After clearing immigration, I hitched my backpack up and walked out the sliding glass door of the airport and into the Nicaraguan heat, which is apparently sweltering by non-Texan standards. Taxi and shuttle drivers waved posters with American-looking names in my direction, but I politely half-smiled and looked away. I scanned the narrow pickup lane in front of me, hoping to see a bus stop like the nice convenient ones they have in Costa Rica. I wasn’t going to be fooled again into taking an expensive taxi instead of a chicken bus.
I managed to delay looking for a bus when I realized I only had slightly less than a dollar in Nicaraguan córdobas. I went inside to find an ATM, cursing under my breath in Spanish when it didn’t accept my card. I walked up and down the small airport a couple of times before I found another one escondido in a cubby. This one worked, gracias a Dios. As I desperately tried to do rapid conversions in my head, half-remembered from a brief trip to Nicaragua almost a year ago, the nica man behind me waited–impatiently, I imagined–as the white girl tried to figure out how much to withdraw.
I folded the red 500 bills into my wallet before turning around, just in case I had miscalculated and it was enough to make me a target. Airports are pretty safe, but still. I was shaking–not from fear, but rather from awkwardness and fear of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. I had forgotten how to be a foreigner.
Long story short, I had to ask for directions, which I hate. The men I asked vastly underestimated the walking distance, and I walked something that I can’t measure in kilometers, but rather in catcalls, sweat, and frustration with the flimsy flats I had decided to wear, expecting Costa Rican sidewalks when I got off the plane, not Nicaraguan dustwalks. I arrived with relief at a place with a lot of buses, but which turned out to be a refueling yard or something, and not the terminal I was looking for. I eventually found the bus I needed with the help of an off-duty bus driver that went far out of his way to guide the crazy gringa.
As I settled with relief onto the bus, a woman walked down the aisle selling drinks and sandwiches. I leaned over and asked for una botella de agua, por favor, my tongue tripping over the language it hadn’t used regularly in months. She nodded and popped the cap off a glass Coke bottle. I paid for the soda I hadn’t asked for, and sipped it slowly. At least I would have a cool bottle. As I was about halfway through, the woman came back up the aisle, accepting bottles. I noticed everyone else had finished theirs. I stressed over it a bit, but when she came to me, she simply held out her hand for the Coke, expertly poured it into a plastic bag with a straw, tied it off, and handed it back to me, keeping the bottle.
When I arrived in my destination of Estelí, a city of which I had vastly underestimated the size, I had another long walk, this time with less catcalls, better shoes, and better sidewalks, but still lots of sweat and some sunburn. You see, I didn’t ask for directions or take a taxi because I had forgotten the name of my hostel. How embarrassing.
When I finally did arrive, I made no friends that night and did nothing more interesting than pretending to read but in reality eavesdropping on a conversation in German. I learned the ages of all the girls, that one was Austrian, and that one had a sister, but that was about the extent of my skills, other than the occasional ja and ich. They were very unaccommodating in that they didn’t talk about clothing articles, which is what we had just studied in my German class.
Then I went to sleep.
All in all, a bit of a stressful day. But that’s alright, the real adventures started the next day at 5am.
The original point of this story was to demonstrate how bad I am at doing things I’m not familiar with. After writing it though, I realize this is less “girl who’s bad at what she’s doing” and more “girl who is stubbornly determined not to travel like a tourist and at the same time not ask for directions,” which isn’t really the same.
Whatever, it’s my blog and I can do what I want, so I’m going to change topics. The point with this is that when my friends and acquaintances expressed shock and were impressed that I was going alone to a developing country where I knew no one, with nothing more than a backpack, I just kind of shrugged and was like, yeah, no big deal. I know how to do these things. I’m a glamorous world traveler.
The truth is, I was highly apprehensive. I had never arrived in the Nicaraguan airport, so I didn’t know what to do once I got there. I wasn’t sure my Spanish hadn’t permanently gone down the drain, and I’m not one for planning, so I only had a rough idea of…well, anything.
Sometimes solo backpacking means luxurious solo thinking time in an exotic location or making crazy foreign traveler friends, buts sometimes it’s being lost, alone and sweaty, in an unknown city with no one to remind you it might be a funny story later.
But I live my life by the motto that no matter what bus I get on or which road I take, I’ll always get somewhere eventually.