This past weekend we visited the East Coast of Nicaragua, which has much more land and coastline than the more densely-populated western side of the country where we are spending most of our time this semester. Situated alongside the Caribbean Ocean, the East Coast varies significantly in its history, people, languages, cultures, and governance from those of the western side of the country. Often called the “Miskito Coast” for the indigenous kingdom that originally inhabited much of the area (as well as part of Honduras), this coast was long-affiliated with the British rather than the Spanish. In addition to Miskito, also living on this side of the country are Creoles, Mestizos, and indigenous groups such as the Sumu, Rama and Garifuna. In 1987 the two regions that make up this side of Nicaragua were granted a high degree of self-rule by means of an autonomy law and constitutional revisions.
Our trip began at 7:00 a.m., and after six hours on a bus followed by nearly three hours on a panga (speed boat), we finally reached our destination: Pearl Lagoon, a municipality of about 10,000 people and the home town of our country coordinator Dalena. There is no way to describe the feeling of being on the East Coast except to say that it is like being in an entirely different country. From the creole language to the tranquil Caribbean pace of life, it seemed hard to believe we were still in the same Nicaragua where we have been living these past three weeks.
We stayed at Casa Ulrich, a hostel owned and operated by a longtime friend of GC professor Doug Schirch, and we enjoyed hospitality, conversation, and incredible meals prepared by Chef Ulrich himself. We began our first full day in Pearl Lagoon with an engaging lecture by Johnny Hodgson, a leading authority on the history and development of the autonomous regions on Nicaragua’s East Coast. Hodgson has spent the last three to four decades working toward the recognition and effective exercise of the historical rights of the indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. This includes the recent demarcation and titling of many territories back to the communities that have inhabited them for hundreds of years. Hodgson also serves as a link between the region and the FSLN, the party currently in power.
Hodgson’s lecture spanned from 1502 to the present and was filled with personal insights and stories. Even with the beautiful scenery all around us, he easily held our attention for what turned into a 3½ hour lecture. In the afternoon we walked to Awas, a neighboring village, where we visited with a Miskito woman who works as a preschool teacher. Awas is made up of about one hundred families, all of Miskito origin. The homes are typically constructed of wood, with thatched roofs above and stilts below to protect them from high water brought on by storms. On the lawn outside her home, the woman shared details of her daily life in Awas and taught the students several words in her native Miskito language. The visit to Awas also gave the students a chance to play soccer with some of the local residents and take a quick swim in the lagoon.
On our second day we loaded up on pangas once again, but this time we headed out into the open waters of the Caribbean Ocean, where we spent the day relaxing on a beautiful island about 40 minutes away from the mainland. Students explored marine life, swam, and relaxed on the shore of the clear aqua water. After returning to Pearl Lagoon, we enjoyed a seafood feast at the Queen Lobster, a local restaurant near our hotel. The variety of dishes included small crab, fish served whole, shrimp, lobster and a traditional dish called rondon, which is a stew-like mixture of root vegetables and seafood in a rich coconut milk broth. The meal was a great way to end the evening and conclude our time on the East Coast.