After 48 hours’ grueling travel, gratia US Customs, I am delighted to sink into a tropical night in a hotel across from Managua’s airport.
Hotel Las Mercedes is designed like a clam shell, rays of one-storey buildings fanning out across gardens and pools. I get lost on my late-evening walk, and am delighted to be lost. I should have turned on the skrunky little TV in my room, just to refresh my idiot Spanish and see what propaganda is being pumped out to the middle class, such as it may be, but couldn’t summon the energy. My old friend would be here at nine a.m. to pick me up from allegedly dangerous Managua and take me to Las Penitas via the colonial city of Leon and his finca, where he is raising free-range cattle.
I awake in time for a short swim in the vast, cold, empty pool–there seems to be no one here–and a short rinse in the pusillanimous shower, nearly breaking my neck on the slippery tile floors to answer the phone. (This would never happen in the US or Canada!) My friend and I decide to meet after breakfast, which is included in the rather large hotel bill ($94 US).
A real omelet, with real eggs and three kinds of real fruit juice–yum! Although my appetite is small after last night’s incredible tostones (fried platanos, velvety black beans, deep-fried cheese and a cucumber salsa to die for–all for $5), I wolf it down and even deign to try the non-espresso coffee, which is actually not bad, if you like regulation semi-burned coffee.
A woman invades my space. I am surprised, but not unwilling. She must have a reason. She appears older than I, thanks to short-cropped gray hair and a tummy bigger than my own, but turns out to be somewhat younger, as do a disturbingly large number of humans nowadays.
She is fabulous. We have an astoundingly large area of common interests and expertise: law, medicine, human rights, education, elder wisdom, our PhDs, indigenous issues, women’s issues, croning…. She is here to study labor relations, especially as they relate to women.
In a quarter hour we solve the major problems of the world, theoretically, and I am sorry to have to terminate this conversation–for now.
My hosts could not be more gracious and welcoming. It wasn’t easy for them to pick me up. Yesterday, when my friend came alone, not having received my message of delay, someone stole the signal lights off the side off his truck while he was inquiring after my fate. Their replacement cost him $75 today. Today, his wife guards the vehicle while he gathers me and my stuff from the hotel.
I am very glad to shed the load of books I have brought him. I had asked what I could bring, and the answer was, “Books.” This pleased me enormously, but proved bloody heavy to schlep around airports for two days. I can see where the request came from, however. Not a single bookstore do I spy, all the way through Managua and Leon. There’s no literature to speak of, Spanish or English.
I can completely understand how my friend fell in love with the farm. It is a bucolic dream. The cows are sweet, biddable creatures, and the dogs, all lovely mutts, are a laugh and a half. My host cooks up a beautiful, balanced lunch, served in the breezeway between the halves of the house, on one side the kitchen and on the other, the bed and bath, all erected with local brickwork. The monetary facts about the cows, however, are sobering: bought in the spring for about $100, they are fed on the scrubby land and given excellent care until the end of the year, when they are sold for $300-$400.
I look at these mild-eyed creatures destined to become first-class beef within the next 60 days, and think I’ll stick to those velvety beans and maybe cactus salad.
Rather quickly my GI system begins bucking, a fact I try to hid from my hosts. There’s a taste to the pork which causes unease. It seems okay at first but rapidly becomes something I don’t ever want again. We attend a reception on the beach, and pork is served again. Same odd taste. I cannot force down more than a tiny mouthful. Remembering how my ex once told me that the year he fed his pigs apples, he had the tastiest pork on the planet, I ask my host what pigs eat here. The answer is something like “composite”. I may be remembering the wrong word, but the answer is synonymous with “Who knows?”
I feel as if I’ve downed garbage, which feeds my apocalyptic vision of the planet. Let’s hope I didn’t eat more than the system can handle.
Eating. What a bloody problem!
At my “hotel”, I dance to salsa on the tiles and on the sand, watching the stars and learning to breathe, once more, with the surf.