This world is big and wild and half-insane and wherever R and I travel we usually leave with the idea that we should move there because it would somehow be better than what we already have and The Kinks are always on the playlist. There have only been a few places where we didn't feel that way. Los Angeles is definitely one. I think the other is Tulsa. Everywhere we have visited in Nicaragua seems like we could die there and is a good place to buy property and start a new phase of our life. When we were in Pochomil we went and looked at a few beachfront properties that were on the market – one apparently owned by a famous Nica because when the caretaker mentioned the name he looked at us expectantly like our jaws would drop in awe and wonder.
We met a Canadian guy at Laguna de Apoyo who had just purchased a lakefront lot and when we went to check it out, he was getting a very slow head start on clearing the brush and debris by burning a small pile of the stuff on his beach. The place looked like it was going to be pretty spectacular after about a years’ worth of work went into it. He planned to install a toilet later that day.
Both of these places were naturally beautiful, tranquillo, and realistic as far as living potential. However, two weeks cutting wood and clearing land with a machete has left me with blistered and sore hands and a true belief in chain saws, sturdy gloves, and the prospect of an even more idyllic life on La Isla de Ometepe.
To me, the ten days we spent volunteering at the farm are one of the highlights of our trip. There was purpose to each day that doesn’t exist in the same way as at a beach or lake house – where the hardest task I face is not cracking my first beer until after noon. On Ometepe, I was forced to wake with the sun each day because our camp was at the trail-head for Vulcan Maderas and people who are about to hike to the top of a volcano are excited and talk loudly, but I woke with a grimace and a new project in mind to tackle at the intersection of weeds and tree branches that Maria and Angelo call home. After a lot of sweat and sunscreen, and a healthy mid-day serving of rice and beans, and maybe a few bananas and grapefruit sprinkled here and there throughout, I liked being able to see at the end of the day a finished job, or at least tangible progress towards a finished chore.
I think Coconut and J enjoyed the time as well - they both seem to show more interest in the culture and sites of the local area when we stay put for a period of time. Coconut liked making chocolate and doing some of the other tasks associated with gardening, chicken tending, and cooking. After one afternoon siesta, she unwrapped herself from the hammock and said to me, “I think I’ll do a little gardening now.” Then she went and raked leaves from a spot of land we were clearing to make a garden patch and continued work on a rock border to define the area. It was also nice to see her listening attentively to Maria as she described her travels throughout Central America and her ideals for the farm and the island as a whole. I’d be proud if Coconut turns out to be as principled and true to her beliefs as Maria.
J loved hacking at things with his machete, even things that seemed to be alive and growing well, and playing with Angelo and the other local boys. During his and Angelo’s breaks from chasing chickens, carving baseball bats, or shelling beans, he would search me out with his machete and ask what he could do to help. As we walked back to Wesley one afternoon after a day of beating the heck out of some downed trees, he told me, “I like working with my hands and body more than I like working with a pencil and notebook.”
R and I have often spoken of how a place is defined by the people that you meet there, and we made nice relationships with Maria and her family and with another couple who was volunteering at the farm during the same time. When Angelo learned we were leaving after two weeks, he expressed disbelief to Maria, “They aren’t part of the farm now? Does that mean we’ll never see them again?” It’s sad to think that. For that short period of time we had common goals and worked together as a team to address them. It did seem like we were a family, and I know that we all made an impression on each other that will not be forgotten.
We left Ometepe with hopes that Finca Las Nubes, which was advertised on the internet as an intentional community that uses traditional agricultural methods but in a more modern setting (i.e., people actually live in houses), and which was looking for families to join the community, would be another one of these places where we would spend a few weeks and love and that we could use as our ticket out of the United States. However, after the owner of the place spent all afternoon talking about the maximum security prison where he did time and the Indian shaman who appeared to him there, and about a dozen other non-linear things including how useful it was for him to learn as a teenager how to manipulate people, and then offered to let us camp in an overgrown field adjacent to his property and to the main road that runs between two major tourist destinations, we realized things aren’t going to work out there. So, today, we are heading to the beach at San Juan del Sur. It’s been awhile since I drank a cold beer before noon.