Last night, I ended up at a little place called Restaurante Orquidea for dinner, where I sat alone on the upstairs terrace, looking at the moon over the tin roof of a store, shining its light on a palm tree. I thought about how lucky I am to be here, and how sad I am to be going soon. Nicaragua has really worked its way under my skin.
On the way back to my hotel, I walked by a little bar. Standing in the doorway was a rabbit, looking right at me. I laughed and we stared at each other for about a minute before he turned and hopped back inside. And again, I was alone. And I was ready to go home.
Such are the thoughts as the end of a journey approaches. The excitement to go home, the thrill of knowing you’ve nearly accomplished much of what you set out to do, and a lot you didn’t anticipate. All that balanced against the sadness of leaving a place you’ve come to enjoy, a routine you’ve come to identify yourself with.
Not to mention that now you have to go get a real job.
I’m nervous about going back to the States. I’ll be living in a new city and I won’t have work when I land. The next couple of months might get tricky. But I feel ready for it. The nomad in me is placated for now, and I’m actually looking forward to buckling down, finishing this book, paying off my debts, and being a responsible citizen. For a while, anyway.
But back to El Castillo. I have to say that I am trying not kick myself for not pulling some more money out of the ATM in Matagalpa last week. That was the last time I had access to one that I could have pulled money out of. I just didn’t think to do it at the time.
It would have been nice, though, because I am madly in love with the Rio San Juan. It’s stunningly beautiful here. Thick jungle and the occasional isolated cattle ranch rolling down to a lazy black ribbon of water, with the occasional panga chugging by, and frequent sightings of fishermen casting lines from dugout canoes.
Plus, the view from the balcony of the hotel is tremendous. As I said, it’s a bit more expensive than the hospedajes in town, but I couldn’t care less after what I saw this morning. The cool of the night left a thick blanket of fog over the river. And when I went outside at first light, the fog was curling its way down and obscuring the rapids, which I could hear bubbling away all night from my bedroom. Little by little, the grey light gave way and the fog showed off the bright green riverbank on the opposite shore. I took breakfast on the lower balcony, drinking a terrific cup of coffee, and watching the fog slowly lift as the river came to life with morning traffic. Fishermen throwing nets in the rapids. Collectivos heading back to San Carlos. This is a wonderful place and I would love to stay longer.
I suppose that goes for the whole of Nicaragua, really.
After breakfast, I walked over the to the fort from which the town draws its name. El Castillo Viejo was built to repulse pirate attacks (translation—The English) on the cities up the river, particularly Granada (which Henry Morgan sacked in 16-something). The fort sits right above Raudul el Diablo, a stretch of rapids that was formerly the home of some of Nicaragua’s finest crocodiles and bull sharks. The fort has clear views of the river in both directions, and with the rapids and the impenetrable jungle behind it, makes a damn fine fortification. Even when it was captured by a young Horatio Nelson, the isolation of the area forced the British to evacuate after losing the majority of their numbers to dysentery over nine grueling months.
Perhaps the most remarkable defense of the fort came in 1762, when a 19 year-old woman named Rafaela Herrera, whose father was the commander before being felled by British warships, took command of the fort and kept it from falling to the British. Her most ingenious move was to set kerosene soaked cloths on log rafts, light them on fire, and send them floating toward the British ships in the middle of the night. The terrified Brits turned and fled downriver.
I spent a good chunk of the day at the fort, taking in the view and examining the public library within (yes, the town’s library is in a 338 year-old Spanish fort). Other than that, I’ve just been strolling and relaxing on the balcony of the hotel. After three straight days of movement, it’s nice to relax here, even if only for a day.
It’s evening, and I just finished a long walk around the town. As hot as much of the country is, the Rio San Juan gets surprisingly cool in the evening. The town is a bit bigger than I expected, and full of surprising turns. I happened on a sizeable baseball game with horses grazing in the outfield, as well as a large meadow where a girl who couldn’t have been more than eight years old was sitting on a horse watching the cattle. I really like this town. After a month, it’s a great last place for my Nicaragua journey.
I’m going to start for Costa Rica tomorrow, and I’ll add El Castillo—as well as a few other places I’ve seen along the river—to the growing list of reasons why I need to return to Nicaragua.
One of these days.