A quick game of catch-up…

The classes in Las Salinas de Nahualapa went pretty well. They were good kids, all very attentive, even taking notes for the most part, but getting them to talk was harder than a mango pit baking in the sun. (I have those on the brain right now.) After class one tall fellow shyly asked when my next lesson would be, which made my heart swell, then shrink when I told him there wouldn’t be one.

My room in Las Salinas, far better than village average
because of the concrete foundation (normally dirt). (Behind,
not the palapa with hammock.)

Las Salinas was nice, and I enjoyed being off the tourist loop, but the need to be in Bogota by the end of next month combined with the nightly process of killing bed bugs to have me up early Saturday morning for the bus out. I managed to be fairly cavalier about the bed bugs, convincing myself there weren’t many (as if I don’t know better) and I had a better situation than anyone else in town, but that got harder to maintain when I turned off the light and lay down…and every shift of air made me turn on the flashlight to check my ankles.

I told the farm folk I was leaving the next morning, and Karen-from-New-York wanted to head to Isla de Ometepe too, so she met up with me the next morning. We asked Jaconda, my hostess, when the next bus would arrive, and she pointed at the road “right now.”

I flung my toothbrush in the bag, and my farewells to Jaconda’s family over my shoulder, and ran out to the bus, my shirt unbuttoned and flip flops flapping. A few dusty bus hours, in which I wrestled between the urge to guard my bag versus giving up the seat for standing women and elders, then we were on a “lancha” boat on Lake Nicaragua.

It was definitely a boat for work, not show. (Just like the dogs.) It seemed somehow more handmade than any other boat I can think of; three men raised the anchor by hand, no winch system here, no words of communication or coordination necessary; a leathery man with a square jaw pumped the bilge with a chipped tree branch for most of the crossing. There was a space in the middle for baggage, loaded with one of those ubiquitous plastic carry-all bags, a stack of a dozen bicycle tire rims, and a decrepit cardboard box that was originally for 20 pieces of pork, 19.5 kg, though its present contents are anyone’s guess.

Finca Magdalena and Volcan Concepcion,
not the one I hiked.

The other tourists on board stare ahead at the panorama of the island’s two volcanoes, the locals prop themselves against something and fall asleep.

We haggle a seat in the shuttle bus waiting at the dock and end up at Finca (farm) Magdalena, a coffee plantation cooperative of 24 families with a hostel in the old barn/farmhouse. The floors are creaky and evocative, the bathrooms are in the converted stable, and howler monkeys out back get riled up at dawn and dusk.

Howler monkeys chillin’ in the heat

Anyone hearing howler monkeys for the first time would be forgiven for asking “There’s a Hollywood sound stage in the middle of the jungle? What kind of monster movie are they rehearsing? Dinosaurs?” “Howler” monkey is not really the most accurate name, but “Demonically Grunting Monkey” is less euphonic.

The nightly bug apocalypse

There is an amazing density of large flying, clicking, crashing insects every night, and every morning one is greeted by an insect apocalypse on the bathroom floor. A smiling man sweeps them into a pile of impressive iridescence after he empties the garbage cans in each stall of the used toilet paper (which is never flushable in Nicaragua). Inside one of the stalls is written (in Dutch no less) “spitter spieter spaaater, het is poep maar het lijkt als waaaater.” Do you need me to translate that for you? (“Lijken” means “to look like”…)

Another accommodation option.

My room was decently sealed against bugs, but luckily there’s a fan. The best anti-mosquito measure here is to sleep with a decent breeze running over you. There was a mosquito net hanging from the roof…but it wasn’t large enough to span the bed, and had a gaping hole in the top, right under the insect-magnet of the light, which would result in a virtual insectile highway when used in combination. Instead I used neither, staying outside until bedtime then operating by flashlight, as briefly as possible.

Volcan Maderas, the one I hiked.

The volcano hike was strenuous, followed by a long day of walking to and from the beach, stepping over the surprising density of dead fish on the sand, most of whose faces had been eaten off by the spoiled vultures lurking overhead. One decent sized eagle/falcon of some sort was around too, though it flew off in a huff when I called it a chicken for being so camera shy.

The return ferry (named after Che Guevara no less) was bumpier, crossing a lake with whitecaps and waves that look you eye to eye over the rail, yet somehow manage to never do more than speckle us with droplets. (The lake is rougher than most, since the wind sweeps in off the Pacific, then crashes into the Caribbean trade winds over the lake.)

A rush through Rivas including a visit to the single most unfriendly post office I have ever seen (and that is saying something) at which the lady takes my money and postcards, then flings the latter under the counter, without putting on any stamps. (So K, padres, brother, sister, Ed, and Jen, let me know if your post card ever arrives).

Then it was a hurried goodbye to the French couple (see next blog, hopefully) and Karen as I climbed onto my bus, though Karen jumped on a minute later to pass me a pork taco, which carried me over until Costa Rican dinner, and went perfectly with the little baggie of chocolate I’d just bought.

All the details and experiences are beautiful, but it’s the people one meets and friends one makes that are the highlight of traveling.