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I first knew I was in Nicaragua when I was sitting outside the Costeña (domestic) terminal in Managua, arguing with a man about what time it was (an hour earlier than I was hoping), when I glimpsed two security guards having a drink and a snack in the shade. Hanging heavy in one of the guard’s hands, down at his side, was a bag of soda. This I remembered from the last time I was here, the soda (or juice) in a bag. If you’re lucky, you get a straw, and if not, you bite the bag and suck out the contents.

Of course you can get soda in a can. Or a plastic bottle. But the cheapest option is from a glass bottle, and they’re returnable, and who knows if you’ll ever come back, so a bag it is. We have the same returnable-glass-is-cheapest thing in Chile, and one of my favorite empanada places (on Bulnes, amid all the ammunition shops), you can get a “coca express” to go with your empanada. But there you return the bottle, and no bag is involved. The owner will remind you if she thinks you might not know.

But I digress, comparing Nicaragua to Chile. I do this. I compare where I am to every place I am to every place I’ve ever been. Not to better-or-worse it, just some sort of organizational scheme that helps me parse what I’m seeing. Take, for example, the guy with the box of giant standing-up lollipops on the bus to Granada. I don’t see how you could look at them and not think of those flat, multicolored, coiled lollipops we had as kids, thaT lasted for days and dyed your tongue green. Except some of his paletas had ears, like el ratoncito Mickey. That’s what the woman sitting behind and to my left bought, and I imagined she’d give it to a child at the other end of her journey, like a woman in Suriname did with an orange soda on her way to Nickerie. And so it goes.

So there’s a difference between me now and me then. Me then had never been anywhere where you drank soda in a bag. But she had seen lollipops. Her library of things seen was smaller. Maybe she looked at everything as new. But by so doing, she filled her head with assumptions, comparisons, and memories.

Like the fact that in some places, despite the prevalence of wifi and cell phones, you can still drink soda from a bag.

Pictured above, an orange kitty named Pearl, who, not surprisingly, reminded me of every other orange kitty I have known.