I’ve been harboring the idea of buying some beach property in Nicaragua since I last visited the country, that in-between year I call 2006. Central America’s largest country had a distinct feeling of being just under the radar, one of the few places of beauty left where even a lowly paid travel writer could buy a little slice of paradise, before the euros and ameros invade with their real estate agents, buy up the country, drive up the prices, and rob yet another affordable destination from us, the working-class enslaved.
Considering this is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, still scarred from the civil war that ravaged it through the end of the 20th century, you would think the window of opportunity would be open for some time. After all, Nicaragua still sounds terrifically scary, stretched like the large, untracked arm on the dangerous and drug-ravaged body of Central America. Backpackers don’t mind this one bit. Travel junkies calling up our dealers, ordering a few more hits of Nicaragua, where waivers don’t exist, and anything is possible. Backpackers: The canaries in the coalmine of modern travel.
Last night I was hanging out at Bigfoot Hostel in Leon after spending the afternoon boarding down an active volcano. As one does. The hostel was a smorgasbord of backpackers, engaged in a multitude of activities, creating the most utopian travel environment I’ve seen in a long time. The Dutch were reading magazines, the Americans were flirting, the Swedes were pounding a piñata, Australians playing pool, English cooking dinner – a few scattered nationalities making their claim, and among them all a TV crew rewarding themselves for a hard days work. Ounces of sweat lost racing up the rocky cone of Cerro Negra were being replenished with bottles of excellent 7 year-old Flor de Cana, Nicaragua’s much loved rum. A playlist of eclectic music was pushing tunes from behind the bar, where a beer costs less than a dollar and a fresh made mojito just a little more. Spirits, to abuse the pun, were high, and the attractive gender ratio was an almost perfect split. If you press your ear to this page, you can overhear snippets of conversation:
“I was in Costa Rica and everyone was telling me about Nicaragua.”
“We only came to Leon for a few days, and we’ve been here over a week.”
“So, there’s no other country in the world where you can sandboard a volcano?”
“Have you been to the north, it’s incredible!”
“Have you been to the south, it’s incredible!”
“Usually we feel nervous travelling as girls alone, but it’s been fine here.”
“Dos cervesa, por favor.”
“You guys have the best job in the world.”
Fast forward to the scene tonight, as I type these very words. I am in a hotel located in the hills of Matagulpa, coffee and cocoa country. The hotel is basic by North American standards, but it’s the finest hotel in the city. In the lobby, where wireless internet is available, there is not a single soul around, unless you count the occasional unidentifiable insect crawling across the tiled floor. The ground floor L-shapes into the restaurant-bar, and by 9:30pm, it is empty too. It rains up here in coffee country, and the air feels as sticky as the floor in my hotel room, where the sheets are sticky too, but I’d rather not think about that. The crew are off in the countryside filming a home stay for Julia’s segment of the show, and here I am, feeling very much like a blind assassin in a Mango Republic. Or perhaps, a consultant for an unfair-trade coffee multi-national battling with ethical demons. This is not to say this small town isn’t salsa dancing away with the rest of Nicaragua on this sticky-rice night. I’m sure the local bars and hostels are busy, but they’re about a half hour walk away, down a washed out hill as steep and slippery as the ethics behind modern genetics. In Nicaragua, hotels cater to business, politics and charities, while the real fun rests on the backs of the backpackers. However, I don’t expect this will last very long.
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