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    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      We're staying in northern Costa Rica where there is angst about illegal immigrants from Nicaragua, a million of them in a country of 5 million people. On the one hand, they're willing to do the hard jobs in the fields Costa Ricans no longer want to do. On the other, they bring crime and Costa Ricans complain that their prisons are full.

      They also get benefits Costa Ricans don't. One example is health care. It is illegal in Costa Rica to deny health care to anyone, including illegal immigrants. Costa Ricans are required to pay 9% of their income for health care and if they are found not doing it, they have to pay the cost of any medical visits. But foreigners get free health care. So illegal immigrants from Nicaragua place a burden on the health care system without paying.

      My expectation was Nicaragua would be very poor after the civil wars, devastating hurricanes, and now a for-life dictator.

    • Chris

      My first impression as we crossed the border at breakfast time was similar to when we crossed the border into Zimbabwe from Zambia: from relative prosperity to poverty. This is how meals were being prepared at the cafes on the border.

    • Chris

      We drove up the Pan-American Highway to Granada. It's hard to take in how enormous Lago Cocibolca is.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      It's also hard to take in the juxtaposition between the horse-drawn wooden carts many of the farmers still use and the massive windmills that tower above their fields. Renewables now produce 54% of the country's electricity. Nicaragua has no oil production of its own and historically they had rolling blackouts because they couldn't afford the oil imports to meet their electricity needs.

      The Ortega administration sought foreign investment for renewables and got enough that blackouts are a thing of the past.

    • Chris

      Granada looked more prosperous than the towns further south, but you still see a mixture of horse-drawn carts, cars, light motorcycles and bicycles loaded with three people.

    • Chris

      We decided to tour Granada via horse-drawn carriage, which sounds like a touristy thing to do, but many families seemed to use them to get around and for whatever work they do.

      @Kevin told me he visited Nicaragua and the thing that will always stick with him is how happy everyone seemed, even very poor people. He thinks of that whenever he's saddened by his first-world problems, and I will too.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      On that note, on to Nicaragua's surprising first world: the Islets of Granada, an archipelago of 365 small islands with vacation homes for mostly wealthy Nicaraguans. You have to reach them by boat. Here's one that recently sold for the equivalent of $500,000 U.S.:

    • Chris

      The setting is stunning, and each home gets its own island. Many of them are hard to see behind the lush foliage.

    • Chris

      The islets provide a complete community with restaurants on some islets, a cemetary on one, and a church on another. This is a restaurant:

    • Chris

      One of the islands only had a colony of monkeys, but there was something about them... They looked particularly well-fed, not like the monkeys we had been observing elsewhere. It was as if American fast-food and beer had reached these monkeys. Weird. We didn't even know how they could feed themselves on such a small island.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Looking through my zoom lens, I could see something else I hadn't noticed in other monkeys: rotting teeth. I'm not a wildlife expert. Does anyone know if this happens in the wild on their natural diet?

    • Chris

      Just then a few tourists showed up and a monkey hopped on their boat, bypassed their offer of a banana and grabbed a sugary refined muffin.

    • Chris

      This blue-eyed monkey kept working his right-front gums with his tongue. A couple times he lifted his tongue enough to see he was missing his teeth there and the gums were red and inflamed. I wanted to take him to the dentist.

    • Chris

      While in Nicaragua I developed a big problem: I was seeing very cool and authentic boots, hats and people wearing them. I mean, just look at this guy's boots!

    • Chris

      But here's the guy I was traveling with. I knew him to be a cool guy, great runner and biker, but this just screams American tourist in need of a makeover. What would you do?

    • Chris

      I spied a cigar shop nearby. "Vin, we can't afford that guy's boots, but let's see if this $2 cigar, losing the hat & Silicon Valley hipster glasses, and not standing that way can turn you into a Nicaraguan."

      What do you think? If it worked I'm going to declare our day a success.

    • kevin
      Kevin Harrington

      @Kevin told me he visited Nicaragua and the thing that will always stick with him is how happy everyone seemed, even very poor people

      I always remember the smiling Nicaraguan children from the poor local villages when I'm sad.

    • kevin
      Kevin Harrington

      Did you see this on your drive? Converted school buses taking folks down Highway 1. Shot on a surf trip just outside of Managua.

    • flei

      Gald you made it to Nicaragua! It is one of my favorite countries to visit and I have been there five times. We go to do service work in a very poor barrio in a small town near Leon where we live a week at a time with families while we work. We have also toured extensively elsewhere. The people are wonderful and welcoming, especially considering their circumstances. Although we have seen things very slowly improving, the country remains poor and oppressed, mostly due to historical USA influence and incursion there, their isolation from the "Capitalist world", and the failure of Ortega to actualize the socialist dreams of the Sandinistas. Those island mansions you saw are owned either by wealthy foreigners (willing and able to take advantage of the poor economy there while taking the risk that their property could some day be seized by the gov.) or by FOO ("Friends of Ortega"). As far as I am concerned, our country's relationship with Nicaragua, past and present, is shameful, and I literally cry about it every time I go there. Sadly, I have pretty much given up hope I will see it change during my lifetime.

    • I’ve only been to a few poor places and honestly, I feel they are happier for the simple reason they have community. They have each other.

      Not many of us know or hang out with neighbors in that same way.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      On the drive to Nicaragua, our Costa Rican guide told us the story of William Walker that every Costa Rican child learns in school. He said Walker invaded Granada with an American and native force and named himself President of Nicaragua. He started an Americanization program of reinstituting slavery, making English the official language, and reorganizing fiscal policy to encourage immigration from the U.S. The American President at the time recognized Walker's government as legit.

      Walker then ended up in battles with Costa Rica and deliberately poisoned the wells with corpses, causing the deaths of 10,000 troops and civilians, 10% of Costa Rica's population at the time. When he was driven from Grenada, he burned it to the ground.

      If I were a Central American child learning that in school, I don't think I'd see America as a shining city on a hill throughout its history.

      Btw, our guides in Costa Rica and Nicaragua are afraid of Trump because he hates foreigners.

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