From my table at the edge of the restaurant, high above the Caribbean Sea, I took my time over my rum-infused hibiscus; partly because it was worth savouring and partly because I was trying to work something out. I’d been on Corn Island for two days now and had yet to get my feet wet, nor could I be bothered in that moment to walk all the way down to the white sandy beach below. Was this a good thing? Was my life so cool that I could be blasé about being in the Caribbean for a few days? Or had I become jaded, so spoiled with visiting amazing places that they no longer moved me? Even worse, could my lack of energy simply be down to getting older?
I had plenty of time to contemplate this conundrum as I made my second trip around Nicaragua for Rough Guides. Nicaragua’s a good size for a guide book job. At 130,000km² it has almost exactly the same area as my native England so for me it feels not too big, and not too small - just right. Being British I’m used to the odd hiccup with public transport, though there are no passenger claim forms in Nicaragua. Having said that, people might complain less in the UK if they were entertained while they waited by stream of travelling salesmen, preachers, beggars with various ailments, and women and children selling hot food and cold drinks.
This trip was a military operation compared to the first time, when I’d kept forgetting things and having to double back on myself. Now I could arrive in a town, step off the bus, boat or plane and hit the ground running. I had a system and ticked places off with remarkable efficiency. I had been almost everywhere and knew which places I wanted to get over and done with as soon as possible and which I wanted to linger over, staying just one more night and therefore having to have one more meal in that perfect restaurant. In some spots I was the master of disguise, giving any mystery shopper a run for their money. In others, it was like returning to visit old friends, laying down my rucksack in the familiar surroundings of a friendly hospedaje (guest house) where I was mostly glad to see that the same wonderful owners were still welcoming travellers to their home and enjoying it.
Of course not everything was exactly as I’d left it two years ago. Along the Río San Juan the owner of Sábalos Lodge, who had endeared himself to the locals by coordinating many aid projects for the village with international organisations, had sadly passed away. Maybe it was just a case of the new owners finding their feet, but the friendly atmosphere created by Don Jaro was gone and everything was too much trouble for the new owner. I’d gladly walked for over an hour through fields and across streams to get there, but the trek back to town seemed so much longer, the scenery now muddy and wet, rather than lush and green.
Being British, my favourite food on the whole trip was curry. I’m sorry, I know I should be writing about the wonderful enchiladas and empanadas but they just don’t hit the spot like a well-made curry. And that was what I knew was waiting for me at the end of a long day travelling to Ometepe Island on Lake Nicaragua. Café Campestre is located in the small town of Balgüe and by the time I landed on the island one early Sunday afternoon, I’d missed the last bus. I usually keep a tight rein on the finances in order to be left with something of a wage at the end of my trip, but the dream of that curry had kept me going for so many days that I splashed out on a typically over-priced Ometepe taxi to get there[*]. The curry did not disappoint. Warming lentil dhal with a flour chapatti and onion salad washed down with an equally warming home-brewed beer (not that I’d been anything but warm for the past six months). This was the place I stayed an extra night for.
So, why couldn’t I be bothered to swim in the Caribbean? Probably a mixture of everything but I’m not complaining. It was the end of a long and tiring journey, and watching the sun go down with a glass of rum and good book is not a bad way to spend the evening. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about not having to be in the ocean to be a part of it, but I’m too relaxed to figure it out.
[*] As a side-note, Omtepe taxis really are a phenomena. They are so over priced I can never decide whether I admire their business acumen in sticking together and resolutely charging in dollars rather than the local córdoba, or loath them for reducing me to the status of just another gringo they’ve managed to swindle. I think the latter.