It’s been a week of travel and adventure making my way back to the US. Flights out of Nicaragua were less expensive, and more convenient than flying out of Costa Rica, so I set about traveling north, this time twith some people.
The thing about traveling with others is that we’re a bit slower together, and there are more opportunities for frazzled nerves. There is a quote about that:
If you want to walk fast, walk alone.
If you want to walk far, walk together.
And so true, we did travel further together, albeit a bit slower, than we would have alone. The highlight of the bumpy bus rides and dirty hostel rooms located over noisy bus stations (read: no sleep!), was the car rental. My friend and I decided to splurge on a car rental since they are so inexpensive in the low season. We had many mochillas and maletas, backpacks and suitcases with us, and the ride north to our final destination promised 3 crowded chicken buses and seven hours, versus a cool 3 hour ride in a rental car.
And cool it was. Our little Corolla, which only costs us $40 for the day, came with air conditioning, a smooth steering wheel, and a radio with a spot to plug in a memory stick. “Music! We get to pick our own music!?!” One half hour of instruction booklet reading later, and we were jamming to reggae and latin and world music as the beautiful green mountains of Nicaragua rolled by.
And what a beautiful country it is! September is one of the most verdant months in Nicaragua, being the second-to-last month in the rainy season. One hundred-million shades of green covered the landscape, making up large banana and papaya leaves as well as leaves of mango, avocado, pecan, green grass, and many other fauna I can’t yet identify. Add to that vibrant oranges, purples, reds, and yellows of the tropical flowers, and the landscape was a site to behold. I enjoyed the feel of being behind a wheel after so much time being in the passenger seat, and enjoyed turning the music up load and letting my senses overtake me.
Once my trip up North was complete, it was back to the colonial town of Granada to spend time re-packing by backpack for the umpteenth time, mending clothes, and roasting cacao beans for friends.
Cacao beans, once used as currency among the Maya, are seldom seen in the West. Once upon a time, 3 cacao beans could buy you a rabbit, or 10 a prostitute! Now, I can go to el mercado and purchase 2 pounds for just over $2, or pay twice that for half the amount in Costa Rica. (Hint: Rica = rich!)
In Nicaragua, I bought my cacao beans raw and them took them home to be soaked in water, then slow roasted and stirred over the gas stove. The small house filled with the smell of baking brownies. Once roasted, we waited for the cacao to cool before peeling away the paper-thin shell. The bowl of cacao beans can now be used for any number of wonderful cooking projects. My favorites are simple — crumbled into my yogurt, fruit smoothie, or morning coffee.
The raw cacao bean is truly a gift. Loaded with antioxidants and proven to increase oxytocin, the love hormone, eating cacao in this stage beats all the negative side-effects of eating processed chocolate. Here, you control how much you sweeten the cacao and with what, and you can get a range of benefits including intestinal regularity, a healthy heart, and a reduced appetite. Raw cacao is still used ceremonially to open the heart and throat chakras and increase feelings of connection and joy.
After a lazy day spent at “home,” I hitched 3 buses to the airport and enjoyed one last cool morning before jumping on a plane in Managua headed for the US. On the first leg of my flight, I was blessed to find myself seated between two old high school friends, themselves reunited after decades coincidentally (who believes in coincidences anyway?) seated in the same row on the same plane. The mood was jolly and both gentlemen provided easy banter as I began my transition back to the US.
And here I sit, cross-legged on a couch in a hostel in California. I’m surrounded by different cultures and enjoying the international atmosphere. I prepare to set off this afternoon to visit a friend and soak up some of my own beautiful country before heading back south again in a few months once the rainiest of rainy season has dried up.