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Adventures with Uncle Ray

10:32 am

El Transito, Nicaragua

One of the great parts of growing up in California is the amazing melting pot of different cultures and customs you're exposed to. As an adolescent, my closest friends were half-Chinese, half-white, half-Puerto Rican, half-Irish, half-Chilean and Jewish, and I had not one, but two friends who were half-Irish and half-Mexican. Being half-Italian, half-Korean didn't make me particularly unique to my circle of friends. All this to say I figured there was a decent chance someone I knew had a friend from Nicaragua. It turned out I was right.

A few days before my trip, I contacted a friend of a friend named Guillermo, who also lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. For several days we went back and forth like old pen pals. He offered suggestions on places I should consider going, sites I needed to see, and even people I needed to meet.

"As for my uncle, he's really cool. He's a retired pediatrician and all he does is hang out at his ranch or the beach front house he has."

So yesterday, at 10:45 am I met my new "Uncle Ray." I'd just returned from a quick breakfast in downtown Granada when I noticed a man milling about the front of the house I was staying at. He stood about 5'7, was sporting a thick flannel shirt, and proudly donned a red hat with the Canadian maple leaf sprawled across the crown. That's got to be him, I thought.

Within 10 minutes I was whisked away in his Nissan pickup headed for a small beach town called, El Transito. The two of us got along swimmingly from the beginning. He quizzed me about Nicaraguan history, which I strangely anticipated. "Uh, Cordoba came in 1524," I told him. He nodded before I added Nicaragua gained its independence in 1821. He smiles wide as if to say, It depends who you ask.

We talk sports, politics, family, and all the places we've been between us. "Guillermo told me Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere," I say. He nods and tells me Haiti is the first, which I happen to know since I've been there too. "So you know poverty," he insists. As much as I can, I think to myself.

We drive through winding roads through the lush and striking countryside. There's a comfortable respite from speaking between the two of us. I don't even find it particularly strange the American radio station he's blasting is playing, End of the Road by Boys II Men. I suppose there are far more awkward melodies I could be listening to with a 67-year old Nicaraguan man I've just met. Just about anything from "Two Live Crew" comes to mind.

As we inch closer to our destination he tells me, "Now the good road is over," as we take a back road followed by another very back road. I half wonder if where we're going will have running water. But each time I look over at the driver's seat Raymundo is beaming as it dawns on me I've never seen him not smile.

Not long after we arrive at a cozy little hideaway right on the beach. We actually made it, I think to myself. I take a seat beside Uncle Ray and soon there's a hot plate of fish and chips sitting before us. We talk in-between bites as we watch the rise and fall of the waves off in the distance. Just then, I look up to see a few patches of ominous looking clouds heading our way. "I think it's going to rain," I tell him.

Uncle Ray just smiles, taking another carefree sip of his beer.

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