For my junior spring break, I went on a trip of a lifetime to Costa Rica with my friend and her parents.
I went zip-lining over the rainforest. I watched gorgeous scenery pass by on bumpy tour bus rides. I saw monkeys and a sloth in the tall trees near Lake Arenal. I relaxed by the pool and ate authentic Costa Rican food like gallo pinto, plantains, and fried cheese.
The resort we stayed at, Riu Guanacaste, was beautiful — stunning. The people we met were polite, and they seemed to appreciate our attempts to speak Spanish. Yet, after a short trip across the border to Nicaragua, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.
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Tourist Nicaragua was amazing. Brightly painted houses contrasted with the traditional black shrouded funeral hearses in the city of Granada. Justin Bieber music played in the streets, and the park was crowded with vendors selling wares.
At Masaya’s Volcano National Park, we climbed stone stairs to reach a platform that had a single cross on it. Down below, a crater emitted steam and sulfur gas. The view was breathtaking, and the rocky plains, rumored to be the entrance to hell, stretched on forever.
But that wasn’t the real Nicaragua. Granada and the national park did not show the hardships of the Nicaraguan people. They did not show the true poverty of the poorest country in Central America.
After two short stops at Lake Nicaragua and the city of Masaya, I quickly learned how truly sheltered I was.
While I was snapping pictures of Lake Nicaragua on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere, a small pickup truck drove right up to the edge of the lake. In the back, ten men sat with dozens of buckets piled between them. We stared at each other: the silly, American tourists, and the tired men going to pump water from the lake. On the lake itself, three fishermen fought the gigantic waves to find food for their families.
Food and water.
Two things we take for granted so often in our country.
But it was in Masaya that the truth punched me in the gut.
As we walked around the covered market, el Mercardo de Artesanias, their eyes followed us. Women selling goods. Men slumping against doorways and steps, watching listlessly as we walked by.
Before leaving on the tour bus, a little kid around nine-years old came up to me, holding a bundle of reeds. He handed me a grasshopper made from the reeds and whispered “gift.” I nearly refused to take it, but he insisted that it was just a gift. We handed him a dollar. Just a dollar. And his face lit up like it was Christmas. He grinned and ran away before I could do anything more.
A little boy just like my 10-year-old brother.
All alone on the streets.
Not in school.
Not safely tucked away at home.
On our way back to Costa Rica, I cried. My large sunglasses hid the evidence of my shame.
I will regret for the rest of my life not handing that boy the fifty dollar bill in my wallet.
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