Some trips are different. This was not a cycling trip, backpacking or hiking trip, nor was it a trip to visit family in our homeland. This was simply a trip to get out of our routine, get away from Vancouver in the gloomiest time of year and try to live in a new place for a few weeks. It was supposed to be about relaxing, getting some work done and other projects and enjoying the heat and the sun. What we didn’t expect would happen is that we’d get so emotionally attached to a few creatures, that every week we’d have to face another emotional obstacle. That we’d get so connected and then we’d have to say goodbye. But such is life.
We are going to become parents in a few months, so maybe this contributed to the emotional roller coaster we went through during our short stay in Nicaragua. We landed on a hot and muggy Friday evening. Gili didn’t sleep the night before our 7am flight, not even for a second, so he was a complete zombie during the two flights and the connection in Houston. At the airport in Managua we were welcomed with airport staff all wearing face masks and ski goggles. It was quite surreal. Turns out that the spread of Ebola is a huge scare in such a small third world country and they’ll do anything to prevent it. There was a long line up – we awaited our turn in front of the infra-red camera that checked our body temperature. Luckily we didn’t have a fever and could go through.
Gili’s cousin Oren met us at the airport. Due to a misunderstanding, the taxi driver who accompanied him had basically never driven outside of Granada, and was scared of the big fast road, so it was a slow drive. Eventually we arrived to the familiar house – our home for the next three weeks. Almost two years ago when we cycled in Central America we stopped in Granada where Gili’s aunt Peta, her husband Ben, and his cousin Oren all lived at the time and welcomed us with open arms. It was such a relief to stay with them and be in one place for awhile after being on the road for almost two months. We only meant to stay a few days which somehow turned into two weeks. We got to know Granada very well then, so we already knew our way around this time around. The only difference now was that Peta and Ben no longer live there, and Oren was just wrapping up his life in Granada and preparing to take the dogs back to the US with him.
As typical Latin American bureaucracy and complications took over, it gradually became clear that the dogs would not be leaving with Oren. We didn’t mind at all, since we were happy to spend a few extra days with the two dogs, which by that point we had completely adopted. We knew Mango and Dwayne from previous trips to Chicago and Granada, but this time we truly connected. We took them on long walks twice a day, and eventually they got so used to us that they followed us everywhere around the house (including the bathroom) and slept in our bedroom. Mango is a ginger sheep dog, and very famous around Granada. Walking with him on the street was like walking with a rock star. Everyone knew his name and kept on calling “Mango, Mango” wherever we went. Dwayne got a bit less attention, but we loved him nonetheless.
Then came the sad day on which Gili woke up early to take the dogs to the airport, from where they would fly to Chicago, via Panama. It was an operation that involved three countries: Nicaragua, the US and India, but eventually the dogs were on their way and we were left with a big hole in the house and our hearts.
Now that the dog saga was behind us we felt like we needed some relaxation time, or as we called it, “a vacation from the vacation” so we headed to Playa Gigante for two days. We took the bus to Rivas which was crowded and slow, and it never fails to amaze me how Gili and I manage to fall asleep so easily on those chicken buses. Since we made the switch from backpacking to cycle touring one of the things I surprisingly missed was taking public transport with the locals. For some weird reason I have come to like those hectic chicken buses, and the endless stream of vendors who get on to the bus trying to sell anything from candy, to medications, ice cream, to freshly made homemade cheese or water in a plastic bag.
We arrived to the small fishing village of Playa Gigante and it didn’t seem like much was going on – which was spot on perfect. We spent some time on the beach, we swam in the ocean, we ate lobster and fish and slept in a very small room (about the size of the pool in the Granada house). There were a few dramatic but short lived storms with heavy monsoon type rain which made the whole area very muddy. We also checked out the nearby Playa Amarillo, which is undeveloped and little visited: nothing except sand, ocean and trees. Leaving Playa Gigante was a bit of a mission, but things tend to work out eventually, and we made it out just in time for the last bus from Rivas to Granada.
With the dogs gone, the four cats started to be a lot more present around the house and we connected especially with Stubby. She has a stub of a tail and a permanent eye infection so she always looks like she is crying – Gili constantly cleaned the area around her eyes. It took her some time to trust us, but again, just like with the dogs she couldn’t leave our sight. She was on the table if we were working on the computers, she was on the dining room chairs if we were eating, she was near the pool if we were swimming, she was on the couch if we were watching our program and of course she was in the bedroom when we were sleeping, and in her sneaky cat type of way she sometimes even made it on to the bed.
Our daily routine in Granada was very simple – we would go out in the morning before it got insanely hot and humid. Most times we went to the market to drink our daily coconut, and then stock up on rambutan (called “mamón chino” in Nicaragua). It was the only interesting fruit that seemed to be in season and we usually bought 100-200 at a time, and somehow they kept on disappearing and we needed more. We sometimes emptied the supplies of the vendors at the market.
After coming back from any outing we would jump into the pool and then, much refreshed, we would go on to other tasks. Gili was mostly busy working during the day, I worked a lot on a grant proposal for my project during the first week and then took it easy most of the time with a good book or a nap. Then we would go out again only in the afternoon or evening when it cooled down already, and go for a walk to the plaza, the supermarket or a nearby park. At night we would settle in to watch “Lie to Me“, our latest addiction. This is not the first time we got addicted to a TV show in Central America. If you haven’t watched Lie to Me, we highly recommend it, but beware, you might start analyzing the true intentions of everyone around you, just by looking at their facial expressions…
We also practiced yoga a few times a week. With a yoga studio just across the street (literally) we didn’t have a lot of excuses. There was actually a really good teacher, and despite the fact that before I didn’t like yoga that much, I really enjoyed it this time around. We even took part in a full moon session on the rooftop of the house of one of the instructors, which concluded with a burning ceremony, in which you burn a note with what you want to get rid of in your life.
As for food, the Nicaraguan cuisine is not that interesting or varied unfortunately, so we mostly ate at home. Gili experimented with making chocolate milk and beer bread, and I baked challah and a passion fruit cake. Our favourite restaurant, El Garaje, was just a few houses down the road. It is run by a Canadian couple and they serve excellent homemade food and a few specialties that change weekly, so we made sure to visit there every week. We also went to the ice cream shop often to “gather intelligence”. Their only really good flavour is the dark chocolate. It’s not just good, it’s amazing. For a reason that is beyond our understanding they didn’t always carry this flavour, so we made sure to check back every day to see if they had it or to ask them when they’ll have it, a point on which they mostly didn’t have a clue.
We spent two days in León, another colonial town a few hours north. Despite our concern that it would be just like Granada, the atmosphere was actually very different. We caught a bicitaxi to get to town from the bus terminal which seemed like an ideal mode of transportation there. The main church is very impressive and huge, surprising for a small town in Nicaragua. There are rumours that it should have actually been the church of Lima, Peru, and the plans somehow got mixed up.
After we found a place to stay and rested for a few hours we went on a walking tour in the narrow colourful streets. We passed more churches including a yellow one (Iglesia de Recolección) that looked as if it was taken from a fairy tale. Since the night was still young, we decided to check out the cinema and ended up in a terrible movie called “A Walk Among Tombstones“. The cultural experience was fascinating though. People kept on talking on their cell phones during the movie and one family brought really young kids, to a movie that featured violent murder scenes, rape and drugs. Somehow the kids were much more well behaved than the adults…
The night was a bit brutal as due to a power outage the fans stopped working and I spent most of the night sleeping on the floor of the balcony. It reminded me of summer nights growing up in Tel-Aviv – I spent many of them sleeping on the cool stone floor. The next day we checked out the rooftop of the huge church which looked like a white castle with great views of the city and nearby volcanoes. We visited the Museo de la Revolución with a private tour from an ex FSLN soldier and a lot of details (and propaganda) about the revolution, wars and current government. For lunch we went to a local eatery called “La cucaracha” (The cockroach), a León institution due to their famous bean soup. It was beyond my understanding how people could eat boiling soup in such excessive heat, but it was excellent. There was also a surprisingly good French bakery in León, with fresh pastries and bread.
We caught the bus back from Managua to Granada just in time for rush hour. The bus was so crowded that people were actually hanging from the outside door. Just a typical commute for most people on the bus though. Arriving back ‘home’ was a relief, but at first we could only locate one cat. After searching around we found Stubby hiding on the roof and within a few hours the other two showed up. We had a Full House again.
The last hurdle and probably the most difficult one was our connection with Focaccia, the most adorable kitten I’d ever met. On Friday, two days before our departure day we went to the nearby Laguna de Apoyo. It’s an amazing lake inside a crater of a volcano. The water is so refreshing, and the restaurants there serve excellent fish plates and ceviche. About half an hour after we got back home we heard a really strange meow that did not sound like any of ‘our’ cats, or the ginger cat that constantly tried to make his way into the house and had an especially annoying meow. The house was quite dark at night, so it took us some time to find a tiny kitten hiding just by the entrance. We’re not sure when she was dropped off and by who, but the fact was that she was there and we had to take care of her.
I am not a cat person, and I grew up raising a dog. Cats always seemed a bit sneaky to me, like it’s hard to trust them, but Focaccia was different, no doubt. We gave her some milk and yogurt and soon discovered that she could actually eat dried cat food. We cuddled the poor thing the entire evening. She showed up just as Gili was making focaccia for dinner, so that’s how we named her. At night she slept in our bed and during the day I kept on holding her, but also gave her time to play around and get to know the other cats (which were less than excited about her appearance). We also spent the day trying to find her a home, but since we basically knew two people in Granada we couldn’t find anyone before we left.
On Sunday we had to catch our flight and I almost managed to convince Gili to take Focaccia with us. She was so small no one would notice her, and even if they did she was so cute, no one would refuse taking her with us… He wasn’t convinced (always has to be so rational) and we left her for the next tenant to take care of, with a list of explanations. Luckily Gili’s aunt is well connected to other animal lovers in Granada and a few days after we got back Focaccia found a good home and we were very relieved.
The trip could not have ended without a taxi driver who did not show up despite our arrangement with him – after waiting 15 minutes we called him and he said he’d be there in 25 minutes… It’s not like we had a plane to catch or anything. However, as things tend to work out, we found another taxi driver with no problems, and we made it to the airport with time to spare. Vancouver welcomed us with clear skies but freezing, below zero temperatures.
We had a great time on this trip, despite sometimes feeling like someone was testing our attachment. Dogs, cats, kittens, bats and other animals just made it a whole lot more interesting. We are looking forward to having our own little one to get attached to in a few months – and no, this time it won’t be a cat or dog and not even a kitten.