As the plane flew over the sub-tropical forests on our approach to Managua, Nicaragua seems to be a thousand shades of green with a sprinkling of blue lakes and smoky grey volcanoes thrown in for good measure.
I would soon be introduced to another commonplace aspect of nature in this spectacularly scenic country, involving tarantulas dropping by to say hello.
Mariposa Eco-hotel/Spanish school
I’m so very comfortable, sitting on the terrace at the Mariposa Eco-hotel/Spanish school, surrounded by orchids and ferns, watching as one of the friendly pooches (one of the fortunate rescues living here) as he surveys the yard around him.
Lying in a hammock for the afternoon and pretend-study my Spanish lesson for tomorrow is what I really want to do. Paulette, founder of the Mariposa language school, is always concerned that her guests not get bored. An abundance of activities are planned for the afternoons and weekends. She suggests I visit an ecological garden center while she runs some errands.
It’s a good idea, despite the sub-tropical laziness that is slowly overtaking me.
I go upstairs to my room. It has two single beds – one against the far wall, and the one I use, with a large mosquito net hanging from the ceiling that I’ve tied in a knot so it dangles halfway above the bed.
I reach for my bag on the unused bed and notice a dark splotch on the pillow.
Why Travel to Nicaragua?
I’ve always wanted to visit Central America. But my criteria were:
- a place with not too many tourists
- safe enough for a woman traveling alone
- somewhere that my carefully budgeted dollars would be put to good use locally.
I found all of that about 45 minutes outside of Managua, at the Mariposa School.
Plus a whole lot more.
Coffee, Pineapples and Poverty
My ankles are scratched from the pineapple bushes’ lower branches. I should have worn pants, but my pineapple fieldwork experience has been limited to looking at the Dole plantations from inside a tourist bus in Hawaii decades ago.
The scratches don’t matter as I look around at the scenery.
Chris – an American student on a pre-university travel vacation – and I slowly make our way along between the narrow rows of bushes behind Richard, one of the school’s language instructors.
Richard pulls a small quequisque plant out of the ground to show us. Nicaraguans use the tubers in cooking, much as we in North America would use potatoes.
Then he grabs a large, round basket used to carry harvested coffee beans up the mountainside and hands it to Chris. who puts the rope around his waist and picks a few coffee beans.
We both look up – way up – the hill. The coffee plants are below the pineapple bushes. I try to imagine the weight of a full basket of coffee beans digging the rope into my sides while I struggle with it to the top for unloading.
So many need to work at this back-breaking labour to earn a small wage that’s barely enough for survival.
It’s hot. There are obviously no water fountains around, nor any wells or other source of water I can see. No vending machines. Toilets or latrines?
Just the mountain, the heat, sulfur-laden air when the wind blows this way, and brutally hard work.
Life in a Pineapple Field
We stumble our way further down the hillside along a dirt path at the edge of the plantation. Richard greets an older woman sitting in a small clearing to one side of the path. She’s heating a pot of food over some hot coals.
She smiles at us and we say “adios” – the typical Nica greeting for hello or goodbye – as we follow Richard.
The woman is standing next to a makeshift shelter of what look like plastic bags hung over a framework of four branches stuck in the ground.
At the bottom of the hill I ask the question I don’t want to hear the answer to.
“Is that spot her home?”
He nods yes.
So we just casually meandered through that woman’s dwelling.
It’s not like she could complain to anyone. I wonder if she’s paid anything other than perhaps a bit of rice and beans? Is she angry? Resentful? Resigned?
I’m ashamed of myself. Last week I complained about the cold weather arriving.
“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” Lillian Smith
(Read the next instalment here.)