Just how the brain — or mine, at any rate — jumps from one thought to memory and back again is something of a mystery. Standing there looking at a six-pack of Bohemia beer, bandana tied around half my face, and hearing lots of talk about curfews and protests — if I'd had a bicycle chain handy, it would have been just like the demonstrations in Nicaragua.
I'd woken up in a cell-like room in a hotel in Managua to the sound of lively Latin music. The city was desperately on edge. El Presidente had stacked the courts with toadies, won himself an illegal third term, and started going around calling himself Comandante. Never a good sign. Still, it sounded like a party outside my door.
The hotel was a traditional sort of four-sided building, built around an open patio — with no hot water. The rain was coming down in sheets, as it does almost daily between May and October. The protests had been raging, despite the weather, as President Daniel Ortega had scrapped veteran pensions for — and I'm not making this up — fruit baskets. The old veterans couldn't wait until October for the rains to go away, and a bunch of bananas wouldn't do the trick.
I opened my door into the steaming mist and found in an enclave a bunch of women dressed up for a party, all swaying around a CD player, dancing and laughing. They were drinking Bohemia out of an iced Styrofoam cooler. My first thought was to ask them to turn the damn racket down, but it looked like a bridal shower or something. Honestly, I'd applaud anyone who could muster up the attitude to throw a party in that mess. The ladies offered me one, but what little Spanish I know was gleaned in hospitals and I couldn't see how that would strike the right vibe. So I borrowed a pair of earplugs from my father in the room next door and tried to go back to sleep.
Dad speaks excellent Spanish. It was Father's Day, and he wanted to see whatever it is that I do for a living, so we'd hightailed it down to Nicaragua and smacked into some social unrest. As you do.
Later, we popped into what had become our regular Chinese restaurant, sensibly called Restaurante Chino. The television, usually on the Spanish-language sci-fi channel, was now on the government Sandinista channel, and the place was empty, save one large table surrounded by Nicaraguan bureaucrats and Chinese "engineers" discussing a largely unworkable canal project intended to rip through the center of the country and destroy Lake Nicaragua. They were drinking bottles of Tsingtao.
Nothing against Tsingtao, but I liked the ladies' style better and ordered a Bohemia. It's a pilsner style, but not really the watered-down hot-weather version. Though it's made in Mexico, Bohemia is a willfully European style, named after a beautiful region of the Czech Republic — and they still use Czech hops.
Stateside, if you want a Latin-American beer, it's likely to be Mexican, and if you're in a restaurant (remember those?), it's likely to be a Corona or Dos Equis. Bohemia, though, edges out Dos Equis and leaves Corona far behind. Locally, High Cotton has a good Mexican lager, which stands up better than either.
When I find myself someplace interesting, I like to drink the local brew. While there is a good national rum, I'm not sure there actually is a Nicaraguan beer. After a devastating earthquake in the '70s and a civil war in the '80s, the entire city is a DIY project with the aesthetic of a parking garage. I asked one lady, the wife of a bank president, for her mailing address, and she gave me a P.O. box in Miami.
Still, the people managed, as they do. After it was all over, they threw a party and opened a beer. Probably a Bohemia.