Now, I'm not suggesting that the best food to eat in Nicaragua is pizza, nor am I suggesting that the best pizza is found in Nicaragua. Certainly the large veggie pizza I had for dinner my last night in Moyogalpa, topped with corn and black olives-two items that I firmly believe have no business being anywhere near a pizza-is hardly worthy of an endorsement on its own.
And yet, it was over this pizza that I realized the real secret to eating well in Nicaragua.
Let me explain. Prior to arriving in Ometepe, I walked into the offices of Tierra Tours in Granada, hoping to a book a hotel on the island. Without ever requiring me to book a tour, the guy behind the desk, whose name I later learned was Tony, made a bunch of phone calls to hotels, and came up empty. As a last resort, he called his local guide in Ometepe for help. The local guide said he knew of a place that had availability; I just had to give him my name and I would be booked. I was dubious that this would actually work, but I was also out of options.
"Just in case I have a problem," I said, "can you give me the guide's name?"
"Oracio Gelen," Tony replied.
When I arrived on Ometepe, I managed to find the hotel. Though they didn't immediately seem to have my name, they did have availability. To tell you the truth, it wasn't that great of a place: it was rather dirty, there were ants everywhere, including the bed, and what's more, it wasn't exactly a hotel, but an association/school consisting of a large open area well-suited for an elderly facility activity room with a few rooms for rent on the side. But what could I do?
On my second day on the island, after a grueling eight hour hike up Volcano Concepción, I returned to my hotel to find that they were setting up for a very large wedding, with very large speakers, and what looked like a very large dance party. Right outside my room. When I mentioned my concern about this situation to the staff, they moved my room and promised all would be tranquilo, but it was clear that I would not be sleeping well that night. Too tired to change hotels, I decided to start drinking on the patio of a nearby bar.
Halfway through my first Toña beer, a man on a motorcycle drove by, spotted me, and stopped. I had never seen this person before, so I was surprised when he said my name.
He said my first and middle name, as it appears on my passport. That's when I knew exactly who he was: the local guide who'd recommended my horrible hotel.
"I have been looking for you everywhere," he said, sitting down.
"I can't believe you found me."
"I am so, so sorry," he said. "The hotel didn't tell me it was having a huge party. I feel so bad."
"It's ok. I'm kind of hoping to get drunk enough to pass out and not notice the party outside my room."
"No, no. I cannot sleep tonight knowing that you are there."
He pulled out his cell phone, made a few calls and booked me a new hotel room while I chugged the rest of my beer. We went back to my horrible hotel, which was in full wedding mode, complete with white and gold balloons, large papier-mâché swans and hundreds of wedding guests. We walked right into the middle of the reception, Oracio found the owner and convinced him to give me my money back. Then he helped me move to my new, quiet, not-a-single-bug-in-sight room in Hotel Ometepetl.
After all that, I offered to buy him a drink. We returned to the bar where we'd met, and to the patio where I'd first sat alone. As we enjoyed our Nica Libres, a few other guides joined us. Speaking a combination of Spanish and English, we talked, laughed and Oracio and I told and retold the story of our chance encounter.
Eventually, we ordered a large vegetable pizza from nearby Pizzeria Buon Appetito, the one with the corn and the olives on top, and we continued eating and drinking for the rest of the night. That's when I learned that eating well in Nicaragua has little to do with the food, and everything to do with the people you're eating with.
A few Nica Libres don't hurt either.