Here’s a fabulous adventure and survival story from my little bro. Prepare to be very, very scared. Shivering in your boots and thanking your lucky stars that you’re dry and warm as you read…
The winding country road was once again under construction. In the twenty-six years both as passenger and driver on that road, Luke had witnessed few changes in the 14-kilometer trek from Rex Falls to the town of Maggie River. Every inch was etched in his mind: every bump to avoid; every curve that had caused a fatal accident; every long hill that brought back the rush of deliberate speed of bike trips as a teen; every business sign battered and torn by winter’s cold and every cozy structure that lined the highway with backyards of dense forest or boggy swamp with poorly rooted trees leaning loosely to one side.
This road often triggered a set of paradoxical emotions, with both excitement and melancholy. Every turned corner held another vividly colourful memory of childhood summers. Driving to town with siblings to do errands was always a treat and the family’s weekly trip to church brought all of us together to share in the week’s joys and sorrows. Luke’s reflections were suddenly cut off by an unexpected bump and the long rough sound of gravel under the car’s wheels.
The heat of this July day was exceptional. Luke casually observed the straggling construction crew, noticing the look of dogged monotony in the eyes of one anonymous worker, draped in the ubiquitous orange which made him stand out like a flash of fire at the side of the road. He thought to himself that the sign in his hand was more than a warning to drivers to slow down; it was a warning as well to slow down before the power of the sun stripped them all of their energy.
As he turned another corner, just before entering the camp, he reminded himself to stop at the spring on High Road for some cold water. He could remember as a small child looking down at the bubbles in the crude wooden box which contained the spring water. His mother dunked the neck of the water jugs to fill them as she commented (with a pained smile) on how perfectly cold the water was on her hands. Today, the old wooden box has been replaced by the modernized well and tap that create the seemingly never-ending sound of water on the smooth, polished rock below.
Luke bent down for a long drink and he noticed a tiny bright green frog playing in the stream of spring water. As a child, he caught the same tiny green frogs for the purpose of scaring his big sister with the slippery creatures. He splashed cold water on his face and the memory was driven away with a feeling of cool, refreshing relief.
He filled the jugs, threw them in the back seat and was confident that in a few minutes he would be unabashedly running to dive in the lake that he had known all his life.
As he finally neared the entrance to the camp, that old familiar anticipation rose in his being. He looked to his left and saw that the sprawling bay was unusually calm except for the group of children diving off the raft near the beach. Even though the raft was far away, he knew they were his boisterous teenage nephews. He turned into the old camp road, reducing his speed, as the car rolled gently over the incorrigible rutted grass-line, cutting the rugged road in half with long green grass. He then drove straight for the beach.
He parked under the natural shade of an old pine tree, quickly exited the car and did a running dive into the water. As he swam in slow motion under the water, his heat exhaustion was washed away. He thought to himself about an ongoing contest he once had with his sister Morgan, in which they had devised an underwater race, with the winner being the first to come up to the surface and touch the raft.
He reached the raft and called to his eldest sister’s oldest son, who was swimming about ten feet to his right. The last time they had talked in May, they had decided on canoeing up the lake, and all they had to do now was decide when to go.
They had planned to paddle to the small island, approximately ten kilometers up Eight-Mile Lake, near a gigantic landmark by the name of Echo Rock. It is the name for a place where one can climb up 50 feet to dive into the deep water below, with the Precambrian wall of rock providing a unique, natural location for diving.
The water was extraordinarily calm as they started up the lake. It made the canoe’s speed easy to increase over the glass-like water. The afternoon heat was overpowering in the middle of the lake; so they headed over to the shoreline, to allow for the natural shade of the over-hanging trees.
As they paddled through a narrow stretch of the lake, they kept their eyes on a well-known wooden bridge which gave access to a dock for a group of cottagers. The canoe skimmed briskly over the serene waters of Eight-Mile Lake. As Luke looked down into the water, he saw the flash of rock and dead tree stumps, but they were just deep enough to be missed by the canoe, and Luke thought that the canoe is truly a superior water craft, for it can intimately explore every inch of a lake. He would soon think a little differently about it…
The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall. My best friend Kelly was already studying Nursing. Both of us needed a full-time job and had asked at June’s Diner if we could work there. With a yes from June, we promptly began to plan.
We moved to the camp with my little brother Luke and with Eva’s middle child Jake, who was a tender four years of age. We promptly started the opening clean up, just as Mom had taught. Start systematically at cabin number one and spend a whole day on each cabin. In past years with Mom, we would work until noon then Mom would have Jobe build a small fire in the outdoor fire-pit of the cabin we were working on. Jobe was good at that. Mom would make soup and fried bologna or wieners over the fire. After eating and much to our enjoyment, she would pop popcorn in lard over the fire. We would just love those days with Mom…
It was hard, dirty work and there was a lot to do: clean, dust, paint, move things, wipe down cupboards, count dishes and cutlery, ensure pots and pans were there, affix curtains, paint and tidy…it was endless. One time, Kel reached up into a corner shelf and pulled out a stiff dead mouse by the tail, holding it horizontally while I squealed, having been startled by the oddity of it, so stiff and straight. Kel just chuckled at my antics. At the end of each full day, we all went out to June’s for a feed of fish and chips or something akin. Little Jake was an angel who was constantly helpful and pleasant and a joy to have with us.
Early the following week, working on number nine, we decided it needed a lick of paint. It was a bright, warm sunny day. Perfect for working on our tans at the same time and Luke had taken little Jake out fishing for the afternoon. We had the boom box playing full tilt: BORN in the USA and SUMMER OF SIXTY NINE and JOURNEY tapes. I should mention here that Kelly was a tireless worker. She would never stop and it was a pleasure and a joy to have her by my side for the summer, and she is still my oldest best friend today. So, we got up on the long ladder and once up there, feeling the sun on our backs, decided it would be perfect for topless painting. All was fine and good and we were working and singing, tanning and laughing.
Suddenly, between songs we heard the rumble of an approaching tractor. ANGUS BRECKNER!!!! Oh my god. The very cute farm-boy of similar age to us, was coming to cut the hay today. You never saw us scramble so fast down those ladders to find our t-shirts, screaming all the way.
The season began and we slipped into a routine. A johnny cake breakfast with Eva and the three boys who would kneel on their chairs, their blond heads forming steps on one side of the table. Next, chores which usually consisted of garbage pick up plus other light maintenance or cleaning jobs. After chores there was time for swimming and a bit of sun-bathing and then it was time for work at the diner in town. Sometimes we would bike to town but often we would get a ride from a friend, Angus or his buddy, or we would walk the two miles along the side of the highway.
Come the weekend there would often be various camp-fires or pit parties to attend. We also had friends of the male persuasion who would sometimes accompany us to Deer Hurst in Huntsville where we would dance and enjoy the house band being silly and celebrating our youthfulness. The best song came out that year: N-N-N-N-Nineteen, Nineteen. It was like it was written for us.
Another time we went out with our red-head friend Marvin. There were a few of us in his little jeep. We were driving pell mell along yet another dark, dirt, hilly, twisty turny country road for the sheer joy of the drive. Kel and I were squealing and ooohing with each directional change. Suddenly, Marvin slowed the jeep and driving close to the right side of the road, started to accelerate while turning sharply to the left. The jeep leaned over on two tires, EEEEEEK! It hesitated, as if deciding what to do, then over it went into the ditch, landing on its right side. There were a few expletives uttered at that point then Marvin said rather calmly and clearly in his deep voice: get out before she blows. Oh Jesus did we scramble to get out. The last person climbed out and let the door slam. It slammed on my right thumb. Marvin ran back and opened the door so I could escape. Whew. That was a close one. The jeep did not blow.
During other summers, from time to time a high school friend would come up and stay at the camp. When Sue (a boy named Sue, just like in the Johnny Cash song), arrived with his family, I was quite happy to see him. I enjoyed his company and we had had many good times together. As my sister Amy would say: he was a good head. (That’s a compliment).
One night we had heard about a campfire out off the Cane Road. Amy was at the camp with her car and, always generous, allowed us to use it. In we piled. There was Sue, Karrie from across the lake, a friend named Faye from the narrows, and myself. However, after a bit, I was a tad worried about Sue who was drinking large amounts of rye, thanks to Doug, the host, and he was getting quite drunk. We finally got him into the car after pulling him out of the ditch and started down the gravel, country road toward the camp. Suddenly, without much warning, except to ask that the window be rolled down, which it wasn’t, Sue got sick all over Faye. He had projectiled such that there was vomit on the car wall and window with a silhouette of Faye where her head and body had received it rather than the wall. We should have seen it coming. I pulled over and quickly asked Karrie to open the rear door. Sue tumbled out head first and landed in the ditch for the second time. He was moaning, groaning and puking. He waved at us saying just leave me here, just leave me here. Ya, no. I would not be leaving Sue there in some ditch on some god-forsaken, dark, forest-edged road. I yelled at him to get sick once more then to climb into the car.
The next morning I was cleaning number one cabin when I heard some commotion by the men’s outhouse. There was Sue. His large teenage male body was standing, slightly stooped, in the open door of the outhouse, his back to me. He was holding a Pocket Fisherman (for a split second my mind ‘reeled’ back to the time, years prior, when I had wanted so badly to use Eva’s husband Peter’s Pocket Fisherman and he so generously indulged me. Next, I promptly raised my right arm to cast the line and then somehow dropped it into an unfamiliar dark lake and just watched it sink. Frozen in horror at what I had just done. Peter had very graciously just waved it away, neither one of us wanting to go in after it.)
Anyway, Sue was holding the Pocket Fisherman the line of which was down the hole. He appeared to be fishing something out of the shitter. This was going to be interesting. I asked him what he was up to. Sue turned and his face was green. His front teeth were missing. He hesitated and seemed to argue with himself for a split second but, finally admitted that he was fishing his partial denture out of the shitter. It had fallen out when he was sick…..
Later, Amy and I saw him with his teeth in place. He told us he had boiled his denture for three hours. Poor Sue. That was a rough turn of events because after fishing his denture out of the poop, and then sterilizing it, he then had to go clean up Amy’s car which we had closed the night before and left in the sun. Not pretty.
The summer went on with canoeing, swimming, jumping off the rocks into the lake, exploring, campfires, chores and fun. Then we met Len, the son of a the late hockey great, a former Captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had a cottage near the camp and to call it a cottage was a vast understatement. It was massive with double doors leading into a great room with a double staircase heading up to a landing then splitting in two, heading in opposite directions around a upper story landing with several bedroom doors visible from below. There was no electricity and the whole place was made of weathered wood, but was new and in perfect repair. I could not stop looking at everything. Up at the top of the wall, hanging from the open rafters were huge posters of the hockey legend, taken in his day.
Len had all the toys and a boathouse and a boat, skis and all the gear. The top of the boathouse was a games room with pool table, table tennis, shuffle board, darts and a cooler full of pop. The boathouse had a balcony from which we would jump or dive into the lake below. It was teenager heaven. He would invite us over sometimes to water ski. We would have a ball! Mysteriously, whenever I told Dad I was going to hang out with Len, he would jump up off the couch and offer me a ride. I think he would have been quite happy if I had gotten serious with the son of a hockey legend. Imagine.
In the 60s my parents buy a piece of lake-front property north of the Muskokas in Ontario, Canada where we move to every summer to live bare-foot at the lake: fishing, swimming, sunning and doing chores each day…
In 1960, the year Mark was a born, my parents with my paternal grand-parents, bought a 21-acre piece of lake-side property north of Huntsville, Ontario. The Camp, as we came fondly to call it, had ten cabins, each on private, wooded lots, most with their own water frontage and docks, on beautifully picturesque forested property beside the soft mineral waters of Eight-mile Lake. The lake is part of a very long and historic river system. The camp is still up and running but is now owned and operated (since the mid 80s) by my eldest sister, Eva and her family.
The Camp was an integral part of my childhood and it was instrumental in my love of the outdoors. You see, as soon as the school year finished, Mom and Dad would have us packed up in the huge boat they called a car and we would move, lock, stock and barrel, up to the camp for the two months of the summer holidays. We never returned to the city during the summer. The City, in the summer, was a place where the less fortunate had to live.
Driving to the camp was always an undertaking. There would often be five or six of us in one car at a time for two hours straight. Once we were in, it was the lake or bust. Dad didn’t dare stop for anything. He had already gassed-up the boat and if one of us had to pee, it would be at the side of the highway, no kidding. That two-hour drive seemed to last forever, such was my eagerness to get there. Once we would pass Gravenhurst, we would be into The Rocks where the Canadian Shield would start to show its lumpy head. The Rocks was the first milestone that proved we were making progress. The Rocks we would say to each other and grin and point, then poke at each other in anticipation of all the fun the summer would surely hold for us.
The lake was the best place in the world to be in the summer and oh, how we pitied, for once, our neighbours, The MacNeils who only got to go on a short summer holiday somewhere closer to Walden. One or two of the MacNeils would usually come to visit at the lake and stay for about a week. Never the whole family though.
Once at the lake, life became a little simpler and a lot more basic. We would shed our shoes and heavier clothing and run around for hours at a time in shorts, tee shirts or just bathing suits. I can remember days filled with hours of swimming, canoeing, running back and forth to the trampoline, playing outdoor games and having the time of my life. All of us became expert swimmers, canoeists, fishers and water-skiers thanks to the black, soft water of Eight-mile Lake. I was swimming by the time I was three. I would spend hours in the water and became such a great underwater swimmer that people would often think I had drowned because I could hold my breath and swim underwater for so long.
The Camp had a built-in source of friends every summer. Nine of the cabins would be rented out to various families who had usually made bookings for them in the winter months. The campsites would also be filled up with people on vacation from the hotter, muggier climes of southern Ontario and of the northern United States. The odd time we would have customers from somewhere exotic like Europe. We would make friends one summer and then see these same people and their families return for several summers to follow. Together, my friends and I would explore the camp and surrounding area. We would swim, trampoline, canoe or walk to town, go for a hike, go fishing, go bull-frog catching, play hide-and-go-seek and have amazing sing-songs around the camp fire and under the vast starry sky at night. We were constantly on the go. We had a lot of good times. On rainy days we would play board games and spin-the-bottle above the work-shed that we called The Shop. Dad didn’t like us to have friends into The Office where he was trying to conduct business. (There were many fights about keeping The Office – our house where we ate and slept – professional and quiet. It was very difficult to keep it so serene especially with the screen door always slamming on the way out.)
‘Slam it!’ Dad would sarcastically yell from his inevitably prone position on the couch, with the newspaper. Conducting business was exhausting work. Meanwhile, Mom had already probably cut three huge grassy cabin lots, cleaned and dug four grimy, foul outhouses and had nothing but an open-face sandwich, a cup of black coffee and a gingersnap for lunch. A calorie deficit was often bragged about for some reason.
Saturdays were the worst days of the week at the camp. Saturdays were turnover days. All of our friends would be leaving and because we had so many chores on Saturday, we often didn’t even get a chance to say our good-byes. From the crack of dawn, we would be tasked with cleaning the cottages, picking up the garbage, cutting the grass, painting and making repairs. Of course, we had many of these same tasks on a daily basis but on Saturday we had a new element involved: time constraint. We had to have it all done before the new customers would begin to arrive and would be expecting their cabin or site to be absolutely sublime. When I was little, I would work closely with Amy, Eva or my mom on cabin cleaning. I would marvel at how quickly and efficiently they could complete a task. I would wish and wish that I was older and more capable, and I would try very hard to keep up with these experts but, I was a child and had the attention span of a child so I would find myself wishing I were swimming instead. Mom knew my love of the water and so would give me a task that would take me down to the dock. I would be given a large blackened kettle to scrub with sand or told to sweep off the dock! A few years later though, I was in charge of cleaning some cabins on my own, or with Luke as my assistant. Wanting to do the very best job, we drew up a list of the various tasks that would have to be completed in each cabin. It went something like this:
Make the beds. Wipe the bedroom furniture down. Sweep out the bedrooms. Clean and sanitize the fridge. Remove any left food and bait. Organize the cupboards. Blacken the wood stove and empty the ashes. Sweep down the cobwebs. Clean and sanitize the sink. Clean out the outhouse and drop ashes down the hole. Sweep and mop the floor. Sweep the porch. Sweep the dock. Tidy up the outdoor fire-hole.
Dad was very proud of this list that we drew up and he would show it to some of his friends and they would all have a chuckle over it – especially the sweep down the cobwebs line. Even now, when I sometimes (actually very rarely due, sadly, to living a few provinces away) help Eva with the cleaning, I mentally run over this list as I lovingly go about the task of cleaning those rustic, very special but ancient cabins.
Dad had a few nicknames that were given to him by the older boys: Cheapskate, Tightwad, Lard-ass, Oaf, Ogre, Moose and Minnie. Moose and Minnie were the ones that stuck although, on occasion, when Job was mad about something, and he was often mad about something, he would refer to Dad as that cheap tightwad or that Lard-ass or something akin to that. Nicknames were big in our family. From the second my Dad laid eyes on me he nicknamed me. I had all this black hair and my skin was a little brownish in colour. I was not cute. I became known as Petite Laid, meaning little ugly and later this was shortened to just Titty. I can still feel the humiliation, as a young girl, perhaps just starting to develop, Eva would holler across the aisles of Woolworth’s, Titty, come over and take a look at this. Just the other day, when on the phone, long-distance with Eva, she slipped and called me Titty. Oh my God, where did that come from? she asked. We just had a chuckle over it. Now, a few of decades later, I think it is a cute nickname. Back then, we all had a nickname, except for Eva who only got one when she met her hubby who called her Tuda. Amy was Doobie and Big Sweets. Matt was Feebert and then Feb. Mark started out as Goobie-Goo and then got Bert (except for the summer he was Manic and got ‘Skeletor’ due to not eating or sleeping). Job got Bert as well. I got Titty and then Ditch. Luke got Bert then Bertrum Brothers then Buttox. Mom was Big Bubbles. She used to leave the kettle on until there were lots of big bubbles and Dad used to goad her about that calling it a waste of energy.
Raising a family of seven kids, on a teacher’s salary, means that frugality is necessary. One day, at the lake, My brother Job 🧡 climbs out of bed and down the ladder from the loft. He decides to cook up some breakfast before starting on his morning chores. Noting that Dad is on the riding-mower out front, he decides to take some extra time and savour the peace of being alone in the office. He can just about taste the crispy bacon and eggs he will make.
Job pulls a pound of bacon out to the fridge, takes one look at the generic brand, and is so disgusted by how fatty it is that he flies out the screen door and whips the pound of bacon at Dad on the riding mower. The pound of bacon hits Dad on the back of the head while Job yells, Minnie you’re such cheapskate!
Dad would try very hard to stick around The Office most of the day. He liked to be there to collect the mail and to answer the phone and to sell a bit of ice and worms or gasoline to the customers. Of course whoever paid in cash made him very happy. Dad had a perpetual role of twentys in his pocket and would often get one of us, especially me, because I was honest, to count it for him.
Anyway, during the warm afternoons while the Northern Canadian sun danced on the large south-facing windows of the office, and the house flies buzzed angrily on the fly-catchers, Dad could invariably be found snoozing on the couch with his newspaper on his chest. Dad had bought a couple of massive, partially rusted deep freezers second-hand and they lined the north-facing exterior walls of the office with ICE printed on front and each sporting a Yale pad lock. Dad would tediously freeze huge blocks of ice in discarded fridge crisper bins. He’d then put the bin up on its edge on the kitchen table and it would begin to thaw and drip on the kitchen floor and then finally, it would yawn and tumble out. Dad would most often be there to stop the block from smashing on the floor. Here we go kids, another couple of blocks of ice to sell. Make sure to tell the customers that we sell ice down here at the office.
Dad would then, almost lovingly, wrap the blocks in old newspaper and sell them to the customers for a buck or two, as inflation dictated. Dad seemed to enjoy the process of making and selling ice and could be seen smiling dreamily as he slid the beef-laden freezer baskets out of the way and lay another completed block in its bed in the bottom of the massive freezer.
One afternoon, while Dad was snoozing on his back on the couch, a slim, curly dark-haired, handsome seventeen-year-old Mark decided to have a steak dinner. At that point in time, Mark was on the outs with Dad and was staying in one of the unrented, less popular cabins. Mark or Job and even Matt were often on the outs with Dad. Usually it was over a lack of respect. Personally, I don’t think there was much respect flowing in either direction in these relationships. Mark sauntered up the office screen door, to verify what he suspected would be the scene at that point in the afternoon. He then whipped out a screwdriver and proceeded to work the screws out of the latches on one of the freezers. He was successful. He opened the freezer. Squeak, the old hinges complained loudly. Oh Shit! Sure enough, Dad had heard his freezer door opening when it had been locked. He was up and he was mad and he was coming out of the screen door. Mark had already snatched a couple of steaks and was running through the trailer park up into the camp and yelling, I got some! I got some! Dad never saw those steaks again. Dad didn’t like to run and especially didn’t like to make a scene in front of the trailer park.
The trailer park was located beside the office on the way up to the rest of the cabins and other wooded camping sites. There was one older couple who used to always take the first site and were, therefore, closest to the office. The Pattersons were excellent fishers and liked to be close to the office dock where their boat and motor was tied. Every time we would have an argument or a kafuffle in the office, which was usually a couple of times a day, Dad would say: Keep it down, The Pattersons will hear. One of these fights got pretty bad one day. Fights were about money, nick-names, laziness, poor grammar and lack of respect. This time the fight involved Mark and got extra bad and very loud. Lots of harsh words were screamed in each direction and, of course, Dad said: Shut up! The Pattersons will hear. At that point Mark flew out the front screen door, slammed it loudly, jumped off the porch, ran down past the shop and right past The Patterson’s tent-trailer and screamed, at the top of his lungs,
FUCK THE PATTERSONS!
A few years later Mr. Patterson died of a heart attack while seated in his lawn chair. He had been looking out at the lake. His ashes were scattered over his favourite fishing hole.
Leaving our sweet little cabana on the pristine sugar sand beach of West Bay, Roatan was difficult. We had spent three weeks there. Granted, Leo had been quite sick with tonsillitis, but where better for him to be sick? We had the perfect little set-up for him to let his little body work the wonders of healing. Now it would be on the road again and hoping to find another sweet situation in Granada, Nicaragua. Here is a picture of a friend we made and us snacking on tiny bananas just in front of our cabana.
We were again on the ferry from Coxen Hole (yes, HOLE!) over to La Ceiba and then over land for several legs to Granada. When we finally pulled up to our hostel, we were exhausted, dusty, tired, hungry and we had to pee. Don’t get me wrong, we did love travel. What I am attempting to purvey here is the difficulty of overland and backpacker travel. It is not all roses. No, we didn’t have to go to work everyday but, there were hardships and mishaps which made up the journey. I digress. We walked into our hostel and smiles quickly found their way onto our faces. Our hostel was ideal. There was a large inner courtyard with hammocks. There was a smallish pool in the courtyard, a telephone with free international calling, free internet and a little café with decent food and coffee. Above all, there was a very nice atmosphere to this place and many people were already approaching us in order to meet our little four-year old son and magnet of joy: Leo. Many touches of the blond hair and cheeks. Leo’s eyes were wide open, taking in all the new faces. He was such a social guy.
We were given a private room with a private bath and we quickly changed out of our dirty clothes. There was a hand-washing laundry area on the roof and that was one of my first tasks. While Dean and Leo unpacked and got cleaned up, up I went and enjoyed the effort of getting our travelling clothes washed. The scene from the roof was of variously shaped roof-lines of all manner of dwelling. There were calls of roosters and hens and backfiring car engines. There were smells of burning garbage, which is never pleasant, but which is prevalent. A note here on our attitudes regarding Leo and his welfare. One of us was ALWAYS with Leo. Not once was he, even in a friendly hostel, left with a stranger. We just had no idea what could happen to him while our backs were turned. Kidnapped? Sold? It was a constant worry for me. I clearly remember the low-level stress of that reality. Our precious son needed to be watched by us because there are crazies everywhere. And sometimes it is impossible to detect. Although, I’m pretty good at detecting it. Takes one to know one.
We met some interesting folks at this hostel. Karin from Germany. Peter from Holland and a big guy named Erild from Norway. We ended up hanging out with them for several days while in Grenada. We had met Erild of Norway in the Tegucigalpa, (the capital of Honduras) bus station where we started the second day of our journey enroute to Granada from The Bay Islands of Roatan. We shared a taxi ride from the bus station in Managua and after a couple of tries were lucky to find the great hostel here in Granada.
From an email message home:
The next day Erild, with his camera, came with us to find a playground for our little ball of pent up energy (I wonder of whom I am referring?) As luck would have it, we found a park with play equipment on the wonderfully breezy banks of the huge, fresh water sea: Lago de Nicaragua and the next day we went to a 600-meter-deep volcanic lake and spent the day at the only hotel there, swimming, basking and eating wonderful fare at the lake side restaurant retreat.
The taxi ride there was hilarious. Picture a 250-pound Norwegian squeezed into the tight front seat of a compact rust bucket. He wasn’t as comfy at the other 4.5 of us in the back seat though: Karin of Germany, Peter of Holland, Dean, Leo and I were tighter than a can of worms. We bottomed out a couple of times and all cursed in various languages (except Leo, he squealed) in unison. The taxi driver being Nicaraguan and Leo being a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. meant we had six different nationalities squashed into one little car.
We spent the day at a hectic, large, dusty market in a town called Masaya and upon our return literally ran for the pool and sizzled as we hit the cool water. I’m still wet as I try my best to put a few lines together about out latest adventures.
Tomorrow we are going on a canopy tour of Mombacho Volcano which is a 45 minute chicken bus trip at a cost of 50 cents each. The owner here, who has a four-year-old girl, says that Leo will love it. We’re hoping to see some live forest creatures. Maybe even a sloth!
From my journal, written 1 Feb 2004:
When we got on the bus this morning there was this gorgeous bright young boy of about ten or so selling squares of nutty snacks, two for one dollar. They were quite delicious. I winked at him and he didn’t really know how to react but, finally, he smiled. We gave him a pair of pants that Leo has out grown.
An email home:
Tuesday 3 Feb 2004
Canopy Tour and Haircut — a good day!
Good Morning Family!
We are leaving this hostel today and will likely not have as easy access to internet in the Pacific Coastal town of San Juan del Sur, Nica.
I couldn’t wait to tell all of you about our adventure yesterday. It was the coolest thing. We were in the canopy of the Mombachu Jungle for several hours, walking, sliding, swinging and climbing through the treetops and then abseiling down to the ground again at the very end of it. Truly awesome. Leo was gob smacked (as the UKers say), as were we. The guides geared us up with climbing gear and helmets and gave us the very serious safety talk. Leo asked a few questions! “Is this the carabineer that my gloves go on?” We could tell that he was concentrating on understanding all that was said. It was too cute. He could sense the seriousness of it.
He started off a wee bit tentative climbing up the initial ancient, massive tree — the ladder was 100 feet long and just made it to the lowest branches. (We were glad when they told us that the trees were not harmed — they strap the trees with canvas and rubber, instead of nailing them, like some of the other companies). We called to Leo, telling him he was just like Spiderman. Then we started singing the theme song: “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can…” That seemed to get him into the spirit of the thing. From there we stood on a platform, safety tied with the expensive climbing gear, while the three guides prepared us for the first rope slide to the far-off tree. Leo did that one with a guide but had so much fun and was so unafraid that the guides allowed him to do the next several slides unaccompanied and he even did the Tarzan swing and the 150-foot abseil at the end! We all had a ball. The guides decided to DROP me down the tree “Rapido” because of all my crazy antics during the tour. I thought I was going to die, for a split second there as my heart leaped into my mouth. But it was fantastic.
On the walk out of the jungle, Barcell, the Senior guide, climbed into a cocoa tree and got us a cocoa fruit. A football shaped, bright yellow fruit that he then let us sample. Very interesting. While the guide was cutting it open we were telling Leo that a Snickers Bar was inside. ha ha
The road into and out of the park was 30 minutes and was so bumpy we all had a great workout bracing ourselves. Leo was so wiped out after the tour that he actually fell asleep in my bouncing lap. It was so bumpy we couldn’t even talk but that wee guy was just pooped! We were very proud of our little guy. He is a true adventurer. This is his mother writing though, what else would I say?
Later that day, after a good, hearty lunch, I took Leo for a haircut. The haircut cost Cord 20. about $1.50 (that’s one dollar and fifty cents!!!!) but it was not just a haircut, it was a 45-minute CEREMONY. The barber, a young, perfectly groomed Nicaraguan man of about 30, was INTO IT. Seriously INTO IT. He flicked out that towel. He waved his arms around. He brushed the blond hair off his face once, twice, three times during the course of the ritualistic haircut. I was quickly understanding, as I sat and watched the other several clients being beautified: 4 men and 2 small boys, that these people take the male haircut very, very seriously. The very small boys did not so much as move a muscle for the whole thing. Conclusion: they have had haircuts of this nature from infancy. After a brief head massage and then combing, the barber removed the drape, flicked it out and called me over to inspect. I could see from my seat that it was absolutely perfect and went to hand him the money but no, there was a further step: he unwrapped a shiny new straight razor blade and made a point of me seeing that. He bent it and examined it, showed it to Leo and then put it into the straight razor. (at this point I was frantically telling Leo, it’s very, very sharp. You must stay perfectly still. Freeze, okay? His big eyes told me that he would obey. With a dab of water all along Leo’s hairline and a flourishing wave of the blade, the finishing touches were made. Then the palm-aid and combing again. This time each hair was placed with the comb. I had taken three photos by this point.
Tuesday we will leave for San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast and hopefully get Leo going on the boogie board again. We will stay there for a few days and then cross the border into Costa Rica and meet friends of ours on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Life is great. Hope this finds you all happy and wintering well. We miss you and hope to receive messages from you! We love news from home! Next up….San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua