|With too many doctors at the hospitalito, we took a mini vacation from our vacation and joined brother Elliot for a Nicaraguan adventure.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere, second only to Haiti. With an annual income of about $980, 50% live below the poverty line. A civil war and corrupt politicians (Aleman was voted one of the world's 10 most corrupt politicians by the UN human rights sub comission. He sipohoned off $100 million from the government's coffers) didn't help. In 1998 Hurricaine Mitch killed 4,000 and destroyed 70% of Nicaragua's infrastructure. Though Guatemala is by no means rich, the relative wealth is clear.
Granada, the beautiful colonial capital was our first stop. Granada was founded in 1524, and as such is the oldest city in the New World. We all took language classes in the morning, then toured around in the afternoon. We lived with Raquelle, a 40 year old lawyer, and her 4 year old son. Raquelle had worked as a prosecutor for the government, but then lost her job when Ortega and tbe Sandinistas regained control of Nicaragua with only 35% of the vote (and a crooked election). As Raquelle was not a Sandinista, she was not allowed to work.
From Granada we took a boat to the great volcanic island of Ometepi. Lush, and covered with plantain trees, it was a much calmer and cleaner place than Granada. It remained largely untouched during the civil war, and the first paved road went in in 2005. This road is only a couple of miles long, so we spent the majority of time in pickups and dirt bikes on dirt roads. Oxen drawn carts out-numbered cars and life is simple. Ometepe is an island made out of two volcanoes that errupted years ago. It sits in the middle of giant Lake Nicaragua (which is itself quite impressive, at 45 milesx100miles).
We loved it.
With Annika on the back of Elliot's bike and Alex, Peter and I sandwiched onto Peter's bike we made it to "eye of the water" - a beautiful swimming hole made from an underground spring that popped up to the surface. We met some lovely British travelers,Tanya and Chris, and shared a pickup to a glorious waterfall. As we sat by the waterfall discussing the lack of crime in this little island, some bastards came and stole the battery from Peter's dirtbike. Still worked with a kickstart, though, so it only added a bit of adventure.
From Ometepe we made our way down to Costa del Sol for some surfing. Beautiful beaches and good surf made for a relaxing vacation. Elliot was an excellent teacher, and we all got up on our surfboards - even the kids. Catching a " green start" was a bit harder, but well worth the effort. After our surfing adventure, we returned home while Elliot continued down to Costa Rica. Elliot was such a positive, helpful, and enthusiastic travel partner and addition to our family. We hope he catches up with us again soon.
Purely facts for those who care to read on.
The first Spaniards arrived in 1522 lead by conquistador Gil Gonzalez Avila where he gave the local tribes an ultimatum : convert to Christianity or else. Of the 700,000 people, only 35,000 were left after 25 years.
Nicaragua won independence from Spain in 1821. Several civial wars followed and the US occupied Nicaragua in the early 20th century. The Somoza's took power in 1937, and the US happily backed this puppet dictatorship. In 1967, the third and most evil Somoza took power. In 1972, a massive earthquke leveled Managua and killed 6,000. International relief poured in, and Somoza diverted it all to family and friends. A group of militant university students called the Sandinistas were now legitimized and gained the necessary support to fight the Somoza regime. Almost every country in the Americas and Europe cut ties with the Somoza regime ... except the US. The Sandinistas won the revolution in 1979, and Somoza was assassinated in Paraguay shortly thereafter.
The Sandinista's inherited a country with staggering problems. They passed health-care reforms and had a Literacy Crusade which cut illiteracy from 50% to 13% in 2 years. (My Spanish teacher was part of that. When he was in school he had to spend 1 - 3 months in the poor villages teaching them to read as part of his public service requirement). Despite the reforms the Americans were suspect of their Cuban and Soviet advisors.