Driving to Managua today during the wee hours of the morning was a treat. My friend Nicolas and I set out from León in starlight, racing a low hanging and brilliant planet to the north. The volcano Momotombo emerged gradually from its dark cloak, and as the sun emerged giant rays of golden light literally appeared against the blue sky. As we passed the mirador that looks out over lake Managua at the entrance of the city the view was breathtaking. The misty islands and turquoise water tantalized us like a mirage of an imaginary paradise as we entered into the gray industrial and commercial strip of highway that leads straight to the airport.
Coming back alone was also a treat. If there’s anything I like as much as riding in the back of a pickup it’s driving one. Really any pickup is fun to drive, but it’s much better when it’s a bit beefy and a standard. The day was incredibly hot by 7 am. It’s a long dry winter here. Everyone refers to El Niño and shakes their heads lamentably while watering their patios three times a day as if it were April. The familiar fields between Managua and León were showing signs of stress. The cane for cattle forage is yellowing and still stunted from being cut months ago. Even the conventional peanut farmers are apparently having trouble keeping up with the lack of rain, and patches of fields were laced with wilting plants. Where did the infamous Nica thunderstorms I heard so much about go, and when will they come back?
As I got into the rhythm of driving a now-familiar route for the first time, I thought about another lesson Nicaragua is teaching me. Don’t shy away from chaos. It only seems scary and awful from the outside looking it. Get into the thick of it and figure it out, and don’t try to organize it. I have spent months wary of the roads here, filled with every method of transportation imaginable. Oxcarts, horse carts, motorcycles, buses, giant trailer trucks, cars, three wheeled moto-taxis, bicycle taxis, bicycles with whole families piled onto them and daddy pedaling, all weaving their way around pedestrians and meandering herds of cattle that blatantly ignore all yields. But something has happened in eight months so that when I had my hands on the wheel I became part of all and instead of succumbing to my nervousness I just became part of the dance.
Photocopy shops that sell the best Guayaba fruit in town? A little old grandma selling giant bottles of ice cold beer by passing them under the iron gate in an unmarked house on the corner? Buses that just leave when they are full and don’t have a schedule? Librerias that are not libraries and don’t sell books either, and pulperias that certainly don’t sell any pulpo (octopus). Fireworks going off at 5 am to celebrate a saint that will heal you if you promise to rub black oil on your face once a year? Directions and addresses that don’t have either street names nor house numbers, and often reference businesses long gone. The water in your house will cut out at some point and it usually is in the morning but not always and sometimes is from 5am until 7:30 pm, but you never know. Chaos.
But look what else the chaos means. If you need a car mechanic at 8:30 at night on a weekend, you can find one! Can I just break this package of plastic cups in the supermarket up and buy three because that’s all I need? Sure! I had a nice and unexpected tour of almost the entire town of Telica while looking for an office half a block up and two north of town hall, and snooped out a sweet spot for lunch while looping around searching for the right town hall. Well hey, check it out, a super sweet woman I know just was sent a mess of clothes to sell from the states so I can have tea with her while I buy the jeans I desperately need. Chaos or convenience?
I realized while passing the colorful variety of travelers on the road this morning that I’m starting to really like some of the lack of rules here. Like a good thrift shop, I never really know exactly what I’m going to find here, but there might be just what I need – or even a treasure – just out of sight.