I just returned from a 2-week backpacking trip in Nicaragua, and it was absolutely incredible and I have so much to share that I’ll do it in multiple parts (not sure how many?). This post will be about the process leading up to my trip, and some highlights from it! I’ll be doing a separate post for food in the next few weeks or so.
I’d first like to apologize for the radio static for the last few months. I’ve had been working as the Arts/Life Editor for Imprint, my school’s student newspaper, and usually felt guilty about not creating content to be published there in pursuit of my personal blog. It was still an incredible experience nonetheless and I had the opportunity to take things a bit easier with a part-time course load and part-time job in Waterloo after I finished my internship in the big city of Toronto.
With that being said, my internship was a transformative few months and a time that I refer to as “the worst time of my (short) life”, but that’s another blogpost for another day. During this time, I decided that I need to shake things up in my life and challenge myself in a way that I never have before. I started looking at different volunteer opportunities on workaway.info which is a community that brings together people offering work in exchange for accommodations and board. I put off the idea of travelling and working on a farm until I finished my final assessment in August, and came across a hostel/restaurant with a permaculture garden in Ometepe, Nicaragua. Even though I had reached out to a ton of other hosts ranging from teaching English in Bogota, spiritual retreats, yoga teaching, and many more, El Jardin de la Vida and my hosts Trevor and Rachel stood out to me because they’re American ex-pats, which, for a non-Spanish speaker and first-time backpacker, was appealing to me. They also had glowing reviews from other travellers like me raving about the serenity and nature on the property, the people, and the work being very rewarding and flexible.
So, over the course of 2 or so days, I arranged a flight and travel insurance and started preparing myself for 13 days of living off-the-grid on a permaculture farm in a foreign country. I had been camping before and don’t consider myself to be a very fussy or picky person, although I am a bit of a princess (the notorious “I don’t f*** with public transit” line often comes back to haunt me), and I did hours and hours of research on what to expect.
My journey began in Detroit at 5 AM, where my sister sent me off with the one caveat that I come back alive and with Nicaraguan coffee. Then I flew to where Miami where I listened to Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” after hearing my pilot’s rendition when we landed, and then from Miami to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The flying and layover travel time was ~7 hours, and getting from the capital to El Jardin de la Vida where I was to be volunteering, is another 4-5 hours, so I’m sure you can imagine how gassed I was.
Nicaragua has recently undergone some political turmoil as a result of protests, and as a result the tourism there has taken a huge hit. Many businesses have closed and many people moved to Costa Rica where they can find work. Things have really calmed down but unfortunately there’s a huge stigma around travelling to Nicaragua so the economy still hasn’t quite recovered. Before the protests began, Nicaragua has been notorious amongst travellers as the cheapest and safest Central American country. I figured that I trusted my hosts to gauge how safe travel to the country is right now, but was still a bit nervous about spending time in Managua and wanted to power through my trip to get to Ometepe in one day. The result was a $100 taxi from the airport to the ferry port driven by a female taxi-driver who knew English and wouldn’t pick up other people on the way– sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Upon arriving at El Jardin, I met the other volunteer who was staying there. His name is Kenji and he was a stock broker from Seattle until he sold all of his belongings and embarked on a cross-continental bike ride that would eventually end in Belize. Both Trevor and Rachel, my hosts, had similar stories of being over-committed to work in corporate America and decided to start their lives elsewhere. After having their adorable little girl in the U.S, they drove a schoolbus which they converted into a house, along with their 6-month old daughter, from Rhode Island back to Ometepe, Nicaragua. Now, they run their hostel, restaurant, and kayak tours on the beautiful island and are building a home from sustainable materials. Their property is littered with beautiful fruit trees, lush gardens, and flowers that attract the prettiest butterflies. I was in love!!!!!! My typical day would include waking up around 6:30 AM, getting cleaned up using the outdoor shower and composting toilet, reading in a hammock for an hour or so, eating breakfast, doing a few hours of work in the garden or helping out in the kitchen, and then spending the rest of the day lazing around.
I know that up until this point this all sounds fun and dandy, and while it was all great, it was hands-down the most challenging two weeks of my life. I had major culture shock and tried to legitimately rebook my departure flight for sooner because I really didn’t think I could survive there. First of all, I don’t know a lick of Spanish (but I learned “Yo no hablo Espenol”), which was very daunting. It was easier to pick up once I got there thanks to my prior French education growing up, but nowhere near a functional conversational level. Nicaragua is kind of already “out there” in terms of location and being off the beaten path, but I went to Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua only accessible by 1.5 hours on the ferry, and El Jardin was 2.5 km outside of the closest town, so I was remote as HELL. I was straight up living in the jungle and I was getting destroyed by bug bites and creeped out by all of the tropical wild life (lizards and scorpions are a regular sight). In addition to that, being out and about began to feel really daunting to me. The romantic culture in Nicaragua is a lot different than North American culture in terms of what is considered acceptable for men to do. While I’ve been cat-called plenty of times in Canada, it’s actually 500% worse in Central America. It was very normal for me to walk down the street and hear men whistling at me, yelling profanities at me (I eventually had to learn what they were saying to me in Spanish meant, and then I immediately wished that I hadn’t), men groping me, making kissy noises, following me, etc. Travelling as a girl by yourself is hard on its own but in a culture that these things is normal it becomes a little bit more scary. These are all things that I was perfectly aware of going into it, but I wasn’t expecting to not be mentally prepared for them.
When I wanted to leave and called my sister to rebook my departure flight for an earlier date, I told my hosts, who sat me down and gave me the best pep-talk of my life. They said that when I first got there, I told them I came to Ometepe to find myself (cliché, but accurate), and they want to really help me do that– that two weeks was no time, that I came to challenge myself so this is all a part of the challenge- and I was like, “You’re not wrong”, so I buckled down and knew I had to stick it out. I’m so so glad that I did. I stopped drowning myself in bug spray (so much that it was staining my skin) because the bug bites were inevitable anyways, took more ownership of the work I did every day on the farm, and did things that excited me. One day, I got to make ravioli from scratch with Rachel, which was super cool and a first for me!
Next up, I’ll be talking about the many people I met and many things I did on Ometepe, and why I think every traveler should have Tinder! Until the next time I want to procrastinate by blogging, xoxo.