After a couple of emotionally and physically challenging weeks, I found myself lying on my back in the middle of a six-hour tattoo session at a small shop in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua watching a mouse run across the rafters at the end of the room.
But before I add some context to that, let’s go back an entire month to where my last post left off, back in Lanquin, Quatemala.
The Zephyr continued to be loud and full of people at night, and quiet and tranquil during the day. I met a rowdy group of Aussies that I was happy to run into again when I got to Antigua. When the day came for me to leave Lanquin, I was so sick I hadn’t been out of bed for nearly 24 hours. Super miserable to say the least, but I eventually kept some food on the inside and found the energy to move on.
Antigua was gorgeous but a bit touristy. At my first hostel they gave me the “Harry Potter bed,” they called it that becuase it was basically under the stairwell. The next morning I moved to a new place that was everything I hoped it would be. The third day, I hiked Volcán Acatenango with a great group of folks but, trust me, it was no walk in the park. Sliding one step down for every two steps up in the loose volcanic rock did not make for an easy journey. Also, watching the sunrise from the summit, 13,000 feet up, was fully miserable because of the cold and the wind, but was equally as rewarding because of the remarkable view.
After Antigua, I bussed it to San Pedro, a small village on the shore of Lake Atitlan. I spent most of my time on or near the water, kayaking around and exploring abandoned, lakefront restaurants. Such a beautiful place, I still need to negotiate houseboat prices, but I may have found my early retirement destination.
(Not many photos after this, I’ll explain why in a bit.)
My first stop in Nicaragua, a little over two weeks ago, was in Chinandega. I met up with my amazing aunt whose mission group was building cinderblock houses in the small village of Santa Patricia. After a full month of traveling, I can’t tell you how nice it was to see a familiar face. I spent the days mixing cement in the street with a shovel, and the nights drinking rum with a rowdy group of missionaries — who are also some of the most generous and caring people you could ever hope to meet.
The village where we were working was at a level of poverty that, up to this point, was foreign to me. Tiny shacks no bigger than 300 square feet, sometimes housing a family six or seven. Nearly everyone there needs or wants something, and oftentimes will ask for it overtly.
It was my first trip there, so I got to learn all the new guy stuff — most of it the hard way. There were others in the group who had been going to that same village for more than 10 years, building and paying for houses, clothes and even educations. Like I said, generous as
Given I’m playing the role of “broke backpacker” at the moment, I don’t exactly have a ton of resources to offer. It was hard tell that many people, “No, I can’t help you,” without feeling a bit worthless. I can say with confidence though, I did what I could within reason. I bought some inexpensive sports equipment for a few kids in the neighborhood, helped the 20-year-old son of one of the masons buy a cell phone, and tried my best not to let anyone on the crew, Nicaraguan or American, work harder than I did. But at times it still feels like next to nothing.
I spent the next few days bouncing around Granada with two guys from the crew, Mark and Eric, as generous and easy-going as they come — even for a of couple old timers. If you guys are reading this, thanks again for everything!
After that I wound up in San Juan Del Sur. I meant to stay for three nights tops and stayed for six. San Juan sucks you in and just won’t let you leave. A lot of that was due to the dysfunctional family dynamic that began to take shape on my second day there. Most everybody just loved everybody and felt loved by everybody, with a few exceptions of course.
I can’t think of a similar situation where I’ve had that much fun — and maybe it’s because it was a bit too much. When I finally left San Juan, my sunglasses, book, towel, soap and phone were all either lost or stolen, and my watch had broken. Had I owned a dog, it probably would’ve died as well. My small drawstring backpack containing many of those items also went missing, so now I have to carry my valuables around a turquoise man-bag (definitely not a purse).
I was a little down about that whole situation, but I bounced back. Nothing a little rum and a new tattoo couldn’t fix. Apparently I also might be a pirate now.
I fled San Juan with what was left of my belongings (and self-worth) to the island of Ometepe. I had a quiet first night and fun next day dirt biking around, hiking, and watching a surreal sunset. I woke up yesterday morning though with the unrelenting desire to go home. But as I was looking up next day flights, preparing to spend much more than I wanted to, fate or the universe or whatever stepped in and offered me another option. Someone else who was feeling just as overwhelmed, with a lot on their mind, and looking for a ripcord.
As weird as it still feels and as crazy as it’s going to sound, within a few minutes we were walking out of town prepared to stop when it felt right and setup camp for the night. We strung up our hammocks and ate on the ground. Sometimes we talked and sometimes we sat with our own thoughts. And by doing nothing more than just listening when it was time to listen, talking when it was time to talk, and stepping away when it was time to be alone, we both walked back into town today feeling lighter and more focused.
With different agendas for the day in mind, we stopped at an intersection on the edge of town. Both knowing what that meant, we just looked at the other, smiled, hugged and started walking in opposite directions.
My next move is still undetermined — but I’m feeling good about it.