Before moving to Nicaragua, I was on my way to becoming a runner. Every day, I’d run between three to eight miles down dirt roads, at the high school track, through the woods near my university, or around my friend’s trailer park. I took up running to stay in shape, and I kept doing it because I loved that moment when you can no longer feel the pain in your legs and are overcome with absolute calm.
In mid-September, I arrived in Granada on a grant to do journalism in this country for a year. Naturally I assumed that the daily routine would continue and I eagerly welcomed a change in scenery.
Few times in my life have I been so disappointed. To say that I felt uncomfortable running alone down the tree-lined street along Lake Nicaragua is putting it lightly. I thought I could ignore the catcalls and the whistles and the tsst-tsssts! from the men who seem to have nothing better to do than try to catch the attention of every woman who passes by.
But when the repeated cries of “Mamacita” and “Qué bárbara” turned into solicitations for sex and actual physical assault, I had had enough. I stopped running.
Fear and dread overshadowed every enjoyable aspect running had once had, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore.
I gained weight, grew bored of life in Granada and in January decided to move to Managua. I moved in with a friend’s family in a pretty residential neighborhood and restarted the process of settling in.
This time around I didn’t even think about running; I just assumed that big, dangerous city life would make it impossible.
I was wrong again. On my first night in the capital, my friend’s brother – a jobless anthropologist sick of repeated failed attempts to find work – mentioned that he used to run daily to stay in shape for soccer.
Timidly, because I didn’t really know Marlon yet, I asked if he wanted to go running the next morning. Perhaps what I’d been missing in Granada was a male running partner? I don’t think he knew what he was getting into when he said yes.
We ran on dirt roads in poor settlements on the outskirts of Managua.We ran around university soccer fields and in our neighborhood.
We took buses to nearby mountain communities, such as El Crucero and La Concepción, and ran where the air is cold and the hills are steep.
We have run nearly every morning since I arrived in Managua and I haven’t once felt uncomfortable or unsafe. I’m still trying to accept the unfortunate existence of machismo in this country, which makes men act like pigs toward women unless they’re accompanied by another man. In that case, they seem to respect the other man’s “property” and don’t say a word.
I hate to make cultural generalizations, so I’m trying not to worry about this. For me, what matters most is that I’ve rediscovered a hobby that I love, and in the process have gotten to appreciate the beauty of Nicaragua’s countryside and its people.
There must be hundreds of miles of dirt paths that connect these rural communities.
They weave through mountains and forests, overlook volcanoes and lakes, and border pineapple and dragonfruit haciendas.
Folks here look amused when they see Marlon and me trot past their corrugated aluminum homes, warn us when they think we might find trouble ahead, and graciously let us refill our water bottles from their hoses.
One morning, as we made the seven kilometer trip back from the ChocoyeroNational Park to the main road in Ticuantepe, Marlon and I passed a fraillooking older woman hobbling up a steep hill with what looked like 20 pounds of green bananas on her back. We thought about offering to help, then selfishly decided we were too tired and moved on. We finally reached the top of the hill, and at a T-intersection we veered to the right.
About 10 minutes later, we saw the same woman poke out of some brush and step gingerly into the path – far ahead of us. Where did she come from? When we reached her, we tightened our lips and tried not to laugh at the absurdity of getting beat by this clever old lady.
“You two look familiar,” she called out as we passed, and when she laughed from under the pile of bananas we had to do the same. A real life tale of the tortoise and the hare.
Nicaragua is a wonderful country for runners, but only if you know where to go and have somebody to do it with. I’m grateful to have found a partner. After a few months’ hiatus, I feel like I’m back on the road toward becoming a runner, enjoying life here and doing the journalism I came to do.
And as a funny consequence, Marlon is thinking about putting his anthropology career dreams on hold to start a rural tourism running business. If you have any questions about running in rural Nicaragua, don’t hesitate to contact me. Until then, happy running.
Melissa Sanchez can be reached at [email protected].