by Sawyer Uecke
As I take in a slow, steady breath through my nose, the chilled air alleviates the heat that has conglomerated within my lungs. I knew from the moment I stepped off of that bus that I was in a new place; I could smell the change of ambiance. I am in the mountains of northern Nicaragua, Matagalpa to be exact, beginning a well needed trip to escape the infierno of León: my home that just happens to lay beside the ring of fire. Three and a half hours in a revamped school bus put a damper on my legs, so I decide to head into the city where I get lost and found again. I still can’t get over the feeling of the air that I take in. The moment it reaches my nostrils it is as if I can sense the change in composition, the depletion of oxygen to be exact. There is only one word that I can use to describe these feelings: tranquilo.
I am met with smiles, stares of curiosity, and, nevertheless, a bit of reluctant animosity. Nearing the city center, the fragrance of the panaderias perfumes the walkways. My stomach takes control of my eyes to note all of the vibrant signage that reads anything along the lines of comedor. The desire for a headquarters settles in and within minutes my taxi is pulling up in front of our hostel. My German friend – at least, that is how I refer to him to others here – has accompanied me. We like to talk about nothing and also talk about everything, so we do so over a cup of coffee produced right here in Matagalpa. Once our bags are locked away in storage and we have interrogated the receptionist, we head out for a hearty breakfast where we both indulge ourselves with two full entres. This will definitely subside the hunger that my stomach has been longing to diminish. We will also be prepared for our first trek of the morning; we are headed to Reserva Natural Cerro Apante.
Luckily our taxi driver is extremely talkative and willing to answer all of our random questions about the city. That, and he distracts us from the adrenaline filled coasts down roads that are parallel to the inclination of the nearest mountain. My knuckles turn white from the subconscious clenching of my fists. Within moments, we are abandoned not by the driver, but by the engine, as it refuses to push on. Now standing in the middle of a community, I am mesmerized by the houses wondering how they were even built here in the first place. We continue on into the jungle, lost again, but at least we see an old piece of wood hung on a tree that makes out “Apante,” I think. Rising elevation forces me to breath, upon every inhale and exhale I appreciate the air more and more, though I don’t know how that can even be possible at this point. We are following a thin stream of water up a path that seems more like what the locals use to get around up here. My calf muscles are bursting from last weeks work out, yet my mind wanders about how I take many things for granted, even the air I breathe. I decide I won’t let myself do that now, not during this trip. We trudge on and on, eventually encountering the actual path to the reserve. I begin to feel a bit more comfortable, as we now have a better understanding of where we are. High enough to get scorched by the sun, my shirt is drenched in sweat, so I throw it in my backpack and gulp down some water. The hiking gets easier as the landscape starts to level itself out. We’re nearing the top of the mountain, yet can’t see a thing because we are surrounded by a think layer of flora.
Suddenly – I will reveal his name now – Victor stops dead in his path. He questions me if I can hear it. I say no before I even try to listen, and by the time I do he is darting into the jungle. With much hesitation, I follow. Normally I would be the one who ventures off the beaten path but being in a new environment tends to keep me more cautious of my surroundings. I hear it now, it’s the heartbeat of the reserve, a waterfall. I follow in a more tentative manner, we are definitely lost again but, at this point, I just have to get over it. We allow ourselves to get eaten alive by the random bugs that fall from the trees. Coated with spider webs, I pick up a stick to circumvent the sticky situation. The amplification of the waters flow coincides with my boost in adrenaline. Just when it seems as though we will never find a path to escape the thickness of the jungle, I step out and am blinded by the reflection of the sun off of the water. Once my vision returns, I am starstruck by the glamour of mother nature. Massive, foam-like rocks with a hint of gray have been sculpted by the water’s magnificent course. The waterfall leaves a pool of mineral rich water where we decide to swim and bask in the sun’s rays. This cascade is unlike any other. We are entire isolated from the outside world; I feel like a pioneer. I take a moment to soak in the ice cold water, close my eyes, and take in a breath from the depths of my lungs. A slight sensation resonates throughout my body. I feel as though I can apply this feeling to nearly every day here in Nicaragua. I was lost, and now I have found my place again.