Nicaragua II: Scorpion Milk Volcano & An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

Howler over Ocean

15.3.10. San Juan del Sur

woke up in our decadent palapa on some remote coast of Nicaragua | still half-dreaming i went into the bathroom & reached for a change of underwear & felt a piercing prick on my finger | i knew instantly it was a scorpion | as i mentioned in the previous post [when a scorpion was crawling high up on my thigh in the shower] i've always been deathly afraid of scorpions—probably more so than any other creature | living in Mexico i knew a few people that came close to dying from scorpions & indirectly knew of others [for example wailing campers on the beach next to us] that did die | ever since in tropical climes i've been obsessive about checking my shoes & not leaving things lying around on the floor [the underwear was up on a bench] | in any event now it was happening—the fear of the unknown had passed—i knew what that instant felt like | it was similar to the feeling when i was stung by a stonefish on the same finger of my other hand [only that was far worse—like a rusty hypodermic needle that hit so hard it went all the way through my finger & stuck out the other side] | what i didn't know was how poisonous scorpions were in Nicaragua | my first reaction was to get the scorpion [to eat the head if necessary—as they do in Mexico] but i was also just standing there—my heart racing—my arms shaking—waiting for something to happen |

after a few minutes though i seemed to be okay | i shook the scorpion out & it plopped on the floor & ran into the corner & behind a pole before i could kill it | we never did find it which was a bit unnerving | we were supposed to go to some farm-to-fork breakfast thing so we grabbed cups of coffee & headed out across the suspension bridge to the main part of the lodge | i asked a security guard along the way about the scorpion & he said they weren't poisonous to most people & that the best thing for it was to drink coffee which i was already doing | my finger hurt & was numb but the pain remained isolated to my finger | all in all i'd say it was no worse than a bee sting |

where i'm writing from

writing desk



we got into the back of a truck & were taken to some farm where we preceded to milk a cow & collect some eggs from some hens & then made handmade tortillas | best breakfast we'd had yet in Nicaragua if not meal | somehow milking the cow using my finger that was just stung by a scorpion seemed therapeutic & the milk tasted amazing [coming from someone who typically hates milk] |

udder sucking


after breakfast we went back & just hung out lazing on the beach & body-surfed & watched the sloth & monkeys & creatures & ran on the beach til our feet blistered & chewed tamarinds straight off the tree & drank free beer & explored the mangrove swamp & waited for the fisherman to come in to see what was for dinner |

monkey branch





where we were staying [Morgan's Rock] was named for a U.S. senator from Alabama that was an advocate for putting what is now the Panama Canal through Nicaragua [if you look at a map it geographically makes a lot more sense] & where we were was where this Nicaragua Canal would've been but instead here we were |

come sunset we went on a night walk but didn't see much except a mangy porcupine & some skunks & we got stung all over my mosquitoes & who knows what else only to add to our general itchiness from chiggers & jellyfish & scorpions & sunburn & nipple rash from body-surfing | it's such discomforts that you need to appreciate the everyday comforts of home |

volcano concepcion

16.3.10. Isla de Ometepe

spent the last morning on the beach then pushed on | went through San Juan del Sur only to confirm our suspicions that it was a crap tourist town then through Rivas & to San Jorge where we waited for the ferry | before we even got to the island of Ometepe we could see the ash spewing from volcán Concepción & little bits of it were even raining down on us from across the lake | we drove our little red rental car onto the ferry & crossed [actually we traversed just a small portion of an otherwise huge lake so vast it's more like an inland sea] | there was some guy on the ferry from the government that was monitoring & filming the volcano as i guess it was acting up & there'd been small earthquakes, etc. |

self-portrait on the ferry crossing [it's generally very windy in Nicaragua]

self-potrait with concepcion

drove around to the other side of the island to playa Santo Domingo where we got a room with an iguana living between our ceiling & the tin roof that we could hear scratching around at night |


church & erupting conception

church of conception


cows watering near our hotel [volcán Madera in the background]

cow on lake nicaragua with volcan madera

17.3.10. Isla de Ometepe

the next morning we went on a long hike | they weren't letting people go up Concepción for obvious reasons so we went up volcán Madera instead | Isla Ometepe is essentially shaped like a figure-8 bra with the perfect conical shape of Concepción being some 1600 meters high & the more deflated looking Madera being 1400 meters | we got a trusty local guide [Douglas] which is a requirement & necessity as like the roads in Nicaragua none of the trails are really marked | it was hot as hell [Douglas said 45°C though that seemed a slight exaggeration] especially down low before there was tree cover | we started out in rocky yucca & bean fields with the occasional petroglyph then up into coffee fields & eventually to the canopy of cloud forest | the trail went straight up getting steeper & steeper & more overgrown & rutted with roots & denser tanglages of foliage | when we got to the top we dropped back down into the crater where there was a muddy lake where we rested & refueled [see video below for the full voyage] |


Aztec petroglyph

aztec petroglyph


lush tangle of cloud forest

jungle TEXTure


capuchin monkey



my feet after the fact

sockline after the fact


lake fish [pargo] after the fact


other than that we wallowed in the shallow lake & lazed about reading | back at Morgan's Rock they had Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson which i've been wanting to read but it was in hardback & a beast to lug around | they also had one of Updike's Rabbit books that i took from their library but couldn't really get into under the circumstances | the last book i brought with me [that i was saving] was An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira which was definitely «saving the best for last»—the best book i've read in some time | it's told in that certain reportorial tone that Borges often used though there are passages that are as viscerally descriptive & surreal as Cormac McCarthy & all with a Cervantes mythical undertone to it | as the title would imply it details a certain episode in the life of a German landscape painter Johann Moritz Rugendas as he travels through Chile & Argentina with his sidekick Krause in the early 19th century documenting what they observed [based on a true story] |

like the work/process being described the book itself reads like a natural history of the landscape they travel within—starting in Chile and crossing the border near Acongagua into the Mendoza region of Argentina | Rugendas' objective is to paint more than just landscapes but the landscape during certain events or actions such as during an earthquake or an Indian raid | his painting though static is a means of storytelling:

«The purpose of storytelling could be better fulfilled by handing down, instead, a set of "tools," which would enable mankind to reinvent what had happened in the past, with the innocent spontaneity of action. Humanity's finest accomplishments, everything that deserved to happen again. And the tools would be stylistic. According to this theory, then, art was more useful than discourse.»

a spectacular tragedy befalls Rugendas of which i will not reveal the details of so as not to spoil it if you haven't read it suffice to say it was a rather electrifying & arresting passage that transforms Rugendas from the inside out leaving him bloodied but unbowed—in fact he seizes it as a regenerative opportunity:

«He had never seen better in his life. In the depths of that mantled night the pinpricks of his pupils woke him to the bright day's panorama. And powdered poppy extract, a concentrated form of the analgesic, provided sleep enough for ten reawakenings per second.»

for me [an artist often stuck between the interplay between text & image] the descriptions of his technique were particularly appealing & revealing:

«He had thought of the text as an accompaniment to the images; but what he had not seen at the time, and was now beginning to realize, was that by considering it an accompaniment or a complement he was separating the text from the "graphic" content. And the truth, he now saw, was that both were part of the same thing. Which meant that the ghost-writer, the "nègre," had infiltrated the very essence of the work, under the pretext of carrying out a purely technical task: making coherent sentences out of the disjointed scraps of oral documentation. But everything was documentation! This was where it all began and where it ended too. Where it began especially (because the end was far off down the misty ways of science and art history). Nature itself, preformed by the procedure, was already documentation. There were no pure, isolated data.»

not only does Aira succeed in articulating such insight but the story itself is a reflection of these sentiments making the book one of those wonderful objects that you can't pinpoint exactly what it is—fiction or biography or an art essay or just plain art? | there is a clear method to Aira's [via Rugendas'] madness & it's all quite methodical but there are also brilliant interludes that defy explanation nor need them such as this:

«The soldiers intensified their fire, as if the taunts had enraged them, but perhaps that was not the reason. The next display took extravagance to the limit: the "captive" was an enormous salmon, pink and still wet from the river, slung across the horse's neck, clasped by a muscular Indian, who was shouting and laughing as if to say: "I'm taking this one for reproduction."»

Aira neither shows nor tells yet simultaneously manages to do both in half the words [the novella is a trim 87 pages]:

«The proof of this achievement was that while conversing silently with his own altered state (of appearance and mind), he continued to see things and, whatever those things were, they seemed to be endowed with "being."»

cesar aira landscape


another gratuitous self-portrait on the ferry back to the mainland

self-potrait on ferry

18.3.10. Granada

had breakfast & mosied back to the port picking up some weird dreadlocked hitchhikers along the way | caught the ferry back to the mainland then retraced our footsteps to Granada where we had another amazing churrasco then spent the night & woke up again & then drove to the airport [after getting lost in the maze of Masaya] & flew home |

heron in the waves


(c) 2010 Derek White