“How long ya been down in Middle Earth?
JUST because the hike down was so exhilarating and the terminus so eye-widening, I found myself trekking for a second time from the small town of Mirador down the inside of an extinct volcano to Laguna de Apoya, a 48-square kilometer crater-lake so deep that its center is the lowest point in all of Middle Earth. Despite its volume, the water was surprisingly warm, pool-temperature, due to the honeycombed network of thermally-heated subterranean rivers that fed the massive body. The first time I went there, the crescent day-moon sat directly above and if you looked straight up at it, your view was framed with the ring of white-rock forest you had descended from.
This time around, I was leading a group of Poste Rojo guests down the trail—a small group, Dan, Jess, her cousin Mikayla, Lucie and myself. We were sliding down a particularly rough patch when I heard a scream behind me.
I whirled around with the assumption that one of the girls had fell. What I saw was a 20-something Nica guy with a goatee grabbing Jess by the back of the neck and shoving her down on the rocks. I immediately started sprinting up the hill. It was only then that I saw the Nica’s other arm, which was holding a three-foot machete high above his head in chopping position, the blade’s trajectory ending across Jess’s neck.
The guy immediately started screaming contradictory instructions in Spanish. He was bug-eyed, adrenaline and anxiety saturated, moving in jerks—a nervous mugger is the worst kind, because they’re the ones who are going to panic and kill you.
He demanded that Lucie slowly approach him and hand him Jess’s backpack, who was starting to weep in fear below him. He then yelled at me in Spanish to come to him, but each time I slowly approached with my cash raised in front of me, he screamed “Stop” in English, lowered the blade to Jess’s neck and pressed it into her skin. .
“Do you want me to come to you or stay here!?”—I was too panicked to remember the Spanish. Finally Lucie was forced to walk to me to retrieve the cash.
“Pleeeease don’t leave me….pleeeeeeease,” Jess wept as Lucie stumbled down towards me.
Dan and Mikayla were farther down the path, digging through their backpacks in a dumb panic, trying to find their wallets.
“Just give him the whole fucking thing!” I was trying to hurry them along while keeping an eye on Jess. When I turned back up the trail, I saw the mugger sprinting away and Jess crumpled in a quaking heap on the rocks, unblooded.
Westerners are targeted in Middle Earth. To roughly quantify it, if you are going to backpack around Middle Earth for, say, a month, you are GUARANTEED to have something stolen from you and also have about a 1 in four chance of being mugged by knife or machete or handgun.
As is the case for muggings the world over, the victims are rarely physically harmed. That being said, after the mugging, Lucie related the tale (to make Jess feel better) of how she and a friend were mugged in Guatalajara, Mexico a couple months back. Her friend was stabbed with a switchblade in the stomach and nearly died.
In between my stays in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, a large group of men from a neighboring municipality started invading the medium-sized town at night. I heard from multiple people that there were 50-plus muggings within a week.
Nicaragua boasts the lowest crime rate in all of Middle Earth.
There’s certain preventative techniques one can apply to keep your shit in Middle Earth. Many backpackers wear belly-belts—wallets that are strapped under the shirt. When staying in hostels, people use lockers, though it’s always a good idea to bring your own personal lock, in case the hostel employees get grabby. Many travelers carry switchblades, or, more often, flip-knifes, both of which are completely legal in Middle Earth, though these are mostly owned for more utilitarian purposes. Female travelers usually carry mace AND knifes for rape prevention, though rape seems to be the one crime that is no less common when traveling in Middle Earth. Then again, rape is the one crime that is rarely talked about after it happens. The one incident I heard about involved a Shaman who did Iowaska ceremonies. In actuality, he was NOT a Shaman, just a shit-bag rapist who led a girl to the middle of the rainforest, then held her there for hours. After he had finished, he just left her there, and she got lost on the way back and almost died of shock and exhaustion.
However, you are much more likely to be hurt in Middle Earth by the non-human. Since I’ve been down here, I’ve been cut with a machete, gotten ringworm and been destroyed by bedbugs. I have gotten off relatively easy. Backpackers just seem to always be recovering from some sort of injury down here. People I’ve traveled with have been stung by scorpions, stabbed by stingrays, bitten by bullet-ants, infected by bot flies, attacked by swarms of army ants, gored by bulls at carnivals, been in truck accidents, quad accidents, bus accidents, motorbike accidents, been cut up by coral, gotten concussions from being smacked by their own surfboards, twisted ankles while hiking, broken toes while hiking…the list is endless.
After the hold-up man fled, we were still stuck a good 20 minutes from civilization. We had two weapons, both brought by Mikayla, a small pocket knife and a pink can of mace. We organized ourselves with the females grouped in the middle, Dan leading with the blade out. I trailed a few feet behind, finger cocked on mace’s trigger, safety off. Jess was being a fucking trooper—she was more distressed about the loss of her 600-dollar camera and its photos then the actual mugging.
“We passed that asshole a while back. He must’ve looped back and trailed us until the guys were in the front…the blade wasn’t even that sharp.”
We descended without speech. When the trail opened up to coral and blue beach houses and the Laguna, we let out our breath as one.
You learn to deal with this kind of shit while down here—you have to, it will happen nonetheless. In a perverse way, it’s part of the genuine experience.
As a group, we sat on the thin beach and looked out over the aquamarine Laguna while smoking a thin joint of Jamaican brick-weed. It was a beautiful day.
Then we shucked our outer clothing and rollicked in the choppy waves.
Altogether, it wasn’t a bad day in Middle Earth.
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