Going deeper in Nicaragua

I wake up to the delivery truck outside the door. The diesel engine knocks loudly and the brake lines hiss.

The buildings in Granada were not designed for this. Three hundred years ago only horses, carriages, and people passed by this old heavy wooden door with space between the planks so wide you can see out and in. Now sounds of an emerging world seep in.

It’s the same everywhere. Doesn’t matter if it’s Vietnam, Malaysia, Guatemala, or Nicaragua. The languages and the faces of the people change, but the sounds and smells are much the same, at least to me.

I blink a few times to get my bearings. Another night, another room. I’m so used to this that I feel uncomfortable staying in the same place after only a few days. I remember being told once, that after a while, a man can’t be domesticated anymore. I wonder if that’s true as I look through the slated glass windows at the light creeping in. Have I been wandering too long to ever sit in the same place for 10, 20, 30 years? The idea seems suffocating. The road seems intoxicating. Does one grow out of this? I blink my eyes again and feel the morning sand in them. I don’t know.

I pick up my watch off the dresser. It’s 6:30 a.m. I’m still tired and I know the café that has the espressos I like doesn’t open till seven, so I roll back over and close my eyes for a bit longer. It’s no use. Sleep will not come again.

At seven, I step outside the door. The morning light comes in at an angle between the buildings, lighting up one side leaving the other in cool shade. The light is clean and pure at this hour and the air is still and fresh.

I pack the truck, which is parked just out front. I drive off to my café and order a granola with yoghurt and fruit and a single espresso this time. I’m cutting down on coffee, gradually. No more doubles.

I eat quickly as time and light are passing. I want to get up to Laguna Apoyo before the magical morning light is gone. I want to be there again and swim deep into those waters and hold on to the impossibly steep sides of the crater, at the deepest depth I can go. I want to hold on there and look deep into the abyss and feel the flutters of nervousness that always come.

There at about thirty feet below the surface, the water descends into a deep green and then darkness and then nothing for thousands of feet, to the center of the earth it feels, and your heart speeds up when you lie there, holding on to a rock. Your lungs begin to scream for air, and your instinct pushes you to push off the rocks and soar upward through the water to safety and you force yourself to stay just a moment longer until the scream becomes a burn and you turn your head up, your eyes locking in on the surface, the suns rays shining down, a beacon calling you home, and you drift upwards with your arms extended high over your head.

I leave the café and drive the short distance out of town. It’s amazing how close it is to a city and yet how far removed from it all you feel. I pass through the slums and the road turns quickly to dirt and I begin the dusty ascent upwards the mountain. The Volcano Mombacho dominates the skyline on my left and the the city recedes below me in the rearview mirror. I can see the lake beyond and the islands floating out there in a cluster.

They say Nicaragua is the most seismically active place on earth. All this energy affects the people and the collective psyche much as it affects the landscape. There is something here. I just can’t put it into words, but I know it’s here. I turn at the road that goes to the craters edge and then descends down the side. It’s incredibly steep and was cut in by hand and I always wonder if I go down, will I get back up?

I drive slowly down the steep road so that the tires don’t lose purchase on the paving stones covered in moss and leaves. I twist and turn down the switchbacks, the sun peaking in through the trees that reach for each others branches over the road as if they are embarrassed to have let this clearing be cut amongst them and are joining hands to cover it once again. One more tight switchback and the road abruptly ends about forty feet above the water’s edge. I have sat here for hours without seeing or hearing another human. You are truly alone here; the birds sing, the monkeys howl, the water laps, and the wind whistles. These are the sounds. The only sounds.

I put all my bags on the lone picnic bench someone dragged down here. I walk over to the waters edge. I step out of my sandals and a wasp lands on my shoulder. I look at him as he busies himself with his front legs. As he moves around I can see his stinger drift dangerously close to my skin. I lift my hand and brush him lightly off. He flies away unperturbed and doesn’t seem offended that I didn’t let him stay. I step out of my shorts and kick them over to a rock just outside the reach of the water. I stand there now. Exposed, alone, alive.

I walk into the water until I’m in over my waist. I look around. No one. I hear the birds, so many different birds singing. I hadn’t listened to their songs that way since I was a kid walking the woods around our house in Louisiana. I remember those woods and I remember that house and I remember which trees were the best for climbing. I can still find those trees right now in my minds eye. I can see every detail, every bump on the bark, even my hand reaching up to grab the next branch. I can see myself. I wonder if they still stand? And are they are as tall?

I look out over the water and across the crater and marvel at its flatness, its tranquility, its quietness. My knees bend, I lean forward, until gravity takes over and I began to fall forward and my feet push against the rocks and mud and I dive in. As my head crosses the threshold of the surface I descend into another world. A green magical world and I float down just inches above the bottom, grabbing rocks with my left hand, pulling and propelling myself forward.

I go deeper and deeper, pausing only to clear my ears, until I pass over a stick I remember from the last time I was down here. I know I’ve been deeper than this point, so I push on. Soon, I don’t have to pull anymore, my body just soars deeper on its on; weighted somehow by the water above me, or the angle of my trajectory, or something, and I feel like I’m flying.

The bottom contour all of a sudden takes a very steep dive and this is the point. I know this point. I’ve been here. It feels like the point of no return. The last place to turn my head up until the sunlight way above is in my sight. This is the place I always get to; I want to go deeper, I want to turn back. My head, heart, and lungs pull me in all directions. My body screams for air. I strain my eyes in the clear water to see as deeply as I can and I hold on for one last moment not wanting it to end.

Then I turn my head up and I stretch my arms up and my legs begin to kick and I fly upwards slowly enjoying the ascent into the sun’s rays that shoot in every direction through the water, dispersed like a light through a crystal. I rotate around in slow circles as I ascend, taking it all in, wishing I could stay longer, wishing I could go deeper.

My head breaks the surface and my mouth gapes open and my lungs pull hard filling themselves with life until my chest raises full. I exhale deeply and there is that moment of stillness after the last drop of air leaves me and before I inhale again. What is that moment called? It’s a good moment whatever it is and I think about that moment after I’m no longer in it. I float there breathing in and out, alone in this ancient crater with  the sun beaming against my face, the wind cooling my head, and my heartbeat returning to its steady even thump.

I look out across the expanse of water once more and then drop into a relaxed swim towards the shore.


Scott originally hails from Shreveport, Louisiana. After seven years working in Asia he decided it was time to come home, but Nicaragua was as close as he got; the warm weather, great waves, lovely people, and entrepreneurial opportunities have kept him here for most of the past year. His blog can be found at http://coolerthanafan.com/blog/

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