Off to Nicaragua with WaterAid!

By Caitlin Kelly


The left shoulder got the polio shot, the right one got the hepatitis shot. I took my typhus vaccine orally, four pills over eight days, which made my head feel like a block of cement.

Next up, Malarone, for malaria.


I leave today from my home in New York to fly to Atlanta, then on to Managua. Tomorrow morning, we fly in a plane so small we all have to get weighed, 90 minutes northeast to Puerto Cabezas, on the Caribbean coast, our headquarters for the week.


From there, we’ll travel two hours inland to visit villages where WaterAid, a British-based charity, is helping to create better sanitation. The team includes Jennifer Barbour, a blogger from Maine, Rodrigo Cruz, a fellow freelancer, and photographer from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and two WaterAid staff; Alanna Imbach, who invited me, is listed here.

Jennifer’s post about the trip offers a lot of great detail about the country.

My role on this journey is to report and interview locals and in-country staff about their experiences with WaterAid, then write stories for the group that they can use in any way they find useful — sending them to the media or to potential donors.

Eighty per cent of the inhabitants of this region have no access to clean water or toilets.

I’ve never done anything like this, so I’m excited and honored to be given the opportunity and challenge of making a remote and unfamiliar place, and the work they’re doing there, into compelling narratives.

But the fundamentals of reporting remain constant:

listen, ask thoughtful questions, watch carefully, behave with cultural sensitivity in dress and demeanor, take photos for later reference, soak up the atmosphere so a reader thousands of miles away feels like they’re sitting beside us…

The other remote places I’ve previously been? Rural Kenya, Tanzania and an Arctic village of 500 near the Arctic circle, Salluit, Quebec — all in my late 20s, a few decades ago.

Alanna has warned us that the poverty we’ll see is quite devastating, and will likely affect us emotionally.

I speak Spanish but we’ll mostly rely on interpreters into the local language, Miskitu.

I’ve never been to Nicaragua before but was lucky enough to know a guy in Colorado who writes its guidebooks and referred to me a young woman in-country who gave me ace advice.

This will be the 38th country I’ve been to (so far!)

It’s a working trip, with long days; our one free day is the last one, in Managua.

I’ll be blogging from there, with images, so I hope you enjoy the journey.


41 thoughts on “Off to Nicaragua with WaterAid!

  1. Caitlin, as a traveler and writer, I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’ve been charting my time as I prep for a trip to Kathmandu, Pohkura and Istanbul with my father. Having travelled to numerous remote outposts in Central and South America and living in remote Eskimo and Native American villages more than two decades ago, I’m still excited to prepare for such a trip. The internet does make connecting with other intrepid travelers and in country folks much quicker than the old post and tele route from earlier. I can’t wait to see what you dispatch from Managua. I’m so excited for you! And jealous in all the right ways! – Can’t wait, Renee (my last post outlines why Kathmandu with a 73-year-old who struggles to walk…) Best to you, R

    1. Wow, your trip-to-come sounds amazing!! I was in Istanbul in March 1983 only for a few days but am eager to return.

      The bulk of this trip is Bilwi/Puerto Cabezas and three days in the villages. Managua is where we change planes, with one rest day at the very end there.

      How’s your memoir coming?

  2. Jose R. Lopez

    So proud of you and this adventure that you are about to embark on. Can’t wait to hear your stories when you return home!

  3. What a fabulous opportunity and service, Caitlin!

    As you mentioned going, my third world brain kicked in and wanted to share all the tips I could… And the you got “ace advice” – I can relax again. It’s like a Pavlovian response!

    Can’t wait to hear your impressions of the NGO world and the project’s impact on you. Be safe and much success to the team. Congratulations.

    1. Thanks for that!

      I’m fortunate enough to have well-traveled friends — expats and travel writers and adventurers — who’ve been to or lived in places like Haiti, Africa and Vietnam recently. I got VERY mixed reviews of malaria meds (to take or not) which prompted a lively Facebook thread with people weighing in from Ontario, Atlanta and Austria. I took the first malaria pill yesterday and had some digestive issues late in the day but nothing unmanageable.

      I actually told our group leader (from my road trips in Africa) we’d need good sports bras for the bumpy roads we will face. So I knew that from experience.

      Like you, I’m always happy to offer advice to newbies heading off…

  4. Can’t wait to read, I am heading to Nicaragua with a team of teenagers in July -trekking/visiting projects etc, so I will be soaking up all you have to say! For background reading I’m currently enjoying Jaguar Smile…it gets you in the mindset of a Nicaraguan brilliantly. Hope the trip goes really well.

    1. Thanks, Charlene…I’m looking forward to meeting and working with our photographer and blogger as well. The working alone at home thing gets really isolating after seven years, so being in a team is a new experience.

  5. Wow, I’m so excited for you …this sounds like an amazing opportunity to expand your personal growth and delve into new writing territory too… Safe travels and we all look forward to reading about your trip when you return!

  6. You will enjoy it. I have done some short term work with WaterAid in Nigeria and you will find that development is both exhilarating and fulfilling 🙂

    Insist on sleeping under insecticide treated nets. That way those nasty little buggers won’t leave painful bites on you. Looking forward to hearing how it all went

  7. themodernidiot

    Haha, of COURSE you had to switch planes in Atlanta. I love the “fundamentals drop-in,” generous. Class act, you are.

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