Nicaragua Postcard #5: The Blessing

So I’m sitting here in a beautiful hacienda and plan to climb into a hammock real soon. It’s quiet and I’ve had a BIG day. We are so close to the lake that I can hear it lapping on the shore even though there are no real competing noises from the shore. I’m sitting at this table post-dinner hanging out with an American guy named Andy (who owns a minor league baseball team in Washington, which makes him cool in my book). Andy I are bonded for life, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
At the other table, smoking and talking quietly, is a guy from Greece, a gal from Bulgaria, another gal from Majorca, Spain and one from Holland. This might be Dimitri’s entourage; he is very hot (“Como un MANGO!” as we say here).

I may have forgotten to mention that there are two or three major volcanoes within spitting distance.
There is also a burro wandering around along with the obligatory starving, beat-up looking dogs. The burro’s name is Fiona. I don’t know if the dogs have names. I’ve been warned not to pet them because they have giardia. That’s going to be hard. I probably already have giardia; I’ve been petting stray Nica dogs all week.

Today marks two important anniversaries for me: the first is a personal one with my Underworld Consort, DCM, and the other is with the Unitarian Universalist ministry. It was twelve years ago February 8th that I went before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee and sweated out my “one.” A happy and humbling experience. I still remember certain moments very well; of course what I remember best are all the glaring errors that I thought would cause the MFC to send me back for more preparation. My friend Mark, a student at Harvard Law School at the time, was with me, bless his heart. He is now an official do-gooder, fighting for human rights in the international court. I like to think that we both made good in our own ways.

This past weekend also marked the anniversary of my congregation’s gathering in 1642. Some of the original signers of the 1642 covenant had come over from England a few years earlier on a ship called “The Blessing.” I just love that. I have been thinking about my dear church a lot this week.

But today I woke at 6 AM to the sound of roosters crowing and decided that if I was every going to get to Isla Ometepe, it would have to be this morning. I was full of resolve and so sad about leaving my Nicaragua family and the wonderful town of San Juan del Sur that I had to stay focused and get packed. I went out into the morning to take one last turn around the town, say my goodbyes to some locals, get a pile of money from the ATM, and pick up a bunch of banana-chocolate muffins from El Gato Negro for the kids. The wind was still pretty high but not nearly as bad as it has been, so I figured the ferries would be running.

Haycel, one of my Nica sisters, served as taxista for my German housemate Alex and me and we arrived at the ferry terminal by 10:15 (for our 10:30 ferry) to see waves smashing onto the shore. Mild consternation. There was no big, new ferry in sight ( I have a video of this moment that I’m having trouble uploading, but I’ll include it when I can). What to do but wait it out? Word came quickly that there would be no ferry; waves were reaching heights of ten feet.

While Alex went off to find some breakfast, I (after having taken a Dramamine) fell asleep on my bags for awhile. I woke at about 11:30 and ate a delicious cup of comfort food being sold by some kindly abuelitas — some kind of delicious rice pudding they obviously make at home, put into Dixie cups, and come sell at the ferry terminal.

Travelers chatted amongst ourselves in a variety of languages. “Do you think they’ll go?” “Will you go in one of the little lanchas?” “I think it’s too dangerous.” “Do you think it’s too dangerous?” “Did you hear that the big ferry almost capsized last week?”

I made the acquaintance of a nice guy from Spokane, Washington named Andy and we tossed around the idea of crossing the lake on one of the little death buckets, also known as “pequena lanchas.” I looked at one of them, LA REYNA DEL SUR (Queen of the Ocean, my, how grand!) sloshing up and down on the surf. And I thought, “What the hell.”

San Juan del Sur 095
I exchanged my ticket for the “good ferry” (60 c, or approximately $3) for a 30c ticket on the death bucket. I gamely strapped my on my knapsack, hefted my overnight bag in hand, plunked my silly sun hat onto my head and pulled the geeky strings to hold it tight, and walked over to the gang plank. An enormous wave hit me in the back even before I got on the boat and I almost turned back. Andy called from inside the boat, kindly: “You changing your mind?”

And then I thought of those passengers on board The Blessing who crossed the Atlantic Ocean under similar conditions and thought, “Well, it’s about an hour’s trip. They have my name on a list. If I drown, I drown. Margaret Fuller drowned. I’d be in good company. What the hell. Why waste the Dramamine?”

I braved the gangplank, and then I boarded La Reyna, cramming my tush next to Andy and some other Washingtonians. We were the only gringos on board for awhile, but as the next hour passed (we sloshing up and down with the anchored boat all that time), the boat became extremely packed with Nicaranguesas and other travelers from all over– mostly the backpack set.

I asked someone if they had an empty bag I might use to vomit in should the need arise. They were kind enough to comply:

San Juan del Sur 092
(So prepared, just like a Boy Scout!)

So how was the crossing after all?

It was terrible. It was insane. The boat smashed around on the waves and women screamed as though we were on a ride at Seven Flags. We lurched left. We lurched right. The engine roared, chugged, died, then roared again.

But Miss Weinstein has learned a thing or two in the past year, and she knows how to breathe now. And so I breathed. I kept my eyes closed (if I opened them for even a brief moment, I was overcome by dizziness and nausea). I breathed. I was glad for the fresh air blowing on my clammy face. When the woman sitting directly behind me vomited, I reminded myself that I was not obligated to join her. Someone cut open an orange or a lemon and I inhaled deeply of the scent. I massaged the pressure points for nausea relief on the pad of my thumb. I thanked God for Dramamine. I felt my bowels shake loose in my nethers, and I breathed.

We rode — if that’s the word for it — for two hours, and I breathed and in my inner eye I focused on an ice cool horizon. As we neared the island, the waters grew calmer and I realized that I
felt really fine. Fine enough to open my eyes. Fine enough to exchange a few “how are you” phrases with my companero. Fine enough to open a pack of baby wipes in my purse and give one to the woman who had vomited into the lake.

Me, the Travel Whimp. I made it.
This is a whole new competency for me, and that’s really gratifying.

I got off the boat on a pair of sturdy legs and quickly obtained the services of a taxista for myself and three other travelers to the same hotel (Andy and the other two Washingtonians). I negotiated a good price, and we settled in for what I thought would be the easy ride of the day. Bwa. Ha. HA!

However, this next part isn’t about me, it’s about my taxista Edelma who maneuvered us in an ancient Nissan over the worst “roads” I have ever seen in my life. These aren’t roads. They’re rock pit paths with treacherous craters every few yards, surrounded on both sides by fascinating flora, fauna and wildlife both domesticated and not. As Edelma illustrated that driving can be a kind of martial art, I hung out the window waving at people in shacks, horses, quetzal birds (they really are magical), pigs, dogs, cattle, oxen, and fruit trees that baffled all of us (“Now what the hell could THAT be?”).

At one point as we chunked along at 15-20 mph, a woman took a dramatic fall off of a bicycle while a man rushed to her assistance, right in the road ahead of us. I spotted bad acting right away. “DO NOT STOP,” I ordered Edelma. She slowed down. “NO ALTO. NO ALTO. ESTE ES UNA MENTIRA,” I told her. “But I saw blood on that woman,” one of my backseat companions mildly protested. “I don’t care,” I said. “This is a classic ruse. If we stop we’re going to get robbed. Keep driving.” I had read about this exact thing in the guidebooks and we did all note that no one else stopped, either. If that was a real injury, I’m sorry. But my traveler’s instinct tells me that it was 100% hooey.

At long last we arrived at this paradise, Isla Ometepe. There’s nothing else you need to know except that you probably are capable of doing things you have told yourself for years you just can’t do. You’re just not that kind of person. Or so you think.

Well, I’m a chicken-guts whimpy traveler with a bad stomach who would NEVER take anything but the biggest, most safe ferry across an enormous lake — especially when the winds are high. But what do I know?
This is me after my adventure, this is how I feel, raggedy wind-blown hair, burnt nose and all:

San Juan del Sur 107

Who knows? Maybe tomorrow I’ll CLIMB A VOLCANO!

San Juan del Sur 098
(The view the lake near my room)

As it says in one of my most favorite Lena Horne songs, “Now go out and get yourself some LIVE, you hear?”

6 Replies to “Nicaragua Postcard #5: The Blessing”

  1. How empowering! What an adventure! I have Sinatra in my head singing … “Hallelujah! gonna dance, gonna fly, I’ll take a chance riding high, Before my number’s up, I’m gonna fill my cup, I’m gonna live, live, live, until I die!”

    You rock.

  2. Wow! What an adventure! And way to keep your wits about you and avoid being robbed…it’s one thing to read about robbery tricks, but it’s another to remember and act. Congrats, and best of luck exploring the island and volcano!

  3. Yes, what an adventure!

    I bet the story about the ferry-trip will end up in a sermon at some stage. 😉

    Blessings and many great encounters on your sabbatical.

  4. oh my – I remember the toll the windy roads of Guatemala took on your tummy.. glad you made it to dry land. [Don’t I know it! Of course it helps that when I started my day I hadn’t been deathly with some intestinal nightmare. But it also gave me a strange confidence to know that, when it comes down to it, I’m very practiced at barfing in a moving vehicle. Wish you and S. were here… maybe next year?? – V]

  5. Oh, PB, such good news from you. One of the best things about traveling is doing the things that make you Afraid, that make you Shake in your Boots, that make you Sick and Spinny and Wonder What in the Sam Hell You Were THINKING. Those are the best parts of travel. We give ourselves up to to the saints, to God, to the guardian angels of travel, and we Live, with a real, honest-to-God, capital L. And that glow on your face is what makes it all worth it, and makes us hold our heads high.

    Happy Anniversary, and you are most definitely Doing Good in our world, so thank you so much. You are (as we all are) a Blessing. <3

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