Ometepe (by Camila Torres)
“Nothing bad ever happens to people who stay at home.”
This particular pearl of wisdom began making regular appearances in our house right around 2003, also known as the year of the quinceañeras. However, my dad has been sharing his incomparable repertoire of platitudes — which includes hits like “every pig has its Saturday” and “even the most nimble-fingered monkey can drop a mango” — with me since before I learned how to walk. At first, like every adolescent before me, I would sigh loudly and roll my eyes whenever I was confronted with his trite proverbs. But then something happened. A rite of passage, if you will. The moment in the life of every teenager that leads them to utter those four odious words which inexorably hail the advent of adulthood: “My dad was right.”
The year was 2005. Revenge of the Sith had just annihilated George Lucas’s last chance at redemption, Green Day’s hibernation was set to conclude at the end of September, and my grandmother had decided to move back to Ometepe, her ancestral home, after forty-five years of living in Managua. Ometepe is an hourglass-shaped volcanic death-trap island right in the middle of Lake Cocibolca, the largest freshwater lake in Central America. Ometepe is known for its dazzling natural beauty, the size of its plantains, and the sweetness of its coconut water, so, naturally, the moment I heard my mamita was moving back, I announced my plans to visit her as soon as she had settled in. Little did I know that I was about to embark on the trip that would irrevocably quench my thirst for adventure. And coconut water.
My mother had reluctantly agreed to come along after talking on the phone with my grandma, who had made it very clear that only a cold-hearted and unfeeling wretch would pass on the opportunity to visit her own mother, the woman who had labored for two and a half days to bring her into this world; the woman whom Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary could call to their side at any moment, and whose only desire in these her final hours was to gaze upon the face of her firstborn child one last time, etc. Consequently, on that fateful Saturday morning, I coerced my progenitress and her sister out of their beds and into our 1989 Lada so we could begin our journey. My aunt drove us to the station, waved goodbye, and ominously crossed herself as we hopped onto the bus that was supposed to take us to San Jorge — our next stop — but didn’t.
We had been on the road for about half an hour when a police officer stopped us and asked the driver to “please step out of the vehicle.” We initially assumed this to be a routine stop that wouldn’t take longer than ten minutes; however, our initial optimism fizzled out the moment our driver punched the officer in the crotch and ran in the opposite direction. It was then that my mother suggested we go back to the station and try to catch the next bus.
I knew better than to ask if we could take a cab. If there is one thing my mother loves more than walking, it’s sticking to her budget. After an hour and a half, we finally arrived at the station and boarded another bus, which soon began to fill up with both newly arrived passengers and the dejected travelers who had wandered under the scorching Nicaraguan sun in their quest to finally make it to the Promised Island. It wasn’t long before the new driver informed us that we were very much mistaken if we thought our seats could only accommodate two people because he knew for a fact that they were designed to fit four. Within five minutes, I discovered that the incomprehensible quantum dimensions where two objects can defy the laws of physics and occupy the same space at the same time were not actually found in the subatomic world, but inside this fifty-year-old American school bus.
Thus our journey began once more. With the only police officer on duty that day temporarily incapacitated, nothing stood in our way, and we finally made it to San Jorge, where we discovered that the passengers that had stayed on the first bus had arrived shortly before us thanks to the prodigal bus driver, who had returned after making sure the coast was clear. I resisted the urge to yell at my mother and decided to instead file this away should I need ammunition in some blame-throwing match at a later date.
Shortly after, we boarded the boat that would take us to Moyogalpa, one of the two most important villages on the island. My grandmother, of course, lived in the other one. Nevertheless, once El Ché started to sway towards those two volcanoes, my heart was overcome with hope. Hope that the worst was over. Hope that the fresh air would scatter the memories of that contemptible bus ride. Hope that I would see those freshwater sharks my grandmother had bragged about. Hope that this light-headedness was in no way related to the boat’s rocking motion. Hope that this was not my breakfast making its way up my esophagus. Hope that my mother was not seriously rubbing half a lemon on my belly in front of all the other passengers. Hope that the lady carrying what appeared to be three heavy burlap sacks would be careful when she stored them in the overhead compartment directly above me. Hope that — after one of the aforementioned poorly stowed sacks inevitably did burst, disgorging its load of heavy, rock-hard fruits right onto yours truly — she would at least give me one of the damn coconuts as restitution. But none of this was to be.
When we finally made it to the island, my diminutive mother had to give me a piggy-back ride to our bus, which was thankfully the last one we would take that day. This one was not nearly as crowded as the second one because most travelers had stayed in Moyogalpa, so against my better judgement, I felt myself relax. I closed my eyes and sighed deeply, letting go of all the tension that had started to build up in me from the moment that police officer had hit the ground. It was in that instant of absolute and unadulterated tranquility that my monthly nemesis announced its arrival with a fulminant cramp. Horror-struck, I turned to my mother for help, but I realized even before our eyes met that we had been fighting a losing battle. It became clear to me in that instant that my mom and I were nothing more than casualties of war in a conflict that had been raging for over two thousand years, ever since my grandmother’s ancestors first crossed the Freshwater Sea and inadvertently awoke the preternatural forces that had staked their claim to the island long before any human being, henceforth condemning every traveler to a voyage of agonizing torment and abject humiliation.
Dad, you were so right! Nothing bad ever happens to people who stay at home.