Yesterday, I went to the big city of Rivas, Nicaragua. La ciudad grande. It really isn’t that big of a city, but bear in mind I currently live in the middle of a rainforest, in the smallest town I think I’ve ever visited. At the last moment, after my 11 o’clock class, I jumped in on the Austin crew’s trip to Rivas to stock up on cash and food, and boy am I glad I did. I hadn’t yet seen Rivas, despite it being the closest outpost of civilization as I know it.
I loved the big city. I felt like a country bumkin, fresh out of the backcountry of Texas, walking the streets of New York City, staring at skyscrapers. We emerged from the cab after an hour-long, very bumpy ride, in the center plaza of Rivas. I spent about seven minutes being incredibly over-stimulated by the colors, loud noises, people, music, bustling life of a city. If there is a time to use to the word ‘gape’, it is here. I gaped at the: paved roads, more than 20 people in one place, loud music, crowds of school kids, colorful benches, streets stretching out in every direction. I only realized the extent of my isolation these past weeks when I arrived in Rivas, a city I was unnaturally enthusiastic about. Everything I had heard about Rivas was that it was a commerical hub and nothing else, a place to quickly collect errand-things before heading back to the ‘real’ Nicaragua. I must say, perhaps because I had such low expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed Rivas. For example, this is the statue in the main plaza:
Downright bizarre. It looks like it belongs in a Disneyland plaza. Please note the four white birds stretching skyward under a canopy of leaf-less branches.
My ethusisiam continued: seven minutes of relishing the feel of return to urban civilization, of over-stimulated contentment, and then an ice cream man walked by. The ice cream man walked by and I pounced on him. The bells on his little cart had nary stopped clanging before I had in my hand chocolate covered vanilla ice cream on a stick. He asked me for 20 córdobas for the ice cream, but I was prepared to offer him the contents of my wallet. Chocolate at last. Kim and Matt, the couple who I shared the ride with, were mildly amused at my pure happiness in this very moment. Eating chocolate ice cream in a city. Like electricity, I didn’t appreciate these things until they were gone. (And the electricity only went out for a day. My poor body had been without chocolate for nearly three weeks.) I could write a poem about that chocolate covered ice cream. I won’t (or at least I won’t print it here), but this demonstrates the profound level on which I enjoyed it.
The rest of the group arrived, and we got cash and went to the grocery, to stock up on food for the big hike looming in two days. I, like everyone else, purchased a nice supply of healthy trail food, including nuts, raisins, and granola bars. Unlike everyone else, I stocked up on other wares to sustain me for several weeks in my tiny town isolation, including two jumbo boxes of chips ahoy, a bag of chocolate Nicaraguan cookies, and fried plantain chips. So, although I spent the rest of the afternoon carting around several pounds of chips ahoy, I now have stowed the boxes safely in my room so that I may never be deprived of sweets for such an extended period.
We walked around for about an hour; I ended up splitting off with Karyn, a mid-fifties woman from Texas. She bought a hammock while I continued to gape at all the colors and people. I had such a different experience in Rivas then I did in Granada, namely because I was not fresh off a plane from the United States, but rather fresh out of the jungle. I could therefore interact with and reflect upon the city in an entirely different way. My guidebook declares Rivas to be culturally lacking, but I beg to differ. I liked it because it was so very typical and so very typically Nicaraguan. Rivas is simply a Nicaraguan city, a commercial center, where Nicaraguans live and go about daily business, and where foreigners pass through to buy essentials, rather than tourist crap. The main plaza was not a trinket center (table after table of vendors selling five dollar jewelry) but rather, at least when I was there, a place where school kids ate lunch and listened to music. If that isn’t culture, I don’t know what it is; indeed, I’d actually rather see ‘normal’ Nicaragua than exceptional Nicaragua (such as beautiful Granada). And Rivas also had an exceptionally ugly statue gracing the center plaza, so well, no contest there.
We had arranged to meet back at the ugly-statue plaza (above) at 2 to get a cab back. Karyn and I walked back, arrived early, and I decided—because, after all, a day in the big city only comes along every so often—to get a second round of ice cream. Go big or go home, I say. This time, I went into an actual ice cream shop and got myself a scoop of chocolate atop a scoop of coffee ice cream. I then proceeded to drip it all over myself in the bumpy ride back to Gigante. My enthusiasm and happiness were not to be diminished, however. The second round was equally as amazing as the first.
I came out of my sugar coma about half way back to Gigante. And then we ran over a dog.
There are stray dogs all over Nicaragua, indeed all over Latin America, and they are generally skinny and sickly. They run out into the roads and drivers try to avoid them, although I’ve seen my share of close calls. I do believe our driver tried his very best, and I am glad that he chose to run over our canine friend rather than swerve into an oncoming semi-truck. Still, to actually run over a dog is a visceral experience not easily communicated. There is the blare of the car horn; the dog turns his head to look at the oncoming vehicle, and then the intial contact of car-front and dog-front. Thump, a plaintiff wail from the dog, and then two more thud thuds as the car actually runs over the thing. Another plaintiff wail. I did not see what happened to the dog, as I burrowed my head into the seat, but I do hope he is eating puppy chow in a better place now. The taxi driver gave the thing a shake of his head and that was that.
We arrived back to Brio just in time for my 3 o’clock class, and I returned to life in the wilderness of Nicaragua.