It has been a long year. Many people say that time goes by so fast and they may be right. But only if we look back and reflect we can actually see how much has really happened in the past 365 days. For example, just the thought that at the beginning of 2017 I was still working at Slumber Party is unbelievable. To me it seems almost like a lifetime ago. But now it’s time to finally wrap things up and close the chapter of 2017. And I’d like to end it by writing about the last country I have visited before flying back to my family and friends for Christmas and New Year. Nicaragua is not only a beautiful and friendly country, but also absolutely “diacachimba”!
After returning to Germany, a friend of mine was asking me where “Nicarugua” was. This Central American country, indeed, is still largely unknown and untraveled, which is why it is so wild and raw in terms of natural beauty. I only visited the country’s south-western part overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Due to the undeveloped nature of this part of the country, it can be quite difficult to get around. The roads are not paved, so a bumpy ride in a local chicken bus can leave you as shaken as a Martini preferred by a certain British agent. Also small pits in the middle of the road can fill up during spontaneous rain storms, which makes getting around, particularly with a bicycle, even more difficult. But if you are an adventurer at heart, which, if you are reading this, I assume you are, you won’t mind these obstacles too much.
All around Nicaragua you will find plenty of small family-run stores called “Pulperias”, where you can buy all the necessities to satisfy your basic human needs. Outside of our personal go-to Pulperia, the women prepare a local delicacy called Nacatamal each Sunday. This dish is made of corn dough (called Masa) and filled with potatoes, rice, beef or pork. It is then wrapped up in a plantain leave and steamed in an old oil drum. I’ve read that other ingredients and spices are sometimes being used as well. We had this simple version, which was delicious nonetheless. The price is 40 Cordobas or a little more than a Dollar and it is so filling that one portion may satisfy your appetite for breakfast and lunch.
It certainly is a welcome alternative to the traditional Central American classic that is Gallo Pinto. Beans and rice are part of almost every dish in this part of the continent all the way down to South America, although Gallo Pinto is said to be specific to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Therefore many meals you order from a local restaurant will include a small portion of this specialty. A well-made Gallo Pinto is certainly delicious, but if you have it every single day, twice a day, then at some point your taste buds are begging for a little variety.
The multitude of fruits can bring a little bit of color into your daily nutritional plan. Throughout the day there are trucks driving up and down the road, announcing not only their coming, but also the kind of vegetables and fruits they are selling via micro- or megaphone. Oranges, bananas, mandarins, melons, pineapples, passion fruit and papayas are commonly found on those trucks and by being an avid speaker of the Spanish language and the universal language of negotiation, you can find yourself with three bags filled with fruits and vegetables at the price of little more than 10 Dollars. Some truck merchants even carry cheese and chicken around in a fridge to welcome more variety into your meals.
We kept our meals fairly simple, since we weren’t too concerned about this aspect of our daily life. Instead, we kept our focus on the more important tasks at hand.
Every human being has dreams, but how many bring them into reality? Every human being has ideas, but how many execute on them? Everyone seems to glorify the people with vivid dreams and grand ideas, but what are they worth if they never get to see the light of day? In that sense, I would go so far as to make the statement that ideas and dreams are utterly worthless if they never leave their theoretical state.
More than simply dreamers, we need dreamers with the courage to take leaps of faith; the ones who take action and shape the world to their imagination.
In the case of my good friends Matt and Andrew, they had those ideas and dreams, but unlike so many other poor souls they actually made their dream become a reality, which was opening a hostel in Nicaragua. Not only did I see the manifestation of it, but I have visual evidence of how it came to be. What was once a rough piece of land is now a bona fide hostel with a lot of potential. It is a place made by backpackers for backpackers, as it is often being said.
In the past two months I was helping Matt and Andrew with the construction of paths, which are now connecting the dorm rooms with the bar and reception, and the reception with the entrance. We were digging and shoveling, flattening the ground and pouring rocks and pebbles into the holes. As you can imagine it was strenuous work, made even worse by the grueling heat and humidity. Add to that my growing blisters, which were seen as part of a friendly challenge amongst us – “Who had the most blisters?”, “Which ones were the roughest?” – Whatever would keep our spirits up.
After months of working exclusively from my laptop and pursuing the work of a freelance writer, the chance to do some labor work was something I needed. Also, the change of scenery from the compounds of various cafés and hostels to the Nicaraguan outdoors was much appreciated and the fresh air was cleansing. I thoroughly enjoyed this kind of labor, but there were times when my body refused to do the work. On those days I would spend hours simply sitting on a plastic chair with aching bones.
But nevertheless the variety with which I’ve tried to occupy myself this year was vital. It kept my body on its toes and my mind free from apathy. No matter how hard labor work can be, nothing is more taxing on a human body and mind than boredom and apathy. It is important to consistently paint our lives and not to let the colors fade to an old sepia tone.
A Bright Darkness
I always enjoyed having dinner with my friends after a long day of work. It was just the four of us and we were cooking and eating together with music playing in the background. This was when the last rays of the sun would meet the first twinkle of the stars and hundreds of fireflies would light up the surrounding fields. I made a mental note after a week or so to not take these communal dinners for granted and to always enjoy them as if each evening was an exception and not the rule. It is easy to get used to the good things in life and I wanted to keep reminding myself of how lucky I was to spend quality time with my friends.
When our little feasts were over, the dishes washed, cigarettes smoked and discussions silenced, we would all retire to our respective rooms. Darkness arrives early in Nicaragua and most of us were in bed at around 9pm. I would always take the opportunity of having these little moments in the great outdoors to myself just a little longer. Those moments when no one is around and everything seems perfectly still. The sound of silence is only disturbed by the nearby crickets and the crashing of waves in the distance. A lot can be said and understood in a state of complete silence. Sometimes you could even hear howler monkeys that are hiding in the dark of the canopies.
And that, my dear friends, is the time when Nicaragua opens up its most beautiful treasure chest. It can only be seen during the night and not the day, and only if one looks above and not below. The starry sky here is the brightest and most extraordinary I have ever seen. Especially in my first few weeks this was the case, for there was no artificial light for miles around to pollute this view. Nicaragua is one of the last remaining keepers of a nocturnal sky like this, where you can see shooting stars passing by in rapid succession. It is such an awe-inspiring sight that makes the lights in modern cities pale in comparison. It shows you that nature was and always will be the greatest artist with the universe as its canvas. We humans can only hope to capture or recreate such beauty to the best of our limited skills and talents.
This is what a night sky should look like. While you marvel at the twinkle of the stars, you forget all earthly matters. Needs and wants; do’s and don’ts – for a single moment nothing matters except everything that truly matters. The fixed stars and shooting stars so far in the distance, yet so close to our human eyes. They are right there; seemingly only an arm’s reach away. We can almost grasp them. Hold them. Set them free again.
The more light we create, the more we lose sight of the stars. We take their power away and we lose something with it. But in Nicaragua it is still infinite and eternal. It was in those moments where even my ever engaged mind came to a halt. I’m a compulsive overthinker and a constant worrier, but during this short period the thinking would stop and the worries disappear. It was and still is for me the best meditative practice just before going to bed. A meditation with eyes wide open, for what I see strikes down even the wildest thought. What better way to the end the day?
Wrapping Up 2017
I have not seen a lot of Nicaragua. You might say that my travels already ended once my plane touched ground in the capital of Managua. Some days I barely left the property I was living and working at. When I did venture outside, I would walk alongside the beach and the cliffs. Often times just sitting there watching waves crash against solid rock and observing how the stranded water would return to its infinite source.
But that was it. I didn’t experience any of the excitement that one would seek out on a backpacking adventure. I was fine with this. I was already mentally and emotionally exhausted by the previous months of traveling and after a turbulent year in general. The love of one kind took me out of Germany at the end of May and the love of different kinds was what kept me going throughout the rest of the journey.
It was the love of anticipation – being with my friends and family again.
It was the love of a growing passion and purpose – treading on the path of a writer.
It was the love of the Unknown – you either fear it or you love it; and fear has overstayed its welcome in my heart and mind for too long.
It was the love for a simple life – there is so much we can do, but none of it needs to be overly complicated.
And finally the love for life and death – we can only love the one, if we are aware of the other.
It can be a powerful force, this thing called love. It can build bridges over oceans and take you to places you never knew existed before. It can also take you back to the place where you left a piece of your heart. Like a lighthouse guiding you safely through rough waters to the end where it all began.