A huge orange ball is all I see in my rear view mirror as the sun starts to make its decent, letting me know that the time left of daylight is nearing its end. It's been a long day on the road, having to deal with scorching heat, bombarded pavement, and the*nuisance* of a misplaced driver's licence. Chinandega, my next stop for the evening is about 70 kms away and I have about 35 minutes of light left.
I'm riding through some of the most spectacular landscapes I've seen thus far on the trip. The land seems lush with greenery, and the golden hughes coming off the horizon at this time of day are incredible. I want to keep stopping to take pictures and take in this magnificent time of day, but I have an uneasy feeling about riding after dark.
The road itself is in fantastic shape, putting the road on the Honduran side to shame. Even at the border the officer had jested that one of the current presidential candidates in Honduras was the previous Transportation Minister and should be ashamed with leaving infrastructure like that is now looking to become president. If those are his roads, I really don't want to find out what his government is going to be like.
My main concern is the livestock. There are few fences and I have already passed at least two small groupings of cows and goats, one being managed by a young boy and the other completely on its own. The land is almost completely flat and the curves are gradual, but cruising at 100+kms/hr is no longer an option, so I roll the throttle forward and take things down a notch. This too lets me take in the views.
About an hour later I start to roll into Chinandega and hit my first bit of traffic. Apparently a pickup truck had rolled over on the side of the road and the multitude had already started to assemble. The police was already on site, standing around, and letting the crowd just poor over and take over almost an entire lane of traffic, which of course, was why there was a slowdown.
I then pull into a small shopping center and pull out my phone and call my friend Enrique, who is my host of the night. I've known Enrique now for about 15 years - WOW 15 YEARS. I met him through some friends while working on a USAID development project with the vice-ministry of property. The agency I had worked with was responsible for resolving and compensating cases of property that had been confiscated and nationalized by the Sandinista government in the 1980's. Enrique and his family had been one of the affected parties at the time, having land and equipment.
A few minutes later Enrique arrived. It was good to see my old friend. We had lost touch over the last few years and he had always invited me to his home town in Chinandega, but until now I had not had a chance. We popped into the Rostipollo, a local restaurant chain, and put back a few frosty ones while we figured out or next step. It also gave me a chance to cool off a bit and step away from the heat, though the temperature now seemed cool compared to the scorcher I had driven through earlier in the day.
I then followed him into town and parked the bike in a lot near his house in "downtown" Chinandega. Mind you, this is a small town. We then loaded up his SUV with my gear and drove a few blocks over to his house where I was shown to my room and made a quick presto-change-o into my civvies. As I walk out of my room, Enrique calls me over to his office where he's pulling together a small armament it seems, putting a hand-gun and munitions together in a case.
"We've got to run a quick errand before we go out to dinner" he says. Wow, a quick errand??
We're not in Kansas anymore, are we Tigger?
On one of Enrique's farms where he's growing watermelon, he's been hit several times by some locals stealing at night the crop as it is nearing time for harvest. His care-taker had called to say that he was alone, had no food and that the "invasores" were back. Getting out there to scare off the vagrants needed to be taken care of quickly. I hoped in the Land Cruiser and we headed off. A few blocks away we stopped at a local food stand to pick up some grub for the farmhand - a big plate of chicken, gallo pinto (rice and beans), fried plantain, and some salad. Man did it look good. The whole plate was only $2.50 - incredible.
We rode out to the farm on the outskirts of town and parked in the middle of a mango tree grove. There we stood a small knoll,in the dark, with the headlights shining up into the branches. Out of the darkness came some*rustling*and two figures emerged - the farm boss and a small boy with a machete that was twice his size.
The conversation went something like this.
Enrique - "I got an urgent call from the farmhand, he told me that we had those vagrants here again, he wanted the gun to scare them off and he mentioned he hadn't eaten"
Farmboss - "I got here a little while ago and I went over the hill to check on things and things look alright now"
Enrique - "Ok, sounds good, I've got some food for the caretaker, get him fed... *and keep me posted if anything else happens"
We then headed back to town, picked up Enrique's wife and sister-in-law and headed out for dinner. This is what life is actually like in these rural small towns in Nicaragua... par for the course.