- It's beautiful!
- Yup... I don’t think I can afford it though.
- He's a hippie! I'm sure he doesn't care.
Kristy rested at the hotel while I took La Chichona to the mechanic. The morning in shithole town was like any other morning in a shithole town. Junkies did their thing and brave people went to work. The two times I sat alone on the sidewalk, a shady character closed in like a shark circling its prey. By early afternoon, most of the repairs were done, but La Chichona was still not ready. We left anyway.
A watchful cop at the border wanted to charge me $ 50 for the extra gas tank I had in the trunk. He said I could use it to make Molotov cocktails. It made sense considering what Nicaragua had been through. I agreed to pay, but before handing him the money, I asked for a receipt. He muttered something so I suggested to go to the customs office and get it there, with his name, the official stamp and all. The cop fiddled for an excuse."You don't look like a terrorist", he said, and let me go. Good man. That bulldog back at the US customs thought otherwise.
We reached the city of León, Nicaragua, in the late afternoon. León had a colonial architecture too but unlike Antigua, Guatemala, it was not a Unesco World Heritage. Actually, it felt like a cheap Antigua; an Antigua without gardens, volcanoes, or Baroque churches. The streets were dirty, uneven, and incredibly hot. The paved roads and lack of trees acted as a giant furnace, keeping humans sweaty and rats warm. We crawled out of the evening traffic and drove west on the last stretch to the coast.
The signs to Las Penitas pointed to a ghost town. Street lamps, far apart, looked like candlelights in a crypt. The only "bright" light was that of a hotel where we crashed. Though, the morning was mystical; a depiction of The Old Man and the Sea. Fishermen worked their nets. Little boats formed a line in an immense lagoon where the water faded lazily through the mangrove. Seagulls walked behind the boats, and waves rolled far at sea. After breakfast, we started our quest for a place to stay, somewhere quiet to rest and recover.
Las Penitas was a desolation row, literally. A single street ran the length of the beach, a beach long enough to tire a horse, with houses and shops built along it. Due to the 2018 crisis, most hotels and businesses had shut down. “Se vende” signs collected the sea spray before abandoned houses, the rusty ruins of a forgotten place. And like an old cemetary, it was quiet. No cars. No people. No reggaeton. The perfect place after shithole town. We had found our heaven.
In our search, we stumbled upon a fair of artists and hippies. Among them was Don, a tall American in his sixties, who offered to sublet part of his place. Don was a Woodstock relic. His long grey hair held by a blue bandana fell over a shaggy tunic. He did not make the best first impression. I was revulsed by his nails, Kristy by his toenails. He had decaying teeth, and the poor sympathetic smile of a harmless hippie. He said the villa was way too big for him. The three of us left the fair to check it out.
Don pushed a blue wooden door and entered a large open patio. From the garden, we could see the waves, open the gate and walk to the beach. The design was brilliant; lots of open spaces which breathed in a fresh sea draught. It looked like a carribean drug dealer house. I knew I could not afford it, but Kristy negotiated a deal with Don. She guessed right. Don did not care much about money. He just wanted some company. Don made us a cheap offer and we moved in on the spot. May God always feed hippies.
I unloaded La Chichona and dropped her at a mechanic to finish the brake job. With her out of the picture, we could finally enjoy Las Penitas. I found my routine. Kristy found hers. Because of her neck pain, she could not surf or do much yoga. Don suggested psychedelics. Acid was his solution to everything. He was a bit off, but a really nice guy with lots of crazy stories. Every other day, Kristy tried a different cure for her pain: natural balms, essential oils, acupuncture, etc. In the end, she went to León for a medical exam.
Ten days passed in our quiet paradise. La Chichona was at the mechanic. I was surfing everyday. Don was tripping, and Kristy was taking care of herself. Despite her medication, she was melting like an ice cube in the sun. I was worried, but Kristy never complained.
On the second Thursday at 3 am, a strong pressure pulled me from my dreams. I turned on the light and saw Kristy clutching to my arm. Tears ran down her cheeks. Her eyes, panic-wide. Her body twitched. Her grip tightened.
- Ha... ha… can’t… ha... breathe.