My travels to Nicaragua were an impromptu adventure, but became a soul searching catharsis. The taxing physicality of a volcán trek to the summit made me reflect on the mortality of my life, peeling layers of hidden memories and vulnerability, similar to an onion stinging one’s eyes.
My dear friend gifted me with flight reward points, and I knew this destination would be a cheap experience.
After some quick research, I decided that hiking would be a large part of my itinerary.
I based myself in the beautiful Spanish colonial town of León, not far from the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline. A colony of volcáns surround the region.
I received an unsettling email from my ex-husband’s legal counsel about financial matters immediately upon arrival, adding proof to my theory that bad things always happen while I am away. The letter bore no pleasantries. It was blatant that if I did not respond in a timely manner to my ex’s demands, it would result in Supreme Court proceedings. This is not the first time this has occurred, and certainly not the last. I add to the idiom, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes, and my ex-husband uttering threats of court.” It really is a mindfuck to deal with his constant harassment instead of focusing our energies on parenting.
His legal actions have drained any monetary funds and emotional affection that should rightly and morally be allocated to our children. Ironically and sadly, there has not been a response to my pleas to parent our teenage son while he has been getting up to no good. This put a damper on my trip, but reinforced my need for rejuvenation. I am struggling as it is, wondering how to best support my child, to ensure he has proper guidance. I have spent years responding to court affidavits, always at my ex’s whim. I wish I could say I do not sleep due to constant late nights partying. Instead, I usually rest my weary body at a preschooler’s bed time, and awaken in the wee hours of the night, anxious. My ex haunts me even in my slumber. That first evening in León, as wonderful as it was to be away in a warm locale, did not differ from my standard tossing and turning at home. Insomnia is cruel just like Mother Earth.
The hiking and camping trek to Volcán El Hoyo (Las Pilas) was something I really wanted to attempt. I was apprehensive of the physical grueling aspects and elevation gains of up to 3,570 feet in the fierce Maribios valley. Similar to being frightened of my ex-husband, not knowing what and when his next form of attack would occur, I felt trepidation wondering if I would survive the harsh natural elements?
Even before our group set off, my body was already covered in scrapes, bruises, and mosquito bites from the extreme sports of previous days.
The strong winds at Volcán Cerro Negro slammed my body into the sharp black rocks earlier in the week. The first aid attendant cleaned my bloody leg, and at an higher elevation, offered to hold my heavy wooden volcano board, in an attempt to prevent me from blowing off the steep narrow ashen cliff. The volcano is a cone shape, and we were nearing the top. The medical staff and I got to know each other on a first name basis.
My upper inner thighs were stiff from bouncing up and down a spirited horse the day prior. I thought horseback riding on Isla Los Brasiles would be a leisurely beach experience during sunset. It was not! Instead the guide led my friend and I into the dry forest where mosquitoes ate me alive. I never want to hear the words “mucho mosquito” ever again. I ducked in and out of bushes as I tried to swat pesky critters. I was petrified I would fall off the horse. My head and shoulders got caught in the sharp tree branches above, piercing my skin. Blood oozed out of the long scratches along my back. My physical body became a battle zone. It symbolized the hurt and anguish I have experienced in marriage and divorce. Physicality has never exceeded any internal pain. I have been pushed and bruised. Those fade away, but the anguish in trying to understand why I was fault has never. This is possibly because one should never blame oneself for another human laying their hands in anger and punishment.
I awkwardly struggled to pull on the 55L backpack filled with essentials. I carried 4 water bottles (1 L each), extra layers of apparel for the evening mountain chill, a plate and fork to eat, personal hygiene items (toothbrush, wipes, toilet paper, towel, mosquito spray, sunscreen, etc.) and of course, camping gear including a sleeping bag, mat, and torch. I was responsible for carrying a share of our group’s food. There were originally 11 trekkers, but at the last minute, decreased to 7. That meant those responsible for food (me) were carrying more. We would not fear hunger with the abundance of food. The guide suggested I not hold the bulky tote that held hard plastic containers in my hands as I had planned. Since it would not fit in my knapsack, it was strung to my back. I leaned awkwardly to the left, The Tower of BrendaBeachBum (La Torre di Brenda).“How could I walk, if I could not stabilize on flat ground?” I could easily topple over, and I did.
The bitchiest part of Day 1 was a long steep incline over the first hour in 30+ degree weather without much shade. The treacherous terrain consisted of loose dry soil and various sized rocks. I could not move forward as my feet kept sliding back. Carrying an uneven load did not help. Sometimes life feels like that. A step forward followed by 3 steps back. I loved my ex-husband whole heartedly, and gave up my interests and friends for him. When we first met, I taught piano lessons every Saturday as part of my aspirations towards my Royal Conservatory of Music teachers program. I discontinued at his insistence. It did not work for his schedule. He is a lawyer, often worked weekends (including his former relationship’s custodial disputes), and eventually furthered his career with a MBA. By me teaching, I hurt the ones I should love. “Why would I want to purposely hurt his kids, our family? He would provide for us.” Instead of fulfilling my dreams, I spent weekends and my flex days actively caring for his children as if they were my own, on my own, using my disposable income, chauffeuring them to team sports, activities, feeding, and bathing them. Years later, affidavits from my spouse and his daughter indicated there were absolutely no developed relationships despite me eventually giving up my full time job to play a large role in step-parenting. That was actually the nicer sections of legal documents.
At the first water break, my food task was re-assigned (removed), and I was only allowed to carry 2 bags of crisps. That was an instantaneous ego-deflater, similar to an unexpected balloon-popping. Not! I tried to hide my glee. I could stand properly! This helped alleviate the strain on my back and shoulders considerably, although the load was still heavy from the water bottles. My upper body remained hunched for hours. The food should have been re-distributed to the tall Italian male hiker. We inadvertently discovered at our campsite while unpacking gear, he conveniently forgot the majority of his allocated supplies. He had virtually nothing to unpack, not even a fork. We shared our utensils by taking turns eating. He claimed it was a language barrier, but we seemed to converse just fine.
We moved forward. I was no longer the slowest turtle. I turned around sensing my friend was no longer behind me. “Brian?….Brian??!!!” I was relieved to finally see his face pop through the shrubs until I saw projectile vomit in sllooooooowwwww motion. An encore explosion quickly followed.
He picked a good rest stop to acclimatize…a viewpoint in front of the huge black shiny mound of active Cerro Negro. While he caught his breath, we watched the volcano boarders in brightly coloured jumpsuits descend the ashen black sand. Some whipped fiercely down, likely taking advantage of the strong gusts of wind.
Brian was suffering from dehydration in the intense environment. One either feels more gravely ill or better after releasing toxins. Thankfully, he experienced the latter. Depending on whether his situation digressed, rehydration salts would be in his foreseeable future.
We continued to climb the beautiful countryside with beads of perspiration dampening our clothes. We had a lot of work ahead of us if we wanted to wrap around a colony of 8 volcáns, soak in Lake Managua, hang out at craters, and that big eerie sink hole within 2 days.
We only encountered people once, close to mountain base as they were descending. The area is remote, and the trail is considered “moderate to difficult.” Why did I not select the easier option? transportation via horse to the peak.
We stopped for lunch…a large baguette filled with rich avocado, tomatoes, and cucumber.
The air was thick and dusty. I was happy to remove, and drop the backpack onto the dusty ground. The earth was crawling with little ants and bugs I was unfamiliar with. The bag’s straps had dug deep into my sunburned shoulders. Even after removal, my shoulders still burned. It reminded me of my ex. Even when there is silence, a short reprieve, I still feel his presence under my skin. What is next? When? Let it hurt me whether physical or emotional, and not my kids. I do not want them to be caught in the crossfire. They suffer from all the fighting, and have tantrums even as teenagers not knowing how to control their emotions. On New Year’s Day, my daughter came my home unexpectedly due to the step-family dynamics at her father’s residence. I suffered both the wrath of her emotions, and his anger that she removed herself from his home on a holiday. His usual response, “who is your lawyer? I want to speak through your lawyer.”
Legal fees are financially exhaustive, and the root of the problem is never resolved. The children go to their father when they want something. Teenagers can be extremely manipulative, and mind are no exception. They know dad will gift materialistically if they do what they think he wants to hear. They come to me, with their persistent questions and problems. My son, who I am concerned is on route to delinquency, recently asked for help. “Please don’t tell dad” has been a constant request, that I do not want to hear as it places me in an awkward position.
The final 2 trekkers (local guide and German) caught up quickly. The German had included volcano surfing as part of the tour. Our full group (reunited) proceeded into a dry wooded area with an abundance of dead trees that we tried to dismantle. We needed to collect wood for our camp fire.
I emptied my sneakers and socks. I had not wanted to stop to do this earlier, as I would have felt more guilty slowing down our party further. Pebbles and sand fell back into the earth. My white socks were brown, even darker from the inside. A tiny bug crawled out of my shoe. I was relieved to enjoy pebble-free shoes.
I was not the best girl scout. I struggled, snapping branches off trees and breaking them into halves. Everyone’s piles consisted of full thick logs, whereas mine were scrawny twigs. I strapped as many as I could into my knapsack’s buckle loops. As we continued to ascend, they dug into my upper body and cervical spine as the lower ones caught my upper thighs. My body was on fire from the mosquito bites that appeared to cover every inch of my body. I wanted to scratch. The twigs were now doing it for me, so much so, that my flesh bled. The trekker behind me picked up any branches that fell, and attempted to reorganize my packing.
After hours in the bush, we reached an open area before arriving at base camp, at last! It was as if the gates to heaven had opened to get a glimmer of what lay ahead. We were at least 3,000 feet above sea level in Los Maribios. If I was not in such awe, I would have been spooked as the edge was quite close and insanely steep. In the distance, we viewed the impressive active Volcán Momotombo spewing smoke and various dormant volcanos hovering over the sparkling Lake Managua against the hazy blue skyline. Mother Nature was hugging me with expansive 360 degree views. I feel for people who have never climbed above the clouds or jumped from a plane. They will never experience paradise. Snowshoeing, hiking, skydiving, have kept me sane during #firstworld stressful events, and fuelled my yearning to experience life further. The natural topography provided the protection and TLC I yearn for. I have never received that comfort and joy that I craved in our relationship. This moment was a re-awakening to appreciate the wonderful aspects of my life.
We reached camp ahead of schedule, unpacked and set up our tents so that we would have a couple hours to frolic in the meadows before tackling our final ascent to the peak for sunset. Thankfully Brian took initiative as I was ignorant and lazy with the tent rods.
Our temporary home was beside a palm tree with views of the camp fire hut, Momotombo volcano in front, and the foreboding black hole at the back. The land was expansive with very little shrubbery, unlike the deep green coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest rainforest I am accustomed to in my Canadian homeland.
I was apprehensive of when my body would need to excrete, especially around 5 men in the barren area. I tried to remove those nagging thoughts. Instead, I focused on lounging my tired body on the dry grass. I was mesmerized by the soft jewelled colours of the heavens. White puffy clouds floated above me, time stood still, before they finally dissipated into the atmosphere.
I was relieved that El Hoyo is dormant, last erupting in the mid-1950’s. I was extremely nervous about volcano eruptions. recalling the big black mounds of ash from the Cerro Negro hike. If the volcano erupted, I would explode into the air, only to tumble down back down, and be buried underneath hot heavy black ash.
It was finally time to hike to the summit, the pedestal of our trek. First stop, circling was the gigantic hole deep in the golden ground. There was no scientific explanation of how it was created. My theory was that a UFO landed, but left shortly after realizing human beings are fucked. Although I was impressed, I could not shake the apprehensive pit in my stomach thinking about the legal papers.
Our group headed to the steaming fumarole. The guide needed to backtrack to encourage me to join them…I was debating turning around. I was petrified!!!We were on a steep edge. It was plausible that I could fall or be blown off. This reminded me of the many examples where I have given in to my ex husband’s demands mainly for 2 reasons:
1. the best interest of the kids, but not in the sense that I believe it’s the right answer. I fear that if he does not get his way, the children suffer from the relentless bickering. They should not be involved. It does not make them feel good about their parents, and most of all themselves.
3. And secondly, a similar reason, for myself. I fear him. He spent years battling his ex during our relationship, threatening legal pursuits of varying ridiculous situations. I do not know of any situation where he won legally, but he wins in his craziness. As I was looking through historical documentation I found our wedding photo with my family (grandma, aunts, and uncles). He cut out his face and replaced it with the handsome Enrique Iglesias. When I recently described the event to a friend, she noted it as “sociopath behaviour.” I was terrified at the time. If one has been touched and violated, its deafening…silencio. I cannot bear to think about it; however, the memories will forever burn inside me. Some are fuelled by their own internal fire, but I need the encouragement to keep moving forward.
After the the Guide offered a pep talk, I managed to scramble to the fumerole, feeling the humidity rising as I inched closer. The group patiently waited for the educational stories. I can only remember “sulphur, no one climbs in.” It was all a blur as I was relieved I faced a fear. From past experience, when I give in, predators use my weakness to their advantage. I did not like it, but we climbed around the edge of the volcán to the next crater. Smoke rose out of the gents. I hung back while the boys threw rocks way down below into the multi-coloured (whites, greys, browns, and reds) blackhole.
The sun kissed the straw-like vegetation, creating a golden aura as we sat waiting for it to lower behind the surrounding green volcano mounds. The mountain was set against the blueness of the massive lake below and I gazed at birds soaring. I want to fly. We turned around to see the shadow of Volcán Momotombo behind us. I felt a strange sensation with the black clouds hovering above. I pleaded with Mother Earth, please do not rain. Instead, the illuminating sky burst into golden orange, yellow, and soft reds, warming my heart and soul.
I “almost” relaxed for the first time in Nicaragua as I settled into the dry plantation pulling my hoodie tighter. The air felt nippy as nightfall was approaching.
After the sun disappeared, we had limited time before dusk fell to return to base camp. The city lights of Managua glowed in the darkness. We were all ravenous, devouring a hearty pasta dinner and sticky marshmallows over light chatter at the campfire. Random strangers with common interests sharing heavenly experiences.
I was ready for bed. I was exhausted from the vigorous day. The wind was becoming more biting, the smoke from the fire stung our eyes, ash had melded into my sweaty body, and the skin surrounding my mouth was sticky from the roasted marshmallows.
I did not feel as if I slept, but I must have as I kept awakening, startled from vivid intense dreams. A nightmare of the doggies I recently cared for shook me up. One bit me. Who let them loose in the pounding Vancouver rain? The winds howled viciously and violently shook the tent from left to right. The ground was uncomfortably hard, and my bones were chilled. I thought of the dark sink hole in the hill slope, and it’s purpose.
I had an epiphany. Earlier in the week, I reviewed the legal document feeling the walls closing in on me. My life is not mine. I fear of losing my children, my home “my sanctuary,” being alone, not being loved. I felt severely depressed by darkness. That’s because I was allowing one man to, constantly tell me I am stupid, disgusting, selfish, dishonourable. I am not! I need to stop playing victim. I have amazing family and friends including my boy bestie in the sleeping bag next to me. The relationships that I have are reciprocal in support, love, laughter, and fun.
The wind howling morphed into a “Morning Cheer.”
I was rejuvenated.
When the 5 am alarm started buzzing, I was excited for sunrise. It was darker than when I fell asleep. I was greeted with a bright almost full moon, the most dazzling stars twinkling when I peaked my head out of the tent. If I could face the Mother Nature’s brutal elements I could face my vicious ex.