'A Funny Story': I am directing the drama sequences for Korero Mai, when a passing conversation turns to the popular television series Intrepid Journeys. I chime in that I wish they'd ask me to do one. After we wrap, I go back to the production office and there is an urgent message for me to phone my agent. "Would I like to do an "Intrepid Journey" to Nicaragua?" Talk about ask and thou shalt receive! Naturally, I say yes.
Day one - Managua
From the sky, the city looks ramshackle and definitely third world. The first thing that hits me is the heat. I sense immediately that I will have major problems with the language. Most Nicaraguans do not understand English. My understanding of Spanish is less than minimal. It will mean the interaction with the locals will be very difficult.
Day Two- Managua
When our hosts hear that we are going to film at the Oriental Markets, they fear for our lives! They insist we have a minder. His name is Cairo. The markets are pretty full on. I buy some shades and a couple of shirts. I am hopeless at bargaining. We head down to the lake, which is hideously polluted. The largest dead piece of water on the globe I am told. Managua is generally filthy. I am saddened by this.
Day Three - Granada
Early to rise - beans, rice and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Beans and rice are staple diet here. I like it too. We have a van ride to Granada. First stop - National Park of Masaya - a live volcano. From the highway I see the smoking crater. I realise that this is the closest I have ever been to a live crater. I am peering down into a gaping hole in the bottom of a deep crater, out of which is pouring out sulphurous and phosphoric gases. Next stop is down at the Masaya markets. Dingy lanes of fish and meat markets where live iguanas are on sale. My reaction is of very real disgust when I see that the animal's limbs are tied. They are being sold to be barbecued whole. I am shown some charred examples. The sight sickens me so much I simply run away.
Day Four - Granada
This is the oldest Spanish settlement in Central America. It is exquisite! I slip into the cathedral. In spite of my conscious decision to leave my Catholicism behind me, I still find solace in churches and in prayer. I also go in to say a prayer for my Dad whose anniversary has just passed (25/02/83) and for my ailing cousin Maria.
Day Five - Granada
I seize the opportunity to change some money from a man in the street who offered a better rate than the bank. For $400 USD I get $6500 Cordova. I phone home but there is no-one there. I am greeted by own voice on the call minder (weird!) and leave a message admitting to a strong pang of home-sickness. I want to talk to my wife because I might not get another chance till I get back to LA en route to Aotearoa.
Day Six - on the road to Omotepe
I taxi to the local market and board a bus to go to a wharf where Omotepe sits majestically in a lake. I greet it with a quiet mihi. Throughout this journey and many others over the years, I continue with the rituals of my ancestors that offer respect for the places I visit, and I believe they help keep me safe. There are two volcanoes, and I plan to climb the smaller one and stay overnight. I am told that the hike takes between four and seven hours, though some say ten. All say it is very rugged! Hmm this will be a test. The closer we get to the island the stronger its wairua becomes.
Day Seven - Madaras Volcano
I head down to the lake for my first swim in Nicaragua. The lake is strangely buoyant for fresh water. I meet up with Victor, our 21-year-old guide, who is tiny. He looks fit and strong though. He doesn't speak much English at all - no problemo! Like "Mad dogs and Englishmen", we head out in the midday sun. After just a few minutes I am pissing sweat and puffing hard. The gym work I have put in since early January should stand me in good stead. The toughest element is the intense heat, and I confess that I have a few doubts in my ability to do this. I catch up with Victor, who is waiting to show me a coffee plantation. He pulls off a few beans and gives me closer look. Holding the bean makes me think of my coffee-addict wife. I am missing her terribly right now because I know she would be in her element with this hike.
We stop at the sighting of a group of about three Howler monkeys in the tree tops. I am too stuffed to enjoy my first ever sighting of monkeys, or for that matter, of any jungle animal in the wild. We have about three hours of sunlight left. We might have to pull out. "No way" I think. I will just have to go a bit harder. I soon discover I cannot go much harder. I start reaching for trees and using them for leverage. Not a wise move according to my Dad, an accomplished, nay expert bushman. He continually warns us that trees are not reliable anchors. "You have to take on the mentality of mountain creatures," he advised us on our many times in the bush together. I thought about the goat that would be able to run through such terrain and without arms to help them. Perhaps arms are a disadvantage here. I automatically start planting my feet firmly and squarely. We have been going almost three hours and are not even half way there. We have less than two hours of light left. I cannot go any faster. Victor is not able to understand us at all. We stop. It is crunch time. We will camp overnight in the jungle and summit in the morning. I am absolutely soaking with sweat.
Victor is quickly into setting up our tent. It looks very small and I don't see any squabs or sleeping bags. Hmm this will be cosier than I anticipated. I notice little rats running about. I hate rats! I am glad I'm so tired. I will sleep heavily tonight, too heavily to be bothered about rats or snakes or anything else dangerous.
Day Eight - Omotepe
The morning mist is amazing! I am not feeling as bad as I thought I would. The going from here is treacherous. I am moving even slower than I was yesterday, because there is an added element - mud! After an hour or so of hard slog we get to a clearing which affords us a wonderful view of the misty summit. That's the good news; the bad news the mud gets thicker, the rocks get slipperier and the climb gets steeper. Then suddenly I am there, "I knocked the bugger off". The spiritual power of the place pulses through me. I am blissfully exhausted. But the journey is not complete. Victor leads on, down into the jungle-clad crater towards the lake. I get to a ridge with a very narrow path and a steep drop.
There it is... a magical Laguna with mist swirling around it. I notice Victor tying a rope to a tree root and dropping it down a 2-3 storey drop. "What's that for?" I ask. "To get to the lake," he replies innocently. I shake my head. I explain that I have no experience at abseiling and without a harness I consider that too dangerous. I have absolutely no sense of disappointment. I am proud and feel so privileged to be here. Just then a howler monkey comes through the trees and gets a real close look at us. At one stage it looks me in the eye and holds that gaze for a long time. I offer it another karakia and just then mist rolls in and covers the lake. Time to go I think.
Day Nine - San Juan del Sur
the morning with a prayer and do my morning stretches down by the
Lake. My body is feeling it, especially my thighs and ankles. After
breakfast, back to the ferry.
We taxi to San Juan del Sur. This small town is on the Pacific Coast. Like everywhere else, it is hot!
Day Ten - San Juan del Sur
It's an early start for fishing with local fisher folk who fish at a reef some 2 km offshore, stretching all the way to Costa Rica. I get a line and drop it in. In a very short time I pull in about 6 Red Schnapper and a couple of small tuna-like fish. This is probably one of the most successful fishing trips I have ever been on. I am more a fish eater than a fish gatherer. I look out to sea and about 100 m away from the boat are two dorsal fins and huge black shadows cruising away from us. These are definitely not sharks and too big, surely, to be dolphins. Later I discover they were Pilot Whales! Even more magic.
Day Eleven - Bluefields
It's back to Managua for a plane across the country to Bluefields. As I fly down to Bluefields, it looks like a rambling shanty town from above. A town squashed onto the edge of a Laguna, which leads out to the Caribbean. The town is a stark contrast to anywhere we have been so far. The children are as delightful and cheeky as kids are anywhere. I meet a 78-year-old cool dude wearing a cigar shirt. He wins my heart. I will remember Edgar on that street corner forever. When I am a cool 78-year-old dude I will drink a toast in his memory - if mine is still intact.
Day Twelve - Little Corn Island
We are off into the Caribbean Sea - brilliant aqua blues, big reefs - to Little Corn Island. This country so doesn't live up to any of its bad publicity. After settling in, I get my first swim in the Caribbean Sea - heaven!!! There are no cars here so no roads, just paved and unpaved walkways through the poverty stricken villages and the jungles. The island is small enough to get to know well very quickly. Slightly bigger than Motuihe.
Day Thirteen - Leon
I'm up early again. My body clock has been in sync with this land since the morning in the jungle of Madera. I get ready for a long journey to Leon via boat, bus and plane. At dinner I notice that I am starting to translate the menu and the waiter's dialogue to the others. My habla Espanol has improved!
Day Fourteen - Leon
My hotel is in a university area and close to a cathedral that was built in the 18th century. I go to 6am mass to say a prayer for my cousin Maria because I have woken with her strong in my thoughts! Maria is a good catholic, unlike me, so my prayers are from deep within. The mass is somewhat disappointing. There is only piped music. What a waste of such a splendid cathedral, clearly built for angelic choirs. I stroll through the market place and after about six blocks of the uneven and dusty sidewalks through the colourful haciendas I reach another Cathedral. They're like dairies in this country - on every second corner!
Day Fifteen - Managua
My last day. I rush off to the supermarket to buy local coffee and rum. As I fly out of Managua I am sad to leave, but I know inside that I will be back! I wish this fragile place well and I thank her for looking after me and my friends.
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