The first time I went looking for it, I overshot the turn-off for Punta Jesús Maria by almost 15 kilometers, which is a lot of distance to overshoot something on an cantankerous two-speed bicycle with knobby tires. Especially when the island being pedaled across is only 30 kilometers to begin with.
To be fair, the sign for the turn-off wasn't terribly prominent. Sure, it was the size of a small barn, but years of weather had eroded enough of the paint so that it looked like any other piece of upright plywood standing alongside a small Nicaraguan road. And the guide in town had told me that it was a 20-minute ride, but I hadn't compensated for the fact that her legs were shorter than mine, and she likely pedaled slower.
Ever-susceptible to attention deficiency—even while riding a bike on a road with no shoulder in a country with few traffic laws—I passed the time fidgeting with my GoPro-mounted Forever Alone Camera Stick(™). With the exception of random clearings and stray teams of bone-thin horses, there wasn't much along the road that kept my attention on pedaling, so I experimented with the camera stick and filled a high-capacity memory card with a medley of poorly-composed self-portraits, set at two-second intervals. I'd regret doing this later, while on my computer, as I combed through hundreds of pictures to find the one decent one I could put on Instagram for Mom. The rest I deleted. Mostly.
I'd brought nearly a gallon of water along for the ride, which I reasoned was more than enough for an afternoon with limited sunlight. Sunscreen with a three-digit SPF rating was lathered liberally on every exposed square inch of skin, and I rode in the shade whenever possible. Still I sweat more than I drank, and I returned with red demarcations around my collar and elbows. I'd spend the next full day in bed, nauseated and energy-sapped—sun stroke, naturally.
Elsewhere on the island, über-athletes were competing in various ultramarathons, clamoring up ashen slopes, scuttling back down, and then tearing back up once again. I was sharing a six-bunk dorm with four of the runners, and by the time I returned from my sunset bike ride, most of them had finished and were passed out on their mattresses. A sun-scorched girl lay on the cool tile floor, praying for aloe vera and a quick death. I asked her if I could get her anything. She said no.
I heard later that one runner had gone missing for a full 24 hours before turning up in town, looking as if she'd fallen into one of the volcanos and then belched out of it. Elsewhere, the athletes showed up early at the restaurants in town, ate them out of house and home, and went to sleep before even the schoolchildren. I, on the other hand, sauntered around town for a while before settling on an Italian restaurant, out of which trickled the last men standing from the day's grueling event.
By the time I holed up for the night, some of the other athletes in the dorm had been sleeping for four hours. Tile Floor Girl was still holding to her namesake in a fitful rest next to my bed. I nervously stepped around and over her to my bunk, and did the best I could to sleep.
The following day, I couldn't finish the breakfast made for me by the Canadian expats at the nearby café. My stomach was doing somersaults—symptoms of a body in revolt against poor treatment. That gallon of water, as it was now being made apparent, was not nearly enough hydration for the bike outing from yesterday. I made it back to the hotel without ralphing on the sidewalk, but as I crawled into bed I wished I had. I wanted to talk to Tile Floor Girl about her sun stroke, to see if she had any advice, but she wasn't there.
I pulled the sheets up, and brought the water bottle within reach. I was dog sick. And I was in love with Nicaragua.