Impressions: Nicaragua

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These are my personal impressions of Nicaragua. They are highly subjective and the product of reflection well after the fact. I have been to many countries in my life and often try to create an abridged, condensed recollection of those places. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful all weigh in, being synthesized into a sort of scenario.

Nicaragua is poor, really poor. Nary a multinational corporation has planted its flag there, for good or ill. The country has a feel of victimization, like a dog that’s been mistreated and then will either cower or growl at a passerby. While the people themselves were friendly enough, welcoming is not something I would classify them as. The land has been ravaged to a large degree. The deforestation is quite profound. Many of the lakes have been tainted to the point of being unusable. Garbage is EVERYWHERE. It is not hyperbole to say that every square meter of untended land has at least one piece of plastic trash on it, primarily plastic shopping bags. There are millions upon millions of them. They are everywhere. Fires burn day and night on the steep hillsides. I don’t know if they are set purposefully or accidentally, but they smell of destruction, they smell of burning plastic.

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Managua, the capital, is shabby and run-down. Its public buildings crumbling remnants of some bygone glory day. Ironically, the airport sparkles by comparison – that first impression quickly disavowed by the rest of the city. Its police harass both locals and foreigners incessantly, extorting bribes unabashedly. There seems to be little pride in anything. I suppose that’s a luxury the population cannot afford or cannot muster. I do not know the full history of the country, but it feels like it has been taken advantage of in many ways and by many groups over many eras. By far, the nicest building to be found in the city is the American Embassy. Its reflective windows and marble facades gleam mockingly, purched on a hill away from the dust, dirt and flaking paint of downtown. Its manicured gardens an insult to the natives passing by. Managua seems a haunted place, haunted by a past I do not know, but afraid to cast off that past and surge forward.

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The beaches the natives go to are crowded and vibrant, but there is the ever-present garbage washing up amongst their feet, ignored. There is a sense of resignation hanging in the air, of defeat – eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. The more remote beaches, the ones the natives don’t visit in significant numbers, are cleaner and almost wild, sporadically harboring small tourist outposts at the ends of treacherous dirt roads, footholds for vagabond Americans and Europeans.

As you move south towards Costa Rica, the country changes, with every passing kilometer the ghosts of the past begin to dissolve. The people smile more. The roadside trash thins. The land greens. The trees begin to reclaim the horizon. Someone there said that Nicaragua wants to be the next Costa Rica. If that is indeed the case, Nicaragua has a monumental battle to wage against the scars of its past, both physical and psychological. When I think of Nicaragua, I feel a sadness, a paradise lost.

Jeff Chapple

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2 Responses to Impressions: Nicaragua

  1. Rico says:

    Nicaragua has been ravaged by psycho armed guerrillas and politicians for at least the last 100 years! It is no wonder the feeling of subjugation still persists! In the material dimension the proliferation of garbage is an interesting correlation!
    Good review! Gracias!

    • Jeff Chapple says:

      Thanks Rico! After rereading my impression of Nicaragua I feel I must point out that I did enjoy my time there. I don’t want to sound overly harsh. There are beautiful places there. There are amazing experiences to be had there. If anything, Nicaragua’s poverty and past created a potent sense of foreignness for me, something that I crave in my travels. I have said that if I haven’t been on a plane for more than 12 hours, I haven’t really gone anywhere. I must amend that. In only 4 hours (from ATL) I definitely felt that I went somewhere, somewhere far from home and that is one of the aims of my travels.