By Marlon Porter
Central American cabbies are the best drivers in the world.
Who else can drive stick shift, talk on the phone with one hand, drink a Fresca with the other, dance to the radio with their feet and curse at other drivers all at the same time?
Well come to think of it…every other cab driver in the world actually.
I hopped in the first car I saw just outside the Managua Airport, and told him where I wanted to go as he put away my bags. “Hotel Estacion in Granada” I said, “Yeah Yeah Yeah” he replied and raced down the road pinning me back into the car seat. I suddenly realized that I had no GPS, no maps, no phone signal and no way to tell if he was actually taking me to the right place. My research beforehand was lacking as per usual, and the only information I had was the name of the hotel and a city. It didn’t help that he didn’t speak English either, so I was either being kidnapped or taken to my destination. We would see.
One thing you notice when you arrive is the many methods Nicaraguans use to travel. Rules? There are none. As long as you can fit onto the moving vehicle, you’ve got a ride. That goes for cars, trucks, motorcycles, cows, horses, donkeys and really strong people. The cops? They don’t seem to care either. Fifteen of them at a time flew by, squeezed into the flatbed of a 1986 Toyota pickup with legs hanging over the sides and assault rifles in tow.
Maybe it’s just me but I think The Ministry of Transportation needs a little bit of an improvement. The person who runs it must not get out much. There’s no street names, no stop lights, no crosswalks, no parking meters or car lots. Just pure chaos and a lot of honking, which is the preferred language of the road.
My driver was quite fond of his horn, every thirty seconds he would find a way to use it. Beeping and cursing and weaving around slower moving cars. He honked and shifted and drank and laughed out loud in Spanish to his cab driver friend on the other end of the phone, who I assumed was doing the exact same thing in his own car at the moment. I could only imagine what his passengers felt like.
It seemed like every single Japanese two stroke motorcycle from around the world ended up in Nicaragua, and they looked more at home here than in Asia. Helmets were optional. Children were too, although everyone seemed to have a couple for good measure. Two or more tiny pairs of legs straddled themselves to the gas tank and clung on for dear life as the nimble machines tore up the roads.
The countryside was scenic. Not particularly nice, but scenic. I was less admiring and more remembering the route in case I needed to make a speedy exit back to the plane. It was the middle of the dry season and the green fields were browning in the blazing heat. Tiny adobe houses sat on tiny dirt lots, with tiny thatched roofs, and very large dogs. I made a note not to go knocking on any doors for directions.
But this was the Nicaraguan experience I had come for. The authentic scary atmosphere that was a far cry from the ritzy resorts you get in Mexico – where you drown yourself in margaritas and talk about how beautiful the country was back home.
Today’s Nicaragua was much safer from the one when the death squads reigned in the eighties, but the stigma still stuck. The Canadian government’s website had a safety bulletin posted warning that unnecessary travel was “Not Recommended”. That was about all I needed to know before I went ahead and booked the flight. They mentioned muggings and kidnappings and drugs – the usual Central American amenities. What they failed to mention however was the driving. If I was going to die in Nicaragua it would definitely be in a car wreck. And not some cinematic head on collision that you’d expect in Canada either; I’d probably be run over by a banana truck or a dog in a sidecar.
Traffic became denser as we neared Granada and the adobe houses transitioned into more modern infrastructure. Corrugated sheet metal became more prevalent, as did advertisement and wild chickens. Apparently you can get a Big Mac meal in Nicaragua for $6.00. It was nice to see that good old American corporatism was doing fine and dandy in this country.
We arrived at my hotel and my driver pulled into the front. I looked out the window with a hint of disappointment. I was expecting more I guess. Hotel and motel must mean the same things here. Two stories was all I was going to get, although that seemed to be just about as high as any other building went in Granada.
But it was fine; at least I hadn’t been kidnapped, or run over, or brought to the cabbie’s cousin’s house for a “special orientation”. He gave me my bags and took my cash, then left me in a cloud of dust. The Spanish music blaring from his stereo faded away and left a symphony of car horns and of horse hooves to return.
I guess It was time to explore the city now that I had arrived. I had to find out where everything was in this maze.
On foot though…I had had enough cab rides for one day.
Marlon Porter is TEFL Tutor and photographer from Toronto specializing in nature and fashion. When not teaching he is attempting to travel the world one budget flight at a time and writing about the interesting people that he meets along the way. Follow him on IG @marlonp_photos to see more of his outrageous adventures abroad.