Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Field Report Cusmapa

August 28th - September 1st, Somoto, Nicaraugua - The Hotel El Rosario feels like a sort of cross between a hotel and a bed and breakfast. The rooms are all in an L shaped row around a small courtyard in which they park cars at night, they are sparce and business-like. At the front the building is two stories tall with the office and possibly store rooms on the bottom floor and I think some rooms on the top, and in the fourth side the dining area and kitchen are kind of enveloped by a beautiful lush garden, and it is over here it seems more like a bed and breakfast. The staff seems to be all one family, the grandmother presides over the kitchen I think, assisted by her granddaughter and another woman or two who look like they are probably relations. The Middle aged maternal character seems to run the hotel. There is also a man of the younger generation, maybe around thirty, who is the only one who speaks English, and in fact the first time I met him I had to inquire,
   "Excuse me but you speak English with almost a perfect American accent, if you don't mind my asking did you spend some time in America?"
   "Oh yes," he laughed, "I lived in New Jersey ["New Joysey"] until six months ago." He wears a a thick silver chain around his neck which plays into my New Joysey stereotypes, but heas actually very friendly and nice. He commented that my hat looked jewish. I guess it's official. (I also find it a bit funny, that my mom just the other day completed the process to formally convert to judiaism, and this seems to coincide exactly with everyone mistaking me for a Jew, like there was an immediate cross-generational fundamental effect)

   Another funny noteworthy thing about the town is every evening there's constant drumming. The first evening I thought maybe there was a parade or event and followed the noise to what appeared to be the local high school a few hundred yards away where it looked like a drum-line was practicing, but the enthusiasm seems to go beyond simply a nightly drum-line practice. The next evening I was walking downtown and a smaller different group of very young kids seemed to also be having a drum-line practice in the central square. I've seen kids walking with drums out in the countryside. They seem to absolutely LOVE their drumming. It's funny because I've read accounts of traveling in rural Africa that described hearing nightly African drumming from the villages, but I've never heard it there. In general I've been having odd little bits of this-isn't-Africa culture shock since most of my projects have been in Africa and when there's no people in sight the scenery could totally be Africa, and I forget where I am until someone comes around a corner and they're not an African in colorful fabrics.

Saturday, September 2nd- Saturday morning I checked out of the hotel and Marcus picked me up in his blue toyoto pickup for the drive to the mountain town of San Jose de Cusmapa. His father was in the back. First we swung by his house on the outskirts of town and picked up his 12 year old daughter, who also hopped in the back, and as we were just leaving town he received a call and returned to town to pick up a friend who also wanted a ride to Cusmapa, commenting "it's a small town, everyone knows what's happening, and they hear I'm going to Cusmapa they want a ride because it's a very long slow journey by bus, taking three hours with many stops."

   The ride to Cusmapa took about an hour along a narrow winding road through the mountains. The road wasn't cobbled, per se, as that implies a bumpy road, but I suppose made out of paving stones? Flat concrete hexagons anyway. Much prettier than asphalt. The countryside was verdant and green, full of dramatic valleys and steep little mountains and pink tiled roofs among the trees. Marcus's old truck seemed to have a good sound system and his preference seemed to run to 70s rock ballads with the bass turned up beyond all ordinary preportion. We passed over one particularly high mountain pass where Marcus informed me "you can see the Pacific from here... or you could if there weren't all those clouds," and I noticed that almost immediately there began to be pine trees on the mountains, and wondered if they particularly liked salty air.

   Cusmapa is a tiny town draped over a mountaintop, with cute narrow roads also made of the hexagonal paving stones. Marcus delivered me to a guest house run by his organization, and sitting at the table just inside were two Spaniards (one male, one female) and a Frenchwoman, volunteers. They looked in their mid to late twenties, the Spanish girl (from Barcelona) was reading, the French girl (from near Bordeaux) was on her laptop working on her thesis, and the Spanish guy (from Mallorca) was strumming a small guitar in classic bohemian volunteer fashion. They were very friendly and Spanish guy (Alex, short dark beard (no hot water to shave anyway), lean, very friendly) showed me around the house, which is quite large, with several rooms having half a dozen beds in them each. They must bring quite a few volunteers through here some times! There was one small room with only one bed in it and what really appealed to me was a window that lit it well (some of the others seemed fairly not well served by windows) that I'm surprised no one else had occupied and claimed it. I'm told they call the house "the Mango House," from the large overhanging mango trees, and indeed every now and then through the night a mango would fall on the corrugated metal roof like a random hammer blow (fortunately my superpower is not losing sleep over random things that wake me up briefly in the night)

   After some initial conversation I settled down to read my book in the front room where the others were continuing to do what they'd been doing. In the early evening I set out to walk about town and struck off toward where a viewpoint ("Mirador") had been described to me, walking up the narrow streets. There's many pedestrians walking about in this tiny town and the occasional person on horseback comes trotting by with that delightful sound of hooves on stone. In the background there was the sound of ... drumming. Even in town you feel you are in a forest, the houses not being thickley set and big banana leaves overhanging them. Passed a building with a sign declaring it to be a "Ferreteria," which I had seen before and glimpsing the contents it seems to mean hardware store, but the name makes me whimsically think of a place that sells ferrets.

   I was almost to the Mirador (and the drumming, getting louder, seemed to be emanating from there) when a pickup pulled up beside me and the guy inside said something to me in Spanish. At first I thought it was someone offering me a ride and tried to motion to them I was fine but then I recognized that it was Marcus' dad in Marcus' truck, so I figured maybe Marcus had sent him to fetch me for something and got in. He drove me a few blocks down to the lower end of town to their house. When I got out Marcus was there but he was just like "oh hi. I'm about to take a shower." So I was like "oh, okay, I'm going to the mirador." ...apparently his father picked me up just because he saw me? I felt a bit like when you see a beetle walking and pick him up and put him somewhere else, and he must be like "uh wtf okay great."

   He did give me directions for another mirador on this end of town so I walked down that way until I came to where I'm pretty sure there would have been a great view if the valley below wasn't filled with cloud, and started heading back. With a crack of thunder it began to pour down on me, and while around me locals ran for cover I just took my hat off and held it over my camera, soon I was soaked but my clothes are all made of that stuff from REI that dries out ultra fast so I wasn't concerned about getting wet (and indeed I was mostly dry by the time I got back to the house). I did stop under a thick overhang of banana leaves during the heaviest part of the downpour, but it only lasted a few minutes.
   At the mirador at the top of the hill, which I had originally been headed to (and arriving there confirmed I'd been picked up 50 yards from it to be deposited a few hundred yards down the hill), I found a wet basketball court, gaudily colored playground equipment (see my instagram), some people still hanging out under the eaves of the bathroom and a small hall (though it was no longer raining), and what looked like a glorious view of cloud filled expanses. The sun appeared to be just setting, as far as I could discern from a golden glow in one part of the clouds. Despite the clouds obscuring the view it was still a beautiful view. Also, like all parks apparently in Nicaragua, this park had wifi (Alex mentioned it kind of eyerollingly as a colossol waste of money, and indeed I doubt wifi is the very highest thing on the pyramid of needs that the money could have been used for. Kind of like that "Akron Light Up Africa" charity that's been wasting millions putting lamp posts throughout West Africa (and what gets my goat is there was a meme going around about how "if Akron could light up X cities in Africa in X amount of time what have the other charities been doing all this time??" and when I see it I comment "actual useful things"). So while enjoying the view I took the opportunity to post some pictures to Instagram as well as directly to my parents and other interested parties.

   Arriving back at the guesthouse i found it dark and deserted. The three volunteers had invited me to play pool with them in the evening and I feared I had missed them. I found a lightswitch and read for an hour or two (found a book of Hemingway's collected short stories, I really love Hemingway!), and then walked to the bar that had been mentioned just down the block to see if they were there. They were not but there were at least half a dozen people at three different tables who seemed to be having quite a good time, one of the tables even seemed to have two cute girls hanging out by themselves (another difference from West Africa, where you never see women in the bars), but after quickly scanning the room and not seeing my friends I left and returned to the guesthouse.

   The three eventually returned, I never did catch where they'd been, but then we all set off to play pool at another bar two blocks down! This turned out to be a plane adobe-brick building like all the others, without even a sign over the door, but inside was a big room with two functional pool tables and two that appeared to be in disrepair and were now being used to sit upon and set drinks on, and as well some of the pool-cue racks on the walls seemed partially destroyed, giving the whole place this weird sort of post-apocalyptic-pool-hall feel. Some local guys were playing on the one functional table and the other was open for our use. We were joined by some locals they seemed to know. The game of choice here wasn't the pool I'm accustomed to (not that I play that much at all), but a game called "21" where you try to get the balls in the holes in the order of the ball number, and have to hit the next-numbered ball first. Since instead of having all of stripes or solids to choose from as pool is generally played in Southern California, one only has one ball one is aiming for so a lot more skill is required to get at it around any intervening balls.

   After a bit of this and of course some beers (local beer "Tona"), we went to the house of some friends (/coworkers with the organization?) of theirs for dinner and more beers and the local rum (Flor de Cana) and had an enjoyable sociable evening that went on into the early hours of the morning (well like 1, but I've been going to bed early so it felt pretty late). Alex apologized to me several times since everyone was speaking Spanish and it must be weird not to understand but the truth is that I'm very accustomed to being surrounded by people speaking languages I don't understand, but usually my projects are more of a solitary affair and I was greatly enjoying the opportunity to actually hang out with people in such a casual social and festive setting.

Tags: field reports, nicaragua

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