Jacy and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Central America for a week. I’d like to share more about our trip for anyone who’s interested to read along.
Nicaragua is not known for much in the way of tourism. It’s not even known for much in the way of anything good. When you tell someone you are going to Nicaragua the response is not, “Wow, lucky!” it’s more of, “Oh! Why are you going there? Is it a missions trip?”
I’d like this blog post to show both sides of the coin of Nicaragua. It is a country filled with beauty, volcanoes, lakes, and great people. It’s also a country filled with poverty, sickness, and stray animals. Both coexist in this loud, bustling package known as Nicaragua.
We went to sleep around 7:30 PM on Friday night to try to get a couple of hours of rest in before leaving from O’Hare Airport at 5:00 AM. We stopped for a layover in Houston at 7:30 AM and sprinted across the airport in record time, downing a breakfast burrito along the way to make our connecting flight to Managua, Nicaragua.
After going through customs and collecting our luggage our good friends were waiting for us with a taxi, ready to take us to our hotel where we would stay for our first couple of days in Managua. The taxi ride was long, and the weather was hot. Going from freezing temperatures to mid 90’s within a couple of hours is a strange sensation. Our bodies were defrosting, as it were.
We stayed in a very nice Holiday Inn. It was almost bittersweet, though. Driving through Managua you see people in the streets selling food, water, and drinks, as well as small concrete houses lining the streets and alley ways. The hotel looked out of place as we arrived. This large building set back from the street was one-of-a-kind, and I quickly realized that this is not the norm for Managua.
The first night in Managua we got to meet the parents of our good friend Odulio. He is our connection to Nicaragua, as he married a good friend of ours from high school. To get to his house you have to take what is called a caponera, which is basically a small gas powered golf cart that functions as a taxi to get through the dirt-road neighborhoods.
We entered their humble house and were greeted by a sweet couple with open arms. Their house, like many others in Managua was no larger than most of the living rooms in the United States. It was constructed out of concrete and was not decorated or adorned with anything other than what was necessary. The dinner table stood out as the most prized piece of furniture, and I later found out that the family had spent much of their money to purchase this table as it was a dream of theirs for over a year.
Dinner was amazing. Chicken, rice, and beans. But the best of all three. For dessert I got to try a fruit that grows out front of their house known as the nancite. It was sweet, strong, and delicious. Pictured below is the sink in their house and our dinner.
The next morning we attended a Chi Alpha meeting on one of the college campuses in Managua. I had the privilege of meeting many people who are on fire for God, and even got to lead worship for their meeting (leading in Spanish is not so easy).
That night we went to see Port Salvador Allende. It is widely known as one of the only touristy things to do in Managua. It was beautiful… a large sprawling port that overlooks Lake Managua. The lake, although beautiful, is polluted. For this reason, you cannot swim in it. I was thinking of how amazing it would be for the tourism sector of Nicaragua if they would invest in cleaning up the lake. It could be a beautiful place to visit and stay.
The next morning we departed early to travel via bus to Granada. Granada is a beautiful city that is filled with brightly painted buildings and friendly people. From atop a church tower we saw the most beautiful view of the city. This place is gorgeous. We met one particular little boy that captivated our hearts here in Granada. He couldn’t have been older than 9 years old. When we arrived and were eating lunch around noon he approached our table and tried to sell us a hammock that he had made. We had already spent a lot of money, so we denied him. He was persistent though, and we ran into him at least three other times that day. On the last time that we saw him, Jacy said, “Okay, if we see this kid one more time we are just gonna give him the money! He is too cute!”
We saw him again at dinner. Our friends bought him some ice cream and we approached the boy. “Where are you from?” we asked the boy. He was from a small town several hours away. His mother sent him to the city to sell the hammocks that she had made. He was staying alone in a hostel for the night and continued selling his hammocks all day. We gave him some money for a hammock and gave him the ice cream to encourage him. The city was full of people like this.
We went on a boat tour this day, as well. The captain of our little boat was a great guy. He showed us around lake Nicaragua the way only a native islander could (he was born on one of the small islands and later moved to the city). He stopped us at a small island known as “Monkey Island”. Someone brought some monkeys here years ago and here they have lived ever since. One monkey in particular, Lucy, decided to come onto our boat and search for some food. Mandy’s bag was zipped up, but that didn’t stop Lucy. She quickly opened the bag and found some fried plantains within it. She took full advantage and robbed the bag of plantains and took off.
We stayed the night in Managua, eating local foods and meeting new people along the way. The next day we would head to the Island of Ometepe. This is a fairly large island located within Lake Nicaragua. The boat ride to the island was not very fun, but once we arrived we realized that it was “vale la pena” (worth it!). We rented a couple of scooters and the island was ours. Off we went.
We ate at an amazing restaurant we found along the road where Jacy found some horses (middle photo) that she could watch while we were enjoying lunch. Although tourism is taking off on this island, there were not many other tourists. Local people were friendly and the one road that went through the island was easy to navigate. We found a great hotel on the beach and stayed a couple of nights in paradise.
After returning to Managua we got to have dinner with some of Odulio’s friends from church. His friend’s mother makes amazing food and had all of us over for dinner. We very much enjoyed our time with them all. It was a great way to end a great trip.
To me, this is the best part of traveling. Knowing the culture and experiencing the way people live in the world first hand is the best way to be able to grow in understanding. I never want to travel as just a tourist. If I am going to go somewhere new, I want to go and experience that place as the people who live there experience it. It’s the most humbling way to travel, and it promotes thankfulness as well as kills materialism in our hearts.