We left early, just after sunrise, to catch two buses to a laguna near the cinder-red, active volcano Momotombo. Then we wound down a narrow dirt road, deep volcanic sand underfoot. On the way we caught a glimpse of a bright blue and green bird with a long, plumed tail, called a guardabarranca. Then more birds rustling in the trees, and small lizards that dashed across the road. After paying a $2 entry fee (foreigner rate) we turned north and headed uphill to a small mirador, a wood and thatch structure on stilts open on all sides to views of the laguna below and volcanoes in every direction.
I floated on my back in the tepid water, which was clear past my feet even in the depths away from the shore. From the lake, the forest appeared to cling to the slopes of the caldera like green fur, vines and foliage draped from one tree to the next in a dense canopy. Clouds wrapped around the twin volcanoes above the laguna, and a plume of smoke vented from one, the more active El hoyo.
The laguna was a cool refuge not just from the sun but from the tiny, relentless black ants that attached to, then bit, any available limb on shore, and also pesky black-and-yellow centipedes, a dozen of which crossed my towel as I tried to relax out of the water. Also on the shore narrow-winged orange butterflies drank from the dark sand.
I had come with a young German couple, whose interest in each other soon outweighed my interest in being a third wheel, so I returned on my own, passing a couple other Nicaraguans and three foreign tourists. I saw more wildlife on the way back, quiet in my thoughts and observations. I passed a pile of cow dung covered in small orange butterflies, which rose in a cloud. A pair of bright orioles flew over me as I walked and jays called noisily from the trees. A bright green lizard ran across the road, then turned to look back at me, opening its pink mouth.
At the empalme, the junction where I waited for the bus back, a man I’d seen on the bus paused to ask me where I was going. His t-shirt read (in English), “The hardest job you’ll ever love,” with a picture of a father and son. “¿Anda paseando?” he asked, leaning on a post, “Travelling on?” “Yes,” I said, “I’m going back to Leon.” He asked if I had been to the laguna, and I said yes. “How was it?” he asked. “Beautiful,” I replied, “Have you been there?” “No,” he said, and I wondered how someone who lived so close could avoid visiting such a beautiful place. Or, to phrase it differently, what leads me to the laguna, and not he?