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The Way to Nicaragua

We left the house on the hill early in the morning. The sunrise over the volcano in the distance was the perfect beginning to what would turn out to be a grand adventure. It was an hour and forty-five minutes to Puerto Viejo where the boat would be meeting us and we would begin a journey into another time, another world, another reality.

We unloaded all of our gear from the truck and into the boat. We packed light, as every bit of weight we could spare had to go for gasoline. The Rio Sarapiqui is where we met the boat and it was the first of many rivers that we would go down on our way to San Juan del Norte in Nicaragua. Gray skies loomed above and as we launched the boat and waved good bye to our helpers, the rain began to fall. Our rain suits were gathered, donned and everything covered up as best we could. It was only to be a 4-hour boat ride, but it turned out to be a ride of almost 6 hours. The rivers were extremely low and even though we had taken the least amount of gear possible, the boat was heavy enough that we bogged down in many places.

The rain fell upon us as we journeyed down the blue waters of the Rio Sarapiqui and the lush green forests that surrounded it and made our way into the sulfuric green waters of the Rio Susio. Its waters come straight from the volcano and are quite acidic. The line is obvious where the two rivers meet. There is a clear dividing line of blue and green waters. The Rio Susio was even lower than the Sarapiqui and going was slow. I sat alone on the bow of the boat to add weight there and it was a long and silent ride through the jungles.

As time went on, I noticed the changes in the environment around me. The luscious green jungles that surrounded us on the Sarapiqui gave way to a dirty and brown sparse forest and the banks of the river began to show more and more.

The geological make up of the walls that rose above us fascinated me. Layer upon layer of color and texture in many shapes, forms and designs decorated them. Logs alongside the water’s edge began to take on the shapes of monsters, both imaginary and real. I saw in them crocodiles and dragons and dinosaurs. I saw guardians of the river in them. The wind howled through the jungle and the rain came and went. I could hear the wind over the drone of the motor and it walked through the forest beside us at all times, as if it were a great creature, following us, watching us. My imagination knew no boundaries for the first two hours of the trip.

Soon though, I was brought out of my daydreams and back into a reality like none I had ever known. The first checkpoint was on the Costa Rican side of the border. We pulled in and spoke briefly to them, and then traveled 150 yards downriver to the where the Rio Susio and the Rio San Juan meet and to the Nicaraguan border. There we were greeted by teenagers with automatic weapons. We got out our passports, unloaded and walked up to the station there on the river to fill out some paperwork. It would be the first of many such stops.

It was soon apparent how different I was from most of the people that travel the rivers here. I am a woman for starters, and the men stationed there rarely see women. I am tall. A tall woman is almost unheard of in this part of the world. My green eyes draw attention almost everywhere I go and my brown hair with its sun-bleached blonde highlights is almost always touched. The Lieutenant on duty was just a bit too touchy-feely for my tastes. There was not a lot I could do about it, though. He was holding a very large automatic weapon, though he was a bit older than the teenaged boys on duty there. He insisted on having a picture taken with me. With that done, we took off, but not before he asked me to have sex with him. I was saved by Peter and his ability to speak Spanish better than I could.

We rode on. I thought about the country that I was traveling into. It took a long time for the reality of where I was to sink in. Huts lined the river. Squatters lived there, bathing in and drinking from the sulfuric waters of the river which was their livelihood. I had never seen anyone so poor, and here I was seeing whole communities of people so poor that I felt a twinge of guilt as I rode by in a nice boat, off to fish in a foreign country for a week and drinking a Coca Cola.

The main difference between Nicaragua and Costa Rica that I noticed immediately was the lack of animals along the river. They were there, of course, you just could not see them. I think I would rather see them. At least then, I know where they are. The jungle grew thick alongside the river and time went on. Soon we were riding past the mouth of the Rio Indio at the Caribbean and were nearing our destination of San Juan del Norte… a small village that lies along the river and is just as poor as the rest of the country. We first checked in at the military post there and then went and cleared immigration. With that done, we were off to the hotel.

Each room had a bathroom here, making it one of the finest places to stay in the entire area. We would have electricity from 4 in the afternoon until 10 at night. Water would be available for several hours in the afternoon and evening for showers and other things. The water there is cold. We checked in, unloaded the boat, unpacked our gear and settled in for a bit. A meal was prepared for us and we sat around for a while before heading to the mouth of the ocean for thirty minutes of casting before dark fell and we returned to the hotel for dinner and showers and bed.

The ocean was very rough and we could not get out to fish for the tarpon on the other side of the breaking waves. We anchored just inside the mouth and with a 15-wt rod, I made several casts into a drop off coming into the river from the ocean. I hooked nothing. I saw nothing. I felt nothing. I was numb from yet another bout of culture shock. We returned to the hotel and it was then that I realized that the people there were speaking a broken sort of English. I wondered why they spoke no Spanish. I soon found out as the night wore on and we sat upon the dock outside watching the tide change, the islands of grass float by like they have for years and learned about the history of the place, the people, and the culture from the people themselves. I was almost ashamed to be an American when they were done talking. I now knew the history of the Rama Indians.

It had been a long day. I was weary and had much to mull over in my mind. I sat alone on the dock long after everyone else had deserted it and smoked my cigar and thought about many things. Finally, I was exhausted enough mentally and physically to make my way back to the building with the rooms, climb the stairs and crawl into bed. It would not be the last night that I was haunted by dreams that I can not describe, except to say that I have never dreamed so vividly, so realistically and so terribly.

I laid awake most of the night, listening to the sounds of the jungle around me and trying not to fall asleep again for fear that the dreams would return. Morning would not come soon enough.