It was my last morning in Nica Cowboy country. I woke up in my usual spot in the hammock and could hear the tortillas being flipped in the kitchen. I knew the beans would soon be ready, along with the Nica cheese and the eggs.
I swung my legs over the top of my hammock and felt my toes play on the cold tile floors. When you travel like this and live intimately with the local people, it’s always a sad farewell. It’s easy to develop a quick bond with good people, and you always hope that you’ll see them again; but oftentimes, you know you probably won’t. That’s a bittersweet feeling that I’ve had more than a few times in life.
I left Spain in 1996 as a young college kid living in an apartment in Sevilla, not far from the Plaza de Toros. I lived with an elderly lady named Pepi. The day I left, she hugged me tight with tears in her eyes. She told me to not go do all the things I was about to go do, but I listened carefully and nodded at her advice. Then I said, “Adios, Pepi.” But Pepi corrected me, saying, “No Scott, it’s never adios, it’s hasta luego.”
I remembered that snapshot from my early travels as I got dressed my last morning in Camoapa and head next door for a final cup of coffee with my friend, “la Chinita.” I then returned to the house for breakfast and sat down at the table with Juliancito. I already knew the daily routine, and waited patiently for Julian to come in and sit. I smiled conspiratorially at Juliancito as he snuck bites of food before his dad had sat down and said grace.
Now I’m not a religious man, per se, and I don’t usually pray before eating. But with Julian, to eat and not give thanks, just seemed wrong. He takes his faith very seriously. The prayer concluded and we dug into our Nica breakfast with relish. Working with your body, being outside in nature and the animals, builds up a ravenous primal appetite. Even though the food was fairly bland and never varied, I ate it every morning with gusto.
The bus was leaving soon and we had some good-byes to make. So Julian and I left immediately after breakfast and a round of hugs and good-byes from Juliancito and his Julian’s wife. We walked side by side at a brisk pace, across the street to visit a cowboy friend I had made named Nelson. He competes in rodeos around Central America and was practicing roping with some friends. When we approach to say goodbye, he offered me his rope. I took a couple of practice tosses, but it didn’t go as planned. I lassoed just about everything but the target I was aiming for. However, it felt good and cowboy-ish just swinging the rope and lassoing something.
We left Nelson and went down to the barn and shook hands with all the folks there I had met. It felt like I had been here in town a long time, but in reality it had only been a week. Quality time, however, is measured in experiences, lessons learned, friends met and memories made…not just hours passed. And by that measure, I had spent much longer with these good folks than the calendar suggested.
We walked by a house made of mud brick and hay. Two ladies stood in the doorway and smiled at us. I snapped their picture as Julian charmed them with his easy-going cowboy grace, asking them about their children and inquiring about their mothers and extended family. He knows the health and status of everyone in this town; it’s a kind of neighborly attention to detail that just doesn’t exist anymore, at least in my part of the world.
We finally arrived at the bus station—my final stop. Julian turned straight to me and shook my hand and smiled at me with those stoic eyes that seem to be happy and sad at the same time. He told me to please come again. Julian said he still had poems he wanted me to hear about his life and the way of the Nica Cowboy. I smiled back and promised to return. “I’ll be back Julian. The adventure continues…hasta luego my friend.”
He smiled. I’m not sure if he believed we would see each other again, but everything’s in God’s hands with Julian. With that, the self-proclaimed Cowboy Poet of Camoapa, this giant of a man inside a 5’ 6’’ frame, turned and walked away. I watched him disappear around the bend in the road with quick-legged purpose. Somewhere out there, a horse needed riding and I was sure Julian would soon be turning his head to the heavens and shouting his famous line: “Si vos tenes huevos, yo tengo más!”
I smiled at this image of him forever burned into my mind as I stepped onto the bus, an old Blue Bird school bus from some obscure district in New Mexico. I found myself a seat near the front, stowed my bag in the rack above my head and said goodbye to cowboy country.
It wasn’t exactly riding off into the sunset, but, then again, I’m not ready to let the sun go down on Nicaragua yet. This country has got great tourism potential for people who love the countryside, the open trail and the halcyon days of rural farm life. After all, even cowboys need a vacation from time to time, and I know my friends back home would love to explore Nicaragua by horseback—the best way to see the country.
So perhaps this isn’t goodbye, Nicaragua. Like Pepi said, this is just “hasta luego.”
Scott Stevens, from Shreveport, Louisiana, has spent the past 10 years living abroad in Thailand, Indonesia, Switzerland, and, most recently, Nicaragua. He traded the boardroom for the outdoors after the 2008 financial crisis and has been exploring ever since. Follow his stories on his blog, www.coolerthanafan.com