As I sway in an old wooden rocking chair beneath the brilliant moonbeams unclouded from human activity above the secluded island, a conversation with a nearby guard lingers in the humid air.
“There’s no work here in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas used to represent something different- revolution, the people. But now the big fish eat the little fish again. Power corrupts everybody,” Carlos said as he sat in the chair next to mine on a break from his night shift at the restaurant across the street from my hostel.
The sound of the waves from the lake surrounding us lapping against the base of two volcanoes here on this island called Ometepe fills the heavy silence of the night and I think Carlos is more with it than most Nicaraguans.
During the country’s civil war, the Sandinistas represented Nicaraguans all too ready to rid the country of its post-colonial handlers- the ruling Somoza family, who were empowered by the United States.
But now that the Sandinistas run the show, they represent the very thing they fought against during the war: authoritative, oppressive and exploitative government. “People are afraid of this government,” Carlos said- and it’s true. Who wouldn’t fear a government that suppresses freedom of expression and beats down protesters, divides its opposition to weaken them, deports naysayers and unilaterally pushes votes through Congress, riding itself of any politicians who vote contrarily.
Though half the population here lives below the poverty line, few recognize President Ortega’s negligence of his constituents and instead take solace in his welfare programs, overlooking his failure to reform the core issues in the country such as education or employment as they focus on getting by day-to-day.
But Carlos gets it. And I’m grateful that he opens up to me. I love being able to speak the language here; once Nicaraguans realize I work here, am genuinely interested in what’s going on in the country and I speak their language, they open up to share priceless information.- tips on taxi fares, where to buy what, but also their family histories and what they feel about the country and government (to the extent to which they can talk without fear). I love that I can talk to a farmer in a field harvesting beans, a taxi driver, a kid on the street or a night guard. It’s nice not to rely on a translator to get the real deal myself, and certainly helps with the fluidity of interviews.
Tomorrow, I’ll hike one of the two volcanoes on Ometepe- the island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua where I’m currently staying. One of the volcanoes has a lagoon at the top, and the other is an active volcano with lava oozing down one side. There’s also coffee and chocolate farms to visit alongside the volcanoes, a waterfall to hike to, hieroglyphics to check out, an ocean-like lake to swim in and plenty of bike riding and horseback riding.
I climbed my first volcano on Sunday as a post-deadline treat. I had written 5 heavy duty articles last week and was delighted to have a much needed break. My two housemates, their coworkers from a children’s school where they’re volunteering and I headed out on a half hour bus ride from our lovely colonial home town of Granada to Mombocho volcano. Bus service here means old yellow school buses exported from the US to be used here as Nica has laxer carbon output regulations. A few hours’ ride can cost as little as $1.50 paid in coins (though Managua is now getting techy and switching to electronic payment…I wrote about it here: http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2013/06/managua-buses-enter-digital-era/7888 .
Hiking Mombacho was wonderful, mostly for the lively company and stunning views of the volcano’s crater, islands formed by lava however many years ago, the smoky sulfur popping up through its misty rainforest, and sloths and monkeys hanging around. One psychic guy I interviewed for a story about witchcraft in Nicaragua (http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2013/06/nicaraguas-diriomo-enchants-visitors-with-witchcraft-tourism/7830) thinks Mombacho will erupt in 2015. If so, it’s cool to say I climbed it.
After the hike, our group cooked a dinner of eggs, veggies, pasta and hash browns. Apart from the fruit, food is not the bragging point of Central America, where fried foods and sugary drinks abound. But the dinner satiated more than a stomach could. Our group representing India, Britain, Virginia, New York and Belgium sat for hours discussing life and death, love and hate, division and unity, religion and politics- all the topics your mom tells you you shouldn’t discuss at dinner except we do because w’re interested and young and present and passionate and we can.
I am grateful to have met so many passionate, curious, fun, worldly, intelligent, heartfelt and involved people abroad during the past 2 years. Wonderful people travel, especially in developing countries- friendly spirits who are open to the world and realize it is much bigger than we are yet smaller than we think, who want to embrace and challenge all there is in life, to throw themselves into an unpredictable and uncomfortable atmosphere and have a wild ride, and who want to make a difference doing so. I’ve met former employees of the Federal Reserve, Department of Defense, big advertising agencies who have quit their jobs to “feel more alive, more human,” as they say. I’ve met some out-there hippies married to their surfboard and granola and free love, on-a-mission foreign service officers and aid workers, a curious bunch of journalists and NGO folk, business people looking to capitalize on countries’ nascent markets, and the party backpackers traveling through. In any case, all have been open, adventurous, smart, and fun.
Checking out for now- getting up early to swim, bike, run and hike around the island! Hasta luego!