My driver Oscar snatches me from Managua Airport, an hour late. I never heard such a rotation of “lo siento” spoken like a more than an auctioneer. I said, “it’s de nada”, but he kept apologizing. With a tilted smile, I gave him a pun on the back and swung a high-five.
Within minutes I’m dripping in sweat, literally eyebrows crying humidity, and a slip of my sweat gliding from my armpits down my ribcage. I roll up my sleeves, plunge my backpack over my shoulder and jumped right to the seat, gunshot. Oscar is nervous, or maybe just shy, because he didn’t speak to me again until he saw that I had pulled out my Nat Sherman cigs. He pulled out his lighter and lit me up. I smiled and then asked if he wanted to puff a bit of my cig, he nodded with ease, and in very slow motion took his first drag. He gave me a pound and said that the cigarettes were by far the best he had ever had.
Marley was the highlight of his speakers, “Jam Rock”, “One Love”, “Red Wine”, the whole series of the usual suspects of the infamous Jamaican hero. I rotate my body in a 90-degree motion, crouch down, unzip my front pocket, and grasp my aux-cord. Oscar asked what I did, and I just dangled the aux cord, then he didn’t ask any more questions. The very first record I played him was “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest.
He drove 100mph, bumped his legs up and down and tapped his fingers in his scabbing steering wheel. He leaned forward and raised the volume, then started speaking to me. He opened up. Asked how life is in New York and what it means to be in a louder world. I kept googling his sentences in an attempt to translate. I tried to keep up with his pronunciations but not long after my service went off. I was stuck with the greatest interpreter; body language.
Maderas Village / Nicaragua
We drove through a local area in Managua. It was a series of poverty gradually revealing its truth. Broken homes, unfinished rooftops, tin ceilings, foggy windows, bouncy roads, pastel bricks, and streets filled with rows of cracked doors. The sky started to bow before the grey clouds and raindrops fell one by one, sliding down the windshield. I asked Oscar to slow down because I had started to gain control of my perspective and wanted to soak in my surroundings. Take a humble glance. I saw many old women braiding their daughter’s hair, kids playing tag, men in stoops smoking high. The simplicity of mankind that I took in; it was beautiful to me. Their brokenness was true, their honesty was warless, and the look of their eyes was undeniable. They had suffering, but strength. I saw endurance in the eyes of the students striding outside of their school. I saw the fight in the eyes of the moms holding their newborn babies. I saw the innocence of the grown men day drunk but surviving through their stolen manhood.
One hour later /
Oscar asked the basic “who are you” questions. I, with the jaded responses from the off-putting interview questions I normally have to answer back in the urban jungle of my creative circus back home, stop for a moment and think “fuck this”. I’m not going to give him a fucking typical answer. I’m in Nicaragua. I don’t know who this guys is. But I fucking like this rawness. The naked human encounter. I’m going to be fucking real and give him real thoughtful and skinless answers. No makeup or optimized stories. I tell him my childhood, how I survived living in orphanages in my formative years, my blowout youth revelation, the rebel with a cause, the whole A-to-Z of who the fuck Grace is. I started to feel more human. Because the whole time I didn’t just talk to him with my limited Spanish, but spoke with my body and gestures. That’s fucking real.
I pulled out my flask, wrapped my red paisley bandana over it for a good grip, and gave Oscar a sip or two. We bonded over the whiskey. Jameson did it again. Oscar looked up and gave me a solid knuckle pun. He pulled out his wallet and showed me a 2×2 photo of his wife and two daughters – expressing the joy of his life and that simple happiness that completes him.
I drew closer to my unknown driver Oscar, who I now call a friend, within the 120 minutes I spent in his white pickup truck. I pulled down the window, chain smoking like the New Yorker I am, one after the other. At that moment both Oscar and I were bobbling our heads to hiphop, I had my hand out the window, waving it through the whistling wind. He knew I was in my zone, and pedaled up 120mph – fast. At high speed, I struck my eyes through the horses, cows, vast farmlands, and passed a tinted volcano hovering high above our view. I was in it.
Two hours in /
When we arrived, Oscar gave me a quick tour. Pointing with his hands, he let me know that we’re entering each town border from Rivas, San Juan, and then Maderas. I saw a sign that said Maderas, and I started to feel ecstatically inclined. I realized that I’m not in New York. I’m away from the pretentious world, the crafted society, the numb civilization that lives like ghosts.
It was fucking real there. I saw humans who actually lived off their morals and not by the suspension of immortality. I was with people who actually sweat and cried in their lives because they were seeking life. Tasting the every crumbs of what life can give you, whether poor or rich, a country like Nicaragua doesn’t cheat on your ethics. Life there is real. People are truly, yearning to live life, and not have life live off them.
We climbed up a hill, a steep, very steep hill. Oscar cranked up the Kanye. We had finally arrived at Maderas Village. I thanked Oscar, gave him a brotherly hug, and told him to never stop listening to hip-hop. He gave me a thumbs up, and off he went to pick up another stranger.
I reunited with my dear friend Rochelle, gave her a kiss on her pregnant belly, and then squeezed her like a little stress ball. She led me through a quiet lobby. Damn, stoked. Quiet. Finally. The air was already different, I smelled everything. The dirt. The trees. The lemongrass. A dragonfly impressed me with its stripes. A butterfly took the spotlight. The ants snuck in-between my toes. The flies were attention whores and didn’t stop clinging. I was in nature. And I felt calm, collected, and cool. Everything was in its right place.
Justin, the man of the hour to Rochelle, and future father-to-be gave me a tour of the resort, with his quaint, accented voice. Cabanas everywhere, casitas overlooking the jungle, atop hills and small paths. Fuck the shoes, and I was barefoot. I was on top of the hill, literally overlooking the breathtaking view of the jungle. I opened all the doors of the patio and nestled in to take a quick nap.
After I awoke, My friend Lola and I headed to the beach for a sunset walk. A tiny adventure. Climbing through the bedrocks, I pressed my feet in the liquid sand and watched the sun fade away and exit our sight. The waves husked through my ears and gave me a welcome. I felt welcomed by the universe. We walked up the jungle path and back to the village to get ready for our first dinner.
That first night, my destiny changed. My future was waiting right there. My friend Rochelle invited me to this porch, well not just any porch, but the porch where I met my soulmate, the porch where it was love at first sight and ever sight, the porch that I ended up spending my next fateful days on.
The closer I got to this porch, the louder the hip-hop, I mean fucking real hip-hop. Not Drake, not the pop culture bullshit, real hip-hop like Pete Rock to Dilla playing. My ears perked up and I continued to to follow the music. I opened the door and saw Ro sitting with two beautiful ladies. My eyes landed on the one with marble blue eyes, sitting Indian style, rolling a joint, shredded denim jeans, low crop top, hair tied so effortlessly cool as a top bun, and sun-kissed skin. Nikki Brand. Born as Nicola. (Pause) Perfect, right? My heart didn’t just skip a beat, it made music. She passed me a joint and said that its Nica-weed. We agreed on it with a laugh. Sealed the humor with a wink. And minutes later I couldn’t stop glancing at her every gesture. I felt new with this stranger I had just met. No cliché. No maneuvers of conversations or the typical get-to-know-me shit. It was refined.
It was just us. We all headed to dinner and I remember that on that specific night, my heart felt whole. I sensed solace. It was radiating off of Nikki. I am sure of it. Even when my skin accidentally touched hers from the pass of a beer, it made me feel, new. But the cool cat that I am, I just made tiny but effective imprints on my aura to her. You know the whole enigmatic puzzle game. No not the cat and mouse. Nice try, but not that one. Too low for us. But more like two divinely beautiful plants in one room trying to grow together under the same sun. That mysterious, curious, parallel energy. Shoes without shoestrings cool, she was cool. She is cool. And I really, deeply, marveled at her presence.
Day and night went. The sun sang and the moon prayed. I felt the indigenous vibrations of the jungle. Naked. Nude. It was an open door. Not the half-open New York urban sanction, the grandioso monocle of our too-much-to-do life in America.
Everyday I woke up to the drum strums of Nikki’s alarm at 5am. Her adoration in bringing me her special coffee with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Then our breakfast ritual. We’d order two smoothies, freshly blended, of course. Side note: I’ve never heard one say the word “fresh” in such a sexy way until I heard it spoken by Nikki’s South African accent. I mean, what else is there? Everything. Post breakfast Nikki and I would go to the ocean and go for a salty swim. Chase each other inside the waves. Then we’d stroll up the evergreen jungle with the “dogs of Maderas Village”– one named Pataya and her fake boyfriend, Murray. Nikki and I would come back up, part our ways and venture off to our own nature of art. Then we’d commence again over an afternoon lunch by the second floor patio. Very chill hammock swings, super chill cold beer sweating down our hand… we’d stare at the glistening “chill” ocean, listen to the roaring of the monkeys chilling, watch the vultures spread their chill fierceness, and the birds flap their freedom wings, everything chill.
Pacific Ocean / Playa Maderas
One month later /
Everyday evolved me. It healed me from my wounds and scars. I felt the shedding of my past and the growth of new life. Nikki was the magic I needed to believe that my heart knew I could still feel love and why it survived through all my tribulations. The four-day trip to Maderas turned into a month. I couldn’t leave the oasis. My garden of Eden. I picked up a new book, with empty pages, and felt I had a new journey to write. Nikki gifted me solace. I met that one person I always desired to have and that fully deserved every shadow and light of me. She was so true. She is so true.
Grace Lee is the founding lady of the all-female DJ collective, Liaison Femme. She writes, takes photos and makes killer guacamole in her spare time.