In the second installment of our Parent Experience Series, Fred Lewis shares how his son Dan's passion for Nicaragua inspired him to learn more about the country and its people...in person!
Our First Trip to Nicaragua
When our son Dan first decided to volunteer with Manna Project International, I knew only a few things about Nicaragua. I could vaguely recall that it was in Central America, possibly politically unstable and potentially not a safe place to visit. As months went by, we couldn’t help but be caught up in Dan’s passion for the MPI mission and his love of Nicaragua. We wanted to learn more about the country and see what Dan’s life there was like, so we planned a visit.
Getting around Nicaragua is easy, but it took a little time to figure it out. On our first trip we chose to rent a car. The highways are great and the car gave us a lot of flexibility to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. It did carry a few practical challenges.
In Managua, there are no street signs or addresses, so navigating the city can be a little challenging. Also, we encountered some unexpected traffic hazards, including motorcycles driving between lanes, pedestrians crossing wherever a break in traffic allowed, horse-drawn carts, carts pulled by men, potholes, road construction without any warning signs, and the infamous traffic circles.
On The Road
The Nicaraguan police are notorious for issuing traffic tickets, and we got two for lane changes within thirty meters of an intersection (although my wife maintains those were my fault). On our second visit, we used a car service (NicaRoads.com), which we were able to book by email before our visit. Our driver, Luis Payan, calmly and safely negotiated the hazards for us and was happy to accommodate us whenever our plans changed. In our experience, this wasn’t any more expensive than renting a car, but much more relaxing, although it did require advance planning.
Planning Your Own Trip
If you are looking for active pursuits, Nicaragua has plenty to offer—hiking, surfing, climbing volcanoes, volcano boarding, and we even found a stand-up paddleboard tour on the Rio Tamarindo. We relaxed on more than a few beautiful beaches and watched the sunset at the most distant spot on Punta Jesus Maria.
A couple of my favorite tours were the historical tours in León (Sandino Tours) and Managua (Gerald Duran, toursbylocals.com). Visiting the local markets in Granada and León were highlights, and the Huembes Market in Managua is amazing. Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua is a jewel not to be missed. Dan suggested we rent scooters, and this great suggestion allowed us to see the whole island, including a fascinating tour of the coffee plantation and ancient petroglyphs.
Booking Your Hotel
Booking hotels over the internet worked well for us. Compared to the Program Directors who (I hear) spend less than $10 per night for a hostel, we were looking for somewhat more upscale accommodations. Most business websites lacked an automatic reservation function, but with a few emails it was easy to set up reservations for hotels and tours. We found small hotels in Granada and León to be first-rate and friendly, unexpectedly reasonable in price, and as much fun to stay in as any we’ve been to.
During our time in Nicaragua we were cautious, as we would normally be in any big city in the U.S., but we never felt unsafe. On the contrary, we found the country and people warm and inviting. It’s hard to miss the contrasts and contradictions which are so much a part of Nicaragua. The country has great beauty, natural resources, and we met so many friendly, warm, hospitable people; yet the poverty is striking as well. Recent Nicaraguan political history sheds some light on this.
I would highly recommend a couple of books —Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer and The Country Under My Skin by Giacomo Belli. Learning a little Nicaraguan history, and a little about the relationship between the United States and Nicaragua, left me with a new understanding Nicaragua and of my own country as well.
Thank you, Fred!