Nicaragua: A Land of Contradictions
As I stepped out of the airport in Managua, Nicaragua, I was immediately struck by the stark differences between this Central American country and my own.
Everything was different in Nicaragua, from the language to the currency regime, which is an odd mix between the US dollar and the Nicaraguan cordoba. It was clear that I had entered a world that was both fascinating and complex.
The currency regime is a result of the country's history. In 1988, the government of Daniel Ortega, who was a socialist, introduced a new currency, the córdoba oro, which was worth 5,000 of the old córdobas. This was done in an attempt to control inflation, which was rampant at the time. However, the new currency did not solve the problem, and inflation continued to rise. In 1991, the government decided to allow the dollar to be used alongside the córdoba. This has led to a situation where people use the dollar for most transactions, but the córdoba is still used for some things, such as paying taxes.
Just driving away from the airport another glimpse came upon me - in Nicaragua there are few traffic lights, fewer stop signs and even less adherence on either one by motorists . This makes crossing streets anywhere outside Managua a harrowing experience due to the constant presence of cars, trucks, buses and roaming horses pulling wagons along most highways and roads. To make things worse most of these vehicles lack any working headlights at night which further impedes drivers ability to see them before getting close. Driving through this requires all your senses focused 100% of the time while maintaining split second reaction times to brake suddenly without notice. After driving like this everyday we’ve come across the entire nation I can safely say that a good Samaritan wouldn’t dream of using this country as a place to test driverless autonomous vehicles!
One of the most intriguing aspects of Nicaragua is the public antipathy towards the United States, juxtaposed against the private love for America. The country has a long and complicated history with its powerful northern neighbor, dating back to the 19th century when the US invaded Nicaragua multiple times. In recent times, Nicaragua has been the subject of international criticism for human rights abuses and the suppression of dissent by its government led by Daniel Ortega. In this context, it's not surprising to find a deep-seated resentment towards the US government among many Nicaraguans.
However, it's also true that many Nicaraguans hold a deep admiration for American culture and people. From the music of Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley to the ideals of freedom and democracy, the US holds a special place in the hearts of many Nicaraguans. It's a paradoxical relationship that is not easily explained, but it speaks to the complexity and nuance of Nicaraguan society.
The citizens of Nicaragua seem curiously reluctant to engage with strangers or invite questions from outsiders. Their reserve can come across as sullenness. And yet, once a social avenue opens up, once a conversation gets rolling, the Nicaraguans’ passion and lust for life shines through. They love to talk, laugh, argue politics, swap stories, and share the latest gossip. There is a vibrant culture and a lively spirit underneath the somber exterior.
The landscape reflects this every present contrast. Majestic volcanoes, like the towering Masaya volcano, stand as sentinels over cornfields and coffee farms. The Pacific coast has crystal-blue waters and secluded beaches, perfect for surfing or seclusion. But the countryside is also scarred by the effects of deforestation, natural disasters, and poverty.
Despite its contradictions and complexities, Nicaragua is a fascinating country that rewards those who are willing to take the time to understand it. From the vibrant cities of Managua and Granada to the stunning natural beauty of its volcanoes and beaches, Nicaragua has something to offer everyone. It's a country that is constantly evolving and changing, as it navigates its way through the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Nicaragua remains a place of contradictions, then, that ultimately cohere into a strange and melancholic charm. It is a country where American dreams have been dreamed and nightmares lived. Where isolation sits side by side with fierce community. And where natural beauty stands as a reminder of human resilience in the face of hardship. There is a magnetism to Nicaragua, an intensity to life there, that makes it hard to forget. The contradictions, it seems, are what make it compelling. A friend once said that Nicaragua gets under your skin; its charm is uncomfortable yet impossible to shake. There is truth to that. Nicaragua affects you whether you notice or not.
As I left Nicaragua, I couldn't help but feel a sense of awe and wonder at the many contradictions and complexities that make this country so unique. It's a place that challenges your assumptions and preconceptions, and rewards those who are willing to open their minds and hearts to its people and culture. Nicaragua may not be for everyone, but for those who are willing to take the leap, it's an experience unlike any other.