I join the girls for a hike, up the side of a mountain, in search of cell phone reception. It’s no small task as we carefully pick our way, in sandals, through loose rock and dried leaves, following a seemingly impassable steep whisper of a trail. A golden-green jungle sunset peeks between massive trees and far away emerald hillsides.
In the cooling, golden evening, they stand very still. Trying and failing to place a call. Then trying again. It takes nearly an hour. When we’re about to give up, Myra’s last call reaches the DJ of the local station, which broadcasts music and commentary throughout the jungle into the wood smoked kitchens of thousands, each with a little, black transistor radio. The cloud-forest lifeline.
We head home for dinner, triumphant. Back in the tiny kitchen with it’s perfectly aged walls, weathered grey wood, collection of 10 cups, a few plates. We sink back into the bench at the table, sitting on the dirt floor three feet lower than the rest of the room. Shoulder to shoulder, we sit. Careful to alternate how many people move at any one time, in the small space. A tiny dog, named Flea, runs under foot and a tinier, flea-bitten kitten, named Mouse, is passed from lap to lap.
Conversation and jokes spill from rapid Spanish to slow English to rapid English and slow Spanish and back again. Waves of laughter roll through it all. We’re like family in no time, despite most of being relative strangers less than 12 hours ago.
There are a few slow minutes when the conversation stops as we cough out the wood smoke that shifts from heating dinner to our teary eyes. Wood-fire warmed dinner is passed around. A simple and tasty blend of frijoles, rice, scrambled eggs and dried fish that spent the day smoking over a fire.
We clean dishes from a small bowl of precious water (hauled the half mile from the well, earlier in the day) then sit down for more laughing and talking.
Jackson, a mildly handicapped young man in the village who lived a difficult life until
Myra and Marlon took him in, put him to work (doing house chores and work) in exchange for food and family, taps me on the shoulder hands me Mouse (the cat) with a gummy grin and mumbled, happy Spanish. I think of the various kitchens I’ve sat in over the years. The spaciousness, the appliances, the perfectly lit atmosphere, perfectly timed laughter. I roll my toes across the uneven, dirt floor, and smile as Mouse stretches, warm and happy, in my lap.
The talk turns to tomorrow. The horses we’ll take, Marlon’s concerns that Martina and I (as women) can’t go alone. He insists we go with Spencer (who knows zero of the landscape or horses compared to Martina’s mastery of both). When she teases we find out it’s a man thing and talk turns to machismo. The ornate beards around the town, the horse training, the clearly defined duties of women who retreat to the kitchen.
Marlon looks very seriously at Spencer, “Spencer….what would you rate your machismo?!!”
We erupt in laughter, Mouse lifts a lazy little head up, only to settle back down with a purr. Flea (the tiny puppy) yawns at my feet.
Tired beyond-belief from a long day of travel and interviews, we sit up, way past midnight under the slight light of a single electric bulb that runs off a tiny car battery generator, it spreads a dim light around our little circle, otherwise, absolute darkness of the Nicaraguan jungle.
I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.