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A Visit to Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-10In February we spent a warm, relaxing week on the beach in Nicaragua. We went for the tropical weather and the low-key cultural immersion, and it was wonderful. But we aren’t Nicaragua naturals. We don’t surf. (You say Surf, I say Taco.) We aren’t Canadian. (The Canadian expat presence there is surprisingly robust.) And it’s impossible to overstate how bad our Spanish is. 

Still, I feel I owe it to you to try.

Without getting into the graphic details of just how special parenting can be, let’s say we had a toilet overflow warning, upgraded from a watch, one evening in the beautiful indoor-outdoor house we rented through airbnb. Let’s say the groundskeeping and cooking at this house were done by a wonderful woman named Rosa, who spoke not one word of English but warmed to our family instantly and called every one of us “mi amor.” Let’s say we didn’t want to abuse this privilege by getting her too deeply involved in the rescue operation. We just wanted a plunger. 

We’d opted not to have the unreliable wifi router in the almond tree activated for the week, and none of us had been smart enough to bring or even download a pocket dictionary. Not that “plunger” tops the typical need-to-know list for tourists.

There may have been a several-hour standoff where everyone acted like things were fine, hoping someone else would handle it. 

Then Cope disappeared for a couple of minutes. And reemerged, plunger in hand. Romance comes in surprising packages.

How…did you… We wanted to know.

He told a strange story about conjuring the word baño and having read some stop signs (ALTO) on the two-hour ride from Managua to Las Peñitas. In the end, we think he told Rosa, The bathroom! It is high!

I can only hope that Spanish syntax allowed her the ideal silent response while smiling through her teeth: “Uh…you’re high.”

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-3We’ve traveled a decent amount in the past few years, but it had been a long time since either of us were at such a loss for language. Mostly because so much of the world speaks excellent or at least passable English now, and a little bit because we speak enough French and Italian between us to ask for lice shampoo or extra napkins. 

Some of the week’s absolute highlights came from the language gap. I felt a brief swell of pride wondering how I knew the Spanish word for padlock, only to realize that Rosa had clearly spent all day perfecting a wildly realistic two-handed padlock mime. And that she was performing that mime very close to my face. 

Nicaragua | Umami GirlIt’s so good to be out of your element from time to time — to remind yourself and show your kids what you look like as a well-intentioned idiot. To see how differently other people live, not so far across the globe and closer still by any decent measure of human nature. It helps to do it in an arrestingly beautiful environment, with a backyard pool and simple, perfect dinners of creamy black beans, plantains, and chayote. Back home, I’m working on perfecting those beans, and I’m fortifying myself through what I hope will be the winter’s last snowstorm by repeatedly watching the 30 seconds of crashing waves and sunset glow at the bottom of this page. I recommend it. 

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-1Nicaragua Diptych | Umami GirlLas Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-2Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-4Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-5Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-6Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-11Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl-7Las Peñitas, Nicaragua | Umami Girl - 100

Carolyn xx



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  1. […] you’ve read any of the numerous travel posts on Umami Girl to date, you know we don’t normally hop on a tour bus and surrender our schedule […]

  2. […] since we went to Nicaragua last year, I’ve been wanting to post a simple black beans recipe. We were lucky enough to have someone […]

  3. Sean Mallen

    Another lovely, wry and evocative essay Carolyn. Also inspirational…in the sense of I’m inspired to learn the word émbolo.

  4. The girls are absolutely adorable! As always, lovely photography. Things sure have changed down there!

    My friend’s son and his wife are now living in Costa Rica full time (she’s a native) and raising the kids there. They keep trying to get everyone to move there! lol

    …I love the sound of saying, ‘Managua Nicaragua’!

  5. As usual, beautifully & humorously written! LOVE it, ALL! I do have a tip though for your next venture to a spanish speaking location… bring the Wiley’s. KW is wonderful to have in these situations… Just ask the Brownlie’s about the time he returned spoiled shrimp in Costa Rica. 😉 Of course, I also have ulterior motives… xo

    1. Spanish. UGH! Really auto-correct? You made it a lowercase?! Come on! 😉