96 Hours in Nicaragua, Part 1 (or, "24 hours in Nicaragua")

When we go to Nicaragua, we drive to Nicaragua, like the cavemen did. None of this floofy flying stuff for us. We are tight with the road, with the earth, with the wind, which sometimes smells somewhat like body odor and urine.

We proved 18 months ago on our first trip to Nicaragua that it's possible to drive from San Salvador to Granada in one arc of the sun across the autumnal Central American sky, even accounting for a 1.5 hour detour on dirt roads that Google Maps suggested constituted the quickest route. This time around we were less ambitious, aiming only to reach Managua. 

The drive was uneventful, save the fact that Honduras inexplicably decided to install storm drains across the Pan-Americana Highway at .25 mile intervals throughout the entire country. Literally the entire country. It's like if you were on I-95 and there were speed bumps every quarter mile. Also imagine that sheep and goats and cows also used I-95, and you would have it. Another fun part of the trip was when the official at the Nicaragua border crossing insisted that our car was not blue (it is admittedly a girly shade of blue, but definitely blue), intimating that it may not be the vehicle described on our title and that we therefore may be car thieves. I didn't disabuse him of this notion, mostly because I suck at Spanish.

The Hyatt in Managua is probably one of the nicer hotels in town. Just across the parking lot is an outdoor promenade, a plaza-type area with restaurants and shops. Upscale. We ate there, not because we're particularly upscale, but because it was convenient and we were bushed from driving all day. Sometimes I feel like a plastic person in places like that. Consuming an artificial reality, moving about on the surface of a facade that somehow floats independently, with the real world of dust and bones and hard-set jaws spinning just beyond eyeshot. While we ate our food --cooked to the chain restaurant's corporately-dictated specifications -- a pod of lightly-stubbled young men at a nearby table laughed raucously at seemingly carefully-planned intervals. Laughed so loudly and so deliberately, their unsmiling eyes darting hungrily around the plaza as they guffawed, that it was hard to escape the impression that we were on a movie set where everything, the tables and neon lights and blonde Latinas hanging on heavily-cologned arms, existed for consumption, where everyone was an actor, an entertainer, and simultaneously a spectator. And all of this while paces away real Managua grinded its teeth in a clutch of traffic and diesel and cracking concrete. We paid our bill and returned to the hotel room to watch the Disney Channel, that mirror of authenticity.

Have you ever been to Granada? I hadn't either, until the next day. But the parents, or maybe the grandparents, of my grandfather lived there in a big house off the main square. I arrived with my children at half past ten, and the first thing that Savannah saw upon liting from the car was a family of cockroaches scurrying across the street. She insisted that we leave this squalid place immediately, but then a passing car squashed the roach family, and I smiled at her, and she smiled at me. Back in the saddle. 

In the center of Granada's leafy main plaza, while ignoring a man attempting to sell us sunglasses, I lectured my children on the cascade of family, how there's something that flows through the generations, touching us, filling us with substance -- the stuff of being alive -- and how that something once swept through this place where we stood, filling the bellies and the brains and the veins of people -- our ancestors -- who moved across the very dirt now beneath our feet. And how that same something was now pooling in the beady sweat on the brows of my children, swirling in eddies beneath the prints on the pads of their fingers, threading through us, cinching together the fabrics of then and now. "I'm hot," said Grace. "Is there any ice cream here?" said Halen. "I'm bow-wed," said Violet, who can't say her "r's." I really think I got through to them.

Next installment: learn about bull sharks, the scenic route from Granada to Juigalpa, what to do when your wife abandons you in a small town famous for cheese, and maybe a little about an allegedly crystal clear swimming hole which actually may have contained human poo.