My husband, Duane, and I, plus some of the other hotel guests, had planned to explore the Pacific coast beaches the following day, and as the rain beat its staccato, I wondered whether our journey from San Juan del Sur, a fishing village south of Managua, would be canceled.
By dawn, however, brilliant sunshine told me our trip was on.
We were soon heading for Playa Yankee, a white-sand beach about 15 miles south of San Juan del Sur, on an unpaved jungle road when we encountered a full-sized stream that was fast becoming a river, stopping our four-wheel-drive truck in its tracks. As I climbed out, a man in our party braved the rushing water to test its depth. Splash! He had dropped into a pothole and was waist-deep in water. The other men looked on, weighing the chances of proceeding.
Uh-oh, I thought. A bunch of gringos floundering around in a developing country. I walked a few paces up the road. The bushes rustled, too loudly for a bird. I froze, my imagination racing through every danger the jungle could throw at us.
Doubt struck. Why had I decided to come to Nicaragua?
A barefoot girl, about 6 years old, emerged from the foliage, standing a safe distance away. A few more paces up the road and I could see, through the bushes, a single-room house made of corrugated tin.
I waved to the girl. She gave a tiny wave back. I smiled; her face lit up. I silently admired her dress, hues of vibrant orange and blue. As I approached, the look of wonder in her dark eyes mirrored the excitement I had felt when listening to a group of Nicaragua-philes Duane had introduced me to a few weeks earlier.
Duane's passion for surfing had turned him on to Nicaragua. Not being a surfer, I needed other inspiration. I associated Nicaragua with the Sandinistas, malaria and aching poverty that had been seared into my mind during the heavy media coverage of the 1980s. Duane wanted to disabuse me of those notions.
"Honey," he said, "you need an update. The proxy war with its violence and turbulence between the Contras and Sandinistas was over 14 years ago.
"I want you to meet some people who just got back from Nicaragua," he had told me.
As the girl disappeared into the foliage and then popped up, with two older children, in a paneless window in the house, the words from the Nicaragua-philes echoed in my mind.
"It's a frontier. "
"Sweetest, friendliest people."
"Nicaragua's at peace, you know."
"Third democratically elected administration."
"Just watch, it will be the next Costa Rica."
"Simply the best real-estate deal of the decade."
"Mile after mile of deserted beaches."