A Tale of Two Flat Tires

Written on by Mindy Haas

My husband and I couldn’t seem to catch break on our recent trip to Nicaragua.  We highly anticipated our five day stay on the island of Ometepe, which is situated in Lago de Nicaragua on the country’s western coast.  We had romantic notions of a luxury cabin in a tropical paradise, where we’d hike to the top of the volcano, kayak the beautiful inlets, and zip around on motorbikes exploring the crevices of the island.  Reality, however, proved to be much different than our expectations.

Our plan was to make a quick stop at the airport to purchase a cell phone plan to make calls, to research online, and to use GPS to find our way around. We did not plan for the language barrier as the MoviStar agent explained that their service was down and we could not make calls or access data that day.  Maybe it would be back up the next day.  Maybe. Pressed for time to catch our ferry, we stepped outside to search for our pre-scheduled taxi, crossing our fingers we’d have cell phone service by the next day.

Our hotel concierge assured me the driver was waiting with un signo con nombre (a sign with our names on it), yet the driver was nowhere to be found.    We searched up and down the strip as the minutes ticked away and I began to panic that we would not make it to our ferry in time.   With no cell phone service and no success in our searching, we jumped in with another cab company at a cost slightly more expensive than we booked.  We sat on the edge of our seats and crossed our fingers to make the ferry in time as our taxi driver navigated traffic, stopped for cows in the road, and weaved through pedestrians in the little towns.  We made it with 2 minutes to spare.

As we settled on the ferry, we felt relief to be so close to our final destination after 9 hours of traveling.  We finally relaxed as we soaked in the view of the evening light on the looming volcanos.  According to plan, our rental company greeted us at the ferry port and drove us to their office to complete the paperwork.    “You drove a scooter before?” Meidy, the owner, asked me.   “No, but should be fine,” I replied.  How hard could it be?   Well, the answer did not satisfy her, and she gently suggested we take a lesson in a track nearby.

As I took my first turn around the track, I couldn’t keep my balance and fell over with the scooter.   On the second and third tries, I still couldn’t get the turn down.   Sensing my discomfort, Meidy suggested we go to a “stadium” (i.e. a big open field) so I could practice my turning.  It was no use though; I knew I was not comfortable enough driving the scooter on my own.  Ben was also having some difficulty on his motorbike and he wasn’t comfortable driving it with me on the back.  Chagrined and humbled, we decided to rent one scooter only.

It was getting dark at this point, so we accepted Meidy’s offer for taxi service to our luxury cabin.  For 50 minutes, we bounced around in the back of her husband’s car while their two year old slept unrestrained in the front seat.  Meidy followed us on the scooter.  Once we arrived to the road leading to our accommodations, we saw that the path was steep, unpaved and rocky.  The only way up was on foot, lugging our heavy bags behind us.  This is when it sunk in that “tropical” was synonymous with “hot.”

Even our cabin, advertised as “barefoot luxury”, was not what we expected.  We were struck by the humidity in the room, the windows with no screens, and the inordinate amount of insects.  We were stunned when a spider the size of my hand appeared on one of the walls. Thankfully, I read the concierge’s note that assured us that no insects or spiders were harmful to humans.  Too exhausted from our travels to care anymore, we crawled under the mosquito net onto our bed and fell into a deep slumber.

 The remainder of our trip to the island was met with similar broken expectations.   We did not “zip” around the island on our scooter. The first day driving was, in fact, a harrowing experience trying to avoid rocks and divots.   Our arms and legs were sore simply from tensing up while we rode.  Next, we attempted a two hour volcano hike to view a waterfall, but Ben overheated and we had to turn back after making it only halfway.  This made it clear that we would not be able to make the 8 hour trek to the volcano summit.
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On our second day on the island, we optimistically planned our activities. On the way back from kayaking, however, we drove over a nail which flattened our back tire.  We missed out on several of our activities, including the local farmers’ market I was looking forward to.  With our tire fixed, we thought all was well to drive to another town the next day.  Unfortunately, our tire burst again on our way there.  My husband had to slowly ride to town alone to find the mechanico while I followed on foot.  Again, we missed out on exploring while we waited for our tire to be fixed.

 One night at our cabin we felt very frustrated because the WIFI was not working. After a long, hot day, we wanted to relax with a movie in our room.  We were craving comforts from home, like the cool crispness of an air-conditioned restaurant, a bowling alley, mini-golf course or an ice-cream stand.  As we sat in our room, we realized there was absolutely nothing to do but read a book in our room.

In the moment, we were struck by our “American-ness”.  There are so many things we take for granted, such as paved roads, accommodations that cater to our every need, reliable cell phone service, and entertainment at our fingertips.   We were reminded that Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western-hemisphere.  Despite this, the Nicas carried on with sonrisas bonitas (beautiful smiles) for all the visitors.  In the evenings, they entertained themselves with baseball games and family gatherings.

In realizing this, we decided it was time to let go of our first-world outlook.

One evening, my husband Ben and I took a dip in the lake, where we had a view of both volcanos. It was near sunset, so the low lighting gave the island a magical glow.   As we floated on our backs, admired the green shoreline, and listened to the lapping of the water, we noticed how quiet we had become in our souls.  There was no stress in that moment, nothing pressing on our minds.  The island had settled in around us even with all the mishaps.
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As we bobbed in the lake, Ben and I reflected how we didn’t mind the 7.5 minute uphill walk to our cabin anymore and how we had become used the humidity. We noted how soundly we slept as the jungle noises breezed through our cabin.   We smiled at our interactions with the Nicas and how we learned new Spanish words, such as nomaticos (tires).  One Nica recommended an eatery to us, where we split whole, fresh guapote (see picture)  caught that day. It was amazing!  We laughed as we realized we were truly ‘zipping around’ on our little scooter now.   And we marveled at how a Nica couple beeped and waved to us from their motorbike as we were driving through town one day.  “We’re becoming a part of the island,” I told Ben.

Indeed, we had.  We longer held onto preconceived notions of what our vacation should be, which allowed us to truly appreciate the tranquility.  And that, I realized, was the paradise I was looking for.

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