The man from Granada, Nicaragua
April 13, 2017
It sounded more like the edge of an African savannah than a nearby rain forest in Costa Rica. Howler monkeys will do that to you. They greet the sunrise like a pack of angry dogs equipped with a lion’s roar. It was 5:15 a.m. and our Costa Rican guide who was to lead our journey into Nicaragua was already 15 minutes late. Every brochure and travel book we had read emphasized the punctuality we could expect while touring Costa Rica and we always had.
Just then, Luis pulled up to the entrance gate of our hotel and saluted us with, “Pura Vida,” the widely used national greeting which literally means pure life. He also apologized for the tardiness. At the last minute a California couple and their three teenage daughters decided to ride along on our excursion. At first, I was taken aback — literally, way back to the rear seats where the vehicle’s shocks had no chance of cushioning the bumpy roads we were about to traverse. There are plenty of bad things in Nicaragua and roads are one of them. With the parents sitting near the front of the van, our traveling partners became three shy and well behaved teenagers. I broke the ice when I let out an expletive-filled utterance following a series of particularly bad bumps.
“Holy crap, I feel like a gosh-darned kangaroo!” was similar to what I said as the 17-year-old tried to stifle her laughter.
Today, I will address the beauty of Nicaragua that few Americans have heard about. An hour’s drive up the Pacific coast landed us at the "Frontier," the border of Nicaragua. Having experienced at least a hundred border crossings in my lifetime, I was filled with apprehension about this one. Nicaragua is a leftist/socialist country to which the United States is not friendly.
My wife and I were expecting, “Passport please,” from the stern military style immigration officer. Instead, our tour guide, Luis, asked for everyone’s passports as we exited the bus. Luis appeared to be very familiar with immigration officials.
He told us, “You are free to roam around the market area. This will take about 20 minutes.”
Soon we were back in the van on our way to Lake Nicaragua, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in Central America. Once inside, we played the old game of musical chairs. Luis asked if I would ride shotgun. Of course I took him up on his offer and, thus, I got the best seat of the tour. He wanted the center seat in order to give his spiel about the niceties and history of Nicaragua. With just a tinge of guilt about my wife still stuck in the bumpy rear, I soon forgot her situation and engaged with my newly found best friend.
I asked Luis, “¿De dónde es?”
He replied, “I was born and raised in the place where we are going today, Granada, Nicaragua.”
“Where are you from?” he replied.
“I’m from Minnesota,” I said.
This is the way conversations went during our entire visit to Central America. Most Costa Ricans are bilingual and proud of it. I would speak my best Spanish and get answered with their best English. I soon discovered their worst English was better than my best Spanish. Meanwhile, my wife sat in the back of the bus repressing her laughter.
“Do you know Dennis Martinez?” Luis asked.
I thought for a minute before I replied, “You mean the beisbol player? Wasn’t he a pitcher?”
Luis replied, “Si! He was the first and greatest beisbol player to come from Nicaragua. He grew up in our neighborhood in Granada and is a good friend of our family.”
“Do you remember Kirby Puckett?” Luis asked.
I wanted to reply that of course all Minnesotans know who Kirby Puckett was, until a light bulb turned on in my otherwise shaded brain. It was at that moment I realized the reason for Luis to ask such an inane question.
“Wow!” I exclaimed to Luis. “Dennis Martinez threw the final pitch of Kirby Puckett’s career!”
Kirby got hit by a fastball to the face and his jaw was broken. Unbeknownst at the time, it was the last pitch Puckett would ever see. The following spring at training camp, Kirby Puckett woke up one morning unable to see out of one eye. Ironically, it was glaucoma-related and had nothing to do with the pitch Martinez had thrown. However, before either player knew of the blindness yet to come, Dennis Martinez felt so bad about the errant pitch he sought out Puckett during the off-season to personally apologize.
Next week, I'll have a few more praises to lavish about Dennis Martinez and a lot more stories about the stunning places and people of Nicaragua.