Perils of Polly: Hurricanes, volcanos in Nicaragua: Respect Nature

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2011

Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also wrote a series of "Peril" columns in 1998 about her Australian adventures. Her perils continue in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

I was finally convinced this was a hurricane. I'd never been in one before, and it really didn't seem that bad. After all, it was the day before the official opening of the hurricane season in Nicaragua, so it shouldn't be one.

But as I saw the water rising in the streets of El Viejo, becoming rushing rivers that looked like they could sweep cars away, I knew this was not the place to be. The highway wasn't much better, with its crashed vehicles and fallen trees. I pulled into the side road to Posoltega and found it littered with fallen trees. We dropped off Omar, my guide, but Arlen, my translator, told me we should not stay, but should drive to Leon where we had actual shelter, even for the car. What we didn't know at the time was that Hurricane Alma had actually come ashore at Leon.

The wind and rain gained steadily as we drove the 30 miles to Leon. Once in Leon, I discovered that neither of us really knew the way to our missionary friend's house. Water in the streets here was rising also. Dark was closing in. I was officially becoming frightened. I seem to only really get frightened if I perceive a threat to my very existence. This was definitely a threat. We prayed as we wandered the streets of identical looking buildings, water continually rising. Suddenly I saw it. "Arlen! That's it!" I stopped and he jumped out and ran to the door. My heart skipped with joy as the gates to the courtyard where we could park our car began to open. Safety! A rush of relief flooded us.

Once inside, Cheryl, the missionary friend, said they'd been without electricity for quite awhile, and were worried about fresh water. My independent Alaskan brain had a lot of trouble wrapping around the fact that there was little water, no electricity, and no one seemed concerned enough to do anything about it.

I looked at the courtyard, now being flooded with water, and asked, "Why aren't you collecting water?"

A light bulb went off, and we gathered up pails and put them at the ends of the flooding downspouts. Now, at least, we'd have drinking water plus be able to flush the toilets. I was happy to have flush toilets and didn't want a hurricane to stand in the way of that luxury.

Cheryl also complained that the showers weren't working, and one of her children had dirtied herself.

"But look at the shower!" I said, pointing to the rain in the courtyard.

We proceeded to undress the child, and Cheryl found an old pillow that had soaked up soap, and we scrubbed the child down with it, rinsing her in the downpour. The spectacle was quite hilarious.

Unfortunately, the rain stopped soon after our arrival, so we didn't collect enough water and the electricity stayed off. So still no showers, no toilets, limited food. What next?

Next was that I was supposed to go to the hospital to minister there. After a decent night's sleep in the one room that didn't have water in it, we were hoping by morning the electricity would be back on. It was on down the street and all around. But not where we were. Cheryl inquired at the hospital and discovered it was closed. The hospital was closed? How does one close a hospital? The windows had been blow out, and all the patients had been wheeled into the hallways. They didn't want visitors.

Stymied, Arlen and I drove to the coast to survey the damage there, which was more extensive than in Leon, then after another night without electricity, we decided to head south. We were going to relax and have fun.

After a hair-raising excursion through the capital, Managua, with Arlen dashing in and out of the car asking for directions, we finally arrived at one of Nicaragua's tourist attractions: Masaya Volcano. We were warned we couldn't be at the summit for more than 20 minutes because of the sulfur fumes. When we got on top, I laughed at the signs: park facing the exit. I obliged and then hiked to the very top. This was on June 2, 2008. I discovered later the volcano actually erupted on June 18, 2008, sending an American family skittering down the trail. The video is on Youtube. Nature must be respected! I bet they were glad they parked facing the exit.

On to Rivas, where three of Arlen's friends joined this gringa for an outing to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua's best resort beach. It was strewn with debris, probably from the hurricane, but we swam anyway. As I was playing in the waves, I heard an American voice and introduced myself. She was not only American, but from Palmer, Alaska!

As night approached, so did a thunderstorm. Once again, I was faced with driving in a torrential downpour, now at night, and instead of crashed vehicles -- I was the only one on the road -- I was faced with another dilemma that flashed me back to my first night in La Fortuna.

Check back next week for more ...

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