Lessons from a hiking trip


lessons from hiking

In Rwanda I wrote about life lessons from a pool hall, but Nicaragua is all about climbing volcanoes. So here we have it:

0: Just getting started.

Your first few steps towards the ultimate goal will be met with excitement and enthusiasm, often followed by burning sensations and your mind starting to fill with doubt as you realize you are more tired in those first few steps that you had anticipated. Getting started is the easiest and most difficult part of reaching any goal. Make it through this phase, and you’re ready for the climb.

1: Keep your head up.

Don’t forget to admire the world around you. It’s natural to keep your eyes on the ground, by your feet, carefully stepping and avoiding obstacles that may make you stumble. Take the time to stop and look at the beauty around. Otherwise, you may just miss out on the whole purpose of the journey itself.

2: Admire the view below, too.

Don’t forget to look down.

It’s easy to constantly look up and be discouraged by the next challenge ahead, the winding and arduous incline that you have yet to conquer. Take the time to look back down the path you’ve traveled, and to admire the view from which you are standing. Happiness and self-contentment is so hard to reach because it’s always placed ahead of where we currently are. Remember how far you’ve climbed, and be proud of the sweat, blood, and tears payed to get you there. You are ever so slightly stronger than you were, and closer to your goal.

3: Keep pace.

Midway through the climb, you’ll feel the beads of sweat dripping down like a waterfall and the weight of the life-supply baggage on your shoulders making you ever-more grounded. Your legs seem to tire more quickly now, and your pace will slow. You start to doubt your ability to make it. Find that spot in your mind and remember the words of Rocky Balboa:

[Just] Keep. Moving. Forward.

4. Don’t compare.

There will always be someone in better condition on the climb. That person who zoomed to the top, jogged back down to check on you, and made it up before you can say “my vision isn’t working anymore”. Don’t compare yourselves to them, for it robs you of your accomplishments. Besides, there will be things that you see and experience for your harder and longer-lived journey that you were able to see for it. Be the hero of your own story.

5. You will make it….mostly because you have to.

On one of our climbs, a person turned around, sat down and said “I don’t think I can make it.” The logical counterpart to that emotional reaction is this: the alternative to ‘making it’ is dying on a volcano or possibly learning to live in the central american cloud forest. That person ended up making it to the end just fine. The reason?

We’re all a whole hell of a lot more capable than we give ourselves credit for, and for most of us that only really comes out when he have to push ourselves, left with no other choice.

6. Top will be the reward

At some point you’ll reach the top. Relief will hit, as will a sense of accomplishment. All of the grueling work will turn from regret to pride almost instantaneously. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the reward of vantage point that widens the lens in which you view the world, even if just momentarily. Enjoy it while you can.

The next challenge awaits.

Also, coming back down the mountain, which is a huge pain in the culo.


Unexpected Exhibit

Unexpected Exhibit

Our Saturday was jam packed with Nicaraguan adventures, but I want to focus on one at a time. One favorite was a visit to a museum – bare with me!

We walked into a tiny museum made up of a few small rooms. Within a few minutes, one of the students knocked over an ancient pot meant to be a gift to appease a god. Great, I thought, a pissed off Nicaraguan god is exactly what I’ve been missing in my life.

Surprisingly, the museum employee laughed it off, making a joke about drinking too much aguardiente (corn liqueur). She continued her tour in roadrunner-speed spanish as the people who didn’t understand nodded politely at times that felt appropriate.

With the language barrier, some of these artifacts lost appeal relatively quickly, but the true gem of that museum wasn’t kept behind a pane of glass.

Eventually, once nearly everyone had left, I heard an older man speaking adamantly with a student. I was immediately drawn in, trying to keep up with the conversation. He spoke of the Nicaraguan revolution. He described women fighting among men, and children being charged with using sticky bombs, many times with devastating consequences.

As he spoke, we moved towards a glass cabinet which held photographs of various soldiers, protesters, and political activists during that time. Almost nonchalantly, he pointed to the picture you see above.

“The second person back from the driver, is me”, he says in Spanish.

He began to speak of his own stories during the war, motioning to his cane and explaining that it was this war that caused his injury.

When asked about another image on the wall, he replied, “That…was my father.”

The man in the picture wore a white uniform that was distinctly official, in contrast with the appearance of the revolution soldiers. There, he stood with a straight back in front of a line of soldiers,  clearly an officer of sorts.

This man’s father was part of the Nicaraguan army, he said, before he was exiled. His father then returned to fight in the revolution. This was a war, he said, that effected three generations of his family and others.

Intermingled between the interesting anecdotes of soldiers using pinatas for target practice and details of their various enemies in that war was this concept that he kept coming back to: This war was one that effected three generations.

The cost was high, and paid for by children and grandchildren, alike.

This random man, given the time to be heard, was revealed to be both a respected historian and a revolutionary soldier. His own experiences held an irreplaceable historical value that will inevitably become lost history, no different than the stories of those old artifacts who can no longer capture the emotion inherent with a person of their time.

I asked the man for a picture, and he obliged excitedly. Immediately he threw his arm around my shoulder with the ease and comfort of a grandfather.

There is something about the way certain people interact with you that immediately communicates solidarity between humans. It’s rare and simply, but it’s grand.

When I thanked him for sharing his stories, he responded with a smile and the response you would expect from a soldier.

“It’s my duty.”


Las Flores (Week One)

Las Flores (Week One)

A former patron here in Nicaragua repeats his mantra:

“You are the person who sees the poverty, or the one who sees the flowers.”

I wake up in the morning to sunlight that effortlessly penetrates the roofless hallway outside of my door. Throughout the night I am woken up periodically by fireworks, ‘bombas’, exploding as a result of a religious festival. I am told this could last up to a month.

This has yet to be proven wrong.

I enjoy a cold shower, knowing that once I walk outside I will be sweating in a matter of minutes, as a result of little to no activity, outside of existing.

Walking down the road, I pass buildings that stretch the length of the block, each composed of different colored homes and stores. Each night new ones are open, revealing something as common as a corner store, or as ghastly as a coffin shop.

In the distance, a beautiful forest-covered volcano can be seen. It is one of many, including one in which is active and can be seen, in the right place, to be shining its lava’s red glow to light the clouds above it. Down the road is the shore of a large lake, with several horses grazing nearby.

In the center of town is a busy tourist square, complete with souvenirs and horse-pulled chariots. A bright yellow cathedral begs for attention, while another in the distance confesses its historical significance through its worn stone walls.

Not one day passed before I was reassured of my decision to come. Once again in a foreign land, I am returned to the present.

I hear it again: “You are the person who sees the poverty, or the one who sees the flowers.”

Each night, I strip down and lay flat on my bed with my arms and legs stretched toward its corners like a little kid on their parent’s a king sized bed for the first time. The heat is so strong that each pass of the fan brings a small interval of solace I look forward to. There, I await the sound of the ‘bombas’ to yank me from my dreams. Ahead of me is a day of work, along with challenges in even the most trivial tasks, from greeting someone to doing laundry.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Did I mention the flowers here are beautiful?


I am packing once again, now a ritual of realizing my personal minimum material needs and a challenge to reduce them.

I won’t be packing much.

The act itself is therapeutic, like tidying a room on a Sunday morning. Simultaneously, it initiates butterflies, demanding reflection on what may lie ahead and what I leave behind.

For the next two months, Nicaragua will be my home.

The thing is that I don’t know why I’m going.

I know what for and what I will be doing there. The pragmatic reasons for going are clear. But underneath, there is more. Contrary to everything else, exploring is one desire that I do not question. It feels like the right thing to do. Something in my gut yearns for it, always.

Why Nicaragua, though, I do not yet know. It chose me. As I write this, I realize that despite having been to many places,

I have never once chosen my destination.

The Push to go comes from within, and comes as easy as breathing does.

But the Pull, the destinations, are different. Maybe I’m on a plane to Europe since a dream is there, or I’m landing in Africa because that’s where the work is. Perhaps I’m on a train to a place where my heart was taken.

My gut tells me to go. But only in the end will the world will tell me why.

Some places I went to learn what it means to struggle or be hungry, and to break preconceptions. Others I went to find forgiveness or to learn what love is. Some I went to learn what exploration is, and to discover things bigger than I.

Many I went to just to learn what it means to leave.

So now I go to Nicaragua with plenty of reasons to go, but without truly knowing why. But I will soon, and so will you.

In this blog, I hope to share what I learn through discovery. Yes, some of this will be about travel and cultural experiences here on Earth, and others about exploring the Universe we all-too-often ignore.

But discovery isn’t limited to travel or being abroad, nor to this planet or space. It’s hidden in the oddities of life, in thoughts not yet thought, and words not yet spoken. It waits in reinvention of one’s life and in trying something new, eternally hiding just outside our comfort zone, only to be seen by those living in the present.

As an explorer of my own mind and the world around me, it’s my job and genuine pleasure to share my findings, in hope that we all learn from one another.

I was wrong.

It seems that I’m going to have a lot to unpack.