Posts Categorised: Travel

I’m discharged on day two from UCL Hospital.  We go through the same procedure of waiting for three hours for meds and papers.  Tom looks at this chaos with astonishment.  A woman works away trying to locate the drugs which have got stuck somewhere between the pharmacy, the ward and the windowless room in which we all wait.  She is unfailingly polite and sympathetic.  Tom says kindly to her, “this has to be the worst job in the world you are doing…” She tells him she only has to do it twice a week otherwise she would go mad.


Down those terrible basement stairs, we descend once more.   Tom never leaves my side for the next four days.  Here’s a picture of him trying to put on those awful Compression socks.  They have a hole at the end of the foot which means that toes are constantly sticking out. Presumably this is a design purely to irritate the patient.








Home from my Spanish sojourn and I can’t but help returning to the various encounters I had with horses.  Am I becoming one of those mad old bats who prefers animals (especially horses) to people?

My first foray into the horse world was in Jerez.   A beautiful town in its own right which actually SMELLS of sherry and reminds me of my parents drinking tio pepe out of tiny crystal glasses at lunch time (sometimes quite shortly after elevenses actually).  “Will, just give me another tinsy thimbleful dear..”

The Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre puts on a show of classical dressage and driving. This is an utterly Spanish, deadly serious, male dominated event.

Paso fino

Knowing how difficult it was to get our Lighty, the family pony in Scotland, to arch her neck, canter in a circle, let alone with the outside leg leading, not to mention working in tandem with another horse, performing complicated movements across the arena, prancing, dancing, turning on a sixpence and so forth, I can pretty well assure my readers that Lighty Mitchell was not a PRE (pura raza española – Pure Spanish Horse) nor were we the great trainers we wanted to be.

There seemed to be an invisible string between the trainer and his horse.  It was magnificent.

My only feeling of ambivalence was when they made the horses rear up and walk on their back legs.  This felt like circus skills and I thought it humiliating for the horses to be exposing their tummies.  I think horses like a little privacy when it comes to their underbellies.  I met an English woman in the loo who totally agreed with me.


Off on my solitary road trip to the hinterland of Andalucía I spend a night with my Scottish friend JR.

Would you like to ride?  Asks J

Yes! Squeak I !!

Thinking, my God I want to ride so badly I’m prepared to risk broken bones, ruined holiday, medical fees, brain damage and possible death.  I want to get on that pretty Andalusian horse.  I have probably ridden twice in the last 30 years.  I’m terrified.  I have to put the stirrup down to the bottom hole and heave myself up very nearly capsizing over the other side.  Gammy knee protesting!   Tormenta is far too engrossed with the juicy green grass to pay the slightest attention to this heffalump presence.  We do nothing brave.  We walk round and around in circles and that’s about it. I’m in heaven.  I have fallen in love with Tormenta like I fell in love with my grandchildren. I spend hours grooming her and nuzzling her and telling her she’s a grand beauty and she mustn’t roll in the mud.

Back in the Saddle


The Asociación Córdoba Ecuestre performs their amazing show mostly focused on a flamenco dancer interacting with the dancing horses.  This takes place in the Caballerizas Reales de Córdoba which was commissioned by Felipe ll in 1567.  A cross-vaulted roof supports on sandstone columns which divide the circumference into a series of small stalls.   Our ticket allows us entry half an hour early with not a nod or a wink to health and safety we are allowed to go into the stalls and pet the horses.

before the performance

The enactment is performed with passion and duende (not an easy word to translate) and I leave the stable seriously contemplating applying to be a stable hand at the very least although my age and  sex might just make it an unrealistic dream – I guess it’ll have to be added to the “next life” list and perhaps I’ll raise my aspirations either to being a flamenco dancer or better still and Andalusian horse.

Bonito the Albino:

Bonito is a tourist pony in El Puerto de Santa María.  He pulls a cart and Jesús, his very talkative owner drives the tourists round the town pointing out places and people of interest.  I have never done such a thing before but we blame Roxy (aged 2) who falls asleep as soon as we clamber on to the cart; we relax into the whole delightful experience and stop worrying about who might see us.  Jesús tells us that Bonito is puro Sangue Lusitano (pure blooded Lusitano) from Portugal and highly intelligent.  For those who don’t know, an apparently white horse is always referred to as “grey” unless, of course, they are albino, in which case you can call them white.  Bonito is charmingly friendly, very handsome, and clearly quite happy about his boss and his job description.

The white village of Grazalema!   Aaah! Sigh! Gasp!   I’m not normally a great fan of los pueblos blancos as they are often deserted but for old people and foreigners.  Grazalema is another story altogether.  It’s buzzing!  Men in berets congregate in the bars and street corners; shops with delicious honey, blankets, cheese and mouth-watering pastries  abound, the hardware shop has a queue round the block, young women push babies and smile at me, everyone has an umbrella (except me – mine flew away in Cadiz).  Grazalema has the highest rainfall in Spain.  WHO CARES!



I have learned my lesson and park the rented car at the bottom of the hill.  Hotel Mejorana looks out over the village roof tops and beyond to layers of cragged mountains.  There are terraces, a pool, a log fire, help-yourself-to-coffee & biscuits,  charming bedrooms and a small number of dedicated hikers – mostly English.  Andreas gives me a choice of two rooms.   He advises me to use the electronic shutters which are operated from inside the bedroom but close outside the French windows.  The sun will be pouring in my window and disturb my sleep in the morning.

Hotel Mejorana

Perfect!  I feel ridiculously happy.   Having not eaten all day I can’t wait for the dining hour (9pm) and end up in a bar wolfing down a delicious cold collation and then buying a huge ensaimada to take back and eat in front of the log fire.  I have the sitting room to myself.

I wake up at 8 a.m. to find there is a power cut! The room is pitch black, the shutters don’t work and the bathroom has a small, high window with metal railings (rejas).

I ring Andreas – no reply.  I yell through the bars, “AYUDAME!!!!”

Quite soon he comes running.  The shutters won’t budge!

This is our strategy… He will go and get a ladder and some screw drivers, unscrew the railings and I will exit through the bathroom window.   I duly pack in the dark, dark room, waving my phone light around to do a final swoop.  The railings are unscrewed.  I hand the little suitcase through the window, put my bum on the basin shelf, swing my legs over the window ledge and cautiously climb down the ladder.  Andreas gives me a very rewarding hug!  The English hikers think it’s hysterical.

It’s pouring with rain! I set off in a heavy mist and have a perilous drive over the mountains on an extremely twisty road.



The second night with JR is approaching.  We are sitting on the terrace of a mutual friend (haven’t seen her for about 40 years).  Her villa is accessed through a series of coded gates.  I have the rented car for one more day and I haven’t formed a plan.  “Where are you going next?” says she.  Out of nowhere I say “Grazalema” (except, I actually said GrazaMela).  “You must stay with X who has a B&B and organizes hikes.”   She shoots off an email, I call him half an hour later and ask him if I can come and stay.  He sounds very polite but very hesitant.  It turns out that he hasn’t run a B and B for 15 years …..might be a little difficult to have me to stay.  I’m mortified!  He tells me where to stay in Grazalema, instructs me to come to his house for a coffee and he will give details about the walk I should take. All sorted!

I go round the roundabout at Ronda 12 times.  Both satnavs are going and I still can’t get the right turning.  A little frustrating!  He is waiting for me on his motor bike at the bottom of the village and leads me through more streets the same width as my car and I get some more scratches.  After coffee and instructions (he says something about branching right at a “can”).  When I leave his beautiful village house, I immediately get stuck in a ridiculously small street I wasn’t meant to go down and embarrassingly have to ring him to back me out.  I am only 10 feet from his house.  Then I meet a lorry unloading water and have to back into another street the same width as my car. More kissing the wall!

I arrive at the Puerto de las Palomas where the walk starts.  I talk to some northern lads who are biking 100 miles in one day and then I set off on the path less travelled.  Not travelled at all.  There is no-one there, no sight of habitations, stony ground which makes the gammy knee groan and no sign of the crucially important can which tells me where to branch off.  The views are stunning.

I pull down my dungarees to do a pee, straighten my knee bandage and sit on a rock and take photos.  I’m slightly alarmed at the emptiness of this place.  I’m still looking for the can when I come across a fork in the path and a cairn.  The penny drops!

I walk on for miles and miles, through prickly ilex bushes. All is not well, the path literally disappears.  So I scramble upwards through heavy undergrowth and vow I will not go beyond the next corner.  This is a fortunate decision as I find myself toppling on the edge of a gully about a mile deep.  I retrace my steps and to my delight come across another human being.  Dirk the German is doing a gentle trek as he has a compacted disc.  He has all modern equipment, knows exactly where we are on the map, recommends always walking with two sticks, has wet gear on this sunny day and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was suppressing a tent under his jacket. Half way back to the car park  we bump in to X.  It wasn’t  part of my master plan to cause him any more trouble.   He looked mildly irritated when I confessed that I had lost the path.


Before I left home, I plucked out of my book case “SEVILLE Cordoba and Granada” by Elizabeth Nash.  It looked unread.  When I opened it up I found the following inscriptions:

“To Dear Margie with love from Yvonne.  Have so enjoyed having you as a friend.” And below that

“To Margie, with best wishes, Liz”

Yvonne did the wonderful illustrations for this book.  Now I remember going to a cheese shop for the book launch.

I nearly wept.  I spent a year in Madrid 2005-2006 as the Erasmus part of my Spanish and Latin American Studies degree.  I was quite without friends and soon after I arrived, I called Yvonne.   The conversation went something like this:

Hello, Yvonne, I’m Margie and I’m a friend of someone called Nikki and her friend is a friend of yours but I don’t seem to have a note of that person’s name

Hello my dear, the kettle’s on.  4th floor!

Yvonne was the most elegant, generous and sweet person.  I have a beautiful print she gave me and I have lost her now. We kept in touch for ages then I believe she got very bad dementia.  I think she may have passed now.  Our mutual contact seemed vague.  RIP dear Yvonne I loved spending time with you and you made me feel safe.

The Golden Tower:

Thanks to the Seville book mentioned above I had been alerted to the existence of the Golden tower.  With skilful navigation I find the “mirage-river” (Laurie Lee) and the 1221 tower build by the Almohad Governor of Seville.  Like the Golden Bridge of San Francisco, it is not golden.  It would look quite in place in Glasgow for its austerity and Miguel Unamuno (1864-1936) referred to it as Finos y Frios – refined and cool-. Can’t resist the quote not only for its acuity but also because I know who the hell he was.  I read for A level a very complex and impenetrable book called Niebla.  I seem to remember there was a lonely tree stuck in the tarmac of a city bemoaning its lot.  However, don’t take me too seriously, that might not have been the central plot of the novel.  I got a pretty poor grade. I clambered up to the top of the tower (no problem at all – only 88 steps – a piece of cake after my Cádiz tower) and surveyed the wonderous scene.  Just imagining Columbus and Cortes setting sail down the Rio Guadalquiver to “discover” the Americas.  I would like to do that trip down the river to the coast but when I asked the tourist office they laughed.


I’m off to find the Americas

Me and my chums Ch and C board the train at Cádiz and head for Sevilla from whence they will depart the next day.  I’ve become a real Spanish citizen by acquiring an old people’s travel pass for a mere six Euros.  Our Airbnb is just off Plaza de Alfalfa – the flat’s freezing – ice cold marble floors which are like a skating rink.  You can feel the cold through your trainers.  We didn’t help the situation by putting on the AC instead of two rather small blow heaters.  It’s pretty cold outside at night too.  However, Plaza de Alfalfa is the perfect square with its orange trees, two outstanding bars, a playground and the odd musician strumming.  I’ve been wondering what the hell is Alfalfa.  Finally googled it and the most interesting thing about this “forage crop” is that the name comes from the Arabic meaning best horse fodder or horse power.  Such a useful word when I start learning Arabic.



The Alcazar: We plunge in to the winding streets and head for the Alcazar.    As my two buddies are gardening experts, we make the huge garden the focus of our visit.  Ch has a beautiful walled garden in Yorkshire full of Clematis and roses and C has acres of land looking on to the snow-capped Pyrenees.  The “English” garden is not at all like Ch’s, but it does remind me of the famous garden in the North West of Scotland – Inverewe.   Pines and Palms form a happy union. There are acres of linked gardens to be wandered through – all with their own histories.  Fountains and patios and orange groves and baths and grottos and mazes abound.  There is a marvellous walkway which gives you a birds’ eye view of this little corner of heaven.


Ch’s Garden

I was determined to give Murillo another chance – I read that he painted scenes from daily life as well as his more well-known religious paintings which can get quite repetitive and boring.  However, we had a Murillo at home, at least it was a Murillo until I married an old-master art dealer who completely put paid to that idea.  Dream spoiler!  Fortunately, the Museo de Bellas Artes had a special Murillo exhibition for the 400th centenary of his birth of just 50 paintings and many of them from the more realistic genre.  Whoop whoop!  It was, indeed, magnificent and I think if Murillo hadn’t fallen off his ladder (fatally) at the age of 35 he might have been known as a different sort of artist and not so closely associated with that dreary Ribera and the much less dreary Zurbaran.

Woman with Glasses

Next day was change over day.  Away went the Cs and in came VBG and another C.

Sight-seeing conjures up horrible images of tired feet, queues, boredom, guilt, bafflement, duty, martyrdom and a whole lot more.  I do still feel a certain obligation to torture myself into ticking every box and hold imaginary conversations with my x husband about what I have seen, where and ‘Oh My God did I miss the Murillo in the chapel of Sta Maria!’  The dual facts of an upbringing which centred around duty and guilt PLUS a husband who could sightsee for 12 hours without sitting down has turned me into a confounded, freaky sight-seer.  I hate it! I love it!  None of these emotions assaulted the new team VBG and C.  Not a bit of it – they had no intention of going in to the cathedral “queue far too big” so we walked round the outside three times and that was pretty brilliant!

Did I mention that I was a very mature student at London Metropolitan University (“one of the old polytechnic colleges” as some people don’t fail to tell me – sub-text “not a proper university” sub-sub text “all the damn riff raff pretending they have got degrees).  Anyway, I followed on with a Masters at snooty UCL (definitely a “proper” university) studying Spanish and Latin American Studies.  Once I wrote an essay on “The Joyful Relativity of Everything…” leaning heavily on Russian Philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin who wrote tomes examining carnival, with its emphasis on the earthy and the grotesque especially as depicted in the novels of Francois Rabelais.

A little extract from my essay and then I’ll stop being teacher-y:

        Carnival, for a limited period of time, expresses its hostility to anything and everything set in stone and adopts the logic of topsy turvy.  Bakhtin mentions four        fundamental points which define the carnivalesque 

  • Free and familiar contact among people
  • Eccentricity
  • carnivalistic mésalliances
  • profanation

Too true!  I leave nice sleepy Cadiz for a little trip to Seville and return to not ONE day, not a “limited period of time” but TWO WEEKS of Carnival!  I get off the train and I am assaulted by pulsating, vibrating, transforming crowds of people.  The Feast of Fools had commenced.  My terrible erudite essay comes back to me as I step around men dressed as women (wearing identical large silver slippers) women and ruffians dressed as priests and old ladies in tutus and blond wigs.  Music crashes around the squares and stories told in verse or in songs escape from every orifice of previously unnoticed buildings – heavy Andalusian accents, drum like clapping, stamping feet relate the gossip of the day.  Perhaps saying things like “and Don Pepe bought his house without paying the taxes and the senora said…. Tralala… boomity boom..” But this is not my party…

Rapunzal takes refuge in Tower Hamlets:

I scuttle back to my tower with a five-day plan not to emerge.  The guide book says that you must join in at Carnival and then everything will be fine.  But, I’m here ALONE I scream to the guide book.  Am I really going to go down the street wearing a mask and a gypsy dress, tossing my grey mane like a dancing Andalusian pony?

However, there is one egg, a stale bit of jamón, a dead courgette and two squares of chocolate in the fridge so I am indeed forced back on to the street.

Everything is closed, the market, the supermercado etc and strange stalls have emerged with sea urchins, squiggling live fish, salted cod, churros, chocolate, black vendors selling bracelets, white vendors selling god knows what two for one (I’m one, I want to say, give me a two and I’ll buy your two for one).  I settle down in a café with my back to the market and stare.  The waiter takes an hour to take my order and never does return with the bill.  I tell myself I’m not in a hurry.  Well, I’m not, am I?  I eat my tortillitas de camarones and go into the dark nether regions of the restaurant and press 10 Euros into the hand of the woman at the till who has an exhausted face.  Fed and watered I’m feeling a little less scuttly and a little more animated.  Time to take a turn around the town!  I wander down to the promenade and settle for coffee by the cathedral listening to a melancholy young woman singing in a staccato voice “we will share our secrets.”    It occurs to me that I can do a parallel, moderated version in this topsy turvy world of carnival.  I will brave the streets disguised as a tourist and the inner Margarita will be hurtling down the very same street in a flurry of petticoats stamping feet, tossing head and shouting OLÉ.

Really!  I have to get out of Cadiz – the Carnival has turned it into a daunting place.  I am so grateful to JR for inviting me to stay.  We have seen each other once in the last 52 years but we do share an uncle!  The other person I approached who lives in Huelva and I haven’t seen since school very sensibly ignored my message!!! I don’t blame her and anyway, I hear Huelva is quite boring.  And double anyway, it was her sister who was my contemporary at school!!

Adiós Carnival!


Where and why?  I am so appalled by my heavy, clodhopping footprint over the world last year that it seems only right that I restrict my travelling. For a Nano-second I contemplate North Africa (nice weather aside my last trip to Morocco wasn’t exactly hassle- free) so where’s near North Africa?  Spain of course! Glancing at a map it seems that Cádiz is pretty much as close as you can get to N. Africa, but Spanish is spoken and I’ve lived in Spain before so that’s all settled. Log on to Airbnb and a tower jumps out at me.  No discussion – I click on the button and I’m booked in to el torre histórico for a month 11th Feb-11th March.


It’s only June so I completely forget about the whole impulsive move and return to the present.

Although, officially I’m a solo traveller  I’m quite pleased that the first two weeks I will have the company of various women friends who happen to have half term or happen to want to get the hell out of the UK for one reason or another. What a joy to get away from the interminable Brexit shenanigans debated ad infinitum on the radio, the grey February weather, the colds and the flu and the smog and the fog and the rain and the general dreariness of waiting for Spring.  Say I!

Fast Forward: One week in and I was receiving a flow of irritating, smug messages telling me of the UNIQUE, FRIEKIEST, HOTTEST February going on in the UK.  Spring had sprung.  Well, I told them it was springier in Cádiz.

Key Facts about Cadiz:

The Constitution of Cádiz was established in 1812.  It was the first Constitution of Spain

People from Cádiz are called Gaditanos


  • 1104 BC Gadir founded by Phoenicians
  • 530 BC Gades occupied by Carthaginians
  • 711 Moors in power; city called Jezirat-Kadis
  • 1241 Roman Catholic Diocese of Cádiz established.

Caádiz is practically an island – just a narrow spit of land joins it to the mainland. It is on the Atlantic Coast.  It forms part of Andalucía.

Gaditonos are meant to be the wittiest people in Spain (not sure how that was measured)


The Rio Sabalos (Tarpon River) is a tributary of Rio San Juan.  A tarpon is a large air-breathing fish and in appearance has a rather bad-tempered countenance.   I have yet to meet one, however, I met some Texans who were on a tarpon-fishing-mission which suggests that they do actually exist.

dugout canoe



The River splits Sabalos in two and Sabalos Lodge where I am staying is away from the main part of the village.

If the hotel isn’t prepared to ferry you (which they are) you need to get a dugout canoe for two cordobas.

Last time I was in a dugout canoe I fell out.



What with the bus journey and the beasties of yesterday I decide to have a nothing day.  Nothing I do worse than nothing.


I can’t really remember the last time I had a proper meal but I stick to the principle that a huge breakfast and a very early dinner is the way to go. I won’t say the Nicaraguan food is revolting but … there is a limit as to how charitable I can be about beans, rice and fried bananas.   I haven’t been terribly impressed by the river fish either.  Flabby, grey and slightly bitter.



I spend the first half of the day squirming around in the hammock and wishing it was as comfortable as it looks.  Some of the hazards of hammocks are as follows: fear of falling out, motion sickness, claustrophobia, leg/arm/foot hyperextension.

Trying to look like this

Actually look more like this

This activity is complimented by watching the three fat Germans.  They are wallowing in the river on rubber tyres attached to ropes.  I wonder if they will encounter an alligator.  I am told they find Europeans tasty.  Last year I brought home a parasite embedded in my arm which caused the Hospital for Tropical Diseases a lot of interest until they lost my notes and the parasite disappeared.  The German ladies avoid me.

fat ladies

I organize my day for tomorrow and plan my evening with military precision.  The bugs drive me out of the cabin at dusk and the bats drive me out of the reception area about 8 p.m.  I go to bed in total darkness and in the safety of my mosquito net read on my kindle which has a back light. The bugs know they have met their match and don’t come near me.  “Lucky we have bats to eat the bugs” says Ismael.  Definitely a glass half full sort of guy.


Glorious Night!  Delicious pancakes for breakfast and off I go at 7.30 a.m. to learn about cacao.  Julio is my guide and Brian (of all names) is the boat driver.  Julio is a first-rate guide.  He tells you things and then he tests you.  Sometimes he tests you and then corrects you or congratulates you.

Julio with Montezuma oropendula nest

We meander down the river spotting sloth, alligator, various birds and all the beautiful lush vegetation on the rio Sabalo.  Arrive at the cacao finca which is owned by a German.  Walking round Is extremely bitey and very muddy but on the basis I know nothing about cacao it is pretty interesting.  The jefe (not the German) who shows us round is monosyllabic. I am stressing about giving him a tip as I still haven’t worked out the value of the Cordoba so he doesn’t get one.

Cacao Plant

Then, back in the boat to the village of Sabalos where we go to the factory where the cacao is treated.  Not really a factory.  A dear girl, who is very nervous and earnest explains all the processes and at the end we get to eat the chocolate (horrible) and drink it (quite nice).  I give her a day’s wages as a tip I worked out later.  Good! She deserves it!

Julio and I then go to the hotel Sabalo which is much cheaper than here and has proper rooms but none of the magic.  This is better.  However, some advantages of being in the town.  Nice girl at the bar and we have a good chat.  My Spanish is awful but I have my moments.


I give Norma an English lesson.  She works in the kitchen and is the wife of the guy at reception – Ismael.  Spent an hour and a half saying things like:

Managua is the capital of Nicaragua

London is the capital of England

And she inevitably says:

Enjand is capital of Lungdun


Very sweet girl, with a nervous tick and inability to pronounce the word “would”.  I think the American accent might be easier for her.


I speak with some nice Dutch people who have been in Costa Rica.  They also came by bus and there was a truck broken down on the road which meant they had to get off the bus, walk round the truck and wait for another bus to collect them.  Their journey was worse than mine.  Taxis refused to take them as the road was so awful so I made the right decision.  Just been picked up by a Danish man who asked me to join him at dinner!  Ha! Ha! The benefits of travelling solo!


I decided to pay Norma’s “university” fees for a month ($45) Perhaps a better teacher than I can get her to pronounce “would” correctly.  We all go to Sabalos together for me to get the boat to El Castillo and Norma to go to hospital to get her tick attended to.  I love these people. I’m deeply happy.


 Solo Travel

I wanted to go to Nicaragua to meet the Rama tribe who live nine hours down where the Río San Juan meets the Caribbean – a magical river which slashes across the country from East to West on the Costa Rican border.   It is  known  as the Amazon of Central America.

Why the Rama Tribe?  There has been a black cloud of a threat hanging over the Río San Juan for the last 500 years to turn the river into a canal.  That would be the end of the Rama tribe, the wild life and the river communities.  How many times do we describe a place to someone who says, “Oh, it’s completely different now, you should have been there in the 60s/70s – whenever!”  I want to be that annoying person.

Now I can be a bit tricky but I do have friends.  So I cast around for a travel buddy and am met with a baffling array of excuses which amount to, “Where the fuck is Nicaragua?” “Why the fuck are you going there?”

So, I go on my own.

The First 24 Hours:

There are a few things that go – shall we say – not exactly to plan.

It is Sunday and I climb out of the 10 seater plane in San Carlos and wend my way down a dusty path to the port where my trusty friends have promised me there is a public boat to transport me to Los Sábalos – my first destination – two hours down the river.   This is an important connection as there are no made up roads leading to the village.

A toothless old woman tells me: “No boat – go away … find the bus stop.”  In Spanish of course, but that’s OK… I speak Spanish.

I make my way to the bus stop which turns out to be a bus station.  On arrival, I notice my case is dragging a bit.  “Oh, no” I think , “that’s all I need… broken wheels” however, it turns out, I am giving a naughty little boy a free ride.  He is lying astride my suitcase.  “Shoo!”  say I.

Chaos reigns:

If you’ve had the misfortune to be in a Central American bus station you will know what I’m talking about.  There are gangs of ambulant vendors all with the same things:   leather belts, jewellery, and shower curtains.  I ask three people times of buses to Sábalos and get three different answers and a taxi driver with an angry face how much to drive me.  2 hours, 2000 córdobas.  Bus: 2 hours 60 córdobas.

Am I worried that I have just read an article about that very same route where a bus  slid into the river whilst trying to unload a cooker from the top? The driver forgot to put the hand break on.   Eight people drowned and the driver went to prison for two years.  Yes! I’m not thrilled I happened on that story.

Bus slides in to river

I remove myself to a comedor to mull over the choices and order a coke to sugar me up.  A lame dog comes and sits on my feet under the table. Not sure what a Córdoba is worth (I have a wodge of them in my wallet) but it seems a bit of a no brainer, particularly as I am thinking I will be safer with a group in a bus than with a dodgy looking taxi driver in a dodgy looking car on a road that isn’t a road and isn’t marked on any map.

lame dog

Boarding a Bus:

This is Steve Simpson’s description:

I’ve been on quite a few now.  I’m beginning to understand some of the problems. You’ll remember that there are two doors, one at the front and one at the back, and every bus is full.  The idea is that you get in at the front and struggle down the aisle in time to get off the back at your stop.  Timing is important.  I’ve only seen one hefty woman with a box of tangerines on her head capable of moving from halfway down the bus to the back between two stops.  I was forced out before my stop that time, and a couple of other causalities occurred – broken foot and crushed groin, nothing fatal. Most people aim to get to the back well before their stop, but this creates the CLOT, which is difficult to get through;  it often happens that you get empty standing space at the front while there’s a CLOT of people crushed at the back for fear of missing their stop.  Some passengers deal with the CLOT by staying up front and nipping off at their stop before passengers get on. However, if too many people do that you get big pressure up front too – this is the DOUBLE CLOT. There’s no real answer to the DOUBLE CLOT.  One woman was bodily passed through a middle window when confronted with the DOUBLE CLOT, but this move is not generally advisable.  

My problems are a little different but none the less problems.  My main priority is to get on the bus and get an inside seat which will ensure a whole seat rather than having one buttock waving out into the aisle.   There is indeed a back and a front entrance and it is at the back that the bundle/suitcase/chicken has to be loaded either on the shelves in the bus or on top of the bus.  My strategy is to board the bus at the back but having disposed of my case I find there are no steps.  The people are piling in at the front. My only hope is to scramble up the two feet gap and grab a seat.  However, half way up, on all fours on the floor of the bus, I am pulled back down and ordered to go to the front.  Screwed again!  I reconcile myself to sitting next to a very fat lady with a very fat  child on her lap and a very jabby plastic chair on top of the child.  I get the numb bum treatment as I feared.

Arrival at Sábalos:

Three hours later I arrive in a dark and deserted village at the very spot where the bus slipped in to the river.

Anxiety check list:

The hotel is on the other side of the river 20 minutes away by fast boat.  Am I worried? Yes!  I have absolutely no idea if anyone will meet me.

“Doña Maggie” says a small boy emerging from behind a tree.  He bundles me into a large boat and off we go at high speed in the pitch dark across and down the raging river.  I offer him the light on my phone.  He declines.

Beastly Beasties (or Mod-Cons-Aren’t-All-They’re-Trumped-Up-To-Be):

I arrive at my “hotel” which is a cabin on stilts without walls dangling over the river.  I am shown with pride that there are two plugs to charge phones etc.  Not only that, there are overhead lights. Exactly the sort of hotel I love: A shower with only one knob so there’s no confusion; towels cleverly made in to the shape of swans (wish I could do that!); And a very strong looking mosquito net. I unpack in my new home making full use of the 20 watt light bulbs.  I look at what was a sparkling white mosquito net, I look at the light bulbs… everything is a heaving dancing mess of yellow wings, they descend on me, my phone, my face, my hair.  I run through the jungle, along some planks to the reception hut. Nobody there.  I was going to say, “Excuse me señor, I can’t stay here.  Take me home!” By home I mean ISLINGTON.   I slink back along the planks through the jungle and decide I am not dead so it could be worse.  How in God’s name to get into the safety of the mosquito net without bringing in the whole population of beasties?   The next half hour is spent thrashing around in the dark and randomly squirting DEET  inside my net.  In the middle of the night there is a storm of such monumental proportions that I am almost certain that my little house and I are floating down the river.  I’m beyond caring.

Swan Towels


mosquito net

Shower control

The bed cover is a morgue in the morning – I am sharing my bed with about 1000 deet victims.

I prod myself…

I question my anxiety register.  Am I suffering from PTSS?

I feel no symptoms.  I scramble out of my mosquito net, lean over the rickety fence on my balcony and breathe in the sweet fresh air, I watch the relentless journey of the river, I am exactly where I want to be.

Home Sweet Home

Unbelievable but true – at my great age I’ve only just discovered the joys of travelling ALONE!


Lonely Planet gives most of the basic information you will need.

La Costeña Airlines goes to San Carlos and San Juan del Norte on certain days of the week

Sabalos lodge: tel: 8823-5515.

Quoted: Postcard from Nicaragua by Steve Simpson. Ryburn publishing, 1987

© 2024 Margie Mitchell