6/12/19 – 6/15/19
After a morning of jokes and coffee and gallo pinto and rain and wandering the little foot paths of El Castille turning over giant jungle leaves to find giant jungle grasshoppers and having awkward misunderstandings due to different cultures and languages and the physical stipulations they put on one’s tongue; we boarded the same skinny fiberglass boat that we’d arrived in. Nobody wanted to, but we had no choice. Alfredo sat by himself, hoping to see a crocodile. Lauren and I traded languages.
We had one more night booked at the Hotel San Carlos and to celebrate the fact that we had managed to cross paths again after six years we went out for beers. After paying, I asked Alfredo a question about Latin America that had been puzzling me for months. For some reason in restaurants, they never clear your empty bottles. They’ll take a plate away, but never a bottle. I thought maybe it gave a sense of pride for people to know that they’d done a certain degree of damage to their liver.
“Is your check,” he told me. “Because sometime you are very boracho and you forget how much you drink and you try to fight the bar man if you think he cheats you.”
In the morning we all hug and I give Alfredo my sandals because he said he liked them and I’m expecting new ones as part of a supply package in Costa Rica and have high hopes that they will be the best sandals that I’ve ever worn. He asked to try my bike and I watched him wobble down the busy morning street. He almost crashed three or four times before returning.
“Nicaragua is your country,” Lauren tells me. Alfredo nods and tells me I’m his American brother. I leave; hoping, but not knowing if or when, I’ll see them again.
I backtrack down highway twenty five after a quick stop for some ham croissants that I’d planned to eat throughout the day. I hoped their bus would pass me and we could all wave one more time, but it didn’t. I crossed a bridge over the Rio San Juan that we’d passed beneath the day before. It started to rain.
The exit tax is four US dollars. The man at the border didn’t like my soggy and wadded five dollar bill, and seemed to allude that he knew I had a crisp Jackson. I put up a small fight because I figured it was a ruse that ended with him telling me he didn’t have change. He took my money and disappeared. I ate one of my croissants. To my surprise he gave me all of my change and wished me a good day. As I put my helmet on, I noticed a sticker on the tourism booth that said:
Rio San Juan. Conocelo…. Es Nuestro! (San Juan River. Come see it…. It’s ours!)
Before parting ways, I’d made a promise to Alfredo and Lauren that whenever speaking of the Rio in Costa Rica, I would be sure to emphasize “De Nicaragua” at the end.
The Costa Rican officials sprayed my bike with some chemicals to make sure it wasn’t harboring any unwanted critters. I sat under the awning outside the immigration offices for twenty minutes hoping the rain would let up. I wanted to eat another croissant, but they’d been so militant about spraying my bike and there was an agricultural inspector nearby. I didn’t want to risk them taking the lone tomato from inside the flakey dough so I just sat there.
Los Chiles is the first town across the border. Traffic picks up from there and the drivers are noticeably less friendly. I get passed by a truck that is getting passed by a truck. I found a brand new gas station with old dust covered canned food and ate tortillas with a tube of spaghetti sauce for lunch. I pushed on through the rain. The time between passing cars, and their distance from my side, becoming shorter. I longed to be back on the Rio with my friends.
Beyond the current tragedy of Nicaraguan politics is the truth of living in the moment. The whole of America is buying books about it, sharing pictures with brilliant one-liners pasted over beautiful people staring contentedly at the sun setting over a vast ocean…. but simultaneously we’re all worried about a time so far off in the future that we may never live to see.
Meanwhile, in Nica, their eyes are never closed, and there’s nothing routine in anything they say. They never yawn. Every moment is taken as it comes. Perhaps you really have to believe that you don't have a future to live for today. I'd asked Lauren on the boat back to San Carlos about what she thought would happen in Nicaragua.
“I can’t think about the future, because we might not have one,” She told me. "Right now you just have to enjoy the days as they come and be happy that you have people you love." Every time they had something important to say they would take your hand or put theirs on your shoulder. In my America, this could be prosecuted as assault. Here it is affection. It is how you tell somebody you care about them in a world where you can't afford diamonds.
I woke up on Friday, June 14th, to a flat tire. My eighth. It was on the rear wheel, so I began the day with my hands covered chain grime. I’d been carrying a bar of artisan soap since Antigua, Guatemala, and discovered that despite all the boastings and virtues of organic and handmade and the like, it was useless in removing the thick grease. And so I opened the little pink bar of Rosa Soap that is in all hostels across Latin America and wondered a bit about who this woman Rosa might be. Shortly thereafter, with clean hands, I rode.
Despite a brief shower in the middle of the day that I simply pushed through, it was mostly sunny. I stopped at waterfall lookouts and paid too much for too little breakfast. Traffic continued to thicken. There were strange neighborhoods full of American style McMansions. All the cars that passed were clean. There were supermarkets and gas stations with what at first appeared to be little ice cream carts but they turned out to serve ceviche. I ended up camping on an old ranch that seemed as if it overlooked the entire country. There was an ice cold swimming pool and a rusty old Chevrolet with purple flowers growing from the gas tank.
My goal was to get to a town called Heredia, a suburb of San Jose. There was more than 2,500 meters of climbing from San Miguel. It was Saturday and there were hundreds of cyclists on expensive road bikes passing me up the mountains. Nobody in Costa Rica carries a machete on their bike on a Saturday. A month into the rainy season and everything is perpetually damp. Mold starting to grow on the tent and mattress, musty smelling sleeping bag. Every morning I wake up and put wet underwear on, it's cold but dries relatively quickly until it reaches a point where it can't dry anymore because of the humidity. Then I start to ride and it just gets soaked again from my sweat in the heat.
Hectic riding into Heredia. Stuck behind buses descending the mountain, unpredictable cars, and then 5 lane boulevards with trucks pinching me off. Our host, Silvia, was the sister of Edu, whom we’d met in San Cristobal, Mexico. I cooked dinner for her and her daughter after washing myself and my clothes and hanging all the camping gear out to dry. Once this was done I ate an orange in a hammock. Soph, now officially an American citizen, would arrive in an hour, and my brother would land the following morning. Sometimes a new chapter of an adventure begins without you really knowing it, other times you get that moment to reflect and you know that something is behind you and tomorrow will no doubt have a very different feel.
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