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Jungle Juice and Sensory Awareness

May 2, 2016

I recently returned from an adventurous trip to Nicaragua. It inspired. My next few blogs will no doubt be related to my musings about this particular part of the world. Like all journeys, my time in Central America was filled with highs and lows, offering up lessons and tales to be told.

Disclaimer: Nicaragua was not high on my list of places to see. If I’d won the lottery and could have traveled anywhere, I’d have flown to the South Pacific, headed back to Italy, or gone to see my adopted family in Tunisia. But I found round-trip tickets to Managua for $300, which, in a way, was like winning the lottery. Plus, two of my three kids spoke Spanish, and Central America was high on their list. We had friends who’d been to Nica and loved it. We’d even met a great Nicaraguan guy—on a hut trip of all places. He promised to show us a good time. Clearly, the stars were aligned, and Nicaragua was where we needed to go. It was a done deal.

However, because Nica wasn’t top on my list, I didn’t think much about it. I read one book. I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode. I talked to a few people who’d been, but I had no expectations for the trip. Until I got there and realized I did.

When I first saw the dormant jungle; brown, twisted, and void of lush beauty;

I cried. After living through a winter of white, my hope was to see green. Breathe green. Live green. But the jungle wasn’t yet awake, and with the exception of palm trees and bougainvillea, the colors had vaporized.

In order to push through my disappointment, I honed in on other ways to explore the country and its environment. In doing so, I discovered intoxicating beauty not found with sight, and I used my other senses instead.

The 95-degree Nicaraguan heat saturated my body, offering a longed-for respite from the Colorado cold. I let it sink into my skin; at times enjoying it, at others, not so much. The excessive temperatures also taught me to welcome the wind, which can’t be seen. First, I’d hear it. The wind whistled and rustled through the canopy overhead and then swept over me like a soft wash, cleansing my scorched skin. I taught myself to listen to the breeze, anticipating the relief it would bring.

I also heard birds—beautiful birds greeting the morning and closing the day. They became my clock. I heard people pounding nails, others selling wares. I listened to new music and learned the Nicaraguan beat. The sounds were foreign, exotic, and welcoming.

The fragrances in Central America were equally exotic. Smoke from burning trash and wood was not so pleasant, but others smells delighted my entire being. Fried coconut oil spilled through the streets as women grilled chicken, plantains, and fried fish. Spices filled the air, making my mouth water. The taste of turmeric and onion and red peppers exploded when I ate. Freshly roasted coffee greeted my morning, and pure honey tasted exceptionally good. After eating tiny, tangy bananas, mangos, papayas and pineapples, the fruit juices dripped across my fingertips, sweet and sour flavors lingered behind my tongue.

I didn’t see my self-imagined jungle, but as with any unmet expectations, there were lessons to be learned, experiences to be found. There is more to the world than sight. Would I have preferred to see the jungle its green glory? Of course. But in its place, I re-awakened my underused senses, rousing both body and soul and offering me the opportunity to rejuvenate, experience, and truly explore. Isn’t that what a journey is all about? The challenge now, as with all returns, is to keep the lesson alive.

Given that I still see snow outside my window, I’m more than happy to practice non-seeing. But it’s easy to forget to breathe deeply, to take time to feel the air, smell the sweetness in the coffee shop, or to taste every single bite of a hurried breakfast. But slowing down and taking time to taste and smell and feel and truly listen enhances our lives. I teach my writing students to use senses in their writing. Providing a variety of details is important to the depth of a description. And so it is with life. Seeing is powerful. Beautiful. But it’s not all there is.

 

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