The pool halls of Nicaragua
In the mountain town of Jinotega, women float through the room of campesinos and animated teenagers selling loose cigarettes. In Estelí, nestled in a valley of tobacco fields, a side door left ajar reveals a poker game beneath a sign warning not to enter. In coastal León, the airy space provides relief from unmerciful temperatures.
A mountain of bricks in one corner, a mountain of empty Toñas in another, a parade of motorbikes fill-in the rest.
Calculating eyes are focused on the task at hand as analytical spectators gesture and nod in agreement or disapproval. Here, the game’s complex and strategic rules more closely resemble chess and bocce than the barroom pastime recognized elsewhere. These are isthmus rules.
The idealistic young manager of one hall gets in on the action only to quickly lose the equivalent of
$100 USD. Pastel córdobas are tossed on the table, followed eventually by U.S. dollars, in a startling show in a nation where almost half the population lives on $1 a day. Onlookers chuckle.
He does not.
Enveloped in a blanket of smoke, generations mix to counsel, tease and strategize under proud Sandinista murals or photos of past champions in these easygoing rooms where the beer is always cold and the company good.