CASKE 2000 > Stories > Adventure > Nicaragua > Surviving Nicaragua - Part 3


Surviving Nicaragua, A Kayaker's Battlefield - Part 3

7/20/2000 by Jean-Philippe Soule

If you haven't ready Surviving Nicaragua - Part 1 & 2, I recommend you do:

5/05 - "Masochism on the Nicaraguan Coast" (Part 1)
5/07 - "AK 47 Sub-machinegun Armed Robbery" (Part 2)

5/11/2000 - "Forced Paddling with a Sick Stomach"

Some days it is better to stay in bed. Yesterday was a tough day. I barely found the energy to paddle the 20 miles we had to cover. This morning we woke up at 3 AM to the sound of the alarm. The small stomach problems from yesterday had developed into strong diarrhea with cramps. I felt even worse than the day before and was not looking forward to another 20-mile day. Had I been in a nice bed somewhere, calling it a rest day would have been easy. But here, we had to move on. We had set up camp under a canopy of bush and trees, protected from the sights of curious eyes. Our shelter was good enough in the obscurity of the night, but we knew that during the day people would start walking the beach and find us.

In Nicaragua many people are friendly and hospitable, but others still live the way they became accustomed to during the war. Guns in hand, they pray on people. Recently cocaine has found its way to the Mosquito Coast. Small planes or boats unload tons of it in the ocean where people equipped with 500 or 1000 horsepower boats take the packets directly to Mexico to be transferred by land to the States. Sometimes some of these packets get lost, often during wild chases with the US coast guard. Storms bring them back onto the beaches of Honduras and Nicaragua. It has made the fortunes of more than a few local fishermen, but it has also produced a large number of young delinquents who smoke the cocaine and steal all they can to buy their next fix. So there are all kinds of people walking the beach and roaming the sea. Some just go tend to their fields, others spend their time fishing and even if only a few comb the beach for cocaine or an opportunity to steal something, all dream to find a big packet of white gold one day.

Sleeping on the beach in Honduras wasn't always safe. Locals had often warned us, but we followed our feelings and with caution, we managed to paddle the full coast without much trouble. In Nicaragua I felt differently. In addition to problems shared with Honduras, Nicaragua had recently come out of a bloody civil war. On the Caribbean coast the Miskito people were in majority. Cuba and Russia armed them with numerous AK 47 submachine guns while on the other side, with the support of the U.S., the Nicaraguan dictatorship tried to control them. Miskito guerrillas went into hiding in the jungle of the Atlantic coast. Today, 10 years after the peace treaty and 3 years after the first democratic government, the Atlantic coast has only received its autonomy on paper. To many Miskitos, the living conditions are still worse than before the first dictatorship 35 years ago. During our two days in Puerto Cabezas I read in the national newspaper that the governor of the North Atlantic province had just spent one million dollars (almost the entire year's budget for the province) to build a palace for her government. While most people still live without electricity, proper education, and decent sanitary conditions. The governor was quoted as saying, "To be respected by the people, a government needs a palace to govern from." The newspaper wrote that some Miskito leaders were threatening to rearm 5000 guerillas. I certainly understand how they feel, but it didnít make us feel any better about sleeping on the beach in Nicaragua, especially after being robbed by armed people on our way to Puerto Cabezas.

In the light of the current situation, would you choose to rest a full day on a beach exposed to the eyes of any passerby and would you be able to sleep without worries in such a place at night? It would take more than diarrhea, stomach cramps and fatigue to trap me here. As long as I had any energy, I would be paddling toward the village of Prinzapoka, which we had heard was safe and with friendly people.

After relieving myself and a few minutes of controlled breathing to calm the cramps, I got in my kayak and launched. It was 4:30 AM when we started paddling. The first three hours were manageable. I just lacked energy and felt nauseated. I could not even drink any fluids as the Tang drink I had in one bottle was too acidic for my sensitive stomach, and the water I had in the other bottle smelled and tasted so much like chlorine that it made me even more nauseated. After 3 Ĺ hours we had covered half the distance and stop for our first break. As soon as we stopped I ran on the beach to squat. I was in no shape to keep paddling, but until we reached Prinzapoka, I just had to put these feelings in the back of my mind and focus on covering the distance. We restarted paddling for 30 minutes until I screamed to Luke who was paddling a hundred feet away by my side that I had to jump in the water. Five minutes later I was back in my boat holding my guts for a couple of minutes before finding the strength to pump the water out of my cockpit. Luke took the lead and I tried to follow as best I could. I felt strange struggling behind him barely able to maintain a 3-knot speed. He must have read the pain and fatigue on my face as he proposed to tow me. But how can you let your friend tow you ten miles on a twenty-mile paddle day? His muscles were as sore as mine. I could not accept his offer. I told him to stay in the lead and keep an eye on me from time to time. The only scenario that would force one of us to tow the other one was probably if one of us suffered from malaria. It is a disease I would rather not imagine hitting us somewhere on the ocean or camping in the bush. After my last malaria attack two weeks ago, it is what I fear most. Getting malaria in the middle of nowhere could be deadly, even with the proper medicine. In spite of my struggle I felt lucky I was only suffering from stomach problems and dehydration. I had experienced worse before and I knew I could paddle through it.

We took our second break by the mouth of a river next to a cemetery bordered by numerous coconut trees. Most tombs were nothing more than a pile of sand marked with a cross and a few plastic flowers. A group of people walking the beach from a distant village to attend a church meeting in Prinzapoka stopped to inspect our equipment with curious eyes. They asked the questions we had already answered a thousand times, "Where are you from? Where are you coming from? With this? Where is your motor or your sail? Only paddling? Where are you going? Why? What do you do when the sea is rough? How do you manage the waves? How much money do you get paid? What, you are not getting paid? Are you on a mission?"

After 30 minutes the people resumed their walk and we sat down under the shade of a coconut tree by the cemetery. We barely had time to swallow our snack of cold red beans when a tall Miskito man appeared with a machete. He greeted us with a toothless laugh bordered by a patchy young beard. He said, "You guys are brave. Let me offer you a coconut". He picked one of the tallest trees and in seconds he jumped up the 60 feet to the top and dropped six coconuts. Then he came down slower than he had gone up. Three strokes with his sharp machete were enough to open the delicious fruits. There was nothing more I could have wished for at that time. The idea of climbing had come to my mind, but the trees were too high and I was in no shape to play the monkey.

After excusing myself from our new friend, I ran to the bush to hastily squat another time. We returned to our kayaks, thanked our friend and started to paddle our last four miles.

5/14 - Tasbapounie - "Missing out on the Sea Turtle Feast" (Part 4)
5/17 - "And the Rain Began" (Part 5)
5/21 - "Bluefields to Managua - Do we Have to Portage?" (Part 6)
5/27 - "Dancing with Death to the rhythm of the Ocean" (Part 7)

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