[Originally published 30 January 2010] I arrived in Nicaragua as a tourist. I was not a Spanish student, volunteer or all-conquering long distance hiker. I arrived at my hostel late at night in a shared taxi with a couple from Reading, Berkshire. I saw the room, looked fine, checked in, slept, got up, looked for somewhere nice to have breakfast. I sat in the most expensive hotel in the photogenic city of Granada, admiring the ornate and well preserved colonial facades of the central plaza. I ordered orange juice, large bottle of water and an ice cream. It was already hot.
The tourist carriages drawn by skinny horses queued across the road for $10 punters. The street vendors were insistent and persistent. They came to my table selling whistles, dvds, crockery, sunglasses, bread, honey, more whistles, more dvds, more crockery …etc. It all felt more urgent and edgy than relatively wealthy Costa Rica.
My bill was $2. I waited for my change. I made eye contact with a woman on another table. She seems nice, something serene and gentle about her. I rose from my table, almost brushed past her table and walked across the plaza. The taxi driver last night said the lake was down this road, I’ll see if I can walk down to it.
Children were asking me for “Un dólar, un dólar”, sometimes quite fiercely. The lake is too far away and this road is a bit sketchy, I’m going back to the square.
A tattooed young American was sitting on the pavement drinking a beer. He looked relaxed here. I watched a young local boy walk up to him and lift the back of his shirt at him.
“Everything’s for sale.” I said to him.
“Yeah, but I didn’t wanna get laid right now.”
I went to sit in the cathedral.
Whoa, this place is raw. Beautiful buildings and weather, but man… I looked up at the statue of the Virgin Mary at the altar. She was set in a relief of glistening blue light. Hypnotic. I acknowledged the sense of rawness and desperation I had carried from the street. She stood there graceful with open arms.
The locals know her as Maria Auxiladora, the Helper. The Blessed Virgin of the Lake. Protector of Granada. While other cities in Nicaragua have fallen foul to civil war, political disturbance, earthquakes and volcanoes, legend has it that Granada is held safely in her hands. From her can come the hope, from her can come the answer.
The followers sing to her frenetically, earnest and driven in their dedication and intention. A procession passes to another part of the cathedral. I sit in silence and watch the angels by the Virgin’s feet start to sing and move.
A girl stands in front of me “Como estas?” she asks me tersely. She’s trying to sell me sweets. I try to ignore her but she repeats her question and I reply,
“I’m fine, but I want to sit quietly.” She sits in front of me for 10 minutes before leaving.
Meanwhile, I sat quietly and asked the altar,
“What do I need to do here?”
This place is strange. I could feel all sorts of wyrd vortexes and lines of power buzzing around the place. I focussed on the positive forces; the nurturing hands, the movements of the angels, the earth below, the waters of the lake, the beauty of the land, the love of the people. I could see the immense power of the light. I could see the depths, the pains, the darkness and devastation of darker times. Something of the soul of Nicaragua was showing itself to me, saying welcome. So I welcomed it with open heart, not wishing any change, just witnessing an existing healing process, seeing things how they are.
I prayed quietly as I watched the energy.
I was interrupted by a lady. I recognised her as the graceful woman who I saw in the hotel restaurant. Yes, there was a grace and beauty about her. She asked where I was from and I explained about my Irish ancestry when she expressed surprise that I had grown up Catholic.
There were stories of our countries’ histories and personal stories that we needed to share with each other. There wasn’t much time – the conversation was deep and straight to the point talking bereavement, depression, despair, love, joy, healing and God.
Her driver picked us up outside the cathedral and we drove down to the lake where we talked some more.
Her name was Scarlett. She is married to a former member of the Nicaraguan government. She invited me to stay at their house in Managua.
Two days later, I sat at the hotel again, drinking tepid water during a power cut, waiting for Scarlett’s driver to pick me up. An American man arrived, he was having trouble explaining something to the hotel staff so I helped out. A child selling DVD stared open mouthed at me, as if he’s never seen a white woman speak Spanish before. He came over to me and complements me on my Spanish as I refused his DVDs. The American packed up his meal to give to a homeless person.
“You shouldn’t give him your food, you know. There are projects to educate kids and get them out of begging, if you want to help, you should contribute to one of them rather than feed the cycle of dependency.”
The car arrived. Pedro, the driver, took my bags into the back. This was a strange journey from my youth hostel to a luxury mansion in the suburban hills of Managua, Nicaragua. Pedro had driven for an hour to get me.
The driveway at the house was full of luxury 4x4s. There were staff. There was a statue of Maria Auxiladora outside the main entrance. I was taken to my room to freshen up and wait for my hostess to receive me. I stepped onto my balcony to take in the amazing view of the city, the mountains and the lake across the full sized pool in the garden. This was worldly wealth, but more significantly there was a very fine and gentle high frequency of the energy of the place. Something magical about this place. Something magical about my journey from being random tourist to welcomed guest. Some parts of me could barely believe I was there, as if I were an interloper like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
I was a bit nervous when Scarlett came to greet me, I chose to take a little more time to compose myself and then we went out to the garden to talk. We talked and shared photos for a few hours before we left to go to an upmarket shopping mall to meet her sisters, brother-in-law and mother. The evening was fast and frantic but the conversation was sparky and interesting. We ended up at Scarlett’s sister’s house.
There was something comfortable about my presence there. It felt graceful and easy despite my early nerves. This was a different lifestyle of gated communities and politics but one that I had been privileged enough to visit. But I realised that all I needed to do to gain access to this world was speak my truth from my heart and display my beauty. On a physical level, I dressed as well as I could with my backpacker wardrobe.
Scarlett and her relatives were so kind and welcoming, their hearts came to meet me. We had taken a leap of faith to make our meeting happen. But it was gentle and beautiful and I sincerely hope we will meet again.
I was up early the next morning. Pedro drove me to the airport. After only 4 days, I was leaving Nicaragua. Somehow I felt like I had touched on something deep during my short time there and my passage through the country had been blessed. I even bumped into Martin from my Spanish class in Panama in the street in Granada and hung out with him for the days before my visit to Scarlett’s house.
I had discovered the importance of meeting with the Powers that Be upon arrival in a new destination.
And now I had arrived in Roatán, a Caribbean island off the coast of Honduras, famous for diving. And the Power that is….SHARKS! I had to meet them…