Cosiguina Volcano hosts an enormous, blue crater lake. It is located near Potosí, Chinandega, in Nicaragua’s northwest corner, and overlooks El Salvador and Honduras. Cosiguina is also in the hottest part of the country. I knew I needed to hike it.
Why would we sign up for a hike? Because I’d heard that the panoramic view is worth the extreme heat. That’s what adventure travel, and vulnerable travel, are all about-experiencing a new place in an even more uncomfortable way, because the outcome is worth it. I would see if it would be worth it for myself.
Friday, 4:15 AM
That morning, my alarm buzzed and I jumped out of bed. By 4:45, I was out the door on the way to catch my 5 am bus to Chinandega. Since it was still pitch black outside, and since my city isn’t safe out night, I flew down the hill with my bottle opener in my hand. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to use it, but it gave me more peace of mind than if I had left without it. I ran to the main park so that I could catch a cab. Large groups of men were laughing and joking in the park, because that is just what men do at 4 am here. I’ve had a guy friend get mugged and beaten up at 11 pm at night. His laptop and iphone were stolen, and he had to get eye surgery, so I was nervous. During the day, my city is fine, but after 8 pm, I take cabs home. Nicaragua is a relatively safe country, with gang violence not nearly as high as in other Central American countries, but crimes of opportunity still happen.
Luckily, I waved down a cab in a few seconds and crawled inside with my blue backpack. I breathed a sigh of relief as I handed my driver 20 cords (73 cents). “Tome”, I said. Here, it’s customary to pay as soon as you get inside, since the prices are set. If you’re traveling past 10 pm, or if you live on top of a huge hill like I do, cabs cost 20 cords. Otherwise, it’s 10 cords.
5 minutes later, we I got out at the bus station, where women were setting up their food stalls and laying out their dragon fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. Bus drivers stood around the station. Some of them extended their hands out to me, asking “A donde va, Chelita? Managua? Estelí” (“Where are you going, young white woman? Managua? Estelí?”. I just raised the roof, singing “Chinangedaaaa, woo!”. I was still in a celebratory mood, since I hadn’t been assaulted that morning. I got on my bus and laid my backpack next to me to save my friend Jen a seat. We would be passing through her site soon. I sat there, making heads turn toward the “sssss” sound I made as I blew air into my inflatable headrest. That is one of the most useful tools I’ve had since college. It looks silly, but it has spared me a lot of neck pain-I recommend getting one.
Thirty minutes later, Jen got on the bus and sat next to me. I ate chocolate flakes as we caught each other up on our lives. Jen and I had hiked and swum through the unforgettable Somoto Canyon in August, and I was excited to hike somewhere new with her.
Our bus pulled up into the city of Chinandega. We took a cab downtown and ate a greasy breakfast of eggs, beans, rice, and cream. It wasn’t the best meal, but it would keep us full for the remaining three-hour bus ride to Potosí. Tara, a volunteer who lived nearby, recommended that we buy snacks in Chinandega. Potosí is a small fishing town with no supermarkets. So, we stopped by the Wal-Mart owned Pali supermarket, which is famous for having no air conditioning and lines so long it makes you think people are waiting for a Star Wars premier-not to buy bags of frozen chicken thighs.
Just as Jen and I were about to pay for our crackers and tuna, something bizarre happened. “¡Gringa, gringa, dejeme pasar!” (“American, American, let me go in front!”). A woman with brown eyes and disheveled hair came up from behind us, cradling a bottle of Tang, and proceeded to cut in front of us. She placed her things in front of the cashier. We just stared at her, in disbelief. I’m used to people here cutting in line. They are the masters of being sneaky. That’s why people literally rub elbows with each other in line, and aren’t afraid to invade what Americans call “personal space”. This lady caught us off guard because she brazenly announced that she was cutting. She then justified this by telling us that she was an elementary school teacher that didn’t make much money. “Oh, the same with us, except we are high school teachers! And we make just as much as you do”. She thought that we were just another bunch of clueless tourists, so the look on her face was priceless. I’m used to having these kinds of conversations with people on the bus or at parties, but never after having been cut in line. We both wondered what we should have done, but I was just so dumbfounded about what had happened.
We got on the bus for Potosí, and began to chat about the lady who cut is in line. I admitted to having felt guilty for how the United States screwed over Nicaragua in the 1980’s by backing a war against the Sandinista government. Jen reminded me that our U.S. citizenship gave this woman no right to cut in front of us. It’s funny how I even correlated a war that ended when I was born as a justifier for being cut in line. No matter how much money my government has with relation to theirs, cutting in line was still not okay. It was so hot inside of the non-air conditioned bus, that I got out to watch a man changing the front tire. I told him that I’d changed a tire once, but that I’d forgotten how. He asked me where I was from, and if I liked Chinandega. I explained that it was nice to visit, but that I wouldn’t be able to live in the heat very comfortably. As soon as he finished changing the tire, he handed Jen and I some spiritual self-help books, and told us to have a nice trip.
It turned out that our bus to Potosí wouldn’t leave for another hour and ten minutes. We didn’t know the bus schedule, and no one else seemed to, either. So, we waited. As Jen said, the term “hurry up and wait” speaks to our experience here. We often rush to get onto a bus because we want to get a seat, but if we do, chances are that if we are early enough to get on first, that the bus won’t leave for another hour. By 11:10, we rolled out of the hot, noisy market and began our three-hour drive northward toward El Salvador. It was a beautiful drive, dotting with endless palm trees, banana trees, rice fields, fields of cows and horses, and corner stores selling glass bottles of Coca-cola. The last hour of the drive was on a dirt road. Eventually, we drove by a large, emerald-colored hill. We wondered if that was Cosiguina, but I didn’t want to assume anything. We would find out, eventually…
Featured image by @Handerson406.