On Thursday I’m going to visit Bluefields on the east coast of Nicaragua! The Caribbean or Atlantic coast is largely cut off from the rest of the country and has a culture and history apart from the Pacific side. It was actually first settled by the British, not the Spanish, who landed from their other colonies in the Caribbean. They brought African slaves as well, and so the population today includes many people of African descent (in fact, Nicas often assume that the African American girl in our group is from the coast) and although most people speak Spanish, Creole is also spoken. The area is also home to some of the only remaining indigenous communities in Nicaragua the largest of which are the Miskito. I’ve even read about an ancient cannibalistic tribe called the Kukra that lived near Bluefields long ago.
Most of the history I know about the Atlantic coast comes from my Moon Handbook for Nicaragua from 2005. Basically, the region was occupied by the British for many years until it was integrated into the rest of Nicaragua in 1894. Prior to its forced integration and for a while afterwards, Bluefields was a capital of commerce for American timber and banana companies. However, the area’s resources were depleted and the companies left, leaving poverty and corruption in their wake.
The coast was largely left alone until the Sandinista revolution in 1979. Indigenous leaders formed a political group with the intention of working with the new government but ended up fighting against them for increased autonomy and supported the Contra resistance. In 1981, the Sandinista government relocated entire communities to refugee camps and burned their villages, particularly in the north near the border with Honduras where the Contras were operating from. In 1985, the Miskito people agreed to put down their arms in exchange for returning to their villages.
Today the Atlantic region is divided into two parts: the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). They enjoy a certain degree of autonomy and self-reign that I’m not entirely clear on. I’ll be visiting Bluefields, the capital of RAAS. There are few roads in either RAAN or RAAS and Bluefields is only accessible by boat or plane (we will be flying). The area is constantly hit by hurricanes (don’t worry, it’s not hurricane season) and is generally considered off the beaten track in terms of tourists destinations. More popular are the Corn Islands just off the coast where you can scuba dive and snorkel around coral reefs and spend long days on the classic, white sand beaches staring out at the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean. I wish I had time to do both but that is not looking like it’s the case.
When I get back it’ll be Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is when everyone goes to the beach and there are massive parties all over the country. The week after that I go to my Close of Service conference, which will mark 100 days left in my service. How the time does fly.