Back! Back from vacation from working, from Leon, and from internet access; consequently, the last two weeks have graced me with a vacation from blogging as well. It was a much needed vacation. So needed, in fact, that I was compelled to finagle myself out of working the three or so days before my time off was scheduled to commence. I got out of a Cerro Negro trip out of feeling sick, and then strategically rearranged my office shift to fall on the day of the optional La Rota training trek, sadly forcing me to skip that one too. I was scheduled for El Hoyo on the 6th and the 7th, and found out that Tom (whose visit was the reason I took off time on those particular dates), was actually coming on the 7th so I bailed on that one too. Good thing I jumped ship early; right after my name was officially wiped off the schedule Janet fell ill and Nils found out he had a friend visiting on that day too. Annika ended up going to fill a spot, which completed a run of six days straight of trekking for her, including a Full Moon trip. Rough. But I was free!
Unfortunately just hanging around the Quetzaltrekkers house not actively working on a project is like having a sign around your neck blaring: “I’m here and not doing anything! I’m available to help! Quick, give me something to do!” On Tuesday I was wrangled into visiting Las Barilettes (one of the street kids projects) with Andrew, which actually ended up being far more enjoyable than my previous visits because I got to play with the really little kids. In contrast to the orderly tables for the teenage crowd in front, the inside of Barilettes is a chaotic jumble of kids running about the room, wrestling under tables, fighting over the very few picture books available, and reading out loud simultaneously. In rare cases they sat quietly and attempted to study. I leapfrogged between tutoring geography, spelling, reading, math, and instigating vicious tickle fights. At four a piecing bell confused us and prompted the once chaotic mess of kids to form an orderly line behind the kitchen door for... lunch? dinner? Quetzaltrekkers is, as far as I know, the only source of funding for food at Barilettes, so it was a bit of a shock to see the pitiful meal served: Half a cup of sloppy spaghetti noodles, no silverware. After a bit of calculation Andrew and I realized that with our funding each kid was allotted next to nothing per meal; we will probably have to increase our donations.
That night Julia, Jelmer, Lynn and I went to the beach for what was my first Oceanside overnight. A load of lumber and several mattresses were waiting to be transported to Quetzal Playa, so Victor came with his truck; the mattresses were kind enough to leave us room to hitchhike. Julia and I sat in the back for the half an hour ride. The full moon glowed over darkened fields blurred as we zipped along the breezy night highway. We went straight to dinner at a “comedor”, which boasted rare cheap options; the beach is generally expensive. Moments after ordering our food, the power went out. We groaned, knowing very well that although the kitchen was mostly gas fueled, our dinner would not likely take hours to make now. the staff seemed to have but one flashlight, and they directed it toward the tables instead of the kitchen. It seemed to be inadequate preparation for the frequent brown outs we have here.
Jelmer and Julia went back to the hostel on the premise of getting headlamps and cards, and returned with two beers for Jelmer (he had already gone through two in the time we waited) and no lights. Eventually a huge Nica staggered drunkenly into the comedor. Vested in a football jersey, he probably weighed at least 300 pounds and looked as if he could crack my skull with two fingers. A liter tona swung in his right fist, and his pockets bulged with what looked like a couple knives. He made his way around the room, stumbling up to each table to explain how he was going to start a fight and going through each move in exaggerated detail. “And then I take is head like this and wham! With the elbow” etc. (although of course in Spanish). He started to worry us when he took up a position in the darkened corner and began shadow boxing and miming taking shots at our table with an invisible hand gun. There was a tense moment when he drew the knife like object from his back pocket with a dramatic sweep; we realized it was a harmonica. He went on the play some truly terrible tunes, a no less bothersome activity. Shortly before our food finally arrived, we saw that he indeed had a knife. He was escorted out after drawing it and flicking it around the room.
We had ordered comida corriente (rice, beans, tortilla) for 40 cords, or just under 2 dollars. When our food appeared it was surprisingly fancy and delectable, but I wasn’t complaining. It wasn’t until we paid the bill that we were informed that they had run out of comida corriente and in its place had served us fish fillet, a dish which cost over triple the price. There was a heated exchange over the lack of transparency but in the end we handed over the money, conceding to the simple fact that we’re in Nicaragua and almost nothing turns out how you expect it to.
Tom rescued me from QT clutches on the afternoon of the 7th, and finally I was officially on vacation. Showing him up to my “home sweet home” in the loft made me first really notice the filth I have been living in. My quarters aren’t cluttered; just plain dirty. As is typical in Nicaragua, our house is open to the sky in a couple spots, and they happen to be situated right next to the loft. The wind blows dust, leaves and dirt onto my floor, bed, and clothes constantly. My toiletries accumulate a layer of dust from one day to the next. Shoes are a necessity for crossing my floor. Truth be told, I’m getting a little fed up of it. Sitting on my tiny bed as Tom unpacked, I vowed to cave in to luxury and move in to one of the rooms scheduled to free up upon my return from vacation.
In my disgust I decided a hostel was necessary. The only place with vacancies was Guadabarranco, a small hostel lacking atmosphere and with spartan rooms. Tom and I spent the evening perusing the streets of Leon. As I stood trying in vain to re-decipher Leon’s famous mural of the history of Nicaragua, a street kid I know popped up and started explaining the stories in more detail than I frankly had patience for. It turned out he wanted money for shoes for his chemistry class. There had been problems with kids burning their feet with chemicals, so shoes were made mandatory. We spent an hour or so scouring the town for any shoe stores still open, but it was too late in the day. Our mission looked beak; I asked the kid how much shoes cost. He told me 250, which is over 10 dollars. I figured he could find shoes for cheaper and I didn’t feel comfortable handing over all that money. I gave him 100 cords and left it at that.
Tom had mentioned the ocean enough times over the last few weeks that the beach was obviously a must. We spent the next day at Quetzal Playa and at lunch with Lynn on the sand. I swam out farther than ever and floated in the rolling blue thinking, staring out at the horizon. On my way back I felt a sharp sting on my back- Jellyfish?! I swam with all my might to shore as it continued to burn but then faded after 10 minutes or so. I was overjoyed to hear Cindy’s diagnosis: a baby jellyfish sting! It was a win win situation: I could say I had been stung by a jellyfish, but it didn’t hurt enough to actually pee on it. (The advised cure).
The day slipped through our fingers like the sand. Lynn left in the afternoon and with the precision of only a German talked us through how to catch the bus on time: The sun sinks below the horizon at exactly 6:00; the colors are at their peak of vibrancy at around 6:15; and at 6:30 the best is behind you and it’s time to wait on the curb for the 6:45 bus.
The night was young yet: It was Thursday night, synonymous for salsa night at La Olla Quemada. We tried and tried to make like a Latino; we failed in style but succeeded in having a great time. It was our last night in Leon and I was psyched for the next day’s planned escape.