A Night in Nicaragua

park granada

A balmy summer`s night in Granada, Nicaragua.

Under the trees of the park in front of the cathedral the local ladies had set up their charcoal burners; the aroma drawing passers by to the folding chairs set up by their stands.

On the Calle de Calzada the restaurants had set out the tables in the street for the crowd who wanted Guinness, burgers and chips

calle calzado

The lighted windows were bright at the hotels and restaurants serving the more recherche fare…at recherche prices.

So where was I?

In the police station. Not a patch on the other attractions of Granada and no food on offer either.

The back story is as follows…

Two women friends had been visiting us in Costa Rica: one my age, the other much older.

We had had a lot of  fun, starting with the discovery that the lady who had brought me harissa found that the lid of the pot had worked loose in her luggage, giving her an entire wardrobe of clothes with oily orange stains and a pot with very little harissa remaining inside it.


We flogged ourselves round the shops of Escazu, the upmarket suburb of San Jose, without success. My friend  liked designer clothes…but not at Escazu prices.

So we took the car to the centre of San Jose to hit the Ropa Americana…the secondhand clothes shops.

Except that not all the contents are secondhand. A lot of the stuff is new…complete with tags…and you can find some real bargains.

My friend shops with precision..she knows her size (in every world measurement known to woman)..she knows what fabrics she likes and she knows her style. As always the staff were very helpful: she would emerge from  the changing room  saying

I like this…but with some detail on the sleeve.

Immediately a bevy of assistants would fan out into the shop to seek what she wanted and would sometimes find it.

Try getting that service in London – unless you are the sort of woman who is accompanied everywhere by bodyguards paid for by her seventy year old husband.

Our shopping trip was very successful:  my friend`s wardrobe was replenished at minimal cost but in maximal style.

Nothing orange though, I noted…

We had  taken Danilo with us as we needed the car for the spoils and so went together to the terrace restaurant opposite the Teatro Nacional which had caught my older friend`s eye, with tables set among the borders of coffee plants which separate it from the traffic roaring along Avenida 2.

gran hotel sj

Service was slow….clear sign of a place which thought that coffee plants in the centre of San Jose were attraction enough to draw customers.

Tired of the nods and becks of the only visible waiter Danilo – keen to have visitors to Costa Rica properly treated – went off in search of assistance.

He returned with a head waiter and two female accolytes who presented menus and waited  patiently for our orders.

The ladies wanted a fresh fruit drink to quench the thirst generated by shopping followed by white wine. Danilo…driving..stuck to a fruit drink.

The ladies ordered plates of carpaccio of fish. Danilo ordered grilled fish with rice and beans.

The fruit drinks arrived..and were leisurely consumed.

The table  adorned with empty glasses, a furious Danilo set off once again in search of assistance.

The head waiter and acolytes returned, cleared the table and served the wine with a further fruit drink for Danilo.

Where, he asked, is the food? These ladies have been waiting at least twenty minutes! Just how long does it take to open the fridge and slice some fish?

The head waiter eyed him…he had a problem in assessing his status.

Danilo, to show his countryman`s contempt for San Jose, would normally wear an old tee shirt and torn jeans together with wellies.  Given that he was escorting visitors he had compromised: clean pressed jeans, newish tee shirt…and shoes.

All the ladies were respectably attired and, in one case, wearing a large diamond pendant on her necklace.

The head waiter had a problem…this unsophisticated chap had in tow three somewhat upmarket ladies…he must have hidden talents!

At once, senor!

The carpaccio of fish was superb…well worth another glass of Chilean white from a head waiter now hovering.

Danilo viewed his fish with disapprobation. It was not grilled…it was poached…

Would we, asked the head waiter, care for coffee?

Before we could speak, Danilo replied that, on current form, we could not wait for the coffee berries to be processed…no, just give us the bill!

The bill eventually arrived..the head waiter somewhat bothered as to whom to present it.

His dilemma was solved by the older friend scooping it in and paying in cash – which Danilo promptly counted and returned the sum in excess of the bill to her purse….

Don`t encourage them….

We adjourned to the cafe of the Teatro Nacional where my friends ordered patisseries and cappuccino while Danilo and I contented ourselves with the latter.

caff teatro nacional

Except that the waiter in the Teatro Nacional had resolved the problem which had bemused the head waiter of the terrace restaurant.

Danilo`s cappuccino came with a heart and cupid`s dart design….

He rose and took the waiter aside.

I could not hear all of the conversation but the gist of it was that if the waiter thought that he, Danilo, was a gigolo he could come outside and accept a bunch of fives while, furthermore, the ladies he was escorting were the wife and friends of his employer and Europeans at that, not some dried out old bats coming down to Costa Rica to pick up young men – here a sweep of the arm over surrounding tables – and could the waiter not tell the difference between real diamonds and costume jewellery.

His coffee was removed and replaced with one with a fleur de lis design…

The  wardrobe replenished we did the usual visits…volcano, waterfalls, little towns with quaint churches….but I thought it a shame that they should come to Central America without visiting Granada in Nicaragua, once the port from which the fleets sailed for Spain in the time of Drake, crossing Lake Nicaragua, down the Rio San Juan to the Caribbean and on to Europe.

lake nicaragua

A Spanish colonial city, burnt in large part by a would be American dictator in the nineteenth century, it is still a gem…


We booked tickets on one of the bus services which travel from San Jose to Managua, calling at Granada….while it is fun when younger to travel on the bus to the frontier and elbow your way in true jumble sale fashion through the queues for customs and immigration, given the age of my older friend discretion  was the better part of valour and we took the service where the conductors shepherd their clients through the formalities at the frontier as painlessly as possible.

Buses Nicabus G7 2013 (5)

My friends had the seats immediately behind and above the driver where they had a superb view of the road…and a equally superb view of said driver eating his lunch from a plate on his lap while guiding the bus with two fingers….but we arrived unscathed and found a taxi  – well, a young man with a car – to take us to our hotel, a restored colonial style house a few blocks from the centre of Granada.

hotel granada

Setting out to explore the next day it was obvious how much Granada had changed since I first visited it with Leo years ago.

Then we had stayed in a hostel: the bed had had cushions for pillows, slippery polyester sheets and an ensuite shower which consisted of an overhead tap in an enclosure of corrugated plastic sheeting.

Leo had spent most of the first night slapping himself in an attempt to kill the mosquitoes….on emerging the next morning he was greeted with a large brandy offered with the respects of the staff who had mistaken his actions for those of wild sexual passion….

We stayed there for three nights and in that time it was impossible for him to buy a drink…they were lined up on the bar from staff and regular customers as soon as he showed his face. Men came to look at him…

Now, Granada had changed: boutique hotels, chi chi restaurants….we were not objecting as we took wine stops in cool courtyards on our tours of the old streets…but it was no longer the haphazard, casual place that it had been. Professional tourism had arrived and the waiters were chasing away the crowds of little boys who moved from place to place offering sweets and matches for sale, thinking that they annoyed the customers. Given the type of customer, it is probable that they did but I had liked the saucy little devils with their hard sell and their backchat.

On the last day of our trip I took my friends out to Masaya to see somewhere less affected by tourism.

We took the collective mini bus from down by the market and were dropped in the town centre in time for lunch…and what a lunch!

Fresh fruit juices and whole grilled fish  with salad does not do justice to the meal…all I can say is that fresh meant fresh….and no, we did not climb up into these tall chairs to enjoy our meal.

chairs masaya

We visited the stalls selling ceramics, clothes and leather goods in the old fortified market building:

tourist market masaya

And then walked up the road to the town market which covered acres under its corrgated iron roofs…

As always, a gentleman offered his services to find the best deals…

As always I accepted, made my own deals and paid him a retainer…he has a living to make.

He was kind enough to bring our shopping bags to the bus stop where we were scooped up by the conductor and instructed to hold tight as the packed bus whirled away.


Quick, said the elderly friend. Take a photograph…this is the first and last time you will see me pole dancing!

In no time young men had given us their seats and we returned to Granada in the late afternoon.

This is where things went wrong.

I wanted to go to the market to buy shoes.For some reaason I can buy my size in Nicaragua but not in Costa Rica.

My friends wanted to take a carriage tour of  Granada. I would always willingly forgo this as not all the horses are well cared for, so we agreed that we would meet up at the hotel.

carriages granada

Shoes bought,  I had returned to the hotel and was sleeping when the receptionist roused me with the news that my friends had been attacked on the corner of the street.

I hurried down to find that my elderly friend had had her diamond pendant snatched as she walked to the hotel: neighbours had come out of their houses to chase the thief ….but he had escaped, using a bicycle lying in the gutter half a block away….and to care for my friends. Chairs had been brought on to the street…remedies had been applied….

The hotel staff were superb in helpng to calm and care for my friends…but the owner (French) was only concerned to insist that it was not the fault of the hotel. Clearly it was not…but some concern for her guests would have been welcome.

Finally the desk clerk got to the nub of the matter.Never mind if the thieves could be caught…my friend needed a police statement for her insurance company…

He called (and paid for) a taxi to take us to the police station on the other side of town.

The Granada police station reminded me of English police stations in the sixties…clean, yes….sophisticated…no.

Unlike English police stations, however, this one had been baking in the heat all day and it certainly did not run to air conditioning.

We waited on a bench in the entrance while some young men emerged from an office in handcuffs and were taken away in a van.

A police officer emerged in their wake and asked if any of  us could speak Spanish.

I put up my hand…and that was that…


The problem was that I was not an accredited translator in Nicaragua so while I could describe what my friends had seen my translation would have no value in law….the police chief who turned up confirmed this and then with a wink said…but all they want is a statement for their insurance and for that you don`t have to be accredited.

I was turned over to a gentleman who took down my friends` statements and thought that that was that, but he called his boss as my friends had described how a young lad had jumped up alongside the driver shortly after they had left the park and had chatted to them in English, asking them where they were staying then had jumped off later before the driver dropped them off on the road leading to the hotel saying that he was not permitted to drive up to it.

A set up.

The boss explained that he had a very shrewd idea of who the culprits might be…but by that time the pendant would be in other hands…sold for next to nothing to a fence to buy drugs….and unless my friends were willing to wait to see an official translator and attend both an identity parade and appear in court there would be little point in arresting the malefactors.

Drugs! We have to combat it or it will be the ruin of our society!

While we were waiting for the statements to be typed up the paddy waggon brought in two young people.

They had been arrested disembarking from the ferry from the Rio San Juan to Granada having been found to be in possession of marijuana.

Nicaragua does not tolerate drugs or drug use: the rules are clear…..

However, the Granada police know that a significent number of the visitors to Granada use drugs. Appearances in the criminal courts do not help the business community, so other measures are taken…

A preliminary interview revealed that neither had a word of Spanish. Their passports showed that the young lady was from New Zealand and her male companion from France.

The official translators would have to be called but, in the meantime, could I assist the police with their enquiries?

Cold drinks would be provided for my friends if they were willing to stay…

Indeed they were, feeling that they were inside one of the police dramas they both love, and cold drinks were  accordingly brought: cola in a plastic bag with a straw tied into the knot closing the bag. Different…but it was a drink and it was cold.

The boss explained to me that the idea was to frighten the wits out of the young couple and then put them on a bus for somewhere…anywhere..out of Granada. The official translators would have to make out the formal papers relating to their apprehension, but could I assist in explaining what was going to happen.

I started on the young lady, explaining what the police intended to do and asked her if her companion understood.

Oh no…he doesn`t speak English.

Well, can you explain to him?

Oh no…I don`t speak French.

I explained this to the boss whose ruddy countenance turned purple.

I suppose the only language they have in common is hash!

I explained that I could speak French as well as English and he breathed again.

I addressed the young man in his own tongue.

He explained that he thought it very unjust as he was only carrying marijuana for his own use.

But did you know it was ilegal to do so in Nicaragua?

Oh yes, but it was legal in the Netherlands…

Right, so much for the logical French mind.

I explained what the police wanted to happen again and he pouted.

It was getting late. He had booked a hotel in Granada.

The police chief wanted to know which, obviously thinking of mounting a raid.

He didn`t remember.He had the name on his mobile `phone…which did not work as he did not have a local SIM card and the police station had no wifi.

Anyway he did not want to get on a bus to be sent into the void…

I tried explaining that in the circumstances it might be a good idea to do so as otherwise the police chief might decide…business community or no business comunity…to throw the book at him.

I want the French consul.

The boss was going purple again as this was translated and asked me to explain that were the consul to be called the young man would certainly be in for an overnight stay in the hands of the police  as there was no way the said consul was likely to shift himself before a late hour of the following morning.

I don`t want the French consul.

Our documents were ready…but the boss had to take a `phone call.

The official translators refused to come until morning.

Could I explain to the young couple that they would have to remain in police custody overnight?

I did so….

The New Zealander was phlegmatic about it, the Frenchman hopeful of better quarters than a bench in a police station.

Are they sending us to a hotel?

Yes, indeed they are. The Hotel de Police.

















French Maids, Marijuana and the (Wo)man from the Ministry

Hello, Alain! You look a bit harassed!

I should think I do…yes, a glass of Claude’s rose, please; that should lay the dust.

So what’s the problem?



Yes, he’s down at the gendarmerie….under arrest…in the clink.

Not Zizi! He wouldn’t hurt a fly! What happened?

Well, old Mme. Turbine called me when I was having my coffee….she said there was a horde of gendarmerie running about over his vines and a lot of shouting inside the house, so I went over to take a look and she was right!
There was some woman there I didn’t know pointing at him and calling him a pervert, and he was calling her a liar – among other things – and there was big Jean Paul between them to keep them apart while there was a vanload from the station at Benitierville tramping through the vines and rummaging in his barns and outbuildings…
They told me to clear out but I saw them take Zizi off in the paddy waggon with the woman following in her car.
And then some other woman in a car turned up and they told her to clear off too.

So what did you do?

Well, I ‘phoned Clement….being a notaire’s clerk he knows what to do and he knows Zizi…and asked him if Zizi had a lawyer and he said he didn’t but that he’d get on to it himself and so I went back and the gendarmes had a load of plants and were taking photographs and they told me to clear off again, so I thought I’d better and then old Mme Turbine came round to see what it was all about and you know how she goes on….

Yes, like an old fashioned dentist’s drill…yes…

So I thought I’d drop in for a glass or two and a minute’s peace and then go to see Clement and see what he’s found out.

No need, he’s just coming up the street.

Hello, Clement! Busy day by the sound of things! What’s happening to Zizi? Claude’s rose?

Yes, please, and another for Alain….though why I’m standing you a drink after all the trouble you’ve given me, I don’t know!

Well, I thought you’d know how to get to the bottom of things better than I could…and Zizi’s a nice old boy…

No, it’s all right! Take no notice…it’s been a bit wearing, that’s all.
I telephoned the gendarmerie and was lucky enough to get the Adjutant, LeBoff. Not bad for a Breton, and you can talk to him.
Anyway, he said it had taken quite a time to sort out, what with Zizi shouting and the woman shouting but the whole thing started with a mix up.

Some mix up to have Zizi in the jug!

Well, you know that though Zizi sold his vines to those young chaps he kept his arable land…brings in a fair bit with the subsidies, after all….and he keeps his own seed from year to year.
Well, to be legal he has to pay a voluntary contribution..

You mean a fine …

Well, yes, it is really but it’s supposed to support crop research and you have to pay it if you keep your own seed. It seems that the European Union now want to ban anyone from keeping their own seed and the woman you saw, Alain, was from the Agriculture Ministry who was making a tour of all those in this area who were declared as keeping their own seed to put them in the picture.

I bet Zizi liked that! I’ve heard him on the subject of the E.U….he can give Mme Turbine a half kilometre start and still pass her in minutes when it comes to them and their high jinks!
He must have given the woman an earful….but how come she was calling him a pervert?

Ah! That’s where the mix up comes in!
It seems that Zizi was expecting a visitor…but not this one.
He’d signed up to a service that sends women round to do your cleaning…

Whatever for! He gets a home help three times a week from the council and I know Monique who goes to him: you couldn’t criticise her work…

I don’t think Monique would be too chuffed to do what these women do…

What, you mean sort out his washing? Those coms of his are a disgrace: have you seen them on the line?

No, not the washing.
There’s a new service set up called ‘Z Maids’, run from Belgium I believe but operating in France, which supplies their clients with women to do the cleaning dressed in anything from ordinary clothes to nothing at all via latex and leather….and Zizi saw this in the paper and signed up.

She’s right! He is a pervert!

Well, you’d have to be to sign up for something like that! But he thought this woman was the cleaner he was expecting and told her to hurry up and get her clothes off…he was paying by the hour and he wanted his money’s worth… then she started screeching and he poked an old feather duster at her and told her to get on with it or he’d complain to her office at which point she called up the gendarmerie.

Well, there’s nothing that couldn’t be sorted out, was there?

No, not if her call hadn’t landed on that idiot Malfrat…you know what he’s like and he’s had it in for Zizi since that near miss with the tractor…so he calls out the boys and decides it’s a good opportunity to give Zizi’s place a going over…learn him as it were.
So while Jean Paul was trying to keep the two of them quiet, Malfrat and his boys were turning the place over…and what do they find in one of the outhouses?
Electric lights and pots of marijuana plants!
So he comes in and accuses Zizi of producing drugs, Zizi swipes him with the feather duster and he’s hauled away for drug dealing, sexual harassment and rebellion and outrage in that he swiped Malfrat.

So what’s with the drugs? I can’t see Zizi planting dope…not while there’s wine.

Neither can LeBoff. He reckons it’s something to do with the young chaps who took over the vines and he’s looking into it – as he says, they’re using the outhouses and they pay the electricity bill which is on a separate meter. As he says, you can’t see Zizi forking out for electricity like that…

So he should be all right there, then.

Yes, and with a bit of luck Plouc can sort out the rest for him.

Plouc? Your boss? But he’s a notaire, not an avocat, even if he is a big wheel in politics….

Yes, and if he wants to stay a big wheel he’ll get this sorted….
He’s also signed up for the services of Z Maids, and charged it to his office expenses!

How do you know?

His bookkeeper told me…Zizi’s neice, Dominique.