Those who spend their lives within the belly of the beast see mostly the insides of the belly. Traveling outside the beast gives one a better idea of what the beast looks like and the impact of its actions on the world. For those who missed the 1/31 post (my last “live” post before this one), for the past few weeks I’ve been traveling through Central America. More specifically, exploring various towns, cities and nature reserves across Nicaragua. Though my primary reason for being there was for vacation, I took it as an opportunity to learn much about the region’s culture, environment, and often turbulent past. Though I’m sure much has happened while I was away (I’m still catching up on news), within the next few days I hope to share some of what I learned and experienced on the trip.
For others who might be planning vacations to other countries combining recreation and education, the importance of having at least a basic grasp of the native language (or traveling with fluent bilingual people) shouldn’t be underestimated. It greatly enriches interactions not only because locals can express themselves more authentically in their primary language, but it could help reduce potential social tensions. While many less developed nations including Nicaragua are increasingly economically dependent on the tourism industry, tourists need to be aware of problems their presence may cause or contribute to such as gentrification, cultural commodification and cultural dilution. U.S. tourists speaking in native tongues might not solve such problems, but it at least symbolically helps counteract inherent power imbalances while making possible more conscious consumer choices such as supporting smaller ecotourism, agritourism and community-based establishments which may not offer the same level of English language services and materials as larger, often foreign-owned businesses which cater to English language speakers. Greater fluency in the native language also allows tourists to acquire and compare more information on essential expenditures such as transportation, lodging and food, resulting in options of higher quality or greater practicality (and preferably locally-owned) for less money.
That being said, I’m definitely not fluent in Spanish but was fortunate enough to travel with someone who is. Without my travel partner I wouldn’t have been able to experience nearly as much as I did. Among the highlights:
- Jumping into the Rio Coco in Somoto Canyon from a height of 12 meters (high enough for me).
- Hiking though a cloud forest in the mountains surrounding Jinotega.
- Kayaking on rough waters of Lake Apanas.
- Seeing indigenous petroglyphs in a rural village near Matagalpa.
- Climbing to the roof of the Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion in Leon, the largest church in Central America.
- Learning to ride a motorcycle and driving it across Ometepe Island.
- Hiking around the top of the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve.
- Boating through Las Isletas near Granada.
There’s lots I’m leaving out, including visits to various cultural museums in different towns, some of which I plan to feature in future posts.