March 4-7, 2008
I ran into English Richard from the Corcovado National Park once again in Liberia. Just when I thought he had gone back to England long ago, there he was next to me getting ready to head into Nicaragua for the last part of his trip. I've learned many times during my trip that if you don't think you'll ever see someone again, you'll definitely run into each other, but if you actually plan to meet somewhere, it won't happen.
Richard, me, some Canadians, and a crazy Finnish alcoholic with ADHD headed to Nicaragua together. As soon as we crossed the border, I could tell the difference from Costa Rica. Burly men were hauling wood and food around in horse drawn carts, bicycle taxis were more common than the ones with engines, and many people were trying to eek out a living by selling a few onions or a pack of gum on the streets. This was obviously a much poorer country than the one we had left. We all got some local money and headed to San Juan del Sur in an overstuffed taxi with no radio, seat belts, or turn signals, and a trunk that was overflowing with all our worldly possessions and was being held halfway open by a few strands of rope.
San Juan del Sur was a small beach town on the Pacific Coast. It was packed with tourists, but they were of a different breed than those of Costa Rica. High-rise five-star hotels were replaced with small hostels with twenty beds to a room, McDonald's was replaced with the local sodas selling equally unhealthy food, and the loud, fat Americans the color of bathtubs were replaced with laid-back, tanned Aussies, there to catch some waves. The few actual Nicaraguans in town seemed to tolerate the gringo explosion quite well, especially considering their country's turbulent history.
The US government has severely damaged many countries I have visited, but none quite as badly as Nicaragua. Back in the early twentieth century, the US manipulated politics in Nicaragua to the point that if a non-favorable president was elected, the US marines came in and kicked his ass right out of power. This was all done so no other country could build a canal across Nicaragua, even though the US already had its eyes set on Panama for the building of the canal. The Somoza family later took over the country with the support of the US government and installed puppet leaders using fraudulent elections when they themselves were not in power. Anastasio Somoza Garcia was a brutal ruler who killed anyone who got in his way and eventually his family and friends owned most of the property in Nicaragua, while the rest of the people remained desperately poor. But we continued to support him because he let us use his land to launch a revolution in Guatemala and to invade Cuba. Franklin Roosevelt said of Somoza, "He may be a son of a bitch, but at least he's our son of a bitch." And of course let's not forget the Reagan years, when fear of communism led us to sell weapons to Iran illegally at inflated prices and siphon the extra money to thousands of Nicaraguan Contras in order to overthrow the democratically-elected government. And this is just scratching the surface of what we've done to Nicaragua. I was really surprised at how friendly the local people were and how quick they were to forgive.
Even though the fighting in Nicaragua has ended, I could see another disturbing invasion brewing around town. Every American I talked to seemed to be either a real estate agent or someone looking to buy land here. All of the nice houses along the coast were already owned by Americans, and even the older places were being bought out because the locals didn't realize how much money the land would be worth in a few years. It's the same thing that has already happened in Costa Rica, except it's only in its beginning stages. I'm surprised the government is allowing this subtle invasion of their country to happen, but they're probably also getting a piece of the action, if you know what I mean.
The beaches around San Juan del Sur were bordering on paradise with fine tan sand and crystal-clear water. A few of the more turbulent beaches were packed with surfers, but many others were devoid of human life. One day I went with a few people from my hostel on a French-owned sailboat for a "sunset sail." When we got out of the harbor, our comandante driver cut the engines, put up the sail, and we drifted to a beach that was inaccessible by land. Dolphins followed us through the water, we did some snorkeling, and played lots of Frisbee. The problem was that the crew all got themselves in a big hurry to leave and were pushing us along to a smelly boat taxi and on the shore to a truck to take us back to the hostel well before sunset. A couple of us stayed behind and watched the disk of the sun give us its final farewell of the day on the horizon, while everyone else was too busy hurrying back to the hostel. Even in a place as laid-back as San Juan del Sur, some people just can't live in the moment.
The photo album for this entry is here.