July 29, 2007

Nicaragua Part 2: Getting There

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get to Nicaragua. According to the bus plan we’d worked out, we’d need to take three buses to get to Pantasma de Maria, the village where Samuel was from. As it turned out, we actually needed four, but more about that in a moment. In any case, the first bus left at a definite time: at 3:30 in the morning, a Tica Bus would stop on the freeway outside San Ramón and pick us up. It did. Besides the fact that they kind of screwed up our reservations, and besides the fact that it sucks to get on a bus at 3:30 in the morning, things went fine.
It took a few hours to get to the border, where we got out of the bus in order to go through exit and entry procedures in the immigration and customs departments of each country. It was around this point that it became clear to me that I was possibly sitting next to The Biggest Bitch in The World. I had greeted her with a friendly “Buenos Días” when I got on, but after getting no reply, I just went to sleep. Fuck you, too, then. All the way from San Ramón to the Nicaraguan border, this same fat lady next to me was mumbling to herself and shaking her head. I just thought she was crazy, but it turns out she was much worse. From a glance at her passport, and from her insistence on speaking in snippy English at the conductor to berate him, I knew that she was American, and that her name was Deborah. But for the sake of a smooth story and to not name names, let’s just call her Hoebag.

Anyhow, to leave Costa Rica, we had to get out of the bus and wait in a line for Immigration to stamp our passports, and Hoebag, who was sitting near the window, tenderly suggested that I move it so we could get the hell out of the bus. I moved it indeed, cutting in front of a few people in the bus aisle, and we waited outside in the same line that everyone else from the bus had to wait in. Then, when getting out of the bus again to enter Nicaragua (borders here are complicated), we needed to take down our luggage to have customs review it. I pulled my backpack down from the overhead rack and Hoebag, who was chomping at the bit to get out, apparently was glanced by my backpack. She mumbled something. I said, “Pardon me?” To which she gently replied, “I said you just hit me in the fucking eye with your stupid backpack.” I told her I was sorry, and that I hadn’t intended to do so, to which she replied, “How fucking long are you going to wait to get off this bus…can we leave?”

I sort of doubted Hoebag’s injured eye story, considering that she was wearing large eyeglasses and a hat, but if I did “hit” her in the eye, perhaps it was just the universe working itself out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where bitches don’t get hit in the eye with luggage. Besides, a few minutes later I wished that my backpack had somehow popped her eye right out of the socket when Hoebag put on another presentation.

Everyone from the bus was waiting with their bags in a line, and an old lady in her 70s or 80s hobbled up with her bags and a confused expression on her face. She seemed to be trying to figure out if she was supposed to wait in this line, when Hoebag offered the lady the following piece of advice: “No no, you have to wait in the back of the line just like all the rest of us!” She began yelling at the poor lady. “You get your ass back there; there’s no way you’re getting in front of me!” The poor lady, who obviously didn’t understand English, made a soothing gesture with her hand, the universal signal for “take it easy,” which pissed off Hoebag even more. Hoebag once again ordered the lady to the back of the line. After we got our bags checked, we all waited outside the bus for about 30 minutes, including Hoebag, the little old lady, and myself.

When we got back on, some British girls had changed buses, and Samuel and I took their seats immediately. Hoebag presumably continued on to her final destination of El Salvador where, with any justice at all, she insulted another old lady and was subsequently maimed by a crazed pit-bull belonging to a member of the Mara Salvatrucha. We can always dream, can’t we?

So, the remainder of the first bus went pretty smoothly, but by the time we got to Managua, my stomach was feeling a bit off, possibly from the shitty food they’d given us on the bus. The food made me feel like I was in one of those 60s or 70s novels about a near future where the world is controlled by totalitarian governments and the narrator describes eating food replacement items with depressing names like “syntho” and “nutrical,” or where all sustenance for a day is gained from a single pill. Whether the bus took us into the future as envisioned by a campy dystopian novel or not, the sandwiches were rubbery and the coffee tasted slightly ashy.

In any case, to make things worse, by the time we got out of the bus, a wave of heat enveloped us. I headed directly to the bathroom, and while Samuel waited outside with my bags, I had a nice series of dry heaves and then desperately evacuated my bowels over the seat-less toilet. Neither of which was particularly fun but, hey, vacations are about trying new, exciting things, right?

I came out of the bathroom and sat on the floor. Samuel had already enthusiastically procured a taxi to take us to the next bus station, conveniently located on the other side of the sprawling Nicaraguan capital. I objected, saying I thought it might be best to just sit on the floor for a while and then die, but he and the taxi driver assured me that after getting out into the fresh air of the taxi, I’d feel better. So with my head sticking out of the open window of the taxi to better inhale the pestilent, polluted air of Managua, we hauled ass across town.

We had missed the bus to Jinotega by a fair shot, but apparently there was a bus to Matagalpa, from which we’d be able to catch the last bus to Jinotega. Possibly. At the bus station, the taxi let us out, and I walked over to a stand of bushes and threw up. A minute or two later, as I was sitting on the ground with my eyes closed and trembling quietly, a man started shouting at me. I replied with a meek, “Como?” He asked if I was going to Matagalpa. I informed him that I was vomiting. He said well, if I was going to Matagalpa, I’d better throw up on the bus, because the bus had to leave. He said I could open up a window, and thereby be on the bus and vomit, simultaneously.

How can you argue with reasoning like that? For the next three hours or days, I sat in a seat in the back of the bus with my eyes closed, as I for some reason clutched a long-sleeved T-shirt in my hands. I think I believed it was the only thing keeping me alive, somehow. I was buffeted by a constant flurry of hot dusty air, which left what passes for my hair these days blown back and caked stiff, and left my left ear black with soot and dust. A few hours into that ride, I was quietly praying that I’d get randomly shot by some Bedouin sheepherder like Cate Blanchett in “Babel,” just so I could be taken to a forgotten village to be treated for a gunshot wound by a local veterinarian…basically, anything to make the bus rides stop.

Occasionally, I did in fact stick my head out the window to throw up a bit, and remarked to myself at the abstract beauty of my foamy vomit flying back behind me like sticky, white streamers, making the colorfully-decorated bus look like a float in the world’s worst Homecoming parade. It was kind of fun, all things considered.

When we got to Matagalpa, we quickly changed buses for Jinotega. I actually have no recollection of this part of the journey, but I believe that on that bus, I sat next to Samuel while my head bobbed back and forth like a jack-in-the-box. I offered him my peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’d brought, and I began to feel better. My only clear recollection is actually not really clear, mainly because it was based on such a strange event. I remember waking up at one point when I realized that the bus had been stopped for two or three minutes. I asked Samuel what was going on, and it turns out that the bus had stopped because in the yard of a house we were passing by, two boys were out front playing with machetes, trying to attack each other. Our bus driver had pulled over to yell at them. I guess that’s just one of the hazards that comes with living, loving, and leaving in machete country.

In Jinotega, we’d missed the last bus to Pantasma. According to a group of old drunks on a bench, though, we’d only missed it by five minutes, so we commissioned a taxi to take us on a mad dash to catch up with the bus, already on its way to Pantasma. Somehow we made it (well, I say “somehow” as if I didn’t actually understand how we caught up with the bus; we caught it because the driver hauled major balls on some seriously potholed country roads using techniques that would make Bo and Luke Duke proud).

The bus from Jinotega to Pantasma was actually sort of enjoyable. Early in the trip, I gave up my seat so a girl and her mother could sit down, and I walked to the back of the converted school bus, where the last row or two of seats had been removed for cargo or standing passengers. I was taller than most people and I had to crane my neck just to stand there, and my head still often hit the ceiling when the bus went over holes in the road. Still, the reason it was kind of fun was that it turned out the back of the bus is where all the manual laborers sit around on bags of corn and drink beer. After I was standing there for only about one minute, they offered me a beer, which I politely declined, saying with regret in my voice that I’d thrown up on the last few buses, and that it might be better to not repeat that. After about the fourth time they insisted, I finally accepted a beer. It was shitty and probably one of the worst beers there is out there (Let’s put it this way: there’s a reason Nicaragua isn’t really known for its beers), but it was cold and it actually hit the spot. It was the first thing that had helped me that day, and I was grateful for that.

Before they got off the bus, the workers offered me two or three more beers, which I subtly passed on to one of their cohorts, a young 22-year-old man named Jenny (really). He was a very nice guy who asked me questions about the U.S. He was trying to speak English with me, and he wasn’t too bad at it, but as he kept drinking the beers that I passed on to him, his skills declined sharply. Still, he was very friendly, and it seemed to not just be the result of the alcohol. At one point, he asked me if we were friends, and I said, “Sure.” He asked me if I remembered his name, and when I told him it immediately, he was impressed and said I had a good memory. I didn’t tell him, though, that he had the same name as my childhood dog. Nor that it was a girl’s name.

After however many hours of traveling, we finally pulled to a stop on the side of a dark road, and Samuel told me it was time to get off the bus. The village of Pantasma was dark, because evidently the Powers That Be shut off the electricity most nights sometime around 6 pm. The darkness lasted for anywhere between 1 and 3 hours the nights that I was there, but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how it worked. In any case, one of Samuel’s nieces was waiting in the road where the bus had stopped, and she walked with us to the house that Samuel owns.

Samuel had told me that his house was humble, but I hadn’t realized how humble it actually was. It was really a one room wood house, but since it was on a slope, the area beneath the room had also been turned into a sort of second room. Off to the side of the upstairs room was a kitchen with a dirt floor and a wood-burning stove, the smoke from which exited through cracks in the wall and an area between the wall and the ceiling. In the yard behind the house were three outhouses and a bucket shower, which a few of the neighbors seemed to share.

As for the cast of characters, I immediately got a lot of names thrown at me, and I was never entirely clear on the names or the relations of the people that I met. I was also unsure whether it was appropriate to ask or not. Samuel usually just introduced people as “my (type of relation),” for example, “my niece.” To make things more complicated, he tended to refer to most males as “Chico,” which didn’t help me much (although I do think that one of the guys there actually was named “Chico”).

When we got to the house, though, I was pretty exhausted. Samuel and I ate a meal of rice and beans alone in the kitchen, and we chatted a bit. I could hardly eat anything, since my appetite was still off, but he assured me that if I didn’t finish the food, someone else would.

After that, we sat in chairs and chatted with some members of his family, and when he saw me nodding off in my chair, he helped me to fix up our sleeping area. We slept on the planks of the wood floor, which we covered with a piece of cardboard and a sheet. Fortunately, I’d brought a blanket. I rolled up an extra pair of pants inside my lifesaving T-shirt, and as Samuel chatted away I fell into sleep like a rock.

Samuel's sister preparing something in the kitchen at night. The bottom flame is the stove, and the top is a cluster of candles. It was dark when they cut the electricity, but kinda cozy.

Samuel with his mother. I never met his father, who apparently lives in another village.

The wood-burning stove in the day. It'd be fun for a day or two, but after that, you might get tired of suspiciously smelling like bacon, even though you never ate it.

Samuel with Charita and Primitivo. For an attempt at a description of everyone's relations, see the text.

Samuel with his sister and a niece. The niece is wearing some of the clothes that Samuel brought in a gigantic sack bigger than me (literally). He was kinda like Santa Claus with Grillz.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

No comments: