After the arrest, the lightning storms and the dogbite, our honeymoon went really well.
The arrest happened the day after our wedding, which was also the day before we were due to go on honeymoon. It was for a supposed infraction of driving laws, which later, we were proven innocent of. At the time, it confused our law-abiding newly-wed souls horribly, and we had to add crying and a sense of injustice to a busy schedule of packing away a DIY wedding and packing for a honeymoon, having a rushed dinner with family and squeaking ‘we got married!’ to each other. Then we flew for 20 hours to Managua. We had meant to learn Spanish for the experience, but didn’t quite make it to linguistic competence – at all. At all. Our first taxi driver was very disapproving of us. Then, to show forgiveness, he switched the conversation, in English, to football. We know nothing about football. We were social failures already, as we drove around a city where the streets have no names and the hotel had an address which was something like ‘to the left of all these things and opposite another place.’ However the hotel manager seemed to like us, and was welcoming and interesting, and the food and beer delicious and very welcome. It was midnight and just before I fell asleep I looked at the sign on the back of the door and thought ‘well, nothing says HONEYMOON like an order against bringing prostitutes to your room.’
The next day we flew again, this time from Managua to the Corn Islands. Great Corn and Little Corn are set in the azure Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua, an enclave of a different language (a Creole) and culture, far away from Managua and mainstream Nicaragua.
We stayed in a hotel which was a small string of huts along the shore, 20 feet from the sea. This became particularly exciting on our first night there as the wind rose, and the storm started to howl, and the rain lashed the timbers of our hut. I peeked out of the window a couple of times to see how high the sea intended to rise, then quit, as there was nothing much I could do about it. Toby developed a post-wedding fatigue fever and lay in bed moaning ‘we’ve come on honeymoon by mistake.’ As the wind buffeted us I lay next to my sick husband with the guidebook in my hand and considered whether we should fly to Mexico or the USA . The next day the winds dropped. The rain continued all day, Toby was still very tired, and we read books and I got lost in imaginary worlds of talking wolves and friendly trolls. The day after that, the sun came out, and we explored. It was beautiful. It was also very poor. Not direly so, as there were schools, health facilities and a lobster processing industry, but still very poor. Workers looked at us as we moved hand in hand along the bays near our hotel. Two bays along was a major beach, about a kilometre of white sands. There were five other people there. Discretion seemed to dictate that we should stay at least 200m away from the next nearest human but I was still slightly freaked out by too much time spent reading about talking wolves and I snuck us closer and closer to the family playing cheerful salsa.
Every now and then the sky darkened, and we’d move under a beach umbrella in case another storm was coming, like that would help. Nobody could sell us lobster or a cocktail, and we felt bad for asking. We said hi to the other couple staying at the hotel, and the guy, a USAID staffer, remarked that he liked to go on holiday to places where there were no other people. We took the hint and left them alone. Three more days passed in this place and the clouds came and went over paradise, and on the last evening there, our hotel’s dog bit me in the leg on my way back from the beach. The USAID guy popped out, interested in my yelling, and remarked that there would be no rabies on this island, or we’d know about it already and I was lucky that it was a well-looked-after dog but I should probably put some iodine on it. I texted a pharmacist friend in the UK for advice and then we called one of the local taxis that had seats, a wheel and a gearstick, and drove to the local hospital. They were fantastic and gave me tetanus and bandaged me up but I had a six inch bruise going all round my leg for the rest of the holiday and couldn’t swim. Nothing says ‘honeymoon’ like a surgical stocking. At this point, Toby announced through gritted teeth that we were not on honeymoon, we were on Marriage Bootcamp. It’s where they send idiots to toughen them up to survive the real rigours of marriage. We’d given up on having fun. But then we went to Omotepe and the honeymoon bit of things really began.
Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I look up imaginary places on Google maps. Omotepe should be one of those places, except unlike Moominvalley, Mordor and Gormenghast, it’s real, but really, really beautiful. Omotepe is not really an island with volcanos, it is two volcanos where people have farmed the lush, fertile skirts of the fire-mountains. We stayed in a cabana at a resurrected old farm, San Juan de la Isla. The gorgeous old dark wood hacienda had been sinking back into the island from whence it came, but its new owners found it and brought it back to life, repaired the roofs and fixed up the timbers, strewed it with hammocks and rocking chairs so you step through the gates and walk down the paths to the crackle of cicadas to a place to sit that murmurs, come here, rest your legs, would you like some peace? And a rum and guava cocktail? And from almost every angle you could see one of the two volcanos – the one with straight sides like a pile of grey sugar, and the one which was all crumbled away like a sandcastle after the tide.
Ometepe is brighter with colours than a pack of wine gums, more serene than the storks that flag their way along the grey sand volcanic beaches, humming loudly with the life of its insects, rustling with lizards. One day we saw a yellowish green snake shooting away from us through the undergrowth, and I thought: after all, doesn’t every honeymooning couple feel like Adam and Eve, and here we are in our own paradise with the serpent circling that tree.
Our guide Nevtali showed us a bright bright berry bush on a hike to a waterfall: the solanacio plant. Apparently snakes eat its violently red and horribly poisonous fruit to encourage the development of their venom, but researchers believe that the extract may also cure eye infections. Thus are pain and healing intertwined in one double helix of DNA. The biological station is collecting and studying the properties of many such plants, of which the scientific community at large is yet ignorant, and Nevtali, our guide, collects them.
Our last stop was Granada. Originally we had been enchanted with the idea of Leon, the dark, brooding leftwing brother to the pretty, conservative Granada. Before I left, I told my sister this and she blanched, and said ‘maybe Granada would be better.’ After finally unwinding and realising that we were on honeymoon and not on a pilgrimage of political philosophies, and that our Spanish was still truncated and useless, and we would quite like to be able to walk some streets after dark, we agreed, and switched itinerary.
Granada was perfect for honeymooners . There is a beautiful central square with a delicious streetfood kiosk in each corner, under trees. Horse drawn carriages line the square and regular Granadians use them as taxis, and the tourists can hire them for an hour’s touring – what else would tourists like us do? Our driver was called Byron. ‘Como la poeta?’ I asked. ‘Si, como la poeta Americano.’ Every night I ordered ‘national cocktail’ (rum and guava) and ceviche. We rowed through only splash-broken silence round little islands on Lake Granada, with the sun setting on the water and a ring of volcanos peacefully guarding the horizon.
On the taxi back to Managua, our driver pointed out that one of the volcanoes was puffing out ash. ‘The volcanoes are very beautiful,’ I said in Spanish. ‘Yes,’ he replied, like a proud father. We had discussed poets and volcanoes, our Spanish was still useless but at least we had touched on the important things of life.
At the airport, I cried.
‘I’m sorry,’ I explained to the staff. ‘I just really don’t want to leave Nicaragua.’
A few months later, the arrest was shown up as a miscarriage of justice it really was once, and we are once more citizens of unblemished driving records. Phew. And the dogbite didn’t carry rabies and has healed, and the worst the lightening storm could do was drive me to regress to childhood and read all the Moomin books I could download to my Kindle. We survived marriage bootcamp. We’ll go back to the volcano.