Pology Magazine  -  Adventures in Travel and World Culture.
Travel and World Culture   
Image: Nicaragua
 Photo: Devorah Klein
Image: Nicaragua
  Photo: Devorah Klein

Ometepe, Nicaragua: And The Band Played On
By Devorah Klein

I awake startled. I try to focus my eyes, but lines of wet clothing criss-cross the room and obscure my vision. There is a banging noise in my ears and I can’t decipher what it is or where it’s coming from. My roommates awaken, bleary-eyed as well, and from beyond the wall of clothes, someone shouts, “What the hell is that?”

I stumble to the window and peer out. Slowly I begin to recognize the noise as a rendition of “The Saints Go Marching In.” I look down and see a ragtag group of boys with all different types of instruments, including several horns and a set of cymbals, marching down the streets.

“It’s a marching band.”

“But why? It’s 4:30 in the morning!”

“I don’t know. Maybe they’ll stop,” I say, as I stagger back to bed, entangling myself in the wet web of a hanging shirts and skirts on the way. I wipe my face on my bed sheet and attempt to shut out the clamoring noise.

“Shut up!” My roommate yells out the window. They start to play louder.

I re-awaken just before 6 a.m. I don’t know when I fell asleep again, but I know that I am very tired. My roommates and I are supposed to meet Horacio downstairs in a few minutes. Horacio is a middle-aged man, roughly five-foot five, with weathered skin and short black hair. He has lived on the island of Ometepe all his life. We met him yesterday at a restaurant, and he said he could show us the ancient stone petroglyphs that are scattered throughout the island.

Horacio is waiting in the lobby and informs us we have a bus to catch. We walk outside and chase after a yellow school bus, circa 1970. I sit, plastered to the sticky vinyl seat and stare out the familiar rectangular windows, I feel an odd sense of displacement; instead of seeing smooth asphalt, concrete sidewalks, and strip-malls, I see a long, dirt road, full of potholes and littered with rocks. Tall, lush trees arch over the road, and a few pigs and cows roam alongside the bus.

In the background stands Mt. Conception, the massive volcano. Ahead of us is the smaller Mt. Maderas, which together formed the island. The bus stops sporadically, taking on passengers huddled aside the road. We are tossed around like loose apples as we traverse the bumpy road. There are some stretches of road where there are stacks of flat stones piled waist high for what appears to be the construction of a modern road, but the work is long abandoned.

Suddenly, Horacio motions to us and tells the driver to stop. The bus driver yells something in Spanish as we scurry off the bus amongst a sea of blank stares.
Still standing in the cloud of dust and exhaust Horacio points toward a pick-up truck emerging from a curve.

“They will drive us. It will be faster because they can cut across instead of going around the perimeter of the island, like the bus does.”

We give the driver a few coins, jump onto the back of the truck and are soon negotiating our way through the forest. The path is tumultuous, and after a few minutes the rattling is overwhelming. Finally, the truck stops and we get off and wander through the thick vegetation. Horacio points out several rocks with the ancient petroglyphs etched into them. Some are hidden behind trees; some are out in the open.

Horacio tries to explain what the different etchings mean, but his answers are spotty and speculative. The 3500-year-old stones contain mysterious lines and curves; theories as to their meaning range from usage as maps to being a form of written language. No one really knows their meanings Horatio admits, but the stones have remained unprotected for so long that they are at risk of being lost forever to erosion.


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