On The Road: No light, no power, no water, but all you need is at 'The Lookout'

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The Independent Travel

"No light!" grins the hotel manager, jangling my keys excitedly. "No light, no light. Not here, not anywhere. Speak to the President, my friend."

When a Nicaraguan tells you "no light", they usually mean "no electricity", but equally they could be making a philosophical observation about the state of the nation. In this case, he means both. And there's no water either.

For the seamy nowhere town of San Carlos – perched like a ragged vulture between Lake Nicaragua, the Costa Rican border and the jungle-shrouded San Juan river – is prone to the same energy shortages as the rest of the country.

So I curse the President, snatch up my keys and move along the corridor. The manager salutes me. With nothing better to do, I dump my bags, locate my torch and head outside. The night is alive with giant, bloodthirsty mosquitoes, bats, a symphony of frogs and screaming cicadas.

The town square is a deep expanse of nothingness. No pavement, no buildings, no sky – nothing but unrelenting darkness.

Suddenly a light emerges. A single, ramshackle structure half-toppled on rotten stilts. Music, shouting and laughter spill from the balconies. "The Look-out", says the sign. I climb the steps and enter the scene.

A large open platform is filled with itinerant workers, terminally inebriated frontier men and swarms of kamikaze moths. The generator roars. Cheap cigarette smoke rolls in dense, bluish waves. And women make the rounds beneath feisty jeering and banter.

I pull up a seat and a young waiter in a bow tie approaches.

"Señor, anything you desire."

I order a drink, a plate of food, then relax and gaze out into the night. I can just make out the long, slow San Juan river under a waning sliver of moonlight.

Soon, ripples of lightning carve up the horizon like a white-hot machete. Thunder fractures the heavens and the crowds cheer in approval. Tomorrow I will head downstream, but for now, we have everything we need right here.

'Footprint Costa Rica, Nicaragua & Panama' is available now (£14.99). Richard Arghiris's blog is at interamericana.co.uk