The Encounter, Complicite/Simon McBurney, Barbican, 27 February 2016

When we heard about this Complicite production, The Encounter, Janie and I were really keen to see it, so much so that we sort-of organised the Nicaragua holiday around it; spotting good seats available for a bit later in the run and thus booking to go away beforehand.

Janie and I have always had a soft spot for Complicite – by chance the spare ticket I had which became Janie and my first date in 1992 was for one of their shows at the National; Street of Crocodiles. That was the first time either of us had seen Complicite, so I suppose we were transfixed by Complicite as well as each other.

These matters are all about timing I suppose. Our timing for seeing Encounter, just a few days after returning from Nicaragua, was perhaps not so clever. The jet lag together with the change from 30 degrees Centigrade to 30 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures gave both of us some trepidation ahead of an evening out.

Still, the show is inspired by the novel Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, so perhaps we would at least be transported back to that warm tropical feeling? Too right!

Indeed, the show uses an amazing binaural sound technology, where you wear headphones and sense the sounds coming from any direction around your head. One of the tricks is the incredibly realistic sound of mosquitoes buzzing around you. Now we had surprisingly few encounters with those little pests while we were in Nicaragua – the dry, windy season saw to that. But of course everyone is in fear of mozzies out there just now, with prophylaxis unavailable for the dreaded dengue fever, Chikungunya and topically tropically Zika viruses. Indeed Mukul was at only 60% occupancy when we arrived even though it expected 100% occupancy, as 40% of the expected guests (all bookings from the USA) had cancelled in fear of Zika. Suffice it to say that Janie and I were still highly sensitive to that mozzie sound. Thank you, Mr McBurney.

But of course the show is an absolute triumph. We lost ourselves in the Amazon of our heads for a short while much as Loren McIntyre was genuinely lost in the Amazon for a long while back in the 1960s.

Here is Complicite’s own bumf on the production.  Here follow some of the deserved rave reviews from Edinburgh:

Of course Complicite (at least in the hands of Simon McBurney himself) is no longer acrobatic, movement-oriented shows like Street of Crocodiles. Be fair, the physical stuff he/they were doing nearly 25 years ago was extraordinary enough. So McBurney now adapts his imagination to other means of stimulating our senses – mostly aurally this time – and still he can surprise and thrill.

This was one hot ticket and we are so pleased that we made the effort to book and make our plans around this wonderful production.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet To Matisse, 26 February 2016

While we were away, Janie got very excited about the prospect of seeing this show about gardens. Janie is a friend of the Royal Academy now, so we can go when we like.  We both thought that the Friday afternoon of our return might be a good bet. Perhaps 16:00ish – between the earlier in the day Friday-offers and the after work Friday evening-istas.

But of course it didn’t work out that way. “I’ll be over around 15:00” became “15:30” and then at 15:30 came the call, “I’ll probably be another hour or so”. It enabled me to get other stuff done. In the end, Janie turned up at the flat around 18:00 so we decided to load up the car and drive in to Mayfair – so we got to the Academy at the prime time for the late crowd, especially as the free guided tour was kicking off.

At the start I saw several stylish works that all resembled the backs of peoples’ heads rather than gardens, but then Janie came up with a cunning plan to whiz through to the end of the show and work backwards-ish, avoiding the heave. This cunning plan pretty much worked, apart from the last room with three of Monet’s giant water lilies.  I thought we’d seen them before in the major Monet exhibition some years ago, but Janie insists these particular three are ones that hadn’t been exhibited before. You need to be an expert/completist to tell one triptych of Monet water lilies from another IMHO.

Reviews in major papers such as the Guardian and Telegraph tell you all you need to know about what you are and aren’t getting in this exhibition. Yes, you are getting lots of Monet. No, you don’t get much Matisse, nor much Klee, Van Gogh etc.  Only one Kandinsky but it is a cracker. Ditto Klimt.

Worth seeing, this exhibition, especially if you like gardens and you like Monet. It is beyond chocolate box but it is mostly easy-going eye candy.

 

Nicaragua, Overview, Summary and Links, 6 to 23 February 2016

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I think we’re now done with the blog materials from our wonderful trip to Nicaragua.

The best of the photographs are up now as a Flickr album – click here and link through.

The itinerary produced by Ultimate Travel (whom we highly recommend for this sort of thing) can be downloaded on the following link: Harris and Wormleighton final itinerary – Feb 2016.

If you want to read my blog sequentially from the beginning of the trip – then start by clicking here and work forwards.  Well worth the effort in my view.

But those seeking highlights and low-lights, you might find what you are looking for this way:

Don't try saying "La Cuneta" in polite company after two or more rum and cokes
Mondongo by La Cuneta

 

Nicaragua, The Search For Music, 6 to 23 February 2016

When we travel abroad, I tend to spend some time finding out about and buying local music. Over the years, given our predilection for visiting developing nations, this has not always been an easy search and for sure the lagging end of my cassette collection, for example, was music bought abroad long after cassettes had become obsolescent back home.

Nicaragua proved especially challenging on the music front. I thought Leon would be our best bet as it has a reputation as a student town with a vibrant live music scene. But the live music scene seems well in decline, such that midweek there is no scene to be seen (or heard).

Our local guide in Leon 8 February, as reported in my blog for that day, drew a complete blank on both the matter of live music (probably because there really wasn’t any that midweek night) and CDs.  We did a little bit better on the CD front under our own steam on 9 February, but only through the good offices and guidance of a nice man in the musical instrument shop, helping direct us to (possibly) the only recorded music vendor in Leon.

The Leon CD vendor spoke no English and probably would be minimally helpful in Spanish too.  In broken Spanglish we asked for Caribbean-style Nica music and he indicated that no-one on the Pacific side of the country buys or sells that stuff. Instead, he talked us into buying a second Nicaraguan typica/folklorica CD, probably surplus to our requirements. Still, at about 50p a pop, the extra CD was not exactly a big deal to us. Perhaps more of a big deal to the vendor.

On a Spanglish request for modern music, he simply stuck two CDs into my hand; one named Bacanalero to Brutal, which is basically a various artists mix of Latin American merengue, bachata and salsa music,  primarily from Dominican and Puerto Rican artists. This was similar to the response we got in Guatemala 12 years ago to a similar request – except that the Leon vendor didn’t put the CD onto a sound system so we could hear it and thus the locals didn’t all start dancing in Leon, unlike the Lake Atitlan Guatamalan menengue-dancing locals. The sounds on my Bacanalero to Brutal CD are reasonably up to date though and the disc has the reassuringly modern “2014” on it.  The other CD was named La Cuneta Son Machin and the vendor signaled to me that this second one was “really the one” in his view.

Our attempt to get some Caribbean music with Guillermo the next day did not fare much better – he didn’t think Masaya would yield anything so we ended up in Granada where he picked up an MP3/CD with a bit of absolutely everything on it, including some Caribbean side music, including the recommended Dimension Costeña, but this is clearly even more of a low quality bootleg jobbie than the regular CDs you buy on the street.

When we got to Mukul, I did a bit of Googling and ascertained that La Cuneta Son Machin is becoming one of the most successful Nica bands ever – half populated by sons and nephews of Nicaraguan folklorico patriarchs Carlos Mejía Godoy and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy. La Cuneta’s latest album, Mondongo, has just been nominated for a Grammy award; apparently the first time a purely Nica band has been nominated for a Grammy.  We’ll find out whether they won while we are at Mukul. How cool is that? Well, just a little bit cool. And no, they didn’t win, but heck, to be nominated is still a big deal. Just don’t try saying “La Cuneta” in polite company after a couple of rum and cokes…

…anyway, it should be easy enough to get hold of this historically successful and current album, right? Wrong. We tried. Mukul itself only sells bog standard stuff – Putumayo world music CDs at over £20 a pop. Managua Airport shops? Not a chance. So in the end I needed to one-click a download of Mondongo from Amazon.co.uk

Don't try saying "La Cuneta" in polite company after two or more rum and cokes
Mondongo by La Cuneta

…not exactly helping the Nicaraguan economy the way I had hoped (and boy does the Nicaraguan economy need help – the inability to buy local music locally is but one example of the commerce shortage in this country, which has in theory been a liberal democracy with an open economy for 25 years) but at least we were able to get our lug-holes around the album. Yes, it really does rock, btw, before you ask.

You can see, hear, dance and sing along to the amazing title track, Mondongo, on this link.

Mondongo screen grab

Try listening to it twice and see if you can avoid the infectious rhythm and sound being stuck in your head. This is the sort of track that could be next summer’s global craze. I encourage all Ogblog readers to open their windows and play Mondongo loud, to ensure that you and your neighbours are similarly infected, thus all dancing, clicking and buying the album. It’s the least you can do.

Nicaragua, Mukul, Dining, 16 to 22 February 2016

The dinner on our first evening – reported here – left us pretty optimistic about the quality of food at Mukul.

17 February 2016

Breakfast the next morning (as always, after tennis) was served to us by Juan, a jolly, chubby waiter who was delighted to learn that we were Londoners because he loves the late Princess Diana and Big Ben. Bless. I explained to him that the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster (the icon he actually loves) is not actually Big Ben but is that part of the Palace containing a huge bell, which is named Big Ben. He seemed pleased to be better informed. We did not discuss my take on the late Princess Diana.

By Diliff (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Diliff (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
On Juan’s recommendation, I tried a smoothie named “green machine” which was mostly fruit with some spinach for colour, edgy flavour and lots of goodness. Janie tried a more conventional fruity one. I tried the nica chilaquiles; quite spicy with chicken and cheese, certainly worth trying once. Janie asked for a salad with rocket and goats cheese. The only weakness in the breakfast was the regular coffee, which tasted a bit strong and stewed, so I resolved to try a proper americano (with espresso coffee in it) henceforward.

We tried La Mesa (the haute cuisine restaurant) that evening. We shared an octopus carpaccio starter. I had a slow-cooked daube of beef dish, while Janie tried pork cooked three ways. We shared an ice cream/sorbet desert. Very rich meal. Orlando looked after us again, as did Hungarian sommelier Imre who recommended a very tasty Malbec; Bodega Noemia A Lisa.

18 February 2016

Breakfast the next morning was served by someone other than Juan. I opted for a lighter meal of granola pancakes while Janie opted for omelette and bacon. At the end of the breakfast we were furnished with an unexpected extras bill for the smoothies, my choice of coffee and even for Janie’s toast to go with her egg and bacon. I refused to sign the bill and raised the matter with Frederico, whom we had in any case arranged to see that morning about the boat arrival debacle. Frederico agreed that we would not see such extra charges for our breakfasts.

That evening we decided to try the new Beach Club, which only opened in December and has just started doing dinners with an experimental snack foods menu. We thought a lighter meal would go down well. Daisy started with tempura prawns and moved on to steak. I started with tostones with queso (plantain fritters with a sort of local haloumi on top) and followed with a sort of shrimp cocktail. Chips, veg, shared ice cream to finish and two glasses of house wine. Over £80, which seemed steep  (like St Tropez prices to us, without the St Trop. setting) for such a casual meal, especially when compared with the higher but relatively modest charges for the haute cuisine food. To be fair, this Beach Club thing is still experimental and the staff were delightful, but there is work to do on menus and pricing.

18 February 2016

We both opted for smoked salmon bagels as the main part of our breakfast. These were really delicious and we guessed (correctly) that we would both return for these again before we leave.

This evening is Italian night in the main restaurant but you can mix and match with a la carte. So Daisy started with a mozzarella and pomodoro thingie, while I indulged in red snapper ceviche. Then I had a pork with yucca dish ( a sort of posh vigoron presumably) while Daisy had stingray with mash – she decided that stingray  is not really her thing on the back of that experiment.  We finished off our delightful bottles of wine from earlier evenings.

19 February 2016

This breakfast time we both opted for croissant french toast with cream cheese. The “with cream cheese” bit deceived me into thinking this might not be insanely sweet, but it was. Yummy though. The green machine smoothies made the breakfast feel that little bit less naughty.

This evening we thought we would try the shrimp ion the main restaurant. We both started with an excellent gazpacho soup, “almost as good as Anthea’s” we agreed. Daisy had her spicy shrimps with coconut rice, whereas I took mine as advertised with yucca chips. We shared a piece of grandma Pellas’ special rum cake. We both drank Muga Rose this evening; Daisy (the lush) had two glasses while I had a modest one.

20 February 2016

It is traditional in Nicaragua to eat Nacatamal with your family over the weekend, so Sunday morning had to be the day for me to try it at Mukul. Much richer and more yummy than the one we tried in Leon, but what a massive portion for breakfast! Daisy was having none of it and went English style for scrambled eggs and bacon that morning. Wimp.

That evening we returned to La Mesa, the haute cuisine restaurant. There we tried a smoked fishes platter as a starter to share, then I had a wonderful lobster tail dish not vastly different from Daisy’s wonderful lobster tail thingie. Daisy tried a lamb stuffed in cabbage dish, which was also very good. We shared an ice cream/sorbet again. We tried Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay to wash it down; there’ll be some of that left for tomorrow.

21 February 2016

Last breakfast and we both wanted to return to those yummy bagels. So we did.

We both wanted to eat light, as we were getting up so early the next day. So we decided to do without a starter and simply order mains with fries and a salad to share on the side. I tried the shrimp burger – an unusual idea that works well (or at least this particular recipe works well). Daisy tried a more conventional burger with bacon and cheese. (The shrimp burger also has cheese). We went for the shared ice cream/sorbet desert again – we have mixed and matched different flavours across the days, so as not to be samey. Daisy had a glass of tempranillo with her steak, allowing me one and a half of the two remaining glasses of Kendall Jackson.

Overall, for sure we ate well during our week at Mukul and the staff couldn’t have been nicer.

Nicaragua, Mukul, Tennis, 17 to 22 February 2016

One of the reasons we booked Mukul was the promise of two recently-built tennis courts on site. (Another reason was the promise that Mukul is the best hotel in Nicaragua just now.)  We are keen to play tennis during the restful part of our holiday, otherwise there is the risk of unmitigated sloth.

The courts were indeed clearly new and in excellent condition. They are some distance from the hotel; presumably part of the grand design for the posh villas as well as the hotel resort. But this is not the first time we have stayed at a resort hotel that transports you a mile or more to the courts. That side of things worked excellently well, thanks mostly to the good offices of majordomo Grinhilde (an unlikely name for a Nicaraguan – “my father spent some time in Germany and returned to Nicaragua liking that name”) and driver Juan aka Ponce.

Ponce had been the land vehicle driver for the rescue mission on 16th, so we had formed some kinship from that. Ponce is from the Mosquito (Miskito) coast and made very interesting conversation with us. On arrival at the courts the first time, I asked him, “which court is best?” and he answered immediately, “that one”, (the easternmost court), “the wind affects it less.” Good advice, as the wind was a major factor at this time of year.

We played early morning (starting between 7:15 and 7:30 for about an hour) five of the six mornings we had at Mukul. Just one morning Janie felt too tired, so we rested on a while longer and swam in the main pool before breakfast instead.

The sun didn’t really affect one end more than the other – the courts pretty much face north-south. But on several days the wind really did assist one end. I took the adverse end, which was really hard work but on the other hand the wind assistance required Janie to control the ball exceptionally well.

The surface was incredibly bouncy. It reminded me of indoor carpet courts I played on at Queens a few times, many years ago. You get full value plus for your top spin and lob shots. None of this bounce and wind would make for a great professional game, but it does make for good fun tennis, which is fine for us. Poison for my nascent real tennis career, but heck, who cares, we were on holiday.

Frederico told us that Jim Courier often stays nearby, which is nice, but I can’t imagine that any of Jim’s shots would stay inside the netting with that exaggerated bounce.  Mercifully, Jim didn’t stop by in the early morning to watch Ged and Daisy prancing around the court in the high winds.

By Wknight94 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1753530
By Wknight94 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1753530

Indeed no-one was to be seen at those courts early morning, although it was the only time that we could possibly have given it a go, given the heat of the day and the early darkness.

But basically we loved the tennis there. On our last proper morning, the wind dropped for most of the game, but, perhaps surprisingly, my form dropped along with the wind.  It was all I could do to clamber back to even-stevens at 5-5 deuce, at which point we agreed to call it an honourable draw, as we often do.

Nicaragua, Mukul, 16 to 22 February 2016

After the boat transfer debacle, the day (16 February 2016) simply had to get better and so it did.

Walter took us to our room and completed the check in formalities. We still had the latter part of the afternoon to enable us to orient ourselves, settle in to our delightful Bohio and enjoy the sunset view from there. We took some glorious sunset photos later in the week:

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Sunset from our terrace

We decided to take dinner in the main restaurant, where Orlando looked after us and sensibly suggested we try the seafood special dinner. An octopus ceviche appetiser followed by a proper, delicious crab bisque, a main course of lobster tail and fish fillet with rice and vegetables, followed by sorbet. Orlando recommended a Spanish white named Santiago Ruiz; interesting and unusual.

We spent the next six days enjoying our bohio and doing little, indeed a diary would read a bit like my sloth parody a few days ago.

Each morning we were brought coffee and cookies to our bohio. The local magpie-jays are sugar junkies and attack the cookies and sugar as soon as you leave same unattended for more than a few seconds. On  the first morning, even though Daisy recovered the sugar holder once she had finished, the magpie jays simply removed the film and caused havoc with the sugar packets. We learnt to take that stuff indoors and keep it from the birds. But Daisy loved sharing some of her cookies with the delightful, though thieving, creatures:

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Feed the birds…
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What a poser

We did play tennis each day and of course ate some good food. I’ll write up those activities in separate pieces.

 

Nicaragua, Morgan’s Rock to Mukul, 16 February 2016

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Today we transfer at noon, so no need for an early start, but still we are up early packing our things. Packing is a bigger deal for Daisy than it is for me, so I also have time to sit on our lovely Morgan’s Rock sun deck and do some more reading before breakfast…and indeed after breakfast before we leave.

We are to be taken by boat, which sounds like a most convoluted process, with three boats involved, but apparently it takes only 30 minutes compared with an hour or so by road.

When we arrived at Morgan’s Rock,  we were told that our boat transfer would probably not be possible, as the Nicaraguan Navy had suspended sea transfers due to the strong winds. Readers who know me well will realise that this news was not bad news to me, as I am always a reluctant sailor.

So I was not overjoyed yesterday when we were told that permission for boat transfers had been reinstated. We even tried hinting that road was fine for us and that perhaps, with all our heavy luggage, road would be easier for all concerned, but we were assured that boat was the better option when possible.

So, the  baggage carriers shlep our bags down to the beach, we get into a little boat with all the luggage, the team (with great difficulty, assisted by some French holiday makers) push us out far enough for the engine to start and we (and our luggage) rapidly join a bigger boat operated by Carlos. So far, so slick.

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Carlos inside, luggage outside

There’s a nice shady canopy on Carlos’ boat, which is just as well because this is the hottest part of the day.

Daisy quite likes boats and is in her element for this short ride. I sing La Bamba to while away the time, placing special emphasis on the line, “yo no soy marinero”. Carlos, who speaks no English and now assumes that I speak some Spanish, asks if I am a Mexican. I try to explain in broken Spanglish that I am neither a Mexican, nor a Spanish speaker…nor a sailor.

Carlos points out the place where the trans-Nicaragua canal is due to exit into the Pacific, although we subsequently learn that the powerful Pellas family, owners of Mukul and far more besides, have probably got their way to have the canal mouth located a fair bit further away from their fifedom of natural beauty.

We get to within a few dozen meters of the Mukul beach. There is no sign of the amphibious vehicle that we expect to shuttle us to the shore. Then, ominously, the lifeguard swims towards us to speak with Carlos:

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He came bearing news

My inadequate Spanish gleaned little, except that we were basically being told, “five minutes”. “Cinco minutos”, said Carlos, “tranquilo”?

“Tranquilo”, I said. Five minutes is not long. Obviously the vehicle is a little delayed, that’s all.

Ten minutes later, more ominously, the swimmer returns. I note that he seems to need far more swimming effort to get to us than he did to get away from us, which gives me some small comfort that tide and wind are in our favour; eastwards towards the shore and that enticing looking resort and beach.

Due west, of course, there’s nothing between us and the Philippines for about 15,000 kilometers, apart from an outside chance of a tiny Micronesian atoll. 15,000 kilometers; that’s almost three times the distance between London and New York. Have pity, dear reader, these types of thoughts pass through the overactive mind of a nervous sailor when all at sea.

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He came again bearing more news

The Spanish conversation went on for longer this time, but the bit I understood was the notion of ten minutes.  “Diez minutos”, said Carlos with his mouth and digits, “tranquilo”?  “Tranquilo”, said Daisy, sensing that I probably didn’t have it in me to say that word again, as I was becoming a little untranquilo.

Frankly, I could have coped fine with ten more minutes if I knew it really would be ten, but by now I was really worrying about how the co-ordination of the transfer could have gone so badly wrong and therefore how long it might really take them to sort things out.

The increasing breeze added to my nerves. As did my thought that we had not donned life jackets on this boat (nor indeed the first boat). When we went on short rides to and from Jicaro, on the paddling pool that is Lake Nicaragua, we were made to don life jackets every time, as a requirement of the Nicaraguan Navy. Given that we were never much more than 150 meters away from the nearest islet, that requirement had seemed excessive there. How come this safety requirement was absent (or flauted) on the fierce and mighty ocean that is the Pacific, with winds on the borderline between sailing being permitted or prohibited and 15,000 kilometers of open ocean between us and the Philippines?

By the time an hour or so had passed, my unease had turned to something a bit closer to panic. Suffice it to say that my Ultimate Travel document wallet has teeth marks that would have enabled the recovery investigators to identify me from dental records in the absence of my carcass.

Carlos had been in telephone contact with Morgan’s Rock, but seemed reluctant to let us speak to anyone, unable to understand some fairly obvious international words such as “te-le-fon” and sign language. To be fair, he was probably being sold the same, “someone will be there soon” line of bullshit that he was feeding back to us, along with an instruction to “keep us tranquilo”, which was becoming increasingly difficult in my case, in the absence of tranquilo-isers.

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Looking and feeling more than a little Moby Dick

Janie was very calm; irritatingly calm. I decided that some female panic was needed to change the dynamic and add some urgency. So I said, “if we aren’t off this boat in five minutes, I’m going to jump in the water and swim to shore.” This was, of course, an empty threat. Our passports were in my pockets, along with my wallet and credit cards. Anyone who knows me well knows that I would not place at risk nor would I readily abandon on the boat such important and beloved items. Nor would I abandon Janie on the boat, now I come to think of it.

Moreover, one of the few things I know about boats is that in almost all emergency circumstances, the safest thing to do is to remain with the boat and await orders from the skipper. That advice is on the back of a postage stamp, coincidentally in my aforementioned wallet. The inscribed postage stamp is there for the very rare occasions I have needed to substitute for Michael Mainelli as host for Z/Yen boat trips on Michael’s Thames sailing barge, Lady Daphne. I wrote memory joggers for the information and safety messages on the back of a stamp, so I could honestly say to the guests, “any further questions, ask the skipper, not me. What I know about boats can be written on the back of a postage stamp. Here’s the stamp.”

Yo no soy marinero. Yo no soy capitan.

No, I had no intention of actually jumping ship. But I did get a reaction from Janie, then a more furtive interaction going between Janie and Carlos, which at least got him onto his phone again.

Whether my near-mutiny made any difference we’ll never know, but within five minutes of my “jump” threat we were “rescued” by a small, completely uncovered boat, some 75 minutes after we arrived off the shore of Mukul.  That boat took us (and our luggage, but no life jackets) several kilometers back towards Morgan’s Rock, to another bay where a vehicle awaited us and drove us the last few kilometers to Mukul.

There we were greeted by Frederico, the general manager, with whom we agreed that now was not the time for a metaphorical post mortem on the shambles, merely for relief that no actual post mortem was needed. So we calmed down, cooled down, oriented, checked in and started our blissful week of rest at Mukul.

Nicaragua, Eco Logical? – An Aside, 16 February 2016

Before continuing the tale of our travels, a brief aside on eco lodges and our experiences.

We’ve now stayed in two this holiday, Jicaro and Morgan’s Rock. We’ve stayed in a few over the years, though none recently until this holiday.

We’ve always been a bit cynical and sceptical about eco-tourism. After all; there’s nothing very eco-friendly about tourism and something a bit cheesy about hectoring notices in hotels imploring the traveller to help save the planet by accepting fewer bedding and towel changes. as much as anything else, such requests seem to us to do more for hotel’s profits than for the planet.

Indeed, our previous experience of eco lodges; often with a do-goody vibe and everyone eat around the table together like scouts, had for years put us off the idea of staying anywhere boasting that term.

The term “barefoot luxury” is a  similar turn off for us; too often an excuse for ludicrously high prices and ludicrously little to show for the money – more like barefaced larceny. But I digress.

The two Nicaraguan eco lodges we tried, Jicaro and Morgan’s Rock, were both way ahead of our eco lodge experiences of the past. Both have been designed to have a minimally invasive impact on their natural environments and maximum positive impact on local communities, all of which we applaud. In particular, Jicaro struck the right notes for us in almost every respect.

The Morgan’s Rock blurb was a little more old-school eco-preachy. Are you really setting standards of pre-emminence in eco-tourism by feeding all the hotel’s food waste to the animals on your massive hacienda? I seem to recall staying on a farm when I was a nipper (before ecology had even been invented) and learning that such behaviour is simply what all sensible farmers do.

Morgan’s Rock does get one huge tick in the box from me for its superb-sounding extensive programme of slow-growth hardwood forest farming and stewardship. This is very hard to achieve both sustainably and commercially, yet the owners seem to be finding a way, which is laudable and I hope replicable elsewhere.

Both properties fall down in my view on their approach to drinking water. The idea is to avoid lots of plastic bottles – good idea. The Jicaro approach was to invest in a treatment works for the local water and to assure visitors it is safe to drink. It probably was “safe” in a clinical sense, but it tasted funny and my tummy was not quite right during our stay there. I drink a lot of water and it reminded me of the way my tummy used to be in the old “water purification tablets” days of my travelling youth.

The Morgan’s Rock blurb suggseted that their drinking water approach was the same as that at Jicaro, but when I asked about it soon after arrival (I really didn’t fancy another icky three days) was assured that the water in the room was actually Fuente Pura mineral water poured into large serving flagons from giant bottles. I’m not sure how much better that approach is than smaller bottles, especially as, presumably, large quantities of that water are wasted when the flagons are emptied. Either that or unsealed mineral water is sitting around in flagons for an unhealthy period of time before being topped up and drunk.

I realise that all of these hygiene, comfort, convenience and ecology issues make it difficult to get the balance right, but I’m not sure about either approach we encountered this time.

But the big thumbs down award for ecological correctness gone mad goes to Morgan’s Rock, for the following sign placed beside the toilet:

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In case you cannot read it, the sign asks the user of the tolet to place their used toilet paper in the bin rather than in the toilet, as the water is treated for reuse. We find it hard to imagine a much more unhygenic suggestion. Perhaps “share intravenous drug needles to reduce depletion of earth metals and thus help save the planet?”

Daisy and I went into civil disobedience mode immediately at the toilet paper suggestion and did what we considered to be the right thing. (No we did not smear anything on the walls. We simply flushed our used toliet paper.)

When I raised the delicate toilet paper matter on departure, the front desk manager nodded sagely, assured me that a bit of paper down the toilet would not mess up their treatment works and confessed that many of the staff don’t like those signs as so many guests remark about them adversely. You don’t say?

 

Nicaragua, Morgan’s Rock, 15 February 2016

We rose early today, as we have arranged our bird walk for 6:30 this morning. Our guide for this activity is Bismarck, who tells us that his birth certificate says “Bismar”because the registrar missed the end of his name by mistake.

We start our walk on the beach, where the first “life” we encounter is actually a stone dead iguana on the beach with no evident signs indicating cause of death. Bismarck suggests murder by a bigger animal but given the absence of visible clues we suspect human poisoning.

Soon we are at the estuary water where a fair amount of interesting bird life is to be seen. Daisy makes copious notes of all the species while bemoaning the absence of a helpful Morgan’s Rock bird leaflet along Jicaro leaflet lines. Most of these water birds are small and therefore not photogenic with our little cameras.

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Then we start to walk through the estate forest, where we see more lovely birds – some quite colourful but again mostly small. It was a lovely walk. Ironically, the highlight of our bird walk was actually a really good sighting of a group of spider monkeys. These are usually far more shy than howlers, but I think this group were so enjoying their tamarind tree breakfast that they were willing to hang/swing around for us. It was only when a vehicle came along the trail that they really cleared off.

We took a short cut through the forest proper, perhaps because we had dawdled so much earlier in the walk or perhaps in a vain attempt to find the rarely-seen toucan.

Towards the end of the walk we encountered the mother and child sloths again; still on the same tree. If you think some bits of my diary/blog can be a bit dull, imagine the equivalent blog for a two-toed sloth…

  • 14 February, sat in tree all day, munched a little, slept a lot;
  • 15 February, sat in same tree all day;
  •  16 February – big day – moved to the next tree. This tree will do us for the next few days…

…actually don’t knock the sloth thing, folks. We’re planning our days at Mukul to be sloth-like in the main.

We took a late breakfast. Waitress Gabriella seems to have caught young Master Coffee’s cough. We then retreated to our bungalow where we pretty much did the sloath thing for the rest of the day. I got through most of my magazine backlog and Janie read most of the interesting Nicaragua book.

Again we went down at 8:00ish for dinner. Initially we were pleased to see that the menu had changed; but dinner actually turned out to be a shower this evening. My crab soup was a tiny bowl of sugar-water with a slight taste of crab, some small chunks of vegetable and a whole, tiny, hard-shelled crab (a little reminiscent of our land crab friends from the room) which was impossible to eat. The mains took an age to arrive. When they did arrive, mine was not the dish I had ordered and came without any vegetables, let alone the vegetables I had specifically ordered. Daisy ate her main while I waited (let’s not pretend patiently) for my order. The food was all dry and ordinary with the sauce in pots on the side. Different “chef” who brought my replacement main himself to apologise for the mistake. Daisy tried a tres leches desert and I tried rice pudding (very sweet and ordinary) for some small comfort. Still, overall the worst meal we’ve had in Nicaragua and that’s in the face of some proper competition.

Daisy’s overall (and kindly) observation is that there has been no manager to be seen while we’ve been here at Morgan’s Rock and that you cannot expect much from the local staff, who are sweet and trying (in several senses of the latter word), when unmanaged.

We’re not sorry we’re moving on tomorrow and hope for better things in Mukul.