Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking The Leap

Before coming to Nicaragua, I had never officially lived in a city. I mean sure, I had spent the large majority of my life living in metropolitan areas AROUND various cities (i.e. the BURBS). It’s just that until I shook hands with my current landlords and handed over that first month’s rent, I had never been a TRUE urbanite.

These days, I live in the proverbial concrete jungle. The exhaust, the traffic, the incredible decibel levels, dirt, trash, smog, miles upon miles of broken glass and concrete……THESE are the components of my most recent environment, the place I am calling home. Put another way…….COMPLETE ISOLATION from the natural world. Don’t’ get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’ve chosen this present life, and it’s perfect for my current line of work. It’s just that it has taken a little…….well…..getting used to.

A bit of history: In 1991, for reasons I can’t seem to remember at the moment, I paid my FIRST dues to this new group (new to ME, that is) called The Sierra Club. And since a short time after, I seem to have been a tree-hugging/veggie-and-granola-eating/Birkenstock-wearing/hippie freak, to one degree or another (OK…at least on the INSIDE). To put it another way, I’m a BIG fan of the natural world…..yes, card-carrying ENVIRONMENTALIST…… and as one can imagine, the great state of Colorado, where I have called my home for the previous 11 years or so, has proven to be a spectacular place for someone such as myself to hug a tree or two (or at least ski amongst them). The majesty and intrinsic beauty of it all.....definitely food for the soul……and certainly a far cry from my CURRENT surroundings that tends to burn, kill, eat, or needlessly destroy anything that lives, breathes, moves, or grows in any form or fashion.

I think the first time I noticed “the void” was last year while making my way south through Costa Rica. I had just left Managua that morning and was traveling through the mountains en route to Panama. The bus stopped for a short break, and I got off to relieve myself of the morning’s excess of coffee. The only available facility was a small store/bathroom that was constructed quite literally into the side of the hill. And it was within this facility….um……mid-stream…..where I noticed the wall was the actual hillside. Soil……earth…..dirt……..TERRA FIRMA. There it was, in all its glory. It struck me as something so unusual, so foreign, so out of place…..and so…so….strangely wonderful. An odd moment……a ridiculous story, I know…..but profound nonetheless.

Since that time, I’ve experienced a number of such moments (don’t worry….all completely OUTSIDE the realm of restrooms and bodily functions) that have lead me to a very similar conclusion. The conclusion, that is, that it is absolutely necessary to get out of the city now and then. Whether it’s the beach (one hour to the East)….the mountains (one hour to the North)……a local volcano (take your pick….plenty to choose from)……or just a small pueblo outside of Managua…’s essential for the maintenance of inward health and wellbeing.

That being said, when my friend Lila suggested a trip to a nearby “refuge” for a bit of hiking and rappelling, I told her I was in.

“Just say the word, and I’m there!!!!!”

And after several weeks of ………“well, we WERE going to go, but this or that happened, or this or that person backed out”……… the big day finally arrived. I got up early on Sunday morning, did my usual routine, met Lila and the rest of the group, and got on the road by 8AM. By 10AM, we had passed through countless small towns and navigated more than a few curvy mountain roads in order to arrive at what was perhaps the most foreign site I had seen in quite some time.
“Ummmm…..excuse me, but does that sign really say “Eco-lodge” and “Nature-preserve”??????

Fortunately, that is exactly what it said, and within minutes we were admiring a beautiful view of the Masaya Volcano and lake (OK….so MAYBE the majority of the raw sewage from the town just MIGHT flow directly into the lake……but let’s just focus on the view for now) while standing next to a sign exhibiting the various species of birds indigenous to the area.

“Yeeeesssss………I do believe this is going to be a good day”.

Within a few MORE minutes, after getting more acquainted with the group, I realized that we were actually on an organized outing by something called RAPPEL TEAM. Hiking…...savoring the beauty of the natural world…….well, that may have been a bit of a stretch for the day’s agenda. In reality, we were there to do ONE THING and one thing only, to jump off a 200’ cliff. And the more I talked with the members of this newly discovered subculture, the more it became clear that they were certainly motivated by the “adrenaline aspect” of things.

“I’m a teacher during the week, but on the weekends I do anything I can find that’s DANGEROUS….anything that has the potential of killing me!!!!”

….note to self…..remember not to catch a ride home with THAT guy.

“Hey Jason……what’s the MOST EXTREME thing you’ve ever done????? Mine is skydiving. Woohooooooo!”

“You’re from Colorado? I heard that they have A reserve in Colorado that’s JUST FOR SKIING!!!”

“Yep….absolutely true,” I told him. “We do have ONE of those”.

After the big HIKE from the “eco-lodge” to the rappel site (all 1minute and 30 seconds of it……downhill), Team Rappel began setting up the ropes. Now, although I don’t consider myself a true expert in such matters, I’m also no stranger to the “sport” of rappelling. Between various recreational pursuits in the mountains, technical rescue team with the fire dept., and those pine trees in Steven Flynt’s backyard (cirque 1985), I’ve had a fair amount of experience with the world of ropes and knots. But as often crosses my mind, such things as SAFETY STANDARDS don’t always carry the exact same meaning in this part of the world.

“….better pay particularly close attention to the system they’re setting up”.

Well, after putting together a pretty good “anchor” and giving a VERY BRIEF instructional talk, they asked if I wanted to be the first to go. After all, I was the only person that brought any personal gear. Checking and rechecking harnesses, carabineers, knots, and other equipment using the buddy system? Not in this group. Safety line in case of emergency or catastrophic failure of the system? Nope…not today……they forgot that at home.

“So you’re asking me if I want t be the first one to TEST THE SYSTEM? Thanks but no thanks”, I said. “I trust you and all, buuuuuuuut NO”.

Fortunately, despite that fact that I would have certainly made a few minor adjustments here and there, everything turned out just fine (i.e. nobody plummeted to a premature death). I ended up going in the middle of the group, and really did enjoy the descent…….beautiful volcanic cliff and even BETTER view than the one from the lodge. Of course, upon reaching the bottom, I was quickly reminded of just WHERE I was by ONE…..the enormous amount of garbage (literal) on the rocks below, and TWO…..the two guys carrying assault rifles and machetes.

“Funny….I don’t remember THEM being in our group”.

“So what are you guys shooting today?”, I asked.

NO response.

“I’m hoping it’s not anything of the human variety….yea?”.

Vague smiles.

For the next hour or so, we waited at the bottom of the cliff for the rest of the group to make the descent. It was quiet and beautiful, and I even saw a bit of wildlife (large white owl that we startled from the cliff wall). We hung out watching the individual descents, all the while dodging rock fall from above (literally the most dangerous part of the day……..have you guys thought about investing in helmets? ) until it came time for the actual HIKE back, a 30 minute scramble up the adjacent hill……..lots of fun.

From there, we enjoyed an excellent lunch prepared by the folks at “the lodge” and ended up rolling out around 5PM. I arrived back in Managua an hour or so later, rested and refreshed for yet another week in my little “paradise by the lake”. As I always do after a mini-vacation from the city, I experienced a nice sense of rejuvenation, as if the soul had just done the old……

“And now that we’ve all found our happy place……inhale through the nose………..OK, hold it……and exhale through the mouth……….aaaaahhhhhhh.”

Also, as is often par for the course around here, the lack of stress accompanying my mini-vacation was relatively short-lived. That same night, one of the dogs from our house found herself on the wrong end of a speeding vehicle. In the end, all was well that ended well. But in the midst of it all, I learned that although I AM still technically a paramedic, I’m NOT much of veterinarian.

……..but that’s another story for another day.

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