Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited:
Top 10 Most Amazing Places #8: Nicaragua
I first visited Nicaragua when I was 12 years old on an international volunteer trip with Bridges to Community. We went as a family, and before leaving, my mom made sure to tell us that we would have to use outhouses, we would eat rice and beans for every meal, and tarantulas and scorpions would be hiding in every dark corner. We cried and begged to go to Disneyland instead, but my parents thought it would be better to expose us to a lifestyle so different from Westchester, New York.
Some of the many cute kids in the villages.
Little did I know that that 8 day trip would change my life forever. I went back 9 more times (four of those times were trips I organized with my college) to help build schools, wells, orphanages and homes. It’s the reason why I went on to volunteer in Mozambique and Kenya.
Our first trip was to Bajo De Los Ramirez. You can only visit this town during the dry season because the “roads” were all dried up river beds. We were the first white people they had ever seen, and I remember the kids kept running up to touch my skin, and then would scream and run away laughing. When we arrived the whole town got together to greet us and sing and dance for us. I even got to use some of my 7th grade Spanish to introduce myself, “Me IIamo Tracy. Soy de Ustados Unidos. Muchos Gustos!”
We slept on the floor of a church and in the morning pigs would come in and wake us up by licking our faces. We bathed by getting a bucket from the well and taking it to a makeshift shower that was obviously made by men because the plastic wrap only went up to our belly buttons. It didn’t help that it was downhill and the only road was at the top of the hill. I’ll never forget when my sister was taking a shower and a bus full of men drove by and they all started cheering and hanging out the window to get a better look. She made their day!
We spent most of our time building a brick school house, and taking the first census the town had ever had. I think I was the only kid in my middle school who came back from Spring Break knowing how to lay brick!
Me and my beautiful brick wall. Unfortunately I was going through a chubby, awkward phase.
On our last day, the villagers roasted a giant pig for us. It was a startling experience for me because I had just started eating meat after being a vegetarian for 5 years, and now I was eating something that was oinking at me a few hours prior. However, the taste quickly overwhelmed my conscience.
If you go to Nicaragua, you must visit Lake Nicaragua. There is an island for every day of the year, and each island has something unique. One island we swam to was inhabited by wild monkeys. There was no way to get on the island so we just floated around in the water. The monkeys thought we looked funny so they hung from the tree branches and bobbed our heads like it was a game of whack-a-mole (and we were the moles). Eventually we had to leave once the moneys started throwing coconuts at us.
Beautiful Volcano Masaya.
Volcano Masaya is also a must see. There’s a constant haze of sulfuric gases coming out of the imploded crater. It is active, so you need to be carefull. If you climb to the top of the hill there’s an enormous cross because early settlers thought this was the mouth of hell. I saw a porcupine up there!
The cloud forest.
And if you have time, take a hike in the cloud forest. It’s so high up you walk through the clouds, and everything gets soaked because of the condensation. This moisture makes for some of the lushest greenery I’ve ever seen. The car ride to the trail is horrifying – they use left over Soviet Union hummers, and they can hardly handle the steep incline and the slippery mud. There’s nothing like watching the car in front of you sliding back towards you. But at least there’s a great view of the coffee fields to distract you from the many near-death moments.
The mural we painted!
And if you have extra time, you should definitely visit the Museum of Archaeology in Ticuantepe! There you can see the mural my classmates and I painted!
On one trip, when we went on a walk through the jungle, I was bitten by a poisonous ant and went into Anaphylactic shock. They gave me three Epi-pens but nothing was working. Through my convulsions I begged the team leader not to bring me to the emergency clinic because I was afraid if my parents found out they would never let me go back to Nicaragua. Yep, that’s how much I love the place.
Eventually my tongue swelled up to the point where I could hardly breath anymore, and they took me to the clinic. It’s a good thing because the doctor said the skin on my ears almost split open! If anyone’s ever seen Hitch, I was twice as swollen as Will Smith after he eats the shellfish. But I’d still do it all over again!
The Old Cathedral
Nicaragua’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever visited, and it has all the natural beauty of Costa Rica except for half the cost! For some Spanish culture, you can visit Granada. Or for military history, visit the old, national prison where you can still see the blood stains on the walls. Or for some local flavor, visit one of the many market places, and hire one of the young boys to help you. It will only cost about a dollar, and he’ll be one of your best tour guides! No matter what you like to see when you travel, Nicaragua has a taste of everything.