Before coming to Nicaragua’s beach mecca of San Juan del Sur, I had undergone a hostel scare in Granada – a polite-seeming colonial city with awe-inspiring architecture, nouveau cuisine and two sports bars.
I had returned from dinner and was enjoying a rare private moment in my empty eight-person hostel room. Before long, an athletic gentle giant from Calgary and his diminutive surfer girlfriend walked in, nodded to me, then flipped out.
“Everything’s gone!” Total meltdown, and for good reason. Their locker had been broken into. Gone were $500 cash, a cell phone and a VISA card. Three feet away, my locker remained untouched.
I listened as they made frantic calls to Canada on the one phone they had left. Perhaps some tribal Canuck kinship helped, but I felt myself under at least a little suspicion. Did I see anyone? When did I get there?
A staff guy came in to investigate – someone I didn’t like or trust, for no apparent reason other than he was tall and incessantly hitting on all the girls.
“We’re going to search everyone in the hostel until we find those things,” he announced with moral outrage.
An awkward search ensued. I offered up all my things and opened my empty locker. I was in the habit of carrying all my valuables with me, which bore risks but offered the immediate comfort of feeling my card or passport on my person whenever I got worried.
After a brief search, the staffer fingered a hosteller who had signed in around 4:00 p.m., but left around 7:00.
Businesses in Nicaragua tend to run on a pen and paper notebook system. This thief had found the book, crossed out his name and U.S. passport number and fled. So we had our man.
A complicated ordeal followed as the young couple tried to get a police report so they could file an insurance claim. The police arrived in about an hour and scanned the hostel, but didn’t conduct much of a search.
When they quickly made for the exit, the couple who had been burgled panicked. Their Spanish, like mine, was poor. Total confusion and raised voices. A posse followed the police to the station, where they refused to supply a report until their supervisor returned the next day.
In the morning, I removed myself from this atmosphere of controversy, crime and slight suspicion and bolted for the beach at San Juan del Sur. I had little interest in another legal brush, but within a few hours I found myself enmeshed in a fresh scene of theft, prostitution and criminal skinny-dipping. (See Hostel Hostility, Part 1, December 3.)
After my hostel mates Olivier and Sebastien had spent their first night in jail, Kathy said they would be released the next day. But that didn’t happen. At the jail, she couldn’t clear the language barrier, or perhaps the financial barrier. The guards recommended a lawyer near the hostel, whose rate was $500.
Kathy only had $200 dollars and Larry was still awaiting his replacement bank card, so they returned to the jail to ask Olivier for the password for his bank card, which was tucked in his locker.
After opening the locker with a screwdriver, they secured the funds from Oliver’s bank account to pay the lawyer. One can only assume the lawyer paid whatever portion of the $500 dollars it took to mollify the guards.
I was told the boys would be out of lockup around 3:00 p.m. on the third day. After having lunch and a beer to take the sting out of my Saint Patrick’s day hangover, I went back to the hostel for what I hoped would be a dramatic reunion and debrief.
The boys were there, but no one was speaking much. Olivier was in the shower. Sebastian was sitting with Kathy who I could only assume went through this protracted effort because she had a crush on the buff Mexican.
I shook Sebastian’s hand. He nodded and I left the room where Kathy was consoling him. Larry was unimpressed and said it was all Sebastian’s fault, and that his benefactor, Olivier, was capable of no such wrongdoing.
As an added wrinkle, Sebastian’s iPod was missing. “We don t think it was you,” he assured me. “We think it s the guy who comes in to change the sheets every day.”
Another episode of slight suspicion but no accusation.
I retreated to the local sports bar to get up to speed on the NCAA basketball tournament. About 7:00 p.m. Sebastian and Kathy walked by. I waved them over and got a grim update on what had happened.
Sebastien and Olivier had been imprisoned in a small room and given a small bowl of water and a little water each day. They had stripped of their clothes nightly and mocked by the guards, who took pictures with cell phones.
He said he was going to pursue the case and make sure the guards were punished. I questioned his logic but wished him luck. As a young activist, I had published articles about police treatment of First Nations, but I wasn’t about to rumble with the Nicaraguan police. I also had a sneaking suspicion that Sebastian had inflamed the police response.
That’s essentially where my story ends. The next morning, the others were still sleeping when I wished Sebastien well as I left. As I walked down to my bus, I considered doubling back to get his email address to follow up on his story.
But as Don Henley said in ‘The Boys of Summer’, “a little voice inside my head said don’t look back; you can never look back.”