EXCERPT: “So here I was, lying on a raggedy couch, my throat scratchy from a night of drinking and smoking, my chest hair sparkling with glitter. A couple of hours earlier, I found myself in a treehouse, the uninvited guest at a bizarre wedding and witness to the strange tradition of penis limbo.”
The Motorcycle & The Molecule is a book about a humorous and risky Central American adventure featuring Mayan rulers, mischievous beavers & mind-bending molecules! This book reading features an excerpt from a chapter in the second half of the book. If you enjoy it, consider pre-ordering the book here!
Book Reading from Chapter 20: “Grenada Nights”
I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about Nicaragua that just makes me want to throw my good behavior out the window and get downright rambunctious. After all, when a bottle of rum costs USD $3 and a pack of smokes costs USD $1.50 it’s almost like you’re losing money if you don’t partake. So here I was, lying on a raggedy couch, my throat scratchy from a night of drinking and smoking, and my chest hair sparkling with glitter. A couple of hours earlier, I found myself in a treehouse, the uninvited guest at a bizarre wedding and witness to the strange tradition of penis limbo.
The motorcycle ride from Ometepe to Granada had been smooth, besides a short rainstorm and an aching meniscus from days spent scrambling around the island’s volcanoes. Granada, which sits near the northern shores of Lake Nicaragua, is known as one of the country’s prettier towns and whose old colonial architecture is still largely intact. A few hours prior to my arrival, while on the ferry from Ometepe to the mainland, I struck up a conversation with an Aussie girl named Betty. She told me about a hostel in Granada called the Oasis where she was planning on staying so upon rolling into town I decided to check it out. The Oasis had been converted from a giant colonial residence into a vibrant, yet low-budget, backpacker destination and had a nice, relaxed atmosphere. I decided the hostel’s pretty courtyards would be a good place to catch up with my journaling so I booked a dorm bed for a couple of nights. I parked El Rojo inside, along with some other motorcycles, next to a giant, peeling mural of dancing ladies.
After checking in, I had been shown to my quarters, one of four beds in a small room. The Oasis provided a locker for my bag, a personal fan to help with the heat and a power outlet next to my bed. Sharing the room with me was a sweet girl from California and two hulking German guys. I chose the lower bed in a rickety, two-level bunk which shook to the point of collapse when Fritz, my bunkmate, clambered into his upper bunk. Boarding school memories from my childhood flashed into my mind but I was hopeful that unlike homesick eight year olds, grown men rarely wet their beds.
And so a couple of days later, here I was, sitting on the previously mentioned raggedy couch, next to a communal kitchen, and feeling a little worse for wear. It was late, and since I wasn’t able to sleep I sat in the courtyard recording a journal entry. The rest of the hostel was asleep, except for a small group of thickly accented, cigarette smoking Israeli backpackers who busied themselves whipping up a large batch of hummus in the kitchen. I was poking at a tasteless tamale that I had spiced it up with some local hot sauce in an attempt to mask its blandness. After a while the Israelis finished preparing their midnight snack. Like other hostels the Oasis was packed with people of all different ages, travellers from different countries who often delighted in sharing their customs and traditions with other travelers. But not these Israelis and not this hummus.
“Good night, man!” One waved to me as the trio headed back to their room, unshared hummus in hand. I returned somewhat bitterly to my cold tamale and journal entry, and set about capturing the details from the day.
It had all started innocently enough. After a solid sleep, I had ventured out into the breakfast area. One of the perks of the Oasis was that they provided eggs and pancakes in the morning and the dining area was a flurry of activity. I saw Betty across the patio, sitting at a table next to a small pool and surrounded by a bunch of fun looking characters. I loaded up a large plate and headed over.
“Hey everybody, eggs on me!” When you act like you already know everyone, and kind of like a goofball, it can be remarkably easy to be welcomed into a group of random people.
“Aaah, the egg man has arrived!” A young, smiley and very attractive American guy replied. “I’m Charlie.”
“Dougie, you made it!” Betty cried in an excited shrill. I sat down and smiled. One of the recurring themes of this trip seemed to be that as soon as I felt confident and solid within myself things would just start to fit together effortlessly. Traveling is an especially good time to practice going with the flow, to witness how our energy levels and external situations influence our mood, and the regularly shifting context consistently offers the opportunity to practice how we act and react.
Besides Betty and Charlie the other people at the table included a couple of Canadian guys, my California roommate who was named Alexis and a Swedish girl named Helga. Stories of their previous night began to emerge during which a karaoke escapade had ended in an orgy between the two Canadians and Helga and I greatly admired how everyone was laughing about it all over their eggs and pancakes. After breakfast we continued to lounge around the pool where we were joined by a mom with her two kids, a boy of four and a girl of six. She was from Minnesota, traveling alone and appreciated us entertaining her kids while she got to relax. In fact, we were all having so much fun that we decided to go on a day of sightseeing together.
After getting dressed we met back up in the lobby. Charlie and I put the kids on our shoulders and we set off, an impromptu family of ten or so new friends, ranging in age from four to fifty. We walked around the quaint, cobbled streets of Granada, visiting art galleries, climbing up the bell tower of the town’s church, and zigzagging through a bustling market where we bought ice creams for the kids and beers for ourselves.
An hour or so later I broke off from the group, jumped on El Rojo and headed out of town, along dusty roads and through farmlands, on my way towards a series of islands called Las Isletas. These numerous tiny islands had been created during a massive volcanic explosion millenia ago which had left rocky remnants scattered all around a peninsula at the north end of Lake Nicaragua. After getting a little lost when my Bluetooth headset led me to the incorrect destination, I eventually found a bunch of leathery skinned men loitering around a restaurant next to a small marina of motorboats. There were no other tourists so I decided to haggle with one of them.
I’d been in Central America for a couple of months and my Spanish had improved to a state where I could at least strike up a basic communication of numbers, humor and mock surprise at the laughably inflated tourist prices. After some back and forth with one particular man called Diego we settled on a price and set out on a late afternoon boat tour. Las Isletas are home to all sorts of private homes, old forts and run down structures. One tiny island had even been made into a restaurant where I happened to meet some other people that I’d seen around the Oasis; they’d been at the hostel for a few days and suggested I try to make it back in time for happy hour at 5pm as it should be a pretty fun scene since it was Valentine’s Day, a revelation which my hopelessly romantic self pretended to be surprised by. I made it back from the boat tour with just enough time to successfully deflect Diego’s demands for additional money and to navigate safely back to the Oasis for happy hour.
Back at the hostel the rum was flowing and I soon met back up with my friends from the morning who were already good and sauced up. While grabbing a round at the bar I met a Swiss German girl who’s name, by some stroke of romantic poetry, was actually Valentina and we soon hit it off and began scheming an evening of fun and mischief. During happy hour, I heard murmurings of a party at a place called the Treehouse and noted down some cryptic directions for how to get there. I did my best to rally the breakfast posse but still exhausted from karaoke and the orgy the previous night, besides all once again being plastered, they decided to keep it low key. Valentina however was up for an adventure so we headed out into the warm night air of Grenada.
The Treehouse was in a remote location, just outside of town, and accessible only to those who knew the back roads, or as it was in our case, to those that knew of a secret shuttle that left at a certain time from a shady bar that we’d heard about at happy hour. We had a couple of drinks at the bar as we waited for the shuttle and soon a group of about ten gringos had gathered and were loaded up into the back of a pickup truck which took off out of town. Valentina and I were grateful to have scored the shotgun seat next to the speeding driver as we watched the revelers in the back get their faces slapped and hats knocked off by low hanging jungle vines. Twenty minutes or so later we were dropped at the foot of a rocky forest path. The driver pointed into the forest and said he’d be back in a few hours to pick us up. He then got back in his truck and promptly zoomed away, back down the dark, dirt road from which we’d come. Our initial excitement had given way to a little more apprehension but with little other option we set off into the forest,.
After a muddy, jagged, fifteen minute climb with only sporadic solar-powered lanterns to indicate that we were on the right path, we were grateful to hear voices of merriment and soon emerged into a scene of sparkling revelry. The Treehouse was made up of a series of suspended walkways, hammocks, lofted platforms and janky structures all rigged up and fastened to trees and anchored to rocky outcrops. When we arrived the party was in full swing and we had no idea that we were actually crashing the wedding reception of a tall Austrian man to a starry eyed, young French woman.
I looked around and my tripper-sense tingled; most of those in attendance were almost certainly on a large amount of psychedelics. To add to the already bizarre scene everyone at the party was dressed in drag. And so it was no surprise that upon our approach to the dance floor we were promptly directed to a large box of various pieces of clothing. I ditched my grey jeans and black t-shirt for a tight, gold miniskirt, thin blouse and flamboyant hat:
“You know it’s a good party when getting into drag makes you stand out less.” I said to Valentina, who laughed as she pulled a glittery item from the box.
After getting a drink at the bar, a smiling fellow in a red velvet bodysuit approached me, his pupils as big as saucers.
“Welcome, beautiful man! I’m Sparkles!” He grinned like a loon. Sparkles was flanked by a giggling girl, both of whom were in their early twenties and obviously high as kites. “Looks like someone hasn’t been glittered yet!” And that’s when I noticed the sheer amount of glitter that surrounded me. It was on glowing faces, on the dance floor, on the surrounding paths and even on the trees. It was like a giant unicorn with irritable bowel syndrome had farted rainbow sprinkles over the entire party; meanwhile my new friend Sparkles was already heaping a glittery mound into the girl’s hands.
“Close your eyes!” Sparkles said. The girl squealed gleefully as she blew the entire pile onto my face and exposed man chest. And then, as quickly as they’d appeared Sparkles and his jubilant assistant moved along to the next glitter victim.
After the psytrance DJ finally took a break, a variety of nontraditional wedding traditions got underway, including a twerkshop led by a beautifully voluptuous woman who’s copious butt movements reverberated throughout the entire suspended platform. This impressive act was followed by a much anticipated round of penis limbo. One fellow, who’s costume was made up of shiny sneakers, a rainbow afro, sweat bands and a whole bunch of glitter, had tied a piece of ribbon between his penis and a bar stool, under which a line of eager contestants began to limbo. With each round, the naked fellow squatted a little lower as the stool wobbled and the crowd cheered. On the other side of the dance floor I saw Fritz my German roommate from the Oasis, looking somewhat awkward in a tight, furry vest and silver fishnets. His buddy, who I’d still never actually seen sober, was propped up on the bar, wearing a form fitting onesie and silver star shaped sunglasses, so drunk that he was barely able to stand. After watching penis limbo for a little while longer I met back up with Valentina who was now wearing a pink leotard and a bow tie and we decided to go explore the rest of the place before witnessing the inevitable penile disaster. We were half way across a suspension bridge that led away from the dance floor when we heard the stool tumble and the naked man yelp in strained glee, no doubt signalling the end of the penis limbo tournament. The walkway led to a series of tented platforms that were full of beds. At the end of the walkway a few metal steps led up to a platform that was perched over the cliff. Sounds of sex came from the mosquito-net draped bedroom, moans emanating out into the jungle night. The whole scene at the Treehouse was a puritanical nightmare of excess and debauchery, an unabashed display of hedonism playing out in the treetops. I gotta tell ya, it was pretty great.
A few hours, a bottle of rum and plenty of strange multithreaded conversations later, Valentina and I carefully descended the rocky path just in time to catch the last shuttle home. It started raining as we drove back towards Grenada and I could only imagine how the scene at the Treehouse was unfolding. It was one of those magical nights which had luckily concluded before daylight cast the whole mess into stark reality. Once back at the Oasis, I walked Valentina back to her dorm where we shared a sweet and fleeting kiss. The next morning she was leaving for Ometepe and we both knew it was unlikely that we’d ever see each other again. I was still feeling poetically lyrical from the booze so I settled down in the courtyard to collect my thoughts and curse this awful tamale.
I marveled at how my Grenada experience was so far removed from the high-vibe, hippie conscious community of Lake Atitlán. It was like all the yoga, meditation, healthy food and cacao ceremonies had been replaced with rum, cigarettes and illicit drug use. Instead of ecstatic dance in the clouds there was now acid weddings in the jungles. I considered how my external environment had such a powerful influence on my behavior. It felt like just when I got closest to clarity, to deep connection with myself and others, I would hit the ‘let’s throw it all out the window’ button and revert to mindlessly debaucherous behaviors which would invariably leave me feeling numb and energetically depleted, but with a great story.
This was an old pattern. But what’s wrong with a little partying now and then? I’d tell myself. Of course within a relatively short span of time my balance inevitably tipped from the higher vibe activities towards excessive food, sex, alcohol and pretty much any other vice I could find. Once the party was really rolling I would typically get into an increasingly celebratory mood until before you know it, I’m in drag at a psychedelic wedding watching penis limbo.
I finished up my journal entry, pushed the remnants of the tamale away and pulled my last cigarette from the pack. How much of this celebration, how much of this travel and quest for peak experiences is actually just another form of escape? Maybe it was time to reign it in just a little bit? My plan was to ride up to Leon in a couple of days where I had heard there was a variety of volcano expeditions and if I was going to haul a heavy backpack up and down a mountain then I better have a few days of healthy eating. And no more drinking or smoking for a while, jeez! I took a long final drag from the cigarette.
Tomorrow, after the complementary eggs and pancakes I would say goodbye to my mischievous friends and head to a place to the north of Grenada called Hostel Paradiso which lay on the edge of the Apoyo lagoon. From the photos it looked calm and serene, far away from the big city distractions. Surely there I would find the rest and relaxation I needed. Well, it turns out I was very wrong about that and the temptations of Nicaragua were just getting started.