Me and Melvin were concerned when we decided to live and work in Managua until we’d find a suitable beachfront property and sufficient funding to build the Conservation Lodge of our dreams.
This was mainly because of two reasons:
1. We are nature lovers: we love to be outside, close to the ocean, close to forests and mountains, somewhere rural and remote, where only bird sounds break the silence of palm leaves shaking gently in the wind. So how would we feel when we suddenly live in Nicaragua’s capitol city, among 1.050.000 other people, concrete, noise, traffic, and the usual “big city chaos”?
2. Managua’s reputation is bad. Even the Nicaraguans consider it to be one of the unsafest places on earth, where it is likely to get stabbed, robbed or kidnapped. Melvin, after having lived in a safe oceanfront village for his whole life, told me: “you should always take a taxi, even during the day. And at night, don’t even dare to make two steps out of your door alone”. Then I read that taxis in Managua are just as unsafe as walking alone around the block. All houses here are surrounded by 2 meter high walls with barbed wire fencing, and most of the small stores don’t even let you in: you have to tell the lady in the shop through a security fence what you want to buy. So how would a young german lady – just looking as the usual rich tourist – even survive a week in this city?
After having lived two weeks here in Managua, and not having been stabbed, or robbed, or kidnapped, I can tell you: It’s kind of alright.
Me and Melvin managed to find a real nice room for rent in an apartment complex which is just set up like a hostel. And I think it must have been a hostel before. There is a cute little patio with some plants and chairs, from where you can see the sky and receive a fresh breeze of air, a communal, perfectly equipped kitchen, and some rooms. Our room came with a big mattress, a shelf and a wardrobe, and an even bigger bathroom. Internet is FANTASTIC here, and our monthly rate of 180 $ includes all this plus water, electricity and so on. During the day, all the other inhabitants are off to work and only the housekeeper is hanging out here all the time. Which gives an extra-feeling of security as well.
So I am sitting here at 10 am just outside of our room at a desk, overlooking the kind-of-green patio, and all I hear are dozens of bird sounds and the housekeeper playing a video on his phone. I nearly feel like I’m on holiday. And most important: it is the perfect environment to work as a freelance writer! (which I am doing at the moment to earn a living). And whenever I am too lazy or too stressed to prepare lunch, I can just go next door where I get a full plate of homemade authentic Nicaraguan cuisine and a drink for 3$.
And Managua ain’t so bad after all. It is greener than you would think. Every spare space between the streets and the buildings is used up by tropical trees and flowers. Just from my working place here I can see three palm trees! Caletas didn’t have a lot more either 😉 Skyscrapers or the well-feared “concrete jungle” are hard to find, whereas I can walk ten minutes and find a shopping mall with a McDonald’s ice cream stand and much more. What I like most in Managua are the impressive, artificial tree installations throughout the city, which shine in all kinds of colours at night (let’s just forget about things like “environmentally friendly”, “energy saving” or “this money could have been better used for…”).
Whenever you want to go somewhere, you just stand on the street for 40 seconds and a taxi comes by, taking you to anywhere in the city for just 3 dollars, and if you feel thirsty or hungry out of the sudden, there are several people selling you stuff at each traffic light stop. If you are in need of the water, you just stroll by the city’s lakeside promenade, because as you don’t see the other shore you can easily tell yourself it is the ocean with tons of sea turtles swimming in it, just waiting for you to get their flippers tagged one day.
THE BAD SIDES
Yes, there are a lot of poor people in Managua, just as in any bigger city of the developing world. People try to make money in every thinkable way. You don’t see beggars a lot who just sit there and hold their hands up to you. But you do see people working in the harshest environments, selling beverages and snacks at any possible spot throughout the city, offering you a 20-seconds car wash or giving you an artist show on the street. People indeed get creative here. Many houses feature a small shop which is only indicated by a tiny, handwritten sign on the door, where you can buy self-made ice cream, cooked beans or sodas.
Traffic is terrible here, especially the risky behaviour of most of the traffic participants! It’s interesting while you sit in a taxi with an experienced Managuan driver and terrifying when you as a foreigner – who is used to rules, safety and organization on the streets – take your newly bought car out for a walk.
And I won’t lie to you: It’s nice to have a little lifestyle-change and enjoy the advantages of a big city, but this is not the long-term solution. I need my turtles. I need to do what I am good at. What makes me wake up at 11 pm, 3 am or 5 am, no matter what time at night, and go out in rain, thunderstorms and wind. What makes me sweaty and sandy and my hands full of cloaca slime. That’s why I am here, sitting in Managua, writing articles for other people for a mere 8 $ an hour while trying to figure out how we can ever get enough money together to start our Conservation Lodge. It is hard to stay optimistic when I see that after a few months of work and dedication we haven’t really achieved anything yet.
We bought a black Suzuki Sidekick from the year 1993 for 2900 US$. That’s what we got after a two day long intensive search for a cheap used car that will still bring us anywhere. Used cars are incredibly expensive here – considering the low wages and the usually low living costs (how can someone with a 250 $-monthly salary buy a 15000 $ car? I DON’T GET IT) because they don’t seem to lose their value quickly over time. You commonly see cars from the 80’s and 90’s here – everything with four wheels and a running motor will do it until it totally falls apart. You will learn that principle after having seen Managuan taxis from the out- and inside. By the way – the aircondition NEVER works in cars that are older than five years. But why would you need that fancy stuff when you can drive with your windows down? The same applies for our car – everything seems to function well but we’ll have to drive with open windows and hope that it doesn’t start to rain.
Hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy our beautiful, terribly old car for a few years before we need to invest in another terribly old car. Meanwhile I keep dreaming of guiding a monstrous, brandnew Toyota Hilux with functioning air-con through these streets one day.
And our car is so cool! We just have an eight-hour ride from Managua to Ostional (Melvins home village) and back behind us, including the worst city traffic, endless highway roads and an adventurous, up-and-downhill dirtroad. And we are still alive, and the car did not break down!
We still hold onto our plans of living and working together at a Conservation Lodge somewhere on the beach, with lots of turtles, other wildlife, plants and trees, and innovative ways to combine tourism with conservation and show people an alternative lifestyle.
Our excursion to Ostional helped us to keep our conviction: this is what we were born and raised for, this is what we want to live and work for. And it’s not only the beach which I adore so much. In fact, I am not one of those girls who sunbath for hours and hours, I neither like the hot sand nor the big waves, I am not interested in surfing, and I am not a good swimmer either. I could very well live somewhere up in the mountains, within dense jungle, on the lakeside, or somewhere else where it is simply gorgeous, green, authentic and natural.
But it is the sea turtles. It is the mangroves. It is the special ecosystem. It is the challenge of sustainable beachfront tourism, and the even bigger challenge of climate change and sea level rise. It is the believe that we can make some sort of change in peoples’ minds. In the minds of our future guests AND in other business owners, who see how we do things and that we do them successfully. Who might adapt our strategies.
Oh dear, it is just this dream that we can do something good for this world, while it does something good to us every day.
Meanwhile, we are still running the Crowdfunding Campaign for our Conservation Lodge, and it would be great if we find enough supporters to be able to purchase a beachfront lot and start setting up our conservation and tourism programs.