A few months back I took a free online course offered by Duke University professor, David Ariely called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior.” It was a fascinating class on behavioral economics, which discussed why we make the decisions we do. It was fascinating to learn how we can be manipulated into making specific choices. One of the lessons was about defaults, and how humans tend to stay within their comfort zone. Dr. Ariely challenged the class to push beyond their comfort zones, which inspired my first trip alone in Nicaragua!
Rob had left town for the week, and I was moping about at home, trying to find something to distract me. My friend Lauren and her husband bring students to Nicaragua for medical missions, and they were headed to a town called Leon. They had invited me to meet up with them there, but I was nervous. I had never driven outside of Managua without Rob, I didn’t really like hostels, and I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy myself. Luckily, the prior evening was the lesson on defaults and going outside your comfort zone, and I said, “f*ck it!” I booked a room at a hostel right on the beach called the Surfing Turtle Lodge, it was about 15 minutes from Leon itself, so I would be completely on my own once I was done visiting with my friends.
The drive over was pleasant, it was in April, so it was still dry season… meaning the majority of the foliage was brown. About halfway through the drive a new type of tree that I had never seen was blooming gorgeous bright yellow flowers. I wish I had been brave enough to stop and take pictures, but there’s only so far I can go outside of my comfort zone. Being a gringo, in the middle of an empty highway, snapping pictures was a bit too much for me… so sadly I have no pictures to show you. [If anyone knows what those trees are, let me know so I find a picture and post.]
A few bags of Fritos and a Coke-zero later, I arrived in Leon. I had been here once, and I have an uncanny sense of direction and somehow ended up parking in the exact same place I had when Rob and I had previously visited… though, I found it through a totally different route.
I met up with my friends and we ate at a restaurant nearby. During the meal I got an email from the hostel asking me when I would arrive, and I told them I’d be heading over within a few hours. After a few email exchanges, come to find out that this hostel is not a place you can simply drive to. No, of course not! Apparently, I had made a reservation at a hostel where I would have to drive 15 minutes outside of Leon and park at the end of a dirt road in little Poneloya, take a boat across a bay, and then a horse driven cart to the hostel! From the email exchange, I was told I pretty much had about 60 minutes left before the cart stopped running, and they did not recommend that my first trip over be stumbling through a dirt road to find the hostel.
Note to self: Don’t trust Google Maps in Nicaragua!
I stuffed my face and headed back to my car. Now, we had walked around Leon a bit, and even with my magical sense of direction I was slightly little disoriented. I go to the spot where I thought I left my car, but it’s not there. Yes, my friends, I had gone outside my comfort zone and driven two hours away from my home, only to lose my car.
Now, I do the first thing that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells you: don’t panic. I was more at a level of heavy worrying at this point… time was ticking down and I had no idea where I was in regards to my car. It’s a VERY disconcerting feeling, especially for someone who usually has an iron nose.
Of course, fate likes to throw a wrench and I get a call from my husband at that exact moment:
Rob: Hey dear, I miss you. How are you?
Me: Well… I’m in Leon and I’ve lost our car.
Rob: What? Why are you in… wait, you lost the car?
Me: Love you. Miss you. Don’t have much time. Call you when I find it!
Rob: [Audible growl] Call me as soon as you can.
Grrrrreat… now my husband can hold this over my head! I decide the best course of I run back and begin to retrace my steps. Tattoo shop… check. Hostel… check. Church… check. Hotel la Perla… check. Low and behold, there she is… my beautiful car. I almost kissed it, but I restrained myself. I really don’t want to admit this… when I found my car, I was less than 50 feet where I had been when I thought I lost it. That’s right… had I just turned the corner I would have been at my car. Of course, I have to call my husband:
Me: I found the car!
Me: It was on the opposite corner where I was.
Me: Don’t. Say. A word.
Rob: I said nothing!
Me: You were thinking it… anyway I have to go. Love you!
By now, it was crunch time, I wasted about 20 minutes finding my car and I still had to get directions to Poneloya.
I had parked right outside Hotel La Perla, a very swanky hotel, so I jumped in tried to speak Spanish to the concierge, who graciously gave me directions. I was glad it was a swanky hotel, because he responded in English. He provided me a map and directions. I jump in my car and ma
By now, the sun was starting to get low, and the person on the phone at the hostel only spoke Spanish. I ascertained that I was to meet some guy on a little boat to drive me over and there would be a horse and carriage to pick me up. I was a bit nervous… I mean, I’m all for going outside of my comfort zone, but this was a bit ridiculous.neuver through the small, one-way streets of Leon. Normally, dodging the pedestrians and circumnavigating the bicycle cabs is fun, but they’re just slowing me down. I finally make it out of Leon and it only takes me 20 minutes to get to the end of a dirt road. Surrounding it are a few restaurants and shanties… I’m a little concerned about leaving my car there, but the owner of a nearby restaurant assures me that it will be okay to park my car over on the other dirt sidestreet. At least, I think that’s what they said… it was Spanish, and I was in a hurry.
The boat driver was a nice older gentlemen, with a sunny disposition. We had a long, deep discussion on life, the
universe and everything… or at least as long and deep as it could be in Spanish. Even though I was in a hurry, the boat ride was very calming and serene. The body of water we were crossing was a small bay, and the water was almost as smooth as glass. Barely a ripple, until our boat sliced through. I was finally starting to relax.
We reached the other side, and he dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. There were only trees and a dirt path. I ran around taking pictures and was
beginning to think I had missed the last carriage when I heard the clippety-clop of horse hooves on dirt, and the squeaky wheels of a wooden cart. I didn’t talk to the cart driver too much, his accent was fairly thick, so I relegated myself to taking in the beautiful scenery.
In the end, I made it to my destination with time to throw my stuff in my cabin, swim, and watch the sunset. While a roller coaster, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone was an extremely freeing and satisfying experience. I highly recommend trying to identify your default settings and break free… if anything, it’ll give you a great story to tell.