Las Penitas, Nicaragua
"You want one?" the young girl with perhaps a tad too much eyeliner asked me in halting English. I was sitting on the loud, crowded, sweaty, and yet somehow charming bus, listening to music with Spanish lyrics. I could translate the words "love" "never say goodbye" and a lot of indiscriminate whimpers in the song.
The girl, whose name I soon learned to be Natalie, handed me a small green fruit. I had seen them for sale on the streets of Central America before, but I had never tried one. "How...I eat?" I asked in Spanish. It was my turn now for a broken language. She showed me how to crack the skin with my teeth, peeling it back to reveal a pale pink fruit resembling a lychee. "Don't," she warned, pointing to her throat. I figured this meant, don't swallow the giant seed I just nearly broke my teeth crunching down upon. The fruit, called mamon, was slightly sour but mostly sweet, and it was like sucking on a candy; I greedily devoured a few more on the short journey from Leon to the black sand beaches of Las Penitas.
The bus rumbled past fields of green and wandering cows; soon I could catch glimpses of the ocean, its waves crashing violently, white foam spraying up onto rocks. I instantly regretted worrying about wearing my bathing suit; there was no way I was going in. We stopped, and the man who had collected our bus fare (12 cordobas, or about 50 cents) waved at us - we were here.
After a slow walk up the main street (the only street, as far as I could tell) that ran parallel to the water, we cut down a path to the beach itself. The black sand burned hot, even through our shoes. We took photos and collected white seashells, letting the waves lap up at our toes, but the only ones brave enough to go further than ankle-deep were a few local boys and one or two surfers in the distance. No matter, I thought, it is a beautiful day. On Monday I swam in the Caribbean, and on Friday my feet walked along the shores of the Pacific; how could I complain?
There was little to do there but sit in the shade, drink cold Fresca, and read; there were hardly any other people around, but the crashing waves, a good book, and the occasional flock of pelicans that flew overhead were enough to keep me happily entertained for a few hours. One more walk up and down the sparkling sand and we were ready for home, ready to hear that obnoxious honk of the bus' horn signalling that it was on its way back to the city.
We climbed on the colourful little bus, and dozens of Nicaraguan eyes settled on us, curious but in no way threatening or judgemental. I took a seat by the window, content to stare out and munch on a few more of the little fruits Natalie left with me, and in no time, we were back in Leon. Pulling into the bus station, I stood up too quickly and smacked my head on the luggage rack above; "Careful, my love," a handsome young man said to me in Spanish, as he patted the top of my head. I smiled.
This is the way of the Nicaraguan people, I've found in the past few days: helpful and kind, smiling and eager to chat. Students in the main square, servers at the coffeeshop, the old man selling jewellery and hammocks on a little side street, they all greet me with genuine consideration, they all greet me with warmth.
I've heard from many travellers that Nicaragua is their favourite country in Central America, and I'm definitely starting to see why.