Nicaragua: The Country of Killer Bugs and Heat Stroke, Apparently

In just over a month now I’ll be heading to a small community in Nicaragua called Pedro Arauz. What do I know about this community? Absolutely nothing except for the fact that it is near a city called Tipitapa, which is northeast of Nicaragua’s capital, Managua.

Why on earth am I spending $2000 and using vacation  days to visit one of the poorest countries in the Americas? This is what most people ask me when I tell them that’s where my next ‘vacation’ is set to take place.

I’m going on an outreach trip. I’m volunteering for 7 days to build a water supply system and a community learning centre that residents can use as a space for collective discussion, idea exchange, and ultimately systematic learning.

I chose to go on this trip for a few reasons:

1. I’ve always wanted to do something like this and I’ve become really bad at making excuses for not doing what I want

2. I graduated with a minor in Global Studies and wrote at least a dozen 20 page essays about developing countries, without ever experiencing any first-hand

3. I missed the opportunity to go on a trip like this in university (I was much better at making excuses back then) and this is the first trip like this I’ve found that allows me to go without having to quit my job (aka I won’t be away for a month)

4. This trip is a complete 360 from any other travel experience I’ve had thus far (and I’ve had a lot). I’m all about ‘new experiences’.

When I found out I was accepted to go on this trip, I was thrilled. I also had no idea what to expect. In the weeks leading up to my trip, here is what I know for certain:

1. I will be spending the majority of the day involved in intense physical labour outdoors
2. I will be sleeping on the floor in a wooden house, covered by a mosquito net
3. I will have no access to running water or electricity. No wifi. No toilets.
4. I will be eating nothing but rice, beans and tortillas prepared by women in the village 3 times a day

I researched Nicaragua enough to know which vaccines I needed to get, but not enough to know much about what to expect on this trip. I think I will be moved by the realization of how much I take for granted, I will be humbled by the people who live so fundamentally differently than me, and I know I will appreciate the luxuries that I have back home (luxuries being my bed and toilets that I can sit on, of course). That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with expectations for this trip.

My friends, family and coworkers, however, have been taking care of the expectation part for me. I thought it would be neat to compile all the advice, expectations and stories that were shared with me before I embark on this trip, and then compare it to my actual experience when I come back.

Here are just a few of the things I’m told to expect when I go to Nicaragua. After sharing this with my mother, she’s already offered to pay me $2,000 to cancel this trip.

1. You are going to get sick

I’ve heard it all. From food poisoning, to traveler’s diarrhea, to rabies, to Hepatitis (which I’m already vaccinated for :)),  all the way to AIDS. Yes, AIDS. I actually had someone tell me this was what I was going to pick that up when I go there. Rest assured, everyone. I’ve had a  bunch of needles stuck in my arm over the past couple weeks to protect myself. I’m also drinking Dukoral at the end of the month. I’ll be fine (I hope).

2. You are going to be overwhelmed by bugs

Someone described the bugs in Nicaragua to me as “straight out of a child’s nightmare”. For someone like me who would seriously jump out of the window of a moving car if a bee flew into it, this is terrifying. I think my most favourite story was about the big black hairy spider that lives in Nicaragua that when startled, stands on its hind legs and rubs its front legs together, spewing off hair follicles that give you a burning rash and can make you blind if it gets in your eyes. Suddenly I’m second guessing taking those malaria pills my doctor prescribed to me. Mosquitoes seem like child’s play now. I was later told about the spider that can eat through a horse’s hoof and the one that can devour a small bird. The worms on the beach that lodge into your feet and have to be drawn out with a match also make me want to throw up. At this rate, I may just walk around wrapped in my mosquito net all day.

3. You are going to get shot

Not scared. People can get shot in Toronto, too.

4. You won’t be able to handle mixing cement for 8 hours a day and hacking through boulders

No defense here. This one is probably accurate.

5. How are you going to go to the  bathroom without washrooms or toilets?

Everyone seems to be really concerned about this one. It may or  may not have something to do with the fact that my bladder is abnormally small and one drink usually yields about 5-8 trips to the bathroom for me. I guess I see everyone’s concern. I pee a minimum of 3 times during the night. It may not be ideal for me to sneak outside alone in the middle of the night to empty my bladder. Especially with all those killer spiders out there. But everyone has given me great solutions. My favourite was ‘just pee in your pants’, followed by ‘lady pee funnels‘ as the runner up. I’m sure I’ll appreciate sitting on a toilet seat when I come home, but I’m excited for my leg muscles from all the squatting.

6. You are going to die from heat exhaustion or sun stroke

I get that it’s hot. And I know I will be doing physical labour during the sun’s peak hours.  I do hot yoga in a room that’s about 38 degrees celcius and walk out with wet hair and a shirt that I can wring out. I checked the weather for Nicaragua this afternoon. It’s was only 32. I think I can handle this one. I will also have access to a water filter that makes the water in Nicaragua safe to drink. I’ve actually had friends make fun of me for how much water I drink in a day. I got this.

7. You are going to get robbed

I’ve heard everything short of ‘hide your kids, hide your wife’ on this topic. When I went to Barcelona by myself, I had people sending me articles about how Barcelona was rated #1 for European cities you will get mugged in. My mom offered to pay me to cancel this trip too. But, I left Barcelona with my digital camera, phone, iPod, $1000 and my passport.

Just to clarify, most of the above advice is from people who have never been to Nicaragua. I’m not going on this trip to lie on the beach. I’m not going on this trip to see famous sites. And I’m  not going on this trip to stay in a 4-star hotel while eating some of the world’s best food. I’ve been on trips like this already. I’m going on this trip to try something new and break out of my comfort zone. I’m going on this trip to experience a new culture, to discover a new world and to help a community that lacks things we take for granted every day. I’m not really sure what to expect. But I am completely okay with that.