Thursday, April 1, 2010

Atlantic Coast Recap Part I: Bluefields

I decided to split the trip into two posts partly because one would just be really long and partly because it just makes sense. So I start with Bluefields itself, which I don’t think I can convey perfectly just how much I learned but here goes. First of all, it was made particularly meaningful and also educational thanks to the three boys I knew from the English Summer Camp back in January who live in Bluefields: Jonathan & Abraham (brothers) and Kiefer. Jonathan and his father, Jaime, were kind enough to pick up my travel buddy, Dianne, and me from the airport in Bluefields.

I think the plane could fit like 12 people:

Then Jonathan showed us around town a little bit on foot:

Jonathan at the boys’ high school (Jonathan graduated last year but Abraham & Kiefer still go there):

The Moravian Church:

One of the oldest houses in Bluefields:

Later Jaime picked us up again & he showed us around some more and gave us more of a rundown on race politics in Bluefields. He told us that before the revolution in the 80s there were 8 neighborhoods that were mostly all black, now there are 16 and the other 8 are populated by mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous origin, aka people from the Pacific side). The city is very segregated and the indigenous and afro-descendant communities are now very much in the minority. Jaime told us that most of the downtown businesses are owned by mestizos and it has become very difficult for blacks to find work in Bluefields.

A street downtown, not all that different from many towns on the Pacific side:

This statue in the central park depicts 6 men representing the 6 ethnic groups in the area - the Creoles, Garifuna, Miskito, Suma/Mayagna, Rama, and mestizos:

We also went to visit the boys’ mothers who work together in a government office focused on the Creole community – I didn’t catch the exact name. They gave us an even more detailed explanation about the challenges facing the black community. In particular, at the moment they are fighting for the demarcation of communal lands for the Creole community. A law was recently passed and communal lands were given to the other four indigenous groups but so far there has been a battle over whether the Creoles deserve communal lands as well.

Dolene, Kiefer’s mom, and Nora, Jonathan & Abraham’s mom:

There are also still disputes over treaties between the Atlantic Coast peoples and the central government in Managua. What the ladies told us, and what I think is obvious to anyway flying over the terrain, is that the Atlantic Coast is very rich in terms of natural resources and has huge tourist potential. However, it is often misrepresented or not represented at all in terms of increasing development and encouraging tourism. Much of what I read about the area before arriving was negative - that Bluefields is really dirty and dangerous when I found it to be at about the same level of both (or possibly better) than many cities on the Pacific side (and not anywhere as bad on either measure as Managua), and even what I mentioned in my previous post about being hit by hurricanes isn’t true! A sentiment that I’ve heard before that was echoed on this trip is that the Atlantic Coast provides resources without receiving any of the benefits (investment is truly lacking in the area, they don’t even have a movie theater and despite having the major advantage of a large and potentially larger English-speaking population, call centers that pay a decent wage are all located in Managua).

Kiefer & me – Kiefer is definitely more badass in Bluefields than he was at summer camp, but he´s still a good boy:

Clearly the city as a whole and the black community in particular have many obstacles ahead of them, however I still saw many positives in Bluefields. For one thing our hostel was extremely comfortable, quite frankly air conditioning and cable TV is a vacation in itself. We also thoroughly enjoyed lounging around the park in the late afternoon and watching a group of boys practice break dancing moves there in the evenings. There were generally people out in the streets till about 9pm so I didn’t feel unsafe walking around the streets and cabs cost 10 cordobas anywhere in the city so there’s no haggling! We ate some good seafood and even a pretty decent pizza. Since it lacks a beach right near town, Bluefields may never be much more than a stopover point to other destinations in the area, but the travel forums I read literally said it was no place anyone should want to go and I totally disagree.

One of the incredibly old and huge trees in the park:

The other cool thing we did in Bluefields was to visit an NGO called Blue Energy that builds wind turbines in and around Bluefields. Back in January when I was staying in a hostel in Managua I met a guy who had just arrived to volunteer at this NGO and since I knew I wanted to visit Bluefields I got his email address and we were able to meet up. The staff is made up of about 20 international volunteers (American, Australian, Argentinean, Israeli, more I can’t remember I’m sure) and about 20 local paid staff. Dianne and I stopped by the office on Friday and then that evening we were invited to eat pizza and hang out with some of the volunteers. It was interesting chatting with them, they live together in several houses and have most of their housing and food costs covered in exchange for their work. Some are techs who work on the turbines but the guy I knew is actually an accountant and works on the financial administration of the organization.

Thus ends part one. Part two is the more vacationy part of the trip to Pearl Lagoon and surrounding environs.


Matt said...

Do your former students speak Spanish or English/Creole with their families? I know English was a dominant language on the Atlantic for a while, but has that changed under pressure from Managua?

Jen said...

They speak Creole with their families, and English with us, but they also speak Spanish cuz the mestizos on the coast don´t speak Creole or English.