|So, we get ourselves over the border, and in reality, all things told and the experience behind us, it wasn't so bad. The worse thing is not feeling as though you can trust what you're being told. You depend on that trust, and for us, as Americans perhaps (or Jon perhaps in total darkness when it comes to the language), we're used to having signs in the right place with the correct information and when you ask the man standing on the corner, "Hey, where's that bus go?" You take for granted that he could have some reason to mislead you. The other thing worthy of comment is the profound difference with which these types of situations (ie. 7 hour border crossings) are dealt with by the Central American populace. If you ask the average American consumer to wait on a 38 minute line at Borders Books to buy a gift card, you'd have a few more than one of them screaming for the manager or a free cup of over-priced coffee for his discomfort. We weren't alone (anything but alone) in our waiting, and there were I'm sure those who waited prodigiously longer than we, but you wouldn't have known that this was the longest line that a person had ever waited on in the long line that is the corner stone of our contemporary society. People were waiting, but not with protest. We saw a couple of eyes roll here and there, but people chilled and waited their turn (for the most part) and passed the day as though there might be no other better place to be. Fortunately, however, we found one place better to be. And it was worth the wait in that line and the sketchiness of the bus station, and its name was and continues to be - Granada.
We traveled with our new companions, Michael and Laura, about an hour taxi ride to Granada. We stayed our first night in a comfy little hostel called The Oasis, but we realized soon enough that although this place was nice it lacked the proper atmosphere we found ourselves in need of for the upcoming Christmas celebration. We had told M & L (from Chicago and Washington state respectively) that we would perhaps meet them at their hostel later in the afternoon for a reputed happy hour. Their place was only a few blocks down the street, and as the next few days rolled into one we were happy to call this place home. The Bearded Monkey, to which we moved over to the following day, is a larger hostel than the others we've stayed in. It had a festive mood and it has provided us with the opportunity to meet a plethora of new friends from around the globe over the last several days. As we write this now, there is a festive group of internationals recounting their favorite Seinfeld episodes of all time. You'd enjoy the varying attempts (and accents) of their various Kramer impersonations.
Michael and Laura, it should be noted, became nice friends over these days, and it was Michael, looking for an opportunity to involve himself in the community perhaps, who initiated an idea to provide some Christmas cheer to a neighborhood all-girl orphanage. Granada is a beautiful, Spanish influenced city with wonderful architecture, a vibrant down town, and a generous people. Like all cities, however, it has its lost children, but thanks for some, these girls at the orphanage (run by nuns) seemed happy angels in a harsh potential tragedy. Together, with the additional help from Quebecian Pete and Angie, the six of us put together a humble assortment of art supplies and board games to bring the girls for Christmas. We pooled our money, had a wrap session at the hostel, and (only speaking for ourselves here) walked nervously to the orphanage.
There is too much to be said about the injustices of the world to try going on about it here, but there is nothing so profoundly saddening than seeing an orphan on Christmas eve. We grew up with so much, and you could say "too much" if you wanted to talk about the GI Joes and the Barbie Dolls. But "so much" constitutes the love of our families, not to mention the presence of our families. To have a family at all is easy to take for granted. And so, for that, we were reminded, and so long as this doesn't contradict what's just been written at this paragraph's outset, we can even say that there was something not-so-sad about the orphanage. We can say this because, even though there were no mom's or dad's, there were sisters (religious as well as literal ones) and together we've never seen anything so much like a family. The girls were happy to see us, and as the awkward ice broke away from the introductions (and the reasoning for our presence) it became clear that Christmas (which we reject on philosophical/religious grounds) was never so true in meaning. We played with the girls - they were infinitely more interested in our digital cameras than the bags of presents we had brought - and in the end, although hard to leave, it was obvious that girls had brightened our holiday much more than we possibly could have brightened theirs. For that, we thank our new friend, Mike, who made it happen, and thank those nuns, for dedicating their good lives to those young women.
We left the orphanage a little awed and a little silenced, but it was too obvious a good to analyze too much. Besides, back at The Bearded Monkey, in a totally different world, there was a party to be had, and if you're gonna spend a Christmas away from your family in a central american city, you'd be as lucky to be in Granada, Nicaragua than anywhere else...
The hostel owners, Tom & Kelli, organize a Xmas Eve bash for their guests and friends which includes a city-wide scavenger hunt, wacky mystery punch, pool and dart tournament, and Yankee swap gift exhange. For the scavenger hunt we united with M & L as the ridiculously titled ' Team Head-dropper'. Silly name, but not so the ruthlessness with which we played and won. Scrambling over the city we gathered the needed clues and objects, and with record speed established ourselves as the team to beat. Unbeknownst to us, however, the whole race was just a warm-up for the real contest - a song and dance routine to be judged by a senior panel of British ex-pats. With a quick rehearsal period, some xmas tissue paper costumes, and a commitment to improvisation we took "I'm Dreaming of White Christmas" to new heights, and with a funky dance finale we took the grand prize - a shot of cheap Nicaraguan white rum. Later on, they threw in a couple of tshirts as well.