The Best Meal of My Life was in China

The Best Meal of My Life was in China

2017 was been quite an unpredictable year, and China was not on the list at all. In January, I was going through my post-Peace Corps period of depression that came in part from moving from a sunny, tropical country to single digit temperatures in Washington State. I was adjusting to a new country all over again, in much the same way that Americans are adjusting to a new country ever since the election happened. It still feels like I’m adjusting to a new country that isn’t quite how it was when I left it.

2017 has also been a year of disappointment. After getting rejected from my second Fulbright Application to study arts therapy in South Africa, I had booked a one-way ticket to Cape Town from Seattle through Gotogate.com, hoping to see a new place for about a month starting on January 18th. The Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle was closed due to a snowstorm, so I drove 6 hours nonstop around the highway through snow and freezing rain, and I still missed my nonrefundable flight. So, I decided to move to Washington D.C. the next day because of the strong Wellesley and Peace Corps networks there. I had been planning to move to D.C. eventually, just not right after getting a $150 yellow fever shot intended for my South Africa trip or with only two carry-ons with my Hawaiian shirts. That’s how it worked out.

2017 has also been the year of surprises. China had never been on my list of places to see. The only Asian country I’d been to was Japan, and I’ve always wanted to travel to The Philippines or Southeast Asia, not China. Why would I bother getting a visa?

Then, I was given the chance to go on a freelance work trip. I applied for a rush visa on Monday morning after waiting outside of the Chinese Consulate at 7 a.m., then I picked it up on Thursday morning. That night, I took my ten-year visa with me on a flight from JFK Airport to Shanghai with my new coworkers. I had no expectations. I just knew that this was a wonderful chance to immerse myself in a new language and culture.

During this whirlwind trip, we flew to four different cities in one week. I didn’t even know what day of the week it was, and that’s how I like it.

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the culture, and more specifically, the food. I expected the food to be decent, but not worthy of dedicating an entire article to it. I’ve heard people say that the food in China isn’t good, but that couldn’t be farther from my experience. I love trying new foods. I love exploring the textures of different foods and I love the memories and emotions they bring. It’s a sort of exploration that was absent during my Peace Corps service in Nicaragua, where beans and rice were eaten three times a day. People ate to survive there. I’m privileged because I am have the economic advantage of seeing food as an experience, not as fuel for survival. I’m lucky.

Now, about the best meal of my life. The dinner in Changzhou was an otherworldly experience, and I must tell you about it because it reminded me of why humans bother putting effort into the food they prepare and present in the first place. From the moment the first dish arrived on our spinning, glass table to the last scoop of our chopsticks, he entire process was art.

It began. We sat down in our private, white-walled room and waited with anticipation for the operatic spectacle to commence in all of its glorious sensation.

Alan, one of my new coworkers, ordered in Mandarin. I couldn’t understand any of it. To me, Mandarin sounds like a harsh language. He and the waitress sounded so annoyed with each other, but my perception was just based off of the tones of this language so different from my own. In China, the people sounded as if they about to get into a fist fight until, all of a sudden, they’d burst out laughing. I’d feel relieved after that. In college, though, I remember some of my white friends telling me that myself and my Latina friends would sound loud and upset, but then I’d clarify that that’s just how we spoke to one another. To me, it was normal to speak with emotion. The tone of my voice definitely changes when I speak in English vs. Spanish.

Once Alan ordered, we’d wait for a minute or two for the hostess to take her stylus and tablet back to the kitchen. First, some cold dishes would arrive so that we wouldn’t have to worry about small talk. Green, hose-like noodles. What’s this? I asked, countless times. Mussels with vermicelli. Pork belly. Buttered shrimp. More butter—this time, mushrooms in a buttery broth. Spicy soup with peppercorns. After this, I wanted to cook everything in peppercorns.

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This was a meal to remember, and it just needed a soundtrack. So, I imagined Vivaldi’s “Winter”  to accompany my euphoria. In between bites, I’d pause and watch Gia pick up a mussel with her chopsticks and spoon. Wayne took his chopsticks and jabbed at some greens, scooping them up like a heron catching a fish with its beak. The tapping of the chopsticks on the porcelain plates and the clinking of a beer bottle against the rims of the wine glasses broke the silence.

Not all of the food was unforgettable. The sliced, brown jellyfish tasted bland. It was gelatinous and crunchy, but without much flavor. I’ll never forget its magnificent presentation over ice, though.  If my tongue couldn’t enjoy it, my eyes would.

My favorite dish? The pig lungs. They came so thinly sliced and beautifully spiced. Each slice melted on my tongue, as if I’d finally tasted the most expensive cut of meat imaginable. The chile it was marinated in reminded me of some sort of Mexican chile (maybe guajillo), bringing in a foreign familiarity to it.

“Ganpei” I said, after we poured Snow Beer into our wine glasses and clinked them together. We spun the glass table around and around to make sure no one would emerge dissatisfied. I loved the equitable feel of not only the round table, but also of the round spinning wheel. If someone wanted some steamed buns across the table, you just had to spin the table yourself or ask someone else to spin it for you. Eventually, you’d get a taste of each dish anyway.

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Our waitress brought us this intricately designed, big, black and red bowl with bubbling fish and squid swimming in red chiles. Absolutely divine. Everyone just kept going at it, eating as if this meal were their last.

I wish every meal would be this communal. Growing up, my nuclear family made it a point to eat together. Now, my friends have replaced much of my nuclear family. I’m used to eating alone and traveling alone, but in this moment, I was happy I was doing none of those things. My temporary, adoptive family took me by the chopstick and helped me navigate this new world, this new country I had had no desire to explore until it swept me away. These people didn’t seem like strangers much anymore.

This meal reminded me of the artistry involved in presenting the simplest foods, whether they be noodles or pig lungs. I wanted to stare at the food instead of poking at its elegance. Nonetheless, hunger always wins and consumes all in its path. I was so full. I thought I’d explode, but it wasn’t the fullness in the American sense of being fed horse troughs of unreasonable proportions. Contentment, appreciation, and gratitude filled my being.

What a heavenly, otherworldly, sublime meal. The feast of my life that reminded me that life is good. Life is forgiing. Life is a rollercoaster. La vida es un carnaval, como dice Celia Cruz.

The next day, as I sat in the airplane on the smoggy descent into Beijing, an old man in a golf cap sat in front of me and stared out the window like a little boy who had never flown before. China, and this meal, made me feel like I was flying for the first time all over again.

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On the Road to WITS Speakers: Empowering Women Travelers Like It’s Their Job!

On the Road to WITS Speakers: Empowering Women Travelers Like It’s Their Job!

This March, Wanderful can’t wait to connect you with travel-industry innovators at the 2016 Women in Travel Summit (WITS) in Irvine, California! Whether you are starting your first company or building a strong micro-niche, you’ll learn so much at the only travel summit for women. Get the latest travel industry insight from our keynote speakers and bloggers, and network with sponsors!

Can’t wait until March? Thanks to our chapter organizers, Travel Massive, and WITS 2016, we have been hosting the On the Road to WITS happy hour series throughout the U.S. and Canada. The goal? Give you the chance to network with other influential women travelers and feel more connected to our global sisterhood of travelers!

Our On the Road to WITS speakers are smart, powerful women, and all have noticed challenges that women travelers face. Think: deciding if and how to travel, not knowing our rights, and needing a hand to boost our blogs.

And as smart, powerful women who love helping others, these speakers dedicate their careers to solving the issues that other travelers face.

Our 6 On the Road to WITS speakers empower women to see travel as life-changing and accessible. Find out why they’re passionate about their work in my latest post!

Featured image by Joyelan.

Adele: The Sweetheart of Big Corn Island

Adele: The Sweetheart of Big Corn Island

As a traveler, I’m used to constantly changing how I view the world. It isn’t something I feel as if I have to stick to-it just happens naturally for me. This year, as a traveler, I’ve begun to have more conversations with the people I run into on the day-to-day. I’m starting to ask them more about them instead of telling them about myself.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of explaining who I am and where I came from, especially since I am seen as a foreigner in Nicaragua, the place I have taught English for with the Peace Corps the past 17 months.

I’d gone 17 months without seeing my mom. Luckily, over the holidays, she came to visit me. I used the money I’ve earned writing travel-based articles to buy her and myself a ticket to Corn Island, an island off Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. I didn’t know what to expect, because it is a small place, and has not been completely overrun by tourists. I’d only heard good things from other volunteers, so we made it out there.

On our third day there, my mom and I decided to go for a walk around the tiny island. We heard black men speaking in English Kreole to one another. Country music was blasting from one house. A group of men were sitting outside. I said “excellent music choice!” and gave a thumbs up to them. Listening to country music reminded me of home. “Come in and sit down, sweetheart!” one man said.

When I heard Kreole, though, It was strange for me to be in a land so close to my own, but I couldn’t understand the language. Luckily for us, people also spoke English and Spanish there. Sometimes we’d speak to people in Spanish and be responded to in Spanish, and vice-versa.

We stopped by this tiny little coconut shack on the north side of the island. We met Sidney, the shack’s owner, and my mom enjoyed a fresh coconut for about 40 cents. She sipped the fresh juice from a straw, then Sidney hacked it open with a knife. We ate the delicious, young pulp, and told Sidney we’d be back the next day. Meet Sidney on my facebook page!

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Adele and her husband have been married for 40 years. They sell coconuts and jam by the beach. Sounds like a perpetual honeymoon to me!

Sure enough, my mom and I returned the following morning before our flight back to semi-reality. This time, Sidney’s wife, Adele, watched as my mom and I giggled at each other sipping from the coconut. We also took selfies by the bus stop that had a giant manta ray placed on top.

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Yes, that is a manta ray on top of a bus stop. Only on Big Corn Island.

I wanted to know more about Adele. I told her that id I lived there, right by the beach like she and Sidney did, then I would never leave. “Do you ever leave?” I asked her.

“Only for visits. I have been to Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, to all kinds of places. There is no where like home, though.”

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“I like your bag,” said Adele, complimenting mom.

Adele had such a calm, reassuring presence. She didn’t say much more than was necessary, yet she let us enjoy ourselves, soaking up the view and the breeze while sitting on her red, plastic chairs.

I never wanted to leave. I’m glad I met Adele and chatted with her for a bit on Big Corn Island. In 2016, I hope to spend more time asking people more about themselves during my travels.

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Adele carved out the sweet, gelatinous coconut pulp for us.

This article is featured in the January edition of the Wanderlust Life Magazine. Interested in travel and wellness? Subscribe for free here and visit our facebook page!

The Nicaraguan Lifeguard in Jeans

For New Year’s weekend, I stayed at the Paradiso Resort at the Apoyo Lagoon in Nicaragua. It’s a Peace Corps favorite because we can afford the dorm rooms and the food on our $150-$200 monthly earnings. The fact that the resort lies on the beaches of a clean, warm volcanic crater lake isn’t too shabby, either.Yesterday was New Year’s Day, and the resort was insanely busy with even more guests coming in with day passes. There were Americans, Nicaraguans, Canadians, and Germans, among others.

 

My mom visited me in Nicaragua after 16 months apart. i had to sho w her my favorite lake in Nicaragua before she left.

As I was swimming in the dark blue, deep water, I saw a kayak capsize. The Nicaraguan couple next to it didn’t know how to swim, but they at least had their life jackets on. Many people have drowned here because they don’t know how to swim, and the lagoon gets deep very quickly. I swam over to them and pulled the woman back to the kayak. She didn’t know how to kick. We were about 100 meters from shore.

I wondered how long it would take me pull them back to shore. Then, came Luis, this staff member, coming to our rescue on a paddle board. He was soaking in his jeans and white polo, but that didn’t bother him. He pulled the couple back to safety to a nearby raft, and sent them on their way. This was just another rescue to him.

 

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Luis is a father, gardener, repairman, groundskeeper, bartender, waiter, and a lifeguard in jeans.

“I once saved an Argentinian man. He was drowning. I pulled him back onto shore, did CPR, turned him sideways, and he spit out the water. I don’t know how many people I’ve pulled out of the water,” Luis says.

As I sat on my rainbow beach chair, I saw Luis, running back and forth along the shore as if he were in a relay race. His jeans soaked as he pulled kayakers and inner tubing locals and tourists away from the rocks. He hauled abandoned kayaks back to shore. He wasn’t the only staff member toiling away. There were around 7 waiters serving hundreds of people, picking up after them, bringing them mojitos and piña coladas, calling out animals like “Gecko!” Or “Whale!” To find the people whose day passes had the matching animals on them. These were some of the hardest working hotel staff I’ve ever seen.

Luis is a 33-year old father of two boys. He has been married for nine years. His five year-old-son does mixed martial arts. He gets his energy from his father. Luis is a gardener, repairman, groundskeeper, bartender, waiter, and a lifeguard in jeans.

As this New Year begins, I wanted to thank all of the hotel staff who have taken care of us during the holidays. I also wanted to thank you all in advance for taking care of us long after the Holidays end. Thank you for taking care of travelers like me 365 days a year.

Adventure Travel Nicaragua: Hiking Cosiguina Volcano, Pt. III

This is the final installment of my adventure travel story. I hiked Cosiguina Volcano near Potosí in Chinandega, Nicaragua. Read Part 2 here.

Saturday, 4:45 AM

Again, I was waking up before dawn, but this time, I’d be hiking a Volcano instead of running down a hill to catch a taxi. Rafael, the hotel owner, woke up with us and gave us cups of hot, instant coffee, which I appreciated. Just about the same 1% of people who use air-conditioning are the same kind of people who are wealthy enough to brew their coffee. “Ramon’s here, but take your time”, Rafael said. Jen and I would be hiking up the volcano with our private guide for just $25 split between the two of us.

We finished our coffees and met Ramon outside. He was a skinny, dark-skinned man who must’ve been in his 70’s. He had a grey baseball cap and grey mustache, and held a machete by the blade, not the handle. “Hola Ramon, mucho gusto”(“Hi Ramon, Nice to meet you”), I said, while giving him a firm handshake. He had a deep voice, a kind smile, and he didn’t say much. He wore a yellow button-down shirt, khaki pants, and worn-out Sperry boat shoes.

We wasted no time and walked briskly into the darkness. Our feet sank into the sandy road that winded through endless farmlands. The crisp air smelled of manure. It reminded me of my early runs in Moses Lake, Washington. Roosters crowed to announce the daybreak. As soon as the sun peeked out, the temperature began to climb. We walked quickly, is if we could beat the sun to the summit. We climbed further up past meadows and into the jungle. I turned around to see the Gulf of Fonseca and it’s shrimp farms behind me. Leaves covered the trees to make dinosaur-looking figures. It felt like we were in a Dr. Seuss book, except I’m sure Dr. Seuss never wrote about cowpies. It was hard to avoid them. I must have stepped into at least five. Throughout most of the three hour hike, cows and bulls walked behind, next to, and in front of us. They triggered bad memories for Jen, who was nearly attacked by a bull on a hike in Spain.

Ramon’s determined walk intimidated the cows-they moved right out of his way. We followed our quiet, fearless guide through the jungle, occasionally pausing so that he could hack an obstructing branch with his machete.

8:17 AM

Finally, we reached the summit of the Cosiguina Volcano. I was sweaty and hot, but the peaceful, cool breeze at the top made it all worth it. It blew against my skin, rewarding me for going through all the trouble of endless bus rides, stepping in cow pies, and nearly tripping into jellyfish infested waters.

It was quiet.

All we could hear was the wind and crickets. The view of the crater lake, along with the Salvadorian and Honduran volcanoes in behind it, was my favorite view to this day. Behind us was the Pacific Ocean and the San Cristóbal Volcano (Nicaragua’s tallest volcano), sitting majestically with its crown of clouds.

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At peace at the Summit of Cosiguina Volcano. Oh hey there, Honduras and El Salvador!

Clouds drifted past, casting dark, clumpy shadows within the green crater. The crater lake’s blue water sparkled. I hoped that if I stared at it long enough, that I could be teleported to the bottom for a swim. “Ramon, have you been to the bottom?” I asked. “Cómo No? I’ve rappelled down the crater. It took four hours to descend, and six to climb back up. Half of the water is cold, and the other is hot. It’s 90 meters deep”, he replied. I wanted to rappel down it.

I wanted to do so many things: to jump in, to walk along the edge of the crater to see two starkly different views to my left and to my right. I wanted to climb every volcano I saw.

A rush of both gratitude and relief overcame me. Hiking Cosiguina reminded me that there was a world beyond Nicaragua. After having been here for 15 months and only having gone home once, it sometimes feels as if I will never leave. I do miss traveling to other countries and I miss my friends, but I was so happy I’d stayed long enough to see this amazing sight. The volcanoes jutting out of the water reminded me of the view from Seattle’s Pike Place Market of the mountains jutting out of Pudget Sound. If my body hadn’t already been partially dehydrated form the hike, then my eyes probably would have watered. It all felt so recognizable yet starkly new.

My shoes crunched on the black pumice as I climbed on rock to open my can of tuna. I mixed it with lime-flavored mayonnaise and dipped my crackers into the can. This meal reminded me of my family’s hikes around Lake Wenatchee. My mom would even bring hot sauce and limes to squeeze on top. I was happy that I’d brought something other than just granola. While Jen and Ramon spoke, I thought of how I was in the right place at the right time. Getting up before dawn two days in a row was more than worth it. Cosiguina was one of those places, like the Red Shrine in Kyoto, or the Père Lachaise cemetery, where I’d visit Edith Piaf in Paris, where I felt an indescribable sense of belonging. These are my “spots”. I felt this way here because I enjoyed being able to see so many things at once. Hiking also brought back wonderful memories for me.

Have you ever been somewhere new and felt an instant connection to it? Share in the comments.

Featured image by @Handerson406

Adventure Travel Nicaragua: Hiking Cosiguina Volcano, Pt. II

This is the second part part of my journey to hike Cosiguina Volcano near Potosí in Chinandega, Nicaragua. Read Part I of my travels here.

Friday, 2:10 PM

Jen and I had been on the bus for three hours. The bus rattled along the road into Potosí. We stopped outside of the Hotel Brisas del Golfo. “Oh, we’re here!” I said, tapping Jen on the shoulder. We hopped out and waddled to the entrance, where we saw an older woman with curly dark hair and button noise sitting with her stroller, as if she had been waiting for us all day. “Buenas!” we said to one another. She moved pretty quickly for an older woman with a stroller. She was on a mission. We had reserved dorm beds for $8 each, and luckily, we had the whole room to ourselves. We set down our things, relieved that we didn’t have to set foot on another bus for the rest of the day. The hotel didn’t have air conditioning (as 99% of hotels and houses don’t), so we tested out the three fans to see which ones could blow the hot air away from us the best.

The hotel had a quaint, yet eerie feel to it. It had colorful, red walls, and lots of rocking chairs. We laid in the hammocks and looked at how differently decorated this hotel was, compared to the others I’d been in. I felt like I was in Mexico. The walls had pictures of distant relatives, as well as antique advertisements for Spanish bull fights. There were three fat cats with healthy-looking fur. I never used to pay much attention to whether an animal had healthy-looking fur or not, but I do now, after having seen countless stray, sickly looking dogs and cats in the streets. Cat lovers as well as dog lovers would enjoy this place, since the canine hosts include a mother and a baby Chihuahua.

After having drunk a Coke and laid in the hammocks, Jen and I went for a walk on the beach. On the way there, it was as if every house had at least two pigs outside, grunting and looking for whatevever it is that strikes a pig’s gastronomic fancy. My favorite pig was a white baby pig with black spots, It reminded me of a cow. Potosí wins the award for the most pigs per capita, I’m sure. But where’s the bacon? I wondered. We passed a large swimming hole where families took a break from the heat and stared at us at the same time. Children came up to as to stare at our white complexions. One girl twisted her neck at me, as if that might change my skin color, so I did the same, and she smiled. Having staring contests with children is my new past time.

As we got closer to the beach, more and more men catcalled us. “Adios, mamacitas!” one man said on his bike. Jen poked fun at the monotone way at which I replied “Adios…”, because I’m used to this type of attention here. Luckily, it wasn’t the overtly sexual street harassment I’ve experienced before. They wanted to see if we spoke Spanish or not. So, in order to prove it, I asked them what the names of the volcanoes in the distance were. “That’s El Tigre, in Honduras”, one man said. I told them they were lucky to live in such a beautiful place, and they just nodded. As we approached the beach, we saw a group of kids throwing rocks at empty Coke bottles. I picked up a rock to join them, but I ended up missing by about 20 feet.

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KPhoto by Flickr User Magda & Maciej

The beach was calm. Groups of men played soccer on one side. There were almost no waves, since we were inside the barrier that is the Gulf of Fonseca. I took off my Chaco sandals so that the dark, volcanic sand could massage my feet. We passed several fishing boats that were docking for the night. “Are those your dogs?” I asked a man, who had a handful of fish in his hands and looked as if he were about to feed the hungry dogs. “Just that one, he said” looking at the yellow Labrador in front of him. The beach reminded me of the beaches of Bahía de Caraquez, Ecuador, where I lived in the summer of 2011, during an internship with the La Poderosa Media Project. I thought of the beachcomber who took my flip flops as I’d gone for another barefoot run. I had to walk home barefoot that day-that’s not something I would do here. It doesn’t matter if you leave a Spanish plant outside, like my friend Danica did until her family advised her to put it away. It you leave anything unattended, chances are that someone will pick it up to reuse it.

It was getting dark, so we headed back and went on the boardwalk. There were shrimp exoskeletons all over it. At the end of it was a staircase, so I walked down it in order to get in the water. The stairs were so slippery that before I knew it, I’d fallen backward and scraped my elbow. “Oh my God, did you hit your head?” Jen asked. “No, I’m fine. I can’t believe I did that!” I laughed. She came down to help me and also tripped. Then, we noticed that the water was infested with jellyfish, and decided against swimming. My elbow was bleeding, so we went back to the hotel, where I rinsed it out and put antibiotic ointment on it. What a day.

5:30 PM

I ordered Chicken for dinner. While we waited, the mother Chihuahua came and sat on my lap. It was strange to be in the presence of a Chihuaha that wasn’t shivering. That’s how hot Nicaragua is, my friends. One of the cooks brought out our heaping plates of rice and beans, cabbage, tortillas, and meat, and I asked her what the dogs name was. “Is it Princesa?” I asked, jokingly, because that’s a common name here. I was correct. So, I put Princesa down on the tile floor after our cuddle session and enjoyed dinner. Just as we went to pay, the lights went out. Black outs are pretty common here. You never know how long they’ll last. Just as I was waiting for Rafael, the owner, to find a flashlight so that I could pay, “Garfield”, one of the fat cats, jumped up next to me and began munching his bowl of cat food. “We don’t feed them tortillas, or rice, or anything. They only kill the mice, but they don’t eat them. We only feed them Pedigree, Mar y Tierra (Surf ‘n Turf)!” said Rafael, who pinched his fingers together and moved his hand down to emphasize his point.

A half hour later, the power went back on, and the TV resumed its nightly telenovela. We went to bed at 7:30 because our guide, Ramon, would pick us up at 5 AM to hike Cosiguina. He would take us up the volcano for just $25 split between the two of us.

Featured image by @Handerson406

Adventure Travel Nicaragua: Hiking Cosiguina Volcano, Pt. I

Cosiguina Volcano hosts an enormous, blue crater lake. It is located near Potosí, Chinandega, in Nicaragua’s northwest corner, and overlooks El Salvador and Honduras. Cosiguina is also in the hottest part of the country. I knew I needed to hike it.

Why would we sign up for a hike? Because I’d heard that the panoramic view is worth the extreme heat. That’s what adventure travel, and vulnerable travel, are all about-experiencing a new place in an even more uncomfortable way, because the outcome is worth it. I would see if it would be worth it for myself.

Friday, 4:15 AM

That morning, my alarm buzzed and I jumped out of bed. By 4:45, I was out the door on the way to catch my 5 am bus to Chinandega. Since it was still pitch black outside, and since my city isn’t safe out night, I flew down the hill with my bottle opener in my hand. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to use it, but it gave me more peace of mind than if I had left without it. I ran to the main park so that I could catch a cab. Large groups of men were laughing and joking in the park, because that is just what men do at 4 am here. I’ve had a guy friend get mugged and beaten up at 11 pm at night. His laptop and iphone were stolen, and he had to get eye surgery, so I was nervous. During the day, my city is fine, but after 8 pm, I take cabs home. Nicaragua is a relatively safe country, with gang violence not nearly as high as in other Central American countries, but crimes of opportunity still happen.

Luckily, I waved down a cab in a few seconds and crawled inside with my blue backpack. I breathed a sigh of relief as I handed my driver 20 cords (73 cents). “Tome”, I said. Here, it’s customary to pay as soon as you get inside, since the prices are set. If you’re traveling past 10 pm, or if you live on top of a huge hill like I do, cabs cost 20 cords. Otherwise, it’s 10 cords.

5 minutes later, we I got out at the bus station, where women were setting up their food stalls and laying out their dragon fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. Bus drivers stood around the station. Some of them extended their hands out to me, asking “A donde va, Chelita? Managua? Estelí” (“Where are you going, young white woman? Managua? Estelí?”. I just raised the roof, singing “Chinangedaaaa, woo!”. I was still in a celebratory mood, since I hadn’t been assaulted that morning. I got on my bus and laid my backpack next to me to save my friend Jen a seat. We would be passing through her site soon. I sat there, making heads turn toward the “sssss” sound I made as I blew air into my inflatable headrest. That is one of the most useful tools I’ve had since college. It looks silly, but it has spared me a lot of neck pain-I recommend getting one.

Thirty minutes later, Jen got on the bus and sat next to me. I ate chocolate flakes as we caught each other up on our lives. Jen and I had hiked and swum through the unforgettable Somoto Canyon in August, and I was excited to hike somewhere new with her.

8:00 AM

Our bus pulled up into the city of Chinandega. We took a cab downtown and ate a greasy breakfast of eggs, beans, rice, and cream. It wasn’t the best meal, but it would keep us full for the remaining three-hour bus ride to Potosí. Tara, a volunteer who lived nearby, recommended that we buy snacks in Chinandega. Potosí is a small fishing town with no supermarkets. So, we stopped by the Wal-Mart owned Pali supermarket, which is famous for having no air conditioning and lines so long it makes you think people are waiting for a Star Wars premier-not to buy bags of frozen chicken thighs.

Just as Jen and I were about to pay for our crackers and tuna, something bizarre happened. “¡Gringa, gringa, dejeme pasar!” (“American, American, let me go in front!”). A woman with brown eyes and disheveled hair came up from behind us, cradling a bottle of Tang, and proceeded to cut in front of us. She placed her things in front of the cashier. We just stared at her, in disbelief. I’m used to people here cutting in line. They are the masters of being sneaky. That’s why people literally rub elbows with each other in line, and aren’t afraid to invade what Americans call “personal space”. This lady caught us off guard because she brazenly announced that she was cutting. She then justified this by telling us that she was an elementary school teacher that didn’t make much money. “Oh, the same with us, except we are high school teachers! And we make just as much as you do”. She thought that we were just another bunch of clueless tourists, so the look on her face was priceless. I’m used to having these kinds of conversations with people on the bus or at parties, but never after having been cut in line. We both wondered what we should have done, but I was just so dumbfounded about what had happened.

We got on the bus for Potosí, and began to chat about the lady who cut is in line. I admitted to having felt guilty for how the United States screwed over Nicaragua in the 1980’s by backing a war against the Sandinista government. Jen reminded me that our U.S. citizenship gave this woman no right to cut in front of us. It’s funny how I even correlated a war that ended when I was born as a justifier for being cut in line. No matter how much money my government has with relation to theirs, cutting in line was still not okay. It was so hot inside of the non-air conditioned bus, that I got out to watch a man changing the front tire. I told him that I’d changed a tire once, but that I’d forgotten how. He asked me where I was from, and if I liked Chinandega. I explained that it was nice to visit, but that I wouldn’t be able to live in the heat very comfortably. As soon as he finished changing the tire, he handed Jen and I some spiritual self-help books, and told us to have a nice trip.

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“Hurry Up and Waiting” is common when no one around seems to know the bus schedule. Photo by Flickr User Sven Hansen.

It turned out that our bus to Potosí wouldn’t leave for another hour and ten minutes. We didn’t know the bus schedule, and no one else seemed to, either. So, we waited. As Jen said, the term “hurry up and wait” speaks to our experience here. We often rush to get onto a bus because we want to get a seat, but if we do, chances are that if we are early enough to get on first, that the bus won’t leave for another hour. By 11:10, we rolled out of the hot, noisy market and began our three-hour drive northward toward El Salvador. It was a beautiful drive, dotting with endless palm trees, banana trees, rice fields, fields of cows and horses, and corner stores selling glass bottles of Coca-cola. The last hour of the drive was on a dirt road. Eventually, we drove by a large, emerald-colored hill. We wondered if that was Cosiguina, but I didn’t want to assume anything. We would find out, eventually…

Featured image by @Handerson406 Continue reading “Adventure Travel Nicaragua: Hiking Cosiguina Volcano, Pt. I”