I think it’s pretty fair to say that most travelers go into a trip hoping to be changed by it in some way (i.e. want to have a life-changing experience). That’s how I’ve always felt before embarking into the unknown on all of my travels. Will this trip change me? What will I learn? What will I feel differently about when I return?
I wondered about these questions more than usual before heading to Nicaragua because I knew it would be a trip full of many “firsts.” Visiting has definitely left a lasting impression on me. Being in a third world country was a lot different from the way I am used to living, and it put me outside of my “comfort zone” physically, but I loved experiencing the daily life there. I want to share what “third world” looked like to my eyes:
- No heated water for showers.
- You can’t flush the toilet paper in most places because there really isn’t a plumbing system (you throw it away in the garbage can).
- Houses are kind of half built, meaning the walls may not be completely connected or closed off to the outside. They don’t keep much out as far as spiders and rats go.
- The language barrier was challenging. People from America expect everyone in the world to speak English. Not the case.
- Riding in a chicken bus squished between what seemed like way too many people to be riding on one bus, with little children maneuvering their way through the aisle to try to sell the white people stuff 😉
- You can experience SO much for SO little.
- Living simply.
Many of these things may come off as sounding like a negative experience, but it was just the opposite. Showering in an outdoor shower with cold water in the middle of a jungle with spiders on every wall actually felt amazing, exciting, and refreshing. Rats coming into our room during the night and eating through my bag was actually funny and made for a really great story (the rat wasn’t interested in us thank god!). Dealing with the language barrier was tough, but it left us feeling satisfied and proud of ourselves when we would succeed. It also made the experience more authentic. Riding in a chicken bus was not what I would call comfortable, but it got us from point A to point B on the cheap. It engaged all my senses–listening to the locals talk on the bus, looking at all the goodies the children were coming around with, seeing the sights pass by through the window, etc. Nicaragua was a very affordable country to visit, without lacking any beauty or activities you would find in a more expensive location. We did so much, ate so much, and drank so much without going broke.
I was also struck by how simply the people lived (but were happy). One local in particular has stuck with me–our surf instructor in Popoyo. He had lived there his whole life and got to spend every day surfing. Popoyo is such a gorgeous, untouched beach front town, and I couldn’t help but be in awe of the fact that he got to wake up to it every day and just surf. He was such a nice, sweet person and a really great (and patient) surf instructor. His life is so much simpler than mine, but I can’t say that’s a bad thing. I’m grateful to have grown up in America and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but just because someone lives in a third world country doesn’t mean they are worth less or have it bad. People have it good everywhere, and people have it bad everywhere. It doesn’t really matter if it’s in a developing country or a highly advanced country. Visiting Nicaragua gave me some perspective on that, which I think is really important and is a huge reason to travel.
Lastly, I would like to address one question that will always come up when you mention you are traveling to a third world country. When I told one friend I was going you could see the look of fear cross her face before she asked me if it was even safe to go. And I know my family was worried about me and less than pleased at my choice of country to visit over Christmas break. So did I ever feel unsafe? The answer is (for the most part) no. There was only one moment in the whole trip that I was a bit scared except it wasn’t your typical scary story. We were standing outside a hostel in San Juan waiting for our ride after purchasing our Sunday Funday tickets. It was broad daylight and there were loads of people around. I noticed a local man yelling a bit down the road (not sure at who), and before you know it he came running out of his house with a machete trying to chase after someone. The women in his house had to physically hold him back and yell at him to stop and come back inside. Nothing ended up happening and he never even looked in our direction, but it did make me feel a bit uneasy (most likely because I’m not used to people getting around carrying machetes, which was very common in Nicaragua). Besides watching that uncomfortable scene that many people I was with didn’t even notice, there were no points in time where I felt unsafe, and I obviously never went anywhere alone. I’m glad I didn’t let fear hold me back from visiting this amazing country.
My trip to Nicaragua will always be special to me–it was my first time in a third world country and also my first time backpacking. More on the backpacking aspect of the trip soon!