Chris Haslam writes for The Times.
At Steppes Travel, we like places that are not overrun by hordes of tourists and where the local culture remains an integral part of daily life, not just displayed for visitors. Nicaragua is just such a place and we wanted Chris Haslam to tell that story. We thus sent Chris to visit eco‑lodges, enjoy Mosquito Coast tours and rides on the Rio San Juan. He gave us a typically frank, insightful piece with his usual wonderful turn of phrase.
I appreciate Chris’s candour: “The San Juan attracts madmen. It rises in Lake Nicaragua, scythed by the fins of freshwater sharks, and empties into the Caribbean on the Mosquito Coast. In between lie 100 miles of broken dreams, marked by rusting shipwrecks, abandoned settlements and the graves of misadventurers.”
It’s not just Chris’s honesty but his turn of phrase that puts a smile on your face, “The people are poor and the infrastructure is basic, but if it’s a stripped-back trip straight out of a Victorian adventure novel you want, look no further. That’s not to say you’ll suffer here: sipping beetroot gazpacho by the pool at Guacimo Lodge is more Jasper Conran than Joseph Conrad, and it gives you time to compare perceptions and reality.”
But like travel, any good travel writing piece needs to challenge our preconceptions, needs to change our view and alter our perspective. Chris does just that. “Nicaragua is synonymous with revolution and instability. You come expecting trouble, but what you find is peace, kindness tinged with embarrassment at the way the Sandinista revolution has turned out, a healthy touch of craziness and Eden-like beauty.”
Even if it is our misapprehension about etymology. “The Mosquito Coast…. populations of Rama, Garifuna, Mayagna, Creole and Miskito — after whom the coast took its name — live here in villages that were only accessible by boat.”
But more than that, a good travel piece needs to beautifully observed. As Chris writes, “It’s a fast blast along a mangrove-fringed channel, past fleets of rusting trawlers and decomposing freighters. Then we reach the lagoon — pink in the setting sun and so vast I can’t see the sides. Villagers living around its edges talk of white lobsters: the packages of cocaine jettisoned by compromised drug runners that wash up on their shores.
“You find one and you can buy a pick-up truck,” says the dreadlocked boatman, his accent closer to Jamaica than Managua. “And give a lickle something to the church.”
What are the highlights and why should I go now? “To stand and stare at a single cubic yard of this forest is to risk a headache, such is the teeming density of life. For bird-watchers, the same warning applies: in my first hour on the San Juan, I spotted 29 species I hadn’t seen before, ranging from the green kingfisher to the red-rumped tanager.”
As Chris writes the highway is changing the region – “Local reactions to the highway vary. Some have set up stalls selling nacatamales — spicy pork, rice and spuds wrapped in a banana leaf. Others have bought land, cleared the forest and started cattle ranches, and there’s big talk of international resorts and golf courses.” – and his recommendation is to go now whilst there is still a crazy charm to the region.
Follow in Chris’s footsteps by asking our team of experts to tailor-make a journey for you encompassing some of Nicaragua’s highlights.