Okay, the pictures of this blogpost might leave the impression that I’m not actually working. But I swear I do. Mostly even six days a week. But there’s always at least that one special day when we go visit a new exciting place, which is mostly some sort of beach near-by. You wanna know what the magnificent coastline of south-western Nicaragua has to offer? Then scroll your way down.
Beaches in Nicaragua are popular amongst backpackers and nature lovers because they tend to be quite empty. Whereas in Europa you’re used to feel like in a sardine tin, here you usually feel like the only person on earth. However, these days it is hard to escape the crowds (Crowd means: 30 other people on the whole beach), especially if you set out on a Sunday when WHOLE NICARAGUA takes a day off and is in a festive mood. Then you see trucks loaded with multiple families on the way to the nearest sandy spot. There, they set up their chairs and cooling boxes full of beer and snacks and forget about their misery for just a few hours. On “good” days beaches are also packed with surfers and all those tourists chasing every trend (the trend nowadays is: learn how to surf), because Nicaragua entered tourism high season in mid December. You see the difference just strolling through the streets of San Juan del Sur. Everyone seems to be busy now with their little bussineses, hotels, restaurants, tour operators and surf shops.
Sometimes I miss those times. Travel. Spend as much money as you want. Get to know new people every week. Eat in restaurants every freaking day. Read the Lonely Planet. Book awesome tours. Have no worries. Feel totally free. But then, on the other side, I was sick feeling like a tourist. Being treated like a tourist. Tourist is a synonyme for “rich white person that will buy anything off from you”. You see places that a hundred other people see the same day as well. You wait for a quiet minute to finally take a picture of a seemingly pristine environment, a mysterious jungle ruin, an exclusive sight. You pay and pay and pay… and all you get are great pictures that will make everyone else jealous. But not much more.
That’s why I enjoy the “resident feeling” here in Nicaragua. Even though officially I’m still a tourist. And even though I might not see much sunlight during a usual working day, I have my one or two days in the week when I go out and sit on a beach, enjoy the sight, enjoy the weather, enjoy the wonderful man at my side. And I feel fortunate, because I know not many other people can do the same on their day off.
And don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I am one of those typical beach babes who only feel happy when they have sand under their feet. I love mountains, the forest, the jungle, volcanoes, rivers and lagoons and anything else that you can find in the rest of Nicaragua. But the fact is we live in beach haven now. If you look on the map, the San Juan del Sur area is a small strip between the Pacific Ocean and the big Nicaragua lake. The mountains are far off in the north, and far far off in the east there is the wild Caribbean something. I actually don’t know what’s going on there. But it would take us too much time to get there for just a weekend (roads are bad and the good ones are packed with awfully slow trucks). So the easiest thing is to stick to the beaches that are around us.
Melvin loves the beach because he loves surfing and he loves diving. And we both love turtles. Not that we always find signs of sea turtles on our trips, but the environment gives us kind of a nostalgic feeling. We talk about the days back in Caletas and about our future project. And it keeps us moving forward with our dream. Even though we do it very very slowly, one Sunday at a time…
If you want to know what Sunday Funday in SJdS usually means, look THIS up: young backpackers getting terribly drunk and leaving a bad impression about western youth on well-behaved locals.
But now I’ll present to you the new places I have gotten to known over the last few weeks:
The Popoyo area on the so-called Emerald Coast of Rivas actually consists of three beaches which are all connected by small rock outcrops and dry estuaries. Development has already been underway for some decades, it seems; especially on one of the beaches, where not a single beachfront spot has been left empty. The adjacent sandy strips are being developed one house, one bungalow, one surf hostel at a time.
However, the area has kept quite some charme. A great 180°-view offers the restaurant “Magnific Rock Popoyo”, where it was too expensive for us to eat. Then, strolling along the beach in the afternoon, we came across a turtle that had just finished laying eggs. Some concerned tourists asked us if it was normal that some small kids would pass by and take the eggs with them. So we explained that this is unfortunately common practice here in Nicaragua. We watched the mama turtle crawl back to the ocean. In Popoyo, there is no one protecting these creatures yet.
Here again, we found a restaurant on a rocky outcrop between two beaches which offered an amazing view to both sides. To one side, there’s Playa Gigante, a small village and fishermen community. The beach was packed with locals that Sunday. To the other side, there is Playa Amarilla, which is seemingly undisturbed. It is simply amazingly beautiful. A wide, flat beach with lots of native vegetation and just a few surfers finding their way out there. I have no idea why development hasn’t spread just across that small rocky outcrop yet, but hopefully the area belongs to some rich eco-minded guy who will never be willing to sell the land. Fingers crossed, because virgin beaches like these (for which Nicaragua is apparently famous for) become scarce these days…
This small rocky beach is just a 45-minute walk from our house. And it is quite beautiful. No hotels, no development, just a small bar offering cold drinks during the busy weekends, calm water to take a swim and lots of trees to give shade. There’s not much more to say about it, but we will definitely come back to spend some more romantic, thoughtful and joyful moments there.
This tiny bay is one of the few ones which seem to be a perfect snorkelling spot once the water is a bit warmer (right now the Humboldt current lets water temperatures drop to about 15°C!). A nice combination of tranquil beach and dramatic rocky coast. Actually, most of Nicaragua’s Southern Pacific area consists of a picturesque combination of sandy bays, hillside and rocky coast.
DEVELOPED VS. PRISTINE: WHAT DO YOU LIKE MORE?
I can’t emphasize it enough: people on the beach don’t matter, because they come and go. But ugly houses, restaurants and bars destroy everything people come for. Why don’t you leave just a bit of greenery in between? To give people that “Robinson Crusoe”-feeling and protect your structures from wave erosion? And why does noone enforce such a law here? In some places in the Caribbean, they have done this quite successfully. But maybe I’ll talk about beachfront development in a seperate post…
I’m sorry I have to post cat pictures over and over again. I guess if cats were endangered I would have opened a cat project already and left all that turtle stuff behind 😉 No seriously, cats have quite a hard life in Nicaragua. They are not so much considered as pets, but more as rat and mice catchers. The usual Nica would never touch or even kiss his cats as I do it, because they have the reputation as dirty illness-distributors. And they are indeed, because they are not vaccunated, not taken care of, never taken to any veterinarian and probably have five different types of parasites. They are not sterilized and happily multiply. They roam around in the forest, in the garbage and in other peoples’ houses. I have to struggle with three of those suckers as well who sneak into the house and steal my cats’ food whenever I am not watching. They cry and cry when I chase them out, it’s heartbreaking. On the other side: Considering the tremendous amount of money I spend on my cats (just because it is all imported, rare and expensive) I totally understand that the usual localy family cannot even think about giving their cats a good life. But now I’ll show you the cutest and most beautiful cat in whole Nicaragua: Bounty. And although she currently has two types of parasites, they are all taken care of by her loving mother.
THE THING WITH BEING POOR
So I slowly start to understand things better here. I find it highly interesting how much people are earning in this country so I’ll share the details with you. Just keep in mind that:
- Buying basic food for 2 persons, mostly consiting of vegetables, rice, beans, some fruits and chicken once a week, costs 150$/month.
- Renting a house costs anywhere between 200 and 400$/month here in SJdS if you don’t want to live in the Ghetto.
- A basic t-shirt at the local market costs 5 to 10$.
- Gasoline price is 1$/liter. Most people can only afford old cars that are still quite wasteful, like ours haha.
So there are the usual “workers”. They have finished school but then didn’t or couldn’t go to college. Usually they learned what their dad has been working, but the thing is: will they be able to do this job later-on and is it a good job? Most of those guys will spend their whole life working as a day labourer, always asking around where they could be needed for the next few months. Herd livestock, help on construction sites, help out in a friend’s restaurant, sell produce, repair cars. Some have their own little shop by the roadside or drive taxi. Others go fishing or offer surf lessons. The average wage you can expect for a job like this is 200$ a month. Insurance? Work contracts? Fair conditions? Wait, let me just laugh my ass off…
Then there are the few fortunate ones who own land, mostly inherited from their family. They sell the land to foreigners, have a nice lazy life or invest the money in building apartments, open small businesses or whatever. Those guys are really lucky.
As a studied biologist working for a big NGO you get 500$ a month. If you work in a bank you receive 800$. And then there is the elite working for big companies in Managua that get more than 1.000$. If you’re a foreign expert supervising a big factory, they pay you incredible 9.000$.
So now I know how all those brandnew Toyota Hilux appear on the streets while other families have to share one crappy bicycle.
If you’re poor you don’t even think about saving money or getting a bank account. You don’t get out of your home town area until you’ve found a friend that takes you on a ride with his car. You live from occassional gifts and loans from family members and friends. Melvin tends to return home with new shorts, sunglasses or a can of beer. “Where did you get that from?” I ask. “It was a gift” he says. Two days later I see a guy in town wearing Melvin’s t-shirt. “He needed one”, he tells me. Or a friend comes by asking for two dollars to buy cigarettes. “Of course”, he says. “Whenever I’ll need his help, he’ll return me the favour”.
Unfortunately it is also common mentality that people spend their little money on alcohol and soft drugs. Probably the same phenomenon than homeless and poor people in Germany. Who is poor feels desperate, and who feels desperate soon gets addicted to something.
And of course, being poor means that you do some immoral or illegal things. Girls disappear regularly in the houses of some rich white lonesome men, people are smuggling immigrants or drugs across the border. They help someone who commits a crime, and of course they chase wild animals and take turtle eggs. Every other month Melvin tells me about someone he knows who got caught by the police doing something rather illegal. And it’s not that those people are bad or dangerous. They just see a chance of gaining some money the easy and fast way, and obviously they can’t resist.
A few days ago I read a facebook comment from someone saying “everyone who steals turtle eggs is lazy. There are jobs out there. They just need to get their asses off the ground and stop being lazy idiots”. I know better by now. Those guys are not lazy. But I assume it makes you tired being the good poor boy. Moral is only for rich people. Conservation and wealth are tightly connected. No wealth, no conservation. Yes, you can lock up areas from public access, put some guards on the beach and shoot everyone who tries to intrude. But then people will find other natural resources to sell, other ecosystems to exploit for their own economic benefit. It’s as simple as that.