By Conor Sanchez
There are a lot of camps organized by Peace Corps in Nicaragua, but only one of them entails debating whether we should speak to campers in Spanish, Creole English, or a little bit of both.
It’s called the RACCStars Camp, a play on our department’s acronym (Región Autónoma de la Costa Caribe Sur), and it aims to empower students by giving them the tools to become agents of change in their own communities. Last year, Michaela and I were counselors. This year, we are serving as coordinators along with another volunteer who lives in Bluefields.
This past weekend, we made our fourth trip to Bluefields to meet with other volunteers in the department to start planning, and once again we were reminded what a unique place the Caribbean Coast is. From the moment you step off the panga in Bluefields, you know you’re entering a different world. Although you might not understand exactly what’s being said, people are definitely speaking some form of English around you.
“Ah, ya’ reached!” I hear a man say to someone on our boat. “Lemme carry ya’ to the street.” Instead of hearing people say “Adios” to one another in the street, you hear “Alright!” as they walk by shops and homes. The volunteers who serve here usually end up speaking more Creole than Spanish, although Spanish is spoken here as well.
What remains of the Victorian architecture that once defined this city gives it the look and feel of a town in the American South – not a former Spanish colony. Indeed, Bluefields was for a long time ruled by England colonists until 1796. Before that it served as a haven for pirates who used the inlet to repair their ships. One of which -a Dutch pirate named Abraham Blauvelt – gave it its name.
Today only a few structures with recognizable European features such as wraparound balconies and dormer windows remain standing; the place was flattened after Hurricane Juana in 1988. Nevertheless, there’s something peculiar about how things have been reconstructed that is not what you’d expect to see in Nicaragua. Walking around downtown conjures up memories of New Orleans sans the beer and hand grenade cocktails.
Getting to Bluefields by land is also out of this world – or at least takes you to one that existed a long time ago. To reach the coastal city, you have to take a bus to El Rama, where you then catch a small 20-person boat that carries you down the winding Rio Escondido for nearly two hours before you finally end up in Bluefields Bay. You can also fly or, if you’re super adventurous, take a truck from Nueva Guinea which only runs during the dry season.
Safe to say, Nicaragua’s east side is not nearly as developed as its west side. There are very few paved roads out here by comparison. The main way of reaching any of the cities located on the coast is by boat. As a result, it really doesn’t get much tourist traffic and for the few places that do, it’s a particular breed of travelers who are willing to make the trek. The amount of imported goods is also pretty limited, inflating prices on pretty anything that isn’t Nicaraguan.
It’s a shame more people don’t see it because, in my opinion, Bluefields is truly one of the coolest, most fascinating places on the planet. Its inhabitants are mostly Mestizo, Afro-descendant Creoles, and indigenous Miskito. You can also find smaller communities of Garifuna and Ramas, making it by far the most diverse place in the country. During U.S. interventions in Nicaragua at the beginning of the twentieth century, Marines were stationed here.
The food is different from most of Nicaragua. The traditional dish is rondón, a soup made with beef, pork, fish, or turtle meat (sadly, yes, turtle meat is quite popular on the coast). Coconut bread is delicious and can be purchased almost as it exits the oven at a place located just southeast of the central park.
From Bluefields we once went to Pearl Lagoon, where we were able to make day trips to the Miskito community of Awas and the Pearl Cays (a small patch of tropical islands in the ocean that are completely uninhabited). One day we’d like to make it up to Orinoco, where a fairly big community of Garifuna people (descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak) live.
The RACCStar Camp happens this July. For many of the campers, it’ll be their first time traveling to Bluefields – pretty remarkable considering this is the capital of their department. We hope they’re reminded of how awesomely diverse their home is and that they fall as equally in love with Bluefields as we have.