Island Adventures

One benefit of feeling comfortable and organized in my work and personal life here is that I can go on more weekend adventures. I’m just getting a sense of the opportunities that are here for me on this fascinating island. Two weeks ago I climbed the volcano in my front yard for the second time and I ended up being the guide! (only got us lost briefly once…) Last weekend I went with my fellow volunteer and friend John on an adventure inspired by the volcano hike. We saw from a lookout on the volcano that there was an islet not far off the coast of the island and we decided that we’d try to find it and explore it. So we did.Saturday morning I hopped on the bus in my swimsuit, sandals, and an undershirt. I met John on the highway and we found a road that took us to the coast. We saw the islet and walked along the beach until we found the closest point. It didn’t look so far away and there were several littler islands on the way out, like rest stops if we got tired. The main islet seemed to be about the size of a football field or a little bigger. I estimated that it was about half a mile away. We hid our non-swimming belongings in the trees along the beach and slipped our flip-flops onto our hands. We knew we’d want them to explore the island, so we tried to use them as paddles. Not very effective, but we were really glad to have them later.

This is the only picture I have of the view from which we saw the island. It's really hard to see, but it's the darker splotch in the lighter box.

The swim was significantly more difficult than we anticipated and the size of the island changed so slowly that it seemed like we were in some kind of treadmill current. I’m sure John was working as I was to avoid considering the previously laughable idea that freshwater sharks would see us as targets (they do exist in this lake), and which lost its humor as we thrashed our way across the distance feeling remarkably like pink snack packs with legs. The sun was already hot at 9:30 and the waves were pushing back at us like a force emanating from the rocky goal. I could feel the water rushing in and out of my ears each time I took a breath, giving the world a muffled sloshing soundtrack. We arrived tired out, but in no danger. It took about 25 minutes and we now know that the distance is more like a kilometer each way. We picked our way among the boulders covered in white bird poop smatterings and found an inlet that gave us access to land.

The floor of the island was composed of layers of dead and decaying leaves, plantain stalks, vines, and long grasses. Ants of all kinds seeped up through the layers of dead matter at every step, so we hopped from solid-looking ground to solid-looking rock, slapping away the ants as we felt them digging into us with their tiny but formidable pincers. The calls, growls, and howls of our crap-producing feathered friends filtered down through the high trees dotted with nests of all shapes and kinds. Lizards raced into hiding from the rocks where they undoubtedly were used to sunning undisturbed. Aside from the knowledge that we were on a fairly deserted island in Nicaragua to which we had just swum, the landscape was fairly underwhelming at first. There were some dead plants and live plants, some rocks with bird crap on them, and the other side of the island looked to be about the same. We had scraped ourselves on the rocks coming in, were being bitten by ants and who-knows-what-else, and could imagine ground wasps and tarantulas and scorpions under every dead leaf. I was about ready to head back when John decided he’d see if he could get to the other side of a pile of rocks and I found myself following a fairly steady patch of ground around the other side.

I came across a little area where it looked as if people could bring boats onto land and, indeed, we saw several fishing boats not far off. I called out John’s name to have him take a look, but there was no answer. Must be on the other side of the rocks. I looked around a little more and then yelled again. Nothing. No reason to panic. Sure, the island’s small and there aren’t any real competing sounds, but the rock pile must be scattering my voice.

“JOHN!”

Then, the answer. He came hopping around from the mound, trying to avoid sinkholes and bugs, carrying a large coconut he had found on the ground. He smacked it on some rocks and wondered out loud whether or not coconut water can go bad. I shrugged and he let a couple of drops into his mouth.

“Eh, it’s all right,” He said.

“Here, let me,” taking it and tearing at the crack to open it wider. I tipped it back and let the milky stuff fall into and around my mouth. It tasted like what I imagine the water resulting from washing out paint brushes would taste like. Sour and old and vaguely chemical. I spit it out and tossed it aside.

“Nope. Gross.”

John was unfazed and pointed to a tree with yellow-orange coconuts growing on it and headed towards it. I wasn’t very excited by the possibility of repeating the unpleasant experience, but I followed him. There weren’t many sticks laying around, so we looked for a way to climb it. The coconuts were only about 12 feet off the ground, so first he and then I tried our luck at shimmying up the straight but rough trunk. I made it to the level of the coconuts but, after the swim, lacked the strength to hang on with one hand while reaching with the other to tear down the coconuts. I slid down in defeat, but John was ready with plan B. He found a dead plantain trunk and used it to whack the stubborn spheres ’till they broke free, falling onto the rocks and spewing droplets of milky water on the dead leaves. After a few repetitions of the this exercise we had each had a couple of coconuts and succeeded in cracking open the tops.

There is no elegant way to drink coconut water from a busted husk. There is no spout, so as you tip back the shell the liquid dribbles out and follows the curvature of the side. It’s anybody’s guess where it will pool enough to fall, so you wait until it splashes you on the face or chest and then move your mouth to intercept it. Just hope it doesn’t find your nostrils first. I had a mental image of myself at that moment as a sweaty, scratched-up, dirty, ant-bitten, coconut-milk slobbering dude laughing at the strange perfection of the moment. It’s amazing how much liquid can fit inside a coconut the size of a small cantaloupe and it was surprising to taste the subtly sweet and fruity flavor that immediately reminded me of some or another of the ice-flavored Gatorade. It was so perfect that we rushed off in search of another tree that John had found on his side of the rock pile. This one was even shorter, so we just tugged on a couple of them and used a short stick. Then we saw the thousands of ants swarming up the sides of the tree and decided to grab our booty and make a run for it back to the islet where we first arrived.

We drank those last two coconuts and slid carefully over the slime-covered boulders into the lake. The trip back was easier, but it felt much sloppier because of our floppy, exhausted limbs. I could feel the now powerful 10:45 sun pounding down on my back, neck, and arms and I hurried to shore and shade. Our shirts and my backpack were (thankfully) right where we left them and we took the first path that looked like it led back towards the highway. We made it to the nearest city, where John lives, by paying a hotel tour-bus to let us climb aboard and we had a triumphal lunch and beer in the shade on the edge of the central park. We toasted to adventures and coconuts on our little corner of Nicaragua.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Janet Boddy on June 15, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Moments of adventure to save for a lifetime. VERY glad there were no sharks that day! Love, Mom

    Reply

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