I'm in Managua, capital of Nicaragua and one of my new favourite places. I mainly love it because I haven't seen a single tourist here since I arrived and that's always a great sign. Everyone told me I was crazy to come here. "It's a war zone," they said ("they" are not that up on their geopolitical situations, but I nodded solemnly in agreement, to make me look tough).
I had the usual ridiculous flight over here. In Heathrow some guy frisking me refused to let me through and called his supervisor because I said "for God's sake" when he asked me to take my belt off for a second time. He informed me that I had used "abusive language" and that he wasn't happy for me to fly. Fortunately his superior was of a slightly higher IQ and eventually let me go – but not before making me apologise to the security gibbon. Anyway, after all this power-crazed bollocks it was a relief to arrive in Nicaragua to be greeted by friendly officials and big smiles everywhere.
Managua is a city where the streets literally have no name. There are no street signs or names anywhere in the capital. To get around "Nicas" use an Indian laurel tree in the rough centre of the city as Ground Zero. Everything is negotiated from there – they talk about "towards the lake" (north) or "towards the mountains" (south) or "up" and "down" (like the sun, east and west). So somewhere is two blocks towards the mountains and then five blocks up, etc. To make things worse, a lorry smashed into the tree 20 years ago and knocked it down. Managuans then had to talk about things being "three blocks towards the lake from where the tree USED to be". This got too confusing, even for Managuans, so they've planted another tree there now.
Nicaragua is a very unlucky country – it's been pummelled by huge earthquakes, over-enthusiastic volcanoes and terrible internecine politics, making it the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti. It seems, however, to be finally coming out of the doldrums and is starting to open itself up as an attractive tourist destination for the adventurous spirit. You can tell a lot about a country by who is on the plane you come in on. Mine was full of Peace Corps, eco-hippy types and surfers. The Pacific coast here is fabulous for surfing, and it's starting to become an important destination for the "totally stoked" dudes.
Nowhere, however, is the poverty more obvious than in the main market in Managua, which stretches out for miles like some tin-roofed labyrinth. The deeper you enter into the place the more desperate the product. On the fringes are shops selling the usual designer knock-offs and crap televisions. By the time I got to the middle I'd seen every single section of an animal used for commercial purposes – nothing is wasted. Arriving at the epicentre I found bulls' eyes and tripe laid out on dirty stone slabs and baskets of live iguanas waiting, like condemned old men, to be dispatched and poured into a huge soup that was supposed to make you virile.
Tomorrow I head off to the old capital of Leon and then on to climb a volcano. I don't know why I have to climb a volcano. Maybe, as George Mallory once said, "because it's there". I'm perfectly happy just acknowledging "it's there" and moving on, but the rules of television stipulate that you must have challenge and achievement. They also want me vomiting and weeping halfway up. Ah well, that's my role in life and I'll have to lump it. Adios amigos.Reuse content