“Esta bien, esta bien, no necesitamos Ivan.”
“Rigoberto, we don’t have to go any further, we don’t want to wreck your brother in-law’s car.
The two gentlemen had been fighting with the road for the better part of 15 minutes to keep the little car from bottoming out as it struggled up a small hill. Failure wasn’t an option at this point. I could see that surmounting this obstacle was a matter of pride now. Fine enough. My mother and I waited patiently.
With one last push we made it up what would have been little more than a speed bump in my trusty old SUV. We drove on for about 20 minutes more before Rigoberto decided we were lost and asked for directions. We ended up backtracking to the hill we’d gotten stuck on. In fact, if we had gotten out and just walked 1 minute, we would have saved ourselves the absurdities of the last hour. But hey, we’re in Central America.
So we had finally made it there. Where you ask? I’ll get back to that.
A Few Weeks Earlier
One of my favourite things to do in a new city is just walk around with my Camera, find people playing, working or just going about their daily life. When I happened upon Rigoberto, I found myself doing little else the rest of the day.
He must have enjoyed the company and the photographs I presented him with, as he held them out like a proud father to nearly anyone who would give him the time as I accompanied him to his home one night. He also invited me to join him on a trip to his sister’s home in Posoltega suggesting I head out to see his custom guitars and he’d show me a nearby town that was destroyed by a volcano. While this seemed like a fun opportunity, I thought better of going immediately and decided to plan the trip with him during my mother’s visit in a couple weeks’ time. I saw the trip as an opportunity to show her a different side of Nicaragua.
When my parents would take us out of the safety of North America growing up we often found ourselves in perfectly groomed resorts not far from the Cancun airport. I knew my mother had visited my brother in Panama and Costa Rica, but those were still easier than life is in other parts of Central America.
As a change of roles, my mother was coming to visit me on my world trip. Somehow she and I had settled on the blazingly hot and still developing western region of Nicaragua.
I hadn’t planned much for when my mother was here, in truth I wasn’t really sure what she’d want to do in Nicaragua. The one thing I did know I wanted to do was show her a side of life here that we never get to see back home. It turned out, I was about to get more than I bargained for.
The first week or so that Mom was here was spent doing some of the typical things you’d get out the guidebook. We spent a few days in Granada seeing some of the sights, walking the colonial streets, and enjoying good food. A quick trip to Masaya found us wandering though markets filled with the works of artisans and other everyday goods. A boat ride landed us on Ometepe to relax at a resort for a few days and wander over to Ojo de Agua.
San Juan Del Sur was also one of our stops for a few days to enjoy the beach and international cuisine. I have a photo of my mother running into the ocean with her clothes on in one of her moments of loving life.
Nearly all those activities could be found in a guidebook, I wanted to show her something I felt might be more authentic. Something you could only do by getting to know the locals or by knowing the language.
I’ll be the first to admit, there really isn’t much to do in Leon. Your average traveller comes here for no more than a few days to go Volcano boarding or a hike and then move onwards, but I had an ace up my sleeve, we were going to go meet with Rigoberto.
When I’d originally mentioned to Rigoberto that my mother was coming I’d mentioned we might rent a car. We ended up deciding against the rental as our schedule suggested it would be more hassle than it was worth and we were right. It was immediately clear however that Rigoberto was banking on the car, he had somehow invited two other people, one I loosely knew, to join us on the trip to Posoltega. My mother and I could already see this turning into more hassle than it might be worth, but we pressed on.
Onwards to Posoltega
The next morning we showed up at Rigoberto’s house in Leon ready to go at 7am, but he wasn’t. The two others who were to have joined us also opted out due to the lack of a free ride. Why I expected us to actually get moving at 7 I’ve no idea, but our waiting until 8am set the stage for the rest of the day, nothing was about to go as planned or make any sense to us.
The three of us started making our way to the bus station in town. It wasn’t far but it was clear Rigoberto would do all he could along the way to convince us to pay for a taxi or snag a ride to the nearby town. Riding the bus wasn’t something he was looking forward to, even if we were covering it.
My mother was convinced we were about to get scammed, though I was fairly certain we wouldn’t, however his constant prodding for things such as the rental car or a taxi suggested otherwise.
We arrived at the highway bus stop just outside Posoltega where we were greeted by Ivan, Rigoberto’s brother in-law, who took us into town in his taxi. Lousie, Rigoberto’s sister had a modest home but she took pride in it. My mother spent some time exploring while Rigoberto showed me his custom guitars. While he’s an artisan when it comes to works for the church, he’s not exactly the master guitar maker I’d hoped for.
I was taking some photos of Rigoberto’s unfinished carvings when I noticed my mother about to drink a glass of purple liquid. How nice, Louise had been generous enough to offer us a drink of dragon fruit juice, and then I realized better.
“Don’t drink that!!” I yelled at my mother as she had the glass poised at her lips.
“Why, whats wrong?”
A quick question to the lady of the house confirmed the water for the drink had come from the tap and while the water in Leon is of drinking quality, here out of town, that wasn’t likely the case. The last thing my mother needed was an upset stomach ruining the day, let alone the rest of her trip.
Knowing I had a bit more of an iron stomach from over a half year travelling I drank the majority of my juice and thankfully didn’t end up regretting the decision.
After the near miss with the dragon fruit juice Rigoberto insisted we head to his local church, as he wanted to show us more of his carvings.
What followed was me awkwardly making my way to the front of the cathedral so I could take a photograph for him of a cross he’d carved. Standing up in front of the congregation like an annoying tourist was not my idea and something I’d rather not have gone through.
Rigoberto also asked the caretaker to get a large cross out of storage for him. He’d made the beautiful carving for parades and was hoping I’d make a record of it for him.
Finally it was time to get on with the show, the main reason we’d come out to Posoltega in the first place. Rigoberto, my mother and I piled back into Ivan’s taxi, a little drained at this point from being dragged around town.
I should note that my mother makes a point of carrying her passport everywhere with her, I don’t, we actually had at least one discussion on leaving valuables in the hotel room and agreed to disagree. I usually have a copy when I leave town but on this occasion I didn’t. So of course we get stopped by the police who aren’t terribly impressed the driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. They ask for our identification, which I of course didn’t have.
After a fine for the seatbelt from the police officer and an “I told you so” for the identification from my mother we get back underway to volcano Casita.
It was a bumpy ride, one best taken by a horse and buggy or a 4-wheel drive truck, not a compact car such as we found ourselves in. Near the end of the road the car was struggling to get up a small hill with big rocks. We suggested we get out of the car to lighten the load or perhaps turn around, but they made it up and onwards only to find out we’d gone too far and had to come back more or less to the hill on which we’d struggled.
All this time we wondered why we’d come all this way into farm lands roasting in the car. As it turned out, we weren’t going to see some spectacular waterfall or crystal clear lakes. Rigoberto had brought us to this unassuming patch of land to know a history and pay respects to a tragedy.
Just below Volcan Casita lies a monument to over 2000 Nicaraguans who lost their lives when Hurricane Mitch soaked the volcano until it’s crater could take no more. The side of this 1450m tall mountain gave way causing a mudslide covering an area of about 128sq.km. The towns of El Provenir and Rolando Rodriguez were devastated and 4 other villages were buried in mud. Rigoberto’s home town of Posoltega was spared due nothing more than the direction of the slide.
Rigoberto wanted to show us his history, so we took the time out, read the posters and paid our respects for this disaster that rocked Nicaragua. Rigo wasn’t clear if he’d lost anyone in the tragedy but given how close he lived, I couldn’t see how he wouldn’t have been touched directly by it.
Rigoberto gave my mother and I something incredible, he opened his home, he took his time, and he showed us a side of Nicaragua that we’d be hard pressed to find on a tour or in a guidebook.
There’s value in traveling to see the sights of a country and have experiences different than you’d find if you were in your home country, but it’s hard to beat the things you learn when you make friends with a local and open yourself up to possibilities.
Where have your tangents taken you?