Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Land Up North

Hello patient blog readers! It’s been almost a month since my last post, and for good reason: Nicaragua. For two weeks in mid-May, Nicole, Carolyn (Liner) and I traveled around the country of Nicas north of us. We miraculously made the capital city transit from San Jose to Managua in one day on a total of three buses. When the Ticabus stopped at the border, our passports were collected into a ziplock bag (gulp) as five “medical doctors” in white smocks and respirator masks slowly traveled the aisles of the bus asking us our names, ages, passport numbers and any “cold or flu symptoms.” The last column, unsurprisingly, contained only one repeated word: “no!”. Carolyn, who actually did have a cold, looked back at me with a panic stricken face, mouthing, “What do I do??” “LIE,” I whispered assuringly. She covered her coughs by clearing her throat many times for the prestigious “medicas,” and thus earned the nickname “Swiner Liner” for the remainder of the trip.

After a massive late night dinner in Managua, we slept well at a nearby hostel and the next day flew to the Corn Islands off the east coast of the country. While Nicole and a friend from home got their scuba certification, Liner and I chose a small, splatter-painted one room bed/bath/pooper accommodation right on the beach run by Gracie. We especially enjoyed the Ron Don seafood soup she made us, the rat that ate our freshly baked loaf of coconut bread, the mosquito net over our bed, and Adam, Gracie’s helpful nephew who, upon hearing we were thinking of taking a ferry ride to Rivas and then the bus back to Managua, told us nonchalantly that he puked for the entire nine hour ride as he sat surrounded by baskets of fish. During that week, we wandered the touristy pulperias in search of the biggest jar of peanut butter, found the best restaurant with the cheapest breakfast pinto, and spied on fish schools and sharks while snorkeling. We caught Frisbees in the surf, watched local boys of indigenous, Spanish and Carribean features play baseball like major leaguers, and listened intently to their Spanglish/Rasta/Carribean-accented trash talk. We explored the non-touristy north side of the island, getting lost, fearing cannibals, and finding our way back to town through forest, orange grove, and a baseball field surrounded with mango trees. We got disgusted by the amount of trash on the island, pondered the effect of tourists on the ecosystem and quality of life of the locals, and then chatted with an awesome local guy William about all of the above. It was a great week, except that it marked the end of Carolyn’s travels when she had to fly home because of a death in the family.

Nicole and I continued on alone, flying back to Managua and taxi-ing to Granada, a bright colonial city that still retains the aesthetic of its conquested past. The buildings wore different shades of tropical colors accented by white borders and church bells residing in massive churches seemed to greet us around every corner. Almost all the roofs of every building were beautiful orange tile, their dark, hardwood rafters highlighted by decorative rafter ends with “angry cane” reed ceilings and hanging plants. Bicycles abounded, and you were always seeing single bikes that contained multiple people: a father with his uniformed kindergarten son sleeping through the ride on the handlebars, a teen boyfriend/girlfriend combos grinning as the lady sat close to her boy on the top tube, a middle aged couple dressed nicely as if going out to dinner. We spent two days in Granada, wandering (I found a monastery/museum where Bartolome de las Casas, one of my most admired historical figures, lived), sitting in the central park to people watch (I accidentally got dog poopie on my foot while I was here and a kind one-armed man insisted on pouring water on it to help), finding great food (there was an indescribably beautiful moment where, in passing, without communicating verbally, I traded a pastry for a mango with an ancient thin-as-a-straw Granadan woman), walking down to Lake Nicaragua (and going to Mass on the way back), and spending the evenings in the backpacker haven that was our popular hostel, the Bearded Monkey (I met David from England, who, when I asked him to describe himself in three words, chose “kind sophisticated romantic,” which made sense since we proceeded to talk about God, love and best man speeches).

From Granada, Nicole and I bused down the West coast of Lake Nicaragua to the town of Rivas, and then took a small ferry over to the dual volcano island of Omatepe. We gave fake names and passport numbers to some more sketchy swine flu officials and then talked a taxi driver into a cheap fare to a beach on the isthmus that connects the two volcanoes of the island. We chilled on the beach for a day, attracting the unwanted attention of some Nicos who saw us dancing to Ranch music, and then bused to the north end of the island in search of the Volcan Conception. In the town of Moyogolpa we found Norman, a fantastic young local guy who led us up, explaining (in Spanish) about the white faced capuchin monkeys we saw in the trees, how his grandmother was around for the last eruption and how she uses guanacoste tree seed pods as soap. Luckily, it was windy, so the clouds and volcano gases parted for us to see an awesome view of the island and north coast towns. I enjoyed a big bowl of beef soup when we got down and we settled in for a nap on the plancha back to Rivas. The rest of the trip was uneventful…I bought some underwear two sizes too small in Rivas, we stayed at a smelly hostel where a smiling old woman named Soledad (picture on the right) entered our names in beautiful cursive into an ancient record book, and the following day we took a series of three buses and two taxis back to the Ranch.

What a trip! It was a whirlwind full of emotion as we dealt with unforeseen events on the trip and also processed the past five months we’ve spent at the inspiring, comfortable, challenging place that is Rancho Mastatal. By the next time I post, I’ll most likely be back in the States…can’t wait to see you all!