Revisiting Nicaragua, This Time as a Tourist
By MARY TALBOT
MARCH 5, 2014
Selva Negra Mountain Resort, a coffee farm and inn between Matagalpa and Jinotega. Credit Oswaldo Riva for The New York Times
Managua’s airport doesn’t look anything like it did the day I first arrived there with an ill-considered buzz cut, two donated microscopes and a mind brimming with untested idealism. That was in 1985, when the Sandinista revolution and the American-backed contra campaign opposing it were in full swing. I had taken a leave from college to see the revolution up close, to lend my hand in whatever way I could, including teaching, and ended up staying for nearly three years. At the immigration counter, a compañero in fatigues insisted, in Spanish, that I redo my forms. Leafing through my American passport, he noted that I was born in Germany, but he seemed disappointed that my birthplace was in the western half of the country, not in socialist East Germany. To tell the truth, I was a little disappointed, too, and all the more so when my microscopes, destined for a rural health clinic, were seized by customs.
So much has changed since then as I was to learn last August. At the climate-controlled, glass-walled airport, an official welcomed me with a big, tourist-friendly “hello,” and nobody even glanced at my 50-pound suitcase, stuffed with gifts for old friends. I had returned to Nicaragua for the first time in 25 years, partly to see my daughter, Willa, who at 15 was spending a month there to improve her Spanish (and her tan, she said), and partly inspired by my nostalgic desire to compare the reality of this Central American nation today with the revolutionary place of my memories. I wanted to see if Willa’s stay was changing her, as my years in Nicaragua had changed me.
Interesting article about a former “sandalista” who came down in the mid-1980s during the Contra War to see what Nicaragua was like in the present day. Nice to see the NY Times continuing their coverage of Nicaragua in the travel section.
Its great to get the word out that Nicaragua is a fun place to go and has a lot of different types of attractions that some of the neighboring countries do not offer. Of course, the contrast between the time the author came down in the mid-eighties and nearly 30 years later must be amazing to experience.
As I pick up our visitors at the Managua airport, I get lots of comments about the “Trees of Life” especially for those arriving in the nighttime! Then some folks comment on seeing the US fast food chains here. They see Subway, Pizza Hut, Burger King, McDonalds, and others here and sometimes that is a surprise.
And of course those guests who make those comments are absolutely correct! Just a few years ago there were fewer of these chains. If you were to go to the big new SINSA here on Carretera a Masaya in a blindfold, and took it off inside on one of the aisles, you would swear you are at a Lowes or a Home Depot. Its uncanny, except the prices are even higher!
Point being, Nicaragua has been making great strides in recent years as one can read in the Revisiting Nicaragua story. Of course, having a peaceful country is a pre-requisite to any sort of development or betterment of the people in Nicaragua. Even though I see lots of new BMW, Mercedes Benz and Land Rovers vehicles zooming in and around the area of the farm, this is still an extremely poor country.
If you talk to a person about 50 or more years old here in Nicaragua, you will find they have a story of what was going on for them during those days, and few stories are very pleasant ones. Unfortunately, the youth don’t have that personal experience and one hopes they don’t end up retracing the steps of their fathers, uncles and even grandfathers!