I wasn’t looking for adventure; I certainly wasn’t trying to change my life. Sometimes when things happen it all feels random and it’s only later that you say, “That was it — that was the thing that made all the difference.” But then sometimes it’s obvious from the start that you’ve entered an entirely different world.
This was one of the obvious times. Condensation pooled on the plastic tablecloth at the base of the unfamiliar beer bottle. I watched as a droplet formed out of nowhere, growing until gravity took it and it rolled down the Toña label to become part of the puddle. There was a drop of sweat following the same pattern down my back. I didn’t want to think about where it was ending up.
It felt like I’d been sweaty forever. It didn’t seem to matter how many lukewarm showers I took, I never felt clean. I knew it was mostly humidity but it was gross. I hadn’t been this hot since we’d gone to India to visit my grandparents’ old village, but I’d only been seven. No soggy bra making me feel like I was wearing a wet rag around my chest.
I picked up my beer, enjoying the cool of the bottle in my hand. I don’t even like beer, but cerveza is one of the four Spanish words I know, and doing the exchange between córdobas and dollars in my head told me the beer was cheap. I’d been here a couple of days — they told me to make some room in my itinerary for missed connections, so I had.
I was only in Managua long enough to find my way from the airport to the bus station, where I’d boarded what must be the fanciest bus ever made. There were attendants wearing what looked like 1970s stewardess uniforms. If I hadn’t been so groggy, I might have wondered if I was hallucinating. The reckless driving of the conductor was real enough, though. I nodded off for a while in the plush seats, then after what seemed like no time I was disgorged in the bustling metropolis of San Juan del Sur.
I don’t know what I expected, but the few tidy blocks of bars, restaurants, hostels and surf gear stores that made up the town wasn’t it. A loud laugh from the next table startled me, and I looked over at a group of surfers — probably Americans. I looked down at the skinny legs sticking out of my khaki shorts, the battered paperback soaking up the condensation on the tablecloth, the hand-me-down duffel bag at my feet.
What the hell was I doing here? I slugged on the beer and tried to ignore its lemonade-gone-bad taste.