A tickle. My eyes remained closed. A familiar tiny sting, followed by a tingling sensation. I looked out between lashes, groggily coming to consciousness. Rain pattered on the tin roof and blooped on the pool. I rolled my head to the side towards conversation in accented English. German. Unmistakable. I turned back and closed my eyes again. I scratched at my ankle, then my bicep, my knee. I became increasingly aware of the multiple sources of tingling with each moment that passed.
Finally, I gave in and opened my eyes. I sat up in the hammock to survey the damage. I counted seven and acknowledged this battle lost. I made a mental note to resort to chemical warfare before future siestas and looked up to the gray sky. Nicaragua. I am in Nicaragua, I thought to myself. A smirk emerged with the thought.
“Buenos días”, the German voice announced.
“Buenos días, indeed.”
“I am sorry if we disturbed you.”
“Oh, no. It’s all good. No worries. I mean, está bien.”
The German voice belonged to a young woman, who sat in a red plastic chair against the wall. On the wooden picnic table sat the Australian man I passed upon my entrance. His shoulders drooped a bit, but he spoke eagerly with the woman.
“So, yeah, it’s official. I can leave Nicaragua! That’s why I tell people it makes a difference to work through a travel agency, and to get to know them. I am going to have send my girl some flowers or something!”
“Congratulations!” The woman responded with a smile.
I pulled myself out of the hammock and walked to the table. I plopped down and straddled the bench.
“I take it you have had quite an experience here?” I asked.
“You could say that, mate. I was supposed to leave Nicaragua about two weeks ago. I finally get to leave tomorrow.”
“Okay, this sounds like a good story. What happened?”
He sighed, then went on to tell the tale. It was a prime example of a traveling nightmare: Chicken bus. Stolen bag. Everything gone.
“Oh shit! Damn, man. That sucks. So why did you have to stay?” I inquired further.
“Well, I was supposed to travel through the States. But the new temporary passport I was issued via the Australian embassy in Mexico did not have the US Through Visa. I need that to pass through the States. Your country, no offense, is not the easiest to deal with when it comes to traveling. I asked if I could still enter to catch my connection and they wouldn’t talk to me about it. They said come back and see us in two weeks. They didn’t care that my flight was in a couple of days. They basically said, ‘It’s not our problem’. So I missed my original flight home. Since then, I’ve been back and forth with my travel agent to book me a new flight that doesn’t go through the U.S. I just found out they booked it for me. It has something like four layovers, and I don’t even want to think about how much it cost.”
He took a deep breath and chuckled.
“Well, you seem to be in fairly good spirits,” I noted.
“Yeah, mate. I really don’t care at this point. I’m just glad to be going home. When it happened, I wasn’t shocked or upset or angry. I was just a little annoyed at myself for allowing it to happen to me. But, I understand why it happened.”
“Well, I was on the Tica bus, you know the locals bus. I had my bag in the rack above my head. I was holding onto it. But then I started talking with the person next to me and dropped my arm. Two minutes later I put my hand back up and my bag was gone. Bam! Just like that…” He snapped his fingers.
“Wow. Damn.” I replied open-mouthed.
“But, I mean, it was merely opportunistic. In a country with this much poverty, I should have known better. And I’m not condoning stealing, but I also understand it.” He concluded.
He continued, “I think the worst part is going to be explaining to the guys back at work how I lost my badge.”
“Wait, you’re a police officer?!”
Laughter all around.
“Yes, yes I am a Federal Police Officer in Australia.” He admitted and hung his head with a smile. “I am sure I won’t hear the end of this for awhile.”
“So it goes…a humbling experience, no doubt.” I added.
“Now, I just have one big task left. In order for my insurance to accept my claim for my stolen items, I need to have an official police report. And I need to have it before I leave tomorrow. And I don’t speak any Spanish.” He said, and drew out the ‘and’ each time.
“Damn, well good luck with that!”
I laughed at the notion. I imagined this guy walking into a Managua police station without being able to speak the language. On top of that, he needed to have something done quickly. He laughed along with me.
“Yeah, I don’t have my hopes up too high. But, the guys at the front desk here said there should be at least one person at the station who speaks English. And it’s supposedly just a few blocks from here. So I am about to head out for that. Wish me luck.”
“Well, I speak a bit of Spanish. How about I join you? Maybe I can help with the translation. And I am curious to see how this saga comes to an end.” I offered.
“Yeah, mate. That would be great. You ready to head out now?”
“Yep, just lemme go change out of my board shorts and put my stuff away.”
As we walked out of the hostel, he extended his hand.
“Oh, yeah. By the way, my name is Anthony, or Ant.”
“Jameson, mucho gusto.”
This was my first adventure more than one block away from the hostel. I took in my surroundings.The sky still threatened to rain. We hung a right onto a smaller side street. Two men clambered to the top of a tree, machetes and handsaws in tow. They hacked and sawed furiously. The limbs and branches fell down into the street without warning. I walked through some of the debris, avoided a passing car by inches, and falling branches by a few feet. I laughed nervously and watched Ant walk below the men. We took another left at the next street. The sidewalk was under construction. An excavator moved mounds of dirt. Three men with pick axes dug away at the remaining concrete. I swung out into the street, around another pile of tree limb debris, stopped short and turned sideways to avoid a passing produce truck.
We rejoined where the sidewalk remained intact. We struck up the usual traveler conversation about current and past travels. Ant explained the current trip was a two week vacation, a “quick getaway or vacation as you Americans call it”.
He explained he had been traveling for 15 years. He had done a number of round-the-world trips lasting months on end. He had lost count of the number of countries he had visited. He told me about adventures of swimming with sharks and rays in Belize, playing with unchained tigers in Thailand, climbing the base camp of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, kiteboarding in Bali, volcano trekking in Nicaragua, and on and on. He also was deployed with the U.N. to conflict torn areas near Australia like East Timor. I asked if he had ever encountered anything like his current problem. He had not. This would be the first time he needed to use his traveler’s insurance. As we chatted, we approached a busy intersection. I noticed a squat building with faded light blue paint on the opposite side.
“I think that might be it.” I announced.
We stopped and watched traffic careen through the intersection. Staccato beeps of motos and deep bellows of truck horns filled the thick mid afternoon air. The cross traffic stopped. We began to cross. We stopped abruptly. Perpendicular traffic plunged into the intersection and veered off to the left. At each open interval of the turning traffic, the cross traffic advanced. We stood firm, rocks diverting the flow of water. I looked behind me, and then to the right, and made a run for it. I turned around to see all traffic stopped as the two women nudged their way across the street. Ant walked along with them, a huge grin on his face.
“I see you. Do as the locals do, eh?” I remarked.
We walked up to the smudge-streaked glass door covered in noticias and walked into a crowded waiting room. I felt the familiar, uncomfortable feeling of being the object on display. We approached the only desk in the room. A man in a plain short sleeve blue button down shirt sat at the desk. He spoke rapidly with a woman. Once the woman reluctantly took one of the few remaining available seats, it was our turn.
“Hola. I need to file a report,” Ant declared to the man.
His brow furrowed, well worn wrinkles spread across his forehead.
“Hola. Buenas tardes. Necesitamos una persona se habla inglés, por favor.” I interjected.
“No hablo inglés.” He shook his head slowly.
“Nadie aquí?” I persisted, despite the intuitive sense that he would not be eager to oblige us even if there were someone around who did speak English.
“No. Nadie. Todas días.” He shook his head with each response.
“Okay. Vamos a volver con una persona que habla mejor español.” I relented.
“What did he say?” Ant asked.
“He said he doesn’t speak English and that no one here speaks English. Not tomorrow, not ever. And I said we would come back with someone who speaks better Spanish.”
“Do you think you could try to speak to him in Spanish and try to get the report?” Ant hopefully inquired.
“No, man. My Spanish is rusty to begin with, and I don’t have the vocabulary for this specific context. And given how many people are here, I don’t think they are going to go to great lengths for some extranjeros who had their shit stolen, and cannot even speak their language fluently. I suggest we go back to the hostel and find someone who speaks fluently, maybe one of the guys working there, and have them come back with us to help with translation.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Okay. Let’s go.”
We picked up our conversation as we returned to the hostel. We talked about our families, life on the road, and the mutual passion for exploring unknown worlds and people. Upon our return, we considered who we could enlist to help us. After a few polite rejections, Ant’s face lit up.
“Oh, Rolando! The guy from Peru.”
“I have not met him. Who is he?” I replied.
“He is a great guy from what I know of him. But he does not speak much English, so that has made it kind of difficult for us to talk at length. Maybe we could talk to him and between your Spanish, and his English, explain the situation?”
“Sure. Sounds good.”
We found Rolando sitting in the first outdoor courtyard. He typed away at his laptop. He looked up when Ant said Hello. Ant explained his predicament in English.
“Entiendes?” I asked once Ant finished.
“Si, si, si. I will help. It is no problem,” Rolando responded.
“Really, mate? Are you sure? It’s okay if you don’t have time.” Ant replied.
“Claro. It is good that I help. Si te ayudo, vendrá de nuevo a mí. How do people say in inglés? Karma? Si? I finish my work. Then we go. Está bien?”
“When? How long?” Ant inquired.
“Porque la estación de policía cierra a las cuatro.” I added.
“Ah, si, si. En una hora y media? Está bien?” Rolando offered.
Ant looked at his watch.
“It is 2:00 right now. Could we maybe leave in an hour to make sure we have enough time? Is that okay?”
“Si, si. Está bien.” Rolando replied without hesitation.
We bid him goodbye and walked to the second outdoor courtyard. Ant found an open hammock and announced his intention to take a siesta. I thought of his plight. Despite all he had been through, he had remained upbeat. I recalled the first time I noticed him. I sought to distance myself from him. Why was that again? The phone call! He had been clearly frustrated. I had sensed that. Yet, since that point I had heard nothing but optimism, passion, and humility. His actions spoke loudly when you considered what he had been through these past few weeks. That positivity was palpable. I spent the next hour reading as the rain softly fell around me.
“Si, si, si. En cuantos minutos? Si, está bien.”
I looked to see Rolando on the phone as he entered the courtyard. He nodded at my wave. Ant slowly opened his eyes and looked up at Rolando, who now stood over him. Soon, he was off the phone.
“So, I talk…um…with a person I know. We will go meet him. He will help us.” Rolando explained.
“Okay, great. Right now? And where do we meet him?” Ant sat up.
“We go now to a different police station. I think, maybe a short cab ride. Está bien?”
“Yeah, of course. Está bien.”
We hailed a cab down the road from the hostel. Rolando spoke in rapid Spanish to the driver. The driver nodded his head. We hopped in. As we traveled cobble-stone and concrete streets in varying degrees of disrepair, we passed more barrios. Men stood outside on street corners. Their conversations paused to gaze at us as we passed. I peered through an iron bar fence that ran along the street. Children ran barefoot along dirt alleyways, with huge smiles attached to their faces. Our driver beeped intermittently at other traffic, pedestrians, and the occasional dog or pig that blocked our way. The steady beat of Reggaeton played quietly from the radio. We turned onto a wider street that teemed with pedestrians of all kinds. Each side of the road was lined with street vendors and stalls. I saw goods and foods of all types. The car slowed in order to snake its way through the river of humans, dogs, chickens, and pigs. Eyes peered in through the open windows at us. The car stopped. Directly ahead the road veered right away from a narrow walkway. A large sign hung over the walkway which I could not translate but interpreted as an entrance. Past the sign was nothing but tiny stalls, outside of some were different frutas y verduras.
“Mercado Orientale”, Rolando pointed ahead. “We are here.” He also announced.
Ant paid the driver the 60 cordobas and we got out. Rolando pointed to the left, towards an enclosed compound, replete with armed police. Beyond the barbed wire adorned gate and fence were several one story, drab buildings. Parked outside were a number of motorbikes, trucks, and police cars. Uniformed officers milled about the courtyard. As we walked towards the compound, a man waved to us. Rolando and the man embraced. They spoke with smiles on their faces.
“Anthony, Jameson, this is Mendoza.” Rolando led the introductions. After the formal greetings, Mendoza led us to the gate where an armed guard awaited us.
“Hola. Buenos días.” The guard extended a hand, shook firmly, and then closed the gate behind us. Heavy metal clanked together.
The police officers who stood inside the courtyard talked and laughed with one another. Their faces turned serious. They nodded their heads as we walked by. Once we entered the compound their conversation and laughter resumed. Mendoza approached an open office, knocked, and saluted the man at the desk. Following a brief conversation, he returned and spoke with Rolando. Rolando nodded, and said “Si, si.”
Then, Mendoza walked down the hall to another office. Again, he saluted. Officers strolled in and out of the offices. They greeted one another warmly each time. One officer entered, curtsied, and effeminately said “Hola jefe”, to a course of laughter from the others. I laughed quietly to myself.
Five minutes passed before Mendoza returned with another man. He introduced the man as the lieutenant that would take the report. We followed the man down the hall. The hall was dimly lit by the sunlight streaming in from the narrow windows that lined the top of each office. I peaked into each office as we passed.
The walls of the offices stopped two feet short of the ceiling. This gave a sense of openness. It also meant you could clearly hear each conversation. The second office to the left contained a man who pecked away at a typewriter with his index fingers at his desk. The next office housed a man in a white tank top undershirt, with jean shorts that drooped below his waistline. He flailed his arms as he spoke. The large female officer looked at him with raised eyebrows. She cut him off and told him to sit down. In yet another office, two female officers sat behind desks that were perpendicular to one another. One lazily watched a television in the corner of the room. The other folded items into a plastic bag as she listened to a third female, a civilian, wail on and on about her hijo.
We turned into the last office on the right side of the hall. Inside were two desks, one where the lieutenant took a seat facing a turn of the millennium IBM desktop computer, complete with a tower next to it. Sitting on the other desk was an antique typewriter turned up on its end in an apparent state of perpetual disrepair. Rolando stood next to the lieutenant, with Ant by his side. Mendoza and I stood next took one another near the door, all forming a half circle around the lieutenant.
“Pasaporte.” The lieutenant declared.
Rolando turned to Ant and asked for his passport. Ant handed his newly issued temporary passport over to Rolando, who handed it to the lieutenant. He opened it up, and pecked away the information on the keyboards with only his index fingers.
“Edad?” The lieutenant asked sharply.
“He wants to know your age.” Rolando explained to Ant.
“Thirty seven”, Ant responded.
“Treinta siete”, Rolando interpreted.
This process continued on for an hour. The lieutenant barked out questions, Rolando translated them in English, Ant answered, and Rolando interpreted them into Spanish. At times when Rolando struggled to translate the Spanish into English, I assisted. The room turned very somber when the questions turned to the items stolen.
“He needs to know each item that was stolen and how much it was worth.” Rolando explained to Ant.
“Okay. Olympus camera. Three hundred dollars.” He started.
Mendoza raised his eyebrows.
“Canon 7D with three lenses. Probably around $8,000.”
“Ochocientos?” The lieutenant asked for confirmation that we had said eight hundred dollars.”
“No, ocho-cero-cero-cero.” Rolando and I responded in unison.
“Qué tipo de cámara?!” Mendoza exclaimed.
“Cámara professional.” I explained. I grabbed my imaginary lens far out in front of me to mimic the size of the lens.
“Ohhhh. Cámara professional.” Mendoza gritted his teeth and sucked in air. He turned to the lieutenant and explained.
Ant continued to list the items. Wallet with $200 U.S. dollars. Passport. Driver’s license. Samsung Galaxy 4s. Police badge.
“Policia también?” Mendoza asked and pointed excitedly at Ant.
“Yes. Yes, policia.” Ant responded again with his head down, a smirk spread across his face.
Mendoza turned and chatted excitedly with the lieutenant. Both burst into another fit of laughter. Rolando and I both laughed at the entire scene.
“Mañana los titulares en el periódico: Oficial de la policía de Australia robaron en Nicaragua”, Mendoza exclaimed while he held his imaginary newspaper.
The lieutenant, Mendoza, Rolando, and I all laughed loudly. I clapped my hands and heaved forward in another round of laughter.
“What did he say?” Ant asked.
“He said tomorrow the newspaper headlines are going to read ‘Australian police officer robbed in Nicaragua’”, I explained to him.
“Yeah, I knew that I would never hear the end of this. I am glad everyone is having a good time with this. I am just doing my best to bring a little more joy to the world.” Ant replied with a smile.
The lieutenant asked Ant to look at the screen to confirm the details. Then the lieutenant spoke to Rolando and Mendoza.
“We are finished. It is printing in another office. Let’s go.” Rolando motioned towards the door.
We followed the lieutenant across the hallway into the office with the two female officers. One of the officers stood up to allow the lieutenant to sit at a desk with a printer. The printer hummed loudly and beeped as it printed, and then whizzed as it returned to the next line. The paper had perforated edges and was connected in one sheet, with perforations also separating the pages.
I remembered seeing these printers when I visited my father’s business as a kid. A bit of nostalgia washed over me. When the noise settled, the lieutenant ripped at the last perforation, and handed a copy to Ant. We shook hands with him and thanked him. Mendoza led us back outside into the courtyard and to the gate. The officers all solemnly nodded once again. The guard at the gate shook our hands once more. Mendoza told us to wait as he walked further down the street to get a cab for us.
“No es seguro aquí.” Rolando explained.
“Yo se. Yo se. I figured that.” I responded.
Mendoza walked up with a cab rolling along next to him. As we approached the cab, the driver said something to Mendoza, and then left. He shrugged his shoulders. He turned and whistled for the next cab he saw. It pulled up, he spoke with the driver.
“Okay.” Mendoza declared.
We shook hands with him and thanked him. We hopped in the cab, shut the doors, and weaved through the river of people and animals back to our hostel.
“So how do you feel?!” I asked Ant.
“Mate, I feel so good. So relieved. I never thought I’d actually be able to get this thing.” He said as he held up his report. “And I would have never been able to do it without the help from you guys and Mendoza. I owe you all big time. So thanks again.” He continued.
“No worries, man. Glad to help.” I responded.
“Of course. It is what makes the world go around, to help one another.” Rolando explained.
“Well, beers on me when we get back to the hostel.” Ant offered.
We all laughed.
“Sounds good to me. What do you think, Rolando?” I asked.
“Está bien. Todo está bien.”