A travel moment in Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua


Camped in the jungle last night. Slept poorly. The webs of vines and branches trapped the wet air; the leaves flared out into any space they could claim. The insects turned strips of my exposed flesh a mottled, lumpy, red.

I sit on the grass in the center of the village, and stare vacantly into the afternoon. I am waiting for the boat to Costa Rica. It leaves tomorrow. A group of boys are loitering at the edge of the grass. A boy emerges from the group and engages me in conversation. His continuous stream of Spanish is met with my furrowed, uncomprehending brow. Of course, I try my best. Occasionally I interject to ask a question, and he frowns, and rephrases his narrative. The words are different, but the continuous, mystical stream of Spanish is the same. Eventually, he invites me to his family's house where there is food and a bed.

The house is not much more than adjoining wooden shacks lent into one another. Outside, the boy's mother is bent over a stone sink. She is washing dishes. Her back is heavy; her skin is coarse, leathery and worn; her arms are thick. She greets me with deference, though this is her house, though I have seen much less of life. She scrubs the plates, and the boy moves across her to show me the spacious, wooden planked room, where I can spend the night. It is half the house. There is a
solitary picture of Christ on the wall.

I put down my backpack, and return outside. Suddenly, a group of children burst out. They inspect me with shrieking glee; they prod me, and emit peels of laughter. I am dirty, and anomalous; I am the most hilarious creature they have ever seen. They reel about, screeching and laughing. Their attention alternates between me, and a piece of plastic lashed in exposed copper wire. The mother bellows at the children. But they are beyond control. They feed energy to one another through their shrieks. At first I am amused, but as they dance around me I feel my own energy drain.

I retreat inside, feeling like a rag doll. I sit on the wooden-plank bench, and bend my arms onto my knees, and my head onto my hands. The children have dispersed now, I think. Then I hear a giggle. The giggle becomes louder. I turn, wearily. There is a girl in the oversized chair next to me. Her eyes shine with amusement. She is wearing a little blue dress, stained in grey patches by the dust outside. She is laughing at me. She is smiling. Her cheeks are smeared with dirt, but her smile beams through. It expands, radiantly. The dust, the leathery skin, my exhaustion, fade out to make way. I am entranced. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

E Dannenberg

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