Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Go East, Young Man! Part I, Río Blanco

I am such a slacker. I am so sorry to all three of you who read this blog and I promise, if you stop sending me emails, I will try to update more often. Keep in mind, however, that if I were to spend too much time writing about what I'm doing, I wouldn't be doing anything else!

The lovely and talented Leslie and Daniel Milliwolff recently visited me in Nicaragua for two whole weeks and we did some serious adventuring. They flew in on a Tuesday night and we spent Wednesday bumming around Managua hitting markets and museums then Thursday we went to Laguna de Apoyo for the day and Chamán for the night. The next morning is when the adventure started.

We awoke at 7am on Friday morning so we could pack our belongings and get a cab at 8am to Mercado Mayoreo, where we would take our first bus (allegedly scheduled to leave at 9am). For the three of us to take a cab across town (some people tend to be opposed to an hour ride on the city bus to a place you can get to by cab in 20 minutes) it cost us C$100.

We arrived at Mercado Mayoreo with a good 30 minutes to spare. We ate picos (sweet, triangle shaped bread) and drank some carrot juice out of a bag while watching kids put on clown make-up and then boarded the bus. We were lucky enough to find Dan a seat with some leg room (he is about twice as tall as the average Nicaraguan) and we rode the bus for 5 1/2 hours along a paved road for C$70 to the lovely, small town of Río Blanco.

About two hours before we got to Río Blanco, I asked a fella how much further it was. He told us 40 minutes. 45 minutes later, he got off the bus. I asked someone else "¿Cuanto falta a Río Blanco?" Once again, I received the answer 40 minutes. I think "40 minutes" is the answer for everything if people don't know. Either that or "bastante."

We got off the bus at the Texaco station in Río Blanco and went looking for the Fundanic office so we could arrange a hike up Cerro Musún. We wanted to stay in a cabin on the mountain. We went to some organization/business near the parque central and asked them if they knew who we needed to talk to. They directed us to another business where we were lead into a basement and directed to sit on a couch while one of the fellas went to go round up the boys from Fundanic to come talk to us.

By the time they got to the office, it was around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and the fellas from Fundanic said it was a 2 hour hike up the mountain and it was a bit too late to get started if we wanted to be there before dark. They offered to find us a place to stay in town for the night and they told us to meet them in the parque central, which prompted me to ask them if they are drug dealers. Vicente, one of the guides, assured me they were not and said they'd meet us in the park soon. And this is the parque central.

After about twenty minutes of sitting in a park in a strange new town, feeling sketchy, the fellas from Fundanic came back and said they found two different places we could stay. One of them was a school for a local NGO that happens to be a sister organization of the NGO I volunteer for. They let the three of us stay there for free. The room we were sharing had two small bunk beds and the fellas dug up a mattress for us to put on the floor. Because Leslie and Dan are married, they opted for the floor mattress.

Living in Nicaragua, the water often goes out. People get into the habit of storing water because in some areas they only get water twice a week and in others (like Managua) the water cuts out randomly for hours (or sometimes days) at a time. In Río Blanco, the water had been out for three days. Sometimes, when the water goes out, it's hard to remember if you left the taps open or shut. In Río Blanco that first night, when the water came back on, the taps had been left open. I was awoken from a dead sleep by noise and shouts of water on the floor and god knows what else. The lovely Mr. and Mrs. Milliwolff had awakened to find themselves an inch deep in water. They quickly took my pack off the floor and put it out of water's way, then climbed on to the tiny bunk above me. We all spent the rest of the night sleeping very poorly.

Luckily the next morning we had plans to wake up early and climb a mountain!

Vicente came to the school to pick us up at 7am. We stopped on our way to the trail to get some cookies and juice boxes for breakfast. So good. We ate them while we wandered through town to the trail head. The first part of the trail, leading to the forestry station, was hot, uphill and unpleasant. There were farms on both sides the whole way up and little to no tree coverage. I was sweating so much I almost died.

Or maybe not.

I hate hiking without tree coverage.

This is a view of Río Blanco from halfway up the mountain, near where the tree line starts.

After we got to the station, Vicente showed us the plants they were growing for the reforestation projects. They have orchids and coffee and other things that I don't remember the names of. There are over 75 different types of orchids that are native to Nicaragua. We took a little break at the station, drank some water, conversed, then proceeded to hike through mud and muck to a newly planted forest, where the trees are 10-15 years old. From there, we hiked through the old growth forest with trees over 150 years old. Then we hiked to a three-tier water fall which leads to a river, and that river is the primary source of drinking water for Río Blanco.

After hiking to each of the three tiers, we went back to the ranger station where we had lunch. We ate rice, beans, eggs, cheese and a thick, freshly ground, maize tortilla. To drink had a pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice. It was definitely worth the $2!

After lunch, we hung out and chatted for a while before hiking back down the mountain to go swimming in the Río Blanco. It was beautiful and the perfect way to spend a few hours of a hike on a hot day.

We got back to the school and chilled for a bit before heading off to dinner. While we were re-arranging our clothes and discussing the flood of the previous night, Dan noticed that the majority of our bottle of rum was gone. We assumed that whoever had cleaned up the watery mess got a bit thirsty. We were sleeping there for free, so we were more amused than concerned.

We continued to laugh about it on our way to dinner at the bar and restaurant around the corner. Leslie ordered the chicken in sauce and Dan ordered the chicken in wine, they both received chicken in ketchup. I just ordered the fried chicken and it came back so dry I almost choked. Good times.

While we were having beers and "enjoying" our dinner, one of the fellas from the school wandered in and sat at our table. He was incredibly drunk. So, so, so very drunk. Like, the kind of drunk you get after spending the day cleaning and drinking somebody else's rum. He ordered a beer and went to reach for my cigarettes. I stopped him. "¿Tienes un boca? ¿Tienes palabras? ¿Quieres tratar preguntando por un cigarillo?" I asked. (Do you have a mouth? Do you have words? Do you want to try asking for a cigarette?) He just looked at me, drunkenly confused. It's possible I said something entirely different or that it's harder to understand a foreigner after an afternoon of heavy drinking. So, I told him the story about our rum and asked him if he knew what happened. He said he'd been the only person there all day and he had no clue. We sat there drinking beers, talking and he kept trying to hold my hand. I kept moving my hand away from him. He told me, several times, that the songs playing on the radio were pretty, like me. It was also at this restaurant that we first discovered the amazingness of Vicente Fernandez. (Not to be confused with our guide from earlier in the day).

Images of this man were every where. It was out of control. From this point on, every time we saw Vicente Fernandez or heard his name on the radio, we felt good. He's from mexico, you know. And he rides every where on his horse. Except, when he comes to Managua, he normally takes a plane from mexico and rides a horse when he's in town.

After dinner we went back to the school, Leslie and Dan switched rooms and Vicente (not Fernandez) came by to see if I wanted to go to the club. It was, after all, Saturday night. I went to talk to the Milliwolffs to see if they were interested. They were not. I really really really wanted to go to the club. I also really like having my own way. I also don't like following strange men in strange towns to strange clubs I don't know. It was two against one. I lost and never got to see that club. But Vicente (not Fernandez) was quite understanding when I told him I didn't feel comfortable going too far from where we were staying. So, we went to a place way closer and had a few beers and talked. It was nice.

We then went back to the dry chicken and ketchup restaurant where we were quickly met by some friends of Vicente (not Fernandez). They asked why we weren't at the club and told us that the club was crazy because they were crowning Miss Independence Day. I was very sad I was not there to witness the insanity. Then the Milliwolff's came in and had beers with us, too and I wound up talking water quality issues with the Nica boys.

Vicente (not Fernandez) walked us back to the school, said goodnight and said he would come visit me soon in Managua (which he did).

The next morning we awoke at 5am to get ready and hop the 6am bus to Siuna. We got to hear a lovely version of "Happy Birthday" blaring out of someone's house at 5:30 in the morning. It was good stuff and good times.
Adíos, Río Blanco!