The previous night I had been talked into waking up at an ungodly time. Six AM when you’re on vacation is almost criminal in my humble opinion. To go fishing. I was waking up early to go fishing.
One of our guides gave me a handline to try my luck with. A handline is like a fishing rod, minus the rod. It’s all line, so at one end are the hooks, and the other end is a plank of wood that you hold to keep the line wound. After I got the hang of it I decided I much prefer this method of fishing. By getting rid of the rod you can feel even the slightest nibble from fish nibbling at the end of your line. I had a lot more luck because your hands are a lot more sensitive to the stimuli at the other end of the line. It must have worked out because all said and done I caught about six or seven fish that day by handline fishing. The biggest fish was a small grouper, but the majority of the fish we took home were red snapper. Another time, a blowfish had been the unlucky individual who took my bait. He was tossed back since they’re poisonous ( unless you’re a very adventurous eater). Like a gambler, I quickly became excited at getting a nibble, then trying to get the fish up as fast as possible to see what my luck had brought me.
Towards the end of our boat ride, I noticed something big and brown, that kind of looked like a tree stump floating in the water. We got a little closer to investigate, and to my delight realized I was looking at a sea turtle in the wild. Watching the brown loggerhead turtle peacefully swimming in the ocean inspired a moment of awe. Even though it was full grown, it seemed so tiny compared to the yawning expanse of ocean around it. The turtle seemed so blissfully at home, happy just swimming. The turtle seemed vulnerable to me, something unseen could just come from underneath and swallow it whole. It seemed a brave existence. I began to think about my own current situation, on a small boat out there. Anything could happen. The engine could die. We could run out of gas or perhaps we would run aground on some rocks- of course, no such thing happened. But it’s the kind of situation that makes you pause and think about your own lot in life. The turtle didn’t seem concerned in the slightest. It just kept on going minding its own business, doing turtle stuff. The turtle’s zen inspired my own.We were back on the beach by noon, and I decided to head back to my hut for a quick nap while the fish were cleaned. I woke up later to A.D’s brother knocking on my door asking me if I wanted to learn to surf. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn. We drove his little rented car down a road with ruts so deep I was afraid the wheel might get stuck, but somehow as if by magic, we made it unscathed. While bouncing along Jamie (A.D’s brother) promised I would stand up on my first wave trying to surf. I was skeptical but willing to give it a try. We went to Amarillo beach, one cove over from the beach where my hut was, for the evening high tide. I took a long board out to the water, where Jamie gave me some instructions. “Wait until you see the white of the wave to stand up,” he said as he shoved me toward the beach. He kept his promise. I was able to stand up on the board, not on for the first time, but a few times. The ocean did remind me to respect its power, however. The waves were deceptively large. From the beach, they looked peaceful- but once you’re in the water the waves could easily be taller than your head. A few times I had trouble getting past the break in the waves with the board. I got swamped by a crashing wave that took my board from me forcefully. At the same time, it coyly wrapped my legs up in the leash under water. Surfing certainly wasn’t as easy as it looked and I had a new found respect for those I saw out there gracefully darting around.
After surfing it was time to get dinner underway, so we went to pick up the fish from our friend’s where they had been chilling in the refrigerator. We ended up driving down the dirt road while A.D was holding the bunch of fish out of the car window while trying to dodge the odd cow or stray dog. Gigante is the kind of place where there is some kind of party or get together almost every night of the week. All day we had been bumping into people inviting people to this fish fry. But when we looked at the fish we realized they hadn’t been scaled! Instead of trying to scale them and cook them ourselves we decided to try our luck taking our catch to a local restaurant to see if they would cook them for us. We went to a small open patio in the center of Gigante where a smiling older lady wearing long skirts was sitting. A.D’s wife Eve, who is by far the best at Spanish, acted as our humble translator to ask if she would cook our fish for us. Kechita, our hostess smiled and welcomed all of us to her home and restaurant, calling us “mi amore” as she patted us on the back and invited us in. I was stunned at the openness and kind generosity that was granted to us. I was a complete stranger, yet here I was being generously welcomed into her home. No questions asked and ushered to a long picnic table with about 6-8 other people in our party. The memory of that moment still blows me away. The warmth and simple kindness of a sincere smile served with a side of fresh fish. It made me embarrassed to think of how she might be treated in my country, and I did my best to have manners and humility. I certainly think the people of Nicaragua could teach the average American a thing or two about hospitality.
We brought our own beverages with us for that dinner, some people drinking the other Nica beer Victoria, or having mixed rum drinks. Fleur de Cana seems like the only rum allowed in the country so that mixed with “mixto” jugo or mixed juice.
Kechita brought out a jar of what they call salsa, to go with our fish. But it’s not salsa the way we think of salsa- this is something special. Everyone makes it at home. I suspect every home cook has their own recipe. It’s a bunch of grated up vegetables in a vinegar sauce and they eat it with every meal. Most common is grated carrots, onion, cabbage and peppers in vinegar.
Our fish came out plate by plate as it was ready. A simple meal of pan seared fish with plantains and salsa- but man talk about an adventure. Everyone at the table that night had a hot plate. I walked home back to my hut with a full belly under the stars having had a once in a lifetime incredible adventure. That’s Nicaragua. I was immediately made to feel at home. Everyone had an open home and an open heart.
Nicaraguan Inspired House Salsa
Like I mentioned earlier, I suspect that every home cook in Nicaragua has their own personal recipe for this- so I put together the most common ingredients that I came across in the house salsa. The process is simple- grate and chop all your ingredients. Put in a sealable jar, and cover with vinegar. I suspect that people also add a little bit of something new as the jar runs low so if you keep it going it becomes a living thing. You give it a little of this and it mingles with that which already lives in there- giving it an entirely new and deeply complex flavor profile.