The boat sputters and heaves against the waves. I see the front lift up and then smack down on the surface of the ocean sending a wave of bathtub-warm wáter to where I am sitting in the back of the boat, drenching me instantly. I taste the salt on my lips and hug my bag closer as the boat surges up, once again, against the next oncoming wave. I make a mental note to myself- if you don’t want to become drenched, never ride in the back of a boat on the side of the oncoming waves.
It is hard to imagine that just 3 days ago I was baring the infierno of Managua with my dad, racing towards the bus station to catch the first bus on our 24 hour journey to the atlantic coast of Nicaragua. Sitting in the back of a beat up cab a familiar song comes on the radio- Natalie imbrulie’s “torn”. Our taxi driver, a scowling, grumpy, overweight man in his 50’s, sweating profusly in the hot, humid heat of Managua turns up the song, subtly nodding his head to the beat. Nicaraguans absolutely love the 90’s, significantly more than any other era, including the most recent one. The election of Violeta Chamorro in February 1990 put an end to the US embargo that had been in place and opened the doors to US trade, US-waste, and inevitably, US music. I have heard TLC, Suede,Nirvana, Alanis Morisett, the Cranberries and the likes more than I even did as a kid growing up in the 90’s. And it seems that the 90’s, at least for the time being, are here to stay.
Back in the boat, we have finally pulled up to the second village on our stop, a small collection of basic one room shacks on stilts on a grassy clearing that has been cut from the surrounding forest and mangrooves. I step onto the pier and while the rest of the boat slowly makes its way towards dry land I take a minute to survey the wild expanse of turquise blue ocean in front of me, dotted with mangrove islands and palm tree fringes.For a minute it is utterly and completely silent, except for the waves lapping at the side of the boat. I feel that familiar feeling of having arrived at the end of the world and my heart surges.
I suppose I am, in many ways, at the end of the line. It is logistically almost imposible to go any further than the last village we will visit, a singular remaining Garifuna village on the North end of Pearl Lagoon. The rest of the atlantic coast of Nicaragua is a wild expanse of Mangrove forests, ilegal cattle ranchers, narco-trafficers and indigenous tribes etching out their living. I feel like I am in another world, so different is it from the pacific coast of Nicaragua, the spanish-speaking, corn-based,mestizo majority of this country. Here it is a predominantly english-spreaking, coconut-based, creole community. My host family must have told me a dozen time, alongside rumours of black magic and witchcraft, with a comically shocked look on their face when I told them where I was going: “they even fry their Gallo Pinto in coconut oil!” True blasphemy.
By all means it is completely and utterly worth every uncomfortable, hot, wet, salty moment of the trip. I have had the pleasure of being connected, via a tour guide friend in Somoto to the manager of Kabu Tours in Pearl Lagoon. Kabu Tours is a tourism initiative that is helping to lessen sea turtle fishing in the Pearl Cays by providing alternative sustainable livlihoods options. My dad, who has joined me on this adventure, is absolutely in heaven. Not only is the manager an avid local historian and extremely knowledgeable about the communities he works with, he also takes along his friend, an anthropologist doctoral student, to show us the amazing diversity and uniqueness of the indigenous communities surrounding Pearl Lagoon. Kabu tours does it right, employing the local fishermen as guides and teaching them about environmental and marine conservation along the way.
As I near the small shack where the rest of the group is lounging, drying off in the hot midday sun I hear a familiar sound. A familiar sound that in this village at the end of the world sounds oddly out of place. Three Indigenous Nicaraguan men are strumming away a cover of “I’m so afraid of losing you again” – a famous 1970’s country song by Charley Pride. When the Revolution started in Nicaragua in the 1970’s, young Americans were sent to this side of the Atlantic to support the Contra movement against the Sandinistas. Among the many things they brought with them (death, destruction, the CIA to name a few), country and western music was one of them. Yet another hyphenated characteristic that differentiates this part of Nicaragua from the rest. Indeed during our 4 day stay in Pearl Lagoon, I hear more country & western music than I ever have in my life.
Watching my dad and the manager of Kabu tours, Rudolfo Chang, dancing in the hot sun to a trio of Miskito Indians singing charley pride I can only shake my head. It astounds me, the ability of music to transgress cultural boundaries and it seems so absurd to be hearing 70’s country and western, at the very end of the line, in a tiny, tiny, village, over half a days travel from the nearest form of civilization, that it almost seems right. And to be honest, I am starting to get used to Nicaraguans affinity for and odd acculturation of western music. As the guitarist twangs his guitar and the vocalists harmoize with an uncannily accurate southern accent it would seem that at least for the time being, the 70’s are here to stay.
For more information on Kabu Tours: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org website http://www.kabutours.com, tel: +505 87145196 or Twitter @kabutours