Managua, Nicaragua's landscape is a uniform brown, as if God wiped his ass all over the city. It's a fitting color, because it's a squalid, ugly town. Last week, after disembarking in its "center"--which is a residential series of blocks composed of nothing more than shacks built of plywood and tin roofs, open-air cinder-block-walled restaurants, and crumbling dirt-and-asphalt roads--I was mobbed by a pack of voracious youths/thugs who tried desperately to lure me to destinations like Hotel La Pulga (via their uncles' cab company, Taxi Matate). They poked my head with their fingers as I tried to get some fresh air after the 12-hour bus trip from San Salvador (which is exactly the opposite of Managua--filled with music and markets and pretty people having a good time), trying to gain my attention, grabbing my bags and not letting up until I ran back into the bus station to find relief from the swarm. But there, too, I was accosted, this time by a blind woman who beseeched each passing shadow in her vision to go to her decrepit hotel (or, more likely, kidney and cornea farm) that she ran with her husband/son/genetic deadend, who smiled and drooled alluringly beside her. It was hardly a compelling invitation, and I declined.
There was a young Canadian man who arrived with me on the bus, and we decided to join forces and seek out a hotel together; it's better in numbers to deflect all the unwanted attentions of the wolf pack outside. It worked, insofar as there was only one alcohol-ravaged tout who followed us more than a block from the bus station, through the trash-strewn streets. He molested us all the way, insisting he was the hotel's representative (the Canadian, alas, told him where we were going), and demanding to be paid up front before we reached the hotel.
Finally, after walking in the oppresive heat and under the baleful stares of the locals that lined our approach in various states of undress--revealing physiques that were proud testaments to the efficacy of fried foods and suger in producing enormous volumes of body fat--we reached the hotel. Grand in design compared to the other buildings that surrounded it, in any other country it would be condemned before the ink of its blueprints dried. Its mixed architectural style showed influences of eighth-century cow-dung fabrication and 21st-century criminal neglect (perhaps Managua is where NYC building inspectors train). Everyone who worked there--if by "work" one means sitting in front of the fully-turned-up television in the lobby, waiting for death and ignoring potential customers while simmering in one's own body fluids--was fat, with nary a smile or head nod as we walked in. There was no bell to ring for service, but the sob that issued forth from my mouth sufficed, and a giant woman glanced over, struggled to stand on her mighty oaks of legs, and shuffled over. The room she showed us was dim and dirty, with a solitary fluorescent bulb and a stale, sweaty smell. But it was just for the night, and besides, we didn't dare face the crowds outside again. We claimed the room as our own.
Unlike other Latin American capitals, Managua doesn't have any street life to speak of. Although the hotel was allegedly in the center of town, there was no "center." (Later, I found out that the old city was abandoned after a powerful earthquake and the discovery that it sat exactly on top of a very unstable fault line, hence Managua's sprawling, non-centered topography.) There was no hustle and bustle, no busy street street markets, no people milling around, hardly a bar in sight, and when we saw one, there were hardly any drinkers inside to speak of. There were just precarious shacks, block after block of them, some leaning into others, lashed together with plastic twine, bricks weighing down the corrugated-steel roofs to keep from blowing off from a particularly strong gust. Some sold greasy car parts, which were strewn around in front in a kind of ugly product display. Some sold various forms of unidentifiable meat. Others--the more entreprenuerial, anyway--looked like they sold both, so greasy were the products inside one couldn't tell if it were a comestible or a combustible.
By all accounts (guidebooks, word from the desk clerk, the one rare cab driver who talked with us without demanding we take a ride), we were in an extremely dangerous neighborhood, which precluded any exploration of the surrounding urban landscape. It's something I usually like to do when I hit a new city, even if there are scattered warnings about rough neighborhoods. But I've never run into unanimous warnings about murderers, thugs, and just plain evil people, so the night was spent at the hotel. Victuals were supplied by a cave-like restaurant next door that had chicken cooked from last week and kept warm continuously since then under a grease-spattered lightbulb. Thankfully, cold beer was available from a bodega around the corner--only 15 seconds or so of sheer terror spent sprinting over there and back.
I woke at 5 the next morning for the next bus out of there. Managua looked as ugly in the light of dawn as it looked at night. Don't ever bother going there.