5/30 /19– 6/9/19
By the time we arrived in Granada, on the thirtieth of May, my rear hub was trashed. In the preceding three or four days I’d been hearing intermittent clicking; like a plastic fork being snapped in half. Eventually it became a persistent and oppressive grinding and I knew it was the bearings. Somehow I’d spaced on repacking the grease for ten thousand miles. I wandered the streets. People pointed me to where they thought there were bike shops, but they were never there. Eventually I found one, but it didn’t do repairs. They sent me to another that did repairs but they didn’t have bearings. They recommended Richard. I wandered a desolate part of town but couldn’t find him. There were some women on a corner.
“Hola chicas. Yo busco para Richard, el mecanico de bicicletas.”
One was his wife. She tried to sell me some bread.
“Quieres pan? Es muy rico!”
I told her all I needed was a mechanic. She motioned around the corner. I found him and after the overly formal formalities of Central American greetings I mutter something about my bearings. He snatched the wheel from me and sat cross legged on the ground with it. I was impressed with how malleable his sixty five year old knees were. He grabbed a fifteen millimeter Craftsman wrench from an old coffee can. The chrome was far beyond worn off and the end appeared to have been worn down on a bench grinder so he could sneak it into some of the more bashful areas of a bike. He cleaned the internals, packed them with grease, replaced the little silver balls, and handed it back. I held it by the locknuts and gave it a spin. The grinding was gone, although I knew the races were damaged so it was only a matter of time before the noise returned. It would get me to Costa Rica though.
"50 cordobas" he says. A dollar fifty. I gave him double and told him we were set.
Soph had received a note the previous day which informed her that the Government of the United States of America deemed her to be in compliance with all of the rigorous requirements it imposes to become a citizen. She would fly back to Utah in a week for the oath taking ceremony. Our original plan had been to use Granada as a base and take a few busses to the towns along the Pacific and maybe get the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. With the proverbial stick in the spokes we took a bus to Laguna de Apoyo, a lake in the crater of an old volcano. There, we spent a few days laying in hammocks, kayaking, sipping rum, toasting the land of the free, and discussing Greek mythology.
"Trojan seems like a bad name for a condom"
"Holy shit you're right"
"Yeah, they snuck a horse into a fortress as subterfuge to release a bunch of soldiers to attack from within"
One evening we watched several fishermen at sunset. They paddled out a few hundred meters from the shore on top of logs the size of their bodies and then sat on top of them, floating, waiting to catch dinner. The rim of the volcano melted into all the red, blue, purple and orange of the sky. I never wanted to be a fisherman more.
We returned to Granada and took a kayak around some of the islands in the lake. Then Soph took a bus to San Jose, Costa Rica, for a flight home. I planned to meet her there on the fifteenth of June, the day before my brother Nick and our friend Eric flew in to visit for a week.
The next evening, my old friend Alfredo arrived after a nine hour bus ride from Honduras. He’d moved there after the political unrest in Nicaragua. He was studying finance under some kind of refugee status. We had a drink and a laugh about the irony of seeking refugee status in Honduras. In the spirit of Nicaraguan resourcefulness and thrift, his backpack was full of random tools and accoutrements which he was bringing back for his family. Most noteworthy was the heavy steel end of a dirt rake which he declared, “Is for the garden!” He then removed a large hammer and demonstrated its use in the air. The one thing he didn’t have in his bag was extra clothes.
"I go to market to buy a shirt."
"But you have to stay here."
"Because is more expensive with a gringo"
I bought a bunk for Alfredo at the hostel and the next day his friend Lauren, whom I’d also met on my first trip to Nicaragua, came in on a bus from Managua. We wandered the city aimlessly for a few hours and caught up on how we’d each spent our time over the last twenty two hundred days. When they spoke directly to me I could more or less understand them because they slowed things down, but I struggled to follow as they conversed with one another. I gathered though that Alfredo was telling Lauren about the limitless pile of pancakes and bananas accompanied by giant pots of coffee we’d had at the hostel. The pancakes were the finest in all of Latin America. I ate six of them. Alfredo had two and seemed unfulfilled.
“No hubo gallo pinto?” Lauren exclaimed.
Gallo pinto literally means “painted rooster.” It is simply rice with beans and is served with damn near every Nicaraguan meal. It is considered to be as essential to life as water.
We walked down to the lake and had beers. I drilled Alfredo about different ways to get around Lake Nicaragua. There was a road that ran along the shore, but there appeared to be two river crossings with no bridge. He was unsure as to whether or not there was a way to cross, but Latin Americans don’t seem to like to give bad news.
“I believe is ok.”
“Esta es la diferencia fundamental entre Nicaragua y Estados Unidos.”
“In the US there is a bridge or there isn’t. In Nicaragua, there might be….”
“Si, es verdad. If you really need bridge or boat, maybe this is bad way to go. Besides, it will be Sunday and probably the ferry man is crudo”
I invited the two of them to meet me in San Carlos, near the Costa Rican border. They were hesitant, until I explained that it was on me. San Carlos is the tipping off point for the Rio San Juan de Nicaragua. It is the dream of every Nicaraguan to visit this place. Lauren wasn’t sure if she could go, but said (in English) “with all of my force I will try.”
Without the confirmed existence of a viable river crossing I decided to backtrack through Boaca and ride toward Juigalpa. They would meet me on the tenth at the head of the Rio. I departed on the eighth. The ride was relatively flat, although there was a constant headwind. Once you get about thirty clicks east of Managua, the capital, Nicaragua is decidedly rural. There are no formal bus stops, just mango trees with the grass below them worn to packed dirt from decades of hiding from sun and rain, waiting for that bus. I’d never seen a bus stop with free seasonal fruit before.
A kid fired a slingshot in my general direction. I couldn’t tell if he was actually trying to hit me so I brushed it off. Still, I was forced to confront myself and ask whether or not I would be willing to mace an eight year old in retaliation for pelting me with a ball bearing.
I found a hotel for eight dollars. No screens, no wifi, no showerhead. Three dollars more for gallo pinto and eggs for dinner. I sat on the porch and watched a little yellow bird puff its chest at its reflection in the farmhouse window for an hour. There were two monkeys in a cage at the front of the property. They looked like little hairy babies. They were more agile than babies though and they didn’t cry. I felt bad for them.
You can learn quite a bit about the natural history of a place from its roadkill. Boa constrictors, the deadly coral snake, the not so deadly false coral snake, vipers, pit vipers, iguanas, tarantulas, tabby cats, anteaters, snails, toads, frogs, dogs, beetles…. Occasionally you pass a dead cow. If you have a tail-wind, it can carry the smell with you for half a mile.
Little straw huts with great big mud ovens out front. Villages of a hundred people or so at every junction of river and road. They all smile and wave and the children run out yelling “Hola Gringo.” The ground was mostly low and saturated from the rainy season. Impossible to pitch a tent on. I ask in a few pueblitos and they tell me there is one motel on the way to San Carlos. I find it. They have a room upstairs but I tell them that it is difficult with my bike. I notice a building to the side of the main one and ask if it has rooms. I’m shown to a concrete hole with a floor covered in dead roaches and a leaking shower. I tell them that I will manage to haul my bike up the stairs, but the room is marginally cleaner so I ask to pitch my tent on the balcony under the guise that there was a nice breeze. I didn’t feel like cooking so I blocked the memory of the insalubrious rooms and ate at their restaurant.
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