12 Strangers Walk into a Bar…

People from all around the world come to my adopted home town, San Juan del Sur. It’s Nicaragua’s most popular beach town and home to a cheerful mix of folks.

Let me give you an example. I once found myself in a bar where visitors and locals often meet up. With a rockin’ band that invites anyone with an instrument to sit in and play, a true mix of Nicaraguans and foreigners, and fabulous local fare, it was so crowded that I found myself sharing a table with strangers. I was the lone U.S. citizen among 12 people from 12 different countries.

We decided to speak Spanish because several in the group didn’t know English. Going around the table to introduce ourselves, we all spoke at different levels of fluency and some people were reluctant to talk at first.

Malen, a Swedish woman, was there with Jonny from Finland. They had met traveling on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. Italian Paolo was in town contemplating opening a restaurant. Sylvia and Anna hailed from Argentina and were traveling in South and Central America for a year.

Tanguy was French and his wife, Maria Jose, was Nicaraguan and they lived in San Juan del Sur. Tourists Edward and Ingrid were British and German, respectively. Monica hailed from South Africa and her husband James was born in Canada.

While drinks were ordered, we learned, through Spanish, that Tanguy fell in love with Nicaragua almost as soon as he arrived and decided to leave Paris for a tropical seaside life. Sylvia told us how she funds her travels by staying in each city awhile and making clothes to sell. She reasoned that there were many people selling jewelry; she’d do something different.

As the wine flowed and the evening progressed, everyone’s Spanish leveled out and we talked more freely. Paolo gave us tips on making perfect focaccia bread and shared the recipe for his secret tomato sauce. Ingrid talked about her Peace Corps project working with small children in Costa Rica before coming to Nicaragua.

When it came to my turn, I was a little nervous, but with the smiles around the table waiting for my tale, I leaped over the doubt and told them my story—single woman with grown kids who wanted an adventurous early retirement. I made them laugh with some of my experiences and that made me feel good, because I’m not known for making people laugh in English, but in Spanish I was suddenly funny.

Everyone spoke about what they loved most about Nicaragua. I heard about new places to visit and got tips for traveling in this beautiful place that was new to all of us.

We tried telling jokes in Spanish by converting them from our native tongues which made us laugh hysterically as none of the punch lines made any sense. Oh but the fun was priceless!

James entertained us by getting up and singing with the band, then coming back to the table and singing for us, lively songs in Spanish that made us want to get up and dance. Edward shared his travel stories from South America and talked about when he visited Mendoza, Argentina…and Malen and Anna added interesting anecdotes because they had been there as well. Malen gave us a tip about a chocolate factory that sold absinthe.

We learned so much, we laughed so hard, we became fast friends…connected by a language that only three at the table could call their own.

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