viernes, 13 de enero de 2012

December 31: My first day in Nicaragua. After working full time in Madison for 6 months, I begin my gap year adventure with three months volunteering for Quetzaltrekkers, a nonprofit org that guides backpacking trips up volcanoes. 100% of the profit goes towards street kids. For my first week in Nica I'm traveling with my mom and visiting my host family from Amigos summer '09.

It’s New Years Eve. I write by dim yellow streetlight, crossed by shadows of wrought iron balcony rail. Below my perch, motos race through the narrow Nicaraguan street and boisterous shouts roll forth into the humidity. A gigantic silk Nicaraguan flag flaps lazily about me in the breeze, fireworks crack overhead. The stagnant air is almost stifling in its humidity and adds to my limp drowsiness. I have a right to be tired though; I was up at 5 this morning and have been traveling all day.

I woke at 5 to 30 degree Chicago air. Now I’m in Granada, sweaty, amidst the crashes, bangs and screeches of the  Nicaragua new year. At around 3 today I stepped out of the airport and Nicaragua hit me with a blast of supersaturated color, green, blue, yellow, red, dripping with pigment like a photo shopped picture. My brain feels about the same way: oversaturated; overwhelmed. As our plane made its way from El Salvador, Nicaragua gaped up at us through eyes of monstrous forested craters, overgrown dormant volcanoes like giant Jurassic potholes.
Stepping from the plane, the first thing I noticed was the smell. It is achingly familiar; I was at once flooded with memories from Apompoa both welcome and unwelcome. My mind keeps wandering to my first couple weeks (Nicaragua summer 2009) when I wasn’t yet adjusted and everything felt strange and claustrophobic. 

 The airport runway in chi city

El Salvador

Mama and I sofrigginjacked

 From the plane window- giant crater. not sure which one yet!

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, but has the smallest population. It’s hard to believe that in this bustling city though- my eyes search in vain for the vast spaces I’ve grown accustomed to, in the Midwest especially. It’s incredible how no matter how much you prepare yourself mentally, no matter how ready you believer yourself to be, landing in a completely new place is utterly disarming and disconcerting at a visceral level. This is my familiar Nicaragua, with its humid smells and garbage pile smoke, its double rider bikes, open door houses and hazy distant volcanoes, but it’s so different all the same, and I’ll have to get used to it again.

Mama and I spent a surreal evening wandering the streets of downtown Granada speaking in an addling slur of Spanish, German and English. Granada is alive at night with busy euro cafes and scores of gringos sitting outside with bottles of toña, their faces lit up by strange soft Christmas lights. There is a Christmas tree in the middle of the square, looking out of place in the tropical climate. Colonial cathedrals, ancient and majestic, hold mass with doors open to anyone and everyone. Everyone smiles, laughs. We feel completely safe. Even the water is safe to drink here, or it better be. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad sign that I’m already drinking the water…

GRANADA- view from hotel window.

Despite positive vibes everywhere I turn, I’m getting small but unwelcome panicky pangs in my stomach- why am I nervous? I guess it’s just the first day. We leave tomorrow morning already for Rivas, then Potosí, then Apompoa. Back, por fin, and it all feels like a dream. I feel like our itinerary for the first week is rushed and my overstuffed brain can’t handle it all. On our hour long van ride from the Managua airport to the terrasol hotel, I realized with biting clarity how alone I suddenly felt, because I'm the gringa again, I’m the outsider again, and no one around me can really understand that.  I can’t believe I’m going to be here for the next 6 months- Wisconsin feels really far away.

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