battleface talks to Michelle Bartolo, a business director, yoga professional, founder of the anti-litter NGO ‘That’s Rubbish,’ Surf Rider Foundation activist and Red Cross volunteer who recently spent time in Nicaragua.
BF: So Michelle, was this your first time to Central America?
MB: No….I’ve been to Costa Rica and absolutely loved it. My friends run a really cool organic farm operation down there and I lived and worked with them for a few months.
BF: Nicaragua: how did you get there with flight connections and what about travelling inside the country?
MB: Well I did quite a bit of internal travel, and getting from here to Nicaragua was quite easy. I flew out of London Heathrow to Houston and then connected to Managua, the capital.
BF: So what were your impressions of Managua?
MB: Well, from the little that I saw the overriding impression was that it looked really run down – in between the earthquake of 1972 and then the war that started a few years after until today nothing looks like it was built properly again – just loads of patched buildings everywhere….and super busy! Cars everywhere…everyone in a hurry it seemed.
BF: And the internal travel…?
MB: Well first I took a bus to Playa Maderas on the Pacific Coast which was only two hours away from. Managua and I stayed a week there, did some yoga, surfed (yess!) and caught up on all the sunsets I’d missed from working too many hours back home, haha.
MB: Yeah. Venezuelan instructor, mellow waves and though it was a busy beach there were no hassles in the water. It was actually at San Juan del Sur….bit of party place after sunset too….
BF: So it’s good there?
MB: Yeah, it’s not really that busy with tourists, though American dollars is what you need to be carrying if you want value for your buck. It’s warm, peaceful and I stayed in an eco-accommodation place – water conservation and recycling encouraged from the guests. Yeah, it’s a cool place.
BF: Just back to the topic of moving around internally in Nicaragua, what are the downsides?
MB: Well…you know that typical scene of an old bus full of people and chickens are running around and next to you is the village goat….? So not that bad, but not much better if you get me… And then there are the taxis. Not all taxis are safe to get into. I asked around at the places I was staying for the ins and outs of what transport is reliable – all the useful tips are from locals if you take the time to engage with people. Like for instance, some taxis look as though they had a bouncer in the front seat with the driver. Maybe he was security or the owner of the car or he could have been the heavy who tried to extract some more dollars from the trips….whatever…..I didn’t go near them under some good advice. The other thing with taxis is that you can barter your price – haha – that is assuming you know where you’re going…
BF: Nicaragua has two coasts right?
MB: Yup. The Pacific and Caribbean.
BF: And the differences were….?
MB: The Pacific side was Spanish speaking and the Caribbean side a lot more influenced by Creole – both in language and attitude I think. Like, the Pacific people were cool, but the Caribbean Nicaraguans were super friendly and laid back.
I spent most of my time there on an island called Little Corn Island (Ed’s note: Isla Pequeña del Maíz) just off Big Corn island (of course), which has a population of 700. It was super relaxing but after a while you can get island-fever as it only takes a short time until you know the place inside out. While I was there however a fishing boat sank in a storm – 13 Costa Rican women died as they couldn’t swim. For 3 days all boats back to the mainland were cancelled, people missed their flights and you can imagine that on such a small place it was a time of high emotions with the locals dealing with all of the drama.
BF: So I know you weren’t travelling alone this time, but would you go to Nicaragua and do all you did by yourself?
MF: Honestly, probably not, although I did meet a couple of women there who were doing just that and said they had experienced no problems. But even as a couple or in a group you need a higher level of observance than normal. Not because there are direct threats but in some places you just don’t keep doing what you might do elsewhere. For example in Managua I was told not to be out at night. I’m obviously not a local and I don’t speak a lot of Spanish….
BF: OK, so what’s your number one piece of advice to travellers to Nicaragua?
MB: That’s easy! Take your own supply of basic medicines. Fevers are quite common for travellers so paracetamol and Imodium should be packed, and, you will need mosquito repellent, soothing cream for bites and stuff like that because believe me, Nicaragua has mosquitos!
BF: Thanks Michelle. Let us all know when you’re off on your next trip.
MB: Yeah, of course.
Photos courtesy on Michelle Bartolo
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