Nicaragua

Living with small children and working for 4 years (1992-1996) in different parts of this land of volcanos, painters and poets – left an indelible imprint…

 

More recently, in September 2013, we decided to explore the Rio San Juan - setting off from San Carlos where the mighty Rio San Juan carries the waters of Lake Nicaragua (Central America’s largest body of freshwater) some 192km eastward to the Carribean coast.

This is certainly a river with heavy currents of history flowing all the way: first the Spanish conquistadores explored it in the 16th Century, building numerous forts along its banks.  Then, beginning with Francis Drake, English pirates sailed up and tried to steal Spanish booty….  Later, in the 18th Centrury, an English fleet under the command of Horatio Nelson did take the fort (El Castillo) in 1780, in one of the last battles between England and Spain.  However, these epic battles took their toll and victims either died from disease or were fed to the flesh-eating sharks of its dark waters.

In the 19th century when rumours spread of a fast (and safe) way to reach California in 1848 – an enterprising American facilitated the transport of thousands of gold-diggers by way of New Orleans to Greytown (at the Carribean mouth), up-river  towards the Pacific coast. Then in 1903, the Rio San Juan nearly became part of an international inter-ocean canal – in place of Panama. However this was not to be and El Draga, a rusting steam-driven dredger, stands above a tranquil bay and is a reminder of a bygone era.  Close by and almost hidden by jungle, are the remains of a once booming Greytown:  moss-covered tombstones in the 3 adjacent cemeteries – testimonies to the long-buried dreams of so many adventurers, reformers and preachers…

More recently – in the 1980′s –  Greytown was razed by the Contras during the Nicaraguan Civil war, then flattened by a hurricane, then rebuilt a few miles away and renamed  San Juan de Nicaragua: today, this small community consists of a small collection of clapboard houses connected by footpaths near the mouth of the river and where few foreign visitors stay…

Yet close by is a vibrant rain-forest around the Reserva Indio Maiz, one of the largest protected rainforests in Nicaragua – abounding with unique wild-life and rare flora…We were able to paddle up the Sabalos and Indio tributaries to witness these remarkable natural wonders and to witness how, without roads – these remote, rural  communities  depend on the river as a life-line, running between isolated farming communities and vast reserves of thick tropical rainforest on its left (Nicaraguan) bank and much chopped forest on its right bank – mainly the frontier of Costa Rica.

During this journey, we also observed how, as in many other parts of Nicaragua - the agricultural frontier has been steadily advancing and how the indigenous populations, as well as the unique flora and fauna – have been struggling to survive….. ever since the first foreign incursions into Nicaragua…. back in the 16th Century..…