Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua - Not too far off a desolate stretch of the Pan-American Highway on Nicaragua's Pacific coast, you may stumble on a tiny village by the sea. Made famous by a CIA bombing seeking to oust the incumbent Sandinista government, it's now a ghostly hamlet. The population, made up of unemployed stevedores and their kin, includes a lot of recently deported youth who were not warmly welcomed in the U.S. and Costa Rica. After my hard work in nearby Honduras struggling to educate the spoiled offspring of foreign diplomats and Honduran oligarchs, I decide to take some much needed R&R beachside. I arrive late one night with Barbara, a frustrated expat with a liquor problem. For $2 U.S. a night, the Hotel Playita provides a cell-like room with a lumpy hay mattress and a tin roof.
A quick rinse after the journey and we bound off for the red-light district, or Zona Roja. All the regular port scourges are there (drugs, booze and prostitutes), exactly the kind of flavour we're seeking after spending time in a conservative religious town in Honduras.
Loud merengue music leads the way to Las Rocas, the bar we call home for the weekend. There, garishly made-up señoritas are being tossed around by the local men. The owner, an outgoing Nicaraguan lady called Judy, immediately puts the Nicaraguan hospitality machine into motion. Not only is Judy adamant that our money is no good here, but she also insists on sending over platters of shrimp, conch ceviche (a kind of seafood cocktail) and clams, all washed down with Flor de Cana (a delicious local rum) that comes to the table in a bottle accompanied by an ice bucket, sodas and limes.
We drink and sing Beatles songs till sunrise and are only allowed to leave after promising Judy we'll return that same evening. That night we find another group taking their turn with the twirling señoritas, a gaggle of Greek officers who invite us to board their huge grain-filled tanker docked in the port.
We awake the next afternoon gasping for breath in our airless room with headaches the size of Brazil. The kindly owner offers freshly squeezed orange juice and directs us to the market for a good, cheap meal. After a short detour to the farmacia for painkillers, we plunk ourselves down in front of a long, fly-covered table. Huge jugs filled with passionfruit, beet and guava juices are lined up on the counter. We sip guava and slowly eat our chicken, beans and rice.
After lunch we happen upon the Greek tanker and, fortified by a couple of cervezas, try to board. A port guard lets us through the gate, warning us that, according to international law, we cannot board any ships without first going through immigration. We promise we won't and giggle merrily as we climb the ladder up the side of the ship. We can't remember who's invited us, but a deckhand directs us to the officers' lounge. A cry of recognition goes up as we enter the air-conditioned comfort of the lounge. Men are seated at tables and couches, playing cards and watching Dirty Dancing. We spend the rest of the day in respite from the heat and the flies, drinking ouzo and sampling scrumptious never-ending platters of kalamatas, taramasalata, shrimp salad, feta and tzatziki.
At sunset we leave to change for dinner - the captain has invited us to be his guests at the beach. We meet at a seafood restaurant where we enjoy huge bowls of sopa marinera loaded with king crab, lobster and shrimp. Gloriously stuffed, we sit and drink the night away, dreading our return to staid Honduras.