I hardly ever remember meeting people for the first time, but with her it’s vividly stuck in my memory. It started off normal, a fleeting moment of new college roommates meeting each other, “Hi, I’m so and so, major, age, hometown”, the usual stats exchange. The part that probably helps this memory stick is the fact she immediately made an offbeat comment about the fact that I was cleaning when we met. Only later did I learn that was an initial test of camaraderie and that I had passed with flying colors. After a year of intense together time in cramped quarters, friendship morphed into sisterhood and the next thing I knew we were hiking up an active volcano together in high winds about to slide down it with nothing more than two planks of wood between our ass cheeks and the hot volcanic ash and rocks. We tried to reassure each other in our mutual language of movie quotes and sarcasm. We stood in silence looking at the terrifyingly steep drop that exaggerated the distance between us and the wispy shadows of the clouds below us that swam lazily along an other worldly plain of grey rocks. Momentarily distracted by the bright orange jumpsuits and other “protective gear” we simultaneously inhaled in a brief moment of awe. Volcanoes jutted up from the flat land all around — El Salvador in view to the North– the city of León tucked into the patchy browns and greens that lay deathly quiet in the distance. A sudden strong gust of wind jerked us back to the tracks that would lead us down, trails of rising dust and ash marking people as the began their descent. The second it began, it had ended. At the bottom looking up at the summit we were surprisingly underwhelmed, silently thinking, that was it…? It doesn’t look that tall from down here…

Volcano BoardingVolcano Boarding, Cerro Negro

Back in the city of León we wandered the colorful street markets, recalling found college memories, including the one we had just made. In search of street food we nostalgically began reliving the many brunches, dinners and drinks we had shared over our short year as roommates. The sensation of finding something that was never lost seemed to hang in a mist around the chaotic, chromatic and noisy stalls of the plaza. We sat down in white plastic picnic chairs and breathed in the possible adventures that lay before us…

In the following days we explored the colonially charming city of Granada, the expansive Lake of Nicaragua and the sketchy beach town of San Juan del Sur. In every place the recent and gritty historical difference between Costa Rica and Nicaragua was immediately evident in the physical cityscapes and atmospheres we found ourselves in, yet the similarities between the two neighbors echoed deafeningly loud: photogenic peeling paint on old wooden colonial  doors, laughing kids running barefoot in dirt alleys playing soccer, wandering vendors in old U.S. high school sport team t-shirts yelling out incomprehensible items. Costa Rica now employs an astounding number of Nicaraguan migrant workers to harvest the coffee and sugar fields, seeing as Costa Ricans now don’t want to labor in those types of jobs. The constant presence of Nicaraguan workers has resulted not only in profitable harvests and exports, but also in cultural tensions between the neighbors. “Developed” and “educated” Costa Ricans will often blame “Nicas” for increasing their crime rates, using them in racially charged jokes, etc. As a native Californian this tension floated above me during the whole trip, reminding me of tensions back home between the USA and Mexico. Feeling as though I was finally in Central America (even after a year of living in Costa Rica) I relished the constant clamor and colorful tarnished details that silently shouted at us as we rambled away our lazy afternoons through the old cobblestone streets. I could see the vintage charm in every street in Nicaragua and understood why some of my Costa Rican counterparts wanted to vacation here. The irony overwhelms me to this day and I wonder if Costa Ricans see a shared, undesirable and not-so-distant past in the tanned and weathered faces of their Nicaraguan counterparts; if the Costa Ricans who are now in their 50s see their strained childhoods of coffee picking instead of school reflected back at them…If they now feel a sense of superiority over their past socio-economic statuses…If that is a reason bigotry against Nicas still runs rampant in Costa Rica…

As our time together shriveled up in the glaringly bright sun, a distinct difference slowly inflated the space between us as we both came to the realization that we no longer live in the same house, and our list of mutual friends has dissolved rapidly. We no longer have an infinite number of commonalities to reassure us in our friendship. But it didn’t matter. Traveling and being in an unfamiliar space elevated us into a neutral limbo zone where both of us were free to discuss our lives with candor. We both live in distinctly different situations, yet we both still struggle with the same tiresome yet mundane throws of humanity and this commonality has the power to keep us linked.

One last long bus ride and one more heart to heart while we were sitting on the omnipresent speckled eighty’s inspired print. Twenty four hours later we both reentered to our distinct realities, the precious time we had just spent reduced to an iPhoto album and a gaggle of already sun faded memories.

León, NicaraguaSan Juan del Sur, NicaraguaLake NicaraguaFullSizeRender(1)

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