Nicaragua: Days 3 and 4: Stars, Goats and a Dugout Canoe

Jennifer and I in a dugout canoe on the Wawa River
Jennifer and I in a dugout canoe on the Wawa River

Our third day we got back into the van and headed to a small village — 10 families — living near the Wawa River, to stay in the home of Linda Felix, a woman who has been working on sanitation issues there, trained by WaterAid.

Linda, 41, has six children, the oldest of whom is 22, and has a year-old grand-son. She lives, like most Nicaraguans in this part of the country, in a wooden house standing on thick stilts, tall enough for an adult to stand beneath.

Under the houses, including hers, roam: goats, pigs, chickens, roosters, dogs, piglets. A large herd of cattle stands nearby and an extremely friendly turkey even followed us all the way through the forest to the river. We bathed there at 4:30 and enjoyed the relative cool that sets in around that hour.

Her house has two parts — a separate kitchen with a small clay woodstove — and the living and sleeping area, divided into separate rooms for her children. Our team, three women and a man, slept on cots beneath mosquito nets in what is, essentially, her living room — which is bare except for a table.

The spotless home has no electricity or running water and the toilet is reached by going down very steep wooden steps (no handrail) and up an even steeper set into the shack with the toilet in it. I had to dodge a tiny black piglet on my way.

The sun sets at 5:45 and the sky is completely black within 30 minutes, offering a stunning array of stars visible when there is no competing artificial light for miles.

Our host, Linda Felix, paddling her canoe
Our host, Linda Felix, paddling her canoe
LInda's home
LInda’s home

all photos taken by Jennifer Barbour

Jennifer and I traveled this morning by dugout canoe — our seats were bits of bamboo hacked with a machete by Ailita, Linda’s 69 year old mother in law. We scrambled up very steep sandbanks with them to visit their gardens where they harvested cucumbers, watermelon, squash, beans, tomatoes and pumpkins, which the family eats and which Linda takes into Bilwi to sell.

The heat is crazy — 98 degrees. It wipes you out, so we’ve been drinking a lot of water.

I bathed a few times using the well, and a cow came by to visit me.

We were welcomed everywhere with smiles and generosity and kindness.

We saw some of the baseball teams competing for the championship of the Indigenous League.

I chatted in Spanish today with a woman who tried to help her sister’s deep depression by selling two cows and visiting a “curandero”, a traditional healer. Instead, it took a Bilwi psychologist and Managua psychiatrist to diagnose and treat her.

Our multi-lingual, multi-national team has been working in intense heat, long days, translating into Miskitu. We’re having a blast.

Now back in town for two more days, then one final free day in Managua, the capital.

I hope you’re enjoying some of our adventures!

23 thoughts on “Nicaragua: Days 3 and 4: Stars, Goats and a Dugout Canoe

  1. I am so impressed by your journey! I enjoy reading all about it. But I am not quite clear what you are actually doing there. Is it physical labor–in such heat! Or fact gathering/writing about the organization and their results? Look forward to more.

    1. It’s a bit of both…I’m here to gather interviews and color and detail about specific aspects of WaterAid’s work here for the past three years to write several stories for their use. That has also meant living some of the rural life led here so we truly appreciate and understand what it is to not have access to running water or a toilet…Yesterday morning we tramped through a muddy forest, slid down a sandbank, crawled up three very steep ones…and, as usual, were sweaty and exhausted from just doing that; doing anything (even just an interview standing up) in 98 degree heat and very little shade is really tiring!

      I got so hot I thought I might get heatstroke so I wanted to wash my hair and body…which meant standing at the well (and having someone crank a bucket full for me) then clean up — in full sun! It’s been a powerful experience to NOT take water, or cold water, for granted, as we do.

      1. Thank you for the additional information, Caitlyn. Look forward to reading much more abut your experiences! Yes, precious water–I do think about it when using water daily, for some reason, but you are getting the critical view.Hope you stay hydrated and well!

    1. Thanks! We are now back in town for the final two days, so much less exciting — wrapping up final interviews and filling in gaps in our knowledge. It’s been one of the best weeks of my life. Great team, super challenging work. I’ll post more — and next week will be able to post lots of my own photos. They will tell the story more effectively perhaps.

      1. themodernidiot

        Sorry. The stilts for the houses–is that because they are right on the river bank? To protect the house from when the river floods?

      2. No, not necessarily. Some are, but they end up flooded anyway. And the houses are also on stilts inland and in town, far from any water or flooding source.

        The stilts seem to serve a few purposes: they allow for an entire “basement”, as it were, underneath the footprint of the house in blessed/necessary shade — animals sleep there and people do laundry there and hang hammocks there. It allows for a place to hang out if you do not have a verandah; it’s hard to overstate how desperately you seek shade when it’s SO hot; also there’s a rainy season and this would allow people to have fresh air but stay dry. I was struck, when we stayed at Linda’s house in the village, that we saw (?) no bugs or roaches or creepy crawlies. The only lizards and geckos I saw were in our hotels in Bilwi and Managua and they were teeny.

        I bet there are other reasons but those are the ones I saw.

      3. themodernidiot

        No bugs is quite appealing, and a hella marketing tool if they’re serious about boosting profits for new infrastructure. Believe me, i was feelin your pain. In the valley even the barely dappled patterns from a scraggly palo verde can launch two drivers into a Safeway parking lot version of west side story. Shade is a commodity here.
        Thanks for the extra info on where you were. I had it figured a bit different even with the pics. Many thanks to you both for the photos, especially of the birds 🙂

      4. I have a funny photo I didn’t post of me shading beneath a palm tree’s fronds…One day we were interviewing a young woman and we all huddled into the sliver of shade in desperation. Funny, but not if you’re trying to avoid heat stroke.

        There’s NO infrastructure where we were…the country director told us what when he travels into the countryside he stays with local families; there are no hotels or restaurants to be found.

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