If I’m going to be completely honest, I wasn’t all that excited to return to Nicaragua. My thoughts concentrated on the climate, the extreme heat and humidity that affects everyone differently and doesn’t do me well. I was hard on myself (as usual), thinking that I should have spent those weeks exploring new places I’d never been before, instead of returning to a country where I’d already spent so much time.
And then I was on a flight to Managua. And then I woke the next morning and I was in Matagalpa. I was staring out the door at my beautiful city, I was having a Nica breakfast with my Nica family. And I felt like I was home; it was as if I had never even left.
I jumped right back into taking cold bucket showers as if it’s the most natural thing in the world (which, it kind of is), and immediately became used to sweating my ass off every moment of life, feeling right at home eating rice and beans and corn tortillas every damn day.
I couldn’t even believe that I’d had those negative thoughts about returning – there is so much beauty in coming back to a place that you knew so well and where you made so many friends, family. Of course there are things that I had remembered about Nica that would be imprinted in my mind forever. But there are many things I discovered only in returning 14 months later – and it was worth it.
Worth it to re-remember the differences between here and Ecuador, to arrive to the bus station and hear them shout, Managua Managua Managua! with such fervent passion. Riding the bus, the skin of my back sticking to the warm leather seats of the converted school bus or to the very skin of the person squished in next to me, all of us standing and rotating like grinding gears to let someone get off or let the cobrador through.
To see that they’ve printed a new version of all of the Córdoba bills. To see that they finished painting the turquoise house along the hill where I took my morning run. To see my plants and how they’ve grown, the tiny Fanta can worn by the sun, and there’s a new wooden table on my patio. To see how the little boy next door has grown, changed, they’ve cut off his long curly hair. That his mother appreciates and wears the shoes I gifted to her when I was getting rid of clothing that no longer served me.
To see that they finally changed the name of the 24/7 convenience store after they had decided that it is not in fact open 24/7. To rediscover the best pacas in the city and shop for discounted and secondhand clothing brought down from the U. S. To see that same people still work at Cyberbless, the local cyber café where I always printed documents for work.
To learn that Doña Dórita also still wears the shoes I passed along to her every single day, and cooks the same recipes.
To find the same corner where they still have a stand that sells batteries and remote controls, and my favorite flowered hair clips so I could replace the one I’ve had for a year and just happened to lose while in Matagalpa again. To return to the “Guirilas Doña Cony” and take delight in sitting as the only foreigner in the dark dirt floored room that has the best guirilas in Matagalpa.
To hear that the birds still go crazy squawking on the telephone lines at dusk, a phenomenon I’ve only seen in Central America. To hear the sounds of Matagalpa, the songs of the street vendors, recognizing the ones I have imprinted in my mind and also learning new ones, heloooooote y tamaleeee!
To hear crazy Eloy coming around the corner before you see him, chanting his mad nonsense and shouting at those who dare pass right near him, carrying a large sack of who knows what just as he has been for who knows how many years.
In León it was the same – so familiar but with some nuances. They’d finished the park and re-done the lower floor of Cafe Rosita. They made a lot of renovations to La Olla (however, they did not spring to install toilet seats, thank God). There is a new green tree installed at the entrance to León, revealing the presence of President Ortega and an extension of his installations in Managua. They’ve installed a Pizza Hut as well as a McDonald’s -albeit nonchalant/hidden – reducing a bit of León’s charm of no chains. They’re redoing the market. Chele Loco wears a shirt now. They’ve redone Libelula too, and there is an air conditioned room now, hence them telling me “hasta mañana,” as I paid my bill, y con razón.
Some things never change. They don’t have their shit together at the movie theater. Nestor serves me my coffee refills at Desayunazo. When it rains, it pours, and the streets flood so much that you have to re-route to cross the streets on the way to movie night at La Olla. The sights and sounds of the Central Park: bells ringing on the ice cream and raspados carts, pigeons flocking for breadcrumbs, a woman and her daughter selling bags of sliced mango. The people at dusk on the street in their rocking chairs, singing Adiooos to the neighbors that walk by. A horse and carriage going by. A long line of people, including this here chela, at Tacos Alba Luz for what may be the best Nicaraguan tacos in town. The experience of taking the bus, squeezing into an interlocal with Nicas and other backpackers, to the soundtrack of the high-pitched voices of women selling cosas del horno and enchiladas.
And although some things will always be the same, some things are unchanged that saddened me. There’s a man who is still trying to make a living by selling hammocks in the park; I remember him from my very first day in León more than two years ago. Yet another reason to be grateful for what I have, where I am in my life and that I’ve moved, changed, grown, and developed my career since my last encounter with him.
I still knew my way around, once again, as if I’d never left – rediscovering familiar streets and making my way through them amid taxis and bicyclists, adapting to the shady sidewalks whenever possible, passing by a woman balancing a tray of goods on her head, her hands occupied by her own snack.
There are some things that are so Nica to me but that I didn’t realize or remember immediately, like the length of most women’s skirts – modest enough but knee length to
show their tanned, muscled calves. And there are the things that I constantly remembered while away, like the classic Nicaraguan lip point that’s a universal gesture for referring to something, or the silent nose scrunch, which means, ¿qué?
I practiced a lot of my old rituals like having coffee and toast with Nat every morning, but I also got to have new experiences. I celebrated Day of the Dead and went to the cemetery with Natali’s family, discovering that in Matagalpa they eat enchiladas, but typically it’s buñuelos that the people eat in León, where I’d celebrated the holiday two years previous.
I finally made it to the Cañon de Somoto, a beautiful canyon close to the border of Honduras, where I’d always wanted to go but never made it the first time around. I visited some places in a way I never had before, staying for three nights at Laguna de Apoyo when beforehand I’d only been there for a day; I’d not yet seen the sun rise there.
It was a trip (figuratively, and literally) to return to the bus station in Granada and hop on a chicken bus to Rivas – fourteen months prior, I’d been in the very same spot with my best friend Elle, and now I was accompanied by four new friends from Poland, Germany, Switzerland and Israel. Fourteen months prior, my beloved white tie-dyed sarong had flapped in the wind on a return ferry from Ometepe, and now it was drying on a porch chair in San Juan del Sur just a block from the beach where it had also accompanied me in morning meditation almost two years ago.
I realized, too, that it’s not just about the places, the land, the country itself. It’s about the people. One of my main reasons for going back in the first place was to visit all of the people that I know in Nicaragua. And there are more than I realized at first – although they may not be those who I consider as my Nica people on a daily basis, there are many acquaintances whose name I know, and who know mine, that I got to re-connect with. I deepened friendships with some friends who I never got to know so well, and I serendipitously ran into people on the street with whom I had no way of getting in contact. It was an amazing feeling to return to a country that’s not my own and feel at home – not only because of the place itself, but also because of its wonderful people, natives and foreigners alike.
My return to Nicaragua only confirmed for me that traveling is not about checking places off of a list. You can re-visit a country and have many new experiences, meet many new amazing people, discover many new things to love. I’ve done just that, and although Nicaragua’s not a country where I may ever live permanently again, now I feel as if I must continue to return, as it will always hold a special place in my heart.
besos ~ chels
P.S. To my readers – I apologize for the occasional un-translated Spanglish, sometimes that’s just how these words come out of me and it’s just not the same when I have to write it in both languages 🙂