There are several things I cannot tell you: how many billboards we saw featuring the smiling well-fed face of Daniel Ortega. This is not for lack of trying. I stopped counting at 165 because it was a) depressing, and b) driving CSB a little nutty. I can tell you that I saw more billboards sporting Daniel’s mug even than telephone poles stenciled with the silhouette of Agosto Sandino. We saw other fine murals as well.
I cannot tell you what was the meaning of the caravan of straw-covered wagons or why they were washing their horses, though I will point out that the horses (& cows) in Ometepe also were being washed, and either horses in Nicaragua tend to get washed in Lent, or horses in Nicaragua tend to get washed all year long, but we were only there to see it happen in Lent. Or the meaning may have nothing to do with horses or Lent or bathing, but instead be about a certain incredibly loud cricket, the loudest cricket I have ever heard, a cricket that sounds like a siren, or at least like the wailing of a not-mythical two-legged creature.
There is very little I can tell you about the buses in Nicaragua, except that they are very old American school buses, so old that they never transported you or your children. Possibly they transported your parents to school, a very long time ago, before environmental regulations. After having been deemed unfit to carry American children to school, these buses were sold to Mexican entrepreneurs, and when they were too decrepit for Mexico, they were sold again to enterprising Nicaraguans. I cannot even show you a picture of a Nicaraguan bus, because I neglected to take one, possibly because I was focused on staying aboard, or upright, or alive. Even after having wasted a considerable amount of time scouring the Internet for a suitable picture, I have not found one that captures the Nicaraguan bus as I came to know it: crowded or extremely crowded; still advertising its long ago provenance as the Southern Willits County Union Free School District; blasting Mayan Reggae music; having at least one young salesman squeezing up and down the crowded aisles selling patent medicines; having seat legs piercing the metal floor and suspended perilously above air, with views of the rutted road below; and with baskets of fruit and 100-pound bags of pig food on the roof, and also, us. Here is the view, on the roof, heading from Monte Rosa to El Viejo.
I wish I could tell you that the rash that returned with me from Nicaragua, or rather, appeared almost immediately upon my return from Nicaragua, has a name and a cure. But I can’t do that. Aside from making me very itchy and hence very cranky, it – the rash – has the additional attribute of making me paranoid. I may have wasted quite a bit of time looking for Nicaraguan bus photos on the Internet, but I have wasted far more time looking for possible causes for rashes upon returning from the tropics. The possibilities are legion. The first site I go to is Chagas, and Chagas is not anywhere you want to be. Chagas is a parasitic disease caused by a flagellate protozoan, and its very name fills tropical travelers with dread. In CSB’s son’s room, he has taped to the wall (Plywood, makeshift) a Peace Corps notice about the dangers of Chagas. If you get bitten by an insect vector – somewhere on your face - the bug will then suck your blood and defecate nearby. You may develop symptoms immediately, or you may not. One of the lesser symptoms is a rash. In the later acute phase of disease, things far worse than rashes will happen to you. At that point, I stop reading about Chagas disease, and change my search words, and come up with Miliaria, which is prickly heat rash and you probably won’t die from it. (But can you die of paranoia?)
In Nicaragua we witnessed several religious rituals devoted to obscure saints. I can describe them but not necessarily explain them. San Benito of Palermo and his broom, for instance. Naturally most Nicaraguans were delighted to have a Latin American pope, except for the Evangelicals, who think the Pope, whatever his provenance, is the Antichrist.