{my life} 6 weeks in nicaragua

(Scroll to the bottom if you’re just here for the visuals. No hard feelings. 馃グ)

I had a slight hesitation to go even though I was looking forward to visiting a new place, especially one that I decided to go to by using my highly scientific decision-making equation of “Is it a Spanish-speaking country? If so, go.”  Why the hesitation? Well, I was simultaneously missing Colombia. My boyfriend at the time was still there, and so were my other loves; arepas, plantains, and salsa dancing. Time in Nicaragua meant time away from Colombia.

But, I could feel it simmering in my bones – that feeling that meant I had to go somewhere new. I’ve learned that when I honor that feeling, I’m always surprised, fulfilled, and grateful. So, Nicaragua it was.

My friend Avalon is also a traveler and Spanish-speaker (but like, 20x more advanced than me and sprinkled with Mexican colloquialisms). We used to work together at a restaurant called The Tavern… that was back when my hair was purple and I was engaged to the wrong guy.

Avalon and I always had an appreciation for each other, but hadn’t really connected outside of the smell of waffle fries until years after the Tavern when we decided to trade photography lessons (from me to her) for Spanish lessons (from her to me). We did this for a while (a  couple months I’d say?) before one day we decided to do some serious day drinking.

Avalon and a couple other of my photography buds joined me for unlimited mimosas; my favorite brunch item. As the brunch turned into lunch, and lunch turned into a brewery, and a brewery turned into 11:00 PM greasy tater tots at a dive bar – it happened. My late-night craving for  a new place, a new viaje, was fulfilled. We said “fuck it - we’re going to Nicaragua.” (…the next day was the 2nd worst hangover of my life, but def worth it.)

I had 6 weeks in between photo gigs from August - September (of 2019), and Avalon had 7. We planned to fly out of Minneapolis together, spend a week there together, and then go our separate ways due to the fact we both appreciate traveling alone.

If you’ve ever touched down somewhere new, you know all senses are firing at 100. There’s really no way to make reservations for the feelings that flood you, you just have to show up, trust that they’ll be there, and savor them.

We arrived at midnight-ish and spent the night in Managua. We heard great things about Le贸n, San Juan del Sur, and Granada, so that would be our tentative direction. We decided that after one night in Managua, we’d head straight to Le贸n to enjoy our week or exploring/drinking/conociendo/photographing/stumbling around words together.

Someone told us that Le贸n is the 2nd hottest city in Central America.. I haven’t fact checked it – but as far as I’m concerned, it was true. We had a few hilarious nights – like the one where we made friends with a fellow hostel guest from the UK (whom we nick-named “Leaky Knee”) and the manager of the hostel and drank all night until we ended up going to bed signing songs from Aladin as a group… and a couple of stunning days; my favorite being the day we spent at a hidden gem called “Coco Calala” floating in a pool of serenity/youth/all things everlasting.

Oh – and I also stumbled into a little surf shop, where I met Marco, the shop owner. He started making + selling t-shirts from his hostel room a while back, and it grew into a brand which allows him to give locals a steady job. I instinctively asked if I could photograph his shop (I shared the whole set of photos on IG, might blog it here at some point in the future as well) and after our “shoot” (me running around in awe with my little baby Ricoh in hand), as he picked fruit off the trees, he told me about how he just got out of 4 months in prison while on his way back to Nica from El Salvador. The police took all of his money and his passport, so it as a challenge for him to make it back to Nica at all. Despite it being an actual tragic event for him, he spoke about so softly and full of grace that I almost wanted to run to El Salvador myself in hopes of the same experience.

It was time for Granada, the next “big city” on our path. When we hopped off the bus, we had no plan. Luckily that led us to De Boca en Boca, one of the most amazing hostels I’ve ever stayed at. The staff was as equally refreshing as the maracuya margaritas… truly some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Their french accents bled into their Spanish ones which bled into their English ones and into my ears, it was a little melting pot made up of spanish tiles and metal bunk beds.

We met Tim and Jena, which also induced another impromptu photo shoot (linked below). We found a restaurant called “Pita Pita” which was owned by a couple from Israel who supplied us with falafel, coconut lemonade, and kindness over and over and over again. Our server, Rebecca, was nice enough (and full of patience) to talk with us in Spanish with every visit. And not just the “hello, where are you from” shit – she would have real conversations with us, even when the restaurant was buzzing.

Ah, and I can’t forget the market. I could write about the sun-soaked maze of aroma for days, but I’ll let the photos do the talking on that one. (See the dark and hazy ones of people selling stuff out of stalls. AND the ones with the men on the truck, bringing the daily delivery from the farm to the sellers… I was on my street photography shit that day and mustered up enough courage to ask (in Spanish) if I could jump on the truck and photograph them working for a while. I can’t believe I did that, and I can’t believe they said yes. They are some of my favorite photos EVER because it was one of my bravest moments EVER, and the level of hard work that these people pour into their community every day is out of this world.)

There is so, so much more I could write about in regards to Granada, but I’ll stop there for now.

Next came San Juan del Sur. In terms of pace, if Granada was New York City, then San Juan del Sur was a small town in Iowa – but like, in a cool, small-surf-town kinda way. We went from spicy to sweet, just like that.

The slow down was incredible. We stayed at a house (way) up on the hill, owned by a french man (now full-time in Nica) named Baba who played the drums and and a heart of gold. It was $20 per night, total – and that included coffee in the mornings. The half-indoor half-outdoor treehouse almost felt too good to be true. The bugs kept us humble.

A catamaran ride with strangers, a couple new hostels (which were great, but nothing like De Boca en Boca) and a WHOLE LOTTA $2 margaritas on the beach at El Tim贸n from our guy Dennis led us to a fantasy of opening a pretzel shop here on the beach.

I’m not kidding – you read that right; we wanted to open a pretzel shop in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Like, mother fucking hand-rolled soft pretzels. Flour was cheap and we had a master plan to sell them to the tourists as they got off the bus from Le贸n. We called it a “pop up” and we were dead-ass serious about it. We had a “business plan” (dream scribbles) and even checked out a few spaces up for lease, got my boyfriend on board to fly out in a few months, but then life… shifted?… and we put a pin in that one. (“99ita” could still happen though… some day, some where. 馃槈)

Man, as I let my guts fall onto this page, I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of this trip – if I really slowed it down enough to write everything, this would be a damn novel. Which wouldn’t be a bad idea… 



Anyway, here’s what y’all really came for – the photos!




 I’ve got a mix for you – some street work, some food, some basic-ass selfies of me just living, some portraits. Some photos un-edited and still worthy of being shown to the world. (F U ANXIETY TO BE PERFECTLY AESTHETICALLY PLEASING, F U!)

 They are in no particular order.

I lost some personal photos from the trip due to a cell phone mishap, but overall – these do a decent job of summarizing everything. Here are some links to the individual posts, which you’ll see cameos of here, but they of needed their own space.  

- Tim & Jena, portraits of a couple we met in a hostel
- Marie, portraits of a hostel employee with the biggest heart

- A random journal entry about my routine at Baba’s tree house, photos courtesy of Avalon

- A catamaran cruise, the biggest thank you to Ben at We Stay Lost

I hope you feel things when you look at these:

Oh yeah – did I mention we went to the top of an active volcano? Here she is – Masaya.

One more thing, if you actually did read my never-ending text up there, you’ll notice I kept saying “we” – even though Avalon and I originally planned on spending only one week together, we stayed together almost the whole time. That in itself I could write about as well. But, just know Avalon is an incredible to have a travel buddy/soul sister. 馃グ

ONE MORE THING. A few people have asked about buying prints – if you’re interested in buying prints of ANY of my work… first of all um.. WOW THANK YOU! Second of all, yes!! You can! Just shoot me an email and we’ll chat it out: AV@amindavilla.com

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