the nicaraguan chronicles – part 1


“How do you tell him to turn left? What’s left?”


“Izquierda,” I say, feeling the word out. “And right?”



“No. DerechA,” she says, emphasizing the “a.”


The cab runs another red light.

I’ve been in the country fifteen minutes and already I can feel my high school Spanish classes reasserting themselves in the left hemisphere of my brain. Not fluently, by any means, but I at least remember the word for pants is pantalones.

At that point I’m just glad to be in the country, out of an airport and a mere ten minutes from the hostel we were going to be staying at our first night. It had been a long trip.

the nicaraguan chronicles – part 1
planes, trains and automobiles

Whoever characterized trains as rocking and swaying as they glide down railroad tracks is a crock of shit. There is no graceful glide, no gentle rocking motion as the sleeping car takes you inexorably toward your destination. An Amtrak train ride to Chicago consists of nine hours of fits and starts so strong you wonder which motion is going to be the one that causes Amtrak’s PR nightmare. These are then interspersed with short, delusional instances of what some fantasize to be smooth riding, but even during this portion of the trip, the train’s overzealous air conditioning attempts to give you frostbite on whatever pieces of skin you were foolish enough to leave bare. As the goosebumps climb up your arms and a shiver accidentally wakes the stranger next to you listing toward your shoulder, you wonder again why you didn’t just take the Kia.

Every time you close your eyes and attempt to fall asleep in a vain hope that the time will wink by, the glow of orange streetlights shine through the crack in the curtain with an unforgiving impunity not seen since the Third Reich. You think to yourself how pleasant it would be if the guy behind you (who’s controlling the other half of the curtain that’s not closed) were to suffer a sudden, intense aneurysm – you convince yourself you want him to go peacefully to assuage your guilt, when the truth is that you don’t want death throes simply so people won’t notice. But if that guy was gone, you might then be able to reach into his 2’x2′ bubble and draw the rest of the curtain closed, triumphantly eliminating the gap between the edge of your curtain and your headrest.

If only.

It’s at some point between the perilously leaning seatmate and the ideally dead guy behind you that you realize the train isn’t riding the rails any faster than your car would roll the pavement…and the Wild West fantasies begin…

I’m sitting astride my horse on a distant hilltop a few miles down the tracks, cowboy hat fitting me better than it ever fit John Wayne, six-shooters on my hips and my comedy-relief sidekick at my…well, my side of course. The train’s a’closin’ in at full blast (35 mph, my present self thinks sardonically), black smoke pouring from the stack and horn blasting louder than the hells o’ tarnation. I don’t even know what that means.

I look at my wily sidekick – Krusty Four-Finger I just named him, because he had a finger blown off in the Civil War at the battle of Antietam . . . I look over at my wily sidekick and we exchange a silent nod. That’s the universal signal for “Let’s do this.” Wrapping a red bandana around the lower half of my suddenly frighteningly handsome movie-star face, I kick my spurs into the horse’s flanks and tear down the hillside, kicking up dust as I unleash a rebel yell that would have put the most fearsome Confederate soldier to shame.

Within seconds (I skip the boring parts), I’m riding hard alongside the train, six-shooter in one hand, reins in the other, shouting “Ya! Ya!” so my horse will go faster. A few mean-faced, black-suited Pinkerton men start shooting at me from the top of a train car. Me and Krusty gun ’em down with just a couple shots and watch as they ceremoniously tumble off the train. One guy even falls between the cars and gets railed.

Chuckling at my own clever choice of words, I holster my sidearms and hop up to squat on the saddle. Demonstrating the grace and agility that comes with a lifetime of pulling stunts like this, I leap toward the train car railing, reaching, reaching, not quite sure I’m going to make it when suddenly –

A cell phone rings in the seat across the aisle, startling the leaner next to you who jars you with an elbow. A baby starts crying.

Should have taken the damn Kia.

continental with the save

But then you get to Chicago, you get on the plane that’s going to take you to Nicaragua, and you remember why you love to travel. At least, if you have a window seat you remember. The crying babies and sub-zero temperatures on the train seem inconsequential when you’re soaring 30,000 feet in the air, looking down on brilliant white patches of cloud and the blue that is the ocean churning and foaming in the Gulf of Mexico.

And then…the wild blue yonder. No beginning. No end. Just a beautiful endlessness unmatched save for outer space and the flatlands of Texas on a clear day.

final destination…minus all the dying

The first thing I notice upon exiting the airport is the smell. It reminds me of the Deep South. There’s a wholesomeness to the aroma that you don’t find in the suburbia that is Northeast Ohio. Until we walked to the street, that is. I found out the hard way that Nicaraguans burn their trash, even in the middle of Managua, the capital, even at 10 p.m. Although the stench really isn’t all that bad after a few minutes. You get used to it.

One of the most impressionable aspects of Managua was that everybody was outside. Everybody. Sitting in cheap plastic chairs or whatever they could find outside bars, restaurants and homes, talking and listening to music. They stared at us through the cab windows with gazes that shouted “Tourist!” Me, sitting there in my American Honey T-shirt, just trying to read the road signs and jog my memory, re-learning Spanish one word or phrase at a time.

  • Izquierda – left
  • Derecha – right
  • Cenicero – ashtray
  • Cuidado! Piso mojado – Caution! Wet Floor
  • Estos son mis companeras – these are my women (or some variation)

I was going to be traveling with four women for nine days. I needed to learn how to say they were mine in case I had to step in and save them from overly interested Nicaraguan men.

We find the hostel, put our stuff away and do what any Ohio University graduate does when they first enter a new country: we go to the bar.


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5 Responses to “the nicaraguan chronicles – part 1”

  1. jeffhirz Says:

    You make me laugh, Jeff. Maybe you should consider writing comedy instead of science fiction!!

  2. Justin Says:

    Drop out of those pantalones!

  3. one-year anniversary – why i quit my job « livin' like a freebird Says:

    […] first time, whitewater raft the fifth most dangerous rafting river in the world, and have my first Central American adventure in Nicaragua. But once those adventures were over, the reality of my financial situation set in and I’ve […]

  4. Sean Says:

    Glad you had fun…now go run with the bulls!

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