Yesterday, my adventures with middle-aged Central American men continued. First there was "Uncle Ray," then Don Luis, and at 10:07 am on Friday morning, I met Don Alvaro. Someday, we'll all have to start a band.
Shirly, my incredibly sweet AirBnb host had made arrangements for me to be shown around Managua on my last full day in Nicaragua. "Don Alvaro speaks some English. Just use simple verbiage and don't speak too fast. You should be fine:)" This girl clearly doesn't know I lived in New York for 12 years, I thought.
Soon enough, I was whisked away in his Nissan Altima headed for some unspecified destination. Just the way I like it. "I used to have the same car," I told him. "Yes!" he lit up. "It's a very good car. Nissan is good," he said. We were off to a nice start. In his bright green shirt and stylish shades, Don Alvaro drove skillfully, muscling through thick Managua traffic before finding some clear runway. Moments later, we made the turn for Masaya, a city just southeast of Managua famous for its lakes, craters, and active volcano.
We reached the top of a mountain before getting out to take in the view of Laguna de Masaya. "It's beautiful," I said as we walked past a disinterested guard casually toting a shot gun. "Yes," Don Alvaro said. "Is it clean?" I asked. He shook his head and told me, "Hospitals dump their waste in there." He looked as disappointed as he was heartbroken. "Well, it's nice to look at," I chimed in.
For the next few hours we made our way to a busy marketplace where I picked up a souvenir for a friend, drank fresh orange juice out of a bag, then made our way to another stunning view in the town of Catarina. We talked easily about politics, sport, and family -- lots of family. "Guess how many kids I have," he asked me. "Uh, two?" I said. He smiled before telling me, "13." I almost dropped the papaya and banana smoothie I'd ordered. "They are mostly in Canada," he said. "But a few are here."
We hopped back in the car as he asked, "Do you want to go to Tipitapa? Eat some fish?" A week earlier I'd seen a sign for Tipitapa but didn't have the gas or time to go. "Yes," I beamed. And off we went.
We made the 30-minute drive mostly in silence. I stared out the window taking in the Nicaraguan countryside for the last time. Tomorrow, it would be time to go. The week I'd been here felt like a lifetime in the most whimsical way possible. Time seems to stop when you're traveling because it's one of those rare moments where all you have is time. The stampede in your mind comes to a halt, thoughts actually worth thinking reveal themselves, and the remarkable people you meet allow you to challenge your assumptions. But the last day of a good trip is always bittersweet, no matter how you slice it.
We arrived at a seafood restaurant on the edge of town and took a seat in an empty room that smelled like disinfectant. "This place used to be very famous," Don Alvaro told me. "But now, no money." As I took in the crumbling walls and the faded yellow paint I could actually see it. It reminded me of the once popular seafood restaurant in Sheepshead Bay where my family celebrated my grandmother's 80th birthday. You longed to know what the walls had seen and how festive the place once was.
Thankfully, the food was good. We talked a great deal about the direction the world was heading in and how we could make it a little better. Some reality TV show played quietly in the background as we shared a plate of beans and rice. Don Alvaro was thoughtful, kind, and a wonderful host. Like Uncle Ray and Don Luis I was going to miss him.
After lunch, we began the drive back to Managua. It was time to go home. Once again, we hit heavy Managua traffic as children tried to wash Don Alvaro's windshield at the traffic lights. He'd already had them cleaned when we stopped for gas a few hours earlier, but still took out a coin and paid the little girl who barely reached the window.
I continued to stare out the window as we inched along taking in the sights and sounds of this remarkable place. How lucky I am, I thought. I've already seen so much in my life. Don Alvaro turned to me and said, "Too much traffic. You are bored."
I just looked back and smiled. "Never," I said. "Never."