Our first glimpse of this wonderful country of every shade of green, was from the small plane window as we circled Lake Managua. The sun was shining as our small plane made a steady landing onto the hot tarmac of Managua International Airport. It was 11.30am on Saturday 20th August 2016. We had arrived in Nicaragua, our new home – minus one suitcase.
After collecting a baggage-claim-form for our missing suitcase, we exited the airport, whereupon dozens of smartly dressed Nicaraguan men in crisp white socks rushed forward to carry our luggage from the trolley to the minibus. At one point, four burly men fought over one large case, much to the amusement of our children and our waiting driver. It was our first introduction to the local tipping culture. In all the chaos, my husband handed out dollars randomly to eagerly held out hands. It was a relief to finally jump into the back of an air-conditioned van and shut the door.
The drive from Managua Airport to San Juan Del Sur took two hours. With our heads rested against cool windows, we silently absorbed the sights of this fascinating new land. Young teenagers slouched lazily across the back of tuc-tucs waiting for their next customer. Elderly men with weather-beaten faces cycled ever so slowly with candy-stripe carrier bags of fruit hanging from each handlebar. A large man, swinging in a hammock, peered listlessly out from the back of a lorry in front of us. Families of five or six balanced precariously on one small motorcycle, helmets perched tentatively on top of the adult’s heads. Small vans passed by blaring out indecipherable advertisements from antique PA systems. Skinny stray dogs weaved in and out of traffic looking for scraps of fallen food. Emaciated cattle grazed idly on the grass around their tethered trees. Old ladies sat sleepily outside of small, brightly-painted makeshift huts with corrugated iron roofs, whilst younger relatives swept busily around them. Small, spirited barefoot children played in muddy alleys with handmade clacker toys. Market stalls selling multicoloured wares shared space with traders selling local produce from the back of wooden carts – all against a splendid backdrop of vivid flowers, mango trees and lush green hills.
Rudimentary homes held together by scrap wood, cloth, cement and sheets of rusty metal dotted the bustling roads. No front door to secure. No way of keeping the heavy tropical rains out. No separate rooms in which to hide. Just dirt floors, wooden chairs, hammocks and car tyres for comfort. Large, community pigs lay sleeping in the shade of trees, tended by neighbours, each taking, in turn, to care for their needs – just waiting for the day they will be slaughtered, roasted and shared amongst them.
Yet amongst the dust and deprivation, beautiful yellow butterflies danced. Swarms of dragonflies hovered and swooped for droplets of rain water. Black hawk eagles soared majestically overhead. Playful parakeets darted gracefully in and out of banana trees. Clouds draped the tops of two perfectly formed volcanoes in the distance. Caribbean pines swayed gently from the cooling breeze washing in from Lake Nicaragua.
Mother nature bares her inner soul here.
Arriving in San Juan Del Sur, we were greeted by the midday heat – an intense, sticky, humid thief that steals your energy and verve. A heat so thick, you pray for rain. Humidity so airless, you dream of frosty mornings.
Feet swell, sweat pours, clothes stick and insects feed off fatigued bodies succumbed to afternoon naps.
Water is your friend. Cold water is your saviour. The feeling of cold water cascading over your head as you surrender your clammy body to its mercy is celestial at any time of the day or night. Cold showers are a necessity, but by the time you have dried, another beckons. Clothes are an irritating obligation. Bras are just plain evil.
Floor fans are as vital as food. Standing in front of a fan, catching the air under your top, is second only to a visit to the bank – the only establishment in town that can afford air conditioning. Power cuts are feared more than a natural disaster. An hour without a fan is worse than a week without food. On our second day here, we baked slowly for over 7 hours. The sound of our electricity kick-starting back to life was as exciting as the birth of our first child, and the relief not too dissimilar to the welcome end of childbirth!
I have no moisture left in my eyes from sitting in front of fans. They itch and hurt. Our son has an ear infection from too much underwater swimming. My husband has a dickie tummy from the heat. Our teenage daughter has a constant sweat moustache. We are falling apart in this tropical paradise.
Nevertheless, falling apart is part of the adventure. Acclimatising is part of the challenge. Embracing the culture, and the unforgiving climate is part and parcel of integration. Here we are, overlooking the bay of San Juan Del Sur – surrounded by hundreds of different species of trees and fauna, interrupted by a million different sounds – drinking some of the best coffee in the world. The heat is forgiven. This is what living is all about.
Nicaragua has not disappointed, thus far. It was a shot in the dark. It was a good gamble. It’s an undiscovered haven of outstanding beauty. A secret utopia. A quiet introvert in a world of extroverts.
Now all we have to do is hold onto this new life. One thing is for certain…if we can’t make it here, we can’t make it anywhere. Where else will we have the time and inspiration to follow our dreams? All about us, there are people getting by, without luxuries or material possessions. They are happy. They are optimistic. They are making it work.
There are warm oceans to rejuvenate us. Friendly and generous people to guide us. A low-cost of living to motivate us. Children, to remind us that every risk is worth taking.
I have seen enough of Nicaragua in our first few days to know it offers us an incredible future. Though we are yet to experience the real San Juan Del Sur, we already vision our children growing into adults here, finding love and making their own way.
Building our own shack. Swinging in our own hammocks…