My Yoga Vacation in Nicaragua

Gone are the politically turbulent days. Nicaragua has become an enticing retreat destination.

By Margot Dougherty
Photograph: Photo: Brown Cannon III

I have a weak spot for fortune tellers. None of them are 100 percent accurate, granted, but most manage to say something that rings bizarrely true, either by inspiration or by accident. And there’s no better time to hear a clairvoyant’s vision of what life has in store than when your status quo has blown up like a flame-torched munitions factory. Would I get a new job, would I survive as a writer, or would the oracle just ask me to leave, my prospects so dim he couldn’t bring himself to relay them?

Eliseo was seated below a heavy wooden crucifix flanked by a pair of carved angels, at a red Lucite desk with a plug-in rotating crystal prism. A thick chain with a silver cross dangled over his gray T-shirt, and his rumble of a laugh made me think he’d be fun to have a beer with. I didn’t do much talking; Eliseo just started in, and an interpreter helped with the translation. I’m not entirely confident I got the whole story, but he said I should always have dogs around because they give me solace; I could do with more pink in my bedroom; I will travel (somewhere with horses); and next year I’ll hit the jackpot in terms of love, money and career. (It does always tend to be next year with these guys.) Eliseo has a bemused certitude, and I take this $15 future and claim it as my own. Intention can create reality, right?

Amy and I rented a car and, with an exceptional 28-year-old guide named Eduardo, toured for the next few days. In Granada, a city of beautiful stone churches set on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, we had lunch at an outdoor wine bar and watched a festival. Costumed characters and horses festooned with ribbons wound through streets vibrating with music. A giant puppet of a Spanish dama, operated by a boy on stilts beneath her gown, sashayed by with a sullen transvestite in a midriff top and miniskirt waving a flat, worn pocketbook and stopping occasionally to break into a nasty little dance. Nobody seemed able to explain the symbolism. In nearby Masaya, we climbed to the gaping maw of an active volcano where vultures swooped in and out of undulating waves of smoke. We swam in a gorgeous crater lake and ate delicious vegetarian meals at roadside cafe­terias. I took a boat taxi to a new hotel, Jicaro, built on one of hundreds of isletas, the tiny islands in Lake Nicaragua believed to be remnants of a volcanic eruption. I finally felt as if we were seeing Nicaragua for real.

For our finale, we went to the northern mountains of Matagalpa and the eccentric Selva Negra (Black Forest), a 1,470-acre resort and working farm run by third-generation German Nicaraguans. Along with hiking trails, bird watching and Hansel-and-Gretel cottages with ferns and bromeliads sprouting from their roofs, Selva Negra is known for its shade-grown coffee. Whole Foods sells its beans. Mausi Kühl, a sustainability expert who owns Selva Negra with her husband, Eddy, drove us through the lush, muddy property, showing us the thousands of water bottles repurposed as insect catchers, the army of imported worms turning troughs of coffee bean detritus into rich humus, the tires repurposed as pathways, the school she runs for her farmworkers’ children. It was impossible not to be stunned by her capacity to make a remote, primitive environment so productive.

Selva Negra, like Nicaragua, like all of us, is constantly in transition. My two weeks in the country gave me a chance to remember myself as a neophyte reporter on my first trip. I’d never have known what the intervening decades would bring, and I can’t know now what the next block of time has in store. But life has a way of laying groundwork for surprises; the past and the present conspire to prepare us for the future. With luck and a little faith, we find the tools to get from one to the other with a modicum of grace. Even if it means using a basset hound as a sounding board.

Originally published in the November 2010 issue of More.

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 See also A Volunteer Vacation in India.

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