Nicaragua will always have a special place in my heart. I have actually had the pleasure of visiting this country on three separate occasions. The country is still politically divided and poverty runs rampant in the rural villages, while other parts of the nation seem oblivious to it. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti. I grew more comfortable with the area each time I visited. Poverty began to stand out less to me and corruption stood out more. I have seen the backpacker scene in the country, as well as the volunteer scene. You could have a perfectly luxurious vacation here or you could have your heart broken by the kids who make a living picking through trash in the dumps.
The second time I went back was the following summer. I went with the same group, but had connections now, so I split off from the group as soon as I arrived. I learned all about where volunteer money really goes, and how how pointless the group really was. They don’t need our help to build houses, they just needed the funds to do it. Sending money is way more helpful than sending people. One would think that by sending people though, you could ensure that the money collected from donations was used properly, but pretty much the opposite was true. The money collected through fundraisers and church donations was primarily used to make sure everyone on the trip had a nice vacation. The money that did benefit locals mainly benefited those who attended the Christian church in town. By the end of this trip I wanted nothing to do with this group or mission trips in general anymore. I had met sandinistas, Guevarists, Socialists, MS13 members, and everything that made this country so unique. I was learning to speak and act like Nica and had made a lot of great friends in the country. I was hooked.
I returned yet again in the summer of 2012 with Katherine. This time it was just her and I. No group, no nothing. My goal was to see the whole country, and I think we came pretty close. While the trips with the group showed me some of the problems in the country, it was never explained why these problems existed. That’s where the help of some of our close friends here came in. This trip was really about education for us. We visited museums and spent a lot of time with good friends who could explain everything to us. We stayed in many of the colonial towns, as well as on some of the beaches. We stayed out on the volcanic island of Omatepe and went all the way to the north of the country to the Somoto canyon. This was the last time I was in Nicaragua. I would be lying if I told you that writing this didn’t also cause me to have another window on my computer opened, searching for flights.