I stopped by the Nicaraguan owned “La Matagalpa” grocery store to grab snacks. Ever since I heard that the “Pali” grocery stores are owned by Wal-Mart, I try to find out which items are cheaper or equally priced at La Matagalpa. La Matagalpa is also where they sell the cheapest Flor de Caña rum, but they always seem to run out because of this fact. I thought about buying a bottle of wine to enjoy at the end of my hike, since that’s what my French host dad do when we went on our hikes in the mountains near Marseille. The cheapest bottle of decent wine here is about $6, and for my salary, that’s a lot. I’m no connoisseur of wine, since I would be happy enough to settle with Trader Joe’s three-buck chuck any day. I’m trying not to be broke by the end of the month these days, so I settled with an apple, pastries, and bananas.
I hurried back home to drink coffee from my precious little French Press (probably the most important item I brought with me to Nicaragua) and to slap on sunscreen on my face, since these days it’s my moisturizer of choice. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the back of the white school bus bound for Jinotega. Reggaeton music blasted from the speakers, as if to say “If you’re not awake by now, you will be! Goooood morning Nicaragua!”. The girl sitting next to me had a big red duffle bag and black, wide-frame hipster glasses. I asked her if she knew the bus would stop at the north entrance of the city so that Tim could hop on, and she said yes before putting on her headphones.
I’ve come to appreciate headphones more and more in this country. Listening to music can keep you entertained on the short bus rides, and it can block out (somewhat) the unabashedly loud salesmen who board the buses and yell as they explain why you should buy their anti-parasitic vitamins or why you should trust in the lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes I put in headphones without listening to music in order to give off the message that I don’t want to be disturbed. This way, I get a lot less men trying to holler at me when I’m walking down the street or sitting on a park bench. The machista culture perpetuates the idea that men are entitled to catcall, approach, and touch women whenever they so please, even when all women want to do is to be left alone. Few of them are actually flattered by it, but men think they are doing us a favor.
As the bus pulled out of the station, an energetic bible thumper ended his sermon and went around the bus, shaking people’s hands and patting them on the shoulder while saying “God bless you”. Here, it’s assumed that everyone is Catholic or Evangelical. Not believing in God isn’t really an option. If you’re atheist, you must just be depressed or confused. I’m spiritual myself, and don’t agree with organized religion, but I do believe there is a higher spirit out there. Maybe it’s God, maybe it isn’t. I might be confused, but it works for me.
Tim hopped onto the bus 10 minutes down the road, and we got off at the entrance to Selva Negra. Apparently, there is a lengthy dirt road between Selva Negra and the highway where thieves sometimes rob tourists who come on foot. A man with a green uniform and rifle ended up following us, and we realized that he was just a security guard who happened to be there to watch over us. We got to the entrance, and paid $4 for a card that we could use toward buying drinks at the restaurant. Tim and I walked through a gander of plump, orange-beaked geese that are famous for being anything but afraid of the guests who come here. We sat on the patio next to the lake and ordered Toña beers. Stein, the owner of a local hostel, joined us soon thereafter, and we chatted. “This is what you call hiking?”, joked Stein, as I added lime and salt to my Toña. I nodded and smiled, realizing that I’d never drunk anything before hiking. I was slightly buzzed when we took off for the first trail we saw, named “Bavaria”. Other trail names include “Tarzan”, “Romantico”, and “Peter and Helen”. I wonder where these quirky names came from.
Tim brought a fanny pack with speakers, but as he was hooking up Stein’s ipod to it, he realized that the batteries had died. I didn’t mind too much, since I wanted to be in a quiet, relaxing environment anyway. We went up and up through the cool forest, and got to a pretty steep segment. The ground was moist from the recent rain, and I ended up slipping several times. At one point it felt like I was rock climbing instead of hiking, since the hills were so steep and I was scrambling on all fours, hoping to latch on to any rock or root jutting out from the ground. We stopped halfway up a steep hill to catch our breaths, and I munched on a banana as Tim and Stein talked about the past, present, and future of coffee production in Nicaragua. I learned that the first coffee plantation in the country was actually in Carazo, on the Pacific side of the country, and that Nueva Segovia, a more secluded, northern province, produces the best coffee. Jinotega and Matagalpa produce the most coffee. Stein mentioned what he learned from a barista course he took recently, and gave me a few tips on using my French Press. He said that if there’s residue in my cup, that my water is too hot and that I’m not waiting enough time to let the coffee settle before pressing. I kept thinking about the delicious Selva Negra coffee I tasted the last time I was here, and how I wish I could buy the $9.50 bag from the gift store, but how insanely expensive that seemed to me as a volunteer. Maybe after I save some money I’ll feel less guilty about buying it.
Eventually, we reached the top of the hill with a view of the city. I didn’t have my glasses on, and it was far away, so I could barely make out the huge white Cathedral that marks the city’s center. This hike reminded me of all those hikes I’d go on in the hill country outside of San Antonio, Texas, only it wasn’t 103 degrees out and I didn’t need to have a half-gallon of water on me. Nicaragua is a hot country, but luckily, I can find respite in the cooler mountains. Tim and I sat on a broken bench that wriggled from side to side and I snacked on my Fuji apple. It’s the only kind of apple I like, aside from honey crisp apples…but they don’t have those here. I took in a deep breath because I knew that I couldn’t get air this pure down in the city. Since the city traps all of the smog, the air quality isn’t the best down there. We made our way down the mountain, past artificial stairs made of old tires. We passed fat, tall trees that were smothered by vines and that reminded me of the Seqouia trees in California. I remember having worked in the “desert” portion of that National Forest, and that it would take about a 2-hour drive before I actually saw any of the famously fat trees.
After slipping, falling, and sliding downhill, I finally understood why one of the trails was called Tarzan. At the end of it, there were old cabins and tire swings tide to the branches with bright blue ropes. The guys took a break to play football while I snapped pictures and played on the ropes. They tried throwing the football through the tires to one another. I just felt like a little kid in the jungle, and was happy that I came with Stein, because if he hadn’t come with us, I wouldn’t have come here. My legs were tired, but not yet shaky, as we made it back to the lodge area. We stopped to chat with a local painter, who was working on his oil-based mural of the mountain region on the side of a white house. I had thought the mural was completed when I came here three weeks ago, but he was still adding to it. I asked him how long it was taking him, and he said that it depended on the day, but it has taken over a month. Sometimes people invite him over for lunch, or come talk, but other times he just throws himself inside. When he said this, I asked “Oh, so is there a studio in the house?”. He laughed, shook his head, and explained that he throws himself into the painting. This is one of the many miscommunications I’ve had here.
On the ride back home, the three of us quietly listened to Stein’s Mexican-themed music. I was exhausted, and knew that I would be knocking out when I came home. As soon as I got home, I chugged some water, soaked some lettuce in bleached water for five minutes, and made a salad. Then, I ate some pasta with marinara sauce (and now, thanks to Raquel, I must add crushed clove to it). For desert, I had some more rice pudding. As I ate, I felt tired and accomplished, and I was happy I was able to go on a spontaneous adventure. I’m very comfortable in my city, but today reminded me that no matter how comfortable your home, it’s always a good idea to get out, even for a little bit. I ended the night by watching the Italian part of Eat, Pray, Love while eating toast with guayaba jam and Nutella. I was asleep by 8 o’ clock. And that, my friends, was my wild Saturday night.