Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Hills of Estelí and the Creep of Somoto

After hot-as-an-oven Granada, Estelí was a breath of fresh air (literally), as it sits at 850 meters (~2,800 feet) above sea level, surrounded by dusty hills.

It's tobacco growing country, and one of the most important cigar-producing cities in the world.  I've heard some folks say that it has a bit of a "western" feel, and I can see why...  lots of cowboy hats and cowboy boots around town.

Estelí was the location of some pretty intense fighting during the Sandinista civil war against the Somoza government during the late 70's, and the city was heavily bombed.  During my last class with Sylvia, I came across a sentence that I didn't quite understand on one of her worksheets:  "Aquí era delito, era un crimen ser joven, era razón de ser perseguido el simple hecho de ser joven."  Or: "Here it was a crime, the crime was to be young, it was a reason to be persecuted for the simple fact of being young."  I asked her what it referred to, and she explained that during the war, the government forces were particularly brutal on the youth of the country, suspecting anyone under a certain age of being part of the insurrection.  There is a small museum in Estelí dedicated to the young people who were murdered during the war.

I didn't make it to the museum, though, because I had an incredibly "unproductive" time in Estelí.  Attempted to find postcards; could find exactly two in the entire city.  Attempted to find an open post office to buy stamps; post office inexplicably closed.  Tried to find the aforementioned museum; found something that resembled a museum, but the premier exhibit was a demonstration of the "progress of technology" (i.e. several dusty typewriters and an ancient computer monitor).  Never mind.  I wandered around the city and enjoyed not being covered in sweat.

To make my way toward Guatemala to meet Dave, I needed to head northwest, across Honduras and into El Salvador.  A national park in Somoto protects a deep canyon through which flows the Río Coco.  I thought I would stop there for the day to check it out.

View Larger Map

origin of the rio coco
I took a bus from Estelí to Somoto and was met at the stop by my guide for the day, Franklin. Franklin works for the head guide in the region, Mr. Henry Soriano. Franklin brought me to Henry's house, where I stashed my backpack and got the quick run-down from Henry.

We walked up the highway a bit, then off into the dusty hills.  It did occur to me, "Hey, I'm walking off into the middle of nowhere with some Nicaraguan guy I just met," but I have to say that Franklin was nothing but sweet, considerate, and friendly.

Once we got to the river, Franklin helped me across the rocks, and we were off into the canyon.  It was a very pleasant day.  We'd walk along the rocks for a while, the get in the water to swim or wade for a while.  Even though I don't really like being in the water, and I swam quickly so I could get back to the rocks, I was enjoying myself.

Eventually we got to the end of the canyon, which is the narrowest and most beautiful section.

And, in case you're wondering, all that rock is most definitely climbable (yes, I checked it out).  You'd have to deal with a very wet rope and the enormous spiders that live on the walls of the canyon, though!

Soon after the prettiest part at the end, we met another group (two American guys and a Swedish girl) guided by Henry's brother for a boat ride to get out of the river.  This, unfortunately, is where the story takes a turn for the worse.

First, let's go over the definition of "leer":  To look with a sidelong glance, indicative especially of sexual desire or sly and malicious intent.

I got into the boat and sat next to Henry's brother, a.k.a. The Creep.  Boy, was he glad to see me.  He leered at me, looking me up and down, and up and down, all the time with a stupid grinning sneer on his face.  I ignored it.  Used to the stares.

We got out of the boat and had to walk for a while.  The Creep tried to chat me up--it's fine to be friendly--I responded to his questions and then talked to the Swedish girl.  I was trying to make it obvious that I did not want to talk to him, but he was persistent.

As we neared the end of the walk, he said something to Franklin (I wasn't paying attention), and Franklin said to me, "He says that you are beautiful."  In loud Spanish, I told Franklin to tell him that I was engaged.

We got back to Henry's house for lunch and the staring continued.  At this point, I was pretty unnerved, and in English told the others that I my "spidey sense" was mucho uncomfortable with The Creep.  They were super chill, tried to reassure me, but I said I'd tag along with them back to Somoto anyway.  Safety in numbers.

Well, The Creep decided he wanted to come back to town with us.  Ok, fine, we'll all share a taxi.  The Creep calls a cab and all six of us pile in, two in the front and the four of us in the back.  I'm in the back with the Swede, one of the Americans, and The Creep.  He leers at me the entire drive.

At this point, I know I'm not leaving the three English speakers, because that would leave me alone in Somoto with The Creep.  We get back to their sketchy guesthouse and spill out of the taxi.  The Creep follows us into the guesthouse.  I ask to see a room, and the English speakers stay behind to chat with their guide.  The room is C100 (about $4.30), and I decide to pay for it just so I don't have to leave immediately.

I rejoined the English speakers in the front area of the guesthouse--there's The Creep, again, and his nasty leer--and together we walk back toward our rooms.  As soon as we're away from The Creep, one of the Americans says to me, "Ok now I'm feeling you."  I have no idea what The Creep said or did to make this American guy pick up on the vibe...  actually, I don't want to know.

After a few minutes, I went to use the bathroom.  The Leering Creep is still sitting in the guesthouse.  He turns around and smiles at me.  I make an extremely angry and nasty face at him and shrug my shoulders, using body language to say "What the F*** do you want?!"  The comment from the English speakers:  "What the f*** is he still doing here!"

In the end, The Creep disappeared somewhere.  But after all of the leering and actually following us back to our guesthouse, I was pretty unnerved for the rest of the evening.

Ok.  I've traveled alone before, I've been in Latin American countries before, I know how things go, especially with Latino men and unaccompanied women.  And I'm conscious that my story here could negatively impact the livelihoods of the people involved.

But here's the thing:  if Mr. Henry Soriano wants to make money off foreign tourists (arranged by Hospedaje Luna in  Estelí, my "tour" with him charged USD$25, no small change in Nicaragua), he needs to provide a professional service with respectful guides.  Even if this type of behavior is the norm in Latin America, f his brother, The Creep, tries this nonsense too often with foreign women, it will be the end of Henry's business.

If my guide had been The Creep and I had to spend the day alone with him...  if the other English speakers hadn't happened to go through the canyon on the same day...  this story could have had a very different ending.  But fortunately, all's well that ends well.

1 comment:

  1. Yikes Nico, that guy does sound creepy. I'm glad you are ok and that you were able to stay at that guest house!

    The Sandinista info is interesting and I love the bit about the technology display at the museum :)

    Great writing!