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Nicaragua

A Haircut at Laguna de Apoyo


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At the lake I cut his hair. I couldn't stop laughing at first because I was making a mess of it, but then I made myself calm down so I wouldn't end up snipping his scalp or my finger. I think we were both mildly excited. Chris kept taking pictures wherein I was alternately scowling and giggling. Meanwhile tuft after tuft of hair floated down, covering his back in a bear-like fur.

Before haircut

Before haircut


After haircut - I know, it needs work

After haircut - I know, it needs work

We were still going on about the haircut on our walk back up the crater when the three men with machetes overtook us. I remember a little flame of impatience flicker in me at the interruption, and then when the machetes were pointed at us and the men told us to hand over the bag, I thought, "Oh no, so this is happening," except not in words. Later on I was interested to observe that I felt no surprise at the moment. It was as if we had been stopped for a routine check. I even had the presence of mind to plead for the "llave de hostal," which would have been worthless to them. Chris added, "in the pequeño pocket." But the mugger shook his head no, almost afraid. They did just seem afraid more than anything else, as if they wanted no part in this either, but we had to go by them blithely with our backpack, and so they were obliged to...etc.

It was only when they left and we continued on our way that I heard my heart thundering in my ears. I told it (a bit contemptuously) to quiet down, and it did. Ou walk home was full of sighs and resignation. They left us our half gallon of water, which we dutifully carried home. They left us the dirty tissues in our pockets, too (not without checking first). I couldn't remember their faces, only flashes of red clothing, the impression of youth, the rusty, dull machetes. At the police station Chris was the only one who could provide any sort of physical description. I was surprised to learn that the one I should have gotten the best look at--I asked him for my key--had a mohawk I didn't notice. Another one was older with a round face, according to Chris, but I remember only a shape of a man, blurred or darkened as if at the edge of an image taken by a pinhole camera. We looked through hundreds of photos but did not spot our guys--or rather Chris did not because my mind was a blank. How silly I was, how useless.

But not so much was taken, after all. In a little while this will only be another story to tell. Maybe it already has become that.

Posted by chschen 16:00 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Midnight Ferry


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On Friday night after walking two miles in the thick, black heat to wait for 3.5 hours on a wooden bench in the ferry terminal, I wondered why we ever thought it was a good idea to take the 12:30 am ferry to Granada. But then we arrived in Granada just as dawn broke, and the relative ease with which we found a place to stay buoyed our spirits enough to carry us through the rest of the day. The hot, sticky day whose blessed morning coolness lasted not long enough.

There is some pressure to record everything, to remember it all. As if some debt is owed to the uniqueness of traveling such that we may live our entire lives in an indistinguishable blur, but if we lose or waste one moment of travel it's a damned shame. And thus I tell myself if you can't take a photo then at least make a mental snapshot so later you can gloss it up with words and much later you can say, Oh yes, I had almost forgotten, and then go soft-eyed and grateful about what a full life you've led.

Posted by chschen 16:00 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Tranquilo


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I am sitting on a bench outside our room watching two black piglets rooting in the clover. In the distance, Volcán Concepción's massive bulk is finally reappearing after days of obscurement. The faraway lake, whipped at the edges into a white froth, has turned a slatish blue. I can see a breeze but do not feel it. Nothing cools me.

On the bench I read Alice Munro and then Roberto Bolaño. Then I took a nap, woke up, and read more Bolaño. Chris apologized earlier for being sick and robbing us of a day of activities (he's napping now), but I am glad to be sitting here among the rustling leaves and nodding flowers and tinkling bells and tiptoeing chickens. All the pressure to get up and "do" gone. If I didn't sit here at least once amidst this glut of scenery, wouldn't that, too, have been a waste? Our favorite places are rarely our favorite places because we climbed a mountain or saw a waterfall but because of these rare moments of tranquility.

Posted by chschen 04:46 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Language Problems


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An odd end to an otherwise peaceful day:

After dinner tonight we went to the same restaurant as yesterday to order our piña licuado, but this time the proprietor was abrupt with us when we ordered. Yesterday his courtesy had been so elaborate and excessive it was nearly embarrassing. Tonight, as we were waiting for our order, I took out my camera to snap a photo of Chris; immediately, the proprietor approached our table and began speaking to us in a slow, adament Spanish that we nonetheless could not understand. We were stunned by the intensity of his gestures, which bespoke a controlled violence. Then he left our table without waiting for a response, and later we heard him cursing loudly in the yard.

During our long walk home, we tried to puzzle out what he might have said. Unaccountably, we could only remember the words "video," "grande," "consumo," and "pequeño." Trying to piece together the enigma of his fury distracted me from the vague feeling of menace that had crept into me. Yet, being meek, it also troubled me that we had unwittingly caused so much offense. We would not go again.

It seems to me that when you don't share a language with someone, sometimes your interactions lack consistency. A smiling, nodding woman one day can become sullen and impassive the next. Or someone who began warily can suddenly turn warm. I constantly feel at the mercy of others, and where we tend to go, our money, our business means little--maybe because we dole it out in such insignificant quantities. Yet, by and large, Isla de Ometepe strikes me as a welcoming place. Most people say "hola." Buying something is often rewarded with a "muchas gracias." Friendly, garrulous drunks abound. If only isolated incidents didn't tend to stick in my brain...

At any rate, tomorrow we will find another piña licuado place, and life will go on.

Posted by chschen 04:48 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

A Bit of Comfort


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When you are traveling you feel you must write about your day. Each day is special, never to be lived again, and if you don't record it, you have consigned it to oblivion. With the pressure mounting, a sort of mild panic sets in. You cast about for an imaginative way to describe what happened. Nothing comes. You wonder then if you are making the most of your time. You worry about worrying too much. Jesus, the inner dismissive Bryan in you says.

Today you moved from San Jose del Sur to Santa Cruz. The bus took you to the junction, and then you walked another four miles or so in the alternately muggy, alternately blazing heat with your heavy, uncomfortable backpack. For some reason you did not begin your familiar mental exercise of devising a way to lighten your load. Perhaps you were too hungry or too faint. You took in the lush, pastoral landscape with a weary, semi-indifferent eye (keeping the other eye trained on the road to avoid cow and horse patties).

But when you got to your hostel you thought maybe it was worth the trip because for the first time in a long while you have your own bathroom, which comes with such luxuries as a toilet roll holder, complimentary shampoo packets, and even your own towels folded into the shape of swans. Also, a mosquito net for the full-size bed, meaning that when you sleep tonight you will not have to place an extra sheet between you and Chris to keep your sticky bodies from touching in the too small mosquito net tent. You think to yourself incredulously, Could all this comfort really be for me? It is, and you take the time to smile befroe heading to the restaurant/reception area to check your email.

Posted by chschen 16:00 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

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