How much you love your community depends on how wide the sidewalks are. Rebecca told me so. Apparently, there was a survey done to pinpoint what element of a city or town makes the residents most content to be there, and the variable with the tightest correlation with people´s happiness was: Wider sidewalks.
It makes sense. With a spacious sweeping sidewalk, one has the option to have a small or large personal bubble. You can cozy up next to whoever you´re taking a stroll with, or you can stay the hell away from everyone around.
Most importantly, there´s no bumping. Nothing is more aggravating than constantly slamming shoulders with your fellow pedestrians, or squeezing through a thick group of slowly ambling Nicaraguans… The very worst is when you´re walking along at a fast clip, just trying to get from Point A to Point B with the maximum efficiency, and- BAM. You hit a Wall of Nicaraguan. With the size of Leon´s sidewalks, this could be as little as one Nicaraguan. Your pace slows to an almost imperceptible crawl, at the most one tenth its former speed. You take a step. Then…. Another. You try to cut around them in the street but cars are zipping past. You surrender to the pace considered normal in Nicaragua and crawl along, silently cursing the backs of the torpidly trudging blockade infront of you, irrational anger building until you reach a corner and they go right. You go left- it´s the wrong direction, but the detour is worth the hassle… Until it all happens again.
Now imagine you´re on a run, and this happens every minute or so. There are no nice, green parks in Leon to run in. There are no trails weaving through fields or forests. There is no seaside footway nearby. There are buildings, people, motorized vehicles and other such moving contraptions that fill the roads, and chaos.
Additional hazards of running include: Falling in manholes; twisting your ankle on roots which rip apart the concrete of the sidewalks where sidewalk exist; smaller holes just big enough to sprain your other ankle; getting run over by a car, motocycle, bicycle, bus, camioneta, horse, or cow; heatstroke or death by dehydration; etc. All of which I have had the misfortune to experience in full or partial force.
Ah, Leon. In moments of frustration, the single most mood soothing thing to do is spend a couple hours at Pan y Paz, Leon´s French bakery. After months of experimentation and thought, I have landed upon Pan y Paz as the best place in Leon to relax. Smooth jazz sings in subtle corners, walls are in whites and subtle shades of lavander, archways surround a central garden open to the sky. The sun paints the dancing foliage and the walls calm orangey shades of sunset in the evening hours. Everything is clean, simple, and elegant. It´s my escape.
It seems to be the escape for many others as well- Pan y Paz is where Europeans come to mingle. Even when in a foreign country, one you´re visiting perhaps to escape your own home and culture, everyone is drawn to a familiar setting. Although I´m not French or European for that matter, I beleive spending a Little time there once in a while is critical for my sanity. I decided that after vacation, I would make a consious effort not to get too stressed out. Of course I can´t 100% control that. As was the case during my first trek from coming back…
It had been a month since I´d done El Hoyo last. At least. The last time I´d guided it I´d taken the wrong path twice. So I was nervous. It was just Lynn and I, which was great, because it meant a low stress environment and a fun companion. What concerned me was the lack of veteran guide back up just in case I got lost…. Oh yeah. I´m the veteran guide now.
At the Ranger Station, the group went volcano boarding and I scouted out the beginning of the trail, to make sure I could actually find it. Getting lost in the first five minutes of a trek would not be the best first impression. I did find it, but everything looked very, very different. In the last month, the weeks straddling March and April, dry season went from a gente argument to a full force delcaration of war. Since I had last seen the trailhead, half of the trees had gone, their leaves leached dry by the rattling death suck of Niacaraguan summer. What was once wooded shade was now cracked, exposed dirt.
To my great releif, we made it to the campsite in perfect timing and I didn´t miss a beat. It even took us the exact 1.5 hours I predicted to climb the first hill. Although Lynn and I forgot our tent´s ground cloth and both of our phones died, meaning we had to ask a client to wake us up at 5 (embarrassing), there were no hitches until we started on our way down after breakfast.
Again, everything looked different. Not just drier- everything was burnt. I knew there had been bush fires on Las Pilas because the Park Ranger had told me on the way up. It looked like El Hoyo had suffered an attack too- every other tree was burnt to a black, mangled crisp. The rest were dried to a crisp.
An hour or so in, we came across a roadblock. A towering pile of boulders, completely impassable. The path wasn´t right either- it was a wider hay covered strip that seemed as if someone had passed through with a monstrous mower. I scouted to the right, bushwhacking macheteless (I always figure a machete will do me more harm than good) through yellow grass and branches cracking and spiny with dehydration.
Found it. Ten minutes later, a ginormous tree lay in front of the path. I tried to squeeze through its horizontal trunk and branches... No way. We blazed our own trail to the right. We had had some bumps in the road, big ones actually, but I was still feeling good and confident; I knew I was on the right trail. Until… Oh wait. Maybe not. It wasn´t an epiphany or a sudden realization, but an uncomfortable, creeping sensation that we were not going the right way. The target for El Hoyo Day 2 is Lago de Asososca, to the left of Asososca and between the volcano and Lake Managua. Our trail was veering to the far right of Asososca´s towering figure. And no matter how much I tried to think positively, there was no sudden sharp left. We were heading into the unknown.
Finally, much, much farther than I should have allowed the group to stray, we hit a road. Definitely not normal. I stopped, turned, and gave Lynn that look that says ¨Help! I have absolutely no idea where we are! What should I do! Don´t tell the clients!¨ But they knew. We had a quick chat and I decided there was really only one option: Turn left. So we did. And thank the sweet Lord Jesus the road ran right smack into the fence of the farm we were supposed to find long ago.
I guess we really should have been walking inside the farm. But honestly, I didn´t remember a thing. So I led the group around the outside, hugging the barbed wire, following the ditch that ran along side it and was clearly not a trail.
But we had to find the trail! We had to find the trail to get to the snack spot to get to the way around Asososca… If I kept on walking along this fence I would end up in Lake Managua, lost, phoneless, and responsible for seven human beings. Quietly, secretly, I started to panic. I was almost hyperventilating. Using meditation techniques I had read about but never had the patience to try, I focused on my breath. It kind of worked.
And then, as if God reached down from the brutally blue sky and touched us, the path appeared from inside the farm, winding off to the right. Ten minutes later, we arrived at the snack spot. I almost groveled to the ground, but I was too disgusted by the state of our familiar stop. Once lush and leafy, the tree that always brought shade to our cracker consumption was now a pitiful mass of twigs. I grabbed ahold of the once succulent branch I usually hang on to stretch my back, but realized the pitifully brittle thing would break under any pressure. And there was absolutely no shade. My skin was burning to a crisp. There had been no shade all day.
It´s hard to encourage the clients when you´re about to pass out from heatstroke, but that´s being a volcano guide. The sky screamed at me from above and my skin screamed back. The lake below teased and teased. ¨Asososca. Asosoaka. Soak. Assoossoooaaakkkaaa…¨ Those were the only thoughts my brain could handle.
I have never appreciated a swim more. My body temperature returned to near normal, my seared skin was soothed, my muscles relaxed into a float. We had made it. After lunch, the goings were quick, the way back wasn´t burnt to a crisp and I actually knew which turns to take, and the bus showed up exactly on time to meet us. I was so, so relieved when the last client filed through the front door of Quetzaltrekkers at 4:00. The trip put into perspective what really matters: getting home safely. We were alive, happy, and I wasn´t sick. What I didn´t realize at the tame was that that would be my last trip, probably ever, to El Hoyo.