Burning the old at new year, Jiquilillo

20th January 2017

Burning the old year, igniting the new

Down at Jiquilillo beach, we’re participating in a Nicaraguan new year tradition. Quemar al viejo, or burning the old, is a chance to set the dying year aflame as the new one takes its place. The old year is personified by a muñeco, a life-sized effigy that will be burned at the stake. It’s rather like burning Guy Fawkes on bonfire night. But here at Rancho Esperanza, the ceremony is being given a Western twist. Our puppet wears the unmistakable face of Time magazine’s person of the year, and the incumbent President of the United States. We’re torching Trump.

Relaxing at Ranchi Esperanza surf lodge, Nicaragua

A tranquil spot

With nearly three months on the road under our belts, this sleepy seaside town seemed like the perfect place to usher in 2017. Jiquilillo sits on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, where practically untouched beaches stretch gently in either direction. There are two resorts here, the more expensive Monty’s and our preferred option, tranquil surf-shack Rancho Esperanza. Travellers come here to surf or bodyboard, take tours around the nearby mangrove or simply bask in the sun.

A surfer strolls on the beach at Jiquilillo

The gift of time

For us, the simple pleasures of reading, relaxing and rolling around in a hammock are what make this place so special. Sometimes in the rush of travelling, it’s easy to forget the gift of time. Paradoxically, when we are in receipt of this gift, we often feel that its best indulged by cramming the hours and days with activity. But in reality, the gift of time is best explored as ponderously as possible. The long expanse of an hour spent reading, pausing and allowing your thoughts to wander is a wondrous thing. Here, the virtual absence of cronos or measured time allows for kairos – the experience of a moment seized in time – to dominate. We expand to fill the balloon of our thoughts. Or perhaps, on popping, several hours have disappeared in silent pursuit of a single idea. The wait before dinner (which doesn’t answer to the demands of the clock, but comes when it’s ready) can drag endlessly as stomachs rumble, bending the present to slow down and listen to their whims.

Tempus fugit

Most of us live in a state somewhere between measured time and our experience of how it feels. But we prioritise the shock of the alarm, the tick of the clock, the meeting, the anniversary, the building blocks of our lives. Still, every day we feel the tidal swell of time. The precious last minutes in bed fly by, the meeting drags, and can it really be ten years already since…? Travel is a time when these two states converge. We book our flights, and plan the days, but long for that golden moment of repose where time evaporates. We feel we will be here forever, weightless in time, floating free from the tick of the clock. Still, it’s only that inevitable tidal pull back home that creates such an intense appreciation of the moment unleashed briefly from its ticking chains. We’re lucky to be basking a little longer in those weightless moments.

The beach at Jiquilillo, Nicaragua

Getting away from it all

Another thing that makes this state possible is the isolation that a lack of WiFi creates. It’s shocking to think that in three months, we’ve rarely been more than a few hours away from being able to catch up with the latest from home. At times, we’ve slavishly checked our Instagram account, or Facebook caught up in the digital hum. Of course, it’s a great thing to be able to connect so easily. Yet, part of the draw of travel is to lose yourself, and that can only really be achieved by casting aside those things that define you back home. 

As time goes by…

And so, how does time pass here? In the morning, we wake as the light illuminates the cracks between the wooden slats of our cabaña. In the hot mornings, I read in the hammock below the madroño tree where my thoughts become entangled in the branches and vines; the laughter of the Sanate bird who lives there breaks them apart. Sometimes, I hear a distant motorway rushing past, then remember that it’s the ocean, constantly undulating nearby. In the afternoon, I shift in my beach hammock as the sun slides down the sky.

Riding out the last of 2016 under pina colada skies

In the sea, I lose count of the waves, succumbing to the rhythmic suck and smash of water. The setting sun is blazing focal point. We drowsily drink in the sky’s intoxicating cocktail of orange and pink. Dinner is a flurry of talk and laughter, a bubble that carries us through to the dark. We tip our nodding heads backwards to appreciate the endless stars, counting Venus, Mars, Orion but there are far too many and it’s better just to gaze, silently. Sleep rides in on the velvet muzzle of the horse who grazes and coughs and snorts outside our cabin. We mount and gallop into the frontier of our dreams.
Horses on the beach at Rancho Esperanza Jiquilillo

A date with destiny

Back to the beach, where Trump awaits his fate. So far away from home, the man himself seems almost as paper thin and flimsy as this paper mask. Stuffed with the discarded clothes and outgrown dreams of 2016, he waits patiently. We drink and watch the pyros who have brought fireworks to the party.

An effigy of Donald Trump to be used in the traditional Nicaraguan Quemar al viejo (Burning the old) new year tradition

Burning the old… If only it were that easy to get rid of him for real!

Suddenly, along the beach, the locals erupt into a cheer. It’s midnight, but no one here was counting. The fire is only just beginning at Trump’s feet, but soon spreads. It catches the clothing and ascends in licks and splutters. In a few seconds, his face crumples, blackens. Now he is truly alight and burns fiercely. To give him his due, his wooden bones stand erect so long that it seems he’ll never fall. But he does, as all things must.

Burning the old new year Nicarguan style celebrations

The fire is still burning by the time I turn in. In the morning, the beach has been washed clean, the sands perfectly level. 2017 rolls in, with all the promise and uncertainty of certainty of a blank page, and all the inevitability of the tides.

Burning the old new year celebrations in Jiquilillo, Nicaragua

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This post was inspired by Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman which I borrowed from the shelves of the wonderful library at Rancho Esperanza.

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