Current location: Big Wave Dave’s, San Juan Del Sur, Pacific Coast of Nicaragua
Price of a beer in a bar: US$1.57 in a beach bar
Song currently stuck in my head: Stay On The Outside (Whitey)
There are about a billion gringo owned bars/restaurants/cafes in this town (if you ignore the name on the legal paperwork, of course). This works out to several hundred million per block, because this town is tiny. The old joke is “If you want to have a million dollars in [name of Central American Country], arrive with two million” and you’d have to be out of your fucking mind to dive into the local business pool. Today I was sitting next to a guy who probably just lost US$60k to the ether. In today’s retelling of this well worn beach side parable “The Ether” is being played by a Nica property owner who entered into a contract to lease his beach adjacent lot to a couple of investors who intended to build a bar there. The guy next to me was half of these investors. They made their deposits and payments (as far as I know), and the owner simply says “no, you didn’t”. The contract allows him to dissolve the agreement if these payments weren’t made, so he walks aways with all the cash. He’s politically connected, so the consensus (and history) is the police won’t do anything about it. The bilked investor still thinks things are going to go his way, but all of the old hands are rolling their eyes and recounting previous rotations of this well established cycle. Dave, of Big Wave Dave’s, long time business owner here in town, said “I make everyone who wants to start a business down here a great deal: Give me 10% of what you want to invest and I’ll make sure you never start a business. It’s the best deal you could make, you’ll come out far better.”
But what do I know? This is all basically hearsay and I’ve never run a successful business anywhere, much less here. Our old neighbors seem to doing well for themselves; three years ago they had a shed sized restaurant. Now they have a new, larger shed sized restaurant with outdoor seating and it sits in front of the beach front hostel they run (own?). The place they operate is right in front of the balcony we used to share. Maybe they got tired of walking 3 tiny blocks to work. Plenty of businesses that were just opening 4 years ago are still kicking in 2014 and by all accounts these have been lean years; the global economic downturn hit global tourism hard. So maybe your odds are better than I think…
Eh, I hear more heartbreak than jubilee. Republica, which has for years been billed to me as “The Expat Bar” where everyone hangs out, recently changed hands. Maybe it was doing swimmingly and the owners just decided to move on. But a lot of people decide to move on, divesting themselves of whatever local business interests they had. Someone was telling me about a microbrewery going in near the market. US$150,000 in equipment going into a space they won’t own; it’s going to take a lot of $4 pints to make that back. The guy who told me about it put it well when he said “I hope they have fun.” Other acquaintances speculate that people come down with a savings and try to use it to make a go. Then they overspend their income (or lack thereof), empty the war chest and head back home. Some come down with family funding and this is great place to stretch those dollars. There’s something particularly attractive about buying a bar when you’re spending someone else’s money. That’s not specific to SJDS, either. I’ve scene that scenario play out all over the place.
I’m sitting in the garden here at Barrio and they just cut the music so some competent-to-good musicians could start playing afro-latin tracks. Unusually for me, I prefer the piped in music. It’s especially good here and part of the draw.
The shit I put up with.
Last night I had a couple of beers while sitting in the beach chairs at El Dorado and watching the sunset. A bar a few doors down had a band playing subdued Santana and Dire Straights covers. It was idyllic. Sure, some Nica was passed out on the sand when I arrived, about halfway between me and the waterline, and occasionally well intentioned tourists would try to rouse him while confused Nicaraguans tried to explain that he was drunk. The gringos would attempt to convey that they understood this (there were, after all, multiple empty bottles of high octane rum propped up in the sand) and the Nicas would shrug their shoulders as if to say “Then what are you trying to do? Sober him up by shouting greetings at him in broken Spanish?”. I ignored him until the tide crawled up the sand and hinted at overtaking him. I tried to rouse him, after all he’d been there for hours at that point, semi-conscious and no longer drinking, so I thought he might be a little more responsive. Naw. He had one eye kind of half open and he’d occasionally roll halfway over, but never in response to any external stimuli. I remembered the best advise any developing world traveler can ever receive: Occasionally you may find opportunities to help and you should take them, but YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SOLUTION. Clearly plenty of Nicas were aware of this guy’s situation, let them handle it. They’re far better equipped.