Three years ago, I spent a good portion of my summer in a small fishing town named San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. My family’s involvement in Nicaragua started many years ago when my father and his friend dropped themselves in the Honduran wilderness and made their way down the coast in a small inflatable boat. They finished their journey in San Juan Del Sur, and loved the town enough to invest in some land and a small fishing shack there. Ever since then, trips to Nicaragua have been an amazing source of fun and adventure for me.
During this trip, I helped with my family’s land endeavors in the tropical forest region of mountainous Southern Nicaragua. This is where our plots of land are, a few former cattle farms that are being converted back to forest with the planting of practical trees like teak and bamboo. The work was hard, but enjoyable. I helped move a truckload of bamboo down the old dirt road between the towns of San Juan and Ostional, among many other things. I spent days traveling on horse and foot to find people and places throughout the undeveloped south, following streams to navigate the old Nicaraguan rainforest. To truly learn a place, there is no better method than to work there.
Living there for several hot, humid days has given me a broader perspective on life that is very different from my suburban American existence. It also has encouraged me to seek educational opportunities beyond mainstream high school requirements, such as expanding my knowledge of agriculture and the Spanish language.
Mostly however, I have gained a better respect for how life in rural Latin American communities is productive and sustainable because of indigenous agricultural practices that have succeeded for centuries.
For instance, when my father and I stay with the head campesino on our most remote farm, I marvel at how this Nicaraguan farmer manages to provide for his wife and three small daughters without electricity or water service. They live in a two-room wooden shack, and mainly eat beans and rice grown there in the mountains and cooked on a stove that is nothing more than a stone pedestal for a wood fire. Water is hauled up the hillside from a valley stream, while meat and eggs come from the chickens that roam around the camp. There is a cow (thanks to income from the caretaker job for my father) that provides milk for the family and for trade to a distributor who drives the steep, rutted, dirt roads daily, collecting produce from secluded farms. Occasionally there is a trip on horseback to a nearby village to buy manufactured goods like clothing and tools, yet this family and others like them lead healthy, happy lives essentially without money and modern conveniences.
My father and I enjoy our brief opportunity to live this life. We spend the day touring the many mountainous acres, riding the sure-footed horses we raise there. We eat the simple red beans and sleep in hammocks hung up in the separate kitchen shack. It is easy to feel happy there.
Needless to say, experiences like these have had a huge impact on me. I am probably the least materialistic of any of my peers – I have no interest in the mall or what kind of jeans I wear. I seldom watch TV or play video games. And I have come to value friendship and genuineness, such as I found in Nicaragua, over the quest for social standing and entertainment so common in our culture.
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