El Sauce – Estelí

Time to leave lovely El Sauce and make my way further afield. Of course, I had to swing past my new favourite haunt for one last mixed fruit juice. The bus left from the tiny mercado so I just walked up the few blocks amidst the morning market bustle.

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I found a bus that had Esteli proudly painted on its front and went inside to seek a seat. In Central America, if you want to reserve a seat on a bus, you just leave something on it and it is yours until you return. It’s quite a handy system and means not having to stay put on the bus until it leaves. A couple of seats were a little unclear as to whether they were taken or not so I asked a nearby señora if she knew the status of them. She very shortly told me that they were taken and flamboyantly waved her arms and pronounced that all the seats on the bus were taken and that I would just have to stand. Another, sweeter señora smiled and told me she thought the seat I was standing next to was free which pissed surly señora off no end. I decided to chance it and sat down, ignoring surly señora’s indignant huffs. Sweet señora just smiled and nodded reassuringly.

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The bus pulled out and promptly pulled into the terminal a few metres away where the bus really filled up. I couldn’t understand why anyone would wait in a throng of people, jostling for position, when one could just have walked to the corner and secured a seat. But still, this is Central America where people will wait on the side of the road less than ten metres apart and the bus will pick them up regardless. The reserver of the seat next to me had returned to claim his seat before the bus left for the terminal, which was when we discovered a mystery bag which wasn’t his. I was starting to assume that maybe the seat I took wasn’t free after all but decided to just wait and see. The little grey pack was moved to the overhead rack and its owner came into play when the bus was chock full of people. I thought I might have been in for a bollocking for my brazen seat steal, but no, he was just after his pack and shitty that the bus was leaving early. I could relax after all. I glanced back at the two señoras; sweet señora smiled serenely, whilst surly señora scowled in a ‘Told you so, you ignorant gringa!’ manner.

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I had hoped that my trip to Esteli would take me through more of this glorious mountainous countryside off the beaten track and was not disappointed. The bus rumbled out of town, along the same road I started wandering along the previous day and continued on through tiny communities nestled in the lush terrain. The condition of the road and the steepness of the terrain meant slow progress, but as it was considerably cooler up in highlands it was quite pleasant.

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Eventually one could see the start of urbanisation which proved to be the outskirts of Esteli. I checked maps.me to see where we were in relation to Parque Central as the hostel I was heading for was close to that landmark. After nearly fours hours cramped on a bus, it was good to jump off and walk the remaining couple of kilometres. I found Hostel Iguana readily, however, it appeared to be closed down with a bolted metal door barring entry and no buzzer. I banged on the door several times and eventually a señora came to open it. I was shown to my room and met the manager, Heilo. He explained that he had just split with his girlfriend and she had gang connections who were giving him grief. Hence the total lock down. Great!

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As I hadn’t eaten all day and it was getting late in the afternoon, I went out in search of food. The comedor Heilo had recommended was shut so I ended up at a little Mexican restaurant and had a very average baleados. I decided to buy some cervezas from the local supermarket to take back to the hostel and caught up again with Heilo and Carlos. I learned more about the ex-girlfriend; it seemed she was not the straightest chip on the plate and had a record for pimping, drug trafficking and armed robbery. Evidently, she did not take the break up well and cleaned out the premises of furniture and artworks. And got her her gang buds to frighten the bejesus out of Heilo.

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The boys eventually went out and I retired to my room to work out what I wanted to do in Esteli. I was engrossed in something I was reading when I heard a “Señora”. Thinking it couldn’t be for me, I ignored it and kept reading. Again I heard the calling. Again, I looked up and saw no one. After the third time, I got up and went to investigate. There, in the doorway of an adjacent room across the patio, was an attractive señora in her 30s. It was she who had been calling out to me. She had tears in her eyes and the most forlorn look I had seen outside of a soap opera. As it was, she insisted on telling me her woes and I did indeed feel as if I had been plonked right in the middle of a Latino telenovela. My Spanish is conversational at best and definitely not up to self- analytical ‘why my life sucks’ level, so I did the universal ‘sympathetic nod at regular interval’ routine which seemed to satisfy her needs.

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After what seemed an excruciatingly long time, the boys finally returned and took charge of the sorrowful señora for which I was extremely grateful. It turned out that Mariela was Heilo’s ex-wife and was going through a hard time. Heilo explained she had been taking cocaine and shouldn’t be as it brought her down too much. He spent some time trying to get her to get out of the room again and socialise as he said it would do her good. Both he and Carlos kept disappearing back into the room and there was no prizes for guessing what they were up to in there. It appeared I was staying in Casa de Crackhead.

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I now had an party of three desperate to tell me their life stories. I found out that the actual owner of the hostel is Heilo’s brother, a successful doctor in the US (and I’m assuming not a habitual cocaine user). On a recent trip home to check on the hostel, he happened to come at a time when two French girls were off their face on who knows what and one had climbed onto the first floor screaming she was being abducted. At the same time, a Chinese girl had broken the toilet on the first floor and water was cascading onto the ground floor patio. Evidently, the brother took one look at the disarray, turned to Heilo and said “We’ll talk tomorrow.” That talk involved the brother saying he would split the property in two and give one half to Heilo to do with what he wanted as he wanted no more of what he saw the previous night. Since then, no money had gone into maintenance, (which showed) and the ex-girlfriend cleaning out the place also gave it an even more sorry feel. Eventually, I was able to excuse myself and retire to bed. I did make sure I locked my valuables in my pack though. Just to be on the safe side.

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