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Nomads on the Road - An Adventure in Nicaragua

NICARAGUA | Tuesday, 17 January 2012 | Views [3666]

Christina Tunnah is the VP of partnerships for World Nomads America and recently returned from adventures on the road.

Where did you go? 

I went to Nicaragua for 8 days. Since it was a relatively quick stint I focused on the souhwest slither of the country: Granada, Isla de Ometepe, and the Pacific coast south of San Juan del Sur, each spot had its unique flavor.

Granada is an old Spanish colonial town on the massive Lake Managua. It is peppered with the multi-coloured buildings, hidden courtyard gardens and cobbled streets that are typical of the Spanish colonial architecture and make for great ambling and discovery.  It was a great base for three days to explore the town and nearby area. We had the fortune of staying at Casa Silas B&B run by Rob and Claudia, who not only made us feel very welcome in their gorgeously updated colonial home but also graciously took us a great day trip via the erratic public buses to peer into (and inhale the fumes of) the very active Masaya volcano, ride tuk-tuks around the artesanal white villages, and enjoy susnet beers over Lago Apoyo. 

Car, motorbike, push bike or horse-cart.You’ll get there in Nicaragua!

The week before Christmas brings out the locals for all kinds of traditional town celebrations, one of which is neighborhood families taking turns to stroll through their streets towards the Cathedral with a trumpet and drum ensemble.  The kids dress up as the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the three kings on horseback, santas and pirates (don’t recall pirates being a traditional Christmas character!) We watched boys and girls (some looked as young as 7 or 8) from the various boxing clubs duke it out in a ring rigged up in the plaza; all as a demonstartion how sports and competition keep kids busy, off the streets and distracted from drugs and crime. Seems the whole town turned up to cheer them on-it was magical.

Onwards to the second tranche of the trip: a listing groaning ferry-ride where we sat in the exhaust riddled bowels and heaved forward to the twin volcano island of Isla de Ometepe in Lake Managua.  The island had the chill, slow-paced vibe you would expect from any island but add lots of organic farms, coffee farms creeping up the volcano slopes, dirt roads, scattered villages, two active volcanoes and howler monkeys, and it almost flatlines. A perfect place to truly relax and walk from village to village, discover jungle paths or just sloth in a hammock in front of our farm-stay room with killer lake views. It was a fave spot for us that even prompted talk of “Let’s buy a small farm here….”

Ferry thankfully learches towards the volcanic islamd of Isla de Ometepe.

The final part of the trip was San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast, a launching off point  for coast further south towards Costa Rica to see the Paso Pacifico and SEE Turtles project that you World Nomads are supporting with your micro-donations through Footprints! It is a real treat to see first-hand the needs and communities that Footprints Network funding helps.

This specific  project centers on Nicaragua’s Pacific Slope, a globally important nesting ground for four species of endangered sea turtle (Leatherback, Hawskbill, Green, and Olive Ridley) critically threatened by illegal egg poaching and destructive fishing practices (and unbridled tourism) that have depleted these populations to the edge of extinction. 
Footprints funding will help Paso Pacifico in employing locals to patrol nesting beaches (some of whom are former egg poachers), improving egg hatcheries managed by the women of El Ostional, and supporting the development of local ecotourism in 6 small rural villages along this stretch of coast. For more detail on the project and needs of the community, check out Footprints. 

Liza, who overseas the Paso Pacifico’s turtle conservation project, and Salvador, a Community Coordinator, met me in San Juan and we drove over 25 kilometres of jungle and dirt roads through stunning country to El Ostional and the several beaches where the project is focused. Our stop in La Flor coincided with a community picnic where the local schoolchildren were going to release hatchling turtles not even six hours old, into the water.  

Like puppies with disproportionately sized paws, these little guys had adorably large flippers that begged the question “How could you not want to protect them?”.  In El Ostional I met the women who manage the hatchery and went by boat to see the nesting beaches along many kilometers of coastline that just eight rangers have the herculean task of protecting.  I also passed through Hermosa Surf Camp where I spoke with a ranger about his challenges against poachers and tourists.  The camp owner, a former mayor of the local town after years of Liza building a rapport, fully supports the conservation efforts and pays a ranger’s salary and educates staff and surfers on the fragility of that beach’s eco-system.

Not six-hours old. Good luck guys!

Liza and Salvador’s unrelenting commitment and hard work were palpable, humbling and inspiring. It was undeniable that the funds being raised will help them tremendously. I hope that Nomads going to Nicaragua put El Ostional on their route, stay in a beachside room Salvador’s wife owns from a micro-loan intended to help women-owned businesses, see the Paso Pacifico’s work, and perhaps even volunteer or donate .

It was a magical place, so very off the beaten San Juan Del Sur expat-backpacker-surfer path.  I would love to go back, stay longer, and perhaps volunteer at  the women’s organic farming project that the indefatigable Liza also help  in her spare time!

What was your best cultural experience? 

The people of Paso Pacifico and El Ostional, especially Liza and Salvador. We lunched together under the shade of a tree with chickens and kids bopping about, steps from the beach and just soaked in the tranquility of this remote fishing village. I not only met part of the community of El Ostional involved with turtle conservation, but also Liza’s son, grandkids and Salvador’s wife (who by the way is a great cook!)  By spending the entire day with them, we got to know each other on a personal basis, which isn’t just a ‘local connection’ but it humanized the project that Footprints supports.

Lunching with Salvador and Liza at Paso Pacifico ‘office’ under the trees overlooking El Ostional beach. Magic day!

3 Tips for other travellers? 

1.) Travel as light as you can so that you can bring the backpack in the long distance buses with you and put in a rack above you or on your lap vs. throwing them on the top where you can’t see them.

2.) Taxis need to have red-striped license plates to be legal taxis. ALWAYS clarify the fare before riding as they may throw in add-ons for number of people/bags and whether you used the trunk. When traveling longer distances, I heard of scams whereby taxi drivers take you to the police station in your destination claiming you refuse to pay the agreed fare  (which of course, is more than you had agreed). You are then forced to cough up or face dealing with the police.

3.) Avoid Managua or stay in nicer more expensive neighborhoods. Despite the guidebook saying otherwise, “OK” neighborhoods may still pose the danger of street crimes (both several shop owners we spoke to and an attempted mugging confirmed this). Managua is NOT a ‘strolling’ city, so either take taxis, or walk with nothing but a small bit of cash.

What makes you a World Nomad?

I have lived and traveled all over the world since I was two months old. Growing up, I never liked shopping and always saved my allowance and wages for travel. Still do (mostly!). To me, a World Nomad doesn’t go through the ‘been there, done that” perfunctory travel motions. They forego guidebook “punch-lists” to play backgammon in a café with new friends, watch a sports match in a bar packed with fans, buy fruit in the market, do the morning commute with everybody else, take a bus to a random stop, and check out hardware stores and supermarkets. A World Nomad makes discoveries out of the every day.

About WorldNomads.com

WorldNomads.com keeps you travelling safely.  Whether you’re off for a long weekend, looking for the ultimate adventure or living the nomadic dream, you’ll stay safe with Travel Insurance you can buy online, anytime, and the latest travel safety advice. Learn how to flirt in over 25 languages with our free language guides and have an experience of a lifetime on a travel scholarship. We'll also help you share your journey with a free travel blog, get answers from other nomads to all of your travel questions (try the new 'Ask A Nomad' iPad app) and donate to a local community development project through our Footprints program.  

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Tags: nicaragua, see turtles, the footprints network

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