The infamous ‘La Chocolata’ is a dusty dirt road that leads from town to the beautiful north beaches of San Juan Del Sur.
Rough is one word to describe it. Bone shuddering is another.
Ditches, craters, humps, gullies and rocks make the road adventuresome to traverse. Stray dogs, loose goats, vultures, cows, cyclists and oncoming traffic add a dash of danger.
Heavy rains turn the dust to sludge. Verges collapse under a constant stream of muddy water. New potholes form basins for pooling rivers. Tyre tracks are engrained for yet another year.
It is an essential passage never to be journeyed without a bra or an empty bladder.
Once a year a small workforce arrives to regrade the road. The sight of one digger and yellow roller is a cause for celebration. Within days, La Chocolata is transformed from an off-road assault course to a smooth, easy thoroughfare (by Nicaraguan standards anyhow).
Lorries, buses, SUVs, 4 x 4’s, bikes and taxi’s speed up, no longer worried about bursting a tyre or losing a passenger. La Chocolata runs smoothly…at least for a little while.
Day by day, familiar holes, humps and crevices reappear like unwelcome friends. Torrential downpours reveal the contours of old wounds and the bone-shuddering journeys start all over again.
Our time in Nicaragua somewhat echoes the life-cycle of La Chocolata Road.
A rocky start had us on our knees. Unbearable heat, illness and lost dreams consumed our positivity. At times the journey seemed insurmountable. A constant barrage of hurdles and challenges tested our resolve and our resilience. Just when we thought we could take no more, new friends helped to regrade our proverbial road, and slowly our luck began to change.
Our onward journey was improved initially by our move from Casa Friend to Bavaria Pequena in October. It signified a fresh start. After seven weeks living in a hot furnace of misery, our new apartment was like walking from a fire into a freezer. It was bright, spacious, modern and above all, cooler.
Gradually, we turned a sharp corner. The road ahead appeared less arduous. We relaxed and began to enjoy the adventure.
Sunset visits to the beach, late night BBQs, deep sea fishing, dominoes, kayaking, Nicaraguan parades, Halloween celebrations, chicken wings on the beach, beers in the garden, swimming in the ocean, body surfing, crab hunting, turtle watching, crocodile feeding, hermit crab racing, pebble collecting, motorbike riding, community cleaning, face-painting, Martini drinking and market shopping all added to our new-found enjoyment.
Our proverbial road was smooth and relatively uneventful. Without the constant hurdles, we had time to appreciate the scenery.
I have said it before. I will say it again…Nicaragua is an amazing country. It never fails to amaze us on a daily basis.
Colour is everywhere. Not just in the literal sense. But on a much broader spectrum. Nicaragua has a vibrancy, an effervescent vitality that adds a tint of colour to every aspect of life. Even the poorest shanty towns have character. You can see it in the faces of the children. The dreariest day has an exciting undertone. Rain has charisma. Storms are energising. Thunder and lightning performances deserve standing ovations.
The streets are busy by day, but by night they come alive like hustling beehives of activity. Wooden porches convert to rendezvous for families and friends savouring the cooling air. Music plays, companions laugh, vendors shout, motorbikes roar, dogs bark and teenagers flirt. Elders supervise from rickety rocking chairs, relaxed faces peek out from swinging hammocks, soft lights divulge barren interiors, photos of precious relatives hang from rusty nails, kids congregate around televisions sitting on plastic garden chairs and threadbare couches.
If modern civilisation was a straight line. Nicaragua is a curvy one. A curvy line of wild turns and impulsive loops. A free line drawn by unconstrained hands. A line without rules. Just abandoned scribbles of colour.
I prefer scribbles. Straight lines may be neat and uniformed but they are boring and predictive.
I forgot how much I need colour and scribbles in my life. For the first two months in Nicaragua, I did not have a creative outlet, other than my blogs. I had no paints, no sewing machine, no fabric, no old bits of furniture to restore, no chairs to reupholster. A large part of my identity was missing.
I realise now, that I was denying myself the creative escape that keeps me balanced. The days and hours I spend ‘pottering away’ on various projects, infuse a sense of calm. I lose myself and free my mind. It is the only time I ever stop thinking.
In denying myself this outlet, I experienced a build-up of pressure, an over-active mind and a sense of impending doom. Essentially, I removed my only coping mechanism. It is no surprise I eventually collapsed into an emotional mound of hopelessness.
My meltdown was a stark reminder to value the unique traits that make me, me. I stupidly thought I could survive without my paints and tools. But art is part of me. It’s part of my personality. I need a creative outlet like a fitness fanatic needs exercise. I am strong because I take care of myself. I cope with life’s curve-balls because I walk away. I balance the bad times with projects that distract me. Doing something I love refills my empty tank.
It was a big mistake to think I could remove this part of my personality without any consequences. My worrying over our financial situation prevented me from indulging in the one pastime that frees my mind and stops me from stewing.
Chris agrees. After an almighty meltdown one evening, he drove to Rivas to purchase me a sewing machine. It was a thoughtful and loving gesture. He knows me well.
The following day I beavered away on my sewing machine for over 10 hours. I made curtains, clothes, table cloths, head scarfs and cushions. I lost myself in a mountain of material remnants, cotton reels, pins, scissors and buttons. With every passing hour, I could feel inner peace being restored. My mind cleared. I felt relaxed and happy.
Since then, I have purchased paints and glue, brushes and paper. I have taken a break from writing to galvanise my energy and inspiration. I have uncluttered my mind of unnecessary fear. I have embraced the quiet and the calm. I have relished ‘living in the moment’, and enjoying the scenery of our days.
Taking time out from worrying, may not solve our income troubles, but it has gifted us a fresh perspective and a positive outlook.
This week, some of the old bumps and humps resurfaced on our proverbial road. We were dumped with four kittens, our car broke down, a bereavement at home hit me hard and my nan was taken ill.
I won’t deny that it hasn’t been hard or challenging – but I’m not reaching for the towel or white flag like I have in the past. I remain hopeful. I remain optimistic.
If La Chocolata can survive all the elements with nothing but a few deep bruises, I’m certain we can endure a few knocks on route to our final destination.
We still can’t see what awaits us at the end of our road, but if it ends like La Chocolata, the arduous journey will be worth it.
We will feel worthy of our little bit of paradise.