A Bike Ride

Back in my college days, when I was 18, I participated in a program called “North-South Studies“. The gist of the program is the following:

The North-South Studies profile is designed for students interested in exploring the living and working conditions of the developing world. This profile is unique in that students can choose to participate in a field trip to a developing country, usually in Central America. During the trip, students live with a host family, attend conferences, and participate in community projects.

In my program, I went to Nicaragua, near a small town called Nandaime. This was my first trip anywhere outside Canada, ever, other than a brief trip to visit family in Pennsylvania when I was about 8. Nicaragua is not at all like Pennsylvania! This trip affected me in so many ways, and I have many, many vivid memories of it, and the return trip I took 2 years later. I’ll tell that story another time, but I wanted to recount one evening that I will never forget.

Some of the students on the field trip that year were in Nandaime proper, and a few of us (me included) lived on a farming cooperative called la BDO (Bernardino Díaz Ochoa). This cooperative was located at about a 30-40 minute bike ride from Nandaime, if memory serves me. The road was a dirt road that spent most of its time going through sugar-cane fields, and as such, was in very, very bad shape. The trucks that went up and down the road carrying cane to and from the ingenio (sugar refinery) caused a fair bit of damage to the road, so it was full of huge potholes. The road was not lit at night. If my fellow students and I went into town to make a long-distance phone call back home at the Nicaraguan telephone company’s office (the only place you could make such a call; this was before cell phones), we always made sure to start heading home long before dark fell, because in the tropics, you don’t get the long languid sunsets that last for an hour as we get here in Montreal; it gets dark really suddenly!

One day, though, we were delayed in departing for some reason, and the going was slow, because we were a big group and some of the bikes we were using were not in as good shape as the others. I was having a fair bit of difficulty with my bike in particular; the air was leaking out of a tire, and I was pedaling nearly on the rim. Luckily, one of the group had a hand-pump, so I stopped, filled up the tire, and kept going. I had to do this every 5 minutes or so. I told everyone not to worry about me, I knew the way (I was as confident about my navigation skills back then as I am today 😉 ), so “Just go on ahead, I’ll catch up!” Well, not long after everyone was out of sight, it started getting really, really dark. I got to the fork in the road at which I knew, I was certain, I had to go left. But…  the road was filled with water. It wasn’t like that before. Was I somehow mistaken? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere? I saw a man and his child go down the road on the right, and debated whether to ask for help, but my Spanish was rotten back then, and I had a really hard time understanding the Nicaraguan campesino accent. After he was out of sight, I stopped debating, and went down the road on the right, hoping to find the man. Luckily, I did, and managed to explain that I was looking for la BDO, and he said, “Está por allá,” indicating back the way I had come, and down the fork on the left. Troubled but forced to believe him, I went back, and again saw the water in the road still. By this time, it was really starting to get dark. My bike had a little flashlight, but it barely lit the road 1 metre in front of me. Back at the fork, there was a house that I recognized, and that I had previously thought was abandoned, but now, I saw a faint light under the door, as if from a few candles. I gathered up my courage, knocked on the door, and..   nothing. Now I was scared, and I was imaging that whoever was in the abandoned house didn’t belong there and wanted me to leave, and if I knocked again, they would come out and make sure that I left, so I hopped on my bike, and went down the left fork, through the water for a good 100 metres or so, if not more. The water wasn’t deep, though, so I kept going and finally made it to the other side, and by then, I was confident that I was on the right path, there was no other way to go but down this road! Finally I saw the lights of the cooperative, and the river that I had to cross by foot (there was no bridge, but during the dry season it was only about a foot deep). I had made it back to the safety of my host family.

The next day, I learned that they regularly flood the cane fields to irrigate them, but that on that particular evening, there was a problem with a pump or something and too much water went into the field, causing it flood everywhere, including the road that went by. So in the end, I was right, I did know the way, but I was just thrown off by the sudden flood.

After much scouring of Google Maps, I found the exact location of this fork in the road:


After writing this post, I went looking for my photos of this trip. I took a LOT of photos (or at least, what passed for a lot of photos, before the age of digital cameras): 8 rolls of 24!I still have all the negatives, so I will look for the best way of getting them scanned, for a future post, but meanwhile, here are three photos of photos I took with my phone just now 🙂

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