Or, Never Again
When Mike said that he wanted to add the country of Nicaragua to our list of countries to explore I had my misgivings. Turns out I was right. We toured the cities of Estelí, Cerro Negro, Granada, Leon, Masaya, Ometepe, Matagalpa and San Juan del Sur.
Upon landing in Managua the staff at the hotel wouldn’t let us leave the hotel without an escort. We said we were only going to walk a few blocks away to the cinema and they told us that even that would not be a safe thing to do. It was broad daylight. That was enough for us. We never left the hotel.
The following morning we were picked up for a seven day escorted tour of the country. Our driver and our tour guide were both friendly and wonderful people. Even they however gave us warnings about places to go and what time to be back inside our room. Sitting in a café one day looking at one of the countries most famous beaches I remarked how empty it was. We were then told that the water was actually polluted with sewage and locals won’t use it. Lots of expats build expensive homes on this waterfront and I wouldn’t go near it with a ten foot pole.
Since we were exploring Nicaragua for 21 days we had rented a car for the last 14 days of our trip. Bus travel in Nicaragua is spotty at best so it was deemed safer by our tour operator to do our own driving. We were also headed to some places that would have been nearly impossible to find or get to without having our own vehicle such as the coffee finca Selva Negra in Matagalpa. Our time in Selva Negra is well documented and we wrote our first children’s book about our time there. This truly was an oasis in the middle of a no man’s land.
We stayed for four nights in Leon using it as our base. The wonderful women at the hostel we stayed at insisted that Mike park the rental car behind the locked gates at night (and before dark) so that it would be safe. In Granada we watched people eating out of garbage cans because they were starving. One of the hardest things to watch was people standing around and watching other people eating and when those people got up to leave those who were watching would swoop in before someone else got to the plate and take the uneaten food to have something to eat.
In Granada we also met an expat who married a local woman. He said he hardly ever leaves his home because one day he dared to ride his bike outside the safety zone and he said he knew he had ridden too far that day and before he could turn around he was pounced on and they took his bike, his camera and his pride. They hurt him only a little bit. He said he will never do it again.
We watched in first fascination and then in horror as people would do tricks or cartwheels or other dangerous routines at red lights. While people were waiting for the lights to change those desperate for money would do something to earn a coin or two. And then of course there were those who would blatantly walk up to your car windshield to wash it to earn money. These people are at every street corner and to get them to stop you simply turn your windshield wipers on and they go away.
Sound harsh to you? Three weeks of people begging for money, of seeing the filth and trash thrown in the streets and the constant car horn honking will turn even the most civilized person into a hardened tourist. I asked Mike to get me out of Nicaragua.
The people we met and dealt with at hotels and restaurants were warm and friendly. This fact however does not make up for the constant bombardment of begging that we were subjected too. If the leader of Nicaragua would spend more on his people instead of wasting money putting airstrips on Ometepe Island or in building a canal to rival Panama’s perhaps his people would not be starving in the streets, or doing dangerous things at red lights or even in eating other people’s leftovers.
If you wish to see the country of Nicaragua take every precaution imaginable and stay safe. Stay with an escort and keep on the beaten path. Our paths will not cross in Nicaragua. Been there, done that.