Matagalpa Travel Blog

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Matagalpa, Nicaragua


   "she lost it."



Rumour had it, among my friends back at York, that I'd gone thru some kinda nervous breakdown before I left...


        you always told me i was so smart


'You will be a doctor,'  you said. 

'Or a lawyer.

Matagalpa Street

'Sit up straight now, Gayle.  What would the Queen say if she saw you all slouched down like that?'


My grandmother was a proud, imposing woman of Anglo-Irish heritage. ...She convinced me I was the smartest thing in the world...


"Which way's left?"  I fiddle with my map of the Matagalpa streets.  Try to turn it in a direction so that the street I am facing will point "up" on the page.  North South East West. Fah!   I just want to move forward, see.  The brain shrugs off all other information.



Turn the next corner & there's a little blackhaired girl.  Maybe five. Shuffling to the sidewalk in front of me.  Her shift grey, tattered edge for a hem. Her feet bare.  She has her little brother's fist in one grubby hand, & he is looking up at her with half expectant cloudy eyes.  She drops his hand for a second in order to sort the candy end of a rotting kleenex and newspaper wad, plucked, a precious contribution, from its home in her gutter.  When she glances my way, she has to squint thru the sun.  And her eyes refract the glare like a computer simulated explosion sequence on a Nintendo screen.  Or maybe like the startled surface of a Toronto suburban pool following the splash of an evening dive.


            the world is full of ghosts





"Life is where the meanings are" or

"Why history began yesterday"



Un-biographical notations


...The year after my father died, I decided I wanted to be an artist.  My sketches, childish & uncertain, were scattered about the house. Stuck in books. In the margins of my scribblers at school.  When I had no paper, I'd draw on my skin.  I drew pictures on my hands in class. 


...My grade six teacher, rolling her eyes: "What is it this time Gayle?"  as she points me in the direction of soap & water, hardly bothering to glance at the tattoo I had created. 


         a sea green princess wrapped in silk

        formlessness, waiting to be unravelled



"Why can't you be like all the other girls your age?" my mother wants to know.


"It could be she's a slow learner" my teachers would explain. "Except she does so well on the exams..."


I know the grades are important because my grandfather gives me five dollars for every A. I'm rich. & I'm off. One of many aborted attempts to run away from home. My mother is working the evening shift, which means my older brother is in charge.  ...Never much liked his sense of justice. (Right and wrong are generally a matter of perspective, always location specific.)


I head out along the railroad tracks, picking my way across the rough gravel, stopping to take note here & there of the satiny orange petals of a cowslip or the pungent aroma of a purple thistle.  Cat-tails are my favourite.  I find them in a hollow dip--a breath of life where the scarce water can collect--the closest thing in this arid district to the bogs of Mogli & his jungle friends. Momentarily distracted from the purpose of running away, I make a mental note of the area. Knowing the location of  young bull-rushes is strategic. Cat-tail fights among the town's children were notorious. 


Calling up the botanical names of familiar flowers, I try to make the walk a game. But the path today is less colourful than when Heather and I wandered it last week--some of the charm fading in light of my recent fight.  No matter what the tactics, I would always lose to Bob.  He was two years older.  & he was a boy.


"Fuck..."  I try the sound of the forbidden word, mostly curious about the effect.  The noise flushes a magpie from the rushes. Its white & black majestic, although, truth be told, its short harsh caw is somewhat disappointing.  Like something caught between fear & humiliation.  An hour passes & I am only two miles from town. At the trestle I decide to leave the tracks. Make my way carefully down the steep incline of the man-made earth bridge, & sprawl out in the coarse grasses next to the creek.  If I pluck a blade and suck on it, I can pretend I have no brothers; I can braid my hair in pigtail ropes; I can be Orphan Annie. 


Just before I fall asleep, I remember thinking that the five o'clock train would be coming soon.


"You were always dreaming, Gayle" she'd say. "Not a practical bone in your body."


Things are different now.


You learn you've gotta keep your feet on the ground when the world is shaking beneath you.  Illusions of solidity dissolve with volcanoes and earthquakes.


We think the world is told thru our choice of images... the Faux Realism of stories tying us to a world that makes up enemies just to forge a sense of purpose.  Where wars are fought, and all reasoning is sugar coated with a sickly syrup nationalism--buying and selling candy floss ideologies. Where people find the most direct and most convenient route to the "wherever" of a chosen destination, but who seem to be forever  wearing out and using up dreams.  Like old shoes.  Our footsteps stamping out the only paths. Posting signs in our wake saying: "This way to Heaven"  ..."Sorry, tho, there's a few restrictions on immigration."  


So many years with books.  I have almost thirty years of unlearning to do.


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"I sometimes think we are choking on a language of superficial expectations," I say by way of apology to my German companion the morning after Arenal.  It was my code for "No, I won't be engaging in wild passionate moments of abandon  with you."


"I've never slept in the same room as a beautiful girl, and not done something," he responds, somewhat deflated.


   how cynical am i?





OK, so the happily ever after for the nuclear family stuff will be replaced in my story by the in-flight outer skin of leave taking. Flaking and scaly from overexposure to sunny-promises.  Allow me to take a moment in order to describe the late-twentieth-century travelling subculture. Things were different then.




Our members are easily identifiable by their imagination's isotopic nucleus of unstable elements. [i.e. We're not likely to be married, we probably drink too much, we have no jobs, no aspirations to picket fences and re-production, we dream about clouds without silver linings, & we're only half ironic about watching anti-nuc demonstrations with a benevolent cheer from the couch and television sidelines.] We have double vision.  Can't quite decide on the red or the blue of our 3D lenses. Ah, the melodrama of choosing which one best reflects the fears and fantasies of a violent end as they invade our collective psyche and time rips us into the twenty-first century; it's all too much for us.  We're given to hyperbole. Breathing cold war nuclear metaphors.  ...Nuclear: a containment field.  Harnessed energy stretching from bedroom to kingdom, angry and thick. Douglas Coupland, king of alienated angst, called us the "x"es, a generation that knows futurelessness.  Intimately. 



There is no 2.




If someone drew you a picture, all the while asking you to try and guess what it represented, and if she started with only two lines, you might want to hedge your bet. Wait for more detail. If she then added another line, you might still request time without giving up on the game.  But if the next time she showed you the drawing, the page which had previously been blank was now covered by so many lines, the ink seemed to coalesce into a solid block, you might protest the principles at work, thinking that the design was never meant to look like anything at all.


 why is darkness always described as descending ?




Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Matagalpa Street
Matagalpa Street
photo by: Makkattack