I was chosen to lead the ultimate tour of South America way back in September. Everything happened very quickly, and here I am, in a Quito hotel room, anticipating the start of ‘El Circuito’ tomorrow as we begin our expedition through 9 countries in 171 days. Not a bad cricket score that, 171-9…I think. To be honest I’m more of a fan of sports that don’t include breaks for tea and crumpets.
I digress. Apologies for the lack of recent activity on this blog, as I’ve had to do a fair amount of research to prepare. At least I got to pop back home to Dublin for the last month to see family and friends – a welcome but unexpected bonus! I was also delighted that The Irish Times published my follow-up article (link below) – I had originally pitched the title of the article as ‘Slothing Around Central America’, but no dice. Oh well.
Unfortunately the region in the title of this blog is a bit of a misnomer now, but I think I’ll keep it anyway. I will understandably be a lot busier on this new tour but I’ll still post updates when I have the time! In this part of the world, there’s always a good story yet to be told. While there may not be as many sloths south of the equator, rest assured that there will be at least one Irish eejit still slothing around.
I had to go and buy a local SIM card in each country here for use in my work phone, so when I first got over the border to Panama, I popped into the local Movistar shop in Bocas del Toro. The process involved the usual formality and nominal fee up until the point your man asked for my passport to register my details on the system.
Unfortunately, the dual Irish and English language confused him somewhat, as the Irish words were completely unrecognisable next to their English counterparts. After a few minutes of his best guesswork, he handed me my receipt bearing the name ‘Antony Michael Éireannach’ – as in, Irish for ‘Antony Irishman’. I hadn’t the heart to correct him.
But from then on I’ve introduced a few cúpla focal in the Irish language to locals and my groups around Central America. The poor guy in Panama must still be wondering what kind of made-up, leprechaun language that was on my passport. Amach!
Bus timetables can be challenging to figure out in some countries. The public buses in Nicaragua, for example, don’t have set departure times and therefore the departures are not written down. Generally speaking there’s a chickenbus every hour-ish on most routes (although the ‘ish’ in Latin America can be elongated to a few hours). It’s a case of having to go down to the station in person and asking around. The following is an example of a common conversation down at the station:
Me: “What time does the first bus go tomorrow?”
Local: “When it leaves.”
Me: “…Right. And what time is that?”
Local: “[Waves hand] Oh, after it arrives!”
This example highlights the endearing ‘Mañana’ culture, similar to the Irish philosophy of ‘It’ll be grand’. And it was grand, we got the 8am bus the next morning – proof that Latin American logic works.
To celebrate our Irish holiday on the 17th of March this year I searched around León in Nicaragua looking for decorations. In vain, as it turned out.
The majority of shop owners had not even heard of my country’s patron saint, let alone the country of Ireland itself. I tried to explain the concept of everyone dressing in green for the day (I temporarily left out the drinking aspect) but it was a waste of my efforts. I gave up after the fifth attempt when the man behind the counter replied: “Ireland? I thought that was part of England, no?”. Oh well.
In the end myself and the tour group painted the town green. They’ll know about Patrick’s Day in León next year anyway! We got to Granada the next day on the 18th where ironically there is an Irish bar, O’Shea’s, run by a former farmer from North Dublin. So we could celebrate properly even if it was a day late. Thank Guinness for that.