The Beer Pilcher of Granada

The Hotel Alhambra occupies almost a block right in the middle of the Granada, across from Parque Central. The terrace potential here is high even if the service is the slowest in all of Nicaragua. After a day roaming dusty streets, followed by a swim with the sharks along the Las Isletas del Mar Dulce (Lake Nicaragua), a cold Victoria beer sounds like heaven.

The hotel terrace offers shade, well-worn comfort, cheap drinks, great local cuisine and an engaging (May I practice my bad English on you?) staff. It is the ultimate perch from which to observe the nightly neotropical parade in a fascinating city bent on forgetting decades of economic and civil strife, compounded the policies of my country.

The brightly painted walls of yellow and blue are accentuated by hordes of ancient vines, orchids, and vivid hanging flower baskets. The high ceilings, abstract art in chipped paint, create a subtle vertigo while the ceramic acoustics of the tiled palace chime the melodious Guardabarranco and Carlos Mejia Godoy.

The entire patio is one step up from the street and is encompassed by an imposing rail to keep the great unwashed from bothering the paying customers. Expanding the radius are struggling palm trees, the nearby lake, horse and carriage operatives, the aroma of frying fish, loud music, walled stucco houses, skinny dogs, pleasant people and crowded passageways wrapped around 16th Century cathedrals.

Delirious traffic in dilapidated chariots circles around and around the park acting out some mad petroleum mating ritual, horns keeping time with a torrid, indistinguishable beat.  Across the avenue enterprising venders sell anything from hash pipes to baby alligators. They have long ceased daily commerce and have headed home for the night. I have been warned to avoid the park after these hawkers have gone. Already a seedy element has emerged, preparing to propagate business after dark, intent on another crap shoot of drug sales, petty theft, outright robbery, muggings and drunkenness.

Poverty and tourism have never melded to anyone’s satisfaction.

But I’m on the proverbial sunny side of the street or so it seems with the combo-neon and florescent patio lights turned up to fine print levels. A world away from the park,  I enjoy another Victoria with a snifter of 12-year-old Flor de Cana  rum, arguably the best rum in the Free World (which of course does not include bad ol’ Cuba). The British couple sitting to my left is much impressed with the pungent black bean and garlic soup (another treat from Cuba) while three local merchants smoke trophy puros offering me one which I accept with a short referendum on my provenance. At the far end of the terrace banister are thee laughing tourists from Managua, who have accumulated at least 15 bottles under their table, an effective method for calculating beer purchases here.

That’s when I spot him. He stands out from the others. This guy looks the rough, crude menace but somehow less threatening from afar. He’s big for a Niacaraguan. He meticulously picks through the treasures in the park’s austere trash bins, discarding pieces then angrily kicking over the can. Underprivileged  garbage, dissipated fruits of the poor displayed in skeletal wire and grungy bins. I saw him sitting on a bench at the plaza talking to himself earlier. On second examination he appears almost harmless compared to some of the other toughs that circulated here. Just another shabby street man eyeballing the hotel porch. I look away yawning, stretching, looking for another beer.

He crosses the street but fades into the shadows only to surface at the far end of the block. Passing slowly by the terrace after several reconnaissance missions he suddenly swoops down like a parched falcon grabbing a glass of beer off the British table and drinking it in a gulp, setting the glass carefully down afterwards. He sets his sights on another beer, from the merchants table this time, and slams it down as well, gently replacing the bottle on their table. He then runs off happily between the alley notels, the abandoned language institute and the designated pickpocket staging zone.

I laugh to myself not wanting to appear entertained by the intrusions. The merchants do not appear particularly perplexed peering over at me with that only in Granada look, sans surprise. They shake their heads. The Brits are at first amused, then irritated, then amused again. Their eyes wander the terrace searching for some logical explanation, finding none. Is he part of the all-inclusive experience?

Moments later I catch his movements back along the rail. This time he grabs a bottle of Victoria off the Managua tourists’ table and drains it. The tipsy table is not quite sure who drank what. They call the waiter who comes running with one of his fellows and they throw the beer thief to the ground with the fury of Volcan Mombacho. Nothing personal…but he is fouling up the sacred serve and volley of gratuity. He escapes and returns to the badlands of the park and looks at us yelling, “Beer belongs to the people!”

I have to admit I am enjoying his antics with every cold Victorian that goes down. The waiters apologize to the victims and replace their beers. They even brought me a free beer after I expressed outrage and threatened to write a bad review on the place in The San Juan Horseshoe en los Estados Unidos. No one seems all that ruffled.

But this beer guerrilla is the real deal. This stalwart boozehound, this dry debunker, this macquerau guzleir may be more than what meets the eye. He’s a force. His clownish persistence cries out to be recognized. The man is a talent. The cat burglar of cold beer. He will not be denied!

He doesn’t try to steal beer from me. Perhaps I could be trouble. Perhaps there are easier marks. Considering my sense of fashion and attention to hygiene that particular evening the man probably figured I stole what I have and was intent on drinking it. I have actually had street people come up to me in South America and offer me their coats on a cold night. Maybe we are kin or at least kindred…

I finish another beer and move to the relative safety of a table next to the kitchen door where I can chronicle the action while avoiding future larceny. The bullish boob won’t get my beer.

“He won’t be back,” a waiter announces brushing his hands of the incident. “He won’t dare pull that stunt again.”

Yes he will.

I watch as the conversation returns and beer disappear down appropriate throats. The table I vacated is now occupied by three Nortes with backpacks. They order Victorias and quesillos (braided Mozzarella cheese served in a warm tortillas swimming in onions and cream) and sit back innocently while noisy hookers come out for a stroll. Hunched behind them is our beer thief himself, who is now spouting on about the glories of Sandino right there in ultra-conservative downtown Granada, trampling on nostalgia, and interrupting the colonial ambience of it all. I order another beer, ignoring his gaze but watchful, digging in for the rest of the performance.

The curtain reopens with the same sly grin, the slithered walk, the thirsty demeanor. He promenades by the terrace once more, the dirty and demented hops high jacker. He grabs a beer off the Norte table and drains it with the refined movements of a jaguar. The backpackers are stunned and in the momentary chaos he takes anarchistic license to drink another, without spilling so much as a drop. Then its the same delicate trademark return of the bottles to the table where they had been.

“Down with capitalism!” he cries as the cook and several bouncers grab him and roughly toss him into the street oblivious to freebooter traffic, jagged cobblestones and road apples. One of the burly men then punches him lightly, exhorting a muffled threat. He is gone.

Stunned, the Brits and one of the local businessmen join me at my redoubt by the kitchen. We are all now completely regaled by the heists. The tourists from Managua call it a night and the backpackers sit clutching their beers. I quietly indulge in my good fortune. I have yet to fall to these pranks. I feel cocky and worldly, bullet-proof and quite sophisticated. We order food, paella, avocado salad and fried plantains. The talk turns to the country’s turbulent past and hopeful future.

The British couple applaud me for my attentive vigil in the face of dangerous beer snatchers. The merchant does too inviting me to her shop the next day.

A traveler such as you who pays attention has nothing to worry about when visiting Nicaragua,” she smiled.

“When I am in unfamiliar terrain I try to remain alert,” I smiled back, showcasing my lunchroom Spanish and my alleged survival instincts.

“You have to appreciate the man’s persistence. There is a man who knows what he wants and how to get it,” I jive.

The conversation stopped upon further commotion in the kitchen. Moments later our beer man was hurled through the swinging doors to the floor chased by the owner and the bouncers. They were sweating and did not appear amused. He had apparently been hiding in the freezer knawing on a side of beef and breaking eggs against the side of the cooler. Despite his near strangling and his bouncing off the concrete floor he was still moving.

He looked up at me pathetically. I didn’t know what to do or think. Here’s this poor thirsty creature about to get his ass kicked who couldn’t give a damn eitherway. Sad. A tragic world…Just another day in the life…

Then with one desperate grasp he laughs and grabs my beer from the table and, despite his unfortunate horizontal posture sucked it dry.

“My beer!” I cried, as our ardent guest of dishonor was then most indignantly escorted out the front to destinations unknown.

– Kevin Haley


Filed Under: Fractured Opinion


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