Typical, just so typical of me. The taxi driver had to drop me off in Central Park instead of the location of my new job in Leon, Nicaragua. Silly me for me to have forgotten to write down the actual address!! Well another thing, it’s not a real job per se, it’s what one could call a ‘work-for-stay’. The deal is that I work 25 hours per week in a hotel in exchange for free accommodation and food. This provides a great way for me to stay in Nicaragua for as long as I need to without having to break the bank. Only thing is that I’m about to turn up there sweating like a pig (it’s bloody 35 degrees celsius mate!)
Now I’m about to turn up late, as it took me over 1 hour to try and find some decent street wifi I could steal to find the hotel’s directions. Also when I say directions, don’t think it’s anything like directions that we are used to in the UK. Understanding directions in Nicaragua would be enough to qualify you for the Orientation World Championships Competition. Before you go there, be sure to bring a compass and have a good estimation of how far 175 metres could be!
Okay so I arrive at the hotel and was I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a another black female. You have to bear in mind that I’m in Nicaragua (and the non-Caribbean part that is) so I haven’t seen any black Nicaraguans and other black travellers are a rarity – but let’s leave the latter topic for another post.
We introduce ourselves to each other and in comes another surprise. In walks another black lady. Now unless you’re an ethnic minority it would be difficult to understand the mutual feeling you get when you see “your people” in places you don’t expect to. It’s like theres some sort of automatic bond. Kim and Tara were great! We shared stories of LA vs London, travelling whilst black and all that. We hit it off like a house on fire and I’m proud to say that they played a significant role in my good memories of Nicaragua. To add to that, my new roommate, a young American student was so nice too, even too nice for that matter. Things were going so well.
Also might I add that the decor at the hotel was great! Especially compared to the basic hostels I had become used to at. I was excited to start the working here. But what exactly would I be doing?
I asked the other volunteers how it was working there and everyone gave me fairly neutral responses. What I didn’t know is that they were protecting me. Okay, so here is how I only lasted one day at this so called hotel!
Where the hell are the Spanish speaking Nicaraguans?
Okay, so if you’ve read my previous posts you would know why I’m here. But for those who don’t, my mission is to learn Spanish. So much that I’d travelled 5000 miles from London to Leon, Nicaragua to work in a Nicaraguan restaurant where I was told was full of Nicaraguan workers who didn’t speak English, thus providing a perfect opportunity to fully immerse myself into the language. I’m not exaggerating, this is how the place was advertised on work-away. But so far, I’ve only met Americans, a Brit and a Polish man. Not even the owners were Nicaraguan.
Oh okay….I see what they did there! Instead of using actual local staff, what they had done was fill it with foreign ‘volunteers’ to save money. Dam cheapskates. Not only is this unethical but this is technically illegal as this is not a charity, nor anything close. In a hotel, there shouldn’t be more unpaid staff than paid…in fact there shouldn’t be anyone there unpaid at all!. Let’s just say in my short stay there, I only saw 3 actual Nicaraguan staff. The cleaner, who I barely spoke too other than a nod, a waiter and the cook (even the cook I didn’t actually get to meet him but instead gave him a quick glance as I walked by the kitchen). To add fuel to the fire, I only spoke Spanish for a total of 30 seconds whilst working there. I was quite pleased to know that the waiter was young, perhaps we could be friends? So I plucked up the courage to introduce myself. The conversation started off pretty well, I even managed to crack a joke, but it pretty much ended like this.
Male Nicaraguan waiter: So are you married?
Me: No, but I have a boyfriend. Hopefully, one day we’ll get married 🙂
Nicaraguan waiter’s reaction
So basically, I had no one to practice Spanish with. He never spoke to me again. Okay, but at least I could possibly meet some some people to practice with after work, right?
I’m working from 3pm to 12pm 5 days a week?!
Yep, you read correctly. I don’t even know how I managed to keep a straight face when the owner told me this. She blatantly lied in her email and told me it was 25 hours a week. Only for me to arrive and its a full on 45 hour shift knowing full well that by the time one arrives, there is only so much one could do to find a new place! With such limited free time, meeting people and making friends is almost impossible.
I first tried to be positive about this unfortunate situation but shit got real when I asked to take a lunch break and I was told that there is no lunch break! I didn’t actually believe what I was hearing. I even had to ask twice to make sure I was correctly hearing the bull coming out of their mouths. And yeah those tips I received from the guests, they were not mine to keep either.
So there’s no official lunch break but eating is a human right, right?!
But before you think I was dealing with the devil, the owners were nice enough to give me one free meal. Err.. yay? I was allowed to eat during the job. It would make sense for me to have my one free meal at that time, since I couldn’t leave the premises whilst working. But no! I didn’t have a choice of when I got this free meal. Thus whilst I was working, I was forced to buy their ridiculous overpriced food that not even the average Nicaraguan could afford. But I could eat my free meal outside my working hours…
In case you’re wondering, my free meal finally did come, it was this…
Wait, hold up! THIS IS NOT IN MY JOB DESCRIPTION
It’s been difficult to sum up exactly what I did there. The better question would be what didn’t I do there! Firstly, bear in mind I was told I was going to be a receptionist in a hotel. So it came to much of my surprise that I was in fact not only a receptionist, a bar tender and a waitress all at the dam same time! The hotel was more of a restaurant than hotel. At the front desk where I worked I had to deal with everyone and everything whilst I watched the owners sit on their laptops and order myself and the other volunteers about. Their requests included us getting them cups of water too. By the end of my 9 hour shift, it had doomed on me that that I had quit my comfortable job in London, left my boyfriend, family and travelled over 5000 to be scammed
If it wasn’t for Kim that gave me so much life with her jokes, I don’t know how I would’ve survived that shift. She showed me how make a mean mojito and taught me how to keep my cool whilst doing 3 jobs in one. At least I learnt something. But I came to learn Spanish
So I was due to stay there for one month but I couldn’t even bare one more day. I had to get out and find something else. So I didn’t waste any time. The very next morning, I walked around town practically begging for a place that could offer me free accommodation and food in exchange for free work.
Within, 5 minutes I stumbled across a hostel and asked the receptionist if they host volunteers. Although they didn’t offer what I was looking for, me and the receptionist got along well and somehow I ended up pouring my heart and soul into him about my unfortunate situation at the hotel.
Receptionist: You mean the hotel/restaurant down the street
that has music nights every Thursday
Me: Yeah that one. Well, I hope I would’ve found something else by Thursday
’cause I can’t stand another thought of having to work for those con artists again.
Receptionist: They’re my friends. In fact, I play with my band there on Thursday nights
What I wanted to do
But all I could was…
Needless to say, this highly awkward moment didn’t stop me and the receptionist from actually becoming friends after bumping into each other again.
MY SAVING GRACE
So let this situation be a testimony to why it’s always good to have a plan B and the fact that there really is a God! Long story short, I already had another work-for-stay hostel job due to start a month later in the exact same city. I planned it that way as I expected I would probably get bored after a while and would want a change of scenery. Also I’m very indecisive and couldn’t pick between the two.
As a last resort, much to their surprise, I turned up a month earlier to my plan b and pretended that my flight schedule had changed on a whim!!! (I honestly couldn’t think of any other excuse so pardon me if that lie just seems a bit ridiculous). Fortunately for me, there were in need of a person as someone had just left. I was told to start the next day and I had a room to stay tonight. That very same day, they even invited me to have lunch…and for free of course (as it should be when you’re working for free!) I was also offered 2 huge free meals everyday (well, it was meant to be 3 but the rules coincidently changed the day I arrived, but after the hell of the first hotel I wasn’t in any sort of position to complain). God is so good to me. Things went from 0-100 real quick.
But finding a new place was the easy part. It was actually telling the owners of the previous hotel that I was leaving, 30 minutes before my 3pm shift was due to start that had me shaking. I took a deep breath and nervously walked over to the table where one of the owners were siting with his laptop.
Me: I need to tell you something. *Sits down and speaks very nervously*
“I’m not happy at the situation here”
Owner: *refuses to give eye contact with me*
“Speak to my partner about it, I’m busy right now”
The right cheek he had! He later got up to inform his partner. I waited…and I waited. 30 minutes later and she still hasn’t bothered to come and speak to me about my issue. I then decided that I wouldn’t be a fool any longer. I just got all my stuff and left.
I was sad to be leaving behind great people at the first hotel, but promised to meet up with them whenever I was free. Literally, meeting them was the only good thing about that experience. Never, ever again! Let this be a warning to all that one must be very careful when using work away and do as much research as possible. Work-away can be a great website to use when you want to travel abroad and save money but sometimes some things are just too good to be true.
But as I said, at least I can now make a great mojito. Gracias Kim!