Stab Magazine | Forced To Choose Between The Devils Of Surf Tourism And Poverty

Forced To Choose Between The Devils Of Surf Tourism And Poverty

Coastal Nicaragua’s prosperity relies on the first. 

news // Sep 1, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

I returned to Kauai after a lovely two weeks trip to Nicaragua in time to receive heart wrenching news from which I have not yet fully recovered, and to face an impending hurricane which was forecast to wipe the Hawaiian Islands from the face of the map.

The hurricane, as you all know, fizzled offshore of Big Island. Hilo got hammered, everyone else escaped more or less unscathed. It was an anti-climax that was definitely for the best but one can’t help but feel a little disappointed after all that wasted planning and fretting.

In downtime between buying canned beans, sourcing ultimately unneeded lumber to board up my windows, and attempting to refrain from breaking down into an absolute emotional wreck, I’ve been trying to whip a conclusion for my Nicaraguan adventure. What did I learn? What was the point?

What was meant to be a dive into adventure, a first hand account of a country in turmoil with surfing set as backdrop, was nothing more than two weeks of great surf, great food, new friends, too much alcohol, and a sprinkling of OTC pharmaceuticals. I don’t know where I went wrong. Was I lured by the siren’s song of decadence into focusing on fun to the exclusion of all else? Did I miss facts that were in front of my face due to a combination of poor Spanish, self-involvement, and the surfer’s tendency to spend all day focused on the horizon? Was the entire venture doomed from the start because it was based on a completely flawed premise?

Most likely all of the above. I’m also a terrible writer, a fact of which many of you are kind enough to remind me regularly. But, for my own mental well being, I’m choosing to focus on the last. The premise was flawed. Nicaragua is facing turmoil, but in no way is it burning.

Excepting billboards featuring Daniel Ortega and his wife. Those fuckers are highly flammable.

What’s a caring American to do? People have been disappeared, assaulted, intimidated, and murdered by pro-Ortega factions. The next election is two years away and not a single Nicaraguan I spoke to seemed to truly believe he’ll play fair or step down when it comes along.

But it’s not as if American interventionism in Nicaragua has anything but a bloody and inhumane history. Attempts to involve ourselves, turn things for the better in whatever skewed and self-interested version of “better” our country had then embraced, was ill-informed and misguided at best. Ugly and cruel and selfish at worst.

Do I want the United States government involved in Nicaraguan politics? Fuck no. Never again.

The only option presented to me that made any sense, that seemed realistic and to stem from something other than self-interest, was this:

Pay attention. Help the Nicaraguans make themselves heard. Worldwide public sentiment may be the best way to affect change without further bloodshed.

I don’t know if that’s true. But I hope desperately it is.

On a personal level I didn’t learn much new. Certain beliefs were reconfirmed. Everyone is pretty much the same everywhere. People are kind to strangers, welcoming as individuals. Capable of startling acts of hatred or violence or xenophobia when shielded from responsibility by membership in a mob. But, on a one-to-one level, overwhelmingly decent. Occasionally pushed to bad acts by circumstance or selfishness, but typically genuinely good.

I did learn that Nicaraguans should, in diminutive form, always be referred to as ‘Nicas.’ The masculine/feminine/plural forms of Spanish do not apply, as they do further South with the Ticos/Ticas. It was a misconception I’ve been working with since my first trip in 2007. I don’t know where I learned it, no one ever bothered to correct me prior to this trip. But this trip people certainly did. Often, across almost much every form of communication possible.

I was taken to task by multiple sources for some sloppy writing that claimed Nicas use black beans in their gallo pinto. They do not. They use red beans. Black beans are used in Costa Rica and that’s something I already knew but missed in my editing. It bothered people. It’s a reaction I feel was a bit overblown. But I don’t expect to please everyone.

That sentiment runs parallel to those who have contacted me to say that Nicaraguans don’t want tourism. Gringos need to stay out, stay away. Leave the country be. It’s advice I’d take seriously had it come from a local even once. But it did not. Ex-pats relaying supposed grievances doesn’t resonate. I know too well the ugly urge to keep private a resource into which one was lucky enough to buy early.

It’s something we surfers love to do. Stake claim, then either exploit or privatize. It’s not a game I’m willing to play. Not a choice I’m willing to make. Given a choice between the toxic devils of surf tourism or poverty it seems Nicaraguans have chosen the former. It’s a decision I respect. A visit to a throwback hamlet may be quaint and fun but that’s no reason to force that state on the locals in perpetuity.

If there’s anything to take away from drivel I’ve been producing the past few weeks I hope it’s this:

Don’t believe what you’re told. Go find out for yourself. It won’t make you wiser, or better, or more capable of navigating the clusterfuck we call life. But it might make you more kind. And it’s definitely a lot of fun.

Also, Nicaragua is full of firing surf and there’s almost no one on it. You’ve got a brief chance to grab a piece of something special before normal regains its grasp. Make it happen. Book a flight.

Don’t fly Spirit Airlines. They left some friends stranded in Managua after canceling their flight home.

That shit was fucked up.


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