Crossing from Costa Rica, we’ve exchanged a decent second class bus for a Nicaraguan “chicken bus” special. Against all odds we have successfully evaded “gringo tax” and negotiated the same price for a ticket as everyone else on the bus. However, we now find ourselves in the rather uncomfortable position of sharing a bench seat with an entire family. Adding to our discomfort are the people who keep turning around to quizzically look at us as though they have never seen a blonde, blue-eyed gringo before. In fact most of the kids look positively terrified. Of all possible music choices the driver has decided to forgo the usual Samba and is blasting the bus with classic 90’s American pop, perhaps in our honour. Just when we thought things couldn’t get more bizarre, a few rather inebriated locals at the back have begun to pass around beers and shooters.
Welcome to Nicaragua!
The country known as the “land of lakes and volcanos”. It’s little wonder that the natural beauty of Nicaragua is a big draw card for Eco-tourists. Our travel itinerary included a little Caribbean delight called Little Corn Island where the diving was rumored to be fantastic. Whether diving the Caribbean, surfing the pacific coast and partying at San Juan del Sur, hiking a volcano and sand boarding back down or merely wanting to leisurely bird watch while surrounded by lush green forests or walk the colourful streets of Granada with camera in hand, Nicaragua has it all!
Mention “Nicaragua” to a baby boomer and of course the first topic to come up in discussion is the 30 year long civil war that the country suffered through under the Somoza dictatorship. The 90’s welcomed the end of the conflict and tourism has been rising exponentially ever since. You’ll be glad to know that the local population generally have a positive attitude towards us travellers. The booming tourism industry has boosted other industries and the overall economy. This in turn has helped to curb the sharp edges of poverty that continues to plague this country of 6 million. Crime is unfortunately a problem that you will need to be aware of while travelling. Certain places such as Managua might have you eager to stay within the safe bounds of your hotel or hostel.
The Political and Environmental Landscape
Politics here in Nicaragua remain a hot topic. We tend to raise an eyebrow at any “democratic” president who refuses to step down after his second and final term in office. If it walks like a dictator and quacks like a dictator… President Ortega also didn’t win any brownie points with us when he only agreed to the Paris Climate Accord at the last minute. It is very possible that he simply didn’t want to be one of the only leaders left standing next to old Trumpy bear.
Ortega is also very much in favour of going ahead with plans to build the Grand Nicaragua Canal. The Chinese are funding the canal, need I say more? The plan being to rival the newly upgraded Panama Canal. The idea is to facilitate the passage of massive cargo supertankers built to carry even more plastic Chinese crap around the world. Of course this project would also mean the destruction of rainforests, pristine beaches, fragile ecosystems and contamination of the lake. Oh, and the displacement of the few remaining indigenous forest tribes.
So What Does this mean for the roaming gypsy backpacker?
Clearly, rainforests and butterflies aside, Nicaragua is not without its faults. When travelling on a budget and using cheaper public transport systems you get to see a country in an authentic light. Between the glimmering tourist gems are areas that expose the less shiny side of the country. The conservationists in us always feel a sharp pang of anger when we come across mountains of plastic pollution. Not to mention our near cardiac arrest when we came across turtle flippers while walking through a local market. Unfortunately the Nicaraguans continue their unsustainable and narrow-minded practice of eating the meat and eggs of these beautiful endangered species!
Although you might have already guessed it, travelling through Nicaragua will certainly keep things interesting. As any wanderlust traveller will tell you, an adventure should always include an element of unpredictability and risk. The colourful Nicaragua will not disappoint! But while here, please order the chicken and not the turtle.