It has been on the more gloomy side of things here in Memphis since last Friday. This morning is no different, but I find myself typing on a small circular table surrounded by good and not-so-good artwork at a local coffee shop listening to the Amelie soundtrack. I am back from my travels. In fact, Britta and I flew out of Costa Rica two weeks ago, but I've been too busy or apathetic to write since I returned...mostly busy, but the apathy surfaces when I don't want to face the fact that I'm not on the move...an inevitable reality.
We really should begin at the end which would take us to Nicaragua. You saw the photos and read stories of Ometepe...I love the name so much, it might sneak into a child's birth certificate one day. After the volcanic adventure with exceptional comrades, we scurried on to our last new destination, Granada. A welcomed location for travelers to visit and never leave, the small colonial town bordering Lake Nicaragua, combines the warmth of Nicaraguan character and livelihood with a splash of former European development that reflects the pastels of coastal Spain, Italy or Slovenia.
Our hostel boasted numerous computers with free internet, a small pool, and an enjoyable silence. It also was housing one Rebecca Schneibel. Half German, half French, she was raised in Berlin, lived and studied in London for 4 years, is in the midst of her PhD in pyschology back in Germany, and took several months to explore most of South America and a good bit of Central America. She was splendid, and we spent the majority of our weekend doing the traveling dance known as instantaneous amigos. Her British accent was flawless and her gorgeous curly mass of hair framed a Tori Amos-like resemblance.
Since it was our last Saturday night on the Latino scene and the first time in a long while we were in an actual city, we promised her we would go out for a lady's night. Off to an open-aired cafe/bar we went with live music and mint mojitos. The only open table was alongside two Argentinian-turned-Costa Rican men who boasted charming smiles and made even better company. Carlos, shown below (along with Rebecca), is an artist who grew up in Patagonia and moved to Costa Rica 15 years ago. Leandro, not pictured because he was busy not dancing and guarding my purse, introduced himself as a cook who lived in Monteverde. Monteverde just so happens to be a tiny town with the best food we ate in Costa Rica...and as small and intimate as the world tends to be, of course it was that same cafe that Leandro had worked for the past 3 years. We laughed and chatted and danced until our yawns were too overwhelming to hide, and said good night. We tried to convince the fellas to go with us to Laguna de Apoyo the following morning for a day's worth of chillin', but they chose the always-so-tempting sleeping-in option. Unfortunately, we were away at dinner that next night when they came by and left a hilarious note at our hostel. And this is where that separate island of all the cool people you meet traveling would come in handy--no notes necessary.
Nevertheless, Britta, Rebecca and I had one amazing day relaxing, swimming, reading, and kayaking in the crater of a volcano. The weather could not have been more appropriate, and the hotel where we spent the day could not have been better suited for living slowly and deliberately. You can see that Britta and I promoted world peace while staying afloat on the intertubes, Rebecca and her British pal enjoyed the Nicaraguan handicraft of a hammock seat swing, and we developed our ripped arms by whitewater kayaking across the calm crater waters.
Back home in Granada, we took the remaining sunlight to photograph the very photogenic walls, cobblestones, churches, graffiti, passer-byers. You could roam these streets for a good lifetime.
We ate dinner, laughed at our note, and hugged Rebecca goodbye before we got on a much-too-early bus ride back to Alajuela, Costa Rica. TICA bus is basically the yuppy way to travel and we reveled in the comfort of the cushioned seats, ample leg space, easy border crossing, and the always humorous happenings of strangers falling asleep on each other's shoulders. And many hours later we arrived back to Hotel Cortez Azul where Eduardo was waiting with our stored winter coats and one incredibly large box that contained the handmade rocking chair (not our hands....some much more talented Costa Rican hands) I bought for my parents. Britta and I got a last fruit shake, some not-so-great seafood, and wandered back to the hotel where we finished one of my bottles of the homemade chocolate liquor hailing from Ometepe (Eduardo tried it, and stuck to his red wine). A starry night was the backdrop to our packed bags, finished glasses, and well-traveled laughter. The following morning I held my breath and my yellow fever vaccination card (of course, it wasn't needed, but I thought it was worth covering my bases) as I got my boarding pass for a flight to Chicago.
Britta and I have known each other for three years now. We met working in Glacier National Park in northern Montana for a summer season, and kept in touch the following year before we decided to hop on a plane to Nepal together. That was where our friendship grew in depth and where a common love for children, adventure, culture, love was indelibly printed. We had traveled the world together, but it wasn't until going to Chicago that we saw one or the other in a hometown familiarity. Similar to my childhood here in Memphis, Britta's parents have lived in the same house for a longgg period of time, and so to not only see the house where your friend grew up, but eat the Italian subs she ate everyday during high school, and spend an evening in the Wrigley Sanctuary of a stadium where she once spent two years selling tickets, is such a sweet way of getting to know her through the pulse of a childhood. Britta would never in her right mind live in Chicago again, but with days of glorious spring that erase a winter chill, the city was in a good season to show off.
While in Chicago, we reunited with other good friends from our summer in Glacier. Ken and Sarah who you see snuggled up in ski clothing with us in the photo above joined us in a rootrootroot for the Cubbies as we caught up on life since I last saw them at their wedding last June. We also had a coffee break just hours before my bus departed for Memphis--they're the kind of friends I never want to say, "Wow, it's been years since I've seen them." That should never happen. The other two gorgeous ladies seen below are the ones and onlies, Margaret and Gwen. Margaret, Britta and I represented the esteemed Front Desk for the summer 2006 squad, and Gwen managed the boxed wine heaven of our snack shop, Heidi's. We ate Chicago pizza, drank beer at Billy Goat's, and talked about old memories (I got a good cackle or two in with my laugh twin, Marge).
It has been my good fortune to have had only immaculate weather in Chicago the four times I've visited...such luck allowed me and Britta to bike around the city my entire last day with a stint of sunbathing at Lake Michigan to boot. Britta can sometimes be insane as you can so clearly see as she attempts a full immersion in sub-arctic lake temperatures. She just wanted to show off that tan.
I said goodbye to Britta in front of Union Station, and similar to our departure in Nepal, it seemed odd that we wouldn't be each others' shadows for the days to come. The first edition of my tour of the Americas had come to a close, but I feel certain the second will be lurking around some soon corner waiting to surprise and enthrall. For now it is Memphis, where two of my dearest friends in this world married last weekend and where I will begin classes to eventually become a nurse in just a few weeks. I will be soon starting on a small garden and hoping that my Vietnam Veteran of a dog will not die of post-tramatic stress disorder during an anticipated spring thunderstorm. Maybe not as exotic as jungle surfing volcano explorations, but a good life indeed.