Saturday, September 16, 2006

Caught in the rain

September 9, 2006

Today at my Spanish lesson, my teacher, Awilliam, told me he’d missed the news last night.

“So today, when I went to the university to teach,” he said, “I found out that two of my students, sisters, aged 15 and 19, died in a house fire.”

He said it was caused by an electrical problem. The father had left early for work. The girls didn’t have classes that day and were still sleeping. The neighbors heard their screams from the second floor.

“Why couldn’t they jump?” I asked.

“Because, you know, in Nicaragua security is very important.” They’d had metal bars on their windows, to keep thieves out, but also to trap them in.

“Those on the first floor got out,” he said. “But those upstairs died.” He paused. “They were so young.”

At 4 p.m. today, I had my very first free time in the daylight, an hour or two to go see or do something in the city. I decided to visit the volcanic lake of Tiscapa. This crater lake, in the center of town, was supposedly very clean in the past. But during the Sandinista time, it was contaminated by another water source and is now said to be pretty nasty.

I’d read they had a canopy ride – something I think is like a cable that you attach yourself to and swing across the landscape and thought it would be fun to try.

Awilliam gave me a lift on the back of his motorcycle. Dark clouds gathered on one horizon and Awilliam commented on the approaching rain. I didn’t take it too seriously. Although it’s supposed to be rainy season, I haven’t actually seen a heavy rain yet.

We drove to an overlook where I could see the greenish brown water at the base of a forested crater. Kayaks paddled back and forth.

He dropped me off at the other side of the lake, at the park entrance. I walked uphill, past a series of bright white steps lined with tanks – a soldier’s memorial. A bolt of lightening crashed into the ground just ahead of me, causing me to tremble. By the time I’d neared the top of the hill, raindrops had begun to fall. Grey clouds covered half of the sky, while the other half was sunny and blue.

I expected the rain to pass quickly. I knew a canopy ride was no longer in the plan, but I wanted to explore the lake and the park a bit. So I huddled under an umbrella and wanted for it to stop. Instead, it only intensified. When I looked at the darkness of the sky, I realized it would probably take a while and started making my way downhill.

By this time, I was drenched. My pants were completely soaked, my sandals squeaked, sopping with water, and I could only dry to keep my backpack from getting too wet. Water coursed down the roads and ran in waterfalls off the roofs, and down a crumbling stadium.

I sloshed my way to the Crown Royal, a fancy hotel nearby, where I’ve just joined the health club. (I know, I feel very uncomfortable patronizing a ritzy hotel in a country this poor. But after going almost a whole week without a workout, I realized that for now, this is my only chance for getting some exercise). One of the benefits of the health club is access to the swimming pool. And they might have thought I’d jumped into the pool, fully clothed, as I dripped down their hallways.

The lightening continued to jolt the earth with such power, I worried about metal nearby, and could imagine being hit. Even the health club worker winced when a bolt landed seemingly just beyond the swimming pool.

“I think it was a hurricane,” my taxi driver later said, recommending not to walk in such powerful rain, because the roads turn into rivers. I’d been eager to see what makes the land so green and it showed itself with all it’s force. Not only could I visualize the source of the greenery, but I saw the powerful workings of the earth, the angry torrents that, along with other geological activity, whipped the earth into its shape of volcanoes, mountains, jungles, lakes and craters.

So I cut short my exploration plans with a short workout, a peek at the movie theater in a modern mall across the street, and then a few precious, extremely welcome hours to myself at home. I didn’t even mind that our storm knocked out our power, and that I’m writing this in blackness.

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