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When I Almost Decided to Not Travel Through Latin America

Published July 7, 2020 in Nicaragua - 0 Comments

About 6 years ago more or less, I got on an airplane to go to Managua, Nicaragua.

I was basically invited by someone I knew to join a missionary group to basically help a community in Masaya, Nicaragua in building a house.

Mostly because I spoke Spanish and they needed another Spanish speaker for the trip.

A bit ironic anyway that I was invited since I am not religious but it was cool.

But only a few people on the trip actually seemed religious, so I didn’t stick out in that regard.

At the end of the day, if it helps someone, cool.

Plus a trip to Latin America would be nice.

So basically the group involved I think about 8 or 9 other folks who traveled with us.

One guy who worked in security, another Spanish speaker, a very religious dude and a bunch of regular folks who were brought in for whatever reason.

About 3 chicks on the trip and the rest were dudes.

We had to raise up about $15,000 to $20,000 USD more or less to cover the cost of the trip.

So anyway, the day has arrived for all of us to leave for Nicaragua.

Leaving from Columbus airport in Ohio…

We show up and I remember the night of our arrival to Managua (the Nicaraguan capital).

Upon arriving, I already had a good impression because the city with its Central American feel reminded me a bit of my previous time in Guatemala.

Which was a mostly decent experience that involved a lot of hiking.

Anyway, our group had some private transportation set up the next day to take us to Masaya.

By the way, Masaya is a small city in Nicaragua of over 100,000 people that is the capital of the Masaya department of Nicaragua.

And the community we were going to build a house in was outside Masaya

Which, if my memory serves well, was actually a rural place on the outside of Masaya.

Where we also had private transportation take us to this small community from our hotel in Masaya.

In hindsight (and with more experience in Latin America now), I see that now as more of a waste of expense.

There are public forms of transportation obviously and the wasted expenses we spent on this trip is a point we will get to a little bit later in this article.

Anyway, starting in the morning after our arrival to Nicaragua, we got to work…

Building Houses near Masaya, Nicaragua

The Hotel We Were At

Waking up in the sunny morning in our hotel after our arrival to Nicaragua…

We had this local guy pick us up from our hotel and be our guide basically to the rural area we were going to.

He was Nicaraguan-American from my memory or at least had considerable experience in the US.

Let’s call him Edgar – I don’t remember if that was his name but for whatever reason that’s what I’m remembering.

Overall, he was a very nice guy to deal with.

They end up taking us to a dirt road and we got out to meet some neighbors that were living close to where we would be working.

They would be working with us also.

So then we start walking down the dirt road and it was probably a five minute walk to where the work would begin.

On the sunny and hot day as we are walking…

We pass by some goats (or some animal but I think they were goats) that were making a bunch of noises.

And I got talking with one of the neighbors – just small chit chat.

And between him and Edgar, I was already getting the impression that people in Nicaragua are quite nice.

Which, now that I am writing this in hindsight…

Nicaraguans in general seemed like very nice and humble folks compared to my experiences elsewhere in the world.

For example, how in Argentina, most people seem more distant and cold in my experience.

Anyway, we get to the community that we are going to be working in.

And Edgar begins to walk us around introducing us to the local school and other buildings.

Then, we get to work.

Now I don’t remember the order at which we did things so I had to check my photos to help my memory.

But the basic activities that we (the Americans) did was basically paint some stuff and shake some tool that helped filter some stuff.

As you can see the result in the photo in this article below here.

We also had people digging a hole also.

Anyway, the locals themselves were basically doing the harder work.

Which, in a way, made me question why we were there since none of us had actual construction experience and we spent so much money to travel here to basically dig holes, filter materials through some tool and use paint brushes.

But more on that later…

Nonetheless, that was the basics of what we did for most of the days of our trip.

And I say most days and not everyday because we ended up coming across a tough situation…

A Sickness….Worse Than Covid-19?

The House We Were Building

A day or two later, the group goes to some restaurant that is located right outside our hotel for breakfast before going to work again that day.

The meal consisted of mostly a bunch of fruits and some yogurt.

I think eggs as well.

So we finish our meal and get into the private van to be taken to this community to work again.

We don’t last maybe an hour until things get bad…

A young man in the group gets sick and feels bad.

At the same time, a young woman in the group feels the same way.

It’s my job then to go to the private van driver and tell him that he needs to take them to the hotel.

Which, in the moment, I felt probably the most useful I had been by this point since I really was starting to doubt the purpose of our work there in the days before.

Now I can do something productive!

Working on the House....

Plus, I felt pretty sophisticated being the go-to-guy for dishing out that Spanish in a time of emergency.

Well, the driver takes the two folks back to the hotel…

But, in best case scenario, the rest of the group lasted maybe an hour until literally everyone except one young woman felt very sick.

Including myself.

The van was already back by then and took us all away after I had to explain again to the driver that now we all have to go back.

And the very second we get back…

I feel a natural instinct to walk to the bathroom…

And that instinct became an urge the second I opened the hotel door and the hotel bathroom was right in front of me.

And I basically lunge towards the toilet and start vomiting with the door open for everyone to see.

God damn, it was painful.

Near Where "The Great Vomiting" Happened

The one religious guy, who I suppose was concerned, came to my side and knelled down.

And basically started looking at me with a very concerned face like that of a concerned parent at a parent-teacher conference.

Something like below….

And I’m vomiting still and looking at the guy and thinking “what?”

Now I ended up not being the only one vomiting – just about everyone was I think.

Aside from this one chick who was not sick.

And later throughout that day and night, I couldn’t sleep.

Just about every hour I would stumble into the bathroom vomiting – even when I had nothing to vomit.

It felt like my body was trying to push something out but couldn’t.

And me being a pussy and my only time in my life where I probably got food poisioning (or whatever it was)…

I was in my bed thinking to myself that this will be what kills me.

It was terrible.

Even one chick in the group who got violently sick had to be taken to the hospital because she was very physically weak and couldn’t get any water into her body without vomiting it.

Her condition seemed a bit worse than others so they had to take her away for a bit.

Either way, that basically killed half of our trip since we decided not to work for I think one or two days after this incident.

So what did we do for that time?

Well, outside of getting some more rest and recovering..

Exploring Managua

We ended up also taking half a day to move around Managua and seem some highlights.

From this volcano where you can see some of the area near it below that I took a picture of here.

To checking out some presidential looking building...

Among other things…

But we were still recovering I think…

I, at the very least, didn’t feel very good.

And it was a very sunny and hot day.

So we are being driven around Managua on this hot day and I get a better look at this city.

And while I had a good impression before outside the airport…

I wasn’t all that impressed here. It seemed like a very dusty and ugly looking city with poor infrastructure.

And our vehicle stops in front of some stand of some dude selling stuff.

Someone suggested we buy water because it was very hot.

So I’m sitting in the back of the van now….

And I see this possible homeless dude dancing in the street and yelling out the lyrics to some song (with no music) as a way to make money.

You know, if someone were to tip him for his musical and dancing abilities.

But maybe liquor gives us all a little too much confidence…

Because it becomes pretty obvious the dude is drunk or something.

Since his street performance involves yelling “HA HA HA HA HA”

Something that sounded like this here….

By the way, I promise I'm not the guy in that video lol (I'm not actually, but I can be a bit loco sometimes)...

Among “TIENES MIEDO?!” and other crazy shit he was yelling at people passing by.

While going back to doing some cool dancing skills and singing whatever he was singing.

At the very least, that’s what I understood of what he said.

And as he is doing all of this, he is wearing a “University of Iowa” sweatshirt.

Which is crazy given the heat out here.

And even more crazy because I am originally from Iowa – so hey, good choice!

Though Iowa State is better than University of Iowa in my opinion but I’ll let that slide…

Of course, some of you might be wondering why he would be wearing that…

Is he from Iowa perhaps?

Probably not. Down here in Latin America, there are some folks who wear cheap clothing that perhaps was donated or something south of the border.

And in this case, ironically in my case, happened to be something from Iowa.

At the very least, I’m glad he’s representing Iowa well with singing skills that could only be seen on American Idol.

What would Simon Cowell say about his singing performance here, you may ask?

At any rate, it all comes together…

Considering Future Travel to Latin America

Rural Nicaragua

I’m not really all that impressed by Managua as a city…

The heat is killing me.

I’m being driven around in a van on bumpy seeming roads that wasn’t very comfortable.

Feeling nauseated and recovering from some of the worst sickness I felt up to that point in my life.

And now I’m watching some homeless dude basically harass people in the street while wearing a University of Iowa sweatshirt.

And keep in mind I had been planning on traveling across South America in a few months after this trip with funding already approved for the occasion.

But then I asked myself…

“Shit, do I really want to go through this for an entire year?”

Final Lessons

A small musical performance we saw in Nicaragua

Because, you see, I’m someone who prefers being comfortable.

A good day for me is chilling on a patio drinking a cocktail and listening to music after having just had sex with whoever.

Not moving around South America for a year while maybe dealing with food poisoning again and maybe getting harassed by homeless people.

And, perhaps mostly because of the food poisoning to be fair, I was starting to rethink that decision.

In hindsight, it probably was the food poisoning that soured my thoughts on traveling around Latin America.

Since everything about Nicaragua up to that point was pretty good as you can guess by how I was describing it at the start of this article.

But also, keep in mind, I never really had much of an interest in this region to begin with initially.

Which might seem ironic given I now have a website about this region and have spent 5 years here so far.

I mostly just wanted to travel the world when I was younger and traveling to Latin America instead of anywhere else, at the time, was the path of least resistance since there was so much funding available that I knew I could get to travel throughout this region.

And then over time, Latin America and the cultures and histories you come across down here just grew on me.

Plus the realization that I could live a very simple life down here given the low cost of living.

So now I really like living in Latin America for a variety of reasons…

So that’s probably the first lesson here…

For me in this case that Latin America really does have its benefits to living down here that I didn’t realize right away.

But a second lesson here for me (and perhaps you) is to get out of your comfort zone.

Because while I do like having a calm day on the patio…

With sex, liquor, beef for lunch, music and a blue sky to watch birds fly around and chill…

The eventual trip I took after my time in Nicaragua was one of the best years of my life.

Which many of the adventures from that will be revisited in numerous articles down the road when I get around to writing about them…

So don’t base your entire opinion of Latin America obviously and if you would like it on a trip to just one country.

Maybe that trip gets fucked over by food poisoning.

And make sure to leave your comfort zone as you explore this region.

And finally, the only other lesson I learned from this trip…

Or perhaps it is better described as just an impression…

Which is that these missionary trips seem like a waste of money to me.

We spent maybe 20,000 USD to shake some tool to filter out something, paint some materials and dig a hole.

When, with my experience living down here, that type of money in Nicaragua could go so much more.

You could hire a few local workers to do what we did for a fraction of the price.

And keep the extra money to maybe improve the local school they had or….

Maybe pay Matt Damian to visit this rural community and dish out his best Spanish to give a motivational speech to the local school children for why studying is important.

I’m sure he’d do it for 15,000.

Maybe, I’m not his agent.

Either way, it was an impression amongst myself and others on this trip that the money could have been better spent.

The one religious guy in the group tried defending it (since he was basically the leader) that…

Well…

We are diplomats in a way and we were able to represent America in a rural community in Nicaragua!

I mean, I guess

At the expense of $20,000 USD that could have been much better spent.

Either way, those were my main lessons I learned from that trip.

And maybe it was an entertaining story to you!

If you have any stories of your own in Nicaragua or Latin America…

Dealing with food poisoning, missionary trips or whatever…

Let me know below.

Would be fun to hear.

And thanks for reading!

Best regards,

Matt

Nicaragua

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