Leon/Las Penitas, Nicaragua

This is my attempt at writing a travelogue from my current trip around Central America – hopefully it continues regularly, but no guarantees. I’ll do a few posts with just the ususa where to go what to do stuff later

“Manny, we will suck your dick for a beer!” 

This cry of desperation came from one of the Canadian Bros on our truck, as it taking about twenty of us from Cerro Negro back to Leon. We were volcano boarding, an activity with all bro-y trappings of exoticism, physical strain and danger. The proof of the danger was a girl who we just handed over to an ambulance car, her shoulder dislocated after falling from the makeshift tobogan at 80km/h. For the rest of us, though, it was just a fun slide down an imporssive pile of volcanic dust and pebbles, after a very scenic hike from which we could see the plains and volcanoes of northern Nicaragua. 



K. and I rolled our eyes at each other, slightly pretentious and pretend-world weary in our late twenties as we are, but neverthelss past the point where we wanted to engage in hour-long conversations about shotgunning beers or blowing up cows in Cambodia.

Rather than taking up the offer from the Bro, our guide offered for us to make stop at a makeshift store in the middle of nowhere and get beers (a dollar each!). We all cheered, bought the goods from an elderly lady in her shack and took photos of a sow rolling in mud.

Soon we were back on our way, tearing though the tropical trees towards our hostel for “signature lava shot challenge” (rum mixed with chillies) and then, onwards, to the beach for a party. Oh the backpacking life: all show of very calulated danger, to allow us pretend-adventureres to let our social guard down. 

How well it works was shown by the fact that although we knew these people for only a few hours, we were all chatting happily, gossiping and, of coourse, discussing our itineraries. Although it was probably exactly the same type of people I shared countless tube rides in London, or sat next to in cafe in Belgrade, without the danger of having a branch hit me over the back or falling from a volcano, I would have been terrified of the social faux-pas of striking up a conversation. Here, two days into the trip, I felt like a new man: one that happily chats to anyone within an earshot. 

Thankfully, they were indeed an engaging bunch: an itinerant biologist from Reunion, a London girl starting a 8-month long tour of the world, and even a couple from the US with whom I had a friend in common. There was even a mute dude, who we initally thought was just a difficult arty-type, and then to our embarassment, realised was probably one of the rare people for whom this trip was an actual challenge, rather than controlled experiment in exoticism, escaping the dreary January weather in Europe. We all agreed he was impressive.

Snark aside, this was exactly what I needed, and two beers from the shack later I was singing Backstreet Boys with the Canadian Bros, looking froward to burning my stomach with rum and chillies and then cooling it off at the beach. For all the lack of deep insights about life that over-eager “life-coach”-type travellers swear jetting off to an exotic place offers, it was just plain simple fun. Fun in a childish, honest and almost pure way (well, as much as watching videos of somebody dislocating their shoulder can be pure) that often gest lost in the daily grind. 
After “winning” the lava shot challenge back in Leon by not throwing up 30 seconds after downing three spicy shots, I proudly wore my wonderfully tacky hostel wife-beater to the beach, where the bonding continued over large jenga, balance boards and beers. One of the bros mooned us during the sunset over the Pacific, and then there was more singing of late-90s MTV hits, which somehow seem to have universal resonance. In the background of amateur rapping of early Eminem songs, there were painful stories about travel injuries and tattoos commemorating painful life moments and subsequent impractical tattoo removals. Besides fun, and there was tranisent community, silly, eye-rollingly predictable, but still warm, pleasant and relaxed,


The next day, K and I decided to rest on the beach as this was only the beginning of our 28 day trip from Managua to Panama City, and were still overwhelmed from Volcano Boarding and its fun aftermath. Sadly, most of our crowd from the nigth before disapperaed to other adventrues. Then, the day after, rested and sun-burnt we continued back to Leon and onwards to Granda. 

This required us to take a chicken bus, one of the repurposed old school buses from the US. I was standing next to a Nicaraguan baby girl, who curiously eyed everything around her, until her eyes settled on a little boy sitting in his mothers lap in front of her. She stretched her little arms, grasping for his attention, which she got after he looked at her, confused, but definitely open to play.

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