"It's not poison," she assures me, with the slightest touch of scorn in her voice.
I am swishing and gargling with Kettle One after accidentally brushing my teeth with tap water. We were warned about the possibility of contracting Typhoid while in Nicaragua, but not in time to actually get vaccinated.
"I know," I gasp after spitting (or rather, pretending to spit whilst swallowing -- I mean, it's Kettle One, and if I swallowed Typhoid, well, it's too late anyway). "I just want to be aware."
Humming in the shower has been a useful strategy for not consuming any of the local water. I've performed the entirety of Chess, both American and British versions, over the last month in preparing for this trip -- all without uttering a single vowel. We knew we weren't supposed to drink the water, but the threat of Typhoid fever has upped the game. Somehow, in my hurry to get out of the rental house and down the treacherous mountain to catch our catamaran tour, I forgot to use the water from the large bottle we purchased in San Juan del Sur. As soon as I put the toothbrush in my mouth, I realized what I'd done and went straight for the vodka.
"Good. Yes, be aware," Sharon reassures me, but I wonder if she is simply placating me as we rush out the door.
If the Typhoid doesn't get me, this car ride is certainly having a good go at it. I catch my reflection in the rearview mirror as my boyfriend Carl and I are tossed helplessly back and forth across the back seat. Jan is driving, and Sharon, her girlfriend, is riding shotgun. The toast, eggs and shrimp (and vodka) that made up this morning's breakfast are now on spin cycle in my stomach.
Waiting at the dock is a small crowd of rowdy tourists of all shapes and sizes, who seem not to have been able to wait for the catamaran's open bar. Still, I can hardly judge them since I've already gargled with vodka and it's only 10:45 a.m. A Caucasian man wearing flip-flops and holding a clipboard presents himself.
"Hi, I'm Captain Somerset," he says in an accent that sounds vaguely Californian. "Everyone sign in here. If you don't know your passport number...be creative."
Well, at least they run a tight ship.
Captain Somerset ferries us all out to the catamaran on a water taxi, which is only a bit more run down and filthy than a New York taxi. I nervously make small talk with him, just as I tend to do in a New York taxi.
"Wasn't Somerset the first Indian -- uh, Native American -- to make contact with the settlers? The pilgrims?" I don't know why I choose this moment to show off my knowledge of American history.
He looks at me for a long moment then shrugs. "I don't know, man."
We pull up (does one pull up in a water taxi?) to the Must B Crazy. She is fairly long (though I have no point of comparison) and gleaming white. As we climb aboard, I notice how easy it will be to move about the boat and find a comfortable surface to lounge or sunbathe on, which must be the idea of a catamaran. The blue of the sail matches the blue of the sky, which has only a smattering of clouds here and there. The weather is the kind that is so comfortable you don't even notice it.
We are greeted by two crew members: young, tan boys who look like they might just be cutting class for a day on the water.
"Hola!" says one of the boys. He introduces himself as Alberto and the other boy as Manuel. We all repeat their names in a sloppy unison.
"So," Alberto continues, "what do you want to drink?" I barely stop myself from applauding. Alberto lists our options and I select a Mai-Tai, only slightly concerned about mixing rum with the vodka I gargled.
We sit at a small table on the back deck of the catamaran as the captain motors us out of the harbor. Several of the other passengers have sprawled across a net that spans the gap between the two hulls at the front of the boat, the only thing keeping them from falling into the sea.
We engage idly in a conversation with an American expat couple, earthy, hippy types who smoke Marlboro Reds and live on a farm commune here in Nicaragua. Sharon, an organic cook and doula by trade, is enrapt in the conversation. I half listen, watching the sea cliffs emerge in the distance and flocks of birds make shifting patterns in the early afternoon sky.
Captain Somerset shuts off the engine and the crew boys scramble about the catamaran, moving huge wooden beams I don't know the name of and tying ropes here and there. I look up and see the massive blue sail suddenly fill with wind, and we are sailing.
Our scruffy captain sits up on the back of his chair like a rebellious teen, his unbuttoned shirt fluttering back to reveal his rather frail and sunburned torso. He steers with one bare foot. Before I can panic, he calls: "Whales! We've got whales!
A quarter-mile away we see the dark shapes of breaching humpbacks just below the horizon. Our spontaneous applause is carried away across the sea. Ten minutes later we spot a huge sea tortoise swimming before us. It rolls upward, and we catch its eyes before it disappears beneath the boat. We see it safely emerge behind us as we sail by, unharmed but probably annoyed.
The crew boys, who have been kissed passionately by the sun (and who could blame him), have taken off their shirts. They grill shish kebobs in the cabin and slice melons and pineapple. I'm given a plate and dig in, feeling surprised at the appetite this day of sailing has roused. I bite into what looks like grilled mahi-mahi, nice white meat with a grill mark on the outside, a pretty coral pink inside. It's good, but the texture is different. I assume, as I gobble several pieces, that this is Nicaraguan mahi-mahi, so the difference in texture is to be expected. Then I overhear Manuel say "pollo."
I don't need Rosetta Stone to understand that what I am eating is medium-rare chicken. Shit. I scurry over to where our little foursome is sitting.
"This fish is good," Carl says.
"Guys, that is not fish," I announce slowly and apologetically.
The look on Sharon's face is beyond grave. Sharon is a brilliant cook with a fierce hippy streak and a vocabulary that includes words like antibiotic-free and air-chilled and sustainable farming. She's wary of chicken as it is, much less medium-rare Nicaraguan boat chicken.
"No," she says, as if she could argue away the possible E. Coli poisoning.
"Yes," I say. The silence stretches as we all stare at our plates; we've all eaten about half of the chicken.
"Well," I offer pathetically, "it's not poison."
I wonder if they have any Kettle One.