This is a story about a jungle, some buses, ugly men, my absolute resolve to have the worst time possible, and a bus stop.
This is a story about learning to expect nothing; expect with an open heart, mind, and hands.
This weekend, I took my first out-of-city trip with the other León kids to Macizo de Peñas Blancas. We first learned of the nature reserve from our in-country staff, Luis. It was hard not to be enamored by the picture painted: a sprawling jungle full of Nicaragua’s native flora and fauna, a hike to the top of a waterfall for amazing views, and hiking through a river! It sounded like the perfect plan, and really, how could it go wrong?
This morning, Linnea, Brenna, and I discussed our highs and lows of the trip. We talked about it like this: one high from everyone, one low, and one more high (for a trip-reflection sandwich, as Linnea described it). It wasn’t until this discussion that I allowed myself to let go of my cynical, bitter, jaded tendencies- that I do love so and consider to be my main personality traits- and reflect positively. So, without further ado; this was my trip-reflection sandwich.
The first high I had was one I did not expect, and it wasn’t even one that happened to me, really. While the group was in Matagalpa, we happened to walk past the central park and past a clothing vendor. As we walked past, Brenna pointed out a denim jacket excitedly. All of us had a collective “yeah I could see you wearing that” moment and moved on to focus on getting coffee. Over the course of about two hours, the decision was made that it was time to try our hand at bartering to get Brenna that jacket. We thought we would have to try to haggle down a 200 córdobas jacket to 50 córdobas. Even though 200 córdobas would have only worked out to be about six dollars and fifty cents, the cheapskates inside us all reared their ugly heads, and we prepared to pull out all the stops: sickly-sweet voices, good cop and bad cop techniques, the classic “pretend to walk away until they give you a special discounted price” move, opening an empty wallet, crocodile tears, and the works. Of course, we planned to do all of this in half-broken Spanish while the stronger Spanish speakers stood in the back to jump in when needed (read: me). Brenna walked over, ready to haggle something to a fourth of it’s price. All of us stood with bated breath as we waited for the initial price point.
Then the vendor told her the price: 50 córdobas. Despite how it must have looked and how it was made obvious we were complete novices at hard line bargaining, we took the offer immediately and tried not to scream too loud. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of the exact moment when the vendor gave us our ideal price.
Having a victory come to us so easily was exactly the boost we needed to carry us through the next few hours of waiting for our hostel to open. The funny thing about the whole mess was that the six hours stumbling around the city were actually the most casual, aesthetic six hours I’d ever spent anywhere. I hadn’t known I would love Matagalpa so dearly- initially, I had wanted to skip that leg of the trip entirely. Cities never breathe the way we want or expect them to breathe; the process of taking pictures I knew would be beautiful was one of my favorite parts, to be honest. Here’s some evidence of that.
The low point was one I could not have avoided in any capacity: the bus rides. Without getting too far into the nitty-gritty, we absolutely had moments where we chose to sit on each other instead of deal with standing next to strangers that had no respect for physical boundaries. I would have rather had the chance to sleep, but I was too paranoid of something happening to let myself relax.
I didn’t want to let myself be dragged down by the bad moments of this trip, though. The second high was actually post-trip. Linnea, Brenna, and I were walking to the bus station from the hostel within the jungle. Just as we began to go uphill enough to see the road, we caught the sight of a bus pulling away in the distance. In our screaming panic to get to the bus station at a dead sprint, we turned the corner to see everyone sitting calmly on the side of the road, chatting it up. In fact, the bus we had seen was going the wrong way and we had about 20 minutes of downtime while we waited for the right bus. The mist was just rolling over the top of the mountain- a place we had spent hours hiking to just the day before. Getting time to slow down, take pictures of the jungle mist, and finally know that we weren’t on the verge of missing an appointment like we had been the whole four days- in that moment, I was content.
Every trip is full of highs and lows- brace yourselves for cheesiness- as life tends to be. There were legitimately points during that weekend in which I wanted to lie down on the ground and never get up. Even in quiet moments, I found myself desperately wanting to be back in León and to be done with this whole trip.
In the end, I think we often let ourselves be swept up by our expectations. Fun fact: I didn’t want to stop a day in Matagalpa. I wanted to spend an hour at most in Matagalpa and immediately move on to Macizo de Peñas Blancas.
Stuff happens. Expectations change. What’s important on a trip like this is to breathe first and think later. What we failed to do was give ourselves space and time to inhale the Nicaraguan air and just be. When we were forced to slow down, we were forced to enjoy ourselves; to be happy.
At least, I was. I am disgustingly bad at just being. That weekend, I just… existed in Matagalpa as we stomped up hills with our phones out and cameras on. I just existed at the bus stop from El Cuá to Matagalpa while it rained gently and we giggled our way through photo shoots.
So, I was let down by the hike, yes. Matagalpa, however, exceeded my wildest expectations simply because I had none. Funny how that works out.
It’s okay to mess up. This program is nine whole months. Being forced to accept that you were wrong and that the country was right is a blessing- I’m sure that in eight months when I am on the plane from Managua to Salt Lake City, I will be thinking less about my perfectly-executed plans and more about these moments; these moments where I lived on my own terms, in my own time, on my own two feet, with my mind blissfully blank. These moments are how I will learn to live with myself.
10/10 would not go on this hike again but would definitely post these pictures on Instagram again so that’s basically going on the hike again if you think about it.