I don’t know how, but every time I travel I am gobsmacked at how time ticks away faster than the speed of light. Already, I’ve been away for six weeks and whilst people at home are getting ready for a long winter, I have traveled through three different countries, seen many new places, met loads of new people and breaking a sweat everyday before even getting out of bed in the morning. I am sure as hell not gonna miss the winter and traveling is just as inspiring as ever! 5 of october it was finally touchdown in León where I’m suppose to spend my next 8 months working for Quetzaltrekkers as a volunteer hiking guide, trekking the volcanos in the nearby areas. Talking about time that flies, I’ve been here just over two weeks and already I have seen and done things I never thought I would. Feeling on top of the world one second and in the next, wishing that I was on a flight out of here faster than you can say ‘enchiladas’. Let’s not be unorganised about it, I’ll start at the beginning…
I might as well be honest too. I have no idea what I thought I should be expecting arriving in Nicaragua volunteering for a company that donate all their money to local projects. A moment of weakness and stupidity, when I thought I would have any sort of luxury in shape of warm water, a private bedroom, let alone a bed with a pillow and a mattress functioning as it should. Like, man I don’t like sleeping on cotton candy, but please at least let me feel my ass sinking into something else than a mattress that would’ve done a better job as a towel on a beach. And I can’t even begin to explain the bathroom that I was so brutally faced with. I literally felt like running out of there and never return. It looked so so dirty and stained that the thought of trying to get clean was pretty much the funniest joke I could’ve ever come up with. So within the first 15 minutes in my new home I went into cardiac arrest, feeling nothing but a great sense of entrapment. Such a drama queen I’m turning out to be. But it was true, I was not looking forward to having to spend 8 months in this place. I met all the other volunteers, all such nice people, attended my first weekly meeting and went to bed as I still wasn’t feeling great after my fever in Granada. Not to mention I wasn’t feeling even close to cheerful.
After a dreadful night sleep, waking up with an aching back, I realised it was only one thing I could do. So I slapped my face, trying to shake off the surprise and suck it up. I’m staying here and that’s final. After some breakfast I decided that I wouldn’t be able to rest until I had scrubbed that bathroom top to bottom. 3 hours later I was surprisingly happy to realise that 80 pro cent of what I thought was dirt was stains that was impossible to get off and believe me I tried. Now, clean and smelling good. Something changed instantly when I decided that this was gonna be a good thing. I got a shower and felt happiness creeping back, filling me with excitement instead of sadness. I guess I just had to swallow the shock of my first impression. What was I thinking? I suppose without knowing it my expectations were nothing like the reality that met me. All I needed was to adjust my mindset and since then life at Quetzaltrekkers has been pretty damn good.
As a non profit organization, Quetzaltrekkers donate most of the profits to local projects in León that focus on bettering the life of the kids. On my second day here I got to visit Las Barriletes which is a school/orphanage at the outskirts of central León. Children come here to spend their days in a classroom environment, spending time with the teachers and other volunteers that try their best to educate them. Most of them go home to their family at the end of the school day, but some have Barriletes as a permanent home as they have no one else to take care of them. No doubt some of the kids have sad stories to tell, but you know what, on the day of my visit it was inspiring to see a group of beautiful children enjoying life with smiles and energy equivalent to any I’ve seen at home, or anywhere else for that matter. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that for as long as I can remember I haven’t been particularly fond of children, but I do have a heart still and helping out in class with these little ones was a joy from the first scream to the last. Cause boy, could they scream. I don’t know how educational it is to draw circles on a piece of paper, but at least they have a place where they can try to do good and learn instead of ending up in bad ways.
Now as far as hiking goes, this girl has definitely been hit by the low season. 2 weeks in and I’ve been on a mind blowing 3 complete hikes. Two of those were our half day trip to Cerro Negro for Volcano Boarding and the last one was a one day hike to Telica with three of the other volunteers because the overnight hike I was suppose to go on was cancelled as we didn’t have any clients. Walking with other volunteers for my first proper hike scared the shit out of me. The speed we were walking at was just a tad above my current fitness levels having been living it up on beer and no exercise for a duration of summer. That came back to bite me in the ass… As we started our ascent up the volcano I was gasping for air just looking at the hill I was about to climb. One thing is being out of breath, but what the hell do you do when 35 degree weather makes it seem like oxygen just evaporated from earth and all you are left with is imitating a fish on land desperately trying to survive popping your mouth open in an effort to get something in that’ll keep you going. F****** hopeless. Every five minutes it was time to blame that amaaaazing view to give myself the chance to catch my breath. I got to the top though and just in time because ten seconds after we found shelter at the campsite it started raining cats and dogs. High Five for that! After a simple, but yummy lunch we went up to the crater itself to see where all the action happens. Telica erupted as late as November last year and when you come at night you have the chance to see lava bubbling far down in the crater. However, as we were doing a day hike we left the big hole and walked around it, breathing in heavy waves of sulfur as we approached a bat cave just a few hundred meters down from the crater itself. Shit loads of bats later, we walked back to the campsite gathered our belongings and headed back down to civilization.
Still living with rain everyday I have gotten used to barking thunder and lightning blinding my eyes, but one Tuesday night whilst lying in bed getting ready to sleep, we had a somewhat out of the ordinary experience that I first thought was nothing but terrible weather. My room is walled with the road and with a fenced window without any glass, let alone isolation so we hear everything. And I mean everything. This particular night the room was lit up with with a massive bright light accompanied
by the biggest bang ever made by thunder. One of my roommates soon realised that something was wrong and we got out of bed and ran to the door to see what have happened. We popped our head out one after one and were shocked to see the corner of our road in complete chaos. On one side the pole on the corner had snapped in half sending electricity leads flying, sparking and hissing on the wet pavement. On the other side of the road was the reason for it all; a car lying on its side, beaten up not looking in the best shape. Through the realization of the car crash and the constant beeping of the car horn, we tried to figure out how bad the damage was considering the people in the vehicle. Before a couple of the other volunteers had time to run over to the scene, two of young boys had gotten out of the car and staggered over to our door. One was in bad shape with blood seeping from big wounds on his arms. Still in shock, he kept asking for water until the other boy started yelling at him for some reason. They disappeared and went back to the car and before we had time to do a lot else, they had gotten everyone out of the car and they were all off, legging it down the street trying to get away from any responsibility and interaction with the police. Back at the office we watched as the firemen arrived and started handling the mess. We went back to bed with the smell of burnt rubber stuck in our noses and relief after witnessing a crash that could’ve gone so much worse, hoping that all the boys got away without any severe injuries.
From a somewhat scary experience to something that could’ve done a lot more damage to a lot more people had it happened just a few hundred kilometers closer to shore. Here at Quetzaltrekkers we enjoy a quiz from time to time and to promote ourselves we do a trivia night once a month at a local bar. On this Monday night in October we had our hands full making sure both locals and tourists stayed off the internet embracing the concept of fair play in their quest to win the trivia and a bottle of fine Nicaraguan rum. I tell you, it helped a lot that they blocked the wifi. Excessive rumors have circled Via Via (the bar) for months after the same team won, not so surprisingly, time after time. Someone loves rum, ey… Well into the second round, I was half way down my mojito, enjoying the atmosphere and the night when the mood changed. From light talk and buzzing, people jumped from their seats heading out to the middle of the building where the roof was not covering the ground. My eyes were flickering back and forth trying to figure out why people where running about like headless chickens. And then the earth started moving. Shaking me as if I was standing on a vibration board. Looking around, I could hear a word over and over coming from every corner of the bar; earthquake. A freakin’ earthquake?!?! Before I could get my bearings it was over and we stood still for a second just to make sure that everything was okay. And then as we looked at each other realising everything and everyone was fine, we did the most ridiculous thing in the aftermath of an earthquake; we high fived. Not because we survived, not because we got away without a scratch, but because we had just been a part of a real life earthquake. It felt so surreal and in the heat of the moment it was such an crazy thing to experience that we were all ecstatic about feeling the earth shake beneath our feet. However, luckily it was far enough out in the Pacific ocean not to do any damage here in Léon. It was a big bastard though. 7,4 on the Richter scale and 100 kmoutside of the coast was enough to kill one person in El Salvador who was sleeping outside and got crushed by a pole that fell because of the earthquake. It’s enough to realise that in reality this shit is dangerous and I remember the destruction I witnessed in Christchurch, New Zealand as well. An experience, but hopefully I won’t ever tell you about another earthquake.
That pretty much sums up my two first weeks in León and my first baby steps as a volunteer. I’m enjoying life like I was meant to with gorgeous people who make everyday fun and with multiple birthdays and leaving parties, there’s always an excuse for nice drinks, food and cake. I couldn’t imagine getting a better start to my time away and enjoy every minute and every second, remembering that life is now and never again.