You Can’t Chase the Moment


You Can't Chase the Moment - Leon, Nicaragua

We were sitting in a small, local bar in Leon, Nicaragua. My Jamaican friend, Jason, and I were sharing the room with about a dozen other Nicas. He’d found this place and suggested we check it out. “I’ve only been a couple times, man, but the jukebox is top notch. One minute it’s Reggaeton, the next it’s Pink Floyd”.

The place itself was nothing more than a shotgun room built out of cinder blocks painted white, with a tiny alcove to the side that housed the refrigerators and a small rack of cheap rum.

No food, just booze — 1 liter Toña beers seemed most popular, shared by everyone at the table so it was still cold by the end. (No mean trick in 90+ temps). The owner was a stern-faced woman who –bless her heart– had the largest ass I’ve ever seen on an average-sized person. She looked like she was shoplifting a sofa.

We got there early, both doing the gringo dance of stacking two paper-thin plastic chairs together.

He’s thin and didn’t need to but I think he did it just to make me feel better. If I sit in a single chair, odds are pretty good that I’ll end up on my ass when the cheap legs give way. In some places they charge you $5 for breaking the chair. It happens often with gringos.

But it was a nice scene. To our left was a table with a Nica woman who was wearing way too much makeup and seemed quite interested in making either of our acquaintances. When neither of us did more than smile and nod back, she gave up and went back to chatting with her buddy at the table.

He had a nasty habit of spitting on the floor and she would slap him on the arm and call him a pendejo each time. As Jason put it: “Even I understood that.”

She sat by the ‘jukebox’, which was –again– the real reason we were there.

It was nothing more than a varnished plywood box with a small pc screen, six sad LEDs and a slot for coins. Hidden somewhere inside was a cheap PC.

Because of the placement of the tables, it really wasn’t possible to browse the selection without standing with your ass in the woman’s face. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done laundry so I declined.

What happened instead, in this beautifully organic way, was that everyone decided she was the DJ and we all took turns handing her 5 cordoba coins (20¢ for 3 songs) and she queued up the music. And she rocked it.

Behind Jason sat a man who was jittery as hell and immediately set off my warning bells. His leg was shaking and he kept sneaking peeks at my friend (who, being born in Jamaica, doesn’t exactly blend in here. Better than me, certainly, but no one is going to mistake either of us for locals). I fully admit to being much more defensive and paranoid here than I was in Mexico or Guatemala. I feel that I need to be. I don’t like it but that’s how it is.

So, I pointed this out to Jason and he said “Yeah, I kinda picked up on that. Maybe he’s just had a shitty day”. Certainly more generous in spirit than I, but still he turned his chair to the wall to better keep an eye on our spastic friend. And in the end, he was right. After the guy got a good beer in him, he settled down and started joking with everyone else in the place and his tone completely changed.

What I feared could run loose and become a fight was simply just a case of a man needing a drink after a hard day. I can only imagine how hard that day was.

We were only there for a couple of hours, sharing a total of 2 beers between us. We weren’t there to party, both simply wanting to soak up the atmosphere. He and I had hung out long enough before to have swapped our best stories and were comfortable just sitting quietly rather than sharing our B-grade material. Neither of us felt the need to chatter or make small talk.

We’d just called for the check when the Moment happened. I’m not sure if I’ve ever spoken of the Moment, but it’s the time when everything comes together and you really understand why you’re here at this place and at this time. It’s magic.

It may last a half-second or a half-hour. After three years on the road, I’ve finally learned that it is what I truly seek — not enlightenment, not understanding. I crave the Moment, when everything makes sense. Maybe that is enlightenment of a sort, but it’s just a taste.

Yet I can’t hunt it — I just have to place myself where it can happen. The Moment is a greased pig — you’ll never catch it. It’s a train that doesn’t run on tracks. It’s a ghost.

The next song kicked in and it was a love song (regardless of the language, you can always tell). Immediately, the entire bar became quiet. Then I noticed that everyone was mouthing the words to this tune under their breath. And I do mean everyone.

Slowly, the place was filled by the mumblings, then full-out singing of at least a dozen people, young and old — everyone here knew this song and not one was ashamed to share it.

It wasn’t patriotic, it was a song of love (and I suspect, loss) and being there at that time really brought it all home to me and reminded me why I do what I do. I couldn’t understand the words, but I somehow knew. It was a wave of glory, love and hope filling a cinderblock room in the middle of a rundown barrio.

After it ended the next song came on, a jaunty tune filled with trumpets and an accordion, but everyone sat and stared into their beers for several long seconds without saying anything. In the corner, an old man knuckled away a tear.

That was the Moment. That was the magic. And that’s why I can’t go home.

51 comments on “You Can’t Chase the Moment

  1. Great post! Reading it gave me goosebumps and made me think of all the Moments we’ve had while travelling. They are elusive, but you know it when get one.

  2. I love the “Moment” where everything seems to fall into place traveling. In my experience, just as you described, you can’t chase but when it hits you can feel it.

  3. Another excellent saga told well, mi amigo.

    Unless it was besame mucho…

  4. Richard Littlejohn on said:

    Beautiful post, my friend! I really loved reading this one. Johnny Vagabond- our man in the field, always effing the ineffable.

  5. Hi Johnny. Great post!. I’m from León, btw.
    I’m so curious to know what is the place you were at? :)

    You should also go to Granada&Ometepe or the Somoto Canyon if you have the chance. Regards.

    • I’ll try to find the name of it. To me it’s “3 blocks down and 1 block to the left”

      Ometepe is definitely in my plans. Spent 3 weeks in Granada. Lovely but I prefer Leon’s pace and vibe. Thanks for the tip on Somoto Canyon — will definitely check that out :)

  6. Great post man, great story. I too love those moments when everything converges.

    Keep sharing, keep enjoying!

  7. As you talked about the ‘moment’ I got goosebumps Johnny – it’s hard not to when you understand exactly what you’re talking about :) I think we all have those ‘moments’ in our life and travels and truly, that’s sometimes all we need to keep forging along on our life paths :) Beautiful post!

  8. Beautiful post. And you nailed. There are those moments that move you, letting you know that travel is worth it. However, you can’t seek them out or plan them but when they happen, they are indeed beautiful.

  9. Ah yes, The Moment, appropriately capitaled. We travel for The Moment. Love the greased pig analogy.

  10. So beautiful! I especially loved the last bit about why the elusive Moments are the reason why you can’t go home. Amazing post.

  11. My gosh, I loved this post! I could relate big time…I’m always on the quest to find the moment too.

  12. Mike Sigers on said:

    Great story Wes. That story was OUR moment. It’s why we are here. It’s why we don’t want you to go home :-)

  13. Great story, Johnny. And ALL of my Moments came about as a result of not planning every minute of the trip. Spontaneity, flexibility, openness . . . that’s when the Moments happen.

  14. You’re right you can’t chase the moment but you gotta live for them. Great story.

  15. I get it. I understand it. And I live it. LOVED this post!!!

  16. You very well might be my favourite.

  17. That’s it, I’m coming to see you. We’re having another moment together. More than one, in fact.

    And, perhaps, even a Moment as well.

    • Get on it, brother. Unless the moment includes a poker scam or a street kid trying to superglue insoles into my sandals ;)

  18. Nice one honey… And one of those Moments can make up for a whole lot of shit that makes you think “why am I doing this again?”

  19. out of the 17 travel blogs I visited today looking for inspiration- this one post made my day. That was the Moment. That was the magic. And that’s why I can’t go home.

  20. WOW! I just wish I could travel like you and experience Magic Moments like this. You always have great stories, always :)

  21. Rachel on said:

    Would always leave your email posts in my inbox and leave them till I can fully concentrate on reading every word you write.

    Really liked how your painted the visual picture for me.

    Travel safe mate :)

  22. It´s that same moment that I can´t ever seem to explain to friends and family back home as to why I travel often. I´m currently in Bogota and had that moment yesterday and it feels good. At times it still leaves me in awe, other times, it´s that small, fleeting moment that I recognize in 2.2 seconds with a smile.
    Antoinette recently posted..Life, Work, and Happy Travels for 2013My Profile

  23. Its that Moment when you forget that you’re American or Canadian or whatever, and they’re Nicaraguan or Costa Rican or whatever… and you’re all just people, sitting in a bar, enjoying a drink, listening to a beautiful song. It’s like a feeling of ‘oneness’ and it’s amazing. It’s also rare, so enjoy it! I loved this post and how you put it all together! :)
    Wrabbit007 recently posted..Buried Above Ground: Strange Tales of Death from New OrleansMy Profile

  24. Beautiful post! That last line really summed everything up perfectly and I love how you capture the life of a long-term traveler so well. Before my husband and I left on our own journey, I think I believed that every day would be filled with poignant moments and earth-shattering revelations. Of course, even when you’re on the road, life is always more mundane and far less grand, but more & more, I’m coming to realize that these are the places where real beauty is found. You can’t chase the moment, but as travelers, that’s what we set out to do. The fact that it’s elusive yet so powerful when it does strike makes it all the more addictive. I was so scared to leave on our trip, and now I can’t even fathom going home again!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Introducing Chewing the Fat!My Profile

  25. What a great story, you made me smile!! Those moments, however short they might last, are amazing and are what it is all about. You made me smile!
    Angela recently posted..Places we love: Retro Cafe BangkokMy Profile

  26. I haven’t read any of your previous posts.. This is my first ! you write so beautifully.. and you described it soo well that for a second it felt like i was actually apart of it :)
    Keep writing..
    Keep traveling :)

  27. You’ve written this so beautifully! At the end it completely sent me back to all those Moments I’ve had while travelling- you are so right, that is the magic.

  28. Thanks for visiting my blog and offering to tweet. I’m new to this so still figuring out how add share/promote links. My handle is @sharan_saikumar

  29. Great story Johnny. I love moments like those, when everything just falls into place to create something awesome. Thats what travel is all about :)
    Nicole @ Suitcase Stories recently posted..Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica – Photo EssayMy Profile

  30. I call those “perfect moments.” I had one driving in Alaska last night after watching a 10pm sunset. There was a huge moon in the clear sky, wilderness all around, no other cars around.

    You are a great writer. Excellent story…it put me in a pensive mood.
    Jeff at Planet Bell recently posted..Three Pretentious Days: ManilaMy Profile

  31. Leon is definitely a town where moments hide out. I remember experiencing a couple of them there. Wish I could describe them as well as you do though! :)
    Matthew Karsten recently posted..Chicken Island Paradise [PHOTO]My Profile

  32. Aspiring travel blogger here. Been following you for awhile now, you truly are an inspiration. Your writing is incredible. I enjoy the laughs you give me and the pull of my heart strings when you write about something that rings true. Thank you for doing what you do :)

  33. The moment and you captured it for all of us. :)
    Leigh recently posted..Last Night She Reminded Me Why I Love to ReadMy Profile

  34. Three months ago, I read this! Three months later I came back to read it again! Three months later I will come back and read it one last time before I start my journey. This one is truly an amazing piece well written Wes.
    Mo Draj recently posted..Lisbon – Cultural Gem of the Iberian PeninsulaMy Profile

  35. I am now on a mission to find this bar when I go to Nicaragua this summer!

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