A khaki ribbon of a dirt road leaks from the outskirts of Granada, traces the dark waters of Lake Nicaragua (full of bull sharks, I'm told), and then dribbles north and eastward into land that can't decide whether it's fertile rice fields or crackly yellow, burnt-out scrubland. "It's the scenic route," I tell my kids. "It will be fun." They groan because they know all about Dad's scenic routes. "Ugh," says Halen. "So it will take twice as long to get there, there are no bathrooms, and you're not even sure if the road is actually passable?" Astute, he is. "It will be an adventure!" I say. "Ugh," says Savannah, but in a resigned tone. I do quite insist on my scenic routes.
Nobody is complaining though when we reach the ferry across a weak, lazy river sleepily sawing through the heavy afternoon. There's an old, oily cable anchored to both reedy shores and a small mustard-colored ferry with an old motor that whirs like a lawnmower and pulls the boat along the cable. It all has the sound and quality of riding a ski lift, but with your car. The kids think it's super cool, and so do I. From the ferry you can see they're building a bridge up river, and I feel sort of sad about that.
I am with my children in a cheese market. We've been here for three and a half hours, shifting nervously in our plastic chairs, sweating in the midday heat. Maybe all the cheese vendors wonder why the American guy and his American kids have been sitting here all day in Santo Tomas at the cheese market. Reason number one is that it's shady. Reason number two is that we're kind of stuck. Shannon left in the car three hours ago with a dude named "Enrique" who works at the credit union, and she didn't say where they were going or when they're coming back. I suppose they are doing "family history research," but the kids are getting restless. "When's Mom coming back?" Halen worries. He's the family worrier. "She's been gone a long time. That Enrique guy had shifty eyes." I act placid, but I'm a little worried too. I imagine how my conversation with the US Embassy would go if she didn't come back.
"Hi, I'm stuck in Chontales with four children and I only have three dollars and no car."
"How did you get there?"
"My wife dropped us off."
"Where is your wife?"
"I don't know. She dropped us off at the cheese market yesterday and left with a guy from the credit union named Enrique."
"Where did she go?"
"I'm not sure."
"You didn't ask before she left with Enrique?"
"No, see, there was all this cheese."
"Why don't you just call her?"
"I don't really have cell service, and my wife thinks it's too expensive to buy local SIM cards."
"So, your wife gave you three dollars and ditched you and your kids at a cheese market in Chontales to run off with a guy named Enrique from the credit union?"
"Yes, but now I only have $2.80 because I just bought more cheese."
Shannon eventually came back -- Enrique's good looks are fleeting and transitory, whereas my bland homeliness is constant and unwavering in its middling capacity to inspire within women neither a desire to look at me nor run away screaming in terror. Shannon can't resist that about me, and that's why she talks to me occasionally and buys me cheese everything third Tuesday.
To make the kids feel better after their worry over her, Shannon led us to a "crystal blue swimming hole" she'd read about online. The actual color was more like the color the toilet water is after you've had stomach issues. "I am too tired to swim," Grace said warily. "My spleen is sore from, uh, existing, so therefore I can't swim," said Savannah. "I just forgot how to swim," said Halen. "Is der poop in dat watah?" said Violet. We decided to just go home.