megan and the chocolate factory (!)

I went north this past weekend. Well… seeing as I left Wednesday and arrived back on Sunday, ‘twas quite the long-weekend getaway. A much needed getaway, as I’m back in Gigante and much satisfied to be here.

I caught a ride to Managua with Lynn, a cute and awesome early 50’s woman, who owns a house in a development up the road called Arenas Tola. She’s around the hotel all the time to use the internet and I love chatting with her—she totally gets the being-a-girl thing here. I was typing away on my computer mid-day last week when several surfers wandered in to use the internet. I helped them and then looked over to see her giving me a knowing wink. “Psssst. Megan! Someone tall enough for you finally, eh,” she says, gesturing to one of the dudes behind his back.

Anyway… she drove her visiting parents to the airport on Wednesday morning, and I got to hop in for an air-conditioned and comfy ride to this great country’s capital. And—I got to leave the country, if only in spirit, for two whole hours and wander around the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport. I bought two Newsweek magazines (in English! And only a week old!) and also a toasted Subway sandwich (!) with lots of veggies (!) and (!) a chocolate chip cookie! My trip was off to a rockin’ start.

I got to Leon late afternoon. From the bus station, I took a mini-city bus into the town center of Leon, to find my hostel. Now, I’ve been to Leon before, so I told the ayudante where I would like to get off, please. “No. That’s not where you want to get off,” he tells me.

“No, really, it is. I’m going to the Lazybones hostel. I’ll just walk a couple of blocks from the cathedral.”

“No,” he says.

The girl next to me chimes in: “Where are you going?”

“Lazybones hostel,” I say. I show her where it is on the Lonely Planet map.

The girl next to her chims in. “Yeah, that’s right.”

The girl next to her grabs the book to look at the map. “No,” she says. The book gets passed around to several more women. My original helper in the seat next to me decides that I will get off with her at her stop. It is discussed. Another girl says she will get off there too. So, the three of us disembark (‘good luck’ the rest of the ladies say with a wave) and we wander off in pursuit of my hostel. I chat merrily with them for about five blocks, happy to follow them around and learn a bit about them. (Leon is a university town, so most of the population are my-age university students. My two friends were twenty and twenty-five. First-year business administration and third-year accounting student.) After two more blocks, they consult the map again and look confused. I take the lead: “I think it’s actually back a block and south two.” So, we wander off again, and sure enough, there it is. And they both walk me right to the front door of my hostel before they head back the way we had come, and presumably, their houses that we had passed six blocks ago.

The best part is that the whole time, I knew exactly where I was and exactly where I was going. But, why not get a little lost along the way? Or in other words—Nicaraguans (especially Nicaraguan women) are so nice!

I walked into my hostel, checked in, and immediately saw a friend. People I know(ish) stationed in the Peace Corps in northern Nicaragua were all in the Leon for the evening, and they invited me out to dinner and a concert with them. The lead singer of Guardabarranco, a famous Nicaraguan folklore band, was in town with two backup singers/guitar players and for a mere 100 cordobas (five dollars) gave an AMAZING concert: amazing voice, but mostly just emotion, pure and unrestrained. I was transfixed.  

Let’s see. The next day, I found a restaurant with a ‘thousand color’ salad of mounds and heaps of colorful, fresh, amazing vegetables, so I ate that for lunch (both days). Twice daily trips to the Eskimo. Back to the amazing art museum I went to in September. I said I was a writer for ‘Between the Waves’ magazine (which, I guess I technically still could be) so I got to interview the curator of the museum as well as one of the managers, and I plan to write an article about it to give to Jesse, my long-lost editor of the magazine.

And then I went volcano boarding!

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Not at all like snowboarding. Hard to turn. On a wooden plank. Volcanic ash is heavy. Inertia (you start slow, urge the board along, come on come on come on, and suddenly you’re flying down the mountain ankle deep in ash and it’s too heavy to turn your board through, trying to get from heel side to toe, this is nothing like snowboarding, shifting my weight back so as not to face plant, picking up speed speed, picking up, speed, aaaaah). I fell. Volcanic ash scraps a bit more than snow, incidentally. But… it was AWESOME.

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Following the sweltering heat of Leon, I headed inland and further north to mountain-town and cool Matagalpa: the coffee capital of Nicaragua. And, where the coffee grows, so does the cocoa! And thus did I find myself, on a cool breezy Saturday afternoon, hiking up a hill outside of town to the Castillo de Cocoa—The Chocolate Castle. I walked up and was whisked off to tour of this amazing edifice for an amazing afternoon which, in the chapters of my life, shall be dubbed Megan and the Chocolate Factory. It was so neat! I’ve been eating this brand of chocolate since I discovered it in September–it’s the only Nicaraguan chocolate I’ve found–and it is downright fantastic. All organic, the plain chocolate consists of two ingredients…ground cocoa beans and sugar. One of the three ladies that works for the factory took me through the process from start to finish, and I bought a pound of cocoa and plan to make my own homemade chocolate. And, also, that’s right—three ladies make all the chocolate. How much is ‘all the chocolate’? Four to five-hundred bars a day…or, ten thousand a month. So, in the past month I’ve done tours of both coffee and chocolate factories=bliss. All that’s left is a tour of the Kashi cereal factory…

Anyway, I also went for a nice hike up Cerro Apante outside the city; sat in Café Latino and read and ate a chocolate muffin; enjoyed the cool weather and the ability to decide exactly what I wanted to do every moment. I stayed in my own private room for $7/night, complete with a TV and Saturday Night Live in English (!). I wandered around town and bought repollo con tortilla from a street vendor, watched a dance concert in the park, had a wonderful chat with the cute couple that owns the hotel (the lady offered me a job teaching English…) and went to sleep snuggled under a blanket (!). 

And then headed back south to sweltering Gigante… rested and a pound of cocoa richer. 

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