manicures & pedicures. It cost just AUD$6. It became very clear to me during this time that the boy had ADHD. He just for the life of him, could not sit still.

He later told me he had spent more than ½ million dollars on rehab. Money that was NOT well spent, given he said he still liked a drink & whatnot. He was clearly keen for some drinking partners and generously offered to shout us our first bottle of rum. Who were we to say no. Sky was a big child, a bit scarred & scatty – but just gorgeous & loads of fun. He was one of those rare people who never have a bad word to say of anyone.

Tina, the trippy owner of the place came back in from town, with a bunch of big hippy hugs. She was from San Fran, in her late 40s, and I think it would be a fair guess to say she had probably spent a good portion of her life alternately smoking pot and doing lots of yoga. She immediately started drinking for Nicaragua and playing DJ from her little perch behind the bar. I must say, she had brilliant taste in music. She was a bit out there, but I instantly took a liking to her.

Her friend from up the road, an older man with the best bushranger’s beard I’ve seen in a long time, stopped in for a quick hello and to collect some stuff that Tina had picked up in town for him. Dennis looked as though he could have been a wanted man – but if he was, he certainly wasn’t worried anyone finding him. He was a still shining light in amongst all the mayhem that was starting to bubble up. He wisely left after just one drink.

Then young Elizabeth rolled in on her bicycle. She was working as a volunteer English teacher up the road. She was a bright bubbly thang and I have no idea what the fuck she was doing in this far-flung corner of Nicaragua.

Simone, the two Sky(e)s and I went to Mummy’s for dinner. We were followed by at least 4 of the dogs from Rancho Tranquilo, and were met by at least another 6 at Mummy’s. We were quickly introduced to the four girls of the family ranging from 11 months in age to 14 years old. They were a rambunctious lot, who took great interest in seeing the photos of themselves on my digital camera.

They had set up a plastic table for us in the dirt, turning Mummy’s open kitchen into a pop-up cafe. ½ dozen odd little piglets were noisily clamouring around their mother for some milk just metres away. I looked over just in time to see one little pig pissing in the dirt right in front of us. Noone else batted an eyelid. I was screaming with laughter.

The meal was one of the best I’ve had in Nicaragua (fancy Japanese not withstanding). A whole fish caught that very morning by Marlon, served with pinto gallo and a salsa-type salad. Sometimes simple is best, si?

We went back to the Rancho to find the girls totally trashed. I’m not sure what had happened in the short time we were away having dinner but we came home to carnage. Tina believed she had broken her toe (she hadn’t) and was crying. Elizabeth could barely stand. She was demanding we walked her home NOW. Sky thought there might have been a local party we could go to on the way home. And so off we all traipsed, with dogs in tow. Elizabeth ended up living miles away. The walk took us ages because she was all over the shop, we also had a bike and an incoming tide to contend with. We got there in the end. We decided to take the road back and had no joy in finding the party. We also got road-blocked by a big muddy pool. Luckily a truck passed us by. Skye flagged them down and we hopped in the back. They took us back to the Rancho.

By that time, i was absolutely knackered from all the excitement & was ready to call it a night. We had a little nightcap with Sky before hitting the hay.

The next morning over breakfast, Tina pulled out all stops to encourage us to stay another night, another week. Mummy even got in on the act. It was hard to leave as the weather was so damn good & the beach was so damn perfect… it’s so rare to get a little piece of paradise all to yourself. But on the other hand, Rancho Tranquilo was actually a bit of a madhouse & I could see myself getting sucked into its vortex & living out the rest of my days drinking myself into a an empty turtle’s nest and wiping dog vaginas.

It was definitely time to leave.

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2 responses to “Paradise by the dashboard lights

  1. loving your work chelle, when does the film version come out??!!

  2. Great to hear what my lovely daughter is up to!!!! Sounds like fun!!

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