Clouds of dust floated inside the bus as we bounced down the dirt road that connected Honduras to Nicaragua. I poured some water onto the blue handkerchief that was wrapped around my neck and pulled it up over my nose for a makeshift air-filter. We entered Nicaragua.
Nicaragua has had a turbulent past, like most of the Central American countries, often with the involvement of the U.S. government or large economic interests attempting to dictate rule. Depending on whom you want to believe, the outcome is still unfolding for the history writers. I continue to be amazed on how little I am aware of the U.S. involvement in other countries’ affairs. I am beginning to see how radical fractions may harbor resentment against the policies of our government. Or at the very least, how they use these policies for their own propaganda of hate and fear to harness control and power.
Arriving in Leon, I left my traveling companion in search of a room with our heavy backpacks in front the Cathedral. We never have a reservation because you can almost always find a room, plus this gives you a chance to bargain. After a short walk and a quick inspection, I returned to the Cathedral to get the rest of our things. The Basilica de la Asuncion, as the Cathedral is properly named, is the source of legend. Construction began in 1746, and took 113 years to complete. Supposedly, the building plans were switched with those of Lima, Peru by mistake. It is a bit ironic that one of the poorest countries in Central America houses its largest Cathedral.
Inside its walls were large pillars and wooden seats where I found some refuge from the heat and the constant approaches from those attempting to sell me something. A crew was filming inside the church, and invited me to join them as they went upstairs onto the roof. On top, I was afforded a panoramic view of the city and the many volcanic peaks on the horizon. It helps to be in the right place at the right time.
Nicaragua has the feeling of a country that has been through a huge upheaval, and is trying to come to terms with how to address economic opportunities with social responsibilities. An example; a local museum in Leon on the socialist revolution filled with artifacts, stories and photos used to be free, but now they charge a $1 fee to enter and several if you want to take photos. This brought up the age-old question, “how do we balance ideals with reality?”
Leon is one of Nicaragua's principal colonial cities that have retained its Spanish character; the other is Granada. Passing through Managua, on a bus where we argued our point that we shouldn’t pay an extra dollar to put our bags on the roof of the bus since they weren’t taking up passenger sitting space, we arrived in Granada to more heat, 95 degrees. Granada sits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, one of the largest fresh water lake in the world. And home to the only freshwater shark.
For two nights, we stayed in a new hostel, upscale compared to what we had become accustomed to. Gone were the mirrors constantly hung twelve inches too low, forcing you to bend over to comb your hair or brush your teeth. Gone was the single light bulb hanging in the center of the room, like some interrogation scene in a movie. Now we had hot showers, even though you didn’t need them; DVD’s to check out and watch on a large screen TV; and unlimited Internet. But even in the best of worlds, you have challenges, a dorm room filled with chatter, noise throughout the night squashing any chance of sleep and a 5AM bus. Passing through Nicaragua quickly limited my impression or maybe, at this point, the countries in Central America have a similarity that begins to blur the differences -- one of the risks a long-term traveler must endure.
With a friend waiting for us in San Jose, Costa Rica, we slipped quietly out of Nicaragua. It was time to be in a home for a change. Arriving almost unannounced because we decided late the night before to leave -- one of the joys of independent travel -- nine hours later we landed at the doorstep of my friend Ana and found refuge for the travel weary. Welcomed like family, the contents of our bags began to sprawl out across the bedroom, always a symptom of staying in one place for a longer period of time. It was a magic time to be in Costa Rica. The rains had come one month early, triggering the coffee tree blossoms that last only two weeks. Hillsides of small green trees filled with small white flowers, looking like a dusting of snow, permeated the air with a sweet aroma, creating a delicacy for the nose.
" When we were young, our parents always took a moment to point out the blossoms, to have us take notice of the beauty that passes away quickly," said Ana. Costa Rica was the first to grow coffee in Central America, and thus it has a special place in its culture.
While exploring Costa Rica, I met a High School teacher by the name of Eric, 28. Teaching social studies for the last several years has given him an opportunity to learn about other cultures and societies. He had this to share: "Remember us not only when you want something from us, but also when we need something from you."