Part I ~ Friendship
I thought about trust a lot the other day. I was on my way to photograph a house in the Isletas. There are 300+ islands in Lake Nicaragua close to Granada. It is my favorite place to immerse myself in nature and retreat from the stifling heat of the city. I thought to rustle up a group to join me but soon realized with schedules and distances and timelines we were not going to connect. I am always a bit wary when I am out and about alone with my gear especially in isolated places. The kit I have now is my second round after losing my first traveling office to a home invasion. I hope to eventually get back to the confidence I had before that happening. I was on another adventure, sola, on my own, and there were no English speakers nearby.
I was aware of being the only gringa, of being the only woman in an isolated area surrounded by men. I chatted casually in Spanish to the Plancha (boat) operators and called the caretaker of the house to check in every so often. The boat arrived, Pedro and I had a lovely tour and pleasant conversation. I focused my camera on the abundance of perfectly proportioned white apparitions. They stood silently watching, posing, protecting? I’ll never know for certain…
I returned to the boat launch in time to stay within the boundaries of the light, because it isn’t safe in isolated spots at night. The tourist season is a bit slow and the taxis just weren’t coming. I decided to walk back to town around the same time a man with a spring in his step and a grin headed in the same direction. We chatted and walked and talked and he offered to carry my tripod and of course I let him. We came to a crossroads. He was bigger than I. He now carried my only weapon and wanted to walk away from the road closer to the lake and inside the park where we would be hidden. I hesitated. He noticed.
I went with trust. It was 50-50. There were spots along the way that were out of view. There were other spots with families and children playing. How do you know? How do you ever know? We chatted about his children, he walked with a bounce and a smile, and a kind twinkle in his eye. When we strolled by groups of drunk men joking with him, he told me that if I was alone they would be bothering. We reached the end of the road, he handed me my tripod and said good-bye. He had walked a mile past his house to make sure I was safe. I went with trust. I made a friend. And the walk sped by.
I look at the serpentine necks of these beautiful white birds and think about the snake in the jungle book, ‘trust in me’, Kaa croons, ‘trust in me…’.
How do you know? How do you ever know? The answer is simple. You don’t. But you know yourself. Sometimes the people you love and believe in and know inside out surprisingly lose sight of your best interests. Sometimes, someone you meet in an instant reveals their innocence and good intentions. Trust yourself. Trust yourself. Be aware and listen.
The stork stands still and solitary. Waiting and watching. A white vision against the dark unknown. A treasure in its confidence and contrast, and comforting presence.
Part II ~ Business
A villa on an island in need of documenting. A perfect project, an enthusiastic client, an easy negotiation. Too good to pay heed to the number of cocktails he was throwing down. A highly successful top notch business, a desire for an online image and representation to match. There was so much potential and enthusiasm. There was so much drinking. The telling signs are always there. It is whether or not we are willing to heed them. I was hungry for a site that would sing with sweet imagery for my camera.
Transversing the waterways and blue highways, we arrived at the dock and unloaded our gear, bags of groceries, water, beer. It was an uphill stair climb through the jungle. The wooden villa with two wings of guest rooms rose above me. A towering hillside platform with hallways flanking rows of loft like temporary dwelling town homes. I sensed some disdain from Arturo the house manager. The energy here was inconsistent with my first impression.
In the shadows and under the brush, over slippery logs, amid muddy depressions, the poisonous arrow frogs darted. Here and gone. Here and gone.
Ricardo sat across from me. As the beer cans emptied, too much information kept on spilling. The cigarette ash smoldering in time with slurring words. I would steer the conversation back to work related information as much as I could. But the backstory seemed unavoidable. So I listened. It was always the same. White paternalism rescuing and shaping lives of lucky-to-know-them Nicaraguans. I nodded attentively while watching the gecko’s on the ceiling saving us from the bugs.
I was in the kitchen photographing the funny faces geckos make. They chased each other round a glass of water licking off droplets of condensation. Ricardo came running in with his laptop, “I am doing coke on Skype with my sister!”, he exclaimed. “Look at the Gecko, look at the Gecko!” was my excited reply. This interaction aptly summed up the misalignment of our two worlds.
The bright colors and patterns of the frogs on Bastimentos Island simultaneously invite and warn. I hiked up and down and around the property to photograph them. Little flashes and glints of movement in the jungle’s dark underbelly. Dangerous in their own right. They carried a message. ‘Do you see now?’
Tired from a day of composing and staging. Informed the staff would be entertaining in the main spaces this evening, I headed for bed, locking my door. Lulled in and out of my dreams by music and voices whispering. I woke early. An unrecognizable figure sat at the kitchen table. An empty bottle of Ron beside him. Stale smoke rising from the ashtray. Head wobbling.
Sometimes as they say, ‘you got to know when to fold ’em.’ Sometimes it is heads. Sometimes tails. Sometimes the treasure is buried deep in the jungle. Until it leaps out at you. I left without a project. Instead, a memory card full of poisonous dart frogs.
On the tree trunks and under the leaves, the red frogs leap. In and out of sight. Warning and inviting. Eyes wide open. Noticing.
Part III ~ Intimacy
We sat on a rooftop. Side by side. A sea of clay tiles surrounding us. Somewhere in the distance dogs were barking. A mysterious magnetic pull (sometimes called alcohol) drawing us closer and closer. We kissed. A cat on a rooftop wailed.
I was waiting in line at the ferry docks to cross the waters of Lake Nicaragua. Destination: Ometepe Island. Goal: Complete the Fuego y Agua 50k. A big green truck pulled up behind me. A thin hairy man leapt out grinning. “Going to the race?” he asked. I nodded. “Come on, load up your bags, you are coming with me.” I was trying to place his accent.
Sunset. Warm golden glow encircling, everything. In the distance our destination, two volcanoes, one a perfect cone-shape, the other, more organic. Rising out of dark waters. Gold turned to purple and then night. The stars. The moon. The shimmering wake.
Laptop open working get to know you chatting. (Under the twinkling night sky, alone, on top of a ferry in Nicaragua.) He had a name that was fun to say. A family in Isreal. A second marriage. Separated by work and long distances traveled. My life, a lot less complicated. Sometimes connections are so instantaneous. Like silver linings in forgotten haystacks.
I had been living in a beach town fraught with unfriendly gringos along the Pacific Coast. Somehow Lord of the Flies always comes to mind. He was a gift. Conversation with him was engaging. He was intelligent, friendly, dark, eager. And hiding something.
The dogs of Nicaragua will break your heart. Their hungry eyes bleed loneliness. All they need is love. All we need is love.
We were room-mates, travel mates, running mates, cheering mates and best friends. His home base was Granada. I moved there to be closer. Friendship was my only intention. But, we got together infrequently. Travel and work kept him distant. I imagined how hard it must be for his family.
And then one night, I found myself, up on a rooftop. Feeling electric. And being kissed. And nothing more.
The dogs of Nicaragua will love you in an instant. Appreciate you when present and available. Forget you when you are gone.
I will remember the moments, the intimate conversations, and comforting feeling of having someone near who cared enough not to want. Anything more. This is what I tell myself. I’ll never really know the truth of his intentions. Or my role. Perhaps, momentarily, I filled a lonely void. Eventually he faded into the silver lining of my memory. Another one to cherish.
I lost my heart to the Nicaraguan dogs. They were my running mates and loyal companions. I think of them lovingly. I wish them happiness, health, the freedom to stretch their legs. And then go home.