I am in travel mode again. I’m headed to Florida with my mother and step-father, then back to Nicaragua. While I am traveling, enjoy a story I wrote about our first Thanksgiving in Nicaragua in 2004.
Seven years later, many things have changed, while many things stay the same. I’m hoping that I will be able to buy a frozen turkey on the mainland this year. A new airport is almost finished where the old airstrip used to be. Norman still drives his truck around broadcasting the local news. Tourists still die climbing our volcanoes. (The two boys lost on Vulcan Maderas in 2004 were found dead, three weeks later) Our electricity is still sporadic. Yet, for all that remains the same…I wouldn’t trade it for a mansion or a million dollars. Home is where the heart is…and my heart is embedded on Ometepe Island.
A Nicaraguan Thanksgiving
November 24, 2004
The biggest problems we have encountered in living on Ometepe are speculation and rumors. Lacking a local newspaper, radio station, or television station, the islanders have to rely on information from an outside source to keep them abreast of current conditions on the home front. If there is a death, birth, wedding, political rally, or a new bank in Moyogalpa, someone hires Norma’s son to broadcast the announcement. He hops into his beat up old Nissan truck with two giant speakers in the bed and travels the rutted roads blasting the news, which is gratefully appreciated by even the most auditory challenged listeners. However, Norma’s son only delivers local Moyogalpa news, so anyone needing information about other parts of the island has to rely on media that isn’t always accurate. Such was the case on Thanksgiving Day.
A week before Thanksgiving, Ron and I were on a wild chompipe chase, ‘a wild turkey chase’. I wanted a turkey for Thanksgiving, even though we have no oven to cook it. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I had a plan to roast it in a big hole that we would dig in the sand on our beach. Things didn’t turn out as I had planned because, although we found a live turkey, Ron wanted no part of my plan and refused to bother with such a massive production. However, a day before Thanksgiving, Francisco, my dedicated English student, and now a good friend, came to our rescue with a 5 to 6 pound Guapote that his Uncle Foster caught in his fishing net.
While wandering the streets of Moyogalpa looking for a chompipe, we heard Norma’s son broadcasting the opening of a new bank. We’re getting rather good at identifying the shish kebob of Spanish words in context and are now able to get the drift of most conversations if we know the subject. We stopped at the Hospedaje Central for a cold beer and listened to a discussion about the two lost hikers on Vulcan Maderas. A tourist asked if they found the boys and Valeria launched into a tirade about the stupidity of hikers that refuse to spend ten dollars to hire a guide to trek the volcanoes.
Thanksgiving Day, a week after the boys were lost, Ron and I were disassembling our broken fan to get parts to make a grill for our Guapote, when we heard a helicopter flying above our house. The only other time we saw anything flying above Ometepe was in early November, right before the elections. Daniel Ortega hovered above our house and landed in the La Paloma playground near the elementary school. He campaigned hard for the Sandinista mayor and handed out US dollars to all the kids at the school. Previously, the islanders had seen one plane in February, 2004. A prop plane flying from Columbia to Guatemala lost altitude over Ometepe and their choice was to dump their cargo or crash into the lake. They opted to dump their load, which consisted of many kilos of cocaine dropped from the sky like manna from heaven.
We dropped our fan pieces and ran out to see the helicopter flying in the direction of Vulcan Maderas. All the neighbors were jumping and running excitedly to catch a glimpse of the novelty. We wondered if it was the old Sandinista helicopter hired by the US boy’s parents to search for their son. It looked exactly like the helicopter that Daniel Ortega flew in… an old, army helicopter painted in camouflaged colors. I wondered who was piloting the antiquated thing and if it was an old Sandinista pilot who had both of his legs blown off in the war. I wondered why there wasn’t a helicopter hired to search for the El Salvadoran and if the boys on Vulcan Maderas were still alive.
A few minutes later, a new Piper Cub buzzed our house. It circled four times headed for the old landing strip near our house. We all hopped on bicycles and peddled frantically to the old landing strip to see if it would land. Julio clung to the handlebars, Luvis straddled the rear tire, Ron panted as he wove through the rutted, black sand road, and I ran along the side. At the old air strip, everyone from La Paloma had gathered to watch the event. I really don’t know if the landing strip had ever been used and after a heavy rainy season, the volcanic sand had washed most of the strip into the lake leaving crevices large enough to park a Mac Truck inside the holes. The islanders watched in fascination as the shiny bird circled four more times, each time getting lower to inspect the potential landing site. But, to the disappointment of all, it was unable to land and it sped off across the lake toward Managua .
Like the fish kill in September, speculation and rumor abounded. Everyone thought these unusual sightings of novel flying machines had something to do with the boys lost on the volcano. One onlooker said he just heard on the radio that one of the boys had been found alive. Another said, “No. All they found so far was a wallet.” Everyone agreed that it was a huge event because the lost boys were gringos. Although the other boy was from Great Britain, all the islanders called anyone with white skin a gringo. Technically, that term is reserved for citizens of the USA because during the war with Mexico, when the Mexican soldiers saw the green uniforms of US soldiers, they said, “Green, go” in other words, “get your asses out of our country.” But, the islanders use the term affectionately and we don’t find it offensive.
Where was Norma’s son when you needed him? We didn’t know what to believe about the lost boys. We returned to our house and it began to rain, so instead of grilled Guapote, Ron made a delicious Guapote Thanksgiving stew. I think it topped the turkey. We sipped a bottle of Chilean wine and toasted our lives on this wondrous primitive island lacking any hint of tourism infrastructure. We gave thanks for the many blessings bestowed on our lives and prayed for the safety of the boys on the volcano. We drank to our generous neighbors, whose family has increased now that Papa’s two older daughters and their little niños have moved back home ( another long, sad, story) , and thanked them for translating the TV news that evening using slow, well pronounced words for our benefit. The Managua station said there is no new information. It’s been ten days now and the boys still haven’t been found. We’re all dreading the news that maybe they didn’t survive and wondering what the effects of these deaths will have on tourism on Ometepe.
Sideline: Sorry, this letter is so disjointed. We’ve been without electricity 2 days now, and tonight (Sunday) our neighbors who own the little palm leafed bar down the road have somehow bypassed the transformer that blew up so they could have electricity for cold beer and loud music. Lester’s Papa sent him on his bicycle tonight to tell us that we’d have electricity until 3 am . With lots of sign language and pictures on our white board, we figured out that the temporary line is dangling dangerously close to the lake water and we have to shut off the power to our house before we go to bed so we don’t get a dangerous power surge. Anyway, that’s the best I can make of it. It has been a relaxing change without power. I’ve read, painted a beautiful watercolor scene looking out our front door, and Ron’s been busy in the garden… which I promise will be the next newsletter. We had our freezer full of chicken, Guapote, and hamburger.. so today we had a big feast with the neighbors. We grilled hamburgers, made two types of delicious fish and cheese stews, and ate delicious grilled chicken and plantains. Lourdita, the 3-year-old, wore her red party dress, which she tore on the fence; we danced, drank lemon/rum drinks, warm beer…, and sang lots of Spanish songs.
It’s almost December and we’re looking forward to many celebrations. Cory will be here Dec. 9th, Julio’s birthday is the sixth, ( now, he and Luvis have told me that Papa looked at The Paper and said that Julio is only 11 and Luvis is only 10 ) go figure….no one seems to know how old they are here!! Our neighbor’s daughter at the local bar is getting married this month, and many French Canadians have flown in for the wedding, because Eric, the groom, is from Quebec . We feel like we are becoming a part of the community now. I even helped to birth Don Jose’s litter of piglets.
Today started a festival of the Immaculate Conception. Apparently, they take the Virgin Mary out of the church and she sleeps in various homes for the next eight days. Everyone gets to hunt for her at 7 o’clock each evening. When they find her, the house owner has to give everyone presents, like fruit, candy, and little toys. Then, the home owner has to cart her back to the church and they start all over again. Ron and I are hoping that she doesn’t end up at our house because we’ll have to buy lots of toys and candy and she’d be very heavy to carry a mile back to town. We can’t quite figure out how the Immaculate Conception occurred on Dec. 8th and Jesus was born on Dec. 25th.
Well, I’m really rambling, now…trying to fit it all in and copy it before we shut off the power to the house. I’d better close this before I really get carried away. I’ll write a better letter when I have reliable power.