Friday, 27 August 2010

He had seen the dream

George Meegan arrived in Nicaragua on his walk across the Americas just after the Sandinistas took power in 1979. He got a frosty reception from some Nicaraguans who mistook him for a gringo, but as usual our resourceful hero managed to find a way around this.
With little traffic to watch out for, I dashed on at a good lick. A tiny Swiss flag that I had attached to my gear fluttered behind me. I had picked up the flag at L'Escargot, one of Anthony's swank restaurants in San Jose, and was displaying it on the theory that it would defuse hostility; after all, Switzerland (unlike Britain) had no imperial background to raise a revolutionary's ire. (In fact, I could claim some right to carrying it, for Mum was born in Switzerland.) The flag now drew the attention of a Sandinista toting a submachine gun, who signaled for me to pull over and addressed me forcefully. "You are not a Swiss. You are a Yankee bastard - pretending to be a Swiss."
"I'm not, I'm not," I protested strongly. "I'm an inglés bastard pretending to be Swiss." My clumsy admission apparently disarmed the chap, who motioned me with his gun to pass.
On the whole, though, the predominantly young Sandinista soldiers treated Meegan with respect, which is more than could be said for members of the armed forces in many other South and Central American countries he traveled through. In fact, one Sandinista literally gave him the shirt off his own back.
"Hey, gringo, where ya going?" he first said. This was on an empty stretch of road high above a valley before the town of Dario. Two young military police of the Liberation Front driving by in a jeep had stopped to question me. They got out while their girl companion waited in the vehicle.
"I'm walking through Nicaragua, your republic." At this the three of them let out a spontaneous cheer. The girl now got out of the jeep and offered me a plastic bag full of sweet ice, bound at the neck, with a straw dangling into slush. As I gratefully sucked the synthetic udder dry they asked me more questions: "Where are you from? What are you doing here?" Prodded by their enthusiasm, I revealed more than I normally do. When they learned I was English, this pleased them enormously - at least I was not an American. I finished my story: "... and I'm the only man to have walked from Argentina to Nicaragua - and I'm going to try to reach Alaska." They were speechless, simply overcome with joy. My original interrogator, a well-built fellow, now introduced himself as Bismarck, removed his shirt, and with great ceremony placed it on top of the ragged one I was wearing - "for friendship's sake," he said.
"You must be careful, Jorge," were Bismarck's last words to me as he did up the buttons. "Our sun will burn you." To this day I clearly remember, in the magic moment that followed, the chill wind singing past the telephone wire high above us. As we stood on the bleak hillside, a shirtless Sandinista and a double-shirted Englishman, we were one. He had never asked, "Why?" He knew. We were brothers; he had seen the dream.

Distance walked since last post: 14.2km
Total distance walked since Koshu Kaido training began: 230.1km
Days left until departure: 21

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