Saturday, August 23, 2008

Revisiting Nicaragua: Part 4

Sunday 17 August 2008
I didn’t sleep well and couldn’t quit feeling uneasy. Rob was trying very hard to be cheerful and I was trying very hard not to say anything about how awful I felt because I had assured him that I would accept whatever happened with Eduardo.

We had a slow start to the morning and then Rob decided that I needed to go to San Ramon to climb the waterfall, to cheer up. So we set out for San Ramon. When we arrived at the Biological Field Station (the entrance to the waterfall hike), we were pleasantly surprised to find Don Alberto there—the BFS chef I met more than 4 years ago and who once snuck me a scoop of rum raisin ice cream just for a treat. He seemed as happy to see us as we were to see him. He inquired about our health and the health of our families, as is the custom in Nicaragua. We were lucky to have caught him at the field station—he explained that later in the day he would be returning to his home in Estelí, like he does every year when the summer field courses are over.

So Rob and I set out to climb the waterfall. Its not too difficult of a hike, but it is 3km straight up the volcano, so it does get tiring. Its beautiful though. I realized that this is the 6th time I’ve done it, but nothing every compares to how beautiful it was when I climbed it the very first time.

There had been an earthquake in June of this year that caused a terrible landslide pretty much on top of the waterfall. Just over 2km into the hike, the path was completely eroded and disappeared altogether in a tangle of fallen trees. The only way to get there was straight up: climbing over slippery boulders in a stream not quite knee-high. There always was a bit of rock climbing at the end, but nothing quite like this. I was pretty sure I was going to die. The climbing was complicated by the fact that we didn’t have a backpack and had gone up carrying our things and therefore did not have free hands. We ended up going just until we could see the waterfall from a distance, admiring it for a few seconds, and then beginning the journey back down. I don’t know if it was because we were so far away or if the landslide had partially destroyed it, but the waterfall only seemed to have a glimmer of its former glory.

On our way down, we saw 2 Nicaraguan women (one of them elderly) ascending barefoot, holding their flimsy sandals in their hands. “Is it worth it?” the younger woman asked (I was proud of myself for understanding this phrase after having heard it on SpanishPod months ago). I told her that it was. Afterall, life is about the journey.

I felt pretty good on the descent, which is surprising since I suck at descending mountains or otherwise going downhill for any reason. I think my main motivation was to get back to sea level and go to Chico’s (a guy’s house where they sell beer if they’ve got any), and I’d sort of convinced Rob that we could get lunch there even though he didn’t think they usually sold food.

When we got back to the field station, Don Alberto was there, and so was Lucilla (one of Simeon’s daughters, who works as a cook at the BFS now). Alberto brought us both into the kitchen and he fixed me a glass of cold water and let Rob fill up our water bottle from the cooler. We talked some more and then got ready to leave. As we headed down the road, someone came hurrying from the kitchen and gave Rob a plastic baggie full of tiny bananas—just a bit bigger than a person’s thumb. It was a gift from Don Alberto. Sometimes it definitely pays to have connections.

We headed onto Chico’s another ¼ mile down the road. By then it was past 1pm and we were hungry. When we got there, Chico’s daughter seated us at a table. I was pretty sure she remembered me, but just in case, I told her that I was a student of Pablito’s (a statement which can open many doors on Ometepe). I asked her if they had anything to eat. She looked doubtful and said she would ask her mother. A moment later, Chico’s wife emerged and said that all they had was rice and beans and some kind of meat. I told her we were vegetarians, so just the rice and beans would be fine. I also asked for a beer, which may have horrified her because I’m a female and it was a Sunday at 1pm. But still. A trip to Ometepe is not complete without a cold Toña at Chico’s. A few minutes later, she brought out the Toña and two plates of rice and beans and steamed plantains. I put chili sauce on mine and it was great. I reminded Rob that he should be amazed at me for getting him lunch by pretty much just walking into somebody’s house and asking for food. He agreed that he was indeed amazed and admitted that he’d had reservations about my plan because it seemed like the kind of thing I would chicken out of at the last minute and make him do the asking.

It ended up being a very good day for Chico’s business because not too long after, some Spanish tourists who’d also been climbing the waterfall came by. They saw our Toña and plates of food, and they came in and asked for the same. We talked to Chico and his wife some more (I may have started the rumor that Pablo is coming back to visit in January), and then we asked for our bill. The grand total was 56 cordobas, which is around $3.00 for two meals plus a beer. I was immensely proud of myself for finding us such a cheap meal. We left them a nice tip.

Later in the afternoon back in Merida, we had a surprise visit from Joël, a French Canadian friend who just happened to be passing through. Joël was the first teacher of the English classes in Merida, and he knew Eduardo well, so I used the opportunity to get some inside information on the situation. He said what he’d heard was that Eduardo and his mother were not getting along well, that Milena’s husband (Eduardo’s stepfather) didn’t’ like Eduardo, and that there had been a lot of problems. Eduardo’s relatives in Pul had convinced hi to come live with them to get him out of the situation. Joël also said that Eduardo could be a bit of a trouble-maker at school and had earned the reputation of an instigator. As a result of everything he felt unwelcome in Merida: he did not want to be here because he didn’t get along with the other children or his mother and he generally avoided ever coming back. Joël said it had been hard on Milena, as she’d told me, to let her son go. As I can imagine it would have been.

I can’t dwell on it though. I have to think that Eduardo’s grandmother knew what was best for him and brought him to live with her. As much as I would wish to adopt him, it wouldn’t be the best thing for him. In Pul, he is with his relatives and other people who speak the same language and have the same knowledge of the world as he does. He can still be a volcano guide when he grows up (he still said that was what he wanted to be). Even if I could somehow bring him here, he’d just have Rob and me, and when the bone-chilling cold of winter set in, he would surely regret ever having left his home.

Its only Sunday evening, but I’ve already done everything I needed to do and seen everyone I came to see. We decided to leave in the morning, so tonight we began saying our goodbyes. For a long time we talked to Simeon. Rob gave him a t-shirt, and he thanked us profusely. He told us not to wait too long to come back again, lest he should become a spirit of the forest like Wrinkle Belly. When he saw the look of horror on my face, he threw his head back and laughed.

We told Sonja that we would be leaving in the morning, and she went to a cabinet and got out a little thing wrapped up in a bag. She explained that it was gift from Leda. Leda had told her to give it to me if she didn’t’ make it back before we left.

It was a little wooden plaque that says “Con amor de Nicaragua” (With love from Nicaragua), painted with a lovely bright scene and with hooks to hang your keys. I couldn’t’ believe it. She must have gotten it on one of her trips to Granada while she was taking care of Al and Esther’s baby. In such an uncertain world, when mercurial bosses could fire you at any moment and you never know where your next cordova is coming from, a gift like this has true meaning.


Anonymous said...

That's a Cool photo of you both with the WATERFALL in the background..... and that is one handsome DUDE 'with a plate full of food;!!! Did you find him at the waterfall??????>:) What a perfect little gift from leda...... something to HANG your keys on, so you will always know where they are!!!!! She must have known !!!!! luv you, foxymama

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