Leaving Nicaragua

Suddenly, it’s over.

Martina and I climb from the bus, and wave to Spencer, Marlon, and Myra. A quick, light lunch of fruit and orange-carrot juice and walk in the light rain to Martina’s Esteli boarding house. In a sleep-deprived trance I pack my bag, update my facebook status, shoot an email to the only guy who seems to not take my perpetual absence personally (“Nicaragua was just amazing, can’t wait to tell you about it! Dinner in two weeks, when I get back from Colombia?”), and we flag a taxi in the spitting rain.

I can’t think about leaving or imaging my mornings without Martina or our shared adventures, so I don’t. Or I’ll cry. So Martina and I chit-chat like it’s nothing. But our faces are tense.

And when we pull into the station, the bus is unexpectedly already loaded and ready to go. It’s a cruelly quick kiss on the cheek and last hugs, and I’m onboard the bus, in the seat behind the driver so he can keep an eye on me and flag me when we arrive at my Managua stop.

The city bus is surprisingly plush, and I sit back in cushioned luxury. Laughing with the driver and his assistant, as I watch us barely cheat imminent death, time and again, through the massive windows. We stop once, for the driver’s assistant to hop from the front to pick up two cups of coconut ice cream from a roadside station, as passengers sit and wait, indifferent.

Mountains, countryside and life, accented with Sandinista-era murals of children loading automatic weapons, swirl by.

A pastel rainbow of thousands of plastic bags float along side us. They pile up along barbed wire fences and the corners of tiny houses. And despite myself (and the environmental damage I know it represents), glittering in the setting sun, the colorful garbage takes on a new, strange, beautiful glow.

It’s the first quiet moment I’ve had in days. And I can’t think of much more than the sound of my own breathe, exhausted and happy, in every sense of the word.

Hours flit by. We trundle into the baking streets of Managua, and I  hop off the bus at the yellow-stucco Best Western strategically located across the street from the airport, so I’ll only have to roll from bed and cross the street to catch my early morning flight.

When I see my tanned, dusty face and greasy hair and not-so-clean sundress in the open-air lobby mirror, I smile back at the stranger. Every bit a back-packer now. Well, somewhat — the laptop and fancy camera in my pack would say otherwise. So much has changed.

It’s hard to remember the girl I had once been, who had put her head down and worked so diligently at the 9 – 5 (often more) from a carpeted cubicle ensconced in florescent light, dreaming of someday, living some kind of different life…

My simple, over-priced double-room feels like a museum, so quiet, massive and perfectly laid out.

A cool swim, a shower and quiet dinner alone, as I pour over photos and memories, between little conversations in much-more-fluent Spanish, with my waiter…as sun-burnt families and tour groups grow louder and louder, with every round of drinks. I decide I’m quite happily alone. And I fall into bed, asleep by 8PM.

The next morning, I walk through the sunlight and across the four lanes of traffic, to the barbed wire encased airport. I wait for my connection to Panama City, and then, finally, Colombia.