Living dual lives in parallel universes calls for a flexible lifestyle and mesh of madness. I love my friends, freedoms, and simple, natural luxuries that exist in both countries. I’ll trade in my tempeh and variety of organic homegrown fruits and veggies for gallo pinto, Ranchitos, and tropical fruits- for weeks, and even months if needed. In one place, it’s the freedom to jump in and out of boats and kayaks without signatures and life vests, four wheeling down the beach to a surf spot, and having a roadie as a passenger. In the other, it’s Amazon, Trader Joe’s, never interrupted utilities, non-rusty tools, and…did I already mention Amazon? Both have their relative city problems such as traffic, adolescent glue sniffers (in LA it’s more like heroine shooters), bureaucratic agencies, and poverty (much more per capita in Nica). However, some of life’s more personal comparisons and contrasts of there and here, here and there, have been on my mind since returning to the states from my last trip.
Easing in and out of climates is no easy task. It takes practice. Being a Libra, I thrive on keeping my scale balanced, therefore I naturally gravitate towards a Mediterranean climate- not too hot, not too cold, even keel all year round. So of course, walking outside the Managua airport during my first travels was like sticking my head in the oven while baking cookies. My first instinct was to run back inside or into a taxi for cool air. There have been many trips when I’ve battled heat and humidity, longing to retreat by day two, wondering if going back to Casa Norte was an inoffensive possibility. Yet, through grit, sweat, hammock stillness, and realizing the benefits of Gatorade and fresh coconut water, I persevered, and, if I don’t have to work or run too hard, I’ll embrace the steady hot sticky climate. In this type of overwhelming heat, a slight breeze doesn’t go by unnoticed, grocery shopping in the air conditioned Colonia is a luxury, not a task, and an iced cold Toña on the road home after a day in Chinandega is an honorable hero’s reward.
Trash is a huge issue. Unlike in L.A. suburbia, it doesn’t get picked up by an automated arm and trucked to an out-of-sight and forgotten dump. Trash is everywhere. It’s in burning, smoking pits, floating in streams, piled up along fence lined streets and gutters, and at the foot of the few garbage receptacles spied in front of some stores. Where there’s water, there’s often sewage, since septic tanks are non-existent, or rather, non-functional. At first, I mistook the odor from the mundane ritual of trash burning as family barbeques at every other residence. “Wow, what a great fun-loving country!” I thought. It also took some time for me to get used to throwing toilet paper in the plastic trash buckets in the corners without getting grossed out. However, it quickly becomes as routine as going to the bathroom. So much so in fact, I always find myself disposing, or almost disposing, toilet paper in the trash can when I first get back home in the states.
I revel in the luxury of multiple showers throughout the day without the luxury of hot water. There’s a childhood Pig Pen side of me that secretly enjoys the surface grime that never fully washes away in the ocean, pool, or under the showerhead. Since indoor lighting is always dull and no full-length mirrors exist in the house, I have the courage, or ignorance, to walk out in a bikini everyday with the assumption that I look great. The lumps, dimples, stray eyebrow wires, and gray hairs sprouting at my temples won’t upset and damage my self-esteem if I can’t see them. Therefore, what I don’t see doesn’t exist. Oddly enough, this inclination of mine sets my mind at ease to not care or think about what other people see. As far as I’m concerned, imperfections fade away in sun kissed skin and every cool shower seems the equivalent of a body wrap and facial. Of course, after weeks of minimalist cleansing, that first hot shower does seem like the best thing in the world before inevitably going back to being taken for granted as a daily routine. Unfortunately, jumping back in the routine of looking into a well-lit mirror is not as welcoming.
Water is an issue, and it takes me at least a day to stop worrying about it when I’m back up north. Although I probably ingest tons of Latin America ocean water attempting to duck dive waves or catch them, I always remember to keep my mouth closed when showering and use bottled water for teeth brushing and rinsing. Unless the water is boiled, bottled water is used for cooking and morning coffee or tea. The neurotic hassle is making sure utensils, cups, plates, and the like are completely dry before using and washing anything to be eaten raw in a bowl filled with bottled water. I have gotten sick during my travels in the past, but most likely, not from the water. In any case, I’m told not to take any chances; therefore, it gnaws on me to be conscientious. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t drink L.A. tap water either, and I’ve gulped an equal amount of saltwater in Huntington Beach.
Aside from water amoebas and bacteria, plagues, and what not, I’m mostly concerned about the visible pesky menaces such as mosquitos, scorpions, and tarantulas. I don’t think about dengue or malaria when I see welts forming after mosquito bites. I just wonder if I’ll be able to sleep through the itchiness at night. Often times I douse myself in deet, which I hear can melt plastic. It’s quite a catch 22. Aiming not to get bit by a scorpion, I quickly get in the habit of turning clothes inside out before getting dressed, checking the front and back of towels before using, and unroll my yoga mat with caution. Because tarantulas often show up on the bathroom wall, or in the sink, I’ve become quite skilled at trapping and escorting them unharmed out into a nearby field. I battle critters in the states as well, mostly to protect our urban garden- organically, no deet.
Being a runner, on the second early morning during my first Nica trip, I couldn’t be confined by the hotel gates and jogged down the main road looking for the town of Asseradores. Less than a mile down, I dead ended at what seemed to be an abandoned marina resort, and ran back to our house without seeing a store, a car on the road, a restaurant, or any signs of a town. Just some kids on bicycles, stray dogs I hoped wouldn’t chase after me, and a rather large and filthy pig tied to a fence. When I asked about the whereabouts of “the town”, I was told that I had run right through it! The town is actually a quaint village, and depending on the time of day, early morning, but not too early, and later in the afternoon, it’s bustling with the gaseosa and sandia vendors, women carting jugs of water with children in tow, cattle traffic, a honking bus, motorcycles and bicycles zipping through, and families gathered in chairs and hammocks in outdoor kitchens. There’s Doña Blanca’s pulperia for fresh bottled water, groceries, medicine, gas, and sometimes Eskimo ice cream drumsticks. Pedro’s home is set up with an outdoor rancho for guests to dine on typical Nicaraguan cuisine and smoothies of the day. Now, keeping up with the booming surf scene, he’s added a few little cottages and calls his property The Boom Hostel. New restaurants and homes have sprung up, more cars are seen cruising up and down the pavers which not too long ago was dirt, and more and more Nicaraguan kids are sporting surfboards and board shorts. Surf and yoga camps with their semi-resorts are popping up and exploiting all the shore and sea air has to offer, yet an old decrepit surf hotel packed with limited cash traveling patrons surprisingly still stands. Though change is happening, the quaint village feeling still prevails as I drive through “town” with smiles and waves to reciprocating locals, stop in front of the house of someone I know to chat about family and news, or sit under a fisherman’s front door listening to many fish tales before leaving with purchased shrimp.
Right now, at this very moment in my California home, I miss not lighting the stove burner with a match, that rusty, stalling 1987 red manual jalopy with its puma art, baking sweets for the kids in stifling Hades heat, playing with the dogs from one end of the shore to the other, warm surf, and sunset cocktail hours on balconies with friends. And I’m sure if I were in Nica for months at a time, at some point I’d be lying in a hammock longing for vegan corn dogs, cold weather, my good old Labrador, and IPA’s. Either way, in either place, it’s good to find myself rooted where love, happiness, hardships, and life abound.