Cocaine Cowboy

Two or three nights ago in San Juan I chatted with an old biker from south Florida. His name was Bud and he had no teeth unless you count some little metal barbs sticking out of his gums. We talked about motorcycles, beards, guns, ex-wives, and various other topics commonly discussed in Central America.

Bud enjoyed hearing about my plans to conduct business in Nicaragua and assured me he would not be capitalizing on my ideas. With his hand on my shoulder he reiterated that I need not worry. His plans were to go back home, buy cheap cigarettes on the reservation, spend not a small amount of time at the casino, then see what happens.

Last night I saw Bud again and this time he had teeth. I told him they looked nice, which they did. His best set of teeth was stolen along with some jewelry he was fond of wearing. We chatted about old cars – a ’62 Impala 409 he used to have, a ’67 Corvette 427, among others.

He told me Jeb Bush wouldn’t give him his guns back. “Back from what?” I joked. Maybe he thought it was funny too but he didn’t laugh a whole lot. I asked him if he still carries a firearm. He does. He made it clear it’s best to call first when visiting his home in the mountains. He no longer calls Florida home but I will refrain from saying more.

I thought this was as good a time as any to switch the conversation over to crime. “Have you seen the documentary, ‘Cocaine Cowboys?’ He just stared at me. “It makes the argument that the city of Miami was built on cocaine money.”

“Did you see my picture in the movie?” he said, not joking.

“No, I don’t believe I did.”

“Son, they used to call me ‘Cocaine Cowboy’ in south Florida.”

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He said he got busted moving 12 kilos of cocaine on his motorcycle, his 4th run of the day. He did less than 2 months time, which I thought was light.

“Did you roll on anybody?” I asked.

“Yep.”

He told me that shaved 15 years off his sentence. I asked him if he had to look over both shoulders when he walked out the door after that. “Nah. Them guys were all dead before I got out.”

We talked a little more and he told me nobody else down here knows this stuff. Then he said if i was police, FBI, or any other agency, he’d kill me. I told him I work for a non-profit and sure hope that doesn’t qualify as an ‘agency.’

Right after that, he introduced me to a few other folks and told them I was a real good guy.

By the way, his name’s not Bud.

Football

Thursday night I went by Republika in San Juan del Sur to see if they’d be watching the GA/Clemson football game Sat. night. The owner said it wouldn’t be a problem. I got there for kickoff and the bar was closed.

I went over to Big Wave Dave’s and told him about Republika. He said, “oh yeah, they’re not opening tonight. they’re coming over here later.” Dave got us set up to stream the game through his TV. It was a solid move on his part, really. I got a burger there and it was fantastic. Great by anybody’s standards. I knew I’d only get the game till halftime – he’d already committed to a 70’s kareoke party. Soon enough old people started rolling in, ready to get rowdy. I thanked Dave for his hospitality and moved on, full of optimism for my team and burger for strength.

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Next stop was Dorado Bar, on the Malecon. Bob’s the owner there and a really nice guy. He’s got a great setup right on the beach. His clientele is generally gringos. A Clemson fan, who’s opening up a micro-brewery here btw, assured me the game would be back on after halftime. Bob switched the game over to Washington/Boise St. Half a dozen Huskies showed up and Bob broke the news that they had reserved the TV for their game. Outta there.

4th try:

El Pescador, further north on the beach road. Pieter, my Belgian friend and I walked in and by some miracle the Georgia game was on. We got a table and I ordered 2 Toñas with a smile on my face, ready for the second half.

“The Toñas are hot,” the waiter said. I feel that that’s an odd thing to say as a waiter in a place called “Bar y Restaurant; El Pescador.” So I ordered two Victoria. Also hot.

“What would you like to serve us then?” I asked.

“Why don’t you go to the bar next door – their beer is cold and they have the game on, too.”

Have you ever had a restaurant prefer you to go somewhere else? I’ll never get over the irony that they actually watching the game we were looking for.

5th try:

Nicaragua Sports Bar. Just soccer on, but the game was ending. They said they don’t get ABC so watching the game wasn’t an option.

6th try:

Went back to El Pescador. They turned the TV off I think just in case we came back. I asked if the game could be put back on. We were told to leave – that this place was only for people who were eating. I offered to buy but was refused.

DON’T EVER GO THE PESCADOR.

I went back to my house which has a shared living room. Two old women were watching a

telenovela. I tried to watch the game online but was denied at every turn.

The old gals packed it in and I gave the channels a flip. I found the game no problem and got to watch the last 8 minutes of my team get beat by Clemson.

The Monkey Witch

Nicaraguans believe in living simply. They want to earn enough to care for their needs and those of their children. Big cars, long work weeks, and dreams of lavish Hollywood lifestyles aren’t really in their DNA.

They are friendly to strangers and good to their neighbors. Unless you’re at a country rodeo or a rowdy baseball game, you’re not likely to see a fight break out.

Many times here, I’ve had strangers offer help, a cold drink, or a plate of food. They live in close communities and they share in each other’s successes and tragedies. They believe in God.

And they believe in The Monkey Witch.

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Known as ‘La Mona Bruja,’ ask any Nicaraguan and they will warn you the Monkey Witch is both real and living among us. Probably 80% of the 7 million citizens here either live with an intense fear of this little goblin or cannot entirely deny the possibility of her existence.

For example, my Spanish teacher the other day, when I asked her if she belived in the Monkey Witch, she said no. Then she said, “but a lot of people here say they’ve seen her jumping from roof to roof… what do you think?”

She believes.

The way it works is as follows:

An old woman lives among us – sharing the same city bus, walking the same streets, going to the bakery. She is very old…But at night she climbs on the roofs of houses, or walks freely through treetops. In one of these trees, or at some secret location, she will leave her skin in a pile or a little box, taking on the unmistakeable shape of a monkey.

Once in monkey form she enters your house and robs you blind. The Monkey Witch leaves with your belongings, puts her skin back on, and goes on with her evening.

What I’m unclear on is whether or not she maintains an appetite for vandalism after the first job. Perhaps she calls it a night or maybe she moves on to your house or mine.

All of this makes reasonable sense to me, but I’m left with a few questions:

1. How does she break in? If she uses magic of some kind, I don’t believe she can be stopped unless the tenant or owner also has combative magic powers. If all she’s doing is picking a lock, looking for a spare key under a mat or plant, punching through a basement window, I dunno – I’m not as impressed.

In her defense, I’ll say that I have not heard of her being caught. So no one could argue that she’s really a good little thief. Other than seeing her run and jump rooftops, she’s not as of yet been apprehended (a) in a home or (b) while committing a crime.

Jumping through trees and rooftops isn’t against any law I’m aware of.

2. How dangerous could a monkey be in a physical confrontation? I think the answer here is quite dangerous. From what I’m told, even a small monkey could inflict a lot of damage, especially if they have something handy to throw or bludgeon with. A large monkey is apparently much stronger than a human. That being said, I’m relieved in a way to know that The Monkey Witch isn’t known for violent behavior, though now that I think about it I have heard the claims that she sometimes steals children. Most likely the children do not fare well under her care, probably eaten. Keeping in mind it’s the bad children she steals maybe that kind of tempers the loss.

Knowing all this, we can surmise she is both quick and cunning with at least a reasonable amount of strength.

3. What can be done to stop The Monkey Witch? It seems that some kind of trap could be handy here. Maybe a cage with money or a laptop or some tasty food inside could ensnare her. I don’t know. Perhaps a small child could be left sleeping just inside a doorway as bait. Once the Monkey Witch comes for the kid, the door slams shut, trapping the crafty old woman inside and the child more than likely no worse for wear.

What we know:

Old woman. Very crafty and smart. Will stop at nothing to break in to your home and she is a world-class burgler. Highly capable physically and can jump great distances.

What we don’t know:

How well she can handle herself in a confrontation with a full-grown man.

How she can remove her skin and put it back on again, nor why she would want to.

Could she be someone we think we know at the moment and if so, how do we go about vetting the old women in our towns to make sure they aren’t The Monkey Witch?

We don’t know what her next target is and we don’t know when.

My advice:

Don’t keep too many valuables in your home, but perhaps just enough that she doesn’t suspect you of hiding things from her. Same theory as having a ‘dummy wallet’ in a high-risk country.

I would be careful being close friends with old women. If you do interact with any, and they start asking you questions like “where you live?..do you keep any laptops or guns at the house…any cash?” or other things like that, well, I think you know who you’re dealing with.

I don’t believe in The Monkey Witch. Then again, maybe I’ll make sure my doors are all locked.

I mean, just in case.

Lost At Sea

Lost At Sea

When I was a kid, my dad & I would hitch the boat up to the old Chevy truck, take the half mile trip down to the Tennessee River and putt around. We’d catch a fish or two, maybe have a sandwich, maybe a Dr. Pepper. The old Mercury might konk out or it might run just fine. Anybody’s guess. Didn’t really matter.

I remember thinking our green boat with the sparkly finish was the coolest thing and I liked the funny rainbows the engine made in the water. I never remember seeing anybody else out there, just us. Maybe it was full of other boats and rowdy knuckleheads but i just liked being with my dad. And I liked being lost at sea.

A lifetime later, I went fishing again, this time in southern Nicaragua. I was on a boat with this wonderful girl named Jessica, who I’d only known for a little while. Like when I was a boy, maybe there were other people there, but they kind of fade from my memory. Maybe we’d have a sandwich, maybe a Dr. Pepper. Maybe the engine worked fine or maybe it would konk out. Didn’t really matter.

We caught wonderful Pez Gallo a mile off of Hermosa Beach against huge crashing surf and came back through a sunset as beautiful as I’ve seen. The moment was over, the lovely girl gone with it. But it happened. I just liked being there with her.

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And I liked being lost at sea.

My First Business Meeting in Nicaragua

Thursday, August 22nd

Tomorrow I head off to the capital. I’m not going there for great business gain. I don’t have meetings set up with heads of State.

I’m going there to buy an old truck. There’s 2 there, actually: an old Land Cruiser FJ40 with a rebuilt diesel engine.And a ’94 Land Rover Defender truck. Both of these trucks are really pretty tough.

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______________________

Saturday, August 24th

My man, Oscar and I left on the 7am transport out of San Juan del Sur. I was carrying an overnight bag in case I wanted to stay there in town. I did have $5,000 in $20 bills in the bag, too.

It’s times like this i would prefer having a conceal-carry permit. Instead i just had a SOG blade, which i kept in my front pocket. I honestly think if some dummy tried to snatch my bag, I’d stick him.

The ‘direct, non-stop’ Managua bus – the one that “doesn’t stop” actually stops about 60 times. They’re not turning down fares. Just forget about it.

First stop was at my attorney’s office – i wanted to drop off the cash. After an hour, that was done. What took so long? Who knows. I was just glad to be in air conditioning for the first time in weeks.

Off to the first truck!

We arrived at Stanimir’s house but there was no truck there. He sat us at a kitchen table and closed the door behind us then walked in the other room and was talking to a few people back there. I couldn’t make out their Bulgarian Spanish, so I just kept watching my man, Oscar to see if he was getting nervous, and he was a little. But it wasn’t from what they were saying, just the idea of being locked in an unfamilar house in a Managuan barrio.

It’s times like this i would prefer having a conceal-carry permit. My vision of what could happen would leave me outgunned in that scenario, even if i did have, say, a 9mm. Most the Bulgarians I know from say, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, etc. – they don’t carry 9’s. They seem to bring it pretty strong. Still, i’d rather go down in a gunfight with a gun in my hand, not a SOG. “Always bringing a knife to a gunfight,” as Sean Connery once said.

I also didn’t like that Stanimir was wearing an old crummy track suit, like you’d assume an eastern European would be wearing. I felt it added to the criminal persona.

He walked out carrying not weapons but a cell phone. We were told the truck was at another location. We needed to take a cab. It would cost 70 cordobas to get to the location of the truck.

After a 15 minute cab ride, we arrived at a Land Rover mechanic shop, a taller (tie-yaer). There were plenty of old Land Rover’s there. Pretty cool. But not the one I was there to see. It was being kept at another location, I was told.

We waited while the truck was being retrieved. I talked with the mechanic some, who told me the truck i was interested in needed some work. I told him i wasn’t interested in a truck that needed work. Plus, where was the truck? “Just 20 or 30 more minutes,” I was told. Which means an hour.

I told them I was late for another appointment but could come back in a few hours. Not an option, they said.

“ok guys, I’m going to say no. thank you for your time.”

After being a ‘pendejo’ the guy stormed out, cussing and spitting.

It was my first business meeting in Nicaragua

My second meeting was way different. Really nice guys – brothers who owned an old Land Cruiser. The engine was in decent shape, not a ton of rust, but in just awful shape.  When I asked if any of the guages worked, he pointed to the battery amp meter, which worked. He seemed proud to display its functionality.

Back to the attorney’s office to sign the cash back out. I was now again carrying $5,000 in $20’s back to the bus station, Wembes. this is not a great place for gringos to be. Even the taxi drivers warn the cheles (chele is kind of reverse way of saying ‘leche’ (milk) – a dorragatory term used for white people by old men and little girls alike) to be very careful at Wembes.

What does ‘be careful’ really mean? don’t leave my bag on a bench somewhere while i go take pictures of flowers and kids? don’t take a nap in the parking lot? don’t pick a fight there? i guess people say it because what else can you say? there’s not really anything else to say. maybe its just a subtle reminder that you are now officially at risk.

When your mother says, ‘be careful in Panama,’ what she really means is “stay out of bars, don’t talk to attractive women, don’t gamble, smoke, or ride motorcycles.”

 After going oh – for – two in the vehicle game, my man Oscar told me that he owned an ’86 Isuzu Trooper, one of the old boxy kinds. It just needed an engine, which he could get for about $500. Diesel 4-cylinder. 4×4 works fine, air conditioner lines can be cleaned out, brake line can be fixed, oil pump needed. Tires are ok (they’re not). out the door – $2,500 – $3k. Which means $3k.

 Done.

 We start work Monday. And when i say ‘we,’ i mean Oscar will work on it. I’m going to drive it when it’s done.

 Or will I? He and the mechanic yesterday said it’ll take about a week. If it’s done in 3 weeks, I’ll consider that a win.

With any luck, I’ll have more than a $3,000 story to tell.