“Me llamo Jaime.”
The driver my hotel had sent to pick me up from the Managua airport briskly introduced himself as I climbed into the backseat of his car. I sank deep into the seat as if the upholstery were only a façade and underneath was a hole straight down to the parking lot pavement. Fearing carsickness—and being sucked out of the bottomless car— I perched on the middle hump, my neck slightly bent forward so it didn’t scrape the ceiling.
“Donde mañana?” Jaime asked, after a few minutes of silently speeding down the dark, flat road.
“Laguna de Apoyo,” I answered, “for Spanish school.”
“Ah, Escuela de Espanol,” he repeated, and through a series of gestures and the few Spanish phrases I knew, I understood Jaime wanted to drive me to Laguna de Apoyo the next day.
“No, gracias,” I answered. I had plans to make my way to the bus station and hop a local bus for the two-hour ride to Apoyo.
Jaime was disappointed and for the rest of the 30-minute drive to the guesthouse, he tried to persuade me to hire him, peering into his rearview mirror often to look at me when he spoke.
“Autobus no rapido, no tranquilo!” Jaime repeated, most likely frustrated by my lack of Spanish and my lack of agreement, and what he rightly saw as my lack of understanding at how much better my journey would be in the peacefulness of his car than it would be on one of Nicaragua’s crowded unpredictable chicken busses.
Well, what could I say? I didn’t come to Nicaragua for peace and quiet, nor for quick service or a private driver, or for comfort or really even for any resemblance of a relaxed vacation. I had come to study Spanish because I was tired of being embarrassed by my monolingualism, by the fact that I’d been studying (or wanting to study) Spanish for years and still could only barely communicate.
I had thought Spanish was the primary reason for my trip, but on my plane ride from New York,
I began to feel increasingly exhilarated and scared all at once by the idea that I was about to explore a new country alone.
At that time, I hadn’t been out of the U.S. for about three years and hadn’t traveled by myself for much longer than that. I’d traveled alone quite a lot when I was younger, and then I was lucky enough to meet my husband/partner-in-adventure and we’d been exploring together ever since.
Now I had to make sure I could still navigate a new country by myself and I felt rusty. Oddly enough, it was this trip, after years of traveling in dozens of countries and then having a three-year break from traveling (due to life and all that comes with it) that let me articulate my love for traveling. Nothing else is as terrifying and thrilling as being so completely lost in a new country that no one who knows you could pinpoint exactly where you are. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that feeling until it hit me on my way to Nicaragua.
I couldn’t explain any of this to Jaime. All I could say was “no, thank you” each time he pounded his palms on his steering wheel, telling me what a nice, quiet experience he would give me, while glowering at me in his rearview mirror.
The next morning, Jaime was at my guesthouse waiting for me to finish breakfast.
“Laguna de Apoyo,” he told me, as if a different conversation had actually taken place the day before.
He finally agreed to only take me as far as the bus station, grumbling under his breath the whole way there. I actually thought we had built up a lighthearted ribbing relationship but he seemed to be genuinely disgusted with me when I got out of his car.
I understood my fortunate position. I saw that my problem was a lucky one—I wanted to challenge myself with an adventure and I had the luxury of time. But even while I recognized my privilege, I felt very strongly about the need to take the bus.
I paid my fare and took a seat next to the window. I had a comfortable, if not quick ride to Laguna de Apoyo, or where I thought was Apoyo. The bus only ended up taking me partway there and then I had to change to another bus to take me the rest of the way. Much confusion ensued—I thought I was being dumped in the middle of nowhere until finally another bus appeared and took me the rest of the way.
This second bus was so crowded that I was spooned in between two other passengers. The man behind me was so close to my body that I felt his knee caps pressing into the backs of my knees, and I couldn’t tell whose sweat snaked down my back—mine or his. I was nearly cheek to cheek with the woman in front of me.
As the bus picked up speed, I watched the attendant who had taken my bag scurry up the side of the bus using a small ladder. He came back down in a few minutes minus my bag and I wondered how he could have possibly tied it up on the roof so quickly at such a high rate of speed. If there were enough room, I would have turned my head to look out the back window, to see if I could identify my bag if it flew off the roof.
Instead I looked out a side window at concrete homes with corrugated steel roofs, their driveways lined with lush banana trees, at the fires burning in the fields and blowing smoky dust across the road, surely obscuring the driver’s visibility. Two older ladies on the bus were chatting in Spanish, laughing every few minutes and a radio near the front blasted out a loud, tinny song.
I thought, Jaime was right. This is not tranquilo, not by a longshot, and I was filled with the joy that traveling brings at the most unexpected moments.